HC Deb 13 April 1972 vol 834 cc1477-526


  1. (1) The Secretary of State, where it appears to him appropriate, may make or approve under this Act an amalgamation scheme with respect to two or more local education authorities constituted under section 187 of this Act.
  2. (2) Before making any such amalgamation scheme, the Secretary of State shall consult with the local education authorities concerned.
  3. (3) Any such scheme shall be subject to an affirmative resolution of both Houses of Parliament.
  4. 1478
  5. (4) In this section the Secretary of State means the Secretary of State for Education and Science.—[Mr. John Silkin.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Mr. John Silkin

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

The greatest task in the reorganisation of local government—the first large reorganisation of local government this century—is that of the education of our children. Inevitably, I ask whether such a reorganisation is capable of providing the best possible educational organisation. Any reorganisation of local government must affect the whole question of education, and in the United Kingdom education is based on a local rather than on a national principle.

I believe it is absolutely right that education should be at a local level. If I had a personal choice in this matter it would be to see education put on a rather larger basis than it is at present, and even on a regional rather than on a county basis. It is certainly part of Labour policy that it should be on a larger basis than is envisaged in the Bill.

In the past we differed from the Maud recommendations by wishing to assign counties to a higher level in the direction of education. It is one of the curious ironies that the Minister for Local Government and Development, who is no great friend of the Maud Report, practically embraces that report when it deals with education. Maud said that the system should be at the lower rather than the higher tier. We have always disagreed with that view since we believe that a much more efficient education service can be provided by a larger rather than a smaller unit. We wanted education to be at county level. The Government have met us to some extent because education is at county level in the non-metropolitan counties. However, in the metropolitan counties education is at district level.

The first of our reasons for wanting to see the system at a higher level relates to the size of the metropolitan districts, most of which have a population of over 250,000. It may be argued that this is a sufficient number to provide a reasonable, and possibly even a good, education service, but the fact remains that 11 metropolitan districts have populations between 200,000 and 250,000. We are already beginning to slip in terms of population in providing a proper education service. But there are three metropolitan districts with populations below 200,000, and, frankly, my hon. Friends and I cannot see that they can provide the sort of education service that the country demands.

We may all agree that education should be dealt with locally rather than, as in some countries, nationally. What none of us can tolerate is that there should be great differences in the standards of education between one area and another, and that a child born in one district should have a worse education than a child born in another district would seem to everyone to be something to be avoided. So much is it to be avoided that we all know of parents who deliberately move and even take jobs that they do not particularly want or that are lesser paid simply because their children will benefit from a better education.

It follows that the nearer that we can get to an equally high standard of education the better it will be for our children and for future generations. Can we say that a child who is educated in an area of the size of Inner London will have only the same chance as a child who is educated in a metropolitan district with a population of 170,000 or 180,000 somewhere in the provinces? If the Minister can assure me that the second child's education will not suffer, I will accept what he says. But all my common sense and reason tells me that it is not so, and that it ought to be so.

That is the reason why we were so intent that education should be at the higher level. However, the situation becomes more alarming when one realises that at this time of enormous change there are vast movements of population. The poorer urban areas of our country are changing in terms of population. I have talked about 11 metropolitan counties with populations of between 200,000 and a quarter of a million, and about three which have populations below 200,000. We have little or no control over how those populations will be affected in years to come.

The Bill rightly introduces the powers of the Boundary Commission to make changes, to alter the boundaries of metropolitan districts, and so on. But it cannot be doing that every minute of the day, every day of the year, or even every year. The effect is that there can be drops in population to reduce what I regard as an intolerably low level of population from an education point of view to a level that is even worse, and this can happen between one report of the Boundary Commission and another. It seems to us that something more has to be done.

5.45 p.m.

I trust that I shall remain within the rules of order if I venture into a little history. In Committee we were defeated on our proposition that education should be at the upper level. That happened, and there it is. We must accept it. But that does not mean that we have to do the worst possible job if we accept that the metropolitan districts are to be the education authorities. I regard it as right for us to consider how we may stop the damaging situation of which I have spoken, should it occur.

Perhaps I might briefly rehearse some of the arguments which exist in favour of action being taken not only at the appropriate level but at the appropriate time. I have mentioned already that there are variations in population between one metropolitan district and another and the effects that they can have. But the tremendous advantages of an I.L.E.A. type of authority are, first, financial resources and, secondly, the value of numbers. It is dealing with much larger sums of money than any other education authority. It is dealing with far greater numbers of children. When it comes to handicapped children, whatever form the handicap may take one would expect all education authorities to do their best to see that such children received the best education service that it was possible to give them. In Committee my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Small Heath (Mr. Denis Howell) told us a very moving story of children regarded as almost in educable because they were handicapped who, nevertheless, were educated to a reasonable standard because there were education authorities and others who cared. That is the great quality of our education service. It is based upon people who have a vocation, whether they are teachers or educationists apart from teaching, and who dearly love both their charges and the work that they undertake.

The advantage of an I.L.E.A. type of authority over a metropolitan district with the sort of population that I have been talking about is obvious from the start. To be able to say "There are handicapped children from this, that and the other area, and we will help them all by building a school for all of them", means that one can cope with the numbers. The first thing that one of the small authorities has to do is to consider how it can co-operate with another authority in terms of handicapped or special schools, and so on. But it may not always be able to do so, and it may not for good and special reasons receive the response necessary. It may have a very small number of handicapped children within its area with a special handicap, and, therefore, it may not be able to give them the advantage that resources, experience and expertise properly can give them. I think that the whole House would regard that as a tragedy, because we all have this duty and compassion whatever our party may be. So the first requirement is a matter of organisation.

The second point is that when we talk about education we mean children and we mean teachers. We also mean a great deal more. We mean the buildings in which the children are taught. We mean the architects and engineers who know how to build schools. There is nothing more absurd than to have a school built by an architect who has never built a school before. It requires very special treatment. There are architects who specialise in hospitals. There are others who specialise in Crown courts. There are others who specialise in school-building. There are the people who brief the architects, employed as they are by local authorities. They are a team, and they work together. But the authorities have to have the necessary resources with which to pay them properly, and they have to be able to offer them some sort of future. It is not for us always to expect people to act purely because they love their work and to do so at a cut rate. Their sense of duty will keep them going for a long time, but from time to time they will go looking for greener pastures and will want careers which give them greater opportunity. Inevitably this must apply to those who brief architects and to architects themselves, and to an extent it will apply to the teachers.

In this situation one will have small metropolitan districts which are small in population and small in resources compared with their neighbours. Let us be under no illusion about this because it is exactly in the poorer urban areas where this position will arise. These areas will, as a result, be faced with greater problems than those of their luckier and wealthier neighbours. They will have greater difficulties, greater handicaps and greater numbers of children to teach, and the total problem of the renovation of school buildings will be that much greater.

It is for this reason that we were, and remain, frightened about what the future might hold for them. We therefore decided that, since the Committee ruled out the possibility of education being at the metropolitan county level, we should at least see what we could do to bring back to education in the metropolitan districts, if the metropolitan districts will now be the local education authorities, something that will be lost by taking education from the county level and putting it at this lower level.

This is why we tabled the new Clause, which in effect says three things. The first is that the Secretary of State shall have power to amalgamate two or more education authorities if he thinks that that is the right course to take. In other words, if one gets the sort of situation I mentioned, of a very small metropolitan district which might reduce in numbers even more, and another district next door, the right hon. Gentleman can merge the two. He may even merge three into an education authority. Indeed, he could create a small I.L.E.A.

I am very much aware of a point that was made many times in Committee, that we must not adopt a nanny-like attitude to local authorities. Whitehall must not interfere unnecessarily. However, the Secretary of State is charged with duties. His duty is to provide the best education this country can afford to give its children, and that is why he should have this power.

We go on to say, secondly, that if the Secretary of State makes such a scheme of amalgamation, he shall consult the local education authorities concerned. In other words, he cannot do it simply on his own say-so but must consult those concerned and, therefore, by implication hear their objections, if there are any.

The third point which the Clause makes is that, even if the right hon. Gentleman creates such a scheme, he must return to both Houses of Parliament with an affirmative Resolution. In other words, he must face Parliament before any scheme is put into effect.

Hon. Members will see that this is not a case of Whitehall adopting a nanny-like attitude or of a dictatorial Secretary of State imposing his will on efficient and reluctant education authorities. This is a case of an honest and dispassionate broker looking at a situation and, after consultation, telling Parliament "This is the right step to take because our children will get a better education more speedily if we take it."

I know that the Minister is reluctant to establish greater powers—in this he does not differ from his predecessors—where he believes that such powers already exist. He quoted the First Schedule to the Education Act, 1944. I speak from memory, but perhaps that was not the provision he had in mind. In any event, he and I know the part of the Act to which he was referring. It enables joint education committees to be set up. I could claim that as a precedent and say that I am not asking for anything unusual, and the Minister might reply that I already have virtually what I want; but that is not so.

The Minister will admit that the powers which exist under the Act are by no means universal. They are certainly not as wide as I would like them to be. Perhaps, from what I have said, he would like them to be wider. These powers can apply to, and be used in, higher education for polytechnics, colleges of further education and, in certain cases, for special schools. However, they are not universal or wide enough, and they do not come into existence as a result of the action of the Secretary of State.

We are seeking to give the right hon. Gentleman a power which, if all goes well in education, he may never use. If he never uses it, then to give him that power will do him no harm, especially with the safeguards that exist. But should something need to be done urgently he will have the power to act, under the safeguards of the second and third conditions I mentioned, with speed and efficiency.

As I showed earlier, it is no accident that the I.L.E.A. has such a high standard of education, for it is based on both population and resources. Let us, whatever we do, make no mistakes in this Bill when we consider education, of all things. Let us see that we give the best possible chance to our children.

If the Secretary of State never has to use the power that I suggest we give him—fond as I am of the Secretary of State, I am not all that fond of giving him additional powers—we shall all be delighted. But I cannot see any harm in the Government accepting the new Clause. It can remedy a situation quickly if one needs to be remedied. If one never needs to be remedied, it need never be used.

Mr. Frederick Willey (Sunderland, North)

I feel that I can support the Clause, though reluctantly and without the enthusiasm of my right hon. Friend the Member for Deptford (Mr. John Silkin), because of his peroration. He repeatedly said that he envisaged the Clause never being used. That was far from his original enthusiasm in arguing the case for the provision and it is on that, I hope realistic, view of the Clause that I am prepared to support him, though I do so with considerable reservation.

It is time we recognised that solutions to problems are not necessarily achieved by increasing the size of the authorities and bodies which are responsible for finding those solutions. I was disturbed to hear my right hon. Friend talk about the desirability of regional authorities having responsibility for education, and I was somewhat relieved to have confirmation from him that the original proposal made in Standing Committee had been defeated by the good sense of that Committee.

Mr. John Silkin

Purely as a matter of information, we did not vote on education in the regions; we voted on education at metropolitan county level.

6.0 p.m.

Mr. Willey

I apologise if I sounded confusing. I thought that I implied that my right hon. Friend's second proposal had been defeated in Committee, but I am obliged to him for making this clear.

We are now, however, considering a different concept. I was very impressed in the days when I was less mature by advice given to me by Nye Bevan, who took very strong views about local government. It was an issue about the National Health Service and other matters. The advice which he gave me with some ferocity was that if one talked about local government it had to be local government.

His simple definition of local government was that local government was administered by a councillor whose bottom one could kick—although he did not say "bottom". In other words, it is a very personal direct relationship. That is the virtue of local government.

If we are abandoning that relationship, we should think of other forms of government, but we should not call it local government because local government depends upon the responsibility being local. The cardinal unit in local government is the ward and the responsibility of the councillor within his ward. That is local government. If one reaches the stage at which that government can be no longer local it has to be looked at indifferent terms. But the aim the whole time is to provide a government which is local, and that should circumscribe one's ambitions about the size and shape of authorities.

The issue before us is the question of education. What I have urged is this. The objective the whole time should be to have the size of the authority as small as can be consistent with the discharge of the functions one imposes upon that authority. One is looking the whole time not to enlargement of size but, if possible—it may not be possible—diminution of size. One has to say not that one can disregard the element of local democracy but that the discharge of the function must be related to the essential character of local government, which is the discharge of that responsibility locally.

Anyone who has carried out diligent research will know that I have spoken previously about this matter when we discussed the reform of local government in London. The case I argued then on behalf of my colleagues in the House—I noted what my right hon. Friend said about the I.L.E.A.—was that education authorities in London were far too small. The then Minister pointed out to me that I represented the County Borough of Sunderland. I emphasise that the second factor we should bear in mind when dealing with local government is that we have to look at the geography. It was not an answer to those of us who were saying that the education authorities in London were too small to say that I was in favour of my own local education authority, the County Borough of Sunderland; we had got to look at London. With the geography and spread of population in the London conurbation it was a nonsense to divide the educational responsibility in this very tightly packed community between the boroughs. There ought to have been a single education authority or, perhaps, two authorities for the whole of London. That could be done, because we have the means of transport and communication to make that possible.

But when one comes to the North East and looks at Sunderland, one finds no arguable reason for transferring the responsibility to Newcastle. Sunderland, particularly now that it has been enlarged by the Government—I am delighted that we have taken in Washington—is now a natural centre. It has sufficient population and resources to be its own education authority. That is why I have emphasised the two factors to be borne in mind. My right hon. Friend may be quite right. He may say that we shall have an efficient bureaucracy divorced from the people, an authority better administered from Newcastle. But, equally important, it will not be such vital, democratic local government.

We have to look at the situation and say that there is no reason for such a change. Sunderland is a good education authority. What educational function does my right hon. Friend think that we cannot carry out in Sunderland? We have a polytechnic. We ought to have a university. When my right hon. Friend rightly calls attention to the inequalities in education, it would be sensible for him to argue that there should be a national authority for the universities. There is very great disparity in our different universities. But what I—and I hope my hon. Friends—would say if my right hon. Friend put forward such a preposterous argument would be utterly counter and overriding arguments for universities being autonomous institutions. So it is in this case. The advantages of the districts remaining their own education authority considerably outweigh those of transferring the responsibilities to the metropolitan county. To emphasise this I should like to deal with my right hon. Friend's points.

My right hon. Friend raised the question of size, and I hope that I have sufficiently disposed of it. But one of the things which has changed education in the last decade or two has been the obsession about size. It has affected schools. We have to look at schools as school communities as well as the attractions of size. We have also to counter-weigh the advantages of a school being a good local community. What I am saying with regard to the education authority equally affects the schools. Essentially, as far as possible a school should be local. Its ties with parents depend upon it being local. One is forced to admit that there are circumstances in which this cannot be provided, but that ought not to make size the objective.

My right hon. Friend talked about architects, but he knows as well as I that the great enlightenment which came in school building after the war came from Hertfordshire. Hertfordshire is not a large authority in terms of the Bill. But the lead did not come from the Ministry. It came from the grass roots. This will happen again. The ideas in school building which have come forward and some of the ideas coming forward subsequently, such as those of consortia from Nottingham, have arisen from the authorities—and so it ought to be. When talking about architects, building and construction, it is far better that the ideas should come from the people on the ground who are carrying out the job rather than people looking at it from afar. Neither on size nor on the calibre of the officials is a case made.

The third factor my right hon. Friend mentioned was handicapped children. In Sunderland we are very good with our regard and care for handicapped children. This depends very largely on a few people who have made handicapped children their particular concern. We are very proud of this. This is a responsibility which is particularly local. If one wants the best services for handicapped children, one ought to have a personal responsibility and feeling for people. I would much rather have the humanitarian care that we have, administered by people we know personally, than, perhaps, a very efficient but remote system and one less able to call upon these essential personal qualities.

Having said that, I come to my support for the Clause. I gather from my right hon. Friend that the Government have so drawn the boundaries that there are districts which are not educationally viable. I would have thought from this that the Government ought to look at the boundaries again because education is a vital local function—indeed the cardinal local authority service. I am sure my right hon. Friend is absolutely reliable about this. It may be that he was being very undogmatic when he concluded, but we had better not take the risk. It may be that the Clause will never be used, which I am delighted to hear, but let us not take the risk. A district somewhere might not have the population or resources to enable it fully to discharge these essential functions of local Government in education. It is on that ground that I am prepared to support the Clause.

In my support I add one final reservation. I hope that when the Clause has been accepted by the Government they will have another look at it when it is considered in another place because I do not think the Secretary of State would like to take the responsibility as it is here defined. We ought not to set a precedent for the Minister to destroy local authorities by diktat. There should be provision for an inquiry. I am persuaded by my right hon. Friend that there is just sufficient ground for supporting the new Clause. When the Minister accepts it, I hope that he will assure us that the Government will take steps to ensure that the local authorities will have the satisfaction of knowing, if there is any question of interfering with the boundaries now being laid down, that there will be full opportunity for them to make their views known at the public inquiry.

Mr. R. C. Mitchell

I see no particular reason why the Government should not accept the Clause but, like my right hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey), I hope that the powers contained in it will not be used very often. We ought to consider very carefully the question of the optimum size of local education authorities. One of the difficulties is that the optimum size for one type of education is not necessarily the optimum size for another. There is an important difference between the optimum size for an efficient education authority operating higher education and the optimum size for an authority operating primary and secondary education.

My right hon. Friend will know my views because he was Chairman of the Select Committee on which I expressed them. I believe that non-university higher education, polytechnics, colleges of technology and colleges of education should be taken completely outside the local authority sphere. I do not mean that they should be entirely disconnected from local authorities. By all means let the local authorities be represented on the boards. But they should be financed separately by a national body. In this way the great difficulty of deciding the best size could be alleviated. To run a higher education authority efficiently, to be able to maintain a polytechnic or a regional college of technology—which by its name is shown to be a regional institution—requires a somewhat larger local authority than many which exist today.

In primary and secondary education the same arguments do not apply. I was not a member of the Committee when it discussed whether this aspect of education should be in the higher or lower authority within a metropolitan county. If I had been there I would have spoken strongly for its being in the lower authority. A population of 200,000 or so provide for an efficiently administered education authority. My city has a population of about 215,000. On a later Amendment we shall be arguing for that to become a metropolitan district rather than to be swallowed by the great big county of Hampshire. One of the main reasons is that we shall want to remain in a slightly larger district than at present and not to pass over to a massive county the control of our education and social services. In my city the council are almost unanimous on this—both political sides agree—and the teachers' organisations are very anxious that we should not become part of Greater Hampshire. Parents have sent me hundreds upon hundreds of letters asking me to oppose the proposals.

6.15 p.m.

The new authority will cover about 1,500,000. Many of us regard this as far too large for an education authority. It may fit the higher education requirements but I do not see why a child's primary and secondary education should be forced into the hands of a much larger authority and thereby lose much of the personal touch it has at the moment. In the County Borough of Southampton, as in Sunderland, every parent has easy access to the local education office and can complain to the representatives of the local education authorities. The parent knows the councillors and can approach them very easily. I do not want the education area to be enlarged merely for the sake of higher education. The answer is to separate higher education and to leave primary and secondary education mainly for the smaller authority.

I have one small argument with the Clause. Subsection (2) says: Before making any such amalgamation scheme, the Secretary of State shall consult with the local education authorities concerned. That is fairly self-evident.

There is a case for consulting other organisations as well, including the teachers and parents. One of the difficulties has been that many local authorities in reorganisation schemes in some areas have not consulted from the beginning all the parties interested in education. Many authorities will not begin to make big changes in their education systems without consulting teachers and parents. Those who fail to do this—and there have been some of both political colours—have come unstuck and have run into fierce opposition and all sorts of trouble.

There is no reason for the Government to object to the power bestowed by the Clause. I do not think it will be used very often although it could be used in certain circumstances where there is a great concentration of population, as in London, when slightly different numerical criteria apply. In a town like mine I am satisfied that with a population of 200,000 or 250,000 we can run our education efficiently. London may need an authority covering a bigger population. I am not entirely convinced by the whole structure of the I.L.E.A. but there are two sides to the argument, just as there are two sides to the argument about whether some of the schools are too large or too small.

Mr. John Silkin

The point I was making was not so much about numbers as about resources. My hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. R. C. Mitchell) has the advantage of representing an area which in resources is much more affluent than some of the areas I have in mind.

Mr. Mitchell

This is true. Some other areas may have fewer resources. In some country districts different arguments may apply. There may be a case for smaller authorities because of the disadvantages of travel. These must be weighed against the advantages of population. To have to travel 30 or 40 miles to reach the local education office or to see the officials could be a disadvantage which outweighs the numerical advantage. Each must be taken into account.

There is a case for giving the Secretary of State reserve powers, but if he feels after consultation with the local education authorities, teachers' organisations and other interested bodies in the area that there would be an advantage in amalgamation—and I can see places where that would possibly be the case—he should have the power to do so. I support the Clause on that basis, but I do not think that in education greater size automatically brings greater efficiency.

Mr. Timothy Raison (Aylesbury)

I had not intended to speak in this debate, and I may unavoidably have to leave before its conclusion. But I thought that I am perhaps in a position which enables me to make a small contribution. I was simultaneously a co-opted member of the Inner London Education Authority and an elected member of the education committee of an outer London borough of about 180,000, so I was in a position to compare and contrast, as they say in examination papers, the workings of those two authorities.

The I.L.E.A. in many ways performs a great service, and to a considerable extent I echo the sentiments of the right hon. Member for Deptford (Mr. John Silkin). It had a very high dedication to the task of providing education in London, and it was also much better equipped than the smaller authority to deal with further education, as we would expect, and also special schools. Therefore, I am thus far the mirror image of the hon.

Gentleman who spoke on one side of the argument and announced that he would support the other. There are strong arguments on both sides. Looking back, I do not think that the I.L.E.A. had all the advantages, even though my outer London borough used in those days to be much reviled by the progressive forces in education because it was reluctant to go comprehensive. But I could not say that in some respects the I.L.E.A. offered a good service. It was not always superior and in certain respects it was inferior.

It is true that with respect to building there is some merit in largeness, but we have quite a lot of experience of the consortia which can be set up to join together a number of small authorities, and may take in big authorities as well. The existence of the consortia greatly diminishes the force of the argument about building made by the right hon. Gentleman.

My greatest objection to the I.L.E.A. on reflection, was its rigidity. It has an enormous area for which it adopts a particular policy, and it imposes it throughout. The instance I have in mind is its view of comprehensive education. I am not attacking now its commitment to comprehensive education, but I strongly attack its commitment to the 11–18 all-through school. It is a great tragedy that the worst form of comprehensive education should have been the one that was standardised and imposed throughout London. When the Conservatives were in power at the I.L.E.A. we made an attempt to break this mould by trying to convert the town of Thamesmead to a three-tier system on the Plowden pattern. There were enormous administrative objections, and we had to fight our officials, but so long as we were in power we were winning the battle. But as soon as Labour returned it reversed our decision and went over to the 11–18 all-through comprehensive. I do not believe that is the best way of going comprehensive. With a vast authority, it has proved remarkably difficult to experiment and vary, and we are committed to the one system. I would hate such rigidity to be imposed on other areas.

Although in theory the I.L.E.A. was better than the small outer London borough I represented, the position may be seen to be different at ground level, if we ask, "Are the schools better? Is the atmosphere better?" I believe there is an advantage in the intimacy about which the hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. R. C. Mitchell) spoke. It is rather nice for someone on a local authority to have a chance to know all the schools. I do not claim that I knew them all. I was no doubt an idle member, and it takes time. But there is a feeling of intimacy, which seems to me rather beneficial, in a smaller authority.

Although the I.L.E.A. has not done badly in devising schemes of decentralisation, it has a form of administrative decentralisation. It is very much an official's form of decentralisation, and it is not a particularly human one. I should be reluctant to see that imposed elsewhere.

The nub of my objection to the Clause is the power it would give to impose amalgamation. The justification for amalgamation, if it exists, can only be that it is voluntarily agreed and accepted by the parties. In other words, the local authorities wishing to operate together must say of their own will that that is what they wish to do. I understand that that is not the case as the Clause stands, and that, while the Secretary of State must consult them, in the last resort he can tell them, "You will amalgamate." That is a strong objection to the Clause.

Mr. William Hamling (Woolwich, West)

I hope the House will not be deceived by the jaundiced view of the I.L.E.A. held by the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Raison). When he talks about decentralisation being the official's dream in the I.L.E.A., I can only wonder whether he has ever taught there or sent his children to an I.L.E.A. school, as I have.

Mr. Raison

I have two children in I.L.E.A. schools.

Mr. Hamling

I am delighted to hear it. The proof of the pudding is in the eating and not in the speaking.

It is very nice to know all the schools, but I wonder whether we are reorganising local government for the benefit of councillors. There are many aspects of the Bill, particularly in regard to education, on which I congratulate the Government and support them. The reorganisation is for the benefit of the people. I take grave exception to the parish pump attitudes of some of my hon. Friends. For example, when my right hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey) starts quoting Nye Bevan as saying that local government must be local, I remind him that Nye Bevan also said, "When I went into local government I went on the parish council, but I discovered that the power was not there, so I had myself elected to the county council, where the power was." I hope that my right hon. Friend will take those words very much to heart. The question is where are the power and finance, and where are the administrative possibilities.

Mr. James Johnson (Kingston upon Hull, West)

I speak from amongst a number of pedagogues. Is it fair, is it even sensible to talk about power in a parish council in educational terms vis-à-vis the county council? Is it not better to talk about power in an excepted district of 10,000 or more, to use the old-fashioned term?

Mr. Hamling

Of course. I am not unaware of some of the other arguments, and I am coming to them.

I used to teach in Liverpool, and I once stood for the council in the constituency now represented by the hon. Member for Liverpool, Garston (Mr. Fortescue), a very Tory area. I lost by a record vote. Even in those days, a long time ago, I was a very strong advocate of a county council of Merseyside, and I am delighted that under the Bill we are getting that. It perhaps means the end of the County Borough of Liverpool, but so what? Liverpool has many advantages which it can perhaps transfer to places like Crosby, but there are advantages in Crosby which it could very well transfer to Liverpool.

6.30 p.m.

The hon. Member for Aylesbury spoke of rigidity in a large authority. Having taught in London, having my children in schools there and as a member of the National Union of Teachers being well acquainted with what goes on in schools in London, particularly in the London Borough of Greenwich, I would acquit the I.L.E.A. of rigidity either in educational styles or in standards. Within a few miles of where I live there are five entirely different types of comprehensive school. One, which my youngest daughter attends, has only 1,200 pupils, and another has 2,000. Others within a short distance are divided into an upper and lower school making almost separate schools. There is no lack of variety in a large authority such as that. I am sorry that the Under-Secretary of State is not now present because I wanted to say in his presence that we lay a great deal of blame for building difficulties on the rigidity of this Government in not giving us the power to get on with building as we ought.

I see nothing wrong with this Clause for it does not oblige the Secretary of State to take power. It merely says: …where it appears to him appropriate, may make or approve under this Act… That gives the Secretary of State an enormous range of options. Subsection (2) says: Before making any such amalgamation scheme, the Secretary of State shall consult with the local education authorities concerned. The word 'shall" is used and this is an obligation. My right hon. Friend the Member for Deptford (Mr. John Silkin) is very much to be censured, however, for drawing the Clause too narrowly. I say this particularly when I see that the name of my right hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. George Thomas) is attached to the Clause. They seem to forget that other authorities beside county councils are involved in education.

I have particularly in mind the teachers. It is deplorable that my right hon. Friend should draft a Clause which does not mention those who actually do the job and mentions only those who talk about it. As he knows, I was educated in a little red brick school. He of all people should remember who was responsible for saving the Inner London Education Authority. It was not a political party, but the London Teachers Association. London teachers inspired this, not the Labour councils on the old L.C.C., although they gave active support. The running all the time was made by the teachers because they had great concern in seeing that the administration was sound.

Some people appear to argue that to have a viable system of primary and secondary schools a smaller authority is preferable to a larger one. I do not share that view. I take the view that experience in London has persuaded us that in order to have a viable system we need a much larger authority than that of a typical county borough.

Mr. Willey

I ask my hon. Member to direct his attention to the question at issue here. It is the position of the districts in the metropolitan counties. They seem to be just the sort of authorities which would be acceptable to my hon. Friend.

Mr. Hamling

Those of 250,000 population?

Mr. Willey


Mr. Hamling

I do not accept that as an area suitable for secondary education re-organisation. I come from the London Borough of Greenwich, which has a population of about a quarter of a million. When the Tories—I beg pardon, I do not want to impart too much political bias into this—when the party opposite sought by the London Government Bill to make Greater London authorities all-purpose authorities, which would have made them education authorities, that would have suited the argument. Some people in Greenwich might have said that it would be a good idea for Greenwich to have an education authority in its own right. But I think of the London Borough of Tower Hamlets, which is an area rather similar in size with a smaller population and much poorer than Greenwich. As a result of the Inner London Education Authority, wealthier parts of London can come to the rescue of poorer parts.

My right hon. Friend has spoken about special education. One of my constituents has a daughter who goes to a special school in Wimbledon. It would have been impossible for the London Borough of Greenwich to provide the range of special schools and special education which the I.L.E.A. provides.

Mr. Willey

I do not want to mislead my hon. Friend. I emphasised that this was a question of geography. In the case of London, when we discussed the legislation I argued that the boroughs were not the right education authorities, but that was in the context of the London metropolitan area. I ask my hon. Friend to deal with the question of Greater Sunderland and to say what argument he has for that district not being a full education authority.

Mr. Hamling

I do not know Tyneside so well as does my right hon. Friend, but I do know Merseyside and that is a parellel case. I argued the case for a county council for Liverpool nearly 40 years ago precisely on the grounds on which the I.L.E.A. was set up. I come from Liverpool, 8, which any social scientist will recognise immediately. I lived in Huskisson Street in the heart of the poor district of that city. The best possible education for children in the poorest sections of Merseyside cannot be provided by splitting up Merseyside. To make a viable system on Merseyside, the provision has to be on a Merseyside basis.

I have particularly in mind special education and the incidence of mental illness. My right hon. Friend, with his experience, ought to know the incidence of mental illness in Tower Hamlets compared with that in other parts of London. This is true not only of London but of all the great conurbations. There are areas of great poverty, and when one sees the experience of urbanisation in the United States of America one realises that to inflict this parish pump nonsense is a scandal. One should take notice of the experience of educationists and social scientists in urbanisation on the other side of the Atlantic, where there has been a decay of urban life which we are beginning to see here. One of the purposes of the Bill is to provide that the wealthier areas shall come to the assistance of the poorer areas.

Mr. Dan Jones (Burnley)

Before my hon. Friend waxes too dogmatic on this issue in favour of the county councils, I wonder whether he would care to agree that there are in Lancashire a number of county boroughs—which, of course, include Liverpool—with very high standards of education. They would be most loth to give up their adminstration of education to the county. Would he agree that if that happened there would be a distinct danger that the standards which he has in mind would fall?

Mr. Hamling

There are also areas where standards are very low. I am concerned about the kids going to school in such areas. I taught them. I taught in the slums of Liverpool.

Mr. Jones

At the moment, my hon. Friend is confining himself to Merseyside and London.

Mr. Hamling

Very well, I will talk about Burnley, if my hon. Friend likes. There are areas not far from Burnley where there is great poverty and educational deprivation. This is also true of the West Riding, as my hon. Friend the Member for Goole (Dr. Marshall) knows. This is one of the aspects to which he will call attention if he is fortunate enough to be called to speak. I want to see the excellence of Burnley provided for the other places near it where conditions are not so good.

Is my hon. Friend the Member for Burnley (Mr. Dan Jones) telling me that the people of Burnley will put up with lower standards if they happen to join another area? I do not believe they will. Having enjoyed excellence, they will complain if they are deprived of it. But, unfortunately, there are other areas where educational standards are poor, which have not known such excellence, which do not know what they have missed and which very often are so inarticulate that they are unable to couch their demands and desires in words or in tones which will reach the areas of the administrators or legislators. I am speaking for them, as I know is my right hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, North. Certainly, the Government, in Clause 187 and the Schedule attached to it, are concerned about them. All we want is for that concern to be confirmed, which is the purpose of new Clause 9.

I was speaking about special education—provision for blind children and for autistic children, for example. I do not know how many schools for autistic children there are in Sunderland or in Burnley. There are only two in London, one north of the Thames and the other south of it, because as yet we have only just begun to tackle the problem.

Mrs. Elaine Kellett-Bowman (Lancaster)

There is a first-class school for autistic children in Lancaster.

Mr. Hamling

I congratulate Lancaster but I also want to know whether there is one in Bootle or whether there is any provision for autistic children in Bootle. It is all very well to say, "We have a good this or that". I want to see a good this or that for all children, for all autistic children. I am sure that that is what the Minister wants as well.

Mr. Willey

I ask my hon. Friend to deal with the question before the House. Let us take health as an example. We have the National Health Service but there is great disparity between its provisions in the North-East and in London. Everyone knows that. It has been made all the greater. The biggest hospital in Europe is being built in Hampstead.

Mr. Hamling

I hope that at the next election my right hon. Friend will stop in Woolwich and hear me advocating programmes for Tyneside, as I did at the last election. I told my friends in Woolwich, "It is a good thing to direct employment to Tyneside, even if it means that opportunities for employment are denied to you here." I may have lost votes by it—I do not give a damn. I come from the North and my heart is northern even though my tones these days may be southern. I am concerned to see the advantages which my children have enjoyed and which my constituents enjoy provided for the less-well-off children, for the deprived.

6.45 p.m.

I was speaking about special education, particularly for autistic children. I was speaking about provision for blind children. Such provision cannot be provided in reasonable terms by very small authorities. We are not asking in new Clause 9 for the Secretary of State to get local authorities by the scruff of the neck and say, "Amalgamate or else". New Clause 9 simply says: The Secretary of State, where it appears to him appropriate, may…". How permissive can one get? I speak as one who is a very great advocate of permissiveness.

I am thinking particularly of the question of finance and the poorer areas. Surely there is a case for the wealthier areas coming to the rescue of the poorer areas, especially as we have not yet reorganised local government finance.

Mr. R. C. Mitchell

There is the rate equalisation grant.

Mr. Hamling

Of course. We have one in London. All I am afraid of is that the Government will try to undo it. They are not always as enlightened as they are in Clause 187. I am emboldened by hard experience in London and of the workings of the Inner London Education Authority, particularly by the part played by teachers, by those who are doing the job and know what it is about. There is no question about where they stand. They are against the fragmentation of education and in favour of larger areas.

My last job before coming to this House was teaching in the London College of Printing. We had students from Aylesbury, Brighton, Worthing and Southend; we drew students from all over Greater London. Predominantly, of course, they came from the I.L.E.A. area. Such an institution would have been impossible in any authority other than one with the capacity of Inner London. Twickenham is one of the areas outside the I.L.E.A. and the Minister will know what a great burden that college is on the ratepayers of Twickenham. It is the largest single item in the rates there. When they want to cut the rates, they take out £1 million or so from the technical college. How shortsighted can one get?

Mr. R. C. Mitchell

Surely this is an argument for taking the financing of higher education—polytechnics and colleges of further education—from local authorities and putting it on a basis similar to that of the University Grants Committee.

Mr. Hamling

I do not agree. I am subject to your ruling, Mr. Deputy Speaker. We have to be careful. We have to stick to the new Clause. We have advocates of local government here who, when they come to a snag, say, "Take it out of local government", completely destroying their own argument that they want education run by the local authorities. They say, "The local authorities cannot manage further education. To whom shall we give it?" In London, further education is still in the auspices of local government and that is where it should be. I do not want further education taken from local government. I want a reasonable system of local government under which we can operate the control of further education and its financing, as we do in London. I submit that if we are to have this parish pump attitude, further education will be impossible.

Mr. James Johnson

Before you took the Chair, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I asked my hon. Friend the Member for Woolwich, West (Mr. Hamling) an important question about the whole matter of power residing in the county councils—for example, in finance. Harking back to the late Nye Bevan's speeches on the parish councils, I asked whether, with his vast experience on Merseyside and elsewhere, he would elaborate on the case for the excepted district at local level of 10,000 or more population. Has he answered that question?

Mr. Hamling

I should regard a district of 10,000 as quite ridiculous from an education point of view. I thought that my hon. Friend was going to talk about the County Borough of Hull. I should have been much more agreeable to crack lances with him on that.

Mr. Johnson

If I am lucky enough to be called later, I shall talk about Hull.

Mr. Hamling

I did not think that my hon. Friend would be able to resist that temptation.

There is a case to be made for considering what is a desirable optimum area for particular services. I submit that the new Clause covers all the objections which have come from both sides. It is very permissive; it is not using the big stick. It is not drawn as wide as Clause 187, to which some of the objections already made might have applied, and certainly those objections cannot be made to the new Clause.

I hope that the Minister will indicate that he has the same attitude towards permissiveness in this area as we who ardently support the new Clause.

Mr. Marks

I have been reminded in this debate and in many of the debates in Committee which I have read of some of the discussions in which I took part as a local councillor when councils were considering their proposals in the late 1950s, the early 1960s, and ever since. I worked out that there was a formula: that every councillor thought that his local authority was exactly the right size unless it could take in the nearest smaller local authority. I heard councillors from non-county boroughs below 40,000 looking back with nostalgia to the day when they ran their own education services.

My constituency illustrates better than most the problem facing the metropolitan areas, the conurbations. Half of it is in the City of Manchester; and the other half consists of two urban districts which come in the administrative county of Lancashire. At one time I taught in the City of Manchester and was a member of the Divisional Education Executive in the other half of the constituency. With my experience as a teacher, a councillor and a parent in the area, I should have preferred education to go to the large metropolitan authority—certainly for the Manchester area. I do not know about the others, but certainly for Manchester this would have been the answer.

I am glad that the Divisional Education Executive of the Lancashire County Council is to go by the board for my area, despite the fact that Lancashire has made great attempts to make the system work probably better than anywhere else in the country. It does not provide the service that a county borough can provide in such a conurbation area. I prefer outside the conurbation the unitary authority which the Labour Government proposed merging town and country and attempting to solve the metropolitan area problem separately.

One problem in the metropolitan areas is that, except for road signs, one does not know when one is going out of one town into another. For example, a new comprehensive school in the Manchester part of my constituency has the same boundary as the city itself. The people living in the Lancashire urban districts near the boundary of the comprehensive school cannot send their children to that school. Even worse, the Lancashire part is still suffering from eleven-plus selection system.

Mr. Hamling

Very backward.

Mr. Marks

We have the same problem in further education. People often want to go to a further education college in the other borough or urban district. We shall still have this problem when the Bill becomes an Act. We shall still have the boundary at the comprehensive school and parents will not have the choice of sending their children to the nearest school to their homes.

I have some reservation about the new Clause, mainly because I do not go much on the idea of joint boards. I am not altogether happy that a joint education committee between two councils will provide the best service. There is a tendency to work for one's own council rather than overall.

Mr. John Silkin

I am not contemplating in the new Clause that there would be joint boards. I think that there would be a sole amalgamated education authority with nothing joint about it.

Mr. Marks

I accept that. I take it that my right hon. Friend means that the authorities will be merged for all purposes, not simply education.

On balance, I think that the larger authority is better. It is significant that the evidence of the Department of Education and Science to the Maud Commission described these authorities—London, the West Riding, and the big county boroughs—as the pace setters. This is true. They have been the pace setters throughout on special education, further education, technical education, and so on. As public representatives we are inclined to think only of the public representatives' point of view. Education authorities may consist of councillors, but they are run by officers.

In the main, the big authorities can recruit the officers more capable of doing the job. I appreciate that there are difficulties in manning committees on the very big authorities. For instance, the Greater London Council has had difficulty in finding a chairman of finance. The chairman of the Manchester Borough Education Authority committee recently said that he has a good employer, but that as chairman of the Education Committee he has virtually a full-time job and that if he were the chairman of the Greater Manchester area he would find it even more difficult. I accept that this is one of the problems.

Nevertheless, from my experience in teaching and local authority work, I believe that the advantages of the big authority outweigh the disadvantages. We have to look for democracy at school level rather than at authority level in future. The secondary schools will be big enough to do this, and the primary schools coupled with them can certainly do it.

The people at whose doors we should be knocking are not necessarily the local councillors, but the local people who would be on the governing body: the teachers, the parents, or the representatives of parents concerned. We are not dealing with education as it has been for the past 50 years. We must realise that we shall not have another Local Government Bill of this kind for many years. The last major Bill was in about 1892. I am sure the Minister will not wish to be on the next one. No doubt he hopes that by that time he will be in another Department. I say no more.

The new Clause provides the opportunity for the metropolitan districts, the Department of Education and Science, and the larger metropolitan areas to consider again whether amalgamations can be worked. My constituency, which may be altered, will have one rich authority, a city with a great tradition of education—one of the pace setters—and a neighbouring authority which will be formed from the merging of 10 non-county boroughs and urban districts. That one will be the poorest in terms of rateable value and the least populated of the whole of the metropolitan area. I think that that authority should have the opportunity of considering whether it would be better to merge with one of the neighbouring authorities—Manchester,Stockport or one of the others. This Clause could give them the opportunity to propose that and would give the Government the opportunity to say that they agree. I urge that we approve this Clause.

7.0 p.m.

Mr. James Hill

It is with some pleasure that I am able to speak very strongly against this Clause. I fully realise that the basic mistake in the Clause is in subsection (2) by completely by-passing the teachers and the parents' association in a very basic area, which may well be reflected in the thinking of the right hon. Member for Deptford (Mr. John Silkin). That I am speaking against this Clause does not mean necessarily that I go along with my own Front Bench in their view of education in the Local Government Bill. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said in March 1971: We are determined to maintain as far as possible the deep-rooted loyalties in which our local government was founded in the past. No one in their right senses is in favour of change for change's sake. I could not agree more with his sentiments then and I am sure they are exactly the same now. This is called the Local Government Bill and I am surprised that there has not been an Amendment put down to change the name, because it is no more local government than any other form of government. To my mind there is and could be a great case for a regional education authority for higher education. I would grant that point, but certainly primary and secondary education is not any such case.

It seems from the remarks that have been made that if one has a fairly poor education authority, not only poor in ability but poor in finance, one is only too willing to amalgamate with a far larger education authority. But if one is fortunate, as the hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. R. C. Mitchell) and myself are, to represent an area or a city where the education authority is first class and spends a tremendous amount of finance on such things as books, furniture and sports equipment, one is apparently expected to see this first-class education authority, because it is so good and is fortunate enough to be supported by a high rateable valuation, being merged into an area which, although I cannot make too many pointed remarks, spends considerably less on its primary and secondary education than do areas such as Southampton and Portsmouth.

I realise why an Amendment which was presented to the Committee failed abysmally; it was asking for local authorities of urban areas with a population of 150,000 or more to be able to control their own education authority. I realise, with the right hon. Gentleman leading for the Opposition and the fact that my right hon. Friend is not too happy to help Hampshire in this way, why we failed abysmally.

Mr. Hamling

Would the hon. Gentleman accept that the area which is to be amalgamated with Southampton and Portsmouth has a higher rateable value per head of population than Portsmouth or Southampton?

Mr. Hill

No, I do not think I would accept that. The hon. Gentleman fails to understand that we have the Isle of Wight, Southampton and Portsmouth, Andover, Basingstoke and many county areas, and by that I mean country areas. That is why we are protesting. We feel that this egalitarianism throughout our educational system will strike right at the heart of the fears that teachers and parents' associations in Southampton feel.

Consequently all I can say is that I should be most reluctant to see our educational areas grow to the million or million and a half that the right hon. Gentleman opposite seems to visualise. I should have thought that there was room here for letting cities such as Southampton, which have proved that they can run a viable and first-class education authority—and in a later Clause we hope our right hon. Friend will look at this—retain their education authority and prove still further how good it is.

Dr. Edmund Marshall (Goole)

The various right hon. and hon. Gentlemen who have spoken in this debate so far from both sides of the House have based their remarks largely on their experience of education in compact urban areas, either because they represent such areas or because they have been professionally engaged in education in such areas. As my hon. Friend the Member for Woolwich, West (Mr. Hamling) said earlier, I represent a constituency in the West Riding of Yorkshire where the local education authority is coterminous with the West Riding County Council. There it can truly be said that the present local education authority is not local because the distance from one end of the county to the other is very great, from Sedbergh in the far north west to Maltby and Tickhill in the far south east. This contrasts with the situation we have heard described in the County Boroughs of Sunderland or Southampton, or even Inner London.

The problem facing a large county authority like the West Riding—and I presume the same applies to counties like Lancashire—in this reorganisation is that instead of being merged into some larger area its whole area is being split up and fragmented. It is a fact that under the proposals in the Bill the West Riding Education Authority is to be split into no fewer than 14 different parts from an education point of view. Nine of these parts will be the metropolitan districts within the metropolitan Counties of West Yorkshire and South Yorkshire and the other five will be the parts of the West Riding which are being assigned to other counties—Humberside, North Yorkshire, and so on—surrounding the present West Riding.

It is true to say that in any reorganisation such as this fragmentation is a much more costly and disruptive operation than merging and amalgamation. I am terribly worried by the whole business of moving from the present situation to the situation which is proposed in the Bill. Many of the arguments that have been raised in this debate so far have been centred on the ideal picture of education as we should like to see it eventually. My anxieties are centred on the transition from the here and now to the educational set-up proposed in the Bill. It is because of these anxieties, which I know are shared by educationists in Yorkshire, that I think there is need for a provision such as that proposed in the new Clause which will allow amalgamations if they are thought to be necessary, without compulsion. It is with that in mind that I speak in support of this new Clause.

I should like to press another point, which I made also in the Standing Committee, that the whole business of fragmentation particularly affects the education service. There are schools in the West Riding, and doubtless in ether counties similarly affected by the Bill, which were built to serve particular catchment areas. The plans for the schools were drawn up in the knowledge that they would serve the population of certain villages. Those areas are now being split either between different districts in the metropolitan counties or even between different counties. The whole pattern is one of confusion.

Again, the patterns of secondary reorganisation which have been drawn up in the West Riding were devised in the knowledge of local geography with particular schools serving certain areas and drawing children from primary schools in certain catchment areas. The whole pattern is being fragmented by the proposals in the Bill.

Perhaps I did not make this point sufficiently strongly in the Standing Committee, because the Minister for Local Government and Development replied in this way: Boundaries have to be fixed in relation to many other factors besides the educational considerations, but sophisticated arrangements exist at the present time for inter-authority or cross-boundary traffic in education—in schools, in further and special education—and there is no reason why these arrangements should not continue under the new authorities."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee D; 2nd March, 1972, c. 2204.] It is true that there are these arrangements to deal with anomalies of boundaries between education areas. When I heard the Minister make those remarks it struck me forcibly that he had not comprehended the size of the problem which will face a county such as the West Riding under this reorganisation. The arrangements about which the hon. Gentleman spoke are those to deal with exceptional cases because of some strange quirk in a county boundary, because an urban development has overlapped a county boundary, or because some children want a special type of education, perhaps for religious or for medical reasons. Those arrangements are not geared to cope with the massive kind of splitting up that will result from the proposals in the Bill.

I strongly plead that the permissive powers which would be allowed by the new Clause, allowing education authorities in metropolitan districts to get together to run their services jointly, should be accepted.

Mr. Dan Jones

I cannot claim to have had the teaching experience that so many of my colleagues have had. However, my son, my daughter-in-law, and my daughter are members of the profession and teaching occupies a good deal of the time in my home life. In that regard Burnley figures prominently.

Because of that experience I support the Clause. Subsection (2) is fair. If Burnley were to be merged with the County of Lancashire all people in the County Borough of Burnley—I include the Conservative Party, the Liberal Party and the Labour Party—would be greatly distressed.

Burnley has a unique record in education. Not the least of its achievements has been that it has developed one of the finest technical colleges in North-East Lancashire, notwithstanding the fact that it was until the last decade principally a cotton town. This achievement resulted from Burnley's sense of adventure in education.

7.15 p.m.

The Secretary of State recently visited my constituency and met people of all parties who share the despair that would be felt if the education function were to be taken from Burnley. The right hon. Gentleman will agree that on that occasion he met responsible people, people who could be taken to accept a constructive view on the whole question of education. I am privileged to speak for Burnley. During the years that I have been associated with it I have learned much about the characteristics of its people. Burnley has developed an education pattern that compares favourably with that which exists in the County of Lancashire. If as a result of the Bill Burnley is merged with Lancashire, I am certain that that standard will suffer.

The Clause is reasonable. There is nothing partisan, aggressive or dogmatic about it. The Government should accept the Clause. I know that if this consultation takes place it will take up a lot of the Secretary of State's time. However, we are talking about the education of our future citizens. If the Government do not think that it is worth taking time over that, they confess an inability to project themselves into the future as intelligently as they should.

Mr. James Johnson

I assure my hon. Friend the Member for Burnley (Mr. Dan Jones) that he need feel no misgivings or inhibitions about taking part in this debate merely because he is not a teacher. I greatly enjoyed my hon. Friend's speech. Burnley is not unlike Hull and something of what my hon. Friend said spun off to me. I shall talk about Hull in that context later.

The debate has taken on a familiar pattern. Back benchers begin and often end by attacking their leaders on the Front Bench. At the end we recant and say, "After all there is something in the new Clause. Although it may never happen, it is a good thing that it is there. It is an insurance, a guarantee."

The hon. Member for Southampton, Test (Mr. James Hill) spoke of his excellent city, in the presence of his colleague, my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. R. C. Mitchell) who incidentally is a teacher. The hon. Gentleman championed teachers. He said that the only thing that he did not like about the Bill was that there was something missing from Schedule 2. He sounded very democratic then, although later he opposed egalitarianism in L.E.A.s He asked, why did his own Minister not include a reference to teachers and parents—

Mr. James Hill

The hon. Gentleman is mistaken in saying that that is what I said. I pointed out that his right hon. Friend was arguing that I had said that teachers and parents' associations had been missed out from Schedule 2. I did not make any mention of my right hon. Friend including this anywhere.

Mr. Johnson

If the hon. Gentleman did not say it, then he should have done. There seems to be a case within a case here. The case apparently is for sheer size. I do not think that my right hon. Friend the Member for Deptford (Mr. John Silkin) was arguing about acreage, mileage or distance. He was talking about resources and the ability to provide institutions for disabled youngsters, and polytechnics. My hon. Friend the Member for Woolwich, West (Mr. Hamling) and I were talking about excepted districts earlier. He said that these were too small. Obviously they could not have polytechnics. The case on our side is that if there is amalgamation of districts, a poor county council will be pushed along by the wealthier one.

I do not know how wealthy Hampshire is—

Mr. Hamling

Very wealthy.

Mr. Johnson

There was a somewhat abstruse and arcane point made about whether, per head of population, Portsmouth and Southampton were wealthier than such places as Basingstoke and the Isle of Wight. The point was made that the wealthier should always help the poorer. The same is true internationally. The wealthy nations such as the United Kingdom, West Germany, the Soviet Union perhaps, should help the poorer nations. In the same way we plead for this new Clause and say that the wealthier counties should, if necessary, help the poorer counties.

I am sorry that my right hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey) has gone because of all hon. Members he is the man I would not want to miss. His speeches are short and in that they are a model to us all. In addition, he speaks encapsulated common sense. He did not waste a word. In a similar encapsulated form I should like to make some points about Humberside, which is rather like Hampshire. It is not like West Yorkshire; East Yorkshire never was like West Yorkshire.

Humberside is a county of its own. We are taking in the wealthy boroughs of Hull, Scunthorpe, Grimsby and some of the outlying boroughs. We are taking in the town of Goole. My hon. Friend the Member for Goole (Dr. Marshall) spoke about fragmentation, and Sir Alec Clegg would be behind him 100 per cent. there. Goole is looking to us now—it always did—in a local government sense, instead of looking west to Wakefield.

I am with the Minister here as I usually am over the question of Humberside. I hope that he will not give way later to certain Amendments dealing with Lincolnshire. We have done well and Goole and other places coming to Hull are better off than elsewhere. My right hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, North was a cheerful heretic. With his common sense any of us could have made much the same speech for Hull, Southampton, Derby, Leicester, Plymouth, Stoke and so on. They are all in the same boat, or the same canoe. I do not think that we have a paddle; certainly we are in difficulties.

We are like my right hon. Friend, and we believe, as does Sunderland, that education depends on good people. We could all quote examples in our cities of specialised services, for example for the old and disabled or for the handicapped. We have a magnificent record going back over many years. We shall play our part with those from the sparsely populated areas.

7.30 p.m.

It has been said, rightly, that local government depends upon geography. If there is one part of the United Kingdom which depends upon geography or which will need to conquer its geographical difficulties, it is Humberside. It will be years before we are able to get to the other bank by means of our bridge. It will be some time before we have the necessary communications. Being in Lincolnshire is like being in the Mid-West; it is like being in Kansas or Illinois. One can travel along the highways in one's car and see farm workers half a mile away forking hay in the fields. Lincolnshire similarly is thinly populated.

When the Minister is considering the question of amalgamating large areas, with the wealthy areas perhaps supporting the weaker areas, I ask him to consider the possibility of devolution or hiving off. These areas have fine schools and fine education committees. People have done good work over decades in voluntary service. I hope that the Minister will think of allowing amalgamation, not merely of counties, but of the old district executives. Lincolnshire and Yorkshire must work together in future. There have been old antagonisms. It will be more than helpful if local people are allowed to have some power in education.

I am all for the Scunthorpes and Grimsbys and, of course, I am all the time for Hull, but we must think about the larger counties with wide open spaces which do not have too much money and which therefore may need help from a wealthy county next door.

Mr. Michael Cocks

The key point about the Clause is that it provides flexibility. I do not wish to talk about the question of size as such. Earlier there was discussion about the size of schools. Before the war I went for a short time to a school in Scotland of 1,400 pupils. No one ever queried its size because it was divided horizontally into junior, middle and senior schools. The man who administered the strap, or the tawse, as it is known in Scotland, was the head of the middle school. That was the unit of organisation within which we worked. It is possible to organise schools vertically or horizontally so that problems of size are overcome.

I support the Clause because it is extremely important that it should be possible for authorities to merge if required. New education trends will call for the use of large resources, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Deptford (Mr. John Silkin) said. There should be the opportunity, not only for a great deal of inter- change between staff, and particularly the inspectorate, and a widening of experience without the inhibiting artificial boundaries of different administrative units, but for the use of greater resources to solve problems which are developing in education which we have not fully grasped.

Hon. Members are aware of the very substantial changes which have taken place in the last decade or two in the primary school syllabus. The liberation of the primary school from the rigour of formal examination at 11 years of age has given very much greater freedom to the curriculum. I believe that in the coming years there will be similar pressure to rid the secondary sector of the subject-centred syllabus. While the com-partmentalisation of subjects—an hour of this and an hour ofthat—may be all right for people who are very gifted academically, it is not suitable for the vast majority of people who pass through the secondary schools, and it is not education in the true sense. We still have the subject-centred syllabus as a hangover from the way in which education was at one time geared to providing a comparatively small number of people for the universities. But this situation will change, and there will be much greater expansion in further education and higher education requirements.

I do not say this in the normal way in which we talk about this matter when we think of more people coming through the sixth forms and following the natural progression. I am thinking in terms of people who wish to pursue courses, not necessarily immediately after leaving school but possibly after a break or after they have had an opportunity of assessing their true interests and have a strong motivation to pursue a specialist course. This will give rise to a demand for such a large number of different courses of study and discipline that they can be catered for only by a larger structure.

That is at one end of the scale. At the other end there is the growing problem, which the House has recognised in the last few years, of handicapped children. In July, 1970, we took a notable step forward when we passed the Bill dealing with mentally handicapped children, destroying the soulless and arbitrary distinction between educationally subnormal children and severely subnormal children.

For the parents of gravely handicapped children there is the nightmare of what will happen to their children when they pass out of the educational system. Provision in this respect is, unfortunately, sadly inadequate. This is a problem which must be recognised by society and tackled.

The need for supporting services is recognised, but hon. Members will agree that the people who are active in work for mentally handicapped people are often the parents or close relatives of those suffering from this disability. We must getaway from this situation where they are the only people who are motivated to try to tackle this problem. We want the whole of society to be aware of it. We must be optimistic about the way in which education will develop, and we must plan in such a way that people will in later years be prepared to make a contribution towards helping handicapped people.

This current of sympathy which we hope will be generated is not enough unless it is backed by substantial resources. This work is specialised, exacting and expensive. We must think in terms of structures which are large enough to have the economies of scale which are necessary and to provide for specialisms and at the same time to incorporate the efforts of people who are prepared to give their time on voluntary work. This calls for flexibility in merging and crossing boundaries.

I welcome the Clause, which is oriented towards change. It is helpful in producing an organic structure which allows growth and is not hidebound. It enables change to be brought about and resources to be pooled, and it means that areas which otherwise might not be able to provide the new trends in education will be sufficiently large to do so.

Rural and urban areas may both be involved. The history of the changes in secondary education in England since the war shows a move towards comprehensive reorganisation. In some areas it has gone through smoothly and in others it has been a bone of contention. In Bristol, which is known for its comprehensive system, it has been a political argument over the years, whilst in the neighbouring areas of Gloucestershire and Somerset it has gone through com- paratively smoothly with the consent of staff, parents and authorities.

The reason for this difference of approach is that in Somerset and Gloucestershire there has been no possibility of a political change in the county council; there has been no political mileage in a row about comprehensive education, whereas in Bristol a great deal of heat could be generated and there was a possibility of a change of control on the council.

Sometimes education matters are decided by politics and sometimes by personalities. I could give many instances of county councils' secondary programmes and policies being changed because of a change in chairmanship or a change in the chief officer. Such great power in the hands of one man was regarded in the Maud Report on the staffing of local government as one of the dangers of great size.

We need flexibility. We need to think in terms not of what happened when we were at school but of what are the growth points and whether they can be adequately catered for with a rigid structure. I enthusiastically support the Clause because it gives the essential element of flexibility which we shall need in the future.

Mr. Graham Page

In moving the new Clause the right hon. Member for Deptford (Mr. John Silkin) said that what he was striving to do was to get nearer to an equally high standard of education and the nearer we could get the better, and that phrase appealed to me. That is what we are trying to do in the whole of local government reorganisation. He said that people will not stand any more for great differences in standards, and I thoroughly agree with him. The hon. Member for Woolwich, West (Mr. Hamling) spoke of the low standards in certain areas. He wanted to see high standards over wide areas.

The right hon. Gentleman, in his enthusiasm for the large areas, was a little unfair on some of the existing local education authorities. For example, some county boroughs have carried out extremely good education work, and some of them have been even smaller in size than the ones we now contemplate. I pay tribute to them. I want to encourage them to bring their strength into the non-metropolitan councils, and I want them not to feel that they are being dragged into an inferior system of education.

7.45 p.m.

The right hon. Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey) asked what function Sunderland could not carry out. The hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. R. C. Mitchell) said that the optimum size for an education authority might differ with different kinds of education, and I take his point. We are seeking the right size of education authorities. If in setting up local government units, whether within metropolitan or non-metropolitan counties, we do not get the right size for a particular local government function, let us find a device such as the new Clause as an escape valve. We may desperately need in certain metropolitan districts to build up an area which has a small population at the moment and, therefore, does not fit what we want as an education unit.

May I then look at the new Clause which the right hon. Gentleman asks us to accept? I must not encourage him too much at this stage because I cannot accept the Clause as it stands, although I go along with him on the principle behind it. The expression "amalgamation scheme" is rather imprecise, but he explained that this is meant to be an arrangement whereby two or more education authorities would agree, or would be required by the Secretary of State after consultation with him, to join together to act as a single local education authority which would be executive and not merely advisory for the whole of their joint area.

The right hon. Gentleman jumped to his feet when a joint board was suggested. But there is no difference between the amalgamation scheme of which he speaks and the joint board. The Secretary of State for Education and Science, under Schedule 1 of the Education Act, 1944, already has power to set up a joint board between education authorities. There is little difference in the executive body which the right hon. Gentleman wishes to set up and the joint board under that Schedule. The power under the Schedule is exercisable where it appears to the Secretary of State that the establishment of a joint education board would tend to diminish expense or to increase efficiency or would otherwise be of public advantage. That is the priority which is in the Act, but I think the priority is the wrong way round. One would look at it from the point of view first of public advantage. Power is there, and the Secretary of State may make an order after a local inquiry, unless all the councils concerned consent to its being made, in which case the Secretary of State does not have to hold an inquiry.

The right hon. Member for Sunderland, North said that the Secretary of State might not wish to take responsibility. But if he is taking the responsibility either when all the councils consent or after a local inquiry, then it is a responsibility which is his, or hers, at present—

Mr. John Silkin

If the Minister is right that the joint board powers given in the 1944 Education Act are more or less on the lines of what I am seeking in the new Clause, why has the power not been used before? For example, why was it not used in the creation of the I.L.E.A.?

Mr. Page

It has not been used before because, as I am advised, it is not very popular; the education authorities have not wanted to amalgamate. It may be that in certain cases they ought to have their heads knocked together and should amalgamate, but this is not the occasion to discuss that matter. I am concerned to see whether there is machinery for what we want to do and, if there is, to discover whether it is satisfactory.

I do not think the 1944 Education Act or the situation as it would be under the Clause is satisfactory, and I accept that either or both need tidying up. The power in the 1944 Act to set up a joint education board has been used on only one occasion, and that was in special circumstances in the Soke and City of Peterborough, which has now been subsumed within the area of Huntingdon and Peterborough—so that has now gone. It was used on that one occasion, and apparently has not been very popular.

When we come to the new local government structure and consider the new education authorities from the point of view of their financial resources, knowledge, manpower, and so on, we may find that we have such substantial education authorities in one area that if they are not up to scratch in another area amalgamation will be needed to enable them to come up to the high standard which the right hon. Gentleman mentioned. It will be worth while if we can devise machinery for amalgamation or for joint boards to be set up. It may be that such a power need not be used on many occasions, but it is right we should have some such power.

The Clause is not acceptable as it stands, and indeed Opposition back benchers do not appear to have found it entirely acceptable. It applies only to authorities which will be education authorities under the legislation, and applies horizontally rather than vertically. The hon. Member for Burnley (Mr. Dan Jones) said "Do not take Burnley's education function away from us". He could solve his problem by joining with Blackburn and with some of the others around him. The Clause does not provide for joint boards between non-metropolitan counties and districts within non-metropolitan counties, and perhaps we should think about that side of the picture.

Since this subject is far more an education matter than a local government matter, I am perhaps trespassing, even in the remarks I am now making, on the sphere of the Department of Education and Science. However, I am searching for a proper local government procedure to be adopted in cases where we think it necessary to join two local education authorities.

Mr. Dan Jones

May I clarify the position about Burnley? Let me emphasise that I am speaking on this occasion for the Minister's party as well as for my own. The fear is that Burnley will become, not amalgamated with Blackburn but submerged in the County of Lancashire. Such a move would be considered in Burnley to be derogatory.

Mr. Page

This takes the debate much wider than the Clause and deals with whether the education function should be at county level in non-metropolitan counties or whether we should place it at the district level. This is not the debate which is before the House at the moment. The debate now before us relates to whether a county should join with a county next door to produce a better education authority and whether we should have power to bring about such a situation.

If we think two districts as set up for other purposes are too small for their education functions, let us have power to amalgamate them. I shall not seek to draft the right Clause in this Bill. I hope that we shall have before the House in not too long a time an education Bill which will be the right place to make this provision. For the moment we have the provision within the Education Act, 1944. Let us tidy it up in due course in an education Bill.

Mr. Willey

The Minister has made the important announcement that an education Bill is due. Could he assure the House that it will be next Session?

Mr. Page

I did not make an announcement—I would not presume to do so. I said that I hoped we should have an education Bill before the House and that any amendment on these lines should be made in such a Bill. The situation at the moment may need tidying up, but not in this Bill.

Mr. Oakes

Although we accept that the Clause in its present form is not acceptable—and the Minister says that he would like to see the existing powers in the 1944 Act made much wider—why can he not introduce an Amendment of this sort in another place? This is surely the appropriate way to cover the situation.

Mr. Page

Having spent much of my time sitting through 51 sittings of the Committee, and having now before me a Bill of this size, I do not want to call upon the parliamentary draftsmen to put education Clauses in this Bill. It is better to leave it to the right department of government to produce the right Clause. We have an escape clause at the moment, and I hope that, following my assurance to the right hon. Gentleman that we are thinking on the same lines, he will not seek to divide the House. It would be disappointing to divide on this occasion.

I hope we can agree on the matter of principle and eventually can make the necessary reforms in the right place. I throw out that suggestion as an olive branch.

Mr. Ernest Armstrong (Durham, North-West)

I was encouraged when the Minister began his reply, but I am afraid that his qualifications towards the end of his remarks made me less pleased with what he had to say. It would not be a good thing if the provisions in the Clause were never used. Indeed, the reason why the Clause was tabled was that we were very much aware of the changing nature of the education service and the great changes which were occurring in terms of the needs of those at the receiving end of the education service. Therefore, because we have before us the Local Government Bill, a Measure which will shape local government for a number of years to come, I must say that I was disappointed at the Minister's suggestion that we should be satisfied with his assurance that this could be done in an education Act which may come before us in future. He could not say when it would come along, and that seems much too far ahead.

I would remind the hon. Gentleman that children have only one opportunity in terms of their schooling. Children, like everybody else, grow older, and while we are debating such Clauses as this or any other Clauses or Amendments which we feel may be of assistance those children are in the situation of being dealt with by an education system as it is at present.

I become very impatient about the slow way in which we reform our education service. A few weeks ago the Secretary of State for Education and Science in a very interesting speech referred to the need today for smaller comprehensive schools. Her remarks received wide acclaim in the education service and in the country generally. I share that view. But I put it to the Minister that the reason why smaller comprehensive schools are being advocated and are acceptable to the teaching profession and others in the service presents a powerful argument for accepting this Clause, which looks to the future.

8.0 p.m.

The real reason is this. When we first talked about going comprehensive and abolishing selective education in secondary schools we believed that we should need almost a minimum of 2,000 children in a school in order to get a viable sixth form. That was because of the outlook of those in the profession. At the time I was a member of the profession. We had been brought up on this principle. It was given to us during our college days. We believed that children could be assessed with accuracy, that we could determine their intelligence quotient, and that there was a limited number of children who could profit from extended education.

Every report that we have had on the subject of education, whether it has dealt with further education, with the secondary school level or with the primary school level, has come to the same conclusion. Each one has concluded that our children are much more intelligent than we gave them credit for years ago. What is more, the number of children who have taken advantage of the facilities provided has always increased more rapidly than any statistical report has ever envisaged. Therefore, when we are formulating our proposals for local government, especially in relation to education, we have to realise that with the raising of the school leaving age and with the extension of opportunity, more and more of our children will need greater and greater facilities.

With respect to my right hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey), we are not putting forward the Clause because we believe that bigger local education authorities automatically are better than smaller ones. We have to bear in mind the report of Her Majesty's Inspectorate which considered size in relation to efficiency and said: The evidence is that authorities of less than 200,000 are apt to be weak. I go no further than that. I shall use that evidence.

The facilities that we expect from an education service today are infinitesimal compared with those that we shall take for granted in 20 years. When we think of the difficulties of reforming local government, we know that we are fashioning local government for a long time to come, and I for one would not like to do anything which prevented the provision of the service that our children need.

Mr. Carter-Jones

There is one important point that I have been waiting to make. There is a difficulty in getting the right size of authority geographically and in terms of population. There is also the problem of getting the right size of rateable value. In my correspondence with the Secretary of State for Education and Science I have been assured that there will be a review of rate support grants to allow the maximum help to be given to poor authorities. Does my hon. Friend agree that organisations such as C.A.S.E. which have made representations about this ought to have a full statement from the right hon. Lady about rate support grants before this Measure becomes law?

Mr. Armstrong

I am grateful for that intervention. My hon. Friend has made a very valid point on a matter to which I shall refer later in my remarks. Before coming to that, however, I wish to comment on the obsession of those who have contributed to the debate with the education service as it is now.

I was chairman of a borough education authority. If this debate had taken place 10 years ago and I had been permitted to speak, I should have defended the Sunderlands, the Southamptons, the Portsmouths, and so on. Being chairman of a borough authority, I thought that we were providing the ideal service. I hope that my experience in this House, my visits to other authorities and my privilege of seeing the education service over a wider range than one is able to in a local authority have convinced me that, although there are many small authorities providing a good service, we have to take note of the availability of resources and the ability of any authority to give the resources to the school that the school needs.

We have talked too much about the administrator and the local councillor in relation to the education service. I am never tired of reminding my colleagues on my authority that the most important job that we ever did as an education authority was to appoint the head teacher. If we did that well, however cumbersome or inefficient we were in the education office did not matter. If we had a good head, we were 75 per cent. of the way to having a good school.

I see the job of an education authority as giving the head teacher and his staff the facilities, resources, books and aids which will enable them to do their job.

The size of the authority bears little relation to whether the school is a local community, whether there are good relations in the school, and so on. They have nothing to do with the size of the authority. The position is the same as regards the size of the school. There are some very good big schools, and there are some shocking ones. There are some very good small schools. I could take hon. Members to some schools which are rigid and inflexible and are falling down on the job. I hasten to add that they are not in my constituency. It has nothing to do with size. It has to do with the approach inside the school and the resources available to the staff to do their job.

Looking to the future, great stress is laid in the James Report on Teacher Training on the need for teachers to come together in professional centres to have interchange, exchange and so on. This can best be done when the authority is large.

I look forward to the time—I think this will come within the next 20 years—when every secondary school child has part of his education in boarding school. One of the most exciting weeks I have spent was in an old castle in Durham where the education authority—it takes a large authority to do this—had taken over the premises and grounds for education purposes.

For a whole week children of leaving age—I regret to say that at that time it was 15—lived, studied and had lectures together. The benefit of that week to those children had to be seen to be believed.

With the passage of time, enlightened education authorities may come to feel that all secondary school children should spend at least a term in boarding school. This will be a costly business, and some of the education authorities envisaged in the Bill will find it difficult to provide this facility.

In addition, other activities can be undertaken. For example, the Outward Bound movement enables education authorities to buy places in the Lake District and elsewhere. This, too, is costly, and the I.L.E.A., on whose pattern of activities the new Clause is based, has set the style for this type of activity.

When I was chairman of the authority in Sunderland I found that most parents wanted a really effectively administered education service. They were extremely concerned when they found that Ryhope—it happens to be in the enlarged Sunderland district—had a different set of opportunities for children compared with those elsewhere in the area, and time and again I received pleas from parents for better opportunities for their children. They rightly pointed out that wherever they lived they paid rates and taxes. Whether people live in a remote rural area or downtown, their children are entitled to precisely the same opportunities as those who live in the more favoured areas.

In the coming 20 years one of the jobs of the Department of Education and Science, in co-operation with local authorities, will be to discriminate in favour of the deprived areas and their children. This needs to be done on a far greater scale than it was begun to be done by the Labour Government and is being done to a certain extent by the present Government. If we are to give our children equality of educational opportunity, the resources of the State and of large local authorities must be made available to discriminate in favour of areas which are at present denied the opportunity of giving equality in this respect.

The new Clause is a compromise, and I am convinced that education authorities, those in the metropolitan areas and even those on the higher tier, will find it a flexible compromise. It has the support of the County Councils Association. It lays down that the Secretary of State shall consult local authorities.

Any local authority which, when consulting with the Secretary of State, did not consult its teachers would soon find itself in trouble. I do not see any need, despite what some hon. Members have said, to write a provision relating to this aspect into the Clause. We know the strength of the teachers' organisations. They will make sure that they are consulted. Even so, after consultation the matter must come before Parliament in the form of an affirmative Resolution.

8.15 p.m.

I am sure that this sort of amalgamation or joint authority will be necessary.

However, because of the helpful noises made by the Minister, I advise my hon. Friends not to press the Clause to a Division. Nevertheless, I press the Minister, in view of what he said and his admission that a provision of this kind is necessary, to introduce a similar proposal in another place. Considering the Government's legislative programme, even for this Session, it is clear that we shall not have a new education Act in the near future, much as I would like to see one.

The Clause corrects a serious omission from this legislation, and it is clear that without it some authorities, even those to be established under the Bill, will find it difficult to fulfil their obligation to give our children the education they deserve. But, because of the advances in education that I hope to see in the coming 10 years and the fact that some authorities may be unable to provide the service we require, I hope that the Minister will do something to rectify the position in another place.

Question put and negatived.

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