HC Deb 15 November 1974 vol 881 cc781-846

Order for Second Reading read.

12.23 p.m.

The Secretary of State for Education and Science (Mr. Reg Prentice)

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

Perhaps the House will allow me to say that I associate myself with the statement made earlier this morning by the Secretary of State for Scotland. I have answered today a Written Question from my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. Mitchell) which confirms, in relation to England and Wales, the general principles set out in my right hon. Friend's statement. The Burnham Committee met on Wednesday and came to the conclusion that there should be a two-stage implementation of the Houghton Report. It did that before it was aware that Lord Houghton had notified to the Government the view which has already been described to the House. I believe that everything points to the successful implementation of the award in two stages, the first stage now being fairly close. I believe that on the implementation of the Houghton Report we shall have made the biggest advance in the pay and conditions of teachers since the Second World War.

Mr. Anthony Fell (Yarmouth)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I do not want to be unpleasant to the right hon. Gentleman but if we proceed in this manner, with the Minister making statements when introducing a Bill that has nothing to do with the statements being made, we shall surely get into an odd situation.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Oscar Murton)

It is in order for the Secretary of State to refer in broad terms to a statement which has been made earlier. I would agree, and I think that the Minister would agree, that, having made those points, they should not be pursued by any other hon. Member during the course of the debate.

Mr. Fell

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. If back benchers and Front Benchers are not to be allowed to discuss a statement made by a Minister which is completely out of order in a subsequent debate, I should have thought——

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. It will be in order for hon. Members to make as much reference to the statement as the Minister has made, but not more.

Mr. Prentice

It was my intention to draw that part of my remarks to a close. It was my intention to do so when the hon. Member for Yarmouth (Mr. Fell) rose with his point of order. I felt that it might be for the general convenience of the House to be aware of what I have just said, especially as it is very much an education topic. I am sure that we all recognise the simple point that the pay, the status, the training and the morale of the teaching profession are the most important single factors in education. I can leave the matter there. As I have said, I have answered a Written Question on this subject that will be available to the House.

In the next few years the education service will be operating in conditions of severe stringency. This will be a period of austerity in which life will be difficult for everyone in the service. However, that does not mean a period of standstill. I believe it represents a challenge to the Government, to the local education authorities, to the teaching profession and to everyone else concerned to use their imagination and ingenuity to find ways of providing a more efficient service, and in some cases to reallocate resources and to take a fresh view of priorities.

It is within that framework that I bring before the House a Bill that makes very modest provisions for extra expenditure in areas of identifiable need. That has been the approach of the Government since last March. Between March and October we made a number of important reforms which involved little extra expenditure, the value of which was out of proportion to the cost. For example, there was the establishment of new units for disadvantaged children and for children of under-attainment in educational terms, the provision of £1 million for adult illiteracy classes and the decision to extend the Open University. I regard this Bill as being in that tradition.

The estimated cost of the Bill is about £700,000 in a full year. There will be an extension of mandatory grants to a modest extent at an estimated cost of over £100,000 in a full year. There will be a new system of State grants at full mandatory rates to students in seven adult residential colleges at a cost of approximately £1½ million. In a full year there will be much needed help to aided schools in the voluntary sector.

Mandatory rates are dealt with in Clause 1. The present arrangements can be described briefly. Under the Education Act 1962 it is mandatory upon local authorities to provide awards for full-time degree courses or courses of an equivalent level. The regulations under that Act specify that there should be an educational standard of two GCE A-levels or the equivalent for those who are to receive the mandatory awards.

Secondly, on initial teacher training, the same Act makes students eligible for awards. Strictly speaking the Act does not make the awards mandatory, but in practice the students taking the initial teacher training courses have been receiving such awards.

The third main feature is that full-time courses of further education of many varieties are discretionary in the sense that local authorities may or may not at their discretion decide to grant awards. Clause 1 makes three modest extensions to the mandatory principle. The first relates to the new two-year diploma in higher education. This is a diploma for which a small number of courses are already in operation, having begun in the current academic year. Although the Bill is not yet in force, the local authorities concerned are paying awards to students taking these courses. There will be more of such courses in the next academic year and I hope that they will become a growing feature of our education system.

This diploma course was recommended in the James Report and it has great and exciting possibilities. It will be a two-year course for school leavers who have obtained the two required "A" levels. It can be seen either as a self-contained course—the student can do the diploma course and then get employment of various kinds—or it can be the first two years of a teacher training course in which students, perhaps having not decided to become teachers at the beginning of the course but deciding during the course to do so, can thus go on to complete teacher training. Alternatively, the course could lead to a degree course or some other qualification.

The content of these courses will also vary greatly. Some of them, we think, will be single discipline courses and others will cover many disciplines and will be based on the unit principle, some of them will have a strong vocational bias and others a more academic bias. We are hoping to provide a much wider range of choices for school leavers and particularly for those who on leaving school know that they want to go on to higher education but are not quite certain what they want to be three or four years hence.

That is the first category covered by Clause 1. The second category concerns higher national diploma. This is a very well established qualification of our education system and a very valuable part of the higher education system. HND courses have a strong vocational bias and they make an important contribution to our national economy. There has been a great deal of discussion over the years about whether they should be put into the mandatory category. I believe that the case is clearly made out that they should be.

The latest information available to me shows that about 17,000 students are taking HND courses, of whom about 14,000 are getting awards from their local education authorities. Of the remainder who are not, some are being helped by employers and others may be doing it at their own expense or from some other source, but many of them need and deserve mandatory awards. There is the problem of those who do not take such courses because no mandatory award is available and because they know that the local education authority does not choose to make an award.

The introduction of the new diploma course makes it more urgent to provide a mandatory award for the HND because there will possibly be an overlap, particularly in business studies, between these two forms of course. We want to reach the situation in which a student can make a free choice whether to take a DipHE course or an HND course, and in which this will not be affected by the fact that one qualifies for a mandatory award and the other does not.

The third change in Clause 1 is that we are making mandatory the awards for initial teacher training. I said a moment ago that in practice students were getting these awards. We thought it was right to take the opportunity to make the legal position absolutely clear, partly because the DipHE course could lead to some confusion in cases where a student started with this course and went on to teacher training. There might be some doubts there among local education authorities whether mandatory provision should continue.

Hitherto, under the provisions of the 1962 Act and, I think, in earlier legislation the mandatory award depended upon educational qualifications. For most purposes needed by the students concerned, they will already have attained two A levels. We propose to remove that from most of the higher education sphere and to substitute the simple rule that the student should have been accepted by the university or the college concerned to undertake the course. For instance, there is the exceptional case where the university decides to accept for a degree course someone with only one A level because it thinks that that young man or young woman will be a good student. It is wrong that the student should be debarred from the grant simply by this rule, so we are changing it. The only circumstances in which that rule will be retained will be for those categories of course which are described in the 1962 Act as being equivalent to degree level. There, unfortunately, we feel that we need some kind of definition of this sort.

Mr. Christopher Price (Lewisham, West)

Simply to leave the explanation as bald as that is not enough. Will my right hon. Friend fill out in a little more detail why he is trusting the universities and the other degree-awarding institutions—because that is what it comes down to—to pick their own students but he does not trust other institutions to do the same?

Mr. Prentice

I and successive Ministers and Parliaments have trusted universities and other institutions to pick their own students. This is part of the principle of our system. The State does not decide who is to have a place at which particular university or college. I am not making a distinction between universities and other institutions. Degree courses are not only at universities, they are at other institutions as well. With courses regarded as the equivalent of degree courses but which are not degree courses, it is difficult to make a definition which will be satisfactory. Therefore, we are leaving in the requirement of two A levels for that particular category. Other than that, we do not propose to lay down any requirement.

In general we are making a modest advance in the extension of mandatory awards. There is considerable discussion about the need to go further. The National Union of Students has argued for many years that the discretionary categories should be abandoned altogether and that there should be universal provision of mandatory awards. Here, of course, we inevitably come up, as we always do in educational debates and most other debates these days, against the problems of priorities. The total cost of moving over to a mandatory system would, I am advised, be about £200 million a year, and it is out of the question for the foreseeable future.

I would expect the NUS and others to go on arguing about these matters. The NUS welcomed warmly the extension to the HND category, but it will quite properly go on arguing for further extensions. We are holding this debate during what has been described by the NUS as a period of active agitation for improvements in awards and in higher education spending, and we in the Department have a constructive dialogue with representatives of the NUS on all these matters. When they move from the sphere of reasoned argument to the tactics of the demo and the rent strike, I do not believe they help their argument. In so far as we can continue on a basis of reasoned argument, however, I welcome that and pay tribute to the union's representatives for the way in which they conduct these discussions.

Clause 2 will give particular pleasure to hon. Members on both sides of the House. Here we are introducing a new system of mandatory awards for students at long-term residential adult colleges. This could not be done within the normal framework of the 1962 Act, because we are doing something rather different. We shall produce regulations which name the institutions. We felt that it would be more practicable to do it by a system of national awards administered by the Department rather than by the normal system through local authorities.

The proposed regulations will cover seven adult education colleges—one in Scotland, the new Battle Abbey College; one in Wales, Coleg Harlech; and five in England—Ruskin College, Plater College, Fircroft College, Hillcroft College and the Co-operative College at Loughborough. These are colleges which perform a unique function in our education system. They provide courses for mature students who have in the main, for one reason or another, not gone on to full-time higher education at an earlier age.

This reform has been advocated from many quarters over many years. It is one of the recommendations of the Russell Report, and I am glad that we are able to carry it into effect. Many of the students concerned take a one-off course and then return to employment, but an increasing number go on to take a degree or diploma course appropriate to them.

My hon. Friends will particularly recognise the contribution that Ruskin College and some of the other colleges have made to the trade union movement and the contribution Loughborough has made to the co-operative movement. In many ways the colleges are meeting needs in our society and identifying new needs. For example, Fircroft College recently initiated a full-time course for councillors and prospective councillors, from which many of us who have served on local authorities might well have benefited if it had been available to us.

The provision is very relevant to the needs of society, and will be generally welcomed. The total cost is modest, because I think that about 80 per cent. of the students receive local education authority awards already. However, the provision will make it clear that all students are entitled to such awards.

I turn to Clause 3, which increases grants for voluntary schools. The matter has often been debated in the House, and I do not need to go over the background at great length. The 1944 Education Act provided an agreed system for the support of voluntary schools. It was agreed in two senses, in that it was agreed between the various political parties in the House and also between Parliament and the Churches. It offered the choice of a controlled status, which gives relief from financial responsibilities, or an aided status, which involves a continuing financial commitment by the Churches or other voluntary bodies concerned—we are mainly talking about the Churches—with a grant from public funds to assist with capital works both for original buildings and repairs.

The system has worked well and served the country well for the past 30 years. It has largely removed arguments about the relationship of Church and State in education from our political scene. In that regard we have been more fortunate than some other countries, and more fortunate in the past 30 years than were our predecessors before the arrangements came into effect.

There are about 9,000 voluntary schools, with about 2 million pupils in them. Of those schools, about 5,000 are aided and are of the type particularly affected by the provision. Most of the 5,000 are Roman Catholic or Church of England schools, in about equal proportions. There are small numbers of Methodist and Jewish schools and some nondenominational schools that come within the categories. The 5,000 aided schools have about 1.3 million pupils, which is about 15 per cent. of the total school population in England and Wales. They play an important part in our total education provision.

From time to time it has been essential to revise the proportion of the grant made for the schools' capital work. In 1944 it was fixed at 50 per cent. It was raised to 75 per cent. in 1959 and to 80 per cent. in 1967. The proposal in the Bill is to raise it to 85 per cent.

The case for the increase is clear. The schools have been hit by rising costs and, as they have incurred debts as a result of their activities, they have been particularly severely hit by rising interest rates. They have also been hit by the fact that voluntary contributions in the Churches, whether in the form of covenants or contributions to a collecting plate, have not risen generally with the rate of inflation. That is a common experience of the Churches and other voluntary bodies.

The schools in question have played their part very well in extra education provision in recent years—in the raising of the school-leaving age and in nursery provision—and have co-operated in the progress towards comprehensive reorganisation. Of the 5,000 aided schools, only about 150 remain grammar schools, and most of the bodies controlling them have publicly expressed the wish to co-operate in schemes for comprehensive reorganisation.

The fact that the schools will still have to provide 15 per cent. of the costs means that they will still bear a considerable burden. The 15 per cent. represents at present between £6 million and £7 million a year, and that figure will grow with further inflation. It has been difficult to achieve the right balance. The Government have had to tell the schools, and they have readily acknowledged, that we are in the same position and that they cannot be exempted from the effects of inflation any more than anyone else.

For the reasons I have given, it was thought right that there should be this adjustment, but it is an adjustment which must be regarded as one that will prevail for the future. We face the fact that every time there is a higher proportion of State grant we are calling into question the dual system. In commending the 85 per cent. figure, I recognise, as the Churches recognise, that there is a genuine dilemma.

I received a helpful letter from the Bishop of Blackburn, Chairman of the Board of Education of the Church of England, in acknowledging the new proposal. I should like to quote from his letter, but the same sentiment was expressed in my discussions with the Catholics and Free Churches, though I should add that the Free Churches play a much smaller part in the whole operation. The bishop said: The dual system would cease to be a partnership if Church people did not contribute a proper share of the finances involved. Even though the proportion of building and maintenance costs required from the Church will be less, the amount will continue to rise; but that is one of the consequences of inflation. As the Churches believe the dual system should be durable, so they believe that the proposed proportion of contribution should also prove to be durable. They welcome the increasing sense of partnership both among the Churches, and between the Churches and the State, in seeking to serve the educational well-being of the nation. What I said a moment ago about the need for a settlement to be durable was not said in any grudging sense. That need is recognised by the Churches and it will, I believe, be recognised throughout the House. My view is that the Churches are doing an excellent job which is a unique contribution to our education system, and one which we hope will continue successfully in the future.

Mr. Christopher Price

Is my right hon. Friend aware that in the 1960s, when the limit was put up to 80 per cent., Lord Boyle from the benches opposite said that he felt that 80 per cent. should be the absolute top limit, and that it must be durable for the future and ever after? Does my right hon. Friend realise that in successive statements on percentage rises it has been said that each rise was the final limit and that that erodes the credibility of such statements?

Mr. Prentice

I recall the particular statement to which my hon. Friend refers, as well as a similar statement which was made by my right hon. Friend who was then Secretary of State in the Labour Government. We had such matters in mind in reaching our decision. Nevertheless, it was felt that because of the enormouse rise in inflation, and the fact that voluntary contributions received by voluntary bodies are not going up in proportion to inflation, it was right to make this assessment about future help for the system.

I was trying to discuss the dilemma we are in and to say that in present circumstances the move is being made to 85 per cent., in the realisation that it is a durable settlement. I was quoting a letter from the Church of England. I have had a similar letter from the Roman Catholic Church, which has expressed itself warmly in favour of the 85 per cent. figure.

I remind my hon. Friend and the House that at the time that the 80 per cent. figure was fixed it was regarded as appropriate. I am now suggesting that the figure should be 85 per cent., for the reasons I have given.

Mr. Simon Mahon (Bootle)

Like my right hon. Friend, I have been in the House a long time. I appreciate, and I am happy to note, the increase from 80 to 85 per cent. I do not want to be in the slightest way churlish about this, but I must point out that 85 per cent. is the best in the world. As far back as the time of Chuter Ede, a former Home Secretary, it was said, when figures were fixed, that it was hoped they would be permanent settlements, but this was found to be impossible. I support the word "durable" and hope that the new agreement will be durable for as long as possible, but I hasten to add a word of caution in that I would never accept the word "final ".

Mr. Prentice

I take note of that point. I am grateful for that intervention and for the intervention by my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, West (Mr. Price), which have underlined the fact that there are areas of doubt on both sides of the argument. Having heard doubt expressed on both sides of the argument, I feel that perhaps we have now got the figure right—at least, I hope so—but other views can be expressed during the debate.

I have described the various provisions of the Bill. It is an important Bill. All three clauses are important in different ways. Although there are not included in the legislative programme of this Session any large Bills from my Department, I end by expressing a hope—which reflects something I said in the House last March—that this Parliament, like the last Parliament, will debate education on many occasions. I note with a mixture of enthusiasm and apprehension that the proportion of teachers in the House of Commons appears to rise with every successive General Election. Therefore, there are an increasing number of people who can bring new experience to bear in our debates, but they would be the first to say that educational debates should not be the prerogative only of those in the education profession.

The subject is of such central importance to the nation that I hope that Government time, as well as Opposition time and private Members' time, will contribute to many debates on education during the current Parliament.

12.56 p.m.

Mr. Norman St. John-Stevas (Chelmsford)

I rise again, in a different capacity, to welcome the Bill on behalf of the Opposition. If I may briefly make a passing reference to the Houghton Com- mittee, mentioned by the Secretary of State, we, too, welcome the two-stage implemention of the report of that committee. We are most concerned about the position of teachers. We know how their relative status has declined and we welcome any effort to give interim relief. What is good for Scotland in this case is also good for England and Wales. I hope that the Secretary of State will soon be able to give a date when we can expect the full report of the Houghton Committee.

Listening to the Secretary of State's speech, I had a curious sense of déjà vu, because, after all, it was only in July that we debated the Bill which was among those which were lost because of the General Election.

We welcome the proposal in Clause 1 to make grants mandatory in relation to the higher national diploma. The diploma was pioneered by my right hon. Friend the Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher) during her reign at the Department of Education, which was long and distinguished. The proposals for this measure were contained in her 1972 White Paper, the purpose being to fill a gap and provide an intellectually demanding two-year course. It is an unfortunate fact that in our educational system only a limited range of such courses is available.

As the Secretary of State said, the James Committee recognised the potential of two-year courses. I might say en passant that I hope we shall make far greater use of two-year courses in our higher education system because they can, if intelligently planned and conscientiously used, be just as useful as longer courses.

I regret that one of the grounds on which, apparently, the CNAA rejected the validation of the law degree from the independent university was the shortness of the course. I do not think that this should be a governing consideration, and I hope that in due course the degrees of the independent university will be validated. If the diploma of higher education is to achieve general acceptance, it is right that the grant for it should be on the same level as the grants for degree and other comparable courses. The diploma is something new. That is essential if it is to establish itself. That is an anxiety which I have about the progress being made.

As the right hon. Gentleman will know, I was concerned with the initial stages of launching the diploma when I was a Minister at the Department, and I wish to ask the right hon. Gentleman a number of questions about it so that the Under-Secretary may deal with them when he replies to the debate.

Has the diploma now been accepted by the Civil Service for entry requirements? May we be told something about the reaction of industry? Has it accepted it, and is there evidence that a number of firms have given actual commitments about it? How many courses exist for the diploma, and how many are planned for the future? How many are expected to start by September 1975? Finally, what has been the reaction of students?

The Secretary of State gave us some figures for the HND. He spoke of 17,000 enrolments. It is a most important course. What is the prospect of enrolments for the diploma? It is very important that we should know what is going on. If further encouragement is needed for this excellent diploma, it should be given. I am glad, too, that the HND should receive parity of treatment, despite its lower entry qualification. The level of grant varies amongst the various award holders, and it is right that these differentiations should now cease.

I associate myself with the tributes paid by the Secretary of State to the HND. It is one of the most valuable qualifications provided by the service because it is related directly to industry. So much of our education system strikes people as not being sufficiently related to what, after all, is the main source of our wealth, which is British industry. This raising of status of the HND and this recognition of this excellent qualification are most welcome.

I welcome also the fact that the grant for the initial training of teachers is to be made mandatory. There are technical reasons for this. In practice, they are mandatory. Now they are to be made mandatory in theory as well. I appreciate these technical reasons, so, without boring everyone including myself, I pass over them, saying merely that we support this as a necessary change. I believe that any move away from discretionary to mandatory awards is on the whole to be welcomed at this stage. That is not to say that we believe that discretionary awards should be done away with altogether. There is always a place for discretion.

I should like to see the discretion done away with on the level of award. There have been various circulars urging local education authorities to see that comparable courses get comparable awards and that the awards should be related to the kind of work being done. I helped draft one of those circulars myself. I regret to say that it does not seem to have been totally effective.

We would welcome a call from the Minister for a general equivalence of the level of award. But I do not think that that goes far enough, and I should like to see a situation where the level of award in all discretionary awards was uniform throughout the country for the same courses.

Perhaps the Minister can say what the cost of that would be. He has told us the cost of doing away with discretionary awards altogether. He quoted a figure of £200 million. What would be the cost of having uniform levels of award throughout the country leaving the discretion to the local education authority to award or not to award those grants? It would be interesting to know.

When we consider the diploma of higher education, we must also consider the married woman's grant in connection with it. It is likely that many married women will take up this course. This was a point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Streatham (Mr. Shelton) when we last discussed this matter.

Married women are in a most anomalous position under our awards system. If a married woman is under 21, she is assessed against her father's income. I think that that should be ended because the common consent of our society is that, once a woman is married, for better or for worse, her husband is expected to take over all responsibilities from her parents, whatever those responsibilities may be. Once a woman is married, her parents should drop out of the picture as regards income. Parents do not expect to support their married daughters, except in extremely unusual circumstances.

Equally, the woman loses if she is married and over 21. She finds that she is assessed for grant against her husband's income. She has not escaped from thraldom even then. That, too, is quite wrong. It rests upon an outdated concept of marriage as a kind of subjugation, whereas the modern concept is of a partnership.

In its manifesto, the Conservative Party is pledged to do away with this anomaly as regards married women. The Secretary of State raised the grant for married women, and I was delighted when he did that. But, because of the husband's means test, many are worse off than they were when they got a lower grant and it was not subject to the income of their husband.

Mr. Prentice

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will acknowledge that, as part of the package of changes that we introduced whereby student grants generally went up by about 25 per cent., for married women they went up by more than 60 per cent. because we proposed to treat them thereafter on the same basis as single students living at home. The only cases where the spouses' contributions begin to have the effect of which the hon. Gentleman speaks are those where the income in the home is more than £3,000. The complaints made are on behalf of those married to people in that sort of income bracket. This was a saving that we needed to make as part of our general package so that we could make improvements without a total net cost to the Exchequer which could not have been supported.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I see the argument put forward by the Secretary of State and no doubt only a few, comparatively speaking, are worse off than they were before. But the point is that many are not as well off they should be. They are students and should be considered as students. Their married status for that purpose should be irrelevant.

Mr. Jim Marshall (Leicester, South)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that if two students are living separately they receive an aggregate income of £1,210, but that if they enter into the state of matrimonial bliss their combined income is reduced by about £250. That seems to be a large price to pay for not living in sin.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

It is a high price to pay for respectability. I do not know that I would use the phrase "living in sin". I think that we should use theological terms very carefully.

Will the Secretary of State say how many married women students there are? I understand the figure is about 12,000, but I should like some up-to-date figures. Furthermore, how much does he estimate it would cost to do away with the two means tests—the means tests against the father's income, the parental means test, and the uxorial means test, if I may so describe it. If we are to make a rational assessment of the whole issue we must have some hard figures to go on. The present situation is an injustice and is strongly felt. I am sure that the Secretary of State has received many letters on this topic, and certainly I have had many letters drawing attention to this situation. The argument of justice is a strong one. We live in an imperfect world and it may be that the expense involved is too great, but it would be as well to have some hard evidence to go on. It is not acceptable to me that there should be a system which, however appropriate it might have been for the reign of the great Queen Victoria, is not appropriate for her equally great successor over 70 years later.

We accept with some reservation the removal of the educational qualification for grants except in the case of designated courses comparable with first degree courses. The Secretary of State was put to the test by his hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, West (Mr. Price), who adopted the Socratic role and asked awkward questions. He certainly asked two awkward questions and then vanished, no doubt feeling that he had done his work sufficiently and that he could retire from his labours. I am sure the Secretary of State will be relieved that the Socratic figure is not now behind him to ask yet another awkward question. I do not think the Secretary of State answered the question why there should be a distinction. Perhaps the Under-Secretary of State will have another go at answering it at the end of the debate.

The Secretary of State said that he could rely on the educational institutions—the universities, etc. —to keep up standards. I have always taken that view, but my faith was given a rather sharp shock by the decision of Oxford University, in order to achieve a balanced intake, to settle for lower standards from those coming from comprehensive schools for entry rather than applying the same standards as to those in grammar and direct grant schools. I am unhappy about that, because it appears that the grammar and direct grant schools are to be penalised because of the high standards they achieve. This shows the achievements of the grammar and direct grant schools which the Secretary of State seems so anxious to do away with, but Oxford University feels that this concession has to be made. While we shall not oppose that provision, I think that we shall want to watch the situation carefully. We should be vigilant to see that standards are maintained.

Section 3 of the 1944 Education Act provides for the Secretary of State to take power to make grants to post-graduates and others, and this is now to be extended to make grants to adults at full-time colleges of education. I welcome this proposal. Adult education is vitally important since it gives tremendous opportunities to those who may not have had opportunities earlier in life. I should like to know when the Russell recommendations are to be implemented. We welcome the recommendations to which I have referred, but there are many others in the Russell report of which we have heard nothing.

Since the Bill appeared in the last Session, the provisions in respect of adult education have been added as also have the extremely important provisions to increase the grant-aided and special grammar schools. These are mainly, though not entirely, religious schools which are controlled in one form or another by the Churches. I agree with the Secretary of State that we are fortunate in this country that religious education is not a matter of political dispute. Odium theologicum is much worse than odium politicum. We should count our blessings in this respect. One reason that we have been able to keep this matter out of party politics is that the convention has been established that whoever is Secretary of State for the day keeps his opposite number in touch with what is going on and informs him how negotiations are developing. I thank the Secretary of State for his courtesy in this respect. The Opposition fully support the increase in grant.

The Churches are yet another victim of the scourge of inflation. While inflation increases expenses, it decreases giving. When people are hard pressed in other directions they cut down on planned giving to charitable causes to meet their more immediate commitments. Therefore, the Churches are squeezed both ways. Although these voluntary schools cater for a minority of pupils, they constitute islands of stability in a system which is facing great problems, particularly in the sphere of general moral and religious education. Their independence within the system is to be valued.

I wish to enter only one caveat which concerns not schools here but Church schools in Northern Ireland. I believe that the case for entirely separate schools is weakened by the circumstances there. I hope that renewed efforts will be made to get a form of education in common between children of different faiths there. If they could be given instruction in each other's faith it would be a most tremendous advance. Until we get the basis of education right in Northern Ireland, we shall never have a basis for a lasting peace in that unhappy Province.

A question raised by the hon. Member for Lewisham, West concerned the level of grant being increased to 85 per cent. I take it that the Churches are satisfied with that. What kind of assembly agreed to it? Have the Churches accepted it as a final settlement? The hon. Member for Bootle (Mr. Mahon), experienced politician as he is, rejected the use of the word "final". No politician would ever commit himself to such a word, but perhaps the Churches have done so. If they have it would be interesting to know, or, alternatively, the formula in which they have given their assent.

Mr. Prentice

The word that I used when I quoted from the letter from the Bishop of Blackburn was "durable".

Mr. St. John-Stevas

That would be the Bishop of Blackburn, but I wonder whether there is a letter in the files of the Department that would throw further light on the subject, or whether there might be some minute to which we can be made privy which shows exactly how the whole body of Churches accepted the settlement.

I would utter a word of warning to the ecclesiastical authorities against taking too much from the State, and this point was touched on by the Secretary of State himself. It is true that under the Scottish system, which the hon. Member for Bootle rather ignored, there is an even more generous grant by which the entire capital cost is met from State funds. In any argument about distributive justice the case for the Church schools is unanswerable, because people who pay taxes and cannot in conscience take advantage of the educational system of the country should not be obliged to pay twice for exercising a basic human right.

But considerations of prudence come in here, and there is that old saw that "he who pays the piper calls the tune". I am concerned that the Churches should not find themselves so financially dependent upon the State for the schools that they lose their independence and are liable, under a régime of greater ferocity than that beningnly presided over by the present Secretary of State, to be threatened with a State takeover.

There is the point—and I am sure this will appeal to the hon. Member for Bootle—that if people have to make sacrifices for their religion that is no bad thing. If financial sacrifices have to be made for the Church schools—both Church of England and Catholic schools—this can have the effect of making them more valued by those who support them and confirming them in the religious faiths which they hold, precisely because the sacrifice is needed. I should not push that argument too far, but it is a relevant consideration.

Mr. Mahon

I heartily agree with a great deal of what the hon. Gentleman has just said. The Scottish system, a pearl of great value, was offered to the hierarchy of England and Wales many years ago but it refused the offer. As far as I am aware from my Scottish friends, there is no evidence that the Scottish system does not work to the advantage of everyone concerned.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I am most grateful for that illuminating intervention.

I shall now cease to be ecumenical towards the Secretary of State and become a little more contentious. It seems to me that there is a contradiction be- tween giving extra aid in this way to the voluntary schools and following the sentiments that have been laid down in the right hon. Gentleman's controversial Circular No. 4/74 which, in regard to the aided schools, says: In the case of voluntary aided schools the governors cannot expect to continue to receive the substantial financial aid which their schools enjoy through being maintained by the local education authority, if they are not prepared to co-operate with that authority in settling the general educational character of the school and its place in a local comprehensive system. It was my hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (Mr. van Straubenzee) who said that that was an empty threat because it had no legal basis, and I think that it is a mistake to make threats, even in circulars. May I take it that the making of this grant without any strings attached has rendered that part of the circular the dead letter in theory that it is?

Mr. Prentice

Of course not.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I was not entirely hopeful of total assent on that point, but in practice it does.

I was interested to hear the Secretary of State say that there are 150 grammar schools and that the different denominations have agreed to co-operate. If that be so—and I have not this information, though I find it surprising that they should have——

Mr. Prentice

I did not say "all". I said most of them.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for the correction. If that is so, it is possibly because they have been misled by this portion of the circular into thinking that it has the force of law, or because they have been intimidated by it. It is widely thought that that is so.

One of the good effects of the debate, I hope, will be to remind those who are responsible for voluntary aided schools that it is the managers alone who are responsible for the organisation of the school and that the governing body alone has the right to make proposals about reorganisation, free from any financial threats or bullying, such as one finds in that circular.

A mysterious blanket has descended over the future of the direct grant schools. We do not know the Government's intentions in this regard. I do not wish to provoke the Secretary of State into taking action against the direct grant schools, but there is an important financial consideration with regard to Catholic direct grant schools, and that is the debt that they carry of, I believe, about £11 million. If these schools are integrated totally into a comprehensive system, that debt will have to be met by the Government, because it cannot be paid off by those who run the schools. That is an important financial consideration, and it should indicate to the Secretary of State that he should proceed cautiously in this matter.

My final point is that this consideration of the future of the voluntary Church schools is only part of the whole question of the future of religious and moral education in our system of maintained schools. Because these voluntary schools can give definite religious and moral instruction, they form valuable centres of morality and stability in the whole system. We must be concerned not only with the 2 million children in the voluntary schools, but with the others in the maintained system, as to the kind of religious and moral education that they are receiving. This is at the root of the anxieties which so many parents are expressing about our educational system.

It was Archbishop Temple who said that the Almighty was more concerned with raising the school leaving age to 16 than with the contents of the agreed syllabus. The archbishop has channels of communication which I do not share. One must not reveal ones sources. I wonder whether, if the archbishop were with us today, he would make that same judgment. The decision of the Church of England to give up its voluntary-aided schools was made in the belief that tile agreed syllabus teaching would constitute an effective source of religious and moral teaching, but I am afraid that this has not been so.

I am thinking here not only of the unfortunate episode in Birmingham, when a large portion of the agreed syllabus was given over to the teaching of Marxism, but to the general malaise which afflicts this subject and the fact that it is treated in so many ways as a subject which anyone can teach. The provisions in the Education Act for religious education and instruction and the daily act of worship are immensely important and we should not remove them, as is sometimes suggested, from the statute book. But we must make them effective once again.

I have suggested before, and I suggest it today for the first time in the House, that the time has come to take a new initiative in this field and to forge a new and constructive partnership among parents, teachers and religious and social workers, so that home and school cooperate in this respect and do not conflict. Had we won the election and had I been appointed to the Secretary of State's position, I should have called a conference of all interested parties to analyse the problems and to put forward agreed solutions. I recommend this to the right hon. Gentleman. I suggest that he should call such a conference. Already the suggestion has received a welcome from the Churches and other bodies. In any such conference, the Church of England, as the established Church of the country, should certainly play a leading role, but the participation of other Churches should also be sought, as well as of the British Council of Churches, representatives of the Jewish and other faiths and such organisations as the Humanist Association.

In other words, I believe that the approach should be comprehensive, not exclusive. We have already started a move in this direction. The Social Morality Council, with the support of a grant from the Department, made by the Secretary of State's predecessor, my right hon. Friend the Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher), has initiated a national moral education project. I hope that the Minister will be able to tell us that that grant will be continued and I hope that he will draw on the services of the National Council for Educational Research.

That is the context in which we consider this Bill. We certainly wish it well. We look forward to its speedy passage through its remaining stages. We look forward, too, to hearing an answer to the questions which I have raised and which I am sure other hon. Members will raise in the debate.

1.33 p.m.

Mr. Simon Mahon (Bootle)

We have heard two valuable contributions from the Secretary of State and the hon. Member for Chelmsford (Mr. St. John-Stevas). They were both constructive. The people of this country should be grateful to them both for presenting the position, particularly of voluntary schools, as they have. The Secretary of State described the Bill as modest. He is under-playing his hand a little. I and those with whom I am concerned—I speak for many people in this country—warmly appreciate all that the Secretary of State has done, not just in the Bill but with his colleagues over a long period.

I hope that I shall be forgiven for reminding the House that I was brought up on things like the Birrell Bill. I heard about it from my father in more contentious days, when what mattered was the price of the land and the price of a brick to build a Catholic or Church of England school. At my father's knee, I knew all about the John Scupp amendment and I have followed the course of voluntary education through the years. When I say that I am grateful and that the people in the voluntary churches and schools are grateful, I hope that that will be understood in the fullest possible meaning of the word.

Of the child population in my constituency, 50 per cent. probably are Catholic and Church of England and 50 per cent. attend county schools. But even more affected than my constituency is that of the Prime Minister, which until the last election was one of the outstanding examples of what a struggle it has been for voluntary schools to maintain themselves and their standards. The Prime Minister needs no praise from me. On behalf of the people of Merseyside, I should like to thank him for the interest that he has shown, not just since he attained Cabinet rank but when he was a modest back bencher. The contribution that he made in those days is still remembered.

In Kirby, which is a new district in Liverpool, I have seen parish priests dying before the age of 45 or 50 through heart failure brought on by stress and strain because of the astronomical finances that they must find to build not only primary schools but schools right through the range, with at best sparse financial help. We have seen one or two examples of retrospection recently. That word used never to be used in national or local government. However, I would say that there were outstanding examples of cases for special pleading in this respect.

I would ask my right hon. Friend to consider certain areas in which it is unreasonable—that is the parliamentary word—for people to bear the burdens that they have to bear in the cause of British education. Reverting to what has been said about durability and whether a situation is final, I once said in this House from the Opposition benches, in days when the issue was more contentious—I am glad that those days have gone—that I was sick and tired of being regarded as a 75 per cent. citizen of the country that I was born in, worked for and fought for. I said that I was one of five brothers who were all in some of the finest regiments of the British Army. Many other people fought and we were not a special class, but there were five of us and because we were Catholics we went to Catholic schools—and we have no complaint about that. We all made this contribution and we did not all return, and some who came home from the Forces were a little less healthy than when they left. Why should people who work for and who fight for their country, who serve it in every shape and form, be regarded in any way as different when it comes to education? Why should we be 75 or even 85 per cent. citizens?

As I said, I am not taking the shine off this. I am grateful ultimately for what has been done. But we should be entitled to more fairness in educational finance. I have been a governor of Church of England schools, county schools and Catholic schools and I have found that parishioners have never been completely happy when schools became controlled—certainly not when the Christchurch Church of England school in Bootle was taken over. The clergy, the parents and the council did not like it, and it held no joy, I am sure, for the Government who accepted control of that school. If I may be a little facetious, I am sure that there was no joy in Heaven, either.

If all these schools became controlled schools, what would be the position? They would still, to some degree, be under the aegis and control of the Churches and the clergy, yet the finances would be fully maintained by the State. This has not suddenly happened. The Secretary of State's great contribution to the purpose of voluntary schools has followed that of others. It would be ungracious of me if I did not refer to one or two of them.

Lord Boyle played a magnificent part. The present Lord President of the Council has for a long time been a champion of schools of this kind. As a headmaster of great experience, it was his early experiences, I am sure, that supported and maintained him, both as Secretary of State and since then in higher office, in his belief that these schools are an essential part of the whole education system.

I remember also with great affection the advice that I got from the late Chuter Ede, who was once our Home Secretary and who was revered by the House on all sides. I went to complain in rather belligerent terms about the treatment that my people were getting and the cost of education in Church of England and Catholic schools in Bootle. He said, "Young man, I am with you all right, but be careful and be patient, and learn how to be a minority of one, like me." I learned how to be a minority of one. It took a long time. I like to be fair and to consider others. But that is sometimes difficult when one considers the contribution that has been made over all those long years.

Contributions have been made by people who have never held high office in this House. For instance, my hon. Friend the Member for Leigh (Mr. Boardman) has given his life to coal mining and industry and to the care of his constituents in Lancashire. What contribution did he make to the finances of education? What contribution was made by Ernest Davies, a previous Member for Enfield? They did a remarkable thing, which actually saved the voluntary schools in my constituency. I am not being facetious when I say this. It was a Private Member's Bill on small lotteries which legalised football pools. Again, the Prime Minister had a hand in that in those days. I did not think that my hon. Friend the Member for Leigh knew in full what he was letting go on the world when he brought about the legalisation of tombola. Both of these activities have played a monumental part in financing the voluntary schools.

The debate has taken a slightly theological turn. My theology is not of the high standard of that of the hon. Member for Chelmsford. We were trained in different schools. But in my calendar of saints, this morning I am adding the Secretary of State, for the work that he has done on behalf of the Church schools. If I may try to match the high theological terms of the hon. Member for Chelmsford, may I say that I remember Lord Boyle coming to Bootle and opening a school for us. My father was for 40 years the chairman of an education committee and he liked the right hon. Gentleman very much. When he heard that Lord Boyle had supported an increase for voluntary schools, he said "You tell that lad when you see him that he will be a fortnight in Heaven before the devil knows he's dead." I hope that that happens eventually in regard to the Secretary of State, although I hope that the finality of that is a long way off.

I revert to something that was said about Ireland. The Bill does not apply to Northern Ireland or to Scotland. Many years ago, when the Irish famine occurred and people poured into the North-West ports and Liverpool in particular, there was an experiment in education, which may be worth looking at. I mentioned it many years ago in the House. In educational history it is called the "Crucial Experiment". It was before the Restoration of the Hierarchy, which was in 1856. I should imagine that it was 30 years prior to that.

Because of the paucity of educational standards, there was an arrangement in Liverpool to build two schools for poor people's children of every denomination. They were a great success at the beginning. One was called the North School and the other was the South School. I shall omit the details, but there were Catholics, Methodists, Swedenborgians—because of the sailors in that part of Liverpool—and various shades of religious opinion. There was a large foreign intake.

That experiment was not ruined by the Church of England or by the Catholics. I have often conjured in my mind that if that crucial experiment had succeeded the whole history of voluntary schools in this country might have been changed.

I do not want to make any prognosis about what the future holds for education in Ireland. I do not blame the separate schools for causing what has happened in Ireland. That is far too simple an answer to the Irish problem, as I am sure the hon. Member for Chelmsford will admit. Some people say, "Get them all together", but that is far too simple an answer. Some say that the trouble starts with the children, and I would not put any embargo on an attempt to do what is possible. I am living in ecumenical days. I hope that that sort of activity can start in Ireland. But to say that the separation is a cause of the trouble is wrong.

The spirit in which the Bill is being debated, the same spirit which has prevailed in our education debates for many years, could and should be an example not only to the people in Northern Ireland—Catholic, Protestant or otherwise—but to the people in what is called the Republic of Ireland, so many of whom come to this country. I, with my Irish name, say this hoping that they will listen to me.

This is a bountiful country. It is a country which has been good to Catholics. It has been good to the people in the Church of England and to the Methodists. Speaking for myself, I have made every contribution that I could to the welfare of this nation. I want to say to the Irish people that this is the sort of response that they will get from any British Government if they will co-operate. That is the direct answer to those who think that only by violence, cruelty and arrogance can the world be changed.

We in this country have lived through poverty. My father was probably one of the poorest men in Liverpool when he married my mother. But he had no violent approach, because he did not believe in violence or in the anarchical process. He believed in co-operation with authority and in the responsibility of a person under law. If I have any influence on the people of this country and on some of those in Ireland, some of whom are afraid to open their mouths, be they in the South or in the North, I am appealing to them to examine what happens over a period of years and where a country has been as generous as this country has to each and every one of us. I hope that they will take notice.

I have lots of information about the amount of debt that has been incurred but I shall try to curtail that. What I admire most about these deliberations on voluntary education over the years is the wonderful co-operation between all the Churches. I hope that this will continue for a long time.

It has been extremely hard to maintain the situation and will not be made easy with this 85 per cent. At the moment the liabilities of voluntary schools are about £4,500,000 a year at present prices, and more with inflation. The Explanatory and Financial Memorandum estimates the cost of the 5 per cent. increase as £1,500,000 a year. The 15 per cent. contribution which is left will be about £4,500,000. The eventual costs of the liabilities will be higher because it is necessary to borrow, and interest payments are rising all the while. As voluntary schools borrow, they do not pay for all the costs of today's building here and now. They also have heavy commitments arising from past borrowing.

The current income is largely absorbed by the debts representing work already done. It is estimated that on the Catholic side alone liabilities for school building since the war are in the region of £70 million with the eventual cost being higher because of interest payments. These figures relate only to building work and exclude expenditure on insurance of buildings which is becoming increasingly burdensome. They also exclude expenditure on transport to school where that is not provided by local authorities.

I accept this 85 per cent. with warm appreciation and gratitude. I would advise anyone listening to me not to attach to it any great semblance of permanence. There is very little permanence in this existence. We never know from day to day what will happen, given our parlous financial position.

I wish to refer to a topic slightly outside the orbit of this Bill, namely the problem of high-alumina cement. I ask for this to be treated in a special category. We do not know the extent of the damage that has been done at schools, and great difficulties are being created. Testing is already going on.

It is with regret that educationists inside and outside the House will have noted that His Grace, Archbishop Beck, who for so long gave us his expertise and guidance on this difficult educational subject, has had to retire in a modest sense from the educational scene because he has taken up more onerous duties. I am sure that we should like to send him our gratitude for all the assistance that he has given us over many years of service.

1.54 p.m.

Mr. James Molyneaux> (Antrim, South)

I am happy to follow the hon. Member for Bootle (Mr. Mahon). We have known him over the years to be a man of the highest integrity. As an Ulsterman may I say particularly how much I appreciated the sincerity with which he spoke of our problems. I trust that all those with whom he has influence in this country and across the Irish Sea will listen to the sound advice he has given.

Turning to the Bill, I should like to know whether Clause 3 brings Great Britain up to date with the position in Northern Ireland. I notice that in the clause reference is made to: expenses incurred in the maintenance or provision of aided and special agreement schools". In Northern Ireland the expenses incurred in the construction of new schools or approved extensions to existing schools receive an 85 per cent. grant. There appears to be a difference in that the expenses incurred in maintaining, cleaning, heating and staffing the building attract a grant of 100 per cent. Is there a variation here? Since we are dealing with a part of the United Kingdom, should we not have a common structure and a common scale throughout the kingdom?

While I have no particular desire to subsidise segregated education on sectarian lines, it is a fact that successive Stormont administrations have always treated voluntary Church schools better than the authorities in Great Britain have done. If this measure means that at long last the differential is being removed, I would respectfully congratulate the Government on their enlightened policies. I have never taken the view that a common interdenominational or nondenominational system in Northern Ireland would be advanced by restricting the funds available to schools.

In case the hon. Member for Chelmsford (Mr. St. John-Stevas) gave the impression that in Northern Ireland we have two systems, may I correct that? We do not have a Roman Catholic system and a Protestant system. We have a State system and a Roman Catholic system. Whatever we may do about a merger in future, I do not feel that the Church influence should be removed until we can be absolutely sure that there will be a strong and continuing Christian influence in our schools, be they Protestant or Roman Catholic.

We welcome the provision in Clause 2(d) to extend the scope of awards to a much wider age category and to bring about the inclusion of adults who avail themselves of full-time education facilities. I am tempted to ask whether it would be thought helpful if application forms could be made available in the Vote Office.

Clause 1(1) properly extends the scope of the Education Act 1962 to make eligible for awards students taking courses at colleges, universities and other institutions in Northern Ireland. We warmly welcome this extension.

We would also welcome reciprocal arrangements, if that were possible, for students from Northern Ireland in respect of attendance at similar institutions in Great Britain. The absence of such arrangements in the past has been a severe handicap to many young people who are not engaging in the deplorable activities to which so many of their generation in Northern Ireland are devoting their energies. These are young people who are at present excluded from assistance and grants because of certain legal technicalities. One of these arises from the Government of Ireland Act 1920.

I think particularly of the hardships imposed on the Jewish community with respect to attendance at, for example, theological colleges in Great Britain. Another difficulty arises from the fact that adult education in Northern Ireland has come not only under separate Ministries but also under a separate Government. The result of that is that the seal of approval attached to a certain course, university or college here in Britain by the Ministry does not automatically extend to and is not automatically accepted by the appropriate authorities in Northern Ireland.

I am well aware that in all other respects the Bill does not apply to Northern Ireland, but if the Secretary of State for Education could consult his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, who was in the Chamber recently, on how these hardships might be removed, he would earn the gratitude of many people.

2.0 p.m.

Mr. Jim Marshall Leicester, South)

I wish to direct my few remarks to Clauses 1 and 2 of the Bill. There seems to be a fair degree of unanimity about the virtues implicit in Clause 3, as indicated by the degree of agreement between my hon. Friends and hon. Members opposite who have already spoken. I gather that one of my hon. Friends indicates some slight discord, and I assume that he will express his feeling later in the debate.

There are three institutes of higher and further education in my constituency. I regret mentioning my constituency problems, but those three institutes of further and higher education may be unique in a provincial city. We have a university, a polytechnic and a college of further education. Hon. Members opposite who have spoken have said that this is a modest Bill. I agree. Indeed, in my opinion it is too modest for the needs of students. I am aware of the difficulties which students face. Formerly I was a lecturer at the polytechnic in Leicester, where I worked until the electors of Leicester, South sent me to this place.

Students face real difficulties. Those difficulties are not imaginary as some hon. Members would have us believe. The student body, unfortunately, has a very bad image among the public. The general impression is that students are a load of wastrels, fornicators, drug takers, pot smokers and a load of hipsters without any sense of obligation to the community at large. Also they are assumed to be having a good time at the expense of the taxpayer and ratepayer. In my opinion, that is a slanderous misrepresentation of the student body. The vast majority of them are hard working, conscientious and often struggling in difficult circumstances to get a decent education.

This modest Bill will do nothing to help the general body of students. Nevertheless I welcome it because it will in two ways remove the element of selectivity in > the present. HND courses. Secondly, I welcome it because it will remove the discretion which some local authorities have exercised on HND courses to limit the number of discretionary grants due to the financial situation in the cities. I hope that this is the first part of a continual improvement of the conditions of students. I had hoped to hear the Chancellor of the Exchequer in his Budget Statement say that grants for students would be increased with other social service benefits in April next year. I hope it is not too late, and that the Secretary of State for Education will say whether such is his intention.

I also agree with the hon. Member for Chelmsford (Mr. St. John-Stevas) who asked the Secretary of State to abolish as quickly as possible the parental and spouses' contribution in the grant system. Students are often faced with financial hardship because their parents are on the margin where they begin to contribute to their children's grants, but since they are on the margin they often find it impossible to make the contribution without causing extreme hardship to the rest of the family. It is not only the student but the rest of the family who suffer. I therefore ask my right hon. Friend to remove the parental contribution as soon as possible. It would not cost the Exchequer a vast sum of money. It is a drop in the ocean compared with the total level of public expenditure, and if he carried out that humanitarian act at a stroke he would improve the general well being of many students.

I also direct the attention of my right hon. Friend to problems faced by students aged between 16 and 18. They depend purely on discretionary grants. I understand that in the last Session of the previous Parliament a parliamentary subcommittee referred the needs of these students to the Secretary of State for Education.

I have made some criticisms of the Bill, but on the whole I welcome it. May I ask for assurances from the Secretary of State on three points. The first refers to what I call feeder colleges. Those are colleges such as Ruskin and Coleg Harlech, where students, if they successfully complete their studies, are able to gain exemption in the one case from Oxford University and in the other case from the University of Wales. Under Clause 2 they will be able to claim mandatory grants to attend Ruskin and Coleg Harlech. If they obtain a mandatory grant to study at those colleges, will they be able to obtain a mandatory grant to continue their studies on a degree course at Oxford and the University of Wales? As I understand it, one is able to obtain only one mandatory grant, and once one has received that mandatory grant one is dependent upon discretionary grants.

My second point refers to so-called feeder courses. These are HND courses specified in the Bill. These courses are in many ways feeder courses for degree courses. If a student obtains a mandatory grant to go on an HND course, will that preclude him from obtaining a mandatory grant to continue his studies on a first degree course subsequent to the successful completion of the HND course?

My next question also is related to the HND situation. In some polytechnics, once a student has successfully completed the HND course, he may have a supplementary year which enables him to obtain a professional qualification. Will students be able to obtain mandatory grant for that supplementary year's study to obtain a professional qualification?

Again in relation to the same topic, some universities—I know of one in particular, that at which I was employed until a few weeks ago—are changing their present HND courses to so-called polytechnic diploma courses. Will those courses which are analogous to HND courses also qualify for mandatory as opposed to discretionary grant?

2.10 p.m.

Mr. Clement Freud Isle of Ely)

I shall start using up my ration of permitted comment on the Secretary of State's transgression into the Houghton award. We on the Liberal benches welcome the two-stage implementation which he promised, and we noted the right hon. Gentleman's Front Bench caution in saying that it would come in the fairly near future.

I have a question to put about that, and perhaps the Minister will be good enough to reply later, though I must apologise now for my absence at that stage because I shall be in a traffic jam somewhere in Somerset by then. I urge the Minister to ensure that the local edu- cation authorities have not only the financial liquidity but the administration to distribute these awards when they come. The Government, I remind the Minister are committed to back-date the award to 24th May. I trust that as a result the first stage will be generous and will reach the teachers before Christmas, which is when they need the money.

In legislative terms the Bill is a small step, but obviously a step in the right direction and, as the Secretary of State said, an important step. We welcome it. We should, I think, welcome any legislation which provided diversion and new concepts in higher education. We should welcome any move to legalise the elimination of discretionary grants and the extension of awards to students who were previously unacceptable.

I found the remarks of the hon. Member for Leicester, South (Mr. Marshall) perplexing in that he called the end of parental contributions a drop in the ocean, when in truth the end of parental contributions would build five national theatres. I am not sure why we spent time earlier this morning discussing a possible extra £1 million.

I make my next comment not only as the Member for Isle of Ely who, as his party's spokesman on education, frequently receives letters from students at university who are unable to get even the mandatory grants to which they are entitled but as rector of a Scottish university and, therefore, as someone who has in his parochial care some 1,500 students from England in a similar position.

It is clear that there are in this country many students in receipt of, as it were, notional mandatory grants, grants which they are not reeciving. They are not receiving them because the local education authorities do not have the manpower, and in some cases do not have the finance, to make those awards. I urge the Minister to look into the possibility of some sort of system whereby a distress department could be set up at the Department of Education and Science, because the young man who is already trying to get a university degree and is doing it on insufficient money is in great difficulty. He has to write to his local education authority, but the authority does not answer. I am sure the Minister knows that very few local education authorities answer students, however deep the cris de coeur may be. The student then writes to his Member of Parliament, and then to the Minister himself. There ought surely to be some procedure whereby a student can obtain money if he desperately needs it.

I thought that the remarks of the hon. Member for Leicester, South about students were unworthy. I know he then said that they were slanderous, having himself made them, but it seemed a strange way of proving slander. I should like to see young people at universites and colleges of further education a little closer to the Minister and able to get help from him rather than from all those avenues which tend not to answer.

In my capacity as rector of Dundee University, I give the House the assurance that my university will shortly have an overdraft of about £150,000. By Scottish university standards that is not high, and I believe that Leeds University, which has as its vice-chancellor a former Minister of Education, has by far the highest overdraft, or certainly one of the highest overdrafts.

I want the Government to make a statement on whether they are prepared to let a university go to the wall. There is great concern in many universities and colleges of further education about what will happen if they do not meet their overdrafts, and as things are they have little hope of ever becoming solvent unless they receive a substantial grant. They would all like to know to what extent the Government are prepared to bail them out.

We welcome the Bill particularly because it makes provision for a large number of new aspects of grant and also for a new HND course. We on the Liberal benches wish it well, and we hope that it will have a speedy course through the House. We should like to have seen in it perhaps some intimation of an end to the binary system. I saw in The Times Higher Education Supplement today an article by the right hon. Member for Leeds, North-East (Sir K. Joseph) in which he actually pleads for greater elitism for students at universities as opposed to those who went to polytechnics. I think that we on the Liberal benches have come to feel that what the right hon. Member for Leeds, North- East says is certain to be very illiberal policy.

2.18 p.m.

Mr. Stanley Cohen (Leeds, South-East)

First, for the record and to clarify my position, I should declare a certain interest. Although I am blessed with what one knows as a very respectable and priestly Jewish name, I am a Roman Catholic, and therefore, apart from wishing to dispel the confusion which arises on occasion from that combination of circumstances, I hope that the House will appreciate my deep interest in the voluntary schools.

I join with my hon. Friend the Member for Bootle (Mr. Mahon) in congratulating the Secretary of State on behalf of not only the Catholic community but all the religious communities involved in the provision of voluntary school education for what is rightly regarded as a tremendous step forward.

There are, however, one or two issues which call for a little clarification. My right hon. Friend suggested that the religious communities and those responsible for voluntary schools should continue to accept, to use his term, a fair and proper share of the cost of the upkeep of their schools. There is certainly no suggestion on the part of the religious communities that they should not accept this share—quite the reverse, in fact. I agree with the comment from the hon. Member for Chelmsford (Mr. St. John-Stevas) that it is important that we who are involved with the provision of voluntary education should pay a proper share towards the running of the schools. The difficulty, of course, is to establish what is regarded as a proper share.

I hope that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will think very carefully about the statement he made earlier to the effect that 85 per cent. was regarded as almost his final settlement. At least the blow was softened by his later statement that this was a durable basis "in present circumstances". We have to remember that the last change which brought the capital grant up to 80 per cent. was seven years ago. The fact that the Government are now prepared to change this to 85 per cent. shows that they have recognised the grave financial problem which now confronts the various voluntary organisations and communities providing voluntary schools as compared with the situation in 1967.

The majority of the communities have to build their schools on the basis of a long-term loan. Whereas in 1967 for every £1,000 borrowed £80 interest had to be paid, for every £1,000 borrowed on this basis today the interest is about £160. That is only one indication of the sort of problems we face. Building costs have virtually double since 1967 to say nothing of the cost of the sites on which the schools are erected.

The voluntary communities are in the unfortunate situation of having to pay twice as much now as they did in 1967 and of having to borrow the money at almost twice the rate of interest. In total, therefore, they are paying about four times as much as they did in 1967.

While the various communities, and certainly the Catholic community, have always been ready to make sacrifices in order to provide education in the way they think it should be provided, there is a limit to the contributions people can make. Though salaries may have increased since 1967, they have not increased fourfold in keeping with the tremendous rate of inflation and the rise in building costs.

Therefore, while we have talked in terms of 85 per cent. being a durable basis—I recognise that it is "in present circumstances"—we will not regard ourselves as finally committed to restricting it to that level whatever the circumstances because even an 85 per cent. grant will still require the voluntary communities to pay £6 million to £7 million a year, and that will not be easy to find. We can be relied upon to make the effort to find it but there may be a saturation point at which we may have to reconsider that figure. I should like to think that that situation will not arise, but it is always possible. As my hon. Friend the Member for Bootle said, "final" is a very dangerous word for any politician to use and some clarification is required on this.

2.24 p.m.

Mr. William van Straubenzee (Wokingham)

The hon. Member for Leeds. South-East (Mr. Cohen) began by saying he found it necessary, with the honoured name of Cohen, to make a declaration of personal interest. I wondered what length of declaration someone with a name as long as mine would have to make. Perhaps in the circumstances it is sufficient for me just to declare that I am an Englishman.

I shall deal in due course with the points that the hon. Member raised, but first I want to discuss Clauses 1 and 2. I most definitely welcome the transfer of the qualifications set out in the Bill from the discretionary to the mandatory list. I was delighted to hear the Secretary of State's warm commendation for the Diploma of Higher Education. One of the neatest approvals of it was given by the former Minister of State in July when he said: The Dip HE is intended to serve both as a qualification in its own right and as a stepping-stone to a degree or other qualification. I sometimes think of it as a stepping-off and a stepping-on point, because I hope that some people will be able to break their higher education and then come back into the system at a later point."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 26th July 1974; Vol. 877, c. 2154.] I am sure that is right. I make no narrow party point when I remind the House that when first the diploma of higher education was proposed, and certainly when the previous Government adopted it in a refined form after the admirable inquiry by Lord James, there was not the same warmth of reception for it. It has not been universally welcomed yet, but as time has passed the wisdom of the proposal has been seen, and I echo much of what my hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford (Mr. St. John-Stevas) said on the point of not being critical of a two-year course simply because it is a two-year course.

I join warmly in the welcome for the transfer of courses for the higher national diploma. There is no need for any subsequent speaker to over-egg that pudding. I agree with everything that has been said about it. I have always felt anxious that it was on the wrong side of the mandatory line, and I am delighted that this opportunity has been taken for moving it over.

It is worth drawing attention to the Explanatory and Financial Memorandum which, says Clause 1, will not lead to any significant increase in public expenditure. The Secretary of State quoted a figure, but in terms of public expenditure it is not a substantial amount. Local authorities, which have come in for a little bit of stick in the debate on the question of awards, have in practice been regarding the HND course as mandatory, which is one of the reasons why there will not be any significant increase in public expenditure as a result of Clause 1.

Through all the ups and downs and vicissitudes of parliamentary life I have remained an honorary vice-president of the NUS, although I would not want to insure my life in that regard with any certainty. I am constantly on the receiving end, therefore, of representations that the mandatory line should be extended further. I would not take my stand on the line that is drawn in the Bill. I would not say that on no future occasion can there be a further movement. But I have often argued to students that there are more advantages than perhaps they first see in the discretionary system. While I must not deploy that argument now, because I should probably find myself out of order, I hope I may remain in order if I refer to two points which have been overlooked.

First, if we did have a centralised mandatory system, the awards regulations, already complicated enough, would surely become highly complex if they had to deal with the wide variety of courses which are quite rightly available to students and others who receive awards. Further, I believe that under any Government there would be a duty to tie down the regulations very exactly.

The Secretary of State is probably as aware as I am of occasions when, through nobody's fault, an exact piece of drafting has quite unintentionally placed a small group of students on the wrong side of the line. That is because the award regulations must be drafted with such extreme care and skill. The advantage of the discretionary system is that it avoids that pitfall and allows adventurous educational authority to grant aid for a course which I doubt would find its way into an award regulation and which might find itself excluded if in principle it were transferred to the mandatory system. I can think of students who have been rightly but imaginatively grant aided by local educational authorities. I do not believe that they would have received awards if they had been dependent upon a mandatory grant regulated from the centre. Those of us who are now putting down a marker are genuinely seeking further information in the interests of the students, among others. We are not trying to draw a line for the sake of defending one position or another.

I believe that it is important in this matter to be quite clear about the policy of my party. I refer to an admirably drafted leaflet which is one of the best things of its kind that I can recall emanating from Conservative Central Office or from anywhere else during the election campaign. It was designed specifically for students. It is an admirable publication and as a result many students voted Tory at the last General Election. I expect many of them did so for other reasons as well. It contains this categorical statement: Conservative policy is to abolish discrimination between discretionary and mandatory awards and to put all grants on a full mandatory basis. It is only fair to say that all responsible speakers, such as my hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford (Mr. St. JohnStevas), have repeatedly made it clear, as did the words of the manifesto, that an undertaking of that nature is governed by the master words in the manifesto—namely: as soon as economic circumstances allow. I am unhappy that in a leaflet designed for students we do not make it expressly clear that that is the position. I set on record my belief that in foreseeable economic circumstances it will not be possible for the next Conservative Government to do what is set out in the leafllet. I cannot see a Conservative Secretary of State being able to allocate that sort of resource to that kind of operation. That is particularly so in the light of the figures given by the Secretary of State. Further, I think I am right in suggesting that it does not accurately describe Conservative policy as helpfully set out for us by my hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

May I take it from what my hon. Friend is saying that he did not write the leaflet?

Mr. van Straubenzee

I confirm that I never saw it in draft or in completion until it came on to my plate. Owing to its exquisite penmanship I never had any doubts as to the author.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

May I set at rest the doubts which my hon. Friend never had by saying that I saw it at exactly the same moment.

Mr. van Straubenzee

I think that it is helpful to have that on record. It will be helpful to my hon. Friend. That is why I raised it. I happen to believe—on this point I am sure I carry the whole House with me—that one of the features of modern life which is most disturbing is the deep cynicism among the young for all party politicians. It seems to behove us all to be as careful as possible about the statements that we may make on our future intentions. I am grateful to have the matter absolutely clear.

Mr. Bryan Davies (Enfield, North)

Before all the platitudes about the leaflet are ended, does the hon. Member agree that the leaflet to which he has referred probably contributed substantially to the election result?

Mr. van Straubenzee

I think that it contributed to the remarkable fact that in a substantial number of seats that were thought to be at risk because of students the result was almost exactly the opposite. That is particularly true of the February election. The Tory Party must not be afraid electorally of students. The truth is that very often their voting patterns are similar to their seniors. It will be a good thing if we all remember that, particularly on the Conservative Benches.

I warmly welcome Clause 2. The Secretary of State has taken an imaginative step. I welcome the second chance that is given. As I read it, it made me reflect—I realise, as the Secretary of State told us, that it emanates from the excellent Russell Committee report—that we have allocated a substantial proportion of our resources for adult education to only one vehicle. I stand second to no one in my admiration for the Open University. It should be remembered more often by members of that university and by others that one of the first decisions that the Conservative Government of 1970 had to take was whether to continue with the Open University. It should be more often remembered that the decision was not only taken to continue with it but that that decision was interpreted generously. Senior academics and other officers of the university acknowledge the help, financial and otherwise, which they received from the Conservative Govern- ment in their very early and formative days.

I am second to no one in my admiration for what the Open University has done and the break through which it has achieved. But is it not regrettable that we have committed such resources for adult education to only one vehicle? This policy will always limit any subsequent Secretary of State's ability to devote substantial resources, whatever party he may represent, to adult education.

Clause 2 is a modest step forward. The right hon. Gentleman claimed no more for it than that. None the less, it is an important and excellent step. I have one reservation. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman is right to make, as it were, a post-graduate award. I use that term loosely. It will be administered from the centre and not through the system of grants at the circumference I hope that that is the right decision. The right hon. Gentleman has the ability to weigh up these matters while in office far better than back benchers.

However, I have the feeling that we might miss an opportunity to educate the local education authorities. If the mandatory awards were administered by the local authorities they would be able to understand the nature of the problem and to be more sympathetic to the adult student then they would otherwise be. As I understand it, the awards will be made and administered from the centre.

My next point is a detailed matter and I shall not expect an answer today. I understand that the Secretary of State contemplates prescribing the attainment of a certain age or ages for those who will benefit by the awards. I am not clear what that means in the context of an adult award. If there is a point of importance, perhaps the Minister will kindly refer to it in winding up.

How are the mighty fallen in further and higher education! Who would have thought only a few years ago that higher education in the Department of Education and Science would be the responsibility of a noble Lord, who, however distinguished, is nevertheless openly and outwardly giving only part of his time to the work, and who has other responsibilities outside the Department, according to his interview in The Times Higher Education Supplement? A few years ago the idea that further and higher education should have but part-time attention—I mean nothing discourteous to the noble Lord—would have been unthinkable. But anyone working in higher education in particular, and students as well, must understand the relative position of higher education today compared with a few years ago in the esteem and thoughts of both Government and, to an extent, of Opposition.

Mr. Prentice

The hon. Gentleman is under a misapprehension. Lord Crowther-Hunt is in every sense a full-time Minister of State in the Department. Like other Ministers in the other place, he sometimes has responsibility for answering on other matters, but that is a common practice there. He will also continue to serve on a Cabinet committee on devolution. I am not sure whether one usually gives such information on Cabinet committees, but I think that it has been made public. Lord Crowther-Hunt's full-time job, except in the sense that he will occasionally answer on other matters in the other place, will be in the Department of Education and Science. He is in no sense a part-time Minister.

Mr. van Straubenzee

Noble Lords in the Department answered Questions within a certain limited sphere in another place when there was a Conservative Government. But I see a distinction between that and a full-time Minister in the Department who, on his appointment, as the Prime Minister of the day went out of is way to make clear, continued to have part-time responsibilities in another field, especially when that noble Lord specified in an interview the proportion of his time he expected to devote to that other interest. I think that that entitles me to the words I have used. I hope that they are not unfair. They are certainly not personal to the noble Lord, as the Secretary of State knows. I am simply making the point that the relative importance of higher education is far less in Government thinking and, to an extent, in Opposition thinking than it was a few years ago.

So as not to take up too much time, I shall say just a few words about Clause 3, which increases from 80 per cent. to 85 per cent. the contributions and grants for the capital expenditure of the voluntary-aided and special agreement schools. Once again, we have an interesting sidelight on what this means in the Explanatory and Financial Memorandum. Admittedly, to us in the House an increased expenditure of £1.5 million is nothing very substantial. But for those concerned with the schools—overwhelmingly, but not exclusively, the Churches—it represents a substantial sum.

I want to offer one thought in relation to the penetrating and thoughtful questions raised on both sides of the House about the situation that arises from an 85 per cent. grant. I ask my friends in the Church of England, which is where I have a personal interest, and in the Roman Catholic Church how we establish our bona fides as those who run voluntary aided schools when we receive not only 85 per cent. of the capital expenditure but the full recurrent costs of running the schools.

I believe, as fervently as anyone else who has spoken on this side of the argument, in the continued participation of the Churches in our education system. The very fact that we have been able to have this discussion without any sectarian bitterness is proof of the maturity of our thought and the way in which this system has enormously cooled what were in years gone by bitter controversies. Having spent at least part of a period of 18 months looking after education in Northern Ireland, I returned here profoundly thankful for our system and for the maturity of belief and dealing between Churches which is now common place over here.

But I ask myself whether the time has not come for a State which has demonstrated, through successive Governments of different political persuasions, that it has a commitment towards Church participation in its education system now to open fundamental discussions with the denominations. I think that it is a State interest that the Churches should progressively come together. It is undoubtedly a fact that the State no longer consults a particular Church. If any organ of government wants advice, it no longer takes it from one particular Church. It rightly no longer takes it exclusively from the established Church of the land. Incidentally, as part of the process of an increased coming together, the Measure to which another place assented yesterday is an important link in the general chain, and I trust that it will be assented to here.

It is right that we should encourage this trend in education. For many active Churchmen it is no longer acceptable that we should have a status of school that is denominational in character, that is Roman Catholic voluntary aided or Church of England voluntary aided. Enormous strides have already been made. Already, at least one school is used by both denominations. We have theologically reached a point that few people would have thought possible a few years ago, with a church not consecrated but dedicated to use by both churches. I cannot believe that the time is far distant when we shall see a category of church school that is not specifically denominational in character.

It would not be unreasonable for the State, observing the way in which the Churches have increasingly come together and understood one another, and believing, as I do, that it is a State interest that that should happen, to open negotiations for a fundamental reappraisal of the way in which we finance those schools, the understanding being that we should translate into legality the daily practice. For the truth is that when the Bishop of Blackburn wrote to the Secretary of State, all the work of the Churches in negotiating with the Department was carried out not by one Church—nor should it be—but by a consortia of the Churches. They all work together. Their interest is as one.

It would have been an imaginative gesture on the part of the Churches if they had come to the State and said that as a quid pro quo, or as a rethink of the methods by which these schools are financed, they would sink their differences and enter into a new concordat with the State for the category of a church school which no longer was tied specifically to a particular religious denomination. In this way there could be a significant step forward both for Church and for State.

Mr. Mahon

I appreciate that over the year the hon. Gentleman has played a significant part in the affairs of voluntary education. He mentions the two major Churches—the Roman Catholic Church and the Church of England. I appreciate what he says and I hope that the day will soon be forthcoming when whta he suggests will be a practicality. But there is a third force to consider—the county school. I am sure that it is the hon. Gentleman's experience, as it is mine, that most of my constituents on both sides of the line—the Church of England and the Roman Catholic Church—would rather send their children to a religious school of some denomination than to a county school. But there is seldom room enough in the religious or denominational school to take them. Has the hon. Gentleman applied thought to that point?

Mr. van Straubenzee

I have, but it goes a little wider than I think I ought to go today, particularly as I have detained the House. But I wanted to make quite clear that nothing in my thinking was weakening what the hon. Gentleman called the religious school. I would use that term—I am sure he would, too—with a little care. They are schools with an outward, unashamed Church allegiance. I would want to retain that in its spirit but undate it in terms of 1975, not 1875. That in essence is the point I am making.

The real truth of the matter, as has been starkly brought out today, is that inflation is the enemy which undermines institutions more surely than almost anything else. The Church of England today, as well I know, is seriously in doubt whether it can still afford its existing force of priests. I have no doubt that my friends in the Roman Catholic Church find the same difficulty, and those who administer the schools of which we speak are also in the gravest difficulty because of inflation. This shows starkly how it is our duty on both sides of the House to fight that enemy.

In so far as the proposals in the Bill go some way, and they go a significant way, I welcome them. I felt it right to take the opportunity of the proposals coming before us at least to make suggestions in relation to the wider debate that I hope will follow.

2.53 p.m.

Mr. Alf Bates (Belington and Ellesmere Port)

I should like to concentrate my remarks on Clause 1 of the Bill which makes mandatory the grant for the diploma in higher education and the higher national diploma. This change is clearly welcomed by both sides of the House. A number of hon. Members on both sides have pressed for it for some time. It will also be welcomed throughout the country as a whole, by students and, in particular, by members of staff in colleges of education, because it adds certainty to their future position.

I personally welcome it very much. Before I came to the House I was a lecturer in a college of education and I spent some time preparing course structures for courses for the diploma in higher education, and many of us then looked forward to the change that is now being made.

The diploma in higher education is to be the basis for teaching degrees as well as for other degrees. It will give a much greater variety of choice to many young people entering higher education. It will in many ways form the first two years of courses for bachelor of education degrees, as well as BA and BSc degrees, and indeed it is hoped that the diploma will also serve as the first two years of what could be a university career rather than an extended career in a college of education.

Much of its success will therefore greatly depend on its acceptability within universities and within the Civil Service. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will ensure that great emphasis is given to its importance within the Civil Service. It will enable many young people to keep their options open as they go into higher education and not to have to make a firm commitment on teaching at the beginning of their higher education, a point that is to be warmly welcomed.

It will be greatly to the benefit of the training of teachers and, if properly constituted, I am sure that it will lay the basis for an improvement in the quality of entry into the teaching profession. Because it is for a national purpose, the grant should be made mandatory and we should not allow any local variation. The same is true for the HND. We must treat them both in the same way.

Having said that, however, we must ask ourselves some questions. If the grant is to be made mandatory because of its national basis, why are we not paying for it entirely at national level? Why is there to be only a 90 per cent. contribution from central Government with the other 10 per cent. from local government? Why cannot we accept that it is a national grant and have it paid for entirely out of central funds, by central Government? After all, there is to be no local choice in the matter. There was an opportunity here to remove an item from local government expenditure and place it on the shoulders of the central Government, no matter how small that item was.

We should also at this stage consider the age restriction that grants such as this will be mandatory only for students over 18 years of age. I have known of a number of instances of young men and women going to universities or polytechnics to take courses when aged almost 18, usually about 17½. For the first term or two they are not able to receive a mandatory grant. It is time we changed to the position where the deciding factor should be that a student, once having been accepted for a course, becomes entitled to receive a mandatory grant. There are other areas where students can for a time, or indeed completely, be penalised.

When I used to train teachers, I came across many excellent young men who were unable to receive a grant for their BEd degree because they had previously spent a year in university on what was at that time a mandatory grant. Because they then wanted to go on to do a four-year BA course, they were unable to obtain a grant. That is made considerably worse when there are financial restrictions such as those we are about to have imposed on public expenditure. I saw many excellent young men who were unable to get a BEd degree simply for that reason. It is about time we changed that too.

Having praised the idea of the diploma of higher education, I issue a slight warning about it and about what we might expect to achieve from it. It arose out of the report of the James Committee, which looked into the training of teachers. It was expected that as a result of this there would be an improvement in the general quality of entry into the teaching profession. I do not think we should expect alterations such as the DipHE to be sufficient in themselves. New names and new structures in colleges of education are not enough. The quality of entry into the teaching profession is affected by many other factors outside colleges of education.

Young men and women today are not being attracted into teaching. One of the greatest single factors why that is so is the pay and conditions in the teaching profession. Until we improve them substantially, I am afraid that we shall not see any serious increase in the number of people wishing to come into the profession. Therefore, we look forward with some hope to the Houghton Committee's report.

The increasing flexibility which the diploma of higher education achieves also has dangers, and we have to recognise them. If we leave the choice open to a student to go on into teaching or into something else, it may be that the alternative will prove too attractive. It is for that reason that we have to ensure that the teaching profession is considerably more attractive than it is at the moment.

The Bill is an important step forward in this respect. But if many of the aims of the James Committee are to be achieved—it may be that I should be addressing the Treasury Bench rather than my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education—we shall have to attract many more of our best young men and women into teaching. I am afraid that that means that we shall have to start paying a lot more for our education.

3.2 p.m.

Mr. Bryan Davies (Enfield, North)

I must first declare an interest, as I do a small amount of teaching in a polytechnic.

The House has welcomed this measure, as it did in the summer. On that occasion, I remember that the Bill was introduced at 7 o'clock on a Friday evening and that the speeches were rather fewer and a good deal shorter. As I said at the time, the timing was somewhat unfortunate as the lynx-eyed representatives of the educational Press had departed for the summer and certainly students and staff had long since dispersed. As a result the Ministers did not get the plaudits that they deserved for introducing a genuinely advantagous education measure. However, the more perceptive recognised that the imminence of a General Election might cause the Bill to be lost—the only disadvantage that resulted from that happy event.

Today, we have a Bill which in general we welcome. Perhaps it is a relic of the sunnier days of autumn before we enter our winter of discontent in terms of national education expenditure. I, too, welcome the Bill, although I am disturbed at the holy collusion between the two Front Benches. I nearly described it as a holy alliance, but I seem to remember that that organisation had the express aim of suppressing radical students, and I should not want that to happen.

I do not think that we ought to present this debate in terms of unalloyed joy with regard to the introduction of the DipHE. As regards the HND there must be an unreserved welcome for the mandatory grant aspect of that course. But the DipHE is not universally welcomed. I do not think that adequate preparation was done for the introduction of this course. I do not think that people are satisfied that the Civil Service and industry have been sufficiently apprised of its details and educational advantages to the extent where those in the education profession are generally persuaded of its validity.

Moreover, I remember that the concept, although it emerged from the James Committee, was introduced in a document called "A Framework for Expansion." One of the disturbing aspects about the DipHE is that its educational qualifications for entry being the same as full-time courses, it looks less like an opportunity for expansion and more like an exercise in substitution. This is why I am making a plea, as I have in the past, for a recognition of the fact that we could use the DipHE with more relaxed educational qualifications, perhaps with one A level qualification. We have an inappropriately selective system of higher education. It is too rigorous in its selection of students and we should look on the introduction of new courses as an opportunity to extend educational advance.

The area in which I have not detected any great controversy whatever, in this debate, but the area which I personally regarded as controversial, relates to the clause on voluntary aided schools. The issues have been presented in terms of the value of our arrangements to minimise the conflict between Church and State. I recognise that value and the fact that in a substantial period of time in British education we have reached a happy resolution of issues which in the past promoted great controversy and bitterness. The issue in respect of so many voluntary aided schools is not that of the content of syllabuses and aspects of teaching but the old, but vitally important, issue of selection versus equality of opportunity.

It is a fact that the Bill seeks to introduce extra support for aided schools which are carrying out policies of entry which are clearly against the wishes of the majority of people both nationally and locally and which are continuing to frustrate the declared will of a large number of our people for genuine equality of opportunity in our educational system.

I do not think my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State identified the most valuable statistics with regard to voluntary aided schools. The issue is not the small percentage of grammar schools and their relationship to the total, because we realise that the total consists substantially of primary schools. It is the number of students in these schools who thus form such a high proportion of our selective system of education in so far as it still persists in many parts of the country.

I defend the freedom of syllabus, the freedom of religious teaching and the freedom for Churches to play a substantial part in our education. I welcome the fact that the Bill makes a contribution at a time when these schools are facing substantial economic difficulties. But we should not pay the price of their wrecking of the comprehensive system. I hope that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State in his reply will re-emphasise Labour's determination to ensure that such schools will play their full part within the comprehensive system of education.

I should like, in conclusion, to make one basic point. In the development of the mandatory awards, such as the DipHe and the HND, we are forging a substantial link between further education and higher education, because these courses and awards are part of both higher education institutions and further education institutions.

We know that the Houghton Report will soon be in the Government's hands and we hope that we shall be able to welcome that report as giving generous treatment to teachers who, so far, have been low in the order of priorities. It is a little strange to see the new-found concern of the Conservative Front Bench for the teaching profession when one recalls their record in Government for four years. If the Houghton proposals are implemented—and one hopes that they will add substantially to the status of teachers—I hope that it will not be at the cost of any suggestion of introducing salary scales which will cause a breach between further education and higher education. I should oppose that. I look upon the Bill as having the major merit of forging closer links between further and higher education—a unity which we all ought to support.

3.10 p.m.

Mrs. Millie Miller (Ilford, North)

The general acclaim with which the Bill has been greeted must be gratifying to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, but one ought to consider for a while the question of mandatory awards and the problems that arise in so many areas of the education system where discretion remains. The problems remain in some education authority areas which are not notoriously generous towards their students. It is perhaps satisfying that the DipHE and the HND are being included, but in many other respects students are being denied their awards because of the attitude of the local education authority concerned.

What one has to realise is that where such an attitude exists it has an effect not only on higher and further education but at the bottom of the education scale, in nursery school provision. The record of the local education authority in my area in nursery school provision is abysmal. There is dissatisfaction within the constituency over the general education facilities. Children are on short-time schooling, and they are fully aware of the opportunities that are being denied to them because of the poor way in which the education authority organises its affairs.

Earlier in the week our hearts were being wrung by visions of the poverty being suffered by the self-employed, and I remember several references to window cleaners. During the recent election campaign a young man who is attending for only three days a week one of the secondary modern schools in my constituency told me that his mathematics teacher had left teaching to become a window cleaner in Wales. There must be a moral in that somewhere, and I am sure that it will be drawn by those who have spoken about the need for reconsidering the status of teachers.

One of the national newspapers asks in a headline today whether students need another rise. I have here a letter from a student in my constituency who reminds me that although students who live in London in halls of residence had their grants increased last year from £520 to £665, his hall fees last year went up from £9½17 to £11.20 per week, and that by the time he had finished paying for his books and other educational needs he was left with the princely sum of £88 a term on which to support himself. The increased awards must be sufficient to enable young people to live on them.

The grant given to a married student is another problem. Reference has been made to discrimination against women. I have on previous occasions approached my right hon. Friend on this matter, and I am sure that the problem will have to be rectified when we come to discuss the legislation dealing with discrimination against women later in this Session.

Many young people who have been denied opportunities for further and higher education in the past are now taking up studies as mature students. They are in a very difficult position, when it comes to shared awards, from the local education authority. I would willingly give examples of ways in which they are unjustly treated in relation to other benefits to which they are entitled but which they lose because of the way in which awards are distributed.

We must also remember the general situation of all students who depend on the parental element in the grant. The House must have heard many times before about the difficulty of obtaining a parental contribution, especially when the parents' income is limited, but not limited enough to preclude their having to make a contribution at all.

The hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. van Straubenzee) spoke earlier of the cynicism of young people about all political parties. What he said about the inaccuracy of the Conservative Party document, which he had failed to bring to the attention of students until after the General Election, might have contributed to that cynicism. A great fanfare of trumpets about increasing grants, when local authorities are fully aware that the benefits of those grants are quickly taken away from the recipients, is also a factor in causing cynicism among young people, who feel so often that society gives with one hand and takes away with the other.

3.17 p.m.

Mr. Christopher Price Lewisham, West)

Although I have many views on other parts of the Bill, I want to concentrate on Clause 3, which has not received nearly enough attention here or in the country. When the religious settlement was made in 1944, a Bill like this would have had no chance of success. The Bill raises the voluntary-aided contribution to 85 per cent. In the light of the debates which went on on the 1944 Act, no one would have dreamed that this Bill could pass virtually on the nod on a Friday.

It is useful to remember a little history in this matter. The voluntary-aided settlement was on a 50.50 basis. It was that the cost of all new buildings, repairs and fabric of the school would be met half by the Churches and half by the State. Also, there was to be no extension of what one speaker in those days called the "denominational virus" to new schools. It applied only to existing schools.

Since 1944, this carefully balanced settlement has been greatly eroded by those two great establishment organisations, the Roman Catholic Church and the Church of England. In the early 1960s, the Conservative Party raised the grant to 75 per cent. without any countervailing concessions from the Churches. That was in spite of the fact that in 1944 controlled status—the difference between voluntary aided and voluntary controlled—had been written very carefully into the Act, so that controlled status was available for the Churches if they felt themselves so short of money that they wanted the State to take over the major share of responsibility for keeping up the schools.

A principle was established then by the Conservative Party that the Churches could come cap in hand, ask for more money and go away with it without making any further concessions. Each time Ministers have said "Seventy-five per cent. is a high percentage, but this is the limit." Indeed, my right hon. Friend the Member for Grimsby (Mr. Crosland), whose PPS I was, introduced a Bill which raised the level once again, to 80 per cent. without any concessions from the other side. At least there was some point in that, because it was what the Press called at the time a "comprehensive sweetener". It encouraged the Roman Catholic schools to make possible the building of comprehensive schools where that had not been possible previously. For that reason there was some justification in it.

But once again, from both sides of the House, by both Lord Boyle and my right hon. Friend the Member for Grimsby, it was made quite clear that this was the limit, the final demand. Once again, we have Ministers coming back and saying "Eighty per cent. was not quite the limit. Now it must rise to 85 per cent."

Even the language is softening. There is no nonsense such as "It can go no further." We note the word used by the Minister. He said that the Government hoped that this settlement would be "durable". No doubt the Under-Secretary will confirm that "durable" was the hardest word that the Churches would accept in the statement to be made about the Bill, and that had any such word as "final" been used, the Churches would have made a lot of fuss. As with all religious settlements in the House, it has to proceed smoothly, with no argument and no suggestion that there has been any argument in the past.

I accept the difficulties that the denominations face. I accept the fact that both the Church of England and the Roman Catholic schools are making great efforts to bring their system of education into line with the comprehensive system generally obtaining. If it remained at that, perhaps we might accept this. However, there is a small but very important minority of voluntary-aided schools which have nothing whatsoever to do with any Church. They represent a system which is unique, in which schools can live totally, in terms of running expenditure, off the public purse but remain completely unamenable to public policy in doing so.

The basis of this is the control that voluntary-aided schools have over the children they pick to go into their schools at the age of 11—the control that they have over entry policy. The spinelessness of successive Government is illustrated by the fact that neither when the percentage rose to 75 per cent. nor when it went up to 80 per cent., and nor now it has risen to 85 per cent., have any Government even attempted to get the quid pro quo of some sort of local authority control over entry policy from the Churches and, I emphasise, other organisations as part of their bargain for getting more resources in this direction. It would be quite wrong if the Bill were to slide into legislation without these points being made.

In Southampton, for example, where I taught for a long time, there is a voluntary-aided school, King Edward's, the very existence of which, standing as it does against the comprehensive policy of the city, distorts primary and secondary education over the whole area of the city. There is a great deal of historic accident in this. The Inner London Education Authority finds it extremely difficult to implement comprehensive education simply because of the historic accident of a crucial number of voluntary-aided schools in the area. The same is true of Birmingham and many other parts of the country.

Although I congratulate the Government on the greater part of the Bill, it is incumbent on Labour Members to emphasise that the Bill is like the curate's egg. It has got some very good bits, but it has some pieces which I believe, in a democratic House, deserve a great deal more scrutiny than has been the case today with the attendance we have had.

3.26 p.m.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield)

I am stimulated to react to the offering just made by the hon. Member for Lewisham, West (Mr. Price). I had no intention whaever of speaking in this debate because I have the Adjournment debate which follows. I found the hon. Member's contribution to what had hitherto been an excellent and constructive debate quite appalling. It was a vicious attack on Church and voluntary schools and the substantial and important part which they play in the education of this country.

I am an outspoken advocate of Church and voluntary-aided schools. I believe that the part they play in our education system is important. This is particularly true of the Church schools. The moral and religious studies which go on in these schools are essential to a disciplined and effective society. I pay tribute to the vast sums of money which the voluntary bodies and the Churches have put into education. I remind the hon. Member for Lewisham, West that we do not have a bottomless purse. Education is starved of finance. Where does he think the State would get the finance to provide the enormous number of places that would be required if many of these voluntaary schools went out of existence?

I should like to see the number of Church and voluntary-aided schools increased. I have urged that my own party when in power should open the direct grant list. We want a greater variety of education. We do not want the State to dictate what sort of education a child should receive during his or her formative years. It is interesting to note that parents like to send their children to a Church school. They respect what goes on in that school, what is taught there, the discipline and the example set by many of the staff. I respect and admire the work done by the Church and voluntary schools in our education system and would wish to dissociate myself entirely from the comments of the hon. Gentleman.

3.29 p.m.

Mr. William Shelton (Streatham)

The House seems to have given a general welcome to the Bill with perhaps the exception of the hon. Member for Lewisham, West (Mr. Price) in his references to Clause 3. We had a rather stimulating speech from him which, not surprisingly, produced a response from my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton). It is interesting that even on a Friday afternoon the debate has attracted so many Members. It shows yet again the importance which the House attaches to education. I very much hope that it will find time to continue discussing education as the Session proceeds.

I should like to touch on three or four of the subjects which have been raised. The first concerns the diploma of higher education, which has been genuinely and widely welcomed, as it was in the previous debate in July. I should like to refer to the value of the two-year course. My hon. Friends the Members for Chelmsford (Mr. St. John-Stevas) and for Wokingham (Mr. van Straubenzee) also made this point, which was perhaps cast into some doubt by the reaction to the proposals of the independent university. I am sure that the two-year course will be of value and that the Department will keep a check on how it progresses.

I am looking forward with interest to the answers which we shall get from the Under-Secretary of State to the questions put by my hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford—concerning, for instance, whether the DipHE has been accepted by the Civil Service and by industry, how many courses are planned and the reaction of students. I understand that certain DipHE courses have already started. Columns 2153–4 of the OFFICIAL REPORT of 26th July, report the then Minister of State, the hon. Member for The Wrekin (Mr. Fowler), as saying that most colleges would not be ready to start their courses until 1975. He went on to say that he knew of two such courses which were likely to start in September. That was last July. So two of these courses presumably have started, and I am sure the House will be interested to know how they are getting on. This is an interesting new venture in higher education.

Then there is the whole question of awards and grants for married students. That attracted the attention of a number of hon. Members. The hon. Member for Leicester, South (Mr. Marshall) wished to abolish altogether the parental contribution, though there did not seem to be complete agreement from the hon. Member for Isle of Ely (Mr. Freud), who is no longer here. An interesting point was made by my hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford, who described some of the anomalies in the system of which we are all aware. It was only yesterday that I had the pleasure of receiving a delegation from my local teacher training college, Philippa Fawcett, who subjected me to a barrage of questions for 45 minutes, most of them concerning these anomalies. They pointed out that the highest award for a married woman student is £475. It has been increased, but this sum of £475 compares with the main rate for other students, including London weighting, of £655. They felt that was wrong. They also referred to the whole means test business, the parental contribution over the age of 21, the husband's contribution and all the rest of it. Why the age of 21 applies now that the age of majority has been reduced to 18 baffles me.

A problem which has not been mentioned today is that, because of the system of parental contribution and the husband's contribution, the father or husband can, if he so wishes, stop the woman student receiving her grant merely by refusing to fill in the forms which are sent to him and in which he has to list his income. I am told that if he does not return those forms the woman student is powerless and cannot proceed for the award. That, surely, is a nonsense. There are other cases, unfortunately not all that infrequent, in which the parent or husband from whom a contribution is levied does not make that contribution to the student. This also creates hardship.

I am sure, therefore, that I represent the feeling of the House when I ask the Minister to look into that matter. No doubt he has it very much in mind. We want him to see what can be done. The question of cost in this connection was raised, and it would be interesting to have an answer to that too.

The question of discretionary or mandatory grants and awards attracted the attention of many hon. Members. I was interested to hear the defence of the discretionary system stated by my hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham, because I gave precisely that defence to the delegation of student teachers who came to see me yesterday. I hope that I was as persuasive with them as he was with the House today. My hon. Friend acknowledged, however, that the line might move in the future, and I believe that most of us would hope that eventually, when times permit, it would move sufficiently far that most awards were mandatory, not discretionary. The Secretary of State spoke of a figure of £200 million, which even today must be regarded as a great deal of money.

In this connection I draw attention to but two of the many difficulties that arise. First, I mention those students over 19 years of age who wish to take an O-level or A-level but who do not qualify for an award unless they can show very good cause, such as illness, for their having it. This creates problems when students wish to add perhaps an extra A-level in order to acquire a certain qualification.

The hon. Member for Leicester, South referred to the position of students from 16 to 18 who are dependent on discretionary grants. Their problem also must have come to the Secretary of State's attention, as it has to ours, and I am sure that he would wish to look into it.

The immediate problem, however, is not so much the question of discretionary as opposed to mandatory grant but the differences in the level of discretionary grant. The Secretary of State rightly reminded us that the National Union of Students is not happy with the situation and wishes to have them all made mandatory, but there are many other bodies which are unhappy with the present levels of discretionary grant.

In 1971, when she was Secretary of State, my right hon. Friend the Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher) issued a circular advising or suggesting that discretionary grants should be at the same level as mandatory grants. None the less, I draw the attention of the present Secretary of State to the evidence submitted to the Education and Arts Sub-Committee of the Expenditure Committee in the 1972–73 Session. In that evidence the Society of Education Officers, for example, instanced an excessive number of hardships caused by the variations in discretionary grant levels. The National Union of Students gave an example in connection with an HND course—happily, now the subject of mandatory grant—in the South Devon Technical College, a catering course at which there were two students, one from Ulster receiving £380 a year and one from the northern part of the United Kingdom receiving only £280 a year. Nothing can irritate and distract students more than a clear injustice such as that.

The Association of Art Institutions went on record in these terms: The exercise of discretion given to local authorities results in the infinitely variable treatment of the student from one area to another. We have all had instances of that.

It has been argued that differences in local costs justify differences in discretionary grant. I have always believed that this was a weak argument. One should ask how it was possible to justify uniformity of monetary awards which, taken area by area, are also uniform. Students have clear grounds for complaint and many respectable bodies associate themselves with those grounds. I hope that the Government will look into this and see what can be done as soon as possible.

In conclusion, it is with great pleasure that I and the rest of the House have welcomed the great body of the Bill. We look forward to the House giving it a fair wind.

3.41 p.m.

The Under-Secretary of State for Education and Science (Mr. Ernest Armstrong)

We have had an interesting debate and valid points have been raised, some of which I shall reply to and others of which will no doubt be raised in Committee. If I do not answer points it is not because I wish to avoid them but because in Committee we shall have the time to pursue them in depth. My hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, West (Mr. Price) raised a very valid point. There are deep feelings in the country about this matter and it is a good thing if on Second Reading all points of view are put forward.

The Bill is limited in scope because we are faced with a situation in which we in the Department of Education and Science, in common with all other Departments, are compelled to look at our priorities. There will not be a lot of extra money available to any Department and therefore it behoves us all to remember, in discussing the allocation of resources, that if we give to one sector, another sector has to do without. I therefore commend the Bill because I believe it deals with important priorities, although there are many other priorities such as nursery education, maintenance grants for the 16-to-18 year olds and getting rid of parental means tests. All these are special cases and can be argued with great force and at great length. Someone has to take responsibility for allocating resources available, and the B ill is an important step forward.

Two diploma of higher education courses have started and local authorities have agreed to support students who have been accepted for these courses on the basis that the grants are mandatory. Enrolments are encouraging and we expect to see a considerable number of courses starting in 1975.

Of course, we could all argue that it would be better to make all awards mandatory. But to bring all present discretionary awards containing an element of maintenance up to full mandatory rates would cost about £11 million, and that does not include discretionary awards where there is simply a tuition fee and certain educational expenses. To give maintenance to students over 16 at full rates would, even in the estimate of the NUS, amount to about £200 million. These are the students who are at school and who were the subject of the Select Committee's deliberations in the last Session. This is a matter on which I have a very great interest and very strong views.

We have been talking about whether grants should be paid centrally. Mandatory grants attract 90 per cent. funding from central Government. That leaves 10 per cent. to be found by local authorities. In the present relationship between central Government and local government, there is an advantage in asking the local authorities to contribute that percentage.

There is no great bar to mandatory awards. As the Bill operates, any student admitted to a course of initial teacher training who satisfies the residence requirements will receive a mandatory award. The cost of abolishing the parental means test—I am sure that all of us have been tackled about this by people inside and outside the House who feel strongly about it—would have been £63 million in the 1973–74 academic year. That is a considerable amount when we consider the old schools which we want to replace which children are compelled to attend in their formative years. There is also the need for nursery education if thousands of our children who are now born to fail are to receive any semblance of equality of educational opportunity.

Mr. Christopher Price

Surely the £63 million can stand only if there is no attempt, for example, to claw it back by abolition of child allowances. Would it not be possible to reduce the £63 million considerably by such means?

Mr. Armstrong

If my hon. Friend had been a little patient I would have dealt with that. I became carried away by talking about priorities—namely, children in the inner urban areas who attend schools which should be replaced and nursery education. In answer to my hon. Friend, the net cost would be between £20 million and £30 million if tax relief to parents were abolished concurrently, depending on the basis on which tax relief was withdrawn. I can assure my hon. Friend that even £20 million in the context of the needs of some of the children in certain areas is a considerable sum.

It is true that there has been strong feeling throughout the country directed to abolishing the spouse's contribution. Again, it is a matter of priorities. My right hon. Friend made a substantial step forward when he dealt with students' grants. However, we are anxious to proceed and to make the grant system even fairer. If we were to abolish the spouse's contribution, the estimated cost would be about £1.2 million. It is estimated that there are approximately 15,000 married women undergraduates. In reply to a comment made earlier, I am anxious that people should be made respectable. If two students marry they continue to receive the full rate of grant on the same basis as if they were single. I hope that that gives reassurance to some. My right hon. Friend has already said that he will consider students' grants annually.

I now deal with validation. Rather different considerations apply to courses designated as comparable to first degree courses. There are courses where there is not the safeguard of university or CNAA validation to ensure that entry standards are maintained for students wishing to take such courses. Eligibility for a mandatory award will continue to be dependent on prescribed educational qualifications. These will continue to be two A levels or their equivalent. Educational qualifications are removed for universities and for all degree course validated by the CNAA. Only students of courses comparable to degree courses mounted by individual colleges continue to require educational qualifications so as to qualify for mandatory awards. That is because there is not the guarantee of national validation.

Concern has been expressed about a second mandatory award. At present a student can have only one such award. Since the diploma of higher education is a stepping stone to a degree, we shall be making provision in the regulations for a student to have two mandatory awards where he goes on from Dip.HE to a degree or from HND to a degree, although the second mandatory award is likely to be limited in duration, on the assumption that the Dip.HE or HND course would give remission from the first two years of the degree course. We have no proposals to give a second mandatory award to enable an HND student to take a professional qualification after that. That matter is left for local authorities.

I was asked when the other recommendations of the Russell Report will be implemented. Although the proposal to give State awards to students at long-term residential colleges was a recommendation of Russell, it has been dealt with as a separate issue. My right hon. Friend will consider what action to take on the report when he has completed his discussions with adult education interests.

I come to Clause 3 and the debate about the voluntary schools. In the part of West Durham where I grew up, I had almost daily to go past the Roman Catholic college, the Ushaw College, which is a very distinguished college. I used to wonder what went on behind the high walls. I am delighted to tell the House that today I am a frequent visitor to the college and have had many interesting and enjoyable times there. The myths, suspicions and so on that I knew as a boy have completely gone. We work amicably together.

I am glad to say that in the context of this debate. As my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, West said, such a debate could not have taken place 25 or 30 years ago without much more acrimony. We have become more tolerant. I hope that it is not because some people have become apathetic and indifferent. I assure the House that we are in constant discussion with the Church authorities and others responsible for voluntary schools. We discussed their financial difficulties, and after examining all the possibilities, came to the conclusion that an increase of grant was necessary.

I was reminded this afternoon, as I listened to the debate, that no politician should ever say that anything is permanent, and that he should never use the word "never", because conditions change. Bishop Emery, the Chairman of the Catholic Education Council, wrote on behalf of the Roman Catholic Church to my right hon. Friend, saying: We expect this new grant to be of considerable help and to enable us to carry through the schools programme that lies ahead. We understand the sacrifices being made by those who regard it as a fundamental freedom to send their children to a denominational school. There are dangers in the increasing dependence of Church schools on State support, but we discussed all the implications frankly and fully, and felt that the present proposals were justified.

I should like to say a few words about the position of voluntary schools on secondary reorganisation. The hon. Member for Chelmsford (Mr. St. John-Stevas) did the Church representatives a disservice by saying that they had misunderstood the intentions of Circular 4/74, and whether it had legal implications. We discussed all the issues with them before the circular was sent out, and I am certain that they were well aware of all that it said and meant. The record tells us that the Churches have often been ahead of local authorities in their desire to get rid of the artificial, unfair and divisive system that is perpetuated as long as we continue to label and segregate our children in the way so often commended by the hon. Gentleman. The Bill will not be an obstacle to abolishing selection. If it were, I should not be commending it.

Perhaps the most important educational advance is to get rid of the labelling, selecting and separating of our children that goes on in so many parts of the country today. I reiterate that the Bill will not be an obstacle to the Churches, which have been willing to co-operate.

I was surprised that the hon. Gentleman should talk about Oxford University lowering standards for comprehensive school pupils. The truth of the matter is that Oxford University has said that it is now willing to consider applications from students prior to A level results, which is the custom at other universities.

In the past there have been many cases of students staying on for a third year in the sixth form, but a great number of children are unable to do this. They have to leave after two years in the sixth form because of economic circumstances. But now they will be able lo apply to Oxford and Cambridge in the same way as other universities and, as I understand it, there has been no fall in standards at those universities. Oxford dons have confirmed that pupils from comprehensive schools are more than holding their own.

The Bill, although modest, is an advance. It increases the opportunity to our young people to have the kind of education which will enable them to develop their personalities to the full.

We are acting in time of great economic difficulty. I say as a Minister with some responsibility for the education service that I believe that, despite the economic stringency, we have resources that, given the co-operation of everybody in the service—the profession, parents and administrators—will enable us to move forward, to give more of our young children the opportunity to develop, and to give them the kind of education they deserve. I commend the Bill to the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time.

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