HC Deb 05 November 1979 vol 973 cc29-166

Order for Second Reading read.

Mr. Speaker

Before I call the Minister, I should tell the House that a large number of right hon. and hon. Members have signified to me that they hope to catch my eye during the course of the debate. Therefore, I have decided to use the discretion that the House, in its wisdom, decided last Wednesday night to give to me. Accordingly, any hon. Member who is called this evening between the hours of 7 pm and 8.50 pm will be limited to a speech not exceeding 10 minutes in length. May I add that those who are called to speak before 7 pm are not bound to make long speeches?

Mr. Norman Buchan (Renfrewshire, West)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. You will recall that I raised a point of order last week on the question of Scottish clauses of the Bill being sent to a Scottish Standing Committee. You were generous enough to send me a helpful letter in that regard, for which I thank you. Have the Government made any approach through you to seek leave to move a motion so that the Scottish clauses may be sent to a Scottish Standing Committee? That would be in accordance with precedent. They are crucial clauses, which relate only to Scotland, and the custom and precedent has been for them to be discussed in Scottish Committees. It would be useful to know the answer before the debate starts.

Mr. Speaker

I have not received notice from the Government and I do not know what their intentions are in the matter.

3.33 p.m.

The Secretary of State for Education and Science (Mr. Mark Carlisle)

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

I take note, Mr. Speaker, of your request that speeches should be short. Although I cannot promise to contain myself to the 10-minute period to which you referred, I shall do my best to be reasonably brief.

As its name implies, this is the second Education Bill to be presented in this Session of Parliament and, indeed, the third Education Bill to receive a Second Reading debate in this House in the past 12 months.

The first Bill, which is now the Education Act 1979, was an urgent measure that was required to carry out our promise at the time of the election to remove from local education authorities the compulsion to reorganise on comprehensive lines when they did not wish to do so. It restored to local education authorities and local people the right to choose the type of secondary education that they wished for their children in their area. This Bill, among other things, puts into legislative form the other promises that we made in our manifesto at the time of the election.

It is consistent in its purposes with two principles of the Government: first, that of improving the standard of achievement in education by widening parental involvement in schools, strengthening the influence of parents over the choice of schools in which their child will be educated and widening the availabilty of the type of school to parents whose children are now being educated in the maintained sector.

Secondly, the Bill is consistent also with the principle of the present Government to reduce the degree of central Government control exercised over local authorities in the provision of services for which they are responsible. In particular, it is consistent in the belief that, by reducing those controls, it will be easier for the local authorities to achieve the economic savings for which we have asked.

The Bill has six main parts. It deals with school government and the right of parents and teachers to sit on governing bodies. It deals with the question of admission to school, the improved opportunities for parental choice and the setting up of local appeals procedure. It provides for our assisted places scheme; it gives greater discretion for local education authorities, particularly as far as school meals and transport are concerned. It deals with various non-controversial provisions from the 1978 Bill and it deals with the revised arrangements for the pooling of expenditure on advanced further education.

It will be for the convenience of the House if I take the six matters in the order that I have mentioned them, saying a few words on each of them.

Mr. Ron Leighton (Newham, North-East)

Does the right hon and learned Gentleman recall the words of Sir Winston Churchill, who once said that a nation could make no greater investment than to pour milk down the throats of its children? Why does the right hon. Gentleman advise local authorities to do the opposite?

Mr. Carlisle

At an appropriate moment, I shall come to the part of my speech which deals with meals, milk and transport. At that stage, I shall attempt to answer any questions which the hon. Gentleman may have.

I pay heed to your request, Mr. Speaker, to limit speeches in length and I turn to the first of those six parts to which I referred. Clauses 1 to 5 deal with school government. There are two principles involved. First, there is the requirement that each school should be required to have its own individual governing body. The second requirement is that on each individual governing body there should be elected parents and teachers. The reason behind the proposals is that we believe that education should be shown to be a partnership, between both the home and the school and the parent and the teacher. The purpose of having elected teachers and parents on the governing body is that it will emphasise that partnership. The presence of parents, elected from among their number, will increase their involvement and interest in what goes on within the school.

The Bill provides that there shall be at least two elected parents on each school governing body. However, we accept that the majority responsibility for running schools must rest with the local education authorities. Therefore, it is right that they should be free to decide the correct type of governing body for their individual schools. Therefore, unlike the previous Government's Bill, we have not attempted to lay down in detail either the number of members of a governing body or how that membership should be made up. Those are matters for local education authorities and it is best to leave the maximum degree of flexibility to them to decide the suitable membership of a body, taking into account the local services and the area of the school.

Clause 2 provides that on each governing body there shall be at least two elected parents and at least two elected teachers, except that in a small school with fewer than 300 pupils there shall be at least one elected teacher. In the case of primary schools, where a school is in the area of a minor authority one of the governors of that school should be appointed by that authority. As for the rest of the membership of the governing body, we have left it up to the local authorities to decide, and matters such as the question whether pupil governors should be on the board are matters that we think are best decided at local level.

The voluntary aided schools are dealt with in clause 2. There, so as to ensure that bodies do not become too large in number, we have reduced the proportion of the foundation governors from a two-thirds proportion to a majority of two on a board of up to 18, and to a majority of three on a board of more than 18. They also will be required to have elected parent governors on their boards, although if one foundation governor is a parent they will be required to have a minimum of only one elected parent.

Clause 4 provides some important safeguards for foundations and provides that in matters dealing with the future of a foundation, the foundation governors should have the right, if they require, to request a second meeting of the board.

I realise that in some areas at the moment there is a substantial grouping together of schools under one governing body. As I said, in principle the Bill will not allow such groupings in future but will require, except for primary schools, each school to have a separate body, other than with the approval of the Secretary of State. However, I realise, too, that local authorities will need some time to alter their governing bodies in accordance with the provisions of the Bill. They will all need to have, for example, new instruments of government for each school. I hope that they will attempt to get on with that as soon as the Bill becomes law. In the meantime, I do not propose to lay down any timetable in the Bill, although I retain the power in clause 2(9) to make an order requiring local authorities to change their govening bodies in accordance with the provisions of the Bill.

I think that that is all that I need to say about the governing bodies. Accordingly, I turn to the second purpose of the Bill.

Mr. Andrew F. Bennett (Stockport, North)

Does not the right hon. and learned Gentleman agree that one of the major criticisms of the Bill introduced by the Labour Government was that it did not lay down the powers of governors? Has not he perpetuated the problem of not laying down the powers of the governors, and is not he merely saying that, given a set of sensible people, they will take powers for themselves?

Mr. Carlisle

I accept that we have not attempted to set out the powers of governing bodies, any more than the previous Government did, and I accept that the reason why we have not done so is that we believe that if we get the right people on the governing bodies it is up to them to exercise their powers as they feel to be right. That was the provision proposed by my predecessor.

The part of the Bill dealing with school admissions is that covered by clauses 6 to 11. Again, the principle that has guided us is clear. It is to give to parents the strongest possible right of choice about the schools at which their children shall be educated.

We have to remember that the duty to educate a child is, in the end, a duty not of the local education authority but of the parent. Therefore, parents should be given the widest possible decision about how that duty is carried out. The present position is both confused and confusing. Although the 1944 Act provides for children to be educated according to the wishes of their parents, there has never been provided any system by which those wishes should be heard.

I accept, of course, that in this area there cannot be absolute freedom of choice. Where a State service is established that is required to provide for all children living in an area and at the same time is required to exercise due consideration for the interests of both ratepayers and taxpayers, it is not possible to legislate for absolute freedom of choice. However, the fact that it is not possible to provide that absolute freedom of choice does not mean that one should not attempt to provide for the strongest choice possible. Accordingly, therefore, clause 6 lays down for the first time the statutory right of a parent to express a preference about the school at which his child should be educated and a statutory duty on the local education authority to comply with that preference unless compliance would prejudice the provision of efficient education or the efficient use of resources, or, in the case of schools whose pupils are selected by ability, compliance with that preference would be incompatible with the selective procedure of that school.

Mr. Ivan Lawrence (Burton)

Can my right hon. and learned Friend explain how the position set out in this clause differs from the existing position?

Mr. Carlisle

It differs considerably. As I said, at the moment there is no statutory provision in which any parent's preference for a school can be made clear. In the 1944 Act there is the statement that children should be educated according to the wishes of their parents. However, no provisions have ever been made whereby those wishes can be carried out.

It will be a very large change in many areas. For the first time we are providing a statutory right to express a preference and a statutory duty on local authorities to comply with that preference. But if parents are to be able to express a preference that is to be of value, it is necessary first that they should know the admission arrangements provided by local authorities for the schools concerned; secondly, that they should have the fullest possible information about the schools concerned so as to make an informed choice; and, thirdly, that they should have a sufficient appeals procedure if it has not been possible to satisfy their preferences.

Mr. Edwin Wainwright (Dearne Valley)

Is not the right hon. and learned Gentleman aware that he is putting into the minds of parents by what he is saying today and by what he is providing in the Bill that they will have the right to select schools of their choice far more than they have been able to before? Will this not cause a great deal of trouble to all those governors who have to judge whether or not parents have that choice?

Mr. Carlisle

I believe that parents should have as much right as possible to make that choice, although I realise that no choice can ever be absolute. The balance will have to be made between the choice of a parent and the demands on the local education authorities. As I said, I have provided for the first time a statutory right for a parent to make that choice.

Mr. Allen Mckay (Penistone)


Mr. Speaker

Before I call the hon. Member for Penistone (Mr. McKay), I remind him and the House that, inevitably, at the end of the day some hon. Members will have failed to be called, because so many wish to speak, even operating the 10-minute rule. I hope that interruptions will be as few as possible.

Mr. Eric S. Heffer (Liverpool, Walton)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I trust that we shall not reach the situation in this House where hon. Members are unable, because of time factors, to intervene during Ministers' speeches or in speeches being made by other hon. Members. If we arrive at that situation we may as well pack up the House of Commons, because it would not be the House of Commons that I have been in for 15 years.

Mr. Speaker

The hon. Gentleman is right about the cut and thrust of debate. However, he would be one of the most agitated if he had his name down to speak and was not called.

Mr. Heffer

That is not the point.

Mr. Speaker

There is no point in pursuing it.

Mr. Bob Cryer (Keighley)

Yes, there is.

Mr. Heffer

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. With due respect, I raised a serious point of order. I have never objected to any hon. Member intervening in any of my speeches and I have never objected when I have not been called. Like many other hon. Members, I could paper my walls with the speeches that I have not been able to make. We are entitled to an answer to the serious point that I raised.

Mr. Speaker

The hon. Gentleman will receive an answer. As I said at the beginning of the point of order, the cut and thrust of debate is part of our dealings in the House. I was drawing attention to the fact that we have already had four or five interruptions in the Secretary of State's speech. I said that if there were too many interruptions, some hon. Members would not be able to make their speeches. I accept the hon. Gentleman's promise not to protest if he is not called.

Mr. Allen McKay

The Secretary of State was talking about parents' free choice of admission of their children to any school that has room to take them. Is that not contradicted by his taking away from children the right to free travel to school? For some low-paid families with three or four children, the choice of school will be predetermined. The children will have to go to the village school that is nearest rather than to one to which their parents might wish them to go.

Mr. Carlisle

No one could accuse me of not being willing to give way. I have given way to every hon. Member who has sought to intervene. If I am allowed to develop my speech I shall deal with the hon. Gentleman's intervention when I come to the question of transport. No one can complain if my speech takes rather a long time. Hon. Members have repeatedly asked me to give way.

If we are to have a choice, it is necessary that parents should know the arrangements for admission to schools and as much information as possible about the school to which they wish their children to go. Under clause 8, a local education authority will be required to publish the arrangements that it makes for admission, including the number of pupils that it intends to admit to a school and the policy that it proposes to adopt on admissions to a school where there is a greater demand than the school can meet. Authorities will also be required to give a description of the arrangements that they are making for parents to express a preference, and for appeals.

If parents are to make an informed choice they should have as much information as possible about schools, and clause 8 therefore also provides that schools will be required to give as much information as they think fit or as I require to be provided. I believe that it should include the rights to information about a school's academic record and to the publication of examination results.

I have made clear that I will consult teachers' unions and local authorities about this matter, but I remain of the view that it is right that parents should know as much as possible about a school and that it is better that they should be given factually accurate information rather than pick it up by means of gossip.

Mr. Neil Kinnock (Bedwellty)

If the Secretary of State decides to go ahead with his plans for publishing academic results, which is a highly suspect way of assessing the performance of a school, will he at least give us an indication of the requirements that he will lay down to ensure that the results are not merely bald examination figures but include a means of effective and objective evaluation?

Mr. Carlisle

My objective is clear. I am concerned with information that is intended to be available to parents who may wish to send their children to a certain school. I accept—and I will enter negotiations on this point—that with the educational results the school should make clear, in any way that it wishes, the background from which the children are drawn, and other such matters. I am concerned not so much with providing information for the general public as with providing information to parents who wish to make a choice about the school to which their children should go.

Following the intervention of the hon. Member for Dearne Valley (Mr. Wainwright), I should make clear that the right to express a preference is a new right and is not limited to expressing a preference for a school in an area in which the child lives. Parents will be free for the first time to express a wish that their children should be educated in a school in another local education authority area. Clause 30 provides automatic recoupment between local authorities for children educated outside the area of their own education authority.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

It will cost the parents a fortune in bus fares.

Mr. Carlisle

The hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) ought to realise that many parents living near local authority boundaries complain more than anything about the fact that they cannot send their children to the nearest school, because it is in the area of another local education authority.

Mr. John Evans (Newton)

As in Cheshire?

Mr. Carlisle

Of course, that applies in Cheshire, with Liverpool, Manchester and its other surrounding areas. I believe that a parent should have a right to express a preference for a child to be educated in a school in another local education authority area. I have provided for automatic recoupment between the authorities.

The plans that I have outlined will be of particular assistance to denominational schools, which usually draw their pupils from a wider area. Many of those pupils live in local authority areas other than that in which the school is situated.

Miss Sheila Wright (Birmingham, Handsworth)

Will the Secretary of State explain what provisions he intends to make for decisions to be taken on the question whether a child can go to a school in another local education authority area, and what provisions he intends to make for inter-authority payments?

Mr. Carlisle

I have just explained that. The Bill provides a right for parents to express a preference for a school outside the area in which they live. Provided that the child is accepted by the school, there will be automatic recoupment between the local authorities. I explained that that is particularly important for denominational schools, where admission policy will be in the hands of governors who cannot be prevented from taking a child who wishes to go there by the unwillingness of a local authority to recoup payments.

Voluntary aided schools will be able to make their own admission policies, free from pressure from local education authorities. Parents will be able to express a preference and the schools will be under a duty to meet that preference and will have their own appeals procedure.

Clause 7 sets out the appeals procedure that a parent may use when dissatisfied. It is difficult to decide what is the appropriate type of appeals machinery that is needed if that procedure is to have the right power to decide the matter. I have concluded that, inevitably, if that appeals procedure is to have power to bind a local authority it must contain members from that local authority—in other words, not officials of the department but councillors and co-opted members.

To give the power to overrule the local authority to some other body that is in no way democratically responsible would effectively mean that school policy was taken out of the hands of the democratically elected council and given into the hands of others who were not democratically elected. Had we gone along with the idea—as some suggested—of providing for a totally independent appeals committee, which was not part of the local authority and could only be advisory, it would have caused far more frustration and concern to individual parents than the system that we have devised.

Mr. John McWilliam (Blaydon)

I refer the right hon. and learned Gentleman to the experience of some of us of cases where these regulations have existed and where we have had powers to make them. The result, with the most objective appeals procedure available, was a group of very dissatisfied parents and very upset children.

Mr. Carlisle

One will never satisfy every parent and every child. The purpose of this appeals procedure, like any other form of appeal, is to provide for a hearing and attempt to satisfy as many as possible of those who are dissatisfied. The person who loses an appeal always ends up dissatisfied, whether in a court of law or any form of tribunal, as I know sometimes to my cost.

We have decided, therefore, that the appeals procedure committee, whether consisting of three, five or seven members, should be allowed to have a bare majority of one of members who are either members of the council or co-opted members of the local education authority. But the Bill also makes clear that no one who has been involved in the decision will be allowed to sit on the appeal committee, that the chairman himself may not be a member of the local education authority, that the appeal committee must have members on it independent of those who are on the local authority, and that individual parents shall have a right to be heard in person at the hearing of their appeal. With those provisos, we believe that the decision made by the appeal committee should be binding, and should overrule that of the local education authority.

Mr. John Evans

The right hon. and learned Gentleman is reiterating an important point. Will he insist that members of two or three political parties represented on the local education authority will form the basis of the appeal committee? If the councillors are made up of the majority party it is hardly likely that they will disagree with the decisions of the majority party in the first place.

Mr. Carlisle

That must be a matter for the local authority. I envisage that each local authority will have a panel of councillors—presumably crossing party lines—who will agree to sit on an appeal committee. That would be my wish.

There will be a similar appeals procedure for voluntary schools. The governors will be entitled to be in a majority. I want to make clear what I believe is the concern of the average parents when they find that their wish is not met. Their concern is that the decision has been taken by some official at the local education authority and that there appears to be no means of questioning, or appealing against, that decision. Our system will provide that any such decision taken by a local education official can be challenged before an appeal committee made up of elected representatives, who, in the end, are the people who must be responsible for the provision of education in that area.

Since we are setting up a local appeals procedure, it follows that we are doing away with the individual appeal that existed, under section 37, to the Secretary of State. This was always a thoroughly unsatisfactory situation, which, as the House may know, gave a total advantage to a parent who chose deliberately to keep a child away from school against the parent who sent a child to school. In future, there will be no individual appeal, on an individual case, to the Secretary of State. The rights of appeal to the Secretary of State will be limited to those cases in which it is argued that the local authority is acting unreasonably or failing to carry out its statutory duties under section 99 of the 1944 Act.

I now turn, conscious that time is moving on, to the third area of the Bill on which I wish to address the House—the assisted places scheme set out in clauses 17 and 18. I wish to refer to the policy behind that proposal and the financial implications of it. The setting up of the assisted places scheme was the clearest possible election commitment and mandate to restore to bright children of less affluent parents the opportunity to benefit from an education similar to that provided in the old direct grant grammar schools.

It is a scheme that has been subjected by Labour Members to the most gross distortion. The right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley), I see, has now arrived. Presumably to show his concern about the future leadership of the party, he opened his mouth and decided to condemn the whole scheme without even hearing its details. His remarks were totally erroneous on what was intended.

The direct grant grammar schools gave a high-quality academic education to children of ability, irrespective of the means of their parents. We on the Conservative Benches regretted greatly the decision to put an end to that scheme. But putting and end to the scheme did not kill those schools. They remain. However, two-thirds of the 174 involved went independent and today remain independent schools. They are, therefore, available only to those who can pay. We believe that the education opportunity provided by those and similar schools should be open to children of ability whose parents cannot afford to pay the fees that they charge. It is with that intention that we bring in this part of the Bill. The schools exist. That means of opportunity exists. That means of opportunity should be restored to able children whose parents are unable to meet the cost.

Mr. Christopher Price (Lewisham, West)


Mr. Iain Mills (Meriden)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Is it in order for so many interruptions and points of order to be put forward self-indulgently? I was unable to speak in a debate last week because of such selfishness. I would appreciate your view.

Mr. Speaker

The hon. Member has taken up a little extra time. I have given the House my advice about interruptions. That is all that Mr. Speaker can do.

Mr. Christopher Price

When I raised this issue 10 days ago with the Under-Secretary of State, he said that I should wait until the Second Reading of the Bill before interrupting. I would like to ask the same question. Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman spell out exactly how it is proposed to ensure that the youngsters benefiting from this system are poor children, unlike what happened with the direct grant schools? What proportion of poor children does he expect among the total number?

Mr. Carlisle

Yes, I can and I will. The difference is that, under the direct grant system, if one got a free place one got it irrespective of the income of one's parents, whereas under our scheme it will be means-tested on the income of the parents.

We therefore propose to enter into arrangements with a number of independent schools of high academic ability, mainly based on the old direct grant schools, to agree that, in respect of a certain number of places at those schools, the Government will meet the fees on a means-tested basis of those children who have been selected for entry to those schools but whose parents cannot afford the fees.

The means of selection will remain a matter for the schools. Once the children have been selected, the agreement to finance and the proportion of their fees which will be met will depend on a general, central means test.

It follows, therefore, if I may come to some of the distortions that I have mentioned—

Mr. Cryer


Mr. Carlisle

It is surprising to be called callous when one is trying to establish a scheme that will help the more disadvantaged children, but then I do not always understand the hon. Gentleman's morality or his language.

I should now like to deal with the distortions. It follows that the scheme is not, as has been claimed, a scheme of support for the private schools. It is a scheme of support for the parent and pupil. It is support not for the privileged and the rich but for those who otherwise cannot afford the fees. Labour Members often use the word "privilege" in relation to private education. I assume from that that they consider independent education, since it is privileged, to be in some way better than that which is provided in the State system. If that is so, I find it difficult to understand on what basis they wish that privilege retained for those who can pay rather than made available to others of ability who would benefit.

The scheme is intended not to divide the two areas but to bring them closer together. It is intended not to be contradictory to the State schools but to be complementary to them. It will lead to a greater and better social mix within those schools.

Mr. John Evans

Absolute rubbish.

Mr. Carlisle

The hon. Gentleman says that it is absolute rubbish, but it is the view of many of those who run those schools. They believe that they had a greater social mix when they were direct grant schools than they have today, when they are totally fee-charging. I hope that the scheme will work in co-operation with the local education authorities with the aim of helping to meet the academic needs of pupils whose talent might not otherwise be catered for.

Mr. Ernest Armstrong (Durham, North-West)

Can the Secretary of State deal with the criticisms, for instance, of the Society of Education Officers, which is not what he would call a politically motivated body? Also, can he tell us of any sector of the education service—even the independent headmasters—which has considered it and has given 100 per cent. support to a scheme that he has commended to the House in a peculiar way?

Mr. Carlisle

Yes—not only the independent headmasters but, I believe, the parents, who are an important part of education.

On the right hon. Gentleman's first point, of course I concede and realise that this is a controversial proposal. I never denied that arguments have been put up by such people as the Society of Education Officers. What I said was that I believed that much of the attack on the scheme had been distorted, in that it was based on wrong premises and ideas of what the scheme was trying to achieve.

I turn now to the financing of the scheme. The Bill retains the scale of introduction and the speed of implementation of the scheme in the hands of the Secretary of State. I was surprised, if it be right, to be told that the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook, as recently as only a few days ago, said on the wireless—I think I also heard him say it on another occasion—that it was monstrous that this Government should be spending £70 million a year on private schools at this time.

At its earliest, this scheme cannot be introduced until September 1981 and cannot therefore have any economic effect on expenditure either in the current financial year or in the following year. When it is introduced, since it is our intention to take up a proportion of the places in the schools and then phase the scheme in by means of giving assistance to those who enter the schools that year, it means that expenditure in the financial year 1981–82 will be about £6 million and will not build to its full amount of £55 million to £60 million at today's prices until 1888—[Interruption.] I mean 1988.

Mr. Cryer

It is 1888 that the right hon. and learned Gentleman is going back to.

Mr. Carlisle

I do not think it is. I apologise for the slip.

Even if we are to achieve the target date of September 1981 for the introduction of the scheme it is not easy to do so within the time limit that we have set ourselves. A great deal needs to be done in selecting the schools. Therefore, subject to the Bill's getting a Second Reading tonight, I propose to invite schools that might be interested in joining the scheme to write to the Department and discuss details of it.

Secondly, this scheme will not, as some have suggested, be funded from the LEAs. It is to be centrally funded. The money will not be taken from the LEAs; it will be additional money provided by the Treasury for this purpose. Therefore, the financial situation is as follows: the scheme starts in 1981; it will then, despite the comments of the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook and others, amount to an additional 0.1 per cent. of education expenditure. At its maximum, it will involve between 1 per cent. and 2 per cent. of educational expenditure and provide education for between 1 per cent. and 2 per cent. of pupils who otherwise would be educated totally at the cost of the State.

Mr. Hugh Dykes (Harrow, East)

But precisely because it is to be centrally funded, and since the present restraints on public spending will last for a couple of years at least before new progress can be made on education spending and other matters, will my right hon. and learned Friend assure us that the target date may be delayed somewhat if the rehabilitation of public spending has not occurred in the meantime?

Mr. Carlisle

I have made it clear that the date and speed of implementation rests solely in the hands of the Secretary of State. I have also made it clear that, although we hope to start it in September 1981, in that year it is likely to cost, at most, £6 million compared with total local authority education expenditure of £6 billion. I will take note of what my hon. Friend says in the implementation of the scheme. That is one reason why we are implementing it as we are.

I turn now to the provisions on school meals and transport.

Mr. T. H. H. Skeet (Bedford)

Clause 17 refers to a participation agreement. Can that be negotiated with a trust that manages four public schools and not with the individual schools involved?

Mr. Carlisle

I shall certainly consider that point, which has been put to us by various bodies. The King Edward's Foundation has proposed that it should provide a number of places in the schools within the foundation rather than in any particular school. I shall certainly consider that matter.

I now turn, rather later than I had intended, to those parts of the Bill that deal with school meals and transport—under clauses 22 and 23 for England and Wales and clauses 24 and 25 for Scotland. The purpose here is to relax the statutory obligations on the local authorities to enable them to make considerable savings, believing that savings made in this way are better than those made by the reduction of educational provisions in the classroom.

At present a local authority is required to provide a school meal for any child who wants it. The meal must be of the type defined by central Government, with a nutritional value defined by central Government, at a charge laid down by central Government and with central Government decisions over those who receive it free of charge. As a result, the school meals service costs £400 million, or 7 per cent. of the total education budget of local education authorities.

Our proposals are that, instead, local authorities should have power to provide school meals and refreshments and charge what they consider appropriate, with the right to remit charges in whole or in part. There is also a requirement for them to provide facilities in which refreshments can be taken, and they will also have a duty to make provision, as appears requisite, to those children whose parents are on supplementary benefit or family income supplement. This is a minimum requirement and it leaves the local authority the right to provide whatever system it wishes within that minimum requirement.

I understand from what the Leader of the Opposition has said that our proposals in this area are highly controversial. I remind the House of certain facts about the scheme to which the Labour Party seems to be totally wedded. Having mentioned that the overall cost of school meals is 7 per cent. of the total education budget, I should point out that such meals are taken by only 65 per cent. of those to whom they are made available. In secondary schools the figure is only 50 per cent. Of those who are entitled to meals free of charge, about 30 per cent. choose not to have those meals. Because of the statutory requirements, the economics of school meals are that the parent pays 30p per meal and the taxpayer 24p. The total cost, therefore, is 54p and the food element of that amount is 16p per meal. That does not seem to be very sound economics for the parent, the taxpayer or the child.

Whatever Labour Members may say, it is well known that a great deal of food is wasted, and many children who have free meals flog their vouchers and spend the money in other ways—[Interruption.] That is perfectly true. It is done for the very good reason that the meals are often unattractive to the individuals concerned, who do not wish to eat them.

We are not abandoning the school meals system in any way we are seeking the ability to provide a simpler system. We believe that many individually priced items would be cheaper to produce and more attractive, and would achieve the objective of cutting by half the subsidy on school meals.

I remind Labour Members of what the Labour Government did in this respect. To hear the Opposition now one would think that they believed that school meals should be given high subsidies, yet in their period in office they put up the price of school meals by 150 per cent. In their White Paper of 1976 they proposed that the present average subsidy of more than 60 per cent. should be reduced by half by 1980.

Mr. Reg Race (Wood Green)

Yes, but they withdrew that proposal.

Mr. Carlisle

I remind the hon. Member that, following that White Paper, the previous Government increased the price of school meals, in April 1977, by 66 per cent., from 15p to 25p a meal. Therefore, in doing that they were moving towards the proposals of their 1976 White Paper—to achieve savings.

I believe that as a result of giving greater freedom to local authorities over the provision of school meals while at the same time requiring them to provide meals to those whose parents are on supplementary benefit or FIS, a major saving will be made. The service will still be provided, but it will be a different type of service, simpler to produce and with exactly the same nutritional value as at present.

Mr. Frank Dobson (Holborn and St. Pancras, South)

Does the Secretary of State accept the estimate that 500,000 children, at present entitled to free school meals, will no longer be so entitled under this measure? What will he suggest to their parents as a replacement for these meals?

Mr. Carlisle

I do not accept that. As a result of our proposals, I agree that about 400,000 children will not automatically be provided with free school meals. However, in our calculations we assume that as it is within the discretion of the local authority to provide free meals, many will continue to do so.

Mr. Kinnock

Will the Secretary of State define the extraordinary use of the phrase in clause 22(2) as it appears to the authority to be requisite"? Does such a phrase appear in any other education legislation?

Mr. Carlisle

I cannot answer the second point. On the first point, which I would have thought was more for Committee than a Second Reading debate, if one looks at that clause one sees that a local authority is given a power under subsection (1)(a) to provide food. Clause 22(2) provides that in exercising the power to provide food in relation to any pupil whose parents are on supplementary benefit or FIS, the authority must exercise that power, which means provide the food, so as to ensure that such provision is made as appears to be requisite. I am quite satisfied, despite what has been said by the Child Poverty Action Group, that that clause requires the local authorities to provide refreshment free of charge to children at midday.

Mr. Kinnock

At their discretion.

Mr. Carlisle

Not at their discretion. If there is any doubt about this, it can be looked at carefully in Committee. The Government's intentions in wording the Bill in this way are clear. I cannot be my own lawyer, but that is the correct interpretation of that clause.

I turn from the question of school meals to school transport. Many hon. Members on both sides of the House agree that the present provisions for school transport are unsatisfactory. Local education authorities are under a duty to provide transport free of charge for everyone who lives beyond what is called "walking distance"—that is, two miles for a child up to the age of 8 and three miles for a child over the age of 8. That provision is made irrespective of the parent's income. At the same time, there is no duty to provide any form of transport for anyone who lives just within "walking distance", again irrespective of parental income.

Mrs. Renée Short (Wolverhampton, North-East)


Mr. Carlisle

Will the hon. Lady do me the courtesy of allowing me to advance my argument? She does not have to agree with it, but I think that I might be allowed to put it to her. The present provisions, as she and many other hon. Members must know, lead to innumerable complaints from people living within the three-mile limit. Some parents may have four children in such circumstances and receive nothing whereas a child outside the three-mile limit, irrespective of income, gets free transport.

Mr. Kevin McNamara (Kingston upon Hull, Central)


Mr. Carlisle

If the hon. Gentleman is going to ask me about Catholic schools, I propose to come to that in a moment. If he wishes to ask something else, I shall give way.

The present illogical situation works unfairly and puts certain children in a privileged position. Free school transport cost £100 million in 1978–79 and will cost £130 million in the coming year. Many hon. Members have argued that this provision should be changed. What hon. Members disagree about is what the change should be. We therefore propose that local authorities should still be required to provide transport where they consider it necessary, but that they should be allowed to charge for that transport. If those on family income supplement or supplementary benefit live beyond the "walking distance" from the nearest convenient school they should be provided with free transport.

The hon. Member for Wolverhampton, North-East (Mrs. Short) may laugh, but I wonder what she would have said if we had made no provision for children from poor homes living many miles from school. We have retained those provisions, and the hon. Lady knows it. We have also provided a general power for local authorities to pay wholly, or in part, the travelling expenses for any other children if they wish to do so. We believe that by changing the rules in this way we shall provide a flexibility that will allow for savings without being unfair to those who at present are not getting free transport.

The Government do not accept that this will wipe out the whole of the transport subsidy. We assume, in the expenditure White Paper, that the future cost of the transport subsidy will at least be the same as that for 1978–79. I realise that enormous reductions will not be made in these areas, but I believe that giving local authorities the freedom to chose their own system will make some savings without their being unreasonable to the people involved.

The House must remember that there are many parents whose children live just within the three-mile limit who pay far more in weekly transport costs than any flat rate imposed by a local authority to cover children outside and inside the area limits.

Mr. Bruce Millan (Glasgow, Craigton)

The Secretary of State is arguing that clause 23(1) imposes an obligation to make arrangements for school transport in England and Wales. Why is there no similar obligation for Scottish local authorities in clause 25(1)? Under that clause they need make no arrangements at all. Why is there a difference?

Mr. Carlisle

I shall have that matter examined and ensure that the right hon. Gentleman has an answer before the end of the day.

Mr. Millan

It is obvious that the Secretary of State knows nothing about the Scottish clauses. It will be unsatisfactory for the Scottish clauses to be dealt with in Committee as part of what is otherwise an English Bill, particularly if the English Ministers know nothing about them.

Mr. Carlisle

The aims of the provisions for Scotland, England and Wales are similar. If a difference in drafting is required to achieve that aim I shall try to give the right hon. Gentleman an answer. I admit that I do not know the answer to the drafting point. The Labour Front Bench may care to reflect that it is far better occasionally to be honest when one does not know something.

Mrs. Renée Short

The Bill contains revolutionary proposals for school milk, meals and transport, and for the financing of those services. What is the cost to local authorities of administering these schemes?

Mr. Carlisle

Clearly there will be some costs. A figure of £6 million has been suggested as the additional cost of implementing the schemes. I shall try to obtain a fuller answer for the hon. Lady later.

I turn to the question of denominational schools. I recognise the anxiety of those attending denominational schools about our proposals. In the past local education authorities have been relatively generous in providing free transport for those attending denominational schools when such schools are not the nearest appropriate establishment. Sometimes they have acted beyond their statutory duty.

Local education authorities have a duty to provide free transport only to children travelling more than three miles to the nearest appropriate school and, on the whole, local authorities stick to that rule. If children choose to attend schools that are not the nearest appropriate schools, they have to pay. In the case of denominational schools, local authorities have invariably relaxed the rule, at their discretion, and allowed free transport to a school even when it is not the nearest appropriate school. I support denominational schools. What is more, I believe that the Bill's provisions strengthen and help them.

The transport proposals are not intended to operate against denominational schools; nor do I believe they will be used in that way. When Parliament decides to empower a local authority to charge other parents it is reasonable that the same rule should apply to parents whose children attend denominational schools. It would be wrong to provide free transport to children who attend denominational schools while not providing free transport in similar circumstances to those who do not attend such schools.

I hope that local education authorities will be no less generous in their treatment of denominational schools than they are in respect of others. I hope that they will continue to provide transport to denominational schools. Our public expenditure provisions assume that a substantial element of subsidy for school transport will continue.

The requirement to provide or not to provide is not in any way changed by the Bill. What is changed is the right that exists at present to charge those pupils going to denominational schools further than three miles away if there is a closer appropriate school. Since the requirement is not changed and since the type of procedure introduced is at the discretion of the local authority, it is wrong to suggest that this part of the Bill is a threat to the provision of denominational schools. In the past such schools have relied on the good sense of local authorities. They should feel able to do so in the future.

Mr. McNamara

I am grateful to the Secretary of State for giving way. The first part of what he said is a complete vindication of our argument that there should be no charge for transport.

Mr. Carlisle

That is a point of view. However, that view was not expressed by the Labour Party when in office. It is a view that it has the luxury of advancing when in opposition.

You, Mr. Speaker, asked me to be brief. You told me that if I was speaking after 7 o'clock I would be limited to 10 minutes. I apologise for taking such a long time, but I have given way to many hon. Members.

I do not propose to deal in detail with the other provisions in the Bill. They deal with certain controls over local education authorities and the pooling of higher education expenditure. Controls over local education authorities are contained in clauses 12 to 16. They revise the section 13 procedure, which requires that every case of the establishment, closure, enlargement, altering or changing the character of a school must go to the Secretary of State for his decision. The provision will remain, in that local authorities will still be required to publish their proposals and there will still be the freedom to object. However, if there are no objections a local authority may go ahead without referring the matter to the Secretary of State.

Highly contentious arguments sometimes revolve round the closure of a school but about 50 per cent. of the cases that go to the Secretary of State and take up considerable time, at both local and central Government level, are non-contentious and no serious objection has been raised to them.

I have attempted to describe the main provisions of the Bill. It enhances the role of parents by widening their choice and involvement in education. It enables local authorities to achieve savings without affecting education standards. It restores the full opportunity to children to take advantage of the direct grant grammar school type of education when they can benefit from it but from which they are now excluded because of their parents' income. For those reasons, I commend the Bill to the House.

4.44 p.m.

Mr. Neil Kinnock (Bedwellty)

Those of us who have been in the House since 1970 have been brought up to believe that the Secretary of State, the right hon. and learned Member for Runcorn (Mr. Carlisle), is a man of considerable intelligence, sensitivity and compassion. We believed that he has all the virtues of what we have come to regard as liberal conservatism. However, we have discovered from his Second Reading speech that, however intelligent he may be, however compassionate and sensitive he may be personally, he now occupies the role of an educational Luddite. The business of the Opposition in the next several months, at every stage of the Bill, will be to expose to the public gaze the policies which he has espoused and of which presumably he is at least part architect. Those policies were not so exposed before the election and during the election and have not been exposed since.

That is not all that we have heard about Tories and education in the last hour or more. We have learnt that the proposals to remove obligations from local authorities to provide meals are not intended to secure savings. Nothing so materialistic and unconsiderate is envisaged. The main reason for so doing is to come to the rescue of adolescent palates which are upset and offended by school meals.

We have also learned that fairness is the reason why local authorities are no longer obliged to provide for free school transport, as they have since the 1940s. The Government do not regard that as an act of what I consider to be hooliganism against the rural communities in particular or against the effective use of choice by parents in urban or rural areas. It is alleged to be an act of fairness to create uniformity and to come to the rescue of parents whose children live 2.99 miles or 1.99 miles from a school. It is difficult to understand that reasoning.

It is difficult to understand why, when 5 per cent. of parents want something, they should be allowed to exercise their desire and that that should be called choice. Such a freedom is also called choice when it is applied to education in the independent sector. However, when 65 per cent. of parents want school meals for their children, for example, that is called not choice but something entirely different. According to the Government, that is an unwanted luxury. We shall sort out some of those inconsistencies in Tory policy and expose them.

Much of the remainder of the Secretary of State's speech is familiar. We have heard it several times in recent years and it was in the Tory manifesto. We heard all the war cries about standards, choice, responsibility and excellence. Cobden's maxim that it is by the delusion of freedom that men are enslaved has never been more true. This Government secured what the Prime Minister calls the mandate of the people. They came to power on the basis of undertakings that they gave to the people. But those undertakings were put in such a way as to ensure that the people would not comprehend them. That is testified by the way in which the public mood and view of Tory policy has changed dramatically—particularly on education—since the election.

The Bill contains provisions not for the elevation of standards, not for the expansion of choice, not for the fulfilment of responsibility or for the pursuit of excellence. The Bill provides for a stagnation of standards, a negation of choice, an abdication of responsibility and a conspiracy against excellence. That is what is contained in this Bill and many other Government policies.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman cannot raise standards of performance or opportunity while making cuts in the standard of provision such as those that the Government are now engaged upon.

It is not possible to make cuts on the scale determined by the Government—to reduce the provision of classroom materials, to reduce the number of teachers by over 20,000, to reduce the opportunity for extending buildings and the improvement of buildings, and to reduce the opportunities of curricular development—while talking about the possibility of raising standards of performance. If the right hon. and learned Gentleman can do that, or insist on doing so, he is wasted at the Department of Education and Science. If he can do that, he should be in the Department of Health and Social Security. If he were in that Department, we could cancel the contracts of all our doctors and nurses. All that he would have to do to cure the halt, the sick and the lame would be to stand outside Alexander Fleming House and pass his hands over the suffering.

Dr. Keith Hampson (Ripon)


Mr. Kinnock

No. If he can raise standards in the circumstances that I have described, the right hon. and learned Gentleman can perform miracles.

Dr. Hampson


Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Bryant Godman Irvine)

I understand that the Minister had a fair hearing, and I ask that the Opposition spokesman be given the same.

Dr. Hampson


Mr. Kinnock

I was brought up in an education tradition that did not permit politics to rule the day. I shall choose the time when I give way to the hon. Member for Ripon (Dr. Hampson) or anyone else. There has been a great deal of talk—

Mr. Mark Carlisle

I am not trying to claim a favoured position. The hon. Gentleman said that I cannot justify a reduction of 21,000 teachers in England and Scotland and claim that standards can be maintained. In view of the proposals that the previous Labour Government set out in their White Paper, what figures does he feel I could justify?

Mr. Kinnock

I intend to come directly to falling rolls. It is either the right hon. and learned Gentleman's politics or his arithmetic that needs checking. If he is to make the reductions in financial commitment to education that he has set his hand to, and if the result, as the Association of County Councils and the Association of Metropolitan Authorities have said, is teacher redundancies and reductions of work opportunities for teachers, the reduction in the number of teachers will be considerably in excess of the 10 per cent. reduction in rolls. That will bring the falling standards of which I speak.

Dr. Hampson

Does the hon. Gentleman remember that the previous Labour Secretary of State for Education and Science, Mrs. Shirley Williams, was in charge of the greatest cutback in teacher training, one that amounted to one-third? She was in charge of the greatest cutback of capitation allowances—namely, books and similar provision. The cutbacks were the greatest made by any recent Secretary of State. In one year she cut in real terms 3.7 per cent. from the education budget but throughout claimed that standards were rising.

Mr. Kinnock

I am aware of several other factors. If the hon. Gentleman is so concerned about capitation—to the extent that he objects to the record of the Labour Government—I hope that he will join the Opposition in voting against the Government's policies. He has described the so-called terrible crimes that took place during the period of office of the Labour Government, but at the same time that Government were achieving the best pupil-teacher ratio in the whole of education history. That was achieved because of the falling birth rate.

The hon. Member for Ripon is supposed to have an interest in these matters. If Governments so organise affairs as to maintain a proper relationship between reductions in the birth rate and falls in school rolls, and simultaneously make reductions to their commitments to education of a comparable nature and in proportion, that is good husbandry. However, when they do it in excess of the reduction in the number of children seeking school places, that is an act of vandalism, precisely the act that I accuse the right hon. and learned Gentleman of committing. I hope that the hon. Member for Ripon will be vocal in his protests against the activity that his right hon. and hon Friends are engaging in against education provision.

A favourite of Tory education policy has been choice. There is a certain intellectual respectability about it. The Government choose to cleave to that and fully to maintain the opportunities for exercising choice for all the citizens for whom they are responsible. As the right hon. and learned Gentleman says, there is no practical limitlessness of choice. Choices have to be restrained in the very nature of human life. However, he said that he wanted to provide the strongest choice. Against the background of all the other proposals in the Bill and the remainder of Tory education policy as we have seen it in government, I do not think that it is a matter of providing the strongest choice. The Government's policy is to provide an effective choice for only the strongest in our society. That is the education policy that we are getting.

The extra wedge of rural deprivation that will come because of the reductions in local government expenditure, the removal of choice being exercised in the urban areas for much the same reason, with selection restored under the benign eye of the right hon. and learned Gentleman, and an easier procedure for school closures to facilitate the cuts of the right hon. and learned Gentleman, all mean that his espousal of choice is totally devoid of any practical meaning. It is an example of the proposition that if a lie is told lustily some of the mud will stick.

Within 12 months there will be few parents in Britain who think that the right hon. and learned Gentleman has ever meant one word that he has uttered about the extension of meaningful choice for pupils and parents.

There is the question of responsibility. The Tory Party—as a democrat, I fully adhere to the general proposition that there should be an equation between rights and responsibilities—has worn the apparel of the party of responsibility. I say that it abrogates those responsibilities. It does so as a modern Government, with all the obligations of government in a welfare state, by introducing proposals for releasing local government from its obligation to provide meals and transport. The Government even abrogate their responsibilities for trying to secure employment in vital sectors of the economy. In many areas the consequences will be ruinous for those requiring employment in schools and for the mothers of children who depend on the provision of decent meals and transport facilities.

The Tory idea of securing excellence is akin to the crude business of wine making The Tories believe that if we trample on the mass for long enough something sweet and good will emerge in the end. All the proposals set out in the Bill conform fully to that Tory idea of the pursuit of excellence.

The Bill has nothing to do with the advancement of education opportunities; nor does it seek to deal with the real challenges of education in 1979 or in the 1980s. It is a combination of parsimony and bigotry. It codifies the cuts. Without the Bill it would be impossible for the Government to meet their targets for making major cutbacks in public expenditure. That is why the Government are so panicky about the Bill. That is why they have lumped into it two Scottish clauses that clearly the right hon. and learned Gentleman does not comprehend. As my right hon. and hon. Friends have said, there is a strong case for a different consideration of that part of the Bill.

Whatever procedure we choose for the investigation and scrutiny of the Bill, the fact is that it is a Bill that is mostly abouts cuts. Whether we are talking about meals, transport or the procedure for school closures, the Bill is directed predominantly towards facilitating substantial cuts.

If we were discussing the Bill against a background even of sustained expenditure, let alone expanded expenditure, the argument might be different. But, since the Bill is simply designed to aid the Government panic to get legislation on the statute book to permit local education authorities to desert their responsibilities without incurring the wrath of the law, it is totally indefensible.

The bigotry is equally apparent. There is the educationally and socially indefensible assisted places scheme. It is an insult to and a sabotage of the State sector. I shall provide all the information that the Secretary of State can possibly want not only this afternoon but ceaselessly through the Committee stage to give extra substance to what my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) said from a sedentary position this afternoon. No authority in the education world gives undivided support for the Bill. All the authorities, interests, pressure groups and all professional and other kinds of opinion in education have an overwhelming and unremitting hostility to the assisted places scheme.

The Secretary of State and many of his hon. Friends, using another piece of Tory jargon, have accused the Socialists of engaging in human engineering in education. There is no process of human engineering more profound, more deliberate, than the existence of the independent school sector. If anybody is deliberately engaging in human engineering, it is the Secretary of State and his Government who have invented a scheme which enjoys practically no support and which will give advantage to a very small number of parents.

Mr. Patrick Cormack (Staffordshire, South-West)

Is the hon. Gentleman, from that Front Bench, committing his party, should it ever return to power, to the abolition of independent education?

Mr. Kinnock

I shall spell out for the hon. Gentleman our proposals for the assisted places scheme—

Mr. F. A. Burden (Gillingham)

Answer the question.

Mr. Kinnock

Hon Members need not worry. I shall answer it directly. However, to get matters absolutely clear, so that the hon. Gentleman and all would-be users of the assisted places scheme—headmasters, governors, and parents—understand completely, it is our resolute proposal to terminate the assisted places scheme at the end of the academic year in which the next Labour Government are elected. I hope that that is a fair warning. Our decision is based squarely and firmly on educational and social considerations, and unlike the Government's scheme, is not a matter for partisan political consideration.

Mr. Cormack


Mr. Kinnock

I shall not give way to the hon. Gentleman.

I make no secret whatever of my instincts about public schools. My absolute conviction is that public schools have been, are, and, for as long as they exist, will continue to be, an incubus on freedom, opportunity and justice in our society. I shall therefore use, as I have used in the past, all the influence that I can bring to bear on my party to secure a policy position which will bring about the abolition of the public schools and other forms of private education.

Mr. Cormack

Answer the question.

Mr. Kinnock

I am answering the hon. Gentleman's question. Whether my party will adopt such a proposal must be a matter for further debate—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."]—because the party has no such proposal. Speaking entirely for myself, however, and for my convictions—and, unlike the hon. Member for Staffordshire, South-West (Mr. Cormack), I presume that I shall be standing by those convictions wherever I can—I shall work for the abolition of private education.

This Bill is opposed—

Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North)


Mr. Kinnock

I am not giving way at this stage.

Mr. Greenway

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Kinnock

I am not giving way.

Mr. Dan Jones (Burnley)

Order. The hon. Gentleman is in breach of the rules of the House.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

When it is clear that the hon. Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Kinnock) is not giving way, the hon. Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Green-way) must resume his seat.

Mr. Kinnock

The Secretary of State said that he took particular exception to what my right hon. Friend the Member for Sparkbrook said. I hope that my right hon. Friend is suitably flattered. The right hon. and learned Gentleman said that my right hon. Friend had been particularly critical of the Bill and of the assisted places scheme. However, the Bill is opposed, for a variety of reasons, by such organisations as the National Association of Head Teachers, the Society of Education Officers, the National Union of Teachers, the Assistant Masters and Mistresses Association, the Secondary Heads Association, the Welsh Secondary Schools Association, the Scottish Secondary Teachers' Association, the educational publishers and the Roman Catholics. Even the Church of England has voiced its objections to parts of the Bill. It used to be said that the Church of England was the Tory Party at prayer. Now this lot, this generation of Tories, are not praying in the Church; they are preying on the Church. I hope that the Secretary of State went to church yesterday, because they might not let him in again.

The situation is, although the right hon. and learned Gentleman appeared not quite to understand it in what he said, that for 35 years, whenever there has been a closure or a change of use, or whenever parents have wanted to exercise that choice which is supposed to be sacred to Conservative Governments, the local education authority has arrived with a section 13 notice for a closure or change of use, or has acknowledged the desire of parents and has brought the necessary permission in one hand and a season ticket in the other. Hitherto the exercise of choice has been effective not only in the denominational schools but elsewhere.

If the local education authorities exercise the power that the right hon. and learned. Gentleman proposes to allocate to them, they will arrive empty handed. They will bring the closure notices and the permission to enable the parents to send children to the schools of their choice, but they will then render that permission totally ineffectual by not providing the transport.

The Secretary of State and his hon. Friend the Member for Eye (Mr. Gummer), who is of devout religious conviction, should go to their churches, to the national associations and to the Roman Catholics who will enable them to understand how profoundly antagonistic those bodies are to the proposals in the Bill.

Mr. Selwyn Gummer (Eye)

Why does the hon. Gentleman expect the local authorities to come empty handed? The Bill gives them the power to help denominational schools in any way they wish. Why does the hon. Gentleman have so little faith in local democracy and in his own power to pressurise local authorities?

Mr. Kinnock

I have great faith in local authorities. Indeed, my faith will be exalted come the next local elections. The hon. Member for Eye either has not read the Bill or, if he has, he does not fully comprehend it. The local education authorities may have the power, and they may have the glory, but they will not have the money. That is the problem. We shall come closer to the detail of that this afternoon and we shall come to it in irritating detail when we deal with the matter in Committee. These points have to be properly brought to the Secretary of State's attention. I hope that the hon. Member for Eye will join us on the Committee. He is a witty fellow. If he can invent ways of excusing his right hon. and learned Friend on this Bill, he will have not only wit but sagacity and a mastery of disguise as well.

The churches, all kinds of educational institutions, the schools, the headmasters' and teachers' organisations and many parents are already voicing unanimous and undivided hostility to the Bill and to various proposals in it. I do not expect the Government to admit any of that because they have invested a great deal of credibility in the Bill. The right hon. and learned Gentleman said this afternoon that these were not really big cuts at all. The power is to be left with the local authorities. "For every £100 spent now", the Government say, "we shall spend £96, and everything will be wonderful." We shall no doubt have some contention about the accuracy of these figures, but, nevertheless, that is the soothing mesage that comes from the Secretary of State.

It contrasts violently with the attempt at virility made by the Chief Secretary to the Treasury. I am not speaking now about the happy events of last Saturday but about the miserable events of last Thursday. Here we have the Secretary of State saying that there will not be any great cuts, whereas the Chief Secretary has spoken of taking an unmerciful sword, in the name of good husbandry, to the public finances of this country. I can only guess that the zenith of the Tories' ambition and their idea of political competence must be to be able to save both faces simultaneously.

We not only have Hengist from Henley. We have from Oswestry someone who is proud to be described as the causer of unemployment and the destroyer of certain sections of the Welfare State. He made no bones about it last week. Then we have the Secretary of State, who must be intensely embarrassed by the whole prospect of the destruction that he knows will be caused. He has had the reputation of being a liberal. Indeed, up till last July, the education press was prepared to describe him, sitting among his Cabinet colleagues, as a dove among hawks, as putting up a fight to maintain expenditure in education, and as trying to save the service. That is what was said about the Secretary of State, and there was probably some validity in it, because it would be in keeping with his previous record.

The Secretary of State has turned out to be not so much a dove as an ostrich. He is burying his head and hiding from the realities and the consequences of his Bill. It might be because he has a pterodactyl sitting next to him. Nevertheless, we can promise the Secretary of State that if he tries to save part of the education system and puts up a fight—even if he fights like a dove—against the mixture of hawks and buzzards in the Cabinet, we shall do our best to help him out.

Of course, the Secretary of State has already damaged himself in other respects. He says that by his adopting the procedures of clauses 22 to 26 in England, Wales and Scotland, an alternative exists—in spite of swingeing cuts in education expenditure—to making cuts in the classroom. He wants the local authorities to maintain the subsidies. We have just had this from the hon. Member for Eye. The Secretary of State wants the local authorities to exercise their power not to spend on transport and on meals. At the same time, he wants them to exercise their power to spend on transport and on meals. That fairly sums up what the Secretary of State has said. There is only one thing missing, and that is the money to permit them to exercise one of those rights. They can only exercise one of those rights if they are without money, and that is the right not to provide. They cannot exercise the right to provide if they have not the money.

As for saving the education service from cuts in classroom provision, which the Secretary of State has repeatedly said that he wants to do, all I have done is to go through the lists, reported in the press, of cuts already concluded and agreed to, affecting the classroom directly. He will find that in East Sussex, in Hertfordshire, in the Isle of Wight and in Powys, capitation has been frozen at last year's level. With inflation—the Secretary of State can check on this—that means a major net cut in capitation allowances in schools. Will not that affect standards in classrooms?

In Bexley, in Birmingham and in Cheshire, cuts of 5 per cent., 7 per cent. and 10 per cent. are proposed in capitation. In Doncaster, we have £168,000 taken off capitation. In Humberside, we have a £200,000 cut in capitation, approved by the education committee. In Hampshire, we have an £80,000 approved cut in capitation. At the same time, incidentally, as making a 10 per cent. capitation cut in State schools, the authority is spending an extra £10,00 on independent schools.

I know that the Secretary of State is now moving to the position in which he endorses that kind of duplicity and hypocrisy, but I am sure that he will be in great difficulty as he seeks to sustain his argument. In Avon, there is to be a cut of 10 per cent. In Bedfordshire, heads have been informed of a cut of 10 per cent. In Cumbria, a figure of 15 per cent. has been adopted. In Lincolnshire, a figure of 20 per cent. has been confirmed for this year, 1979–80. In Norfolk, the education committee has adopted a cut of 12 per cent. In Rotherham there is to be a 20 per cent. cut in capitation. This has been recommended, and adopted by the education committee. In Trafford, there is to be a cut of 10 per cent., as also in Waltham Forest.

This is apart from the cuts in curriculum development, in in-service training, in peripatetic education, and the proposals for longer holidays. I have not yet come to the savaging of various kinds of expenditure, such as special assistance for school project holidays in geology, in geography and in civics, or the total abolition of swimming education in many counties.

Those cuts are already in the classroom and the Bill therefore provides no alternative to making those cuts. Standards will suffer because less is already being spent on essentials in the classroom as a direct consequence of the Government's current policy. That is before the Bill ever becomes law.

Falling rolls have been used as the excuse. If the Secretary of State will do, in relation to his Government, what many Labour Members did in relation to the Labour Government, and seek to influence his Government to change policy, he will command a degree of respect that he does not command from his present position in this dispute. The Secretary of State and the hon. Member for Ripon, who has been interrupting from a sedentary position, have in common that they are supposed to be liberal Tories. A liberal Tory has been defined as a man who is too cowardly to fight and too fat to run away. That might be a little unfair to the hon. Gentleman and to his right hon. and learned Friend. But it would help the public considerably in their assessment of what Tory government really means and what Tory politicians really mean if we could have especially Back Benchers coming out directly and independently and sticking by the values that they have always pronounced in this House. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will find himself in that position.

The Tories' favourite justification for their action is not, however, the falling rolls. The favourite justification is local government freedom—the restoration of some halcyon age when local government in this country was not dominated by a Westminster Kremlin and controlled in every move, dictated to in every margin of expenditure. They want a return to the great days before there was direct control or any requirement of uniform standards. They want a return to the days before the Welfare State.

The Tories want a return to the marvellous days before there was a requirement imposed upon government at local level, regardless of its political make-up, whether it was dominated by Tory cranks from the shires or by slick business men from urban areas who thought more of next year's rate bills than they thought about the future of the children whom they were supposed to represent. Those are the halcyon days to which the Government want to return. I heard the hon. Member for Brent, North (Dr. Boyson), at a conference last week, referring to the "halcyon" days. I thought that he was getting mixed up with Greek mythology.

The basis on which the Tories are seeking to do it is one of misinterpretation—that is the most friendly view—or of deliberate misrepresentation. The Tories have been rumbled already in their bid to draw up a sort of local authorities' Magna Carta. The Tory chairman of the Association of Municipal Associations, Councillor "Tag" Taylor, has said that this year, contrary to what the Secretary of State has said, the cuts in schools will be nearer 10 per cent. than 5 per cent.

One of my favourite Tory ladies is Councillor Angela Rumbold from Kingston. In general political terms she makes the Prime Minister look a bit like a Brownie captain. In the magazine "Education" of 21 September, Councillor Rumbold is reported as saying: It is impracticable to reduce the service by that extent in the immediate future for which we are now budgeting. If we have as Authorities, to make savings of that magnitude"— that is, £200 million; actually, that council is asking for savings of £240 million, which is 20 per cent. more— then Authorities will have no choice but to dig deeper into other areas of education spending which are already facing reductions". Councillor Rumbold went on to say: This could only mean reduction in levels of service in basic education provision. She said the same thing in respect of transport, because the article continued: Again the possible savings are being overestimated certainly so far as the metropolitan conurbations are concerned. Even the Tories know of the total impracticality of the proposals which the Government are putting before them. Tories in local government know the reality of this so-called freedom. They know the reality there is in extra discretion without more resources. They know that they do not have the freedom of discretion, self-determination or even the freedom of devolution. The freedom which local education authorities and local councils generally are about to receive from the Tory Government is the freedom of the prisoner to rattle his chains. That is as far as the Government go down the road towards freedom. Local authorities will have the freedom to make noise but will remain incarcerated in the financial limits set by the Government. The idea that there is any extension of local democracy in this Bill or anywhere else is totally hollow.

In any case—I mean no distrust of local education authorities or local councils—the tale of discretion in local government under the Welfare State has been a very sad one. It has been sad in terms of uniform allowances; in terms of educational maintenance allowances, which have been law since 1944; in respect of provision for bus fares in respect of the provision of telephones for the disabled, even though that is supposed to be mandatory, and in many other respects.

Why is there such a patchwork quilt of provision by local education authorities? It is because impositions have been made on them whereas the resources to meet them have not been met. But now we have the mother and father of all extra impositions and, indeed, the mother and father of all withdrawals of resources from local authorities. That is how I describe the proposals in the Bill, which gives authorities the skeletal power to exercise more discrimination and discretion at local level while simultaneously taking away hundreds of millions of pounds and laughing in their face. There is no possibility of local education authorities exercising the power to provide if they do not have more resources. The absence of resources has been guaranteed for the duration of this Government, both by the right hon. and learned Gentleman and by all his right hon. Friends.

Of course, certain local education authorities may strive by might and main to continue to provide meals and transport. I hope that many of them will try to do so. But at the same time there will be others that do not, because they do not want to. There will be others who will be forced into withdrawing those services by the financial stringencies imposed upon them by central Government, again as a great act of devolutionary democracy.

What will be the consequence there? We already have disadvantages of birth and domestic environment. We already have the whimsicalities of fortune, birth and parentage which have caused a great difference in treatment from child to child. I am sure the right hon. and learned Gentleman would not attempt to argue that those differences in opportunity, fortune and misfortune should reverberate throughout the whole lifetime of a child and adult. But, as a result of the Bill, he is guaranteeing that, added to those congenital disadvantages, are the great variations that depend upon the local economy, the political domination at local government level and the social background of the whole area. Environmental considerations will also come into play, as will geography and even demography. Added to the whimsicalities of birth, we shall now get an inconsistency of provision throughout the whole country. There will be fortunate areas and areas of great misfortune.

Frankly, the areas I feel most sorry for are those with a combination of rural deprivation and Tory local government. It will be interesting to see how many Conservative Members, who are supposed to represent the rural and country party, will be able fairly to argue with their constituents that the couple of pence in tax cuts offered to the rural low paid is enough to make up for the deprivation that will now be visited upon villagers, farm workers and rural constituents in the country.

Mr. Peter Fraser (South Angus)

I am precisely one of those Members whom the hon. Gentleman has described. There is another point which I would have greater difficulty explaining to my constituents. It is this. How can I justify the increased parliamentary salary that I draw when I have two children receiving school meals that are subsidised to the tune of 48p a day? How does the hon. Gentleman face up to that?

Mr. Kinnock

The hon. Gentleman is a newcomer. In one respect I am glad that he is with us, because it will extend his instruction. If the hon. Gentleman does his job he will never have to apologise to his constituents for the salary that he draws. It is not how much one earns but how well one does the job. The hon. Gentleman is concerned about a sum of 48p a day, which I am. But he had better explain how a change in legislation, coupled with the cuts and the effect that they will have, will give those on relatively low pay a marginal tax rate of £1.35 on every pound earned because of loss of benefit and the extra charges to which they will become victim. How will he explain the criticism of Mr. Jack Boddy of the National Union of Agricultural and Allied Workers, who said that: A family with two children at school living in a rural area will be £9 worse off as a result of the Government's latest plans to cut public expenditure". Mr. Boddy, as reported in The Guardian today, said that the £9 was made up of the extra cost of travel to school, school meals and the absence of school milk". It may be that Mr. Boddy is only half right. Many Conservative Members are offering exactly the same advice. But if Mr. Boddy is only half right, £4.50 out of a total net income of £52 a week is a substantial slice. No one will be able to tolerate that.

Mrs. Elaine Kellett-Bowman (Lancaster)

The hon. Gentleman must have heard the Minister say quite clearly that expenditure on school transport is to be roughly the same as that in the current year. The hon. Gentleman does not seem to like fairness. It will merely be much more fairly distributed. For example, it would be infinitely fairer to many of the rural areas if a flat rate was instituted by local government, and that is what many of us will be pressing for.

Mr. Kinnock

First, there is no obligation under the Bill. Secondly, if the hon. Lady wants to propose a flat rate, as I believe her hon. Friend the Member for Bromsgrove and Redditch (Mr. Miller) has done previously, she should table an amendment so that we can see whether the Government are interested in clawing back money from local authorities. We can then see whether this is a matter of fairness.

It is difficult to see how, by the mass denial of facilities and support for hundreds of thousands of families, perhaps millions, one is advancing the cause of fairness. Apart from the effect of the transport changes, who with any fairness in him can explain why it is that, instead of 1.2 million children of poor and relatively poor families receiving free school meals, the most that anyone can visualise receiving them, even if all local authorities exercise their freedom—the right hon. and learned Gentleman also said their duty, although I have yet to be convinced of that—to provide such meals, will be half the present total? Under the Secretary of State's scheme, 600,000 childrent who qualify for free schools meals will no longer do so. That is not fair and cannot be considered just even with the Tory version of justice. Local authorities must face that problem.

Mr. Greenway

The lion. Gentleman gave the example of a wage earner earning £52 a week, but is he aware that a family with two children on that income will have free school meals after November through this Government's action?

Mr. Kinnock

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will be on the Committee so that we may go into that in detail. Meanwhile, I refer him to clause 22(2) and ask him to interpret that sensibly. There is no guarantee.

Many of the provisions that have existed since 1944 are being ruined. If the Tories are arguing for their proposals on the grounds of extra freedom, I am reminded of the comment of an American GI in 1944. He stood in the middle of a French town, looking at the smoking rubble, and said "We sure liberated the hell out of this place." That is what the Government are doing with the education system.

The Government have deserted the Taylor report concerning the recommendations on extension of democracy and participation in education. They have diluted the modest schemes of the Labour Government and abandoned even their own policy. The CBI—and that does not mean the "Conservative Bashers Independent"—is disappointed that there are not going to be representatives of the community, and I understand that disappointment.

As long ago as 1977, the right hon. Member for Chelmsford (Mr. St. John-Stevas) said: My loudest cheer is for the proposals giving parents more power … parents should have the right to substantial representation on school governing bodies … We also welcome the inclusion on governing bodies of representatives of local community interests. Under the Bill such bodies will include at least two parents—and, as the right hon. and learned Gentleman knows, there are many LEAs that will not go further than that. There is no provision for wider local community involvement in the running of schools.

The right hon. Member for Chelmsford used to be a civilising influence in the Conservative Party. He has exchanged that role to become a jester to the Cabinet and a fag to the Prime Minister.

There were certain basic requirements that role to become a jester to the unfortunate that they are missing. There is nothing on pre-school provision, curriculum improvement, examination reform, the policy on the 16 to 19 age group, and mass education to enable us to cope with the massive social and technological changes in society. In fact, there is nothing at all to do with education or educational improvement. There is no mention of under-performance, low morale in the education service or any of the real challenges that we should face. All we have is the assisted places scheme.

I listed earlier some of the interests opposed to the scheme. The opposition was not confined to those who are generally the enemies of private school provision or even its highly conditional friends. The Headmasters' Conference supported the assisted places scheme but went on to say that such a scheme should clearly complement the State sector. However, the scheme is in rivalry to the State sector, which is why there is so much objection. It will decapitate some of our schools and bring a further rush of examination mania to private schools. Educationally it is totally indefensible.

At the annual general meeting of the headmasters of independent schools on 17 October, the assisted places scheme was welcomed in that it would provide opportunities for the independent sector to help children in need. However, it was felt that it was a bad time to introduce the scheme when heavy cuts were being made in spending in the maintained sector.

That statement was made a week after the right hon. and learned Gentleman and his hon. Friend said that the money was coming not out of the State sector but from some new fund that they had invented. Of course the money is coming from overall Government expenditure, and it should be spent on improving provisions in the State sector, which is attended by over 90 per cent. of our children. Those children should be stimulated in their excellence and compensated for any disadvantage. The bright and the dull should receive educationally all that we can possibly put at their disposal.

That will not be achieved by filtering off children at the age of 11, 13 or 16 under the assisted places scheme. It will not cater for the brilliant urchins, as the right hon. and learned Gentleman will have us believe. Of the places reserved, 50 per cent. are for children who are already in the independent sector—children with parents who are possibly not much worse off than Croesus—and the consultative document makes that fact plain.

The Bill not does deal with fairness or a modern interpretation of educational requirements or social opportunities in our country. I wonder how the Minister for Social Security, who has responsibility for the disabled, feels about the assisted places scheme? On 11 March 1975 he said: I submit that it has always been an anomaly that there should be subsidies out of public funds to what basically are independent schools."—[Official Report, 11 March 1975; Vol. 888, c. 273.] The right hon. Member for Daventry (Mr. Prentice) was latterly an eminent member of the Labour Party. I wonder whether he is still sufficiently attached to his original fidelities to join us in the Lobby tonight? However, perhaps he has deserted those along with everything else.

We are seeing the age-old implementation of what Professor R. H. Tawney called the tadpole theory of society—that the little black dots in the jelly would know that most of them would have short lives but could console themselves with the knowledge that a tiny few would grow into big fat green frogs. That is the basis of the Tory attitude to society. We, however, believe that everyone should have a fair opportunity and have access to the best that is available. That requires a real commitment to public education and not a retreat into the apartheid of a private school system.

In the Bill, parents are given the choice of looking after their pockets or their children's opportunities. Fortunately, we know the response of most parents, although the Tories uphold the acquisitive instinct and deify material values, and that party's response would be to put money before people. Those are the values Offered by the Tories. Luckily, many parents will reject those values and put their children before immediate material convenience.

No help has come from the Government, no extension of leadership has been shown. They have deserted their responsibilities. In the sectors of the education service that escape the worst cuts the most that can be hoped for is quarantine. For many other areas it will be guillotine.

We will fight against the Bill in the House and elsewhere, to protect the children and the people of this country. We will destroy the credibility of the Bill—although that has already been achieved by the Secretary of State—and kick it out whenever we get the opportunity, either in Opposition or in Government, when we next achieve that office.

5.40 p.m.

Sir John Eden (Bournemouth, West)

The hon. Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Kinnock) is a colourful character. He is also breathlessly eloquent. The one danger is that one day he will be persuaded to believe in what he is saying. He brings to the halls of akademia all the finesse and subtlety of a broadside of grapeshot fired at close quarters. I suggest that in future debates on the subject he should exercise some degree of humility. After all, we are not dealing, as he would have us believe, in political claptrap so much as in the future of our children. In considering the matter, it is well to move away from the sort of political barrack-room fight that he so much enjoys and endeavour to instil an element of calm deliberation.

I have a range of interests in the Bill. I am chairman of an independent school and governor of another independent school which was a direct grant school before the advent of the previous Government. Some members of my family attend public schools while others are educated in the State system and attend comprehensive schools. I have the honour to represent a constituency which still, thanks to the result of the last election and the Education Act, rejoices in a fine system of academic selection and the establishment of two first-class grammar schools.

That wide range of experience and interest in schools has taught me, more than anything else, the value of variety in our education system. I hope that we will always preserve that variety. If the Labour Government had had their way they would have destroyed it. Now that this Government are in office, the trends are changed. We are now able to see not just the preservation of choice and variety in education but their extension. It is to that aspect of the Bill alone that I shall address a few remarks

I welcome the extension of opportunities given in the Bill for parents to choose schools for their children. Choice is not easy to exercise. Any hon. Member who has had to exercise a choice in schools for his children or for members of his family will know how complex the matter is. I accept fully that a number of parents will not wish to exercise any choice. However, for those who wish to do so and who are interested and concerned to do so, the Bill gives them every opportunity and encouragement.

Some parents may be influenced—as I have been in the past—by the buildings and facilities of a school. As every hon. Member knows, it is not buildings and facilities that necessarily make the best educational establishments. Some of the finest teaching comes from schools that do not have—to say the least of it—the finest of facilities. Nevertheless, some parents will be influenced by the buildings and facilities. Others will look closely at the type of education, the sort of work that is done at the school, the standard of teaching which is encouraged at the school and the degree of involvement of teachers both in the classroom and outside it. That is much more difficult to ascertain and it cannot be seen by examination standards alone, even though they serve as a guide and an indicator.

There should be a greater range of information readily available for parents who are trying to exercise a choice between competing schools to which they are considering sending their children. I hope that my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State will give the maximum possible freedom to local education authorities to involve schools and parents in providing that sort of information.

I welcome the extension of parental involvement and with it the extension of teacher involvement in standards throughout the school with which they are concerned. Nothing but good will come from the emphasis that is placed on those matters in the Bill. I welcome strongly the assisted places scheme. It is a scheme designed not, as the hon. Member for Bedwellty would have everyone believe, to bolster or buttress schools but to support individual parents who are anxious to secure for their child a particular type of education which their financial resources might not make possible.

The former direct grant school of which I am a governor has now become independent as a result of the decision that was forced on it by the previous Government. That newly independent school has gone out of its way to introduce and finance a number of bursaries to make available finance to parents who would not otherwise be able to afford the fees. That was done because we believe strongly in the principle of maintaining the widest possible degree of social mix in the school. I emphasise the point that this was done to maintain a social mix, but it was also done in order to retain and preserve the highest possible academic standards. Many parents are looking for a school with special academic emphasis. Many of those parents cannot afford to select the best school because the fees are beyond their means.

The assistance that such parents will be given by the Bill will mean a great deal to the children who will benefit from it. It will not bolster or subsidise the school in any way. The school can continue to exercise the widest possible social coverage of the children in the neighbouring areas. In that way will be achieved the goal of extending over a wide range the highest possible degree of academic standards.

In so far as the Bill furthers choice in those critically important areas, I welcome it.

5.49 p.m.

Mr. Ernest Armstrong (Durham, North-West)

Today is a very sad one for those who are concerned about the State education system. The Secretary of State had a remarkable opportunity, and I envy him. If there is one period in my public life which I shall always remember, it is the period which I spent at the Department of Education and Science. I have great faith in education and its ability to mould values and standards and to improve the quality of life. In my early days, I asked too much of the education service. This Bill asks nothing of the service in terms of its contribution to the quality of life.

Over the past 10 years, hundreds of people in the service—teachers, administrators, parents with a real interest in education and politicians—have attended seminars and schools to talk about the need for a new Education Act to recognise the great changes that have occurred since 1944. With that in mind, I read this Bill and I listened to the Secretary of State speaking today. It must be a tremendous disappointment and a blow to the morale of those who are so keen to do something vital for our children to be confronted with this Bill.

We had a great opportunity, but this Bill has no inspiration in it. It has no vision. It is an unenlightened response to the needs of our children. It is completely out of touch with the movement of education opinion since 1945. It puts the clock back to pre-war days.

I intend to deal with the main principles and to leave the details very properly to the Committee stage because, however we amend the Bill, we cannot make it a good one. The philosophy behind it is a contradiction of all that most people in the education service have stood for over the years. If the Secretary of State had said "Yes, this is a Bill which is conditioned by the economic crisis through which we are passing"—we all understand that, it is bound to be—"numbers in our schools are falling, and we intend to take advantage of that, cuts are to take place and standards will be difficult to maintain", at least he would have carried most of the House with him. But I do not understand this persistent claim that standards can be maintained and even improved.

I know of no chairman, even of a Tory county council, who says that. I know of no section of the education service which makes that claim. Many of them say that they have no choice. But let no one pretend that we can maintain education opportunities that we have taken for granted over the past 30 years. This is the most serious challenge to the education service that those involved in it have seen in their lifetime.

Mr. A. J. Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed)

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the chairmen of eight local education authorities in the South-West, not many of them under any control other than Conservative, have written to the Secretary of State saying that the standards of service have to be reduced, that there is no way that they can do anything else, and that it would be a great deal more honest of the Government if they admitted it?

Mr. Armstrong

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. It is not surprising that politicians are suspect when we go on pretending that measures of this kind can be passed into law and that standards can still be maintained. No one believes it. Good education costs more than bad education, and we cannot escape that. Resources are related to the quality of education, as I hope to show.

However, it is the philosophy behind the Bill that disturbs me and frightens me. I began teaching 40 years ago. During my life in education, we have made all too slow progress away from a system which concentrated on the gifted and gave them immense privileges towards a system where all our children would get a share of the resources, with their individual needs being met.

Tawney says we should plan education to emphasise and strengthen the common humanity that unites our people rather than emphasise and strengthen the class differences which divide them. The Secretary of State knows that I do not fight the class war. But this is a divisive Bill, as I shall show when I come to one or two of the details.

The noble Lord Lord Boyle says that all our children ought to have access to resources which will enable them to develop their potential to the full. They have a right, all children—handicapped, average, below average and so on—to develop their talents and abilities to the full. We have been moving towards that all too slowly. It is because this Bill puts the clock back and turns its face against that that I feel more strongly about it than any subject on which I have spoken during the whole of my parliamentary career.

I thought that we had reached the stage where, despite the political differences, it was acknowledged that every child, whatever his background and social status, should enjoy the same range and quality of educational opportunity. If we are to do that, it means positive discrimination and not equality of treatment. It means that the children of Tyneside and Durham have priority over the children of Sussex and Surrey if we talk about providing real equality of opportunity.

That brings me immediately to the assisted places scheme. As my hon. Friend the Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Kinnock) said, it has not a friend in the whole education service. No one has given it unqualified support. I acknowledge that it is a manifesto commitment. It is a bit of political dogma. The Secretary of State knows that if three, four, five or six out of a school are chosen—and it will not be that many in most schools—and sent to independent schools, not even the individuals selected are done any service. If this scheme was really to assist the poorest children in the community, they could be done no worse service than making them guinea pigs in a private school, because that is what they would be.

I have experience as a headmaster of taking back children who have been taken away from familiar surroundings, from the place where they felt secure, from the children with whom they grew up and from where they shared all their experiences and put into a strange atmosphere—and I understand that in some independent schools there are some very strange circumstances from time to time.

Mr. Mark Carlisle

The right hon. Gentleman must not exaggerate to this enormous extent. Does not he accept that, although his own Government abolished the direct grant school system, those children who made up the last entry into the direct grant system are still in the fifth and sixth forms of those schools at the moment? I have visited several of the old direct grant schools. The suggestion that those children are somehow lepers in the school is total nonsense.

Mr. Armstrong

I am not suggesting that all of them are. I am saying that I have had experience of children who felt that they were. In my view, when we talk about the quality of life, culture and so on, the worst that could have happened to me would have been to be taken away from my own surroundings and sent to the kind of atmosphere about which the right hon. and learned Gentleman speaks.

Of course, this is in line with the idea of rewarding the successful. But to say to our children that success depends on their getting out of their environment and going to a strange one is to do a disservice to the individual and to do no service at all to the nation.

As I listened to one of the speeches earlier today, I noticed that the Secretary of State for Employment was present. He knows the "them and us" mentality that runs throughout industry. It is unique in this country how we seem to believe that our top civil servants, top management and people who are to be leaders of the community have to be educated in separate schools, having been taken away from the rest of society and moved into a secluded quarter. I cannot think of a more nonsensical idea, yet the Bill perpetuates that sort of view. Even if the Secretary of State could produce evidence to show that I am exaggerating, it is the duty of the right hon. and learned Gentleman and the House to provide the resources for the State schools, in which more than 90 per cent. of our children are educated. We must provide the sort of resources that will enable teachers to educate every child fully. Only a party 60 per cent. of whose members were educated in the private sector—

Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield)

How many on your side?

Mr. Armstrong

On our side, the figure is 9 per cent. Only a party in which 60 per cent. of the members were educated in the private sector could commend a scheme such as this, which so distorts real education.

Mr. Tim Brinton (Gravesend)

If I have followed the right hon. Gentleman's arguments correctly, he is speaking in favour of the retention of the independent sector with everyone whom I suspect he might describe as upper class, upper-middle or middle class staying in his own sector. The idea of equality that he has been promoting does not exist in his mind.

Mr. Armstrong

I may have been very inarticulate—I did not go to the proper schools—but I share the view of my hon. Friend the Member for Bedwellty on the private sector of education. I feel that it is divisive and against the national interest.

I was disturbed when the Secretary of State said that cuts will be made "on the periphery". From time to time we hear Conservative Members talking about the "frills" of education. What is called the periphery by the Secretary of State and frills by his hon. Friends are not regarded as such by some hon. Members, and certainly not by me in relation to my children and grandchildren.

The Secretary of State has put forward a narrow and rigid view. Recently, he said that all that matters is what goes on inside the classroom, and that education really takes place inside the classroom.

During my grammar school career benefited more from extra-curricular activities. Hon Members may laugh, but it is true. I benefited from the debating society, the historical society, and the various groups where we were introduced to, for example, the great heritage of Northumberland and Durham. That was denied to most children who stayed in elementary schools. It is that sort of activity that will be hammered by the public expenditure cuts and by the implementation of the Bill.

I turn now to school meals and transport. The idea of providing school meals was pioneered by the teachers. The aim was not just to provide food at lunchtime, although we have always considered that education covers the physical, mental, intellectual and even spiritual growth of our children. We talk about educating the whole child.

I say, from great experience, that in many schools the school meal, because of the dedication of teachers, became not only an integral part of the school day but an important social occasion. Training took place and youngsters were able to sit together and partake of a meal. It was part of their education.

Mr. Bob Dunn (Dartford)

Is it not a fact that in any town centre in this country one can see hordes of schoolchildren, with cans of Coca-Cola and bags of fish and chips, who choose not to eat the meals provided at school?

Mr. Armstrong

I shall come to that aspect. At my school, lunch was never a chore. All the staff stayed and sat with the children.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton

The staff do not stay now.

Mr. Armstrong

There is no statutory duty on teachers, and one of the reasons why they do not stay is—

Mr. Winterton

They do not want to stay.

Mr. Armstrong

The hon. Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton) knows little about the State sector.

Mr. Winterton

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the Opposition do not have a monopoly of knowledge of the State sector? Although we may not have been teachers, many Conservative Members have been leading county councillors and have held important positions on those councils. I was deputy chairman of a county education committee for a time.

Will the right hon. Gentleman withdraw the slur that Conservative Members know nothing about the maintained sector?

Mr. Armstrong

The hon. Gentleman cannot deny that the majority of Conservative Members lack experience of the State sector. No doubt the hon. Member for Macclesfield goes into State schools for election meetings and formal meetings of governors, but that does not represent experience of the State sector.

I have been amazed by the references in the debate to school meals and transport. According to the White Paper on expenditure, the Government hope to save £240 million on school meals, milk and transport. The only families with a statutory right to those services are those on family income supplement or supplementary benefit—though even that seems to be in doubt in some quarters.

If the school meals service becomes a service for poor children only it will be a sad day for education generally and not just for those poor children. The service is an important part of educational provision. When he introduced the 1944 Act Lord Butler said that the provision of school meals was one of the most important parts of the Act. He said that the worth of the investment could be seen in the faces of the children. The new proposals, which are an abdication of responsibility by the Government, mean that the school meals service will no longer occupy the important place that I think it ought to occupy.

The Roman Catholic authorities and others who visited the Secretary of State recently are concerned about the proposals on school transport. They believe that parents who exercise their right to send their children to denominational schools, which are usually further away than the nearest local authority schools, will receive different treatment from the parents who send their children to local authority schools.

The Secretary of State apparently told the deputation that if parents exercised that choice they must be prepared to pay some of the price. I suggest that as long as we have the dual system, which gives parents the right to choose a denominational school, those who exercise that choice should have the same rights as those who send their children to the nearest local authority school. I know that this matter will be pursued in Committee. I hope that we can get confirmation.

Mr. Mark Carlisle

I said specifically that I hoped that they would be treated as generously as other children. As the right hon. Gentleman said, many children go to Catholic schools outside the three-mile limit and although there is a nearer appropriate school, the local authority chooses, at its discretion, to pay their transport costs. Local authorities do not act in that way for those who are not attending Catholic schools. I said that it would be wrong to legislate to give Catholics a privileged situation. I expressed my hope that they would continue to be treated no less generously by local authorities.

Mr. Armstrong

What concerns me is that the Secretary of State, who ought to accept responsibility, keeps saying that he hopes that local authorities will be as generous as they ought to be. I can name some local authorities where there is no chance whatever of that happening.

Mr. Carlisle

There is no change in the responsibility of local authorities. The payment that they make at the moment is at their discretion. There is no central control over it.

Mr. Armstrong

We come back to the point that my hon. Friend the Member for Bedwellty made so forcefully. It is a question of money. The Secretary of State for the Environment threatens what he will do to local authorities if they use their discretion to be generous. It is an abdication of responsibility for the Secretary of State for Education to tell the House that the matter is for local authorities to decide and that it has nothing to do with him, but that local authorities must not expect any extra cash from central Government.

I should like to refer to village schools. It is monstrous that children of 5 years of age should be travelling four and a half to five miles by bus each day to attend a village school in my constituency. The parents are extremely worried. It is no comfort or consolation for them to hear the kind of argument that the Secretary of State put forward about all the anomalies.

I recognise that transport is a difficult and serious problem. A report was before the last Government for a long time, and I freely admit that we could not come to any kind of amicable solution about it. Apart from the cost and the unreliability of public transport, I can see all kinds of problems if special buses are not provided. Some children, under the kind of regulations that the Secretary of State has put forward, will find difficulty getting the money to enable them to attend school regularly.

Mrs. Kellett-Bowman

That is precisely the position at the moment. At one end of a village in my constituency, there is free travel. At the other end, parents pay £4 to get their children to school.

Mr. Armstrong

The only difference, if the Bill goes forward, is that those now getting free transport will be in the same position. That will be no consolation to anyone. I acknowledge that this is a difficult problem, but the Secretary of State's solution will be unacceptable in most areas.

We have no reason to be complacent, but there is much to be proud of in our education service. Real educational opportunity has been extended under all Governments. Our primary schools have become not only the envy of the world but good examples of self-contained democratic communities. The education service has always been challenged to do more than we have a right to ask of it. It cannot do everything. I believe firmly that it has a major role in the development of good citizenship, suitable to life in a free and orderly society. It is because I believe that this Bill will set the clock back that I invite the House to throw it out.

6.15 p.m.

Mr. Warren Hawksley (The Wrekin)

I think you Mr. Deputy Speaker for calling me to make my maiden speech in a debate of such importance. This is a great honour for me. As a member of a local authority, and of an education committee, I am greatly interested in this subject. It was a major issue in my constituency during the general election. It was raised at public meetings and on the doorsteps during the campaign.

The Wrekin is a varied constituency, politically and geographically. With one exception, since the war the constituency has changed political sides with the change of Government, so there have probably been more maiden speeches extolling the beauties of The Wrekin than of any other constituency of the country. I apologise for that.

Situated in the constituency is Coal-brookdale, the home, we claim, of the Industrial Revolution. Two hundred years ago there was a shortage of wood for smelting which produced an energy crisis as serious as any today. It was in Shropshire that we started smelting from coke. We can claim that we have history with us. Only in July this year we celebrated the two hundredth anniversary of the opening of the world's first iron bridge, which gives its name to a town in my constituency.

The constituency is an area of old industry. Until a few years ago it was slipping into decay. It has been saved by the work of the Ironbridge Gorge museum, which last year succeeded in winning for its work the award of "Museum of Europe". It was pleasing to those in the constituency that that happened. We lost our last coal mine only this year. It was the last coal mine in the whole of Shrop-shire, once a sizeable mining area.

As well as the old industrial areas there is a new town which, unlike some new towns, is not taking up good industrial land. It occupies old land left by the Industrial Revolution. To the north and east there is an agricultural area which is sparsely populated and rural and about which I hope to say a few words concerning the transport provisions in the Bill.

My predecessor was Mr. Gerry Fowler, who served the constituency from 1966 to 1970, and again from 1974 until the last general election. As a word of warning to other hon. Members, I mention a brave, or perhaps foolhardy, speech that Gerry Fowler made during the debate on the rate support grant last year when he went so far as to describe the constituency as a safe Labour seat. We should perhaps learn that such things are rarer than we thought.

Having lived in Shropshire for nearly all my life, I pay tribute to what Gerry Fowler achieved as a constituency Member. I have been a county councillor for nine years. I have seen Gerry Fowler at work. He was a great credit to the constituency. I hope that I shall be able to maintain the record that he set. It is a demanding constituency, with 92,000 electors.

During the election campaign I was told not only that Mr. Fowler was a good constituency Member but that the same applied to one of his predecessors, Bill Yates, whom some hon. Members may remember as a character who strongly supported certain views on the Middle East at a time when they were not fashionable. Mr. Yates has earned his place in the record books not as a good constituency Member but as the only former Member of this House subsequently to be elected to the Australian Parliament. He has made a great change.

The Bill will give much more freedom and choice to parents and local education authorities. The individual parent will be able to be involved in the education of his child and the choice of the child's school. The LEA will be able to choose the services—transport, school meals and milk, for instance—on which it wishes to spend money.

Only 10 days ago, in the debate on Government expenditure, an Opposition spokesman said that local authorities were elected and had the mandate and the right to look after the people in their area. I agree. That is why it is natural to give back to local authorities as much power as possible to control their own education expenditure within the limits of the available resources.

I believe that people, particularly parents, will support LEAs such as mine which, under the Bill, will be able to reduce their subsidy on school meals while safeguarding the capitation allowance and the pupil-teacher ratio. Parents are ready to accept the necessity to cut public expenditure but believe that the cuts should fall on food rather than on books. They believe that teachers and books come first. The LEAs should have the chance to make the alterations they want.

Shropshire is the second smallest county in the country. It subsidises school meals to the tune of £3⅓ million—three times as much as it spends on libraries, twice what it spends on the fire service and almost as much as it spends on the police service. Only a third of our total school meals expenditure goes on food itself; two-thirds is spent on other items. We have got our priorities wrong when we spend so much money to subsidise school meals.

It was a representative of the teaching unions on the county council, not one of the Conservative councillors, who said "The milk is wasted in the schools. The children do not drink it" She knows, because she is a teacher. It is important to realise how wide a field is covered by the choice given by the Bill combined with the choice given by the Education Bill introduced by the previous Government.

Adams grammar school at Newport in my constituency is about to be converted into a comprehensive school. A section 13 notice will be served shortly. I hope that the Secretary of State will listen to public opinion. I do not know whether a majority of the parents and the public want a grammar school or a comprehensive school, since they have not been asked. They have been asked only whether they want scheme A or scheme B. I hope that when the Secretary of State considers the observations on the section 13 notice he will be sure that people have had a clear opportunity to say whether they want the change. The local authority appears to be hell-bent on carrying out the reorganisation that it would have had to carry out before the change of Government.

The Bill gives parents as well as local authorities some assurances. The theme of choice can be seen not only in the items that I have mentioned but in the idea of giving children from homes which cannot afford it the chance to attend better schools, private schools. The assisted places scheme is a move in the right direction. I hope that it will become law quickly, because many local authorities, including my own, want to start preparing.

The Bill will make local authorities more responsible. It will be easier for parents to be involved. Some hon. Members have said that some local authorities already do some of the things that are in the Bill. Certainly the clause on parental choice applies to Shropshire. The authority has not given parents more than the bare necessities for choice except in one place—Telford—where this year, for the first time, a system was introduced under which parental choice became the sole criterion.

Our political opponents warned us that the system would fail, that no one would get his first choice, that everyone would want his children to go to one school and that we should not be able to cope. I learnt before this debate from the chief education officer that 94 per cent. of parents got their first choice and that less than 1 per cent. did not get their first or second choice. That is not a bad record and shows that choice can be introduced.

Despite the existence of a rural area in my constituency, I agree that local authorities should decide what transport system the children should have. No two areas are alike. I hope that a minimal charge will be introduced for all those who wish to use the system. That would be fairer than the present arrangement. At the moment some villages in my constituency are cut in half by the mystic three-mile limit. People tell me "Little Johnny living next door gets free transport, but my children do not." Local education authorities will now be able to introduce a fairer system.

I thank the House for listening patiently. I apologise for having made my maiden speech in a rather controversial debate, but I thank hon. Members for not interrupting me. The Bill will benefit education. Flaying been in local government, I know that it will be a breath of fresh air blowing through local authorities. I am pleased to be able to support the measure.

6.29 p.m.

Mr. A. J. Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed)

I feel that I have been here for a long time and must be getting older when I am called upon to congratulate an hon. Member on his maiden speech. However, it is a pleasure to do so in the case of the hon. Member for The Wrekin (Mr. Hawksley) and to welcome to the House someone who brings experience of service in local government and on a local education authority. I hope that he will maintain the tradition established by his predecessor, that there is rarely an education debate without a contribution from The Wrekin. Although I disagreed with much of what the hon. Gentleman said, he said it with such disarming pleasantness and feeling that I had to be alert to spot my points of disagreement. He will find us more ready to interrupt him in future, perhaps, but I hope that he will nevertheless enjoy taking part in debates.

This is a depressing Bill, even the good points of which have been watered down beyond recognition. Jostling among some very damaging and dangerous principles, there are a few good ones, but even these are almost invisible to the naked eye.

The reform of school government, for example, was a good idea, developed and pioneered by the Taylor committee, welcomed by Conservative spokesmen, and intended as a major reform. That reform would have taken schools out of the political domination characteristic of some school governing bodies, and out of the vague institutional apathy prevalent in others. The reform would have put control into the hands of those most directly concerned—the local community, those who work in schools and, above all, the parents. What do we find in the Bill when we look at that great principle and the attempt to apply it? Local authority nominees can retain a majority on all school governing bodies. I remember that that same effect was criticised by some Conservative Members during the Committee stage of the last Government's Bill.

Parent representation has been reduced to a mere token of one or two parents and one or two teachers in large schools. That is token representation in a governing body of, for example, 20 governors. In schools of that size, political nominees can still dominate the governing bodies. There is no guarantee of pupil representation, and there is also a provision to enable permission to be given for several schools to be put under one governing body. I got the impression from the Secretary of State that he is not keen on that practice continuing, and I hope that that is so.

The principle of a major change in the composition of school governing bodies that would draw schools more closely into the hands of those most concerned has been watered down to token representation.

The school that has the support of its parents, teaching staff and immediate local community wants for little, as voluntary support and backing is more readily forthcoming where there is a close association with the school. This token attempt at the reform of school government will not bring us that.

Parental choice is another good principle, tucked away almost invisibly in the Bill. When the previous Government brought their Bill before the House I said that it was the net gain to parents that should be judged in deciding whether the end result was an improvement in parental choice. As in the last Bill, there will be written into the law a duty upon local education authorities to comply with the expressed preferences of parents about the school that they want their children to attend.

There will also be an appeal system, although a curious one, in which the local authority has the majority on the body to which the appeal is made. Those two items are on the gains side. On the other side of the balance sheet, the local authorities have the widest let-out imaginable if they do not wish to comply with those preferences. They do not have to comply if this would prejudice the provision of efficient education or the efficient use of resources. That is a stronger qualification than exists at present.

In addition, the local authorities have the opportunity to reduce the size of schools. Only if they reduce the size of a school by more than one-fifth must they make reference to the Secretary of State. The passage in the Bill referring to size confers no obligation on the local authority that states a particular size for a school to admit that number of pupils to the school. All sorts of little qualifications have been put into the Bill.

Moreover, there will be fewer schools for the parents to choose from. The Secretary of State has now said that he expects about 1,500 school closures in the near future. That will hit village schools in particular. The parents' last resort—the section 37 procedure—will disappear. I accept that the procedure is potentially harmful to the interests of some children, but the local authorities are certainly frightened of it. That section has made education authorities think again before refusing reasonable parental demands. We should not let it go unless we are satisfied that there is a net gain. I am not so satisfied.

The Government have aroused expectations that they have no real prospect of satisfying. The Bill will reap a bitter harvest of disappointment. I do not agree with those Labour Members who criticise this aspect of the Bill on the ground that it goes too far. They should remember that their Government aroused similar expectations which they did not even want to satisfy. The previous Secretary of State was no less keen on the principle of parental choice than is the present Secretary of State. The Opposition cannot blame the Government for continuing to pursue that principle. I simply suggest that the end result is not a net gain for the parents. I think that that was in the mind of the hon. Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence) when he asked in what way we would be further forward in parental choice if the Bill were enacted.

I shall refer to one of the damaging areas of the Bill, namely, school meals and transport. It may be right to look again at the provision of school meals and to see whether the present scale of that provision is appropriate. However, it is one of the few aspects of the education system that can be shown from the statistics to have worked. All the surveys on nutrition and improvement in children's health show that there is a tangible benefit. The onus is on the Government to prove that it is safe to remove that provision.

In primary schools and particularly in special schools there is an educational significance in school meals. One of the things that a child needs to learn at a special school is how to eat a meal, and how to do so in the company of others, and that is valuable. Even in the ordinary primary school, it is one of those aspects of education that we should not throw aside. In country areas, where children travel to a distant town, school meals are important. Those children have to wait on cold, wet and snowy corners for school transport. They get to school cold and wet, leave early and get home late, and therefore have need of a hot meal during the day.

Those children's parents do not want them to be wandering around a town, 10 or 20 miles away, during lunch time. They do not want to be told by the authorities that there are plenty of cafes in which their children can get something to eat. Parents in my constituency do not want that, and I do not think that the education authorities should be encouraged to go down that road. There is room for experiment, but there is also much to lose.

I turn to the issue of transport. Does the Secretary of State know what is involved in school transport in country areas such as Northumberland, Cumbria, the South-West of England, Scotland and Wales? All manner of conveyances are involved in school transport over great distances—taxis, Land Rovers and buses. Journeys are of anything from three to 30 miles each way.

A common situation in my constituency is that of a farm worker, a craftsman, with an income just above the family income supplement rate—let us say that he is earning between £65 and £75 a week—with three children. He is already at work when his wife takes those three children down to the end of the farm road and waits there for a taxi to come. The children get into the taxi and go four or five miles to a village. The youngest child gets out and goes to the first school. His journey to that school must have cost at least 75p or £1, for the shared cost of the taxi fare. The other two children then get on to a bus and go to a larger village, six or seven miles further on. One child goes to the middle school in that village. His bus fare, together with his taxi fare must have cost at least £1.25. The older child, who is 16, boards another bus and goes 10 miles further on, to the town where the high school is. His fare cannot have been less than £1.50 for the day's journey. Imagine the cost of those journeys on a family with a low income. It would amount to between £3 and £5 a day.

The Secretary of State may reply that it is easy to solve that problem and that the education authority could impose a flat rate scheme. Does he understand flat rate schemes? In order to meet these costs, the level of the flat rate would have to be very high. Therefore, any parent living in an area in which there is public transport and where the bus fare is less than the flat rate, will send his child on the bus and opt out of the scheme. Therefore, the flat rate cost will be even higher. Parents whose children travel the longest journeys will pay the most money, although they can least afford it.

Many of those children travel long distances because village schools have closed, or because schools have been reorganised. Education authorities have given guarantees that there will be free school transport. There are thousands of children in Cumbria and other counties whose parents have had explicit guarantees that they will be provided with free school transport.

What will happen to children in denominational schools? The Secretary of State said that they would be treated as well as other children. He meant as badly as other children. The denominational school transport costs are quite high. If they are put into a pool scheme the cost will escalate and become a real burden to families who, at present, do not have to pay at all for choosing to send their children to a denominational school.

Denominational heads, Roman Catholics in particular, have told me that this is the biggest threat to their schools since the 1944 Education Act was passed. They thought that there was settlement and agreement about the basis of denominational education. The bishops have already been to see the Secretary of State, and the impression that they got from that meeting was that the Secretary of State seemed to feel that the country had already been generous enough to Catholic schools and that the time had come to start cutting back a bit.

Of course, the Secretary of State can say that local authorities do not have to do any of this. They can continue the present provision, or do something very similar. Of course they can, but the end result of that is that those authorities with the biggest transport problems and the most scattered areas will have to cut most into the bones of education itself in order to achieve the same savings.

If the Scretary of State does not personally telephone them and tell them they must make cuts in education, his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment certainly will. He has already told us that those local authorities that fail to apply cash limits in the way that he wants will be penalised under the new provisions that he intends to bring forward.

Many local authorities, including the Conservative-controlled Northumberland authority, probably do not want to do this sort of thing, but what choice do they have? Their choice is between making inadequate provision for children to get to school or not being able to teach them properly when they get there. In the face of all this it is impossible to deny that the Secretary of State is reducing standards in State education.

The chairman of the Isle of Wight education committee, which is dominated by Conservatives, has written to the Secretary of State on behalf of eight South-West local education authorities. He says: It is at local level that budget cuts begin to bite and are felt directly by those who rely upon the service. Our task in achieving an acceptance of reductions at local level is rendered much more difficult when statements are made by central government that financial savings can be made without affecting the standards of the service. This is manifestly not the case and it seems unfortunate in the extreme that this stance is taken centrally. It seems to us that it would be more honest to admit the simple fact that the present economic position demands a measure of retrenchment which in the short term will reduce standards of provision. We cannot deny it locally because the facts speak for themselves. Our position would be much stronger if there were an open recognition of the situation by central government spokesmen. In this way there would at least appear to be a unanimity which at the moment, regrettably does not exist.

Dr. Hampson

Does the hon. Member agree that even though some authorities might do some of the Draconian things that he has listed, at least now they have some choice as to the areas they cut? In 1976, when the then Secretary of State cut almost exactly the same amount from the education budget—about 3.7 per cent. in real terms—they had no choice at all. They had to tie up such a high proportion of their budget that they were obliged to cut such areas as books, discretionary grants and teachers.

Mr. Beith

I hope that the hon. Member will oppose this Bill with all the fervour with which he opposed the 1976 measures. However, I must point out that the previous cuts did not stop the children from getting to school. They did not bring about a situation in which farm workers in my constituency could not afford to send their children to school at all.

In the face of the kind of problem to which I have referred, and which, with the best will in the world, the education authorities cannot solve without either harming the ability of the child to get to school or the education that he gets at school, the Secretary of State can still find money, on an increasing scale, for the assisted places scheme. Where is this money coming from? The Secretary of State tells us that it will not come from the education budget. Did it fall off the back of a lorry? Is it pennies from heaven? If he can find sources of money like this, even the year after next and the following year, let us have some of it for the State education system. The Conservatives who run the education authority in Northumberland would very much like some of it. The chairman of that authority has already said that she does not see much scope for using public money for private schools when her authority would like to spend it in the schools that it runs. She believes that the authority's schools have very high standards and that it is appropriate to send bright children to them.

It is extraordinary that the Secretary of State should contemplate spending that money, in the present time scale, on a scheme that is unlikely to benefit more than the tiniest minority of children. Even among those who will benefit there will be a large proportion whose parents are so highly motivated that they are determined their children should get on. They are the, kind who would get the very best out of the State system anyway. This is an appalling misjudgment. I expected better of the Secretary of State.

There is precious little good in this Bill. There is an awful lot of bad, and the House should have the courage to throw it out.

6.45 p.m.

Mr. James Molyneaux (Antrim, South)

I am sure that the House will realise that in the course of a fairly wide debate so far on the Bill, applying as it does to the whole of the United Kingdom, we are achieving in a realistic fashion what we are exhorted to do in less practical ways in Northern Ireland. We are taking an initiative, filling a political vacuum, if one exists, and dealing in real politics. What could be more real than deciding the arrangements for the education of the rising generation, who will become the electorate in the not-too-distant future?

It is important to realise that we are doing all of that by the method that has evolved over a period of about 700 years—that is, by debate in the House, later in Committee, perhaps in the House again and still later in another place. We are not amending or producing legislation by means of an all-party conference. Indeed, when the two Front Bench spokesmen exchanged views a little earlier I could not bring myself to believe that the Bill presented to us today represented any form of a political solution previously arrived at in an inter-party discussion upstairs. Certainly I should not like to volunteer to be the impartial chairman at such a discussion.

Practically every clause in this Bill begins with the term A local education authority may". It is right and proper that local authority representatives, being closest to the electorate, should be the people to implement, if they think fit, the powers made available by the Bill. In Northern Ireland the Bill will confer these powers not on local authorities but on what is, in effect, another branch of central Government. Education and library boards in Northern Ireland are nominated by the Minister—not the Whitehall Minister, but the appropriate Minister in Northern Ireland—and it will be these boards, which are another arm of Government, that will decide whether to implement the provisions of the Bill. These boards can be persuaded, by a process of nods and winks, to do some strange things. By their very powers, structure and nature they are not encouraged to concern themselves with the opinions of the electorate, or even with those of parents and teachers.

The principles of the Bill, by saddling the Northern Ireland education boards with responsibilities and duties, emphasise the urgency of the need for the Government to do that to which they committed themselves in their election manifesto six months ago. They said of Northern Ireland In the absence of devolved government we will seek to establish one or more elected regional councils with a wide range of powers over local services. Local authorities in Britain are being given powers to select priorities, to eliminate waste and to make savings in education. Parliament has a clear duty to cut the cackle and re-establish in Northern Ireland, on the same pattern as Britain, local authorities answerable for their decisions and actions to those who elect them.

We in the Ulster Unionist Party have never made the mistake of demanding economies and reductions in Government expenditure and in the next breath pleading that Northern Ireland should be excluded from the consequences. We accept that education cannot escape its share of reductions, but it seems to us that if there must be cuts savings should be made on school meals. They should be regarded as a social rather than as an educational issue. Provided that the position of needy families is safeguarded, it should be possible to do something to reduce the steadily escalating costs of the service.

It cannot be denied that a great deal of waste arises from the "cookhouse" quality of some meals, though this varies from one school to another. Waste also arises as a result of children's likes and dislikes. Some parents have come to the conclusion that snack meals are more popular with children. Perhaps we should set an example in the Palace of Westminster.

The greatest concern of my party, however, is over school transport. If something resembling the provisions of clause 23 were to be applied in Northern Ireland we should regard that as a breach of faith. As right hon. and hon. Members know, the patterns of population in Northern Ireland are different from those in Great Britain. The pattern of small farms throughout the Province created a vast number of small schools in country areas. Reorganisation in the past 20 years depended for its acceptance upon a firm undertaking by the Government of the day that when a small school was closed free transport would be provided as an essential part of the centralisation process.

The number of schools affected was significant. The Ministry of Education gave the number of primary schools in 1924 as 2,041. By 1974 that figure had dropped to 1,138. A breach of the undertaking to provide free transport would affect two-fifths of the children in rural areas. I trust that however the Government apply this Bill to Northern Ireland they will remember the undertaking given in the name of a previous Government.

The Government are honouring their manifesto commitment which was clearly set out on page 24. They are doing it without undue deference to those who disagree with them. I hope that they will proceed on parallel lines and honour their commitment on page 22 of the manifesto and restore to Northern Ireland the type of local authority on which the Bill depends for its implementation. I hope also that they will do that without undue deference to those who would reject positive action and seek refuge in argument, without end and without result.

6.54 p.m.

Mr. John Carlisle (Luton, West)

This Bill is probably one of the most courageous measures brought before the House for many a long year and I am privileged to speak in support of it. The Government obviously face a fairly difficult winter and have many courageous decisions yet to take. The Bill will bring a great deal of pleasure to many parents throughout the land; to none more so than in my constituency.

The Bill has already been received with great enthusiasm by people to whom I have spoken. I regret that the previous Administration did not have the courage to bring in such a Bill. It seeks to sweep away years of rigid and inflexible authority created by Socialist control. I speak particularly of the hopes of parents. The last Administration enacted their measures with cynical glee, and this Bill will remove the shackles placed upon parents' freedom of choice. The measure is a high water mark in education since 1944. I congratulate the Minister and his team on this outstanding charter for parents. I confine my remarks within the limits of the new 10-minute rule for speeches after 7 o'clock and to the issue of freedom of parental choice afforded by the Bill.

I am concerned about the problems facing local authorities on the question of admissions and I am distressed that many authorities, including, regrettably, my own in Bedfordshire, have for too long ignored parental choice in favour of juggling numbers to fill places.

New ambitious school projects were started during the term of the previous Administration, regardless of cost, and some very fine schools were turned into comprehensive jungles in the name of pure political ideology. In the last decade we have lost many schools of high academic standing though the dramatic effect of Conservative victories in the county council elections of 1977 enabled some new authorities to bring about some changes. Much money has been wasted on new schools and new schemes. Not all authorities have been able to face dilemmas with the freedom of choice we would like to see.

The number of children of school age is falling. Social habits and population changes make forecasts of the number of school places difficult. Faced with the economic situation and because of falling numbers, most authorities have been forced to stop some of their new school projects. Some have been forced to use selection methods, and I refer particularly to the method of selection by catchment area.

This Bill contains some very fine words about parental choice. It speaks of …a preference as to the school at which he wishes education to be provided for his child…". It even extends that choice rather dramatically to schools outside the parents' own local authority area. Those fine words will be music to the ears of parents in my constituency. They will fall on deaf ears if some authorities persist in allocating places according to the numbers game by filling up places at bad schools to the detriment of allocating places at the good schools.

Bedfordshire has done that by changing catchment areas, often without consultation with parents and sometimes with a notice of less than one school year. Many parents move into a catchment area to ensure that their children are educated at a particular school. I make no apology for naming the Challney boys' school in my constituency where that occurs. Many parents who buy property at a high price, who pay high rates and who make great personal sacrifices, have their high hopes for their children's education wiped out overnight at the stroke of a pen when a catchment area is changed.

The catchment areas are unfair. However, until there are sufficient places to allow full parental choice, they are a necessary evil. They lead inevitably to the making of waiting lists. I take issue with the Bedfordshire county authority which consistently refuses to allow even councillors to see the waiting lists. This has caused great distress to parents who had hoped that their children would gain a place at a particular school.

I appeal to the Secretary of State, who has the privilege of sharing my name, to prove that the Government are worthy. I hope that under clause 8 he will specify by regulation that any change in a catchment area must be made after full consultation with the parents and after a proper period of notice. If the waiting lists are necessary, they must be published.

There is a grey area which the Bill does not cover. I hope that the waiting lists will be drawn up according to a code of preference. Preference should be granted to those who live close to a school, the sons and daughters of those who attended a school or those with a religious or medical reason. The names on the list should never be drawn out of a hat. Education by lottery—which to a certain extent is being practised in my own county—is unworthy of any Conservative Administration.

Without reservation I welcome two further aspects of the Bill—information to parents and the appeals procedure against admissions. For too long bad schools have been able to hide behind mediocre examination results and poor academic achievement by having their numbers kept up by the methods which I have described.

Schools sell a product—the ability to educate. That product should be pushed forward, as with any product in a shop window, to make children fit for adult life. Sales literature for a school must by statute be honest and contain all relevant facts about a school. That is an essential part of the offer made to parents. Examination results speak for themselves. However, the percentage of failures and passes should be included in that literature. A school should also advertise the general appearance of the staff and pupils.

I hope that the production of a manifesto will encourage schools to go further—to hold open days more frequently and to welcome intending parents and pupils to the school before they make a choice. Schools should furnish examination results as soon as possible. Many already do that and are proud to do so. It is sad but realistic that legislation may sometimes be necessary to encourage them. I hope that the Bill will encourage schools to provide more information—and not only about admission numbers, although such information tells a suitable story in many establishments.

I welcome the establishment of a special appeals committee to consider admission decisions. I am particularly heartened to learn that its chairman is not to be a member of an education committee. That decision will be well received by my constituents. Virtually no appeals procedure exists. Ordinarily, a parent is refused admission for his child to a particular school by a standard letter which is usually delivered well into the school year. The only recourse is to appeal in person or to write to the local authority. Usually the parent is met with a stony silence or a short interview with an official way down the authority's list. The only course is for that parent to appeal to his local councillor or his Member of Parliament, both of whom are usually hog-tied by a firm, unbending, bureaucratic decision.

The last recourse for a parent, who is often desperate, is to keep the child away from school. The parent is then faced with the full weight of legislation pressuring him to return the child to school. The parent must give in or educate the child himself, and that involves personal sacrifice.

Such a case occurred in my constituency. No case has aroused more compassion since 3 May than this. I am sure that similar cases occur throughout the country. The child suffers, the parents suffer and the local education authority suffers because it is seen to be hardhearted and unbending. An appeals committee will do much to alleviate that problem. I am sorry that it does not exist today.

The Bill offers a new challenge to all local authorities, and a new hope to thousands of parents. It is imaginative, far-reaching and well in step with the Conservative pledge to set the people free. Parental choice is a phrase which is not lightly disregarded by Conservative Members as we start to re-establish that individuals matter, that people have certain basic rights, and that our children should be able to enjoy the best possible standards. My hon. Friends and I give the Bill our full support. It should be received with gratitude by every parent in the land.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Richard Crawshaw)

Before I call the next hon. Member I remind the House that Mr. Speaker indicated that between 7 p.m. and 8.50 p.m. tonight we would operate the 10-minute rule for speeches. I hope that hon. Members will limit themselves so that it is not necessary for the Chair to intervene.

7.7 p.m.

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

I am probably making history by being the first hon. Member to speak under the 10-minute rule. I have supported the idea of such a rule ever since I entered the House in 1966.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Kinnock) described the hon. Member for Brent, North (Dr. Boyson) as a pterodactyl. I cannot remember what pre-dated the pterodactyl, but we heard it when the hon. Member for Luton, West (Mr. Carlisle) was speaking. That was the most reactionary speech on education that I have heard in the House.

This is a thoroughly bad Bill. It is full of paradoxes. Clauses 6 to 8 purport to increase parental choice. Clause 23, which deals with transport, makes it economically impossible for many parents to exercise that free choice. I represent an urban constituency, where the problem of school transport is not as acute as it is in other areas. The only people in my constituency who will be affected by the transport regulations are those who have chosen freely to send their children to a voluntary school—perhaps a Catholic school—or those who have asked that their children attend a school outside the catchment area because, for instance, it has a special reputation for music. The only pupils who will be affected in my area will be those who attend voluntary schools or specialist schools from choice. They will be hit by the new transport charges.

I do not see any Conservative Members who represent rural seats in Hampshire, yet in many such country districts there will be much greater problems. Many of the country schools, especially secondary schools, will be outside the three-mile limit. Where are the hon. Members for Hampshire? I should like to see them participating in the debate. They are conveniently absent.

The Hampshire authority has announced that it proposes to charge 15p for a single journey for most children in secondary schools. As an example I take a lower-paid agricultural worker in the middle of the Petersfield constituency in Hampshire. He has two children at secondary school. A charge of 15p a journey means 30p per day per child, or £1.50 per child per week. He has to find £3 per week solely for transport.

The Minister made great play of giving local authorities more power to make their own decision over school meals. What he is really doing is evading his responsibilities. He is running away from making unpopular decisions and trying to pass the buck to the local authorities, hoping that they will get the blame when matters go wrong.

Local authorities have consistently been opposed to taking responsibility to deal with poverty. They have maintained that the alleviation of poverty is a matter for national Government. Local authorities of all political parties hold that view.

The worst part of the school meal proposals is the abolition of the parental scale. That means that half of the children presently entitled to free school meals will not be so entitled in future. That will broaden the poverty trap fur those who are only slightly above family income supplement or supplementary benefit level. It will pay many lower-paid workers to give up their jobs and receive supplementary benefit. They will be better off by doing that after these proposals are implemented.

The charge for school meals will be about 50p a day, and that is a low estimate. Taking the same example of an agricultural worker with two children, the cost of school meals per child per week will be £2.50, or £5.00 per week for both children. That worker may be earning about £60 per week gross, which is slightly above the family income supplement level. He will have to find £8 per week for transport and school meals. I do not have such low-paid workers in my constituency, but they come from the constituencies of Conservative Members. I do not see any Conservative Members rising to speak on behalf of low-paid agricultural workers.

There is an absurd situation in Hampshire. I quote from the report of the education officer to the schools subcommittee: There is little doubt that the increased charges … will result in a massive switch by parents from the purchase of school meals to the provision of sandwiches. The report then discusses the possibility of charging pupils to eat sandwiches, and states: Four pence per sandwich eater per day … would bring in … £200,000 per annum'. In the end the sub-committee decided not to do that, and I quote its reasons: However, there would be 'consumer resistance' which would be likely to take one of two forms. Either the children would leave the school to consume their sandwiches or buy refreshments off school premises. This may be thought undesirable particularly for younger children and if an accident were to befall such a child because of the unwillingness to pay a charge for eating sandwiches the authority would incur considerable criticism. Alternatively, the pupils would eat their sandwiches surreptitiously in different parts of the school leaving crumbs and other remains. This would prove a health hazard as indeed has proved the case in at least one school where such practices went undetected for a period. We must be in a desperate situation if local authorities and education committees are having to discuss that sort of business for the sake of a source of money.

Those discussions are taking place, but it seems that there is enough money to allocate to subsidise the private sector of education. The main purpose of the Bill is not to help poorer children. It is to put money into the pockets of ex-direct grant schools that are in financial difficulties. I suspect that I know why the Minister has delayed bringing the provisions into effect until 1981. There is no great demand at the moment, but the cuts that he is making in the State education system will so reduce standards that there will be a demand by 1981.

This is a disgraceful Bill. Its effects will be threefold. First, it will make the poor poorer by widening the poverty trap. Low-paid workers will be faced with bills of £6, £8 or £10 per week. Secondly, it will increase privilege in education. Thirdly, it will inevitably reduce standards in State schools.

Side by side with that, the capitation fee is having a serious effect upon the provision of school books. In my area the Tories have an answer to that problem. One of them issued a statement in which he admitted that provision of school books was a problem, but said that it was up to parent-teacher associations to get together to raise money for books. I thought that parent-teacher associations raised money for extras which schools could not afford. What will be the next stage? The Government will say that a school cannot have a teacher unless the parent-teacher association can raise enough money to pay his salary. We are reaching that stage in our State schools. Inevitably, there will be a reduction in standards. I believe that the Bill was deliberately designed to do that.

7.19 p.m.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield)

I shall be brief and I shall heed the instruction to speak for less than 10 minutes.

I am amazed that the hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. Mitchell) should waste so much of his speech talking about school meals. Parents are interested in the standard of education, the standard of teachers, the standard of facilities and the provision of school books and other vital equipment. My right hon, and learned Friend has his priorities right. It is no longer tolerable for the Department of Education and Science to find sums in excess of £400 million a year for the cost of school meals. The vast majority of parents can make that necessary sacrifice and provide the funds to pay proper fees for school meals.

I say to the hon. Member for Itchen and other hon. Members who have spoken from the Opposition Benches that I believe that when parents bring a child into the world it is their responsibility to feed it, and not the responsibility of the education service. If there is a need to help those on low incomes and single parent families, the provision of such funds should come from a separate budget provided by the Department of Health and Social Security. I remind Opposition Members that provision is made within the Bill to ensure that those on low income and family income supplement are assisted by education authorities.

The hon. Member for Wood Green (Mr. Race) is gesticulating from a sedentary position. He represents too often a public service union and not his constituents. I believe that parents are sufficiently responsible to know where proper priorities lie. I commend the Bill.

I represent a constituency which is both urban and rural. I am happy to say that the problems of transport are being grasped by the Government, whereas the previous Government failed to do so. The provisions in the Bill are designed to give local authorities discretion in how they provide school transport for the children in their area. Where a local education authority has given a categorical assurance—perhaps even a promise—to certain rural communities that where schools have been closed and pupils transferred to one new school free transport will be available, I want my right hon, and learned Friend to give an assurance that the local authority will honour the commitment, unless there is an overwhelming view expressed in the area that such a commitment can be disregarded.

The hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) has advanced a valid argument. There will be some heated debate on these matters in rural areas. However, I do not believe that my right hon. and learned Friend or local education authorities will seek to make massive cuts in school transport. I represent a constituency in Cheshire. If the education authority seeks to meet Members of Parliament from the area that it serves, I shall discuss the matter with it.

I am sorry that the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed is not in the Chamber, as I should have liked him to hear some of my remarks. The hon. Gentleman's mother lives in my constituency. I know her well. The hon. Gentleman went to the King's school in my constituency. Perhaps his ability to deliver articulate speeches of the type that he delivered this evening arose as a result of the excellent education that he received at that school.

The King's school, which for many years has co-operated with the Cheshire education authority, welcomes the assisted places scheme that features so well in the Bill. The headmaster wishes once again to offer places to children from deprived families in my constituency so that they may benefit, as in the past, from the excellent academic education and atmosphere that is provided in the school.

I ask my right hon, and learned Friend to disregard some of the humbug that has been uttered from the Opposition Benches. I can assure him that there are many good schools that have provided an excellent education. I say to the hon. Member for Itchen that children from deprived backgrounds deserve the best education that we can give them, whether it lies within the maintained sector or the private sector.

The King's school, as a result of the 1976 Act, that pernicious piece of Socialist legislation, was forced to go independent. I regret that. For many years the school had worked closely with the Cheshire education authority. It has provided an excellent education for children from all walks of life in my constituency.

The assisted places scheme, which is modest in its scope, in the first year of operation—1981–82—will cost as little as £8 million. Over seven years it will work up to the full estimated cost of £55 million. The King's school will yet again be able to offer the sort of education that certain children from deprived backgrounds need to develop the best of their talent and potential.

My right hon and learned Friend has grasped the nettle. I support this courageous and brave Bill. My right hon, and learned Friend will have the support of his hon. Friends. He will also have the overwhelming support of parents, who are genuinely interested in standards of education.

In an intervention I took some exception to the remarks made by the right hon. Member for Durham, North-West (Mr. Armstrong), for whom I have considerable respect. I believe that he did a disservice to himself and his reputation when he implied that Conservative Members have little knowledge of the maintained sector. That is utterly wrong.

In an excellent maiden speech, my hon. Friend the Member for The Wrekin (Mr. Hawksley) indicated that he had served as a member of a county education committee and had been a member of a county council. My hon. Friend said that he took an active interest in education. I added in my intervention that for a number of years I had been active in local government and that I had become deputy chairman of an education committee. I served on all the managing and governing bodies in my constituency. My attendence record was about 95 per cent. I took a genuine interest.

My right hon, and learned Friend has a genuine and positive interest in the education of young people. He has my support, and I am sure that he has the support of most reasonable and responsible people.

7.27 p.m.

Mr. David Stoddart (Swindon)

The hon. Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton) was up to his usual standard. He usually waxes most eloquent and is most enthusiastic about the most reactionary measures that come before the House, and tonight has been no exception.

Undoubtedly the Bill is a reactionary measure. It is a class-biased Bill which, far from increasing education opportunities, will remove them. It is intolerable that in the same Bill that deprives ordinary working-class children of assistance with transport costs and meals we find proposals that must give additional education privilege to the very section of the community that already has it. That is exactly what the scheme means.

Few children from poor families will benefit from the assisted places scheme. Perhaps hundreds of thousands will suffer deprivation through the savage cuts that will be made in transport to schools, school meals costs, and education provision generally. If we want to give every child a proper opportunity, as most of us do, there is only one way of doing so, and that is not by creaming children off from one school to another. The answer is to ensure that all schools are of the same degree of excellence. To deprive comprehensive schools within the State system of £55 million or £65 million will do the reverse. The Bill is class biased. It is a reactionary measure and I am sorry that it has been brought forward.

The Government are all too fond of saying that they have a mandate for their policies. The Tories neither sought nor obtained a mandate for the measures contained in the Bill. Had they told parents at the general election that they would pay higher school meal charges, or have their children deprived of school meals; had they told parents that they would have to pay more for the cost of sending their children to school; had they said that the public would pay trebled prescription charges and that VAT was to be doubled, it would have been a different matter, but they cannot say, from the Treasury Bench, that they have a mandate for anything, let alone the Bill.

The Tory Party perpetrated a cruel and cynical deception on the British people at the last general election. This Bill and the other measures that they have brought forward expose that deceit and portray the cynical attitude of Tory Members towards openness in politics and government.

Sir John Eden

In his opening remarks the hon. Member placed great emphasis on the fact that the Bill was biased in favour of or against certain classes. Which class does the Bill favour, and how does it do that?

Mr. Stoddart

It would take a lot of time to deal with that subject. If the right hon. Member does not know the answer he has wasted his time in the House. We have spent a lot of time telling him that certainly the professional classes will do very well out of the assisted places scheme, while the poorer classes will not.

Mrs. Kellett-Bowman


Mr. Stoddart

For the simple reason that the professional classes will know how to go about it while the people from working-class homes will not.

Mr. Gummer


Sir John Eden

Will the hon. Member give way again?

Mr. Stoddart

There is no time to give way.

Sir J. Eden

But the hon. Member not answer the question.

Mr. Stoddart

I am not able to give way, because I have to comply with the 10-mintne rule.

Sir J. Eden

But the hon. Member has not answered the question.

Mr. Stoddart

It is no good the right hon. Gentleman raving. He is on a bad wicket and he ought to shut up about it.

Sir J. Eden

Answer the question.

Mr. Stoddart

We in the Labour Party and the trade union movement are not the only ones to deplore the Government's attack on education, not only through the Bill but through the cuts that have already been made. In Wiltshire the chairman of the education committee, being unable to countenance the cuts that were forced on his committee by the county council—cuts amounting to £6.5 million over the next three years—resigned as the chairman of the committee and resigned also from the county council. When he resigned he said that: A child who is denied adequate education today may suffer irreparable deprivation for life. So if the Tories will not take it from me they had better take it from one of their own who could stand them no longer. The man had sufficient honesty and honour to resign his post.

The finance and general purposes committee, on 17 September, resolved to point out, in the strongest terms possible to the County Council that if the measures proposed are put into operation in this and subsequent years there will be a definite lowering of the quality of education in this country. It is not, therefore, the Labour Party and the trade union movement alone that are telling the Conservative Party that the measures proposed in the Bill will injure education. Their own supporters in the country are doing that—not ordinary voters but people who are in a position of authority, in a position to know. These people are warning the Tory Party that it is on the wrong road. The Bill takes us another step along that road. I urge my right hon, and hon. Friends to vote against the Bill tonight, and I sincerely hope that those who have a care for education and the honesty to admit that this Bill will harm education will join us in our Lobby.

7.34 p.m.

Mr. Norman Miscampbell (Blackpool, North)

By the rules of the House and also by choice, my contribution must be a short one.

I do not suppose that anyone, least of all the Secretary of State, welcomes the introduction of a Bill the main aim and drive of which is to facilitate cuts. In so far as it does that and gives local authorities the chance and choice of making those cuts, it can reluctantly be welcomed.

I only hope that other authorities do as well as Lancashire appears to have done in its choice of cuts. It has managed to continue with its nursery schemes, albeit without an increase in the number of places, but equally without having to sacrifice one place. We have increased the number of teachers. We had hoped to have an extra 20 for special schools; there will be only 10 extra. In Lancashire we have managed to achieve a great deal of what needs to be done by postponement. Of course, postponement cannot go on for ever, although the damage can perhaps be contained. In so far as we have succeeded in doing that, the Bill can be accepted, albeit reluctantly. There have been times tonight when I have felt that there has been a reluctance in some parts of the House to face the need for cuts.

I want to confine myself to one part of the Bill, a part to which I have never concealed my opposition. I have continually told my right hon, and learned Friend the Secretary of State that I thought that we were wrong to make this choice. I am referring to the proposals in clauses 17 and 18.

I do not believe that these proposals would ever have seen the light of day had my right hon. Friends appreciated, when they conceived them, the nature and size of the cuts that we have to face. I am sorry, in the face of the necessities that confront us at the moment, that we have persisted with them. However, I speak against those clauses not in terms of privilege or choice but purely on educational grounds.

I have discussed this matter with headmasters of schools in my town and with education authorities. Why are they almost universally opposed to the proposals? The reasons are simple. In many cases it is not that they are opposed to the Conservative Party. They are against these provisions because of the effect that they can have on the education not of the few bright children who will go but of those who will be left behind in the schools. That is where the crunch comes.

The Secretary of State said that, at most, the independent schools would take 1 or 2 per cent, of pupils. How many bright children do people think there are? One or 2 per cent, of the bright children at the Pimlico comprehensive down the road represents 25 or 30 bright children being taken out of the school. I defy anybody to say that taking that number of bright children will do anything other than change the quality of education for those who remain.

The next point that must be weighed is that the teachers themselves will resent the fact that the bright children will go. Thank heaven, some teachers enjoy teaching the dullards. Others find their stimulation in teaching the bright and the brightest. If the bright and the brightest are to be taken from them, will it be surprising that they either resent it or follow them? As a barrister one would find one's professional card rather undistinguished if one were marked "All right for Preston Crown court but no good for the Court of Appeal." In a sense that is what we are doing about teachers.

Lastly, I believe that the clauses are wrong from our party's point of view, for good reasons. I believe that there is a problem, which is ignored at times, of bright children in certain catchment areas. If that problem exists we should solve it by selectivity. That is right at the heart of everything that we have been saying.

There is no reason to have a change in Blackpool. We went comprehensive 10 years ago. The bright child can go straight through, get to the sixth form college and go to university. The proposals are a total waste of money in Blackpool and in vast areas of the country.

If there is a problem, the money should be used where it is needed. There should be local choice. Sometimes local choice goes against what I would advocate. None the less, I believe that our party is right to say that there should be local choice. There is no local choice in this scheme. What is so interesting is that the very areas that have struck out so persistently and retained their grammar schools are the ones that ought to be most adamantly opposed to this proposal, because it will be straight from their maintained grammar schools that the bright ones will be taken. There will be trouble when it is understood that some people are being crammed or that there is a primary school that is edging its way towards getting results. People will then say that the whole thing is unfair.

It seems to me that there is an entirely respectable Conservative position with regard to education broadly. We should say that we will defend the right of people to educate their children privately if they wish, and will defend it as a principle. I do not believe that the acceptance of public money for private places will help that in the least. We should say that local authorities should be given the freedom to choose, even though in some cases—as in my own case—they would make choices that were not the choice that Blackpool, with an overwhelming Tory majority, made 10 years ago.

We should at the same time make absolutely plain that we will support and encourage that section of our educational establishment to which 85 per cent, of our children go. Because this proposal does none of those three things I think that it is wrong and that we should change our minds.

7.42 p.m.

Mr. Kevin McNamara (Kingston upon Hull, Central)

I trust that the hon, and learned Member for Blackpool, North (Mr. Miscampbell) will forgive me if I do not follow his argument, although I respect him most profoundly. It takes great courage to speak to one's own Front Bench in the way that he has done.

I do not wish to make a party political speech on the Bill although, like many of my right hon, and hon. Friends, I am incensed about a lot of its contents. I want to turn to something which I and many other people in this country thought had disappeared from the realm of political controversy. I refer to the position of religious schools, denominational schools, and the dual system of education.

When the 1944 Bill was going through the House the then Mr. Butler, who gave his name to the measure, and Mr. Chuter Ede, who was speaking for the then Labour Opposition, referred, on the question of school transport, to the position of the denominational schools. It was recognised that the 1944 settlement, and in particular the provision on transport, would take denominational schools out of the realm of political controversy. It was felt that leaving the control of this question under central Government would also remove it as a contentious issue in areas in which, for example, "Rome on the rates" had been a rallying cry, just as there had been many other battles over religious education in the past.

The denominational schools, and certainly the Catholic hierarchy, regard the provisions in the Bill as the most grievous blow and threat to the provision of Church schools that they have faced since the war, and certainly since the 1944 settlement. It is no exaggeration to say that.

I listened very carefully to the Secretary of State's apologia for charging for transport in the case of denominational schools. He said, in particular, that we were to share the misery with people who had sent their children to the county school that was beyond the three-mile limit. I found that a very strange and a very shallow sort of argument. I found it strange because we should not justify one person's misery by citing another person's misery. I found it strange because it failed to recognise the inequity of the taxation and extra burden being put upon the ordinary citizen whose children do not go to a denominational school but who happens to live outside the three-mile area. It failed to recognise the principle of equality of treatment.

I know that it is very easy for the Secretary of State to talk about the anomalies arising from the fact that there are children who live 2.9 miles from a school and others who live 3.1 miles from a school. We accept that lines have to be drawn somewhere. The fact of the three-mile line has been generally recognised.

The position of the denominational school is on a par with that of the village school. The hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) spoke about children going into cities and towns. My argument is on a far stronger basis than that. Although the Secretary of State said that many local authorities, in their largesse, gave more than they were required to give, and that sometimes the nearest appropriate school was not the Catholic school or other denominational school, the point is that the whole spirit of the 1944 Act in respect of denominational schools was related to free transport. That was the whole point of it.

In my own constituency over 50 per cent, of the children at the schools—some of my children attend them—travel over three miles on free school buses, and pass appropriate county secondary schools. Some even live on the doorsteps of appropriate schools. Under this provision, they could well lose the facility of free transport if it is at the discretion of the local authority.

The Catholic schools and the denominational schools accepted the reorganisation under the 1944 Act because the choice of the siting of schools was based upon the principle that they would have free transport. That free transport has now gone.

I mentioned my own constituency. Let me now take some of the most startling examples, such as St. Bede's school at Lanchester, and St. Peter's school, at Doncaster, where 93 per cent, of the children use free transport. If those free passes go, whether there is a standard charge by a local authority or whether the local authority, using its discretion, gives no help at all, the viability of such schools and the choice of the parents will be severely limited. I am very concerned about that aspect.

It is not only in the North that these problems arise. They arise also in the good, solid, Tory South. At St. Paul's school, Haywards Heath, 75 per cent, of the Catholic school population travel on free public transport. At St. Richard's, Bexhill, the figure is 61 per cent., at St. John's, Woking, it is 60.9 per cent.

In the diocese of Plymouth—a good Tory area£43 per cent, of the children of Catholic schools use free public transport. In the diocese of Arundel and Brighton, 50 per cent, of the Catholic school population use free public transport.

The same sort of case can be made on behalf of the children attending Church of England and other denominational schools.

We think, therefore, that we are entitled to argue that the siting of schools such as St. Peter's, Doncaster, and St. Paul's, Haywards Heath, was not necessarily decided on the basis of where the largest Catholic population happened to be at the particular time. It was decided on the basis of the best transport network. The schools at Doncaster, Lanchester and Bishop Auckland are all in exactly that position. The Government are going back on the spirit of the undertaking given in the Education Act 1944.

This is a matter of considerable public concern. There will be an extra charge upon parents and upon the communities generally. These are people whose choice of a district was related to the availability of free public transport. Whether the children of such people are in denominational schools or county schools does not matter. They took sensible decisions on the basis of the undertakings that they were given. Against the background of falling rolls, and with parents having to pay extra taxation, they will be in a very difficult position indeed.

I am told that when representations were made to the Secretary of State he said "Of course, at the time of the 1944 Act you got barely 50 per cent, of your school costs and now you get 85 per cent." With many hon. Members, I sat here and watched successive Front Benchers preening themselves as they increased the amount to 70 per cent., 80 per cent, and 85 per cent, for school building. Was there ever any suggestion at any time that there would be a reduction in free public transport? Would the siting of these schools ever have been made in those circumstances?

Mr. Stanley Cohen (Leeds, South-East)

Does my hon. Friend agree that in the light of the drop in population it is expected that by 1980 the school population will be one-third less than it is at present? That will inevitably mean that schools will be closed and that those remaining will be greater distances apart. This is bound to affect travelling distances.

Mr. McNamara

Yes, I agree. My hon. Friend has made a powerful point which will affect Church and denominational schools as much as any others. I sometimes wonder whether Conservative Members who are so keen to rush to defend this provision, on hearing that an Eastern Communist Government were removing free travel to school in order to save revenue—thus preventing children from attending Church schools—would not attack such a measure as an evil Marxist scheme meant to subvert religious education and undermine parental rights. Basically, that is what is happening to religious communities in this country, who with successive Governments have adhered to the education policy of the day and have sought merely to maintain their schools and keep them out of political controversy.

In fact, the right hon, and learned Gentleman and the Government are reintroducing that controversy. The complaints will not stop here. They will be voiced by parents throughout the whole country, both North and South, who feel that they have been betrayed. Whatever else they voted for, and whichever party they supported, they did not wish to see their schools close. For people of my religion, these schools were something that we fought for and cherished. They are part of our tradition. We want to see them maintained; we do not want to see them sacrificed in this way.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman has had more than 10 minutes.

7.52 p.m.

Mr. Peter Griffiths (Portsmouth, North)

I do not have the honour and opportunity of making a maiden speech this evening, but, despite the fact that I have only 10 minutes, it would be remiss of me if I did not commend the interests of the city of Portsmouth since I now have the honour to represent the northern section. I should also like to remind the House of the long and distinguished service of my predecessor, Mr. Frank Judd, who was Member for both Portsmouth, West and Portsmouth, North over a period of years, during which time he was called to high office.

The city of Portsmouth, although situated in the county of Hampshire, has many of the social and economic problems that link it more closely with the great urban areas of the north than with the rural south. There is no doubt at all that for that reason hon. Members may regard the experience that I bring to the debate as particularly relevant, since it has already been suggested that to some extent at least hon. Members should show that they have practical experience in education.

I have taught in the public sector of education for 30 years. I am still teaching in it; and, therefore, my experience is up to date. In addition, I have served in local government for more than 11 years, and have been chairman of an education committee which had the unusual distinction of removing the 11-plus examination. It was one of the first county boroughs to introduce such a proposal. I mention that as the basic qualification for my contribution this evening.

The long period that I have spent in education, as well as the fact that I am a parent, means that my commitment to education is no less sincere or deep than that of Labour Members. Nevertheless, I realise that, no matter how strongly we may believe in a particular social service, the depth of our belief does not mean that the laws of economics are suspended. The fact is that during the last election the Conservative Party campaigned on a programme of public expenditure cuts in every area except the police force and defence. There was no suggestion, as far as I am aware, that there would be specific exceptions. This was made perfectly clear to the electorate of the city of Portsmouth before they cast their votes.

Earlier we heard about the link between the quality of education and resources. I agree that there is a link between the two, but it is not direct and absolute. It is not necessary to spend more money in order to improve education. It may well be that reductions in expenditure can be accompanied by wise economies. It is not simply a case that more money means better education. Had that been so, we would have seen gradually improving education over the years since 1945. Many of us would not agree that that has occurred in proportion to the amount of money spent.

There are ways of improving education—for example, by making parents better informed. Much of the debate has centred around certain points in the Bill that are particularly controversial, but others ought to be brought out as well. I welcome the fact that in future all schools will be required to produce a prospectus. This is something that independent schools have had to do in order to draw the attention of parents to their existence and qualities. It will be an excellent thing when in a city such as Portsmouth and other areas—where the choice is basically between comprehensive schools—the particular strengths and qualities of those schools are drawn to the attention of parents so that they may make an intelligent choice between schools which are of a similar nature but which, because of the composition of staff, the interests of head teachers and traditions, will have different qualities.

My second point relates to the provision of school meals. I was a headmaster for some years. One of the most difficult areas to administer—I am sure that many head teachers will agree—was that of school meals. For example, we had to make provision in inadequate buildings for where children would eat, where the meals would be kept warm in cold weather and what was to happen to the children if members of staff were ill. There was a need for members of staff to supervise, and so on. This was always a highly controversial matter, and it always represented a great difficulty to members of staff.

I believe that it was probably a fundamental mistake to link school meals directly with the education budget and the education service. If anything, schools meals are a social service and should be funded and staffed from outside education. The advantage which many independent schools offer in this regard is that while providing a cooked meal they also encourage children to bring their own food, thus offering a choice. I hope that State schools will follow that pattern and will allow a choice of meal for children attending schools in the State sector.

I turn to the question of assisted places, which I welcome wholeheartedly. Here I disagree with my hon and learned Friend the Member for Blackpool, North (Mr. Miscampbell), who suggested that a disservice would be done by taking pupils from the State sector into the independent sector. We can regard that as an investment in the future. Certain children by their very nature are academically minded and wish to obtain the kind of education which their parents sincerely and honestly believe is offered in those schools.

It is not fair to say that we offer that choice to all parents. At present it is not open to those who cannot afford to pay. The Bill has been called class biased. Of course it is. It is biased in favour of poor parents. No professional person will be able to get his child into an independent school under the scheme because there will be a means test, and only poor parents will benefit. I have seen many parents of relatively modest means struggling to pay fees at independent schools, and in a city like Portsmouth there are few rich people. I believe that these people deserve our help.

There is a particular problem for pupils who entered these schools since the direct grant system ended. They have paid full fees. When they reach the point of entering the sixth form they may leave school because of their age, and I suggest that there is a need for special consideration to be given to parents of those children. It may be necessary to supplement those newly entering secondary education with special provision for those moving on to the sixth form.

I find the remaining provisions for assisted places entirely acceptable. Many parents in my constituency and, I am sure, throughout the country will be whole heartedly behind the Minister in bringing forward this excellent measure of educational reform.

8.2 p.m.

Mr. Jim Marshall (Leicester, South)

The passage of time has not in any way increased the liberalism of outlook of the hon. Member for Portsmouth, North (Mr. Griffiths).

My hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, Central (Mr. McNamara) made a non-political speech on behalf of the Catholics of the United Kingdom. I also congratulate the hon, and learned Member for Blackpool, North (Mr. Miscampbell) on taking a liberal stand on education. He pointed out that he was not prepared to accept the Bill, and his comments were similar to those of my hon. Friend the Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Kinnock) although they differed on the question of maintaining private education. I am sure that if the hon, and learned Gentleman is able to get on to the Committee—and as a former Whip that is probably unlikely—he will be a great asset to my hon. Friends and myself.

We do not oppose everything in the Bill. Many clauses derive from the Labour Government's Bill. We welcome such enlightened measures as those dealing with industrial scholarships, grants for the teaching of Welsh, and the arrangements for nursery teachers in day nurseries.

However, the primary purpose of the Bill is not to enhance the quality of education or to increase access to it. It is a continuation of the redistributive taxation policies outlined in the Budget in May. Schoolchildren will lose free school meals and will have to pay for transport, so that the better off can have their tax cuts. That is the essential policy behind the Bill. In addition, it enshrines choice and privilege for the few at the expense of the less well off. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Swindon (Mr. Stoddart) that it is a squalid Bill as well as being class ridden.

The public sector is under attack. The number of teachers will be reduced and schools will be closed. The provision of textbooks is insufficient. It is nauseating that at such a time the Secretary of State should take pleasure in introducing the assisted places scheme. It is sheer hogwash and hypocrisy to pretend that the eventual £55 million required to operate the scheme will not be found at the expense of the public sector. If the Secretary of State is prepared to go to the State for the £55 million for the assisted places, why does he not do so for the £30 million that is to be withdrawn from school transport?

Mr. Tristan Garel-Jones (Watford)

It is not being withdrawn.

Mr. Marshall

The Secretary of State for the Environment said that wage increases next year will not be allowed to go through the roof. The hon. Member for Watford (Mr. Garel-Jones) cannot be so ridiculous as to believe that that money will not be saved by local authority cuts.

Mrs. Kellett-Bowman

It simply does not follow.

Mr. Marshall

The hon. Member for Lancaster (Mrs. Kellett-Bowman) is perhaps spending so much time in Europe that she is unaware of politics in this country.

Mrs. Kellett-Bowman

The hon. Gentleman does not appear to have read the Bill.

Mr. Marshall

The Bill removes the duty to provide. The hon. Lady is assuming that local authorities will continue to do so.

Mrs. Kellett-Bowman

That is exactly what it does not do. The hon. Gentleman should read it again.

Mr. Marshall

The hon. Lady appears to be assuming that local authorities will continue to provide the service at the same level of charge. If that is not so, is she prepared to say at what level?

Mrs. Kellett-Bowman

In his estimates the Secretary of State is assuming the same expenditure next year as this.

Mr. Marshall


Mrs. Kellett-Bowman

The increase next year would have been £130 million. The Secretary of State is assuming £100 million. My point is that at present it is grossly unfair that people living just within the three-mile limit get absolutely no help. Everyone agrees that the three-mile limit is grossly unfair. The hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) assumed that, if a flat rate was introduced, there would be no Government funding whatever. That is simply not the case. It could be a moderate amount, and it would be a great lightening of the burden on many unemployed parents.

Mr. Marshall

The hon. Lady abuses the privilege that I extended to her by permitting her to intervene.

Mrs. Kellett-Bowman

I did not ask the hon. Gentleman to sit down.

Mr. Marshall

It is hypocrisy to say that the money will not be found at the expense of the public sector. The £55 million will go to the private schools and will give a fillip to the bastions of privilege. We are opposed to that.

The abolition of the duty to provide meals of a given nutritional standard at a set price will have serious implications. It will have an effect on the nutritional well-being of children and on family budgets.

The Secretary of State is probably aware that the DHSS recently sponsored a survey on children who are receiving free school meals. That survey showed that the free school meals are going to the right group of children and that withdrawal might prejudice their future development. That fact has not been made up by the Parliamentary Labour Party or the Labour Party but is the result of an independent survey commissioned by the DHSS.

The proposals will withdraw the right to obtain free school meals from at least 500,000 school children. If that happens, the Secretary of State places at risk, in view of increased charges, the nutritional well-being of those children. If the local authorities do not maintain high enough nutritional values, he could be placing at risk the other 600,000 children who continue to qualify for the free meals. The right hon. and learned Gentleman could well carry on his conscience the adverse effects upon the nutritional well-being of today's young school children for the rest of his life. That is too high a price to pay for the Tory incentive society.

My hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. Mitchell) referred to the effects on the family budget of the increase in school meal charges. Most objective assessments agree that in about 12 months' time the average price of a school meal will be between 60p and 70p. I see that the Secretary of State looks rather astonished. Perhaps his Department has its own estimates which the pterodactyl—the hon. Member for Brent, North (Dr Boyson)—can provide the House with when he winds up the debate.

Mr. Mark Carlisle

The hon. Gentleman gave his estimate with such confidence. What is the basis of his figures?

Mr. Marshall

The Child Poverty Action Group, which I regard as an independent assessor in the circumstances. Leicestershire county council has introduced schemes in six of its schools. It issues to children in receipt of free school meals 45p vouchers. I imagine that the minimum meal that they can obtain of sufficient nutritional value will cost at least 10p or 15p more this time next year. Families will have to pay 60p to 70p a week more per child.

I realise that the Chair is becoming restless. This is the first time that I have been released from the Whips' office and I am rather unhappy to be subjected to the 10-minute rule. The Bill is a continuation—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The hon. Member has already spoken for over 10 minutes.

8.13 p.m.

Mr. Malcolm Thornton (Liverpool, Garston)

First, I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for The Wrekin (Mr. Hawksley) on his maiden speech. I am fortunate in joining him as someone who can claim to have direct experience of this subject through local authority associations and my former membership of a local authority. He showed not only his understanding of the problem but how responsible authorities can use the Bill and react responsibly to the cuts in expenditure that are proposed by the Government.

The Bill is to be welcomed. It gives a greater degree of parental participation, it provides an opportunity for parental choice within realistic limits and it goes further than the Bill that was introduced by Mrs. Shirley Williams, the former Secretary of State, in treating local education authorities as responsible and accountable bodies. It sets out the important manifesto commitment to introduce an assisted places scheme, a scheme that is widely desired by so many of the electorate. Why a manifesto commitment? Why parental support? It is a reaction to the lowered standards and the lack of opportunities for academically bright children to achieve their full potential in some of the schools that have emerged in the past decade or so.

This proposal, more than any other, has provoked a hysterical outburst from Opposition Members and a torrent of deliberate distortions of both financial and educational effects. One wonders whether Opposition Members understand it. It has been said that men reason to strengthen their own prejudices and not to disturb their adversaries' convictions. We have heard much prejudice this afternoon but precious little reason.

The assisted places scheme is expected to give priority to children in inner urban areas. It will not start until September 1981. In the first year it will cost between £5 million and £6 million. That will gradually rise over six years, at today's constant prices, to between £55 million and £60 million. That is a small price to pay for the opportunities that can be offered. Labour Members would have us believe that it is to the advantage of the chosen few. Areas of Birkenhead and Liverpool can hardly be called the balmier places of the country. However, there are many parents in those areas who, prior to the destruction of the direct grant schools, could see their children enjoy the academic opportunities that they offered. Those parents welcome the opportunity that will be afforded by the assisted places scheme.

I must sound a note of caution. However desirable the proposals for increased parental and teacher representation, for the publication of extensive information concerning schools, for the setting up of appeals panels and for discretion on charges, all those things will inevitably increase the cost to local authorities at a time when they are rightly being asked to scrutinise and contain their expenditure. Many authorities, particularly those which have been prudent in the past, will find that the extra financial burden will cause real problems for the basic education service if it is imposed immediately. Some provision should be made in Committee for a specified period over which local education authorities, in line with their own priorities, can implement the proposals. Where cuts are required in the education budget, it is not just for the local education authorities to make the cuts. The authorities at Elizabeth House would do well to examine their own administrative procedures and requirements.

All the Welsh eloquence and oratory of the hon. Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Kinnock) cannot disguise his total lack of any educational argument to cloak his fear that the measures pursued by the Government will expose the havoc that previous Socialist Administrations have wreaked upon the educational standards of the country. For him to say that the public fail to understand our policies is to treat the public with the same cavalier disregard that his party has treated the future of so many of our children.

8.18 p.m.

Mr. Dennis Canavan (West Stirling-shire)

I intend to confine most of my remarks to those aspects of the Bill which affect Scotland, and I say at the outset that if the Bill ever becomes law it may go down in history as the Tory Party's cynical contribution to the International Year of the Child. Instead of responding to the real needs of children, especially deprived children, the Tories are depriving those children even more by taking away their legal rights to transport to and from school, and to school meals and milk. In a sense, history is partially repeating itself. In a previous incarnation, the Prime Minister became known to many people as "Thatcher the Milk Snatcher"; and there are still many people, especially children, in my constituency and elsewhere who think of her in those terms. But now she is not just satisfied with removing the legal rights of children to school milk. She is also removing their legal rights to school meals and transport.

Reference has already been made to the indecent haste with which this legislation has been brought before the House. Let me give details of what took place in Scotland. On 2 October, a letter went out from the Scottish Education Department to the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities saying: I must ask that any comments should reach me within the next two weeks, if at all possible. I should be grateful if you would treat the details of the proposals as confidential until they are laid before Parliment. I thought that it was a piece of brass neck to expect the local authorities to respond constructively in such a short period of time to proposals of such importance to the children in their schools.

Accordingly, I wrote to the Secretary of State for Scotland in the following terms: The document asks that details of the proposals be kept confidential until they are laid before Parliament. This to my mind is an insult not only to Parliament but to the general public. The people and their elected representatives are entitled to know now what plans the Government is considering to reduce the legal rights of their children. A few days later, at alarming speed for the Scottish Office, I received a letter dated 26 October saying: It is normal practice for the Government to consult interested parties in general terms about proposals for legislation before reaching final views on details of the legislation. The fact that this is done in confidence, far from being an insult to Parliament, is a recognition that it would be a breach of Parliamentary privilege to publish even preliminary Government proposals for legislation before Parliament had considered the matter. The letter was signed by the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland who is responsible for education, industry, sport and the arts in Scotland, and he is making a mess of them all. Now he is starting to take responsibility for telling hon. Members on the Back Benches exactly what is and what is not a breach of parliamentary privilege. The hon. Gentleman's reply to my letter was absolute humbug. If it were taken literally, it would mean that the publication of any circular, consultative document, or Green Paper even, would be a breach of parliamentary privilege.

This Bill is turning back the clock in the history of Scottish education. The removal of the statutory obligation to provide meals and milk will deprive many children in terms of their standard of health and education. It is children in areas of multiple deprivation who will suffer most of all. The statistics which the Secretary of State gave me show that 430,000 pupils in Scotland receive school meals and that 30 per cent. of them receive free school meals. In other words, 30 per cent. of these children come from low-income families.

Similarly, the removal of the statutory obligation to provide transport could result in a tendency to absenteeism. There might be an effect on the attendance rate of pupils, especially those from poor-income homes. We have heard a good deal about rural areas. But let no one think that all rural areas are represented in this House by Tory Members. Most of my constituency is a rural area. I think of the secondary schools in my constituency. Almost all of them have catchment areas with a radius of more than three miles. I have in mind such schools as Balfron high school, Bannockburn high school, Denny high school, and Kilsyth academy. Some of the children from such places as Fallin have to travel into Stirling to go to the Wallace high school. There is a special problem, too, for pupils attending Catholic schools. There is no Catholic secondary school in my constituency. All Catholic children have to travel outside, either to St. Modan's high school in Stirling, St. Mungo's in Falkirk, St. Maurice's in Cumbernauld or St. Ninian's in Kirkintilloch. For some pupils this means a 30-miles-a-day round trip to get to and from school.

It makes me slightly sick when I hear Government supporters talking about freedom of choice. What they are doing is eroding what freedom already exists because for many families these proposals could result in an increase in the family budget of £3 per week per child.

Government supporters also talk about freedom for local authorities. What possible freedom can this Bill mean for a local authority when the Minister says that it should have the discretion to decide what to provide but that the Government will not supply it with the money with which to provide these essential services? The Government are cutting the amount of subsidy for meals and milk by about 50 per cent. The subsidy on transport is being cut in Scotland by at least £2 million a year.

I ask the Minister to bear in mind the effect on employment and the economy, bearing in mind that 170,000 people are employed in the school meals service alone. What about the drivers and conductresses on the school buses and the effect on the agricultural economy? Part of the reason why the last Labour Government took the very wise decision to restore free school milk to the over-sevens was that it made good sense to get rid of one of the many absurdities of the silly common agricultural policy. Instead of the milk going to surplus and to waste, it was given to children at school.

What exactly has the Minister in store for the future of Scottish education? There is an assisted places scheme proposed in this Bill for England and Wales which will cost £55 million. I understand that discussions have already taken place in Scotland with education chiefs about implementing a similar scheme. This to my mind shows that the Tories are completely out of touch with what is going on in Scottish education. More than 95 per cent. of Scotland's children are in the public sector of education. It may be that the Secretary of State for Scotland does not realise this. He is the Cabinet Minister with responsibility for education in Scotland. I noticed an article in the Glasgow Herald last July which referred to his home on the 1,000-acre family estate at Gargunnock, Stirlingshire, in my constituency. I happen to know that there is a nice wee school in Gargunnock at primary level and that there is a very good secondary school, Stirling high school, only a few miles away.

According to "Who's Who?", the Secretary of State decided that these schools were not good enough for him. He went to some unknown private school in Edinburgh and to another school called Winchester, which I believe is somewhere in England. The article continued: In the laird tradition the Youngers have all been educated at English public schools. Then the Secretary of State himself was quoted: I wanted the boys to go to Winchester because I do believe it gives the most marvellous start in life. At Winchester you are always able to be an individualist. In my day, despite all the general emphasis on excelling at sport, you could be a butterfly fancier at Winchester and still hold your head up high. It is about time that the Secretary of State got his head out of the clouds. It is about time that he flew back down to earth and, instead of looking after the butterflies, started looking after the interests of Scotland's schoolchildren who are his responsibility.

This Bill is an obscene publication. It is an attack on the rights of innocent children. It is an attack on their rights to decent educational standards. It is an attack on their rights to decent health standards. It is an attack on their very birthright. No civilised society would sacrifice its children in this way.

This is a barbaric Bill. I hope that some of the less barbaric among the barbarians on the Government Benches will come into the Division Lobby with Opposition Members and make sure that the Bill is defeated. It is one of the most reactionary pieces of legislation since the birth of the Welfare State.

8.28 p.m.

Mr. Selwyn Gummer (Eye)

As a "retread" Member, I feel a little like a male version of a married woman returner. I should like to start by saying how much my constituency misses the 27 years of representation of Sir Harwood Harrison, who had a distinguished war record and a distinguished record in the House. He took a life-long interest in defence and had a fine constituency record.

Following Sir Harwood will be difficult. In every one of the 200 villages in my overwhelmingly rural constituency there are many who remember with gratitude the work that he did on their behalf.

My constituency is one of those named after a town so small that few have heard of it—and we like to keep it that way. It is 600 square miles, stretching from Walberswick through Aldeburgh and Orford, back through the towns of Leiston and Stowmarket, to tiny villages, some with fewer than 60 or 70 electors.

The Bill is of great interest to my constituency. Despite the attempt of the hon. Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Kinnock) to show his rural knowledge by his interesting discussion of the habits of fat green frogs and tadpoles, I am still sure that his understanding of problems of rural areas does not come from knowledge; the problems are seen through the eyes of a dogmatist, and a Socialist dogmatist at that.

The Bill provides for parents a great deal more choice, by statute, than they have ever had. The Labour Party does not like that, for the reasons so clearly stated by the hon. Member for Dearne Valley (Mr. Wainwright), who said, in an intervention, that the proposals were disgraceful because not all parents would decide in the way that the bureaucrats would like them to decide and it would be more difficult to make arrangements for the children. Of course it will be more difficult. That is one good reason for the Bill.

There are parents throughout the country who want to choose. There are parents in my constituency living one mile from a school in Norfolk, but their children have to travel eight miles to a school in Suffolk. Those parents will be able to make the choice that they want to make. That must be a good thing. I hope that all those Labour Members who have suddenly got an attack of rural support will support that part of the Bill.

Why are Labour Members frightenea of local choice and the independence of local authorities? Democracy does not inhere only in the House. If we believe in democracy, we must accept that local authorities can deal with the concerns and needs of the children in their areas more effectively than we are able to do.

I am pleased that we are giving local authorities new powers. Let us realise how important that is. When the Labour Government implemented their cuts they did not give local authorities any independence. Every pound cut from the spending on education was cut off the education of children in the classroom—real education. The sacred cows—the parts that could not be touched—were reserved for a Socialist Secretary of State for Education.

When we have to cut, it is right to give local authorities the chance to make their choices in respect of the problems that they know about rather than to demand of them cuts in the real nature of education.

I agree with those who say that it is sad that cuts are necessary, but I have been fascinated to note that not a single Labour Member has addressed himself to the economic situation in which we find ourselves. Labour Members did not begin to argue from the point of how we pay the bills, but from what they would like to spend. That is a recipe for disaster in countries as well as in families. If we start from the point of saying what we would like to spend instead of from how much we have to spend, we shall not be able to make any provision for our families or our nation.

It is sad that our debate is taking place in the context of the hon. Member for Bedwellty's total refusal to face up to what his Government left behind, namely, spending decisions and bills to come, but none of the economic infrastructure to pay those bills. The Government must have as their first priority the task of creating the economic climate in which Britain can, at long last, take its place among the rich nations of the world. I want us again to be the richest instead of the second poorest nation within the European Community.

I understand the attacks on the problems of denominational schools. I am fascinated to hear how some people can suddenly change. As an Anglican and a member of the General Synod, I intend to make a list of those who will give support in the religious battles that we face. They include people who have never uttered a word in favour of Christian education during their time in this House until it has become politically advantageous. I exempt the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, Central (Mr. McNamara), who has a long and great reputation on issues about which some of his fellow Members have been extremely offensive. He has fought for his faith. But many who now cheer the denominational schools are those who have attacked denominational education in the past.

I warn the Minister that if the power of school transport is to be given to local authorities, as I believe it should, the battle for denominational education will go to the local authorities. There is no more determined battler than the Anglican or Roman Catholic fighting for his schools and his faith. Every local authority must realise that this power has been given to it. We will see that local authorities use it properly to ensure that our schools are retained and extended.

I wish to comment to the assisted places scheme. It is sad to see many people whose place in this House was founded upon the excellence of the academic education of the old grammar schools spending all their time attacking that excellence. If we are to provide some of the poorest of our disparate rural areas—areas where I have seen poverty that I never witnessed in the more trumpeted-about city areas that I have represented—with the opportunities that they ought to have, I believe that the assisted places system is necessary.

I have two caveats. They are direct and clear. I regret that the scheme is not organised through the local authorities rather than at Westminster. I want the local authorities to become real powers in their own land. I would have to see a change in the economic climate of our country before I would move in the direction of this scheme. It ought to be part of the growth of the nation rather than occurring at a time of cuts. Although the Bill must be supported, because most of it is excellent, one or two parts could well be tinkered with a little in Committee. I hope that the Secretary of State will give the assurances that we need.

Above all, I cannot believe that this House can approach the matter of education without first considering how we pay for it. Until the Opposition can propose one way in which they would have been able to foot the bill which they had left to us, they are in no position to speak with Welsh hwyl, from Bedwellty or no.

8.38 p.m.

Mr. Andrew F. Bennett (Stockport, North)

It is perhaps appropriate that we are debating this Bill on 5 November. It reminds us, as Northern Ireland did during the Stormont Government, that if a majority makes life too harsh and too intolerable it is easy to push a minority from peaceful dissent into violent dissent. For democracy to work the minority must feel that it is not being too harshly treated. This Bill goes beyond those limits. It is no exaggeration to say that as a result of the Bill children will be killed on the roads of this country. The first death will produce one or two people who will be prepared to take the law into their own hands. Soon, scores of people will be going down that avenue.

Far too many children are already killed while walking to or from school. At the moment most of the longest and most difficult journeys that children have to make to school are avoided because they are able to travel in transport provided free by the local authority. Once charges are introduced, and families are faced with bills or £5 or £6 a week in bus fares children will either walk further or start taking bicycles on to country lanes, which are often extremely hazardous. Either way, the risk of road accidents will rapidly increase.

A parent with a car taking three or four children to school will find it difficult to pass by other children walking substantial distances in bad weather. As a result, cars will be overcrowded. Parents taking children from farms might be hurrying to get back for milking. Again, accidents will increase. The cost of treating one or two of these long-term accident victims will be much more than we save. This provision will hit both those who want denominational education and, in many rural areas where the village school is Church of England, those who deliberately do not want it. There will be less choice rather than more.

If the removal of free transport will kill some children on the roads in the next few years, the effect of removing the school meals subsidy will be the same. More children will be nipping home at dinner time, particularly those with a long distance to travel. The sudden dash across the road to get home a little more quickly will also help to raise the number of accidents.

Already, when there is no adult to supervise them, some children go home to cook their own meals. I know of a child who used to go home at dinner time to cook himself chips. It is surely undesirable to allow a child of school age to use a chip pan unsupervised. Accident levels in the home or on the road will rise as a result of these provisions.

Less dramatic is the number of childdren who will go hungry. As a teacher for a long time, I know how difficult it was to get the attention of children who had not had an adequate breakfast. One would argue with them that they should get a proper breakfast—

Mrs. Peggy Fenner (Rochester and Chatham)

That is the parents' fault.

Mr. Bennett

But it was because the parents did not care and did not provide a proper breakfast that the teacher had the problem of the child who came to school hungry. If the school is now not to provide a dinner either, the task of the teacher will be that much harder; his and the school's resources will be wasted if the children are not well enough fed to concentrate.

This is bad economics. A large part of the cost of school meals is the capital cost of the canteens. I do not believe that the Government have thought what school canteens will be used for. The loan charges will have to be paid whether or not they are used. A large part of the money, of course, is for the payment of staff, and I agree that if the meals are reduced the staff can be cut to some extent. But in many schools, a minimum of staff will still have to be provided, and the cost of meals will go up. We shall have the reverse of economies of scale.

The Bill is totally dishonest. If the Government really believe in removing the transport and meals subsidies and in making parents pay for books, they should do so themselves rather than expect local authorities to take the unpleasant decisions and the blame for children dying on the roads.

The Government should consider the record of local authorities in using discretionary powers. When it comes to the provision of free school uniforms, the record is appalling. I went on many deputations to my own Government to plead with them to take that discretion away from local authorities and to introduce a national minimum standard. I know of many cases in which local authorities would not make decent provision for children in real hardship who needed school uniforms. They were battered between the social services and the local authority. Each said that the other was responsible, and the child ended up with no school uniform.

Local authorities also have an appalling record in providing discretionary awards that make it worth while for a student to stay on beyond the statutory school leaving age. In further education, discretionary awards produce anomaly after anomaly. If the Government could produce a few examples to show how giving local authorities that kind of discretion would produce higher standards, one or two Opposition Members might have some sympathy with the Bill.

The Government should look at the effect of the Bill on local democracy. I welcome the provision for children to go across the boundary, but it is possible that there will be children in the same classroom paying different prices for school meals. In Catholic or Jewish schools, where children travel substantial distances, the anomaly might arise that four different sets of children pay four different prices for their school meals because of the different decisions of local authorities. That would be a bureaucrat's dream, but it would not do much for local democracy.

There is much more in the Bill that I wish to criticise, but time prevents me from doing so. In order to establish privilege, £55 million will be spent. It is ironic that that is in the Bill. The epitaph to the first child killed on the road as a result of the Bill may well be that he was killed to pay for the privilege of another child.

I spent 10 weeks going through the Education Bill produced by the previous Labour Government. In that Bill there was a clause devoted to the government of schools, but that measure was unsatisfactory because it did not ask the basic question: why does one want school governors and what are their powers? The Taylor committee fudged the issue. It did not tackle the powers of governors but simply said that if one sets up a body of responsible people, they will take powers for themselves.

Such a situation will create clashes. Either the head teacher and the teachers in the school must give up some of their existing powers, or the local authority must give up some of its powers, in order to give governors meaningful powers. If that is not done, people will be asked to turn up to meetings where they can do very little. Should governing bodies be responsible for the appointment of teachers and for the curriculum? If they have responsibility for the curriculum, how concerned should the governors be with seeing whether the timetable carries out the curriculum?

Although I have little time left tonight, I look forward to pursuing many more criticisms of the Bill in Committee. I hope that the Bill does not see the light of day as an Act, because it is a mean and squalid measure.

8.48 p.m.

Mrs. Sheila Faith (Belper)

I welcome the Bill because it is concerned with extending and fulfilling parental choice and involvement. I particularly welcome that clause which says that there must be at least two elected parent governors at each school.

During my experience as a school manager and governor, I have found that parents have a special interest in the school and a knowledge of its activities that is invaluable. Parent governors provide a real link between school and home. I am glad that the Bill states that detailed information should be published and made available about every school, including a school's examination results.

It should be made widely known that the work of the school governor is interesting and that governors should have a valid and worthwhile role, as the hon. Member for Stockport, North (Mr. Bennett) mentioned. At present, governors participate in staff appointments, but other real responsibilities should be given to them so that busy men and women may be persuaded that the job is worthwhile.

Governors should have a say in curriculum and teaching methods. Teachers are worried. They know that there is real concern about standards and they would welcome wider support for their policies. If stronger powers had been given to managers previously, the disgraceful affairs at the William Tyndall school would not have been allowed to continue for so long.

There is one aspect of this Bill which worries me and which has not been mentioned so far. That is the way in which parent governors are elected. In my county of Derbyshire, when parents' meetings are organised only a very small proportion of parents attend—probably less than 5 per cent.

I am very much in favour of parent-teacher associations. They are great assets to schools and they often raise money for musical, sports and other equipment which might not otherwise be obtained. Also, if they have skills they carry out minor repairs and decorations to the schools, and often they do much patient work in helping remedial teachers.

However, I do not believe that parent-teacher associations are the proper vehicles for electing parent governors. At meetings of PTAs there are rarely sufficient numbers to be representative, and therefore, they could be unduly influenced by pressure groups. Governors elected by such pressure groups could be unrealistic in their demands on the local authority without trying to act constructively. Therefore, as soon as resources are available I advocate that there should be secret postal ballots for the position of parent governors. Candidates should supply biographical details, notes about their political affiliations if any, and their thoughts about the standards of teaching methods which they would like to see applied in the school. Only when this happens will we have truly representative parent governors, able to assist the school by providing a fair assessment of the parents' views. The pendulum of fashion in education has swung back and forth and it is right that parents should have more say in its direction. I support this Bill.

8.53 p.m.

Mr. Martin Flannery (Sheffield, Hillsborough)

The Guardian today commented on this Bill in its editorial. As one of my hon. Friends said previously, this measure is virtually unamendable. It is a naked class measure, it is a disgrace to British education, and it is born of expediency and a desire to hammer away at our education system. We all know this and so do parents, including all those who voted Tory.

The Guardian heads its article Mr. Carlisle legislates for inequity. When I first looked at it, I thought it said "iniquity".

It goes on to say: If the Government was sincere about its public commitment to improve the standards in our schools, there would be an entirely different Education Bill from the miserable measure which will receive its second reading in the Commons today. Later, it says: Instead, the education debate today returns either to stale issues, which one had hoped had disappeared for good (selection and the abolition of free school meals and transport) or to new and even more socially divisive issues, such as the proposed £50 million public subsidy to private schools. As my hon. Friend the Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Kinnock) said, many of us have previously regarded the Minister as a liberal with a small "1". He has thrown that descripion to the four winds today. I would have thought, based on previous knowledge of him, that he would have been embarrassed to bring forward such a measure. He should have resigned rather than engage in this piece of naked class legislation which will besmirch his name for a long time.

We all know that this is a cuts Bill. Let us be clear about the effects of those cuts. There are no cuts for the Tories' children. They have the money and they can pay if the fees increase. The cuts are for our children, including those parents who were innocently conned by the Tory blarney on income tax, and who voted accordingly. They must learn the hard way. During the election campaign we prophesied that for every £1.50 in tax cuts, people would pay out £10 eventually. This Bill reinforces that view.

The Secretary of State spoke of improving standards. Who does he think he is talking to? In 1979–80 the county of Avon is to make cuts totalling £4 million in its education budget. That means a 10 per cent. cut in capitation, the abandoning of admissions for rising-fives, and 406 possible redundancies. All that is to happen from 31 December and there is to be an alteration of the 1980 term dates.

In Barnet there are planned cuts in induction training, capitation, meals provision, training expenses and furniture and equipment. Concessionary bus passes for the over-16s are to be withdrawn. There are to be cuts in expenditure at Hendon and Barnet college as well as cuts in teachers' centres; and there are indications of further cuts. In the face of all that, the Secretary of State has the effrontery to tell us that his Government will improve education standards.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman knows that cuts will take place not only in Avon, Barnet and Barking but throughout the country. This squalid, nasty Bill is a continuation of those cuts. With brazen effrontery the Government say that they aim to raise standards. They propose to lower standards for our children and put up standards for their own children by taking up to £70 million of our money and handing it over to their own already well-heeled and privileged children.

The Government have the gall to advocate snack meals as if children prefer snacks to the protein that we give them in a decent meal. The school meal is the only good meal that many of our children eat in the day. The right hon. and learned Gentleman talks of snack meals and of giving freedom to local councils, but in reality he is cutting education standards.

When the Government speak of parental choice they mean choice for a select group of parents, namely, parents of their own class, not working-class parents. They must think that we do not understand what they mean. If there were an election now the Conservatives would be in great difficulty. Their con trick has been seen for what it is by the majority of the electorate.

What do the Government mean by assisted places? They mean taking from the weak and the disadvantaged to give to the already privileged. Churchill is reputed to have told King George VI, when India was going its way "I did not become the King's First Minister in order to preside over the liquidation of the British Empire". The Secretary of State is presiding over the liquidation of most of the civilised and advanced measures which we introduced into our education system. He will go down in history precisely for doing that.

Just over a week ago the Bill was published. That signalled the launching of a vicious attack on the education of ordinary children. It will deprive hundreds of thousands of them of the free meals that they so urgently need. Side by side with the publication of that measure, exchange controls were lifted to allow rich Tories to take their money abroad in order to make more money. They can now take their money out of this country. They talk about patriotism and all this at a time when they propose to take the food out of the mouths of hundreds of thousands of our children.

This is a muddled, ill-considered Bill. It is a class measure aimed at working people and their children. It is destined to harm those who can least afford to be harmed. As an ex-headmaster I wonder how many teachers voted Tory at the general election. I am sure that after this Bill very few teachers will vote Tory at the next election.

The teachers are totally against the Bill. All day and every day pressure comes from the trade unions and parents' organisations. Conservative Members may smile—in a forced way—but I believe that they are receiving letters telling them exactly what the people who voted for them think about this nasty Bill.

The White Paper on public expenditure cuts is really a black paper in the true tradition of black papers. The Bill is an additional black paper. It represents a continuation of the cuts. There is massive documentation on the way in which education is suffering. It is said that some of us did nothing about the cuts made under a Labour Government. Those cuts were trivial compared with those in the Bill. Many of my hon. Friends and I fought against any cuts in education People know that. I invite Conservative Members, many of whom agree with us, to have the courage to defend the children of our country by coming into the Lobby with us tonight.

9 p.m.

Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North)

Having worked in schools which have shared their governing bodies with others, and in schools with a single governing body, I welcome the proposal which enables all schools to have a single governing body. That will help the schools to achieve a stronger identity.

I welcome also the statutory provision for parent and teacher governors. Such a scheme has operated in Ealing and many other areas for many years and has proved valuable. However, I must add a word of warning. I hope that local authorities will not appoint too many teachers to the governing body of a large school. In my last school, which had 2,000 pupils, the headmaster would have been disadvantaged when implementing policies if a large number of teachers had been able to dictate to him on policy via his governing body, however good the relationship between them.

It is right that more information on schools should be published to enable parents to make a valid choice. Perhaps there should be a format in each area for a list of questions and answers about each school, including the subjects on the curriculum and the take-up of CSE and GCE O and A level examination courses.

Primary school pupils and their parents should have the opportunity to visit secondary schools before making their choice of secondary school. I hope that local authorities will facilitate that during evenings or during school hours. Schools can set apart times during which this can be done at minimum inconvenience to the efficient functioning of the schools concerned.

I welcome in particular the proposal that parents be enabled to choose a school in a neighbouring local authority area and that the fees be paid by their own local authority. That is in contrast to a reverse movement by the last Government which was an unwelcome step backwards.

The new meals arrangements will not disadvantage pupils. In the comprehensive school at Kings Cross in which I worked 12 years ago cafeteria style meals were provided for sixth formers. The pupils liked them and they worked well. We must be a little careful about who is entitled to object to the running or otherwise of school meals. After all, heads of schools have to supervise meals. They are, above all others, entitled to a view.

It ill behoves some of those who shout about the possible lack of school meal provision and who have not been willing to take part in the supervision of school meals to criticise the possibility.

In Dickens's "Old Curiosity Shop" Mr. Swiveller said to a menial: 'Did you ever taste beer?' 'I had a sip of it once,' said the small servant. 'Here's a state of things!' cried Mr. Swiveller… 'She never tasted it—it can't be tasted in a sip!' School time, however good, is but a sip of the cup of education.

In addition to my work in schools I have lectured in adult education institutes for nearly 15 years. The adult education institutes do a wonderful job for many who discover a personal identity only after leaving school. They are also invaluable in improving the education of those who did well at school. They maintain the learning habit throughout life, and that is important to all individuals. They help adults to adjust to an ever-changing world and to influence their own lives and environment.

Many who are deprived benefit greatly, such as adult illiterates, physically and mentally handicapped, elderly, unemployed and many more. I strongly support, and hope that we shall all support, adult education institutes.

In the whiff of grapeshot from the Opposition Front Bench the hon. Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Kinnock) referred to social engineering It ill becomes him, or any of his colleagues, to speak about social engineering. I remind them that the State was built for man and not man for the State. Schools were built for children—children were not made for schools. Many Socialist-controlled local authorities are bringing all possible pressure to bear on schools to set up single courses to be taken by all children within the school whatever their ability, with the object of achieving social equality. It is not equality of opportunity but social equality that they want. They will do anything to achieve that end, and will deny all opportunity and diversity of school course to children, however bright and varied in ability they may be.

I welcome the movement towards greater choice and diversity in education provision that the Bill provides. I know that the children will be the gainers.

9.8 p.m.

Mrs. Ann Taylor (Bolton, West)

I am sure that the House will agree that it has been an interesting though somewhat contentious debate. It is not surprising that it has been a contentious debate, considering the Bill's proposals. The Dickensian references made by the hon. Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway) strike me as appropriate in view of some of the Bill's proposals.

I will start on a non-contentious note by congratulating the hon. Member for The Wrekin (Mr. Hawksley) on his maiden speech. All hon. Members will remember his predecessor, Gerry Fowler, who made very important contributions to education. I am glad that the hon. Gentleman shares his interest in education. I think that he will understand that his views are not as acceptable to me as those of his predecessor.

It is often said that it is a pity that education becomes bogged down in political argument. We often read well-meaning slogans that we should try to keep education out of politics. I have never believed that to be possible. It is Bills such as this, proposed by the Government, that show how blatantly political the Government are being in their education policy.

The basic proposals of the Bill display the Government's priorities and show clearly the divisive nature of the their approach to education. In many respects the Bill is detailed and complex. We shall wish to examine all its details in Committee. Its basic proposals are simple and straightforward. It enables local authorities to reduce their provision for the majority of children, while at the same time it earmarks extra resources for private education. Nothing in the debate has done anything but reinforce that interpretation of the Bill. That view was confirmed by the hon. and learned Member for Blackpool, North (Mr. Miscampbell), and I admire him for being so honest. Such priorities, at a time of general cutbacks in expenditure, are deplorable and an insult to every child in the State school system.

We are opposed in principle to the Bill's main provisions, but there are some sections of it that we do not wish to condemn outright, not least because they have been poached from the Labour Government's Education Act of 1976. However, we cannot give even those proposals our unreserved support. Many of the Bill's provisions as they now stand are severely watered down versions of those that appeared in the Labour Government's measure. It was the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) who recognised that.

As I have said, we support some of the proposals concerning governing bodies—for example, that each school should have its own governing body. However, we feel that there is a need to give detailed consideration to certain other provisions relating to governing bodies. We want to discuss in Committee how strong the position of local authority representatives should be vis-a-vis other groups. We shall want to discuss the balance of representation, the potential for representatives of older pupils, and the possibility of having representatives of all those who work in schools as well as local community representatives. We hope that the Government will consider some of the detailed proposals and be willing to amend certain parts of them in Committee.

There are other provisions that we shall consider in detail—provisions that have been taken from the Labour measure—that we do not oppose in principle, for example, industrial scholarships and teaching in Welsh, such as my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, South (Mr. Marshall) mentioned. As my hon. Friend said, the proposals contained in the first few clauses are not the central part of the Bill's intentions. The parts of the Bill that we can support are only a tiny proportion of the Bill overall.

We are totally opposed to the major proposals within the Bill. I shall concentrate my remarks on the parts with which we disagree. However, before I move to those I have some remarks to make about clauses 6 to 9, which have received the attention of quite a few Conservative Members. These are the clauses that deal with parental choice, including a clause that sets up a new local appeals body.

In the past we heard a great deal from Conservative Members about the importance of parental choice in education. The Conservative Party often presents parental choice as its preserve and its policy. There is general agreement that parental involvement in education should be as great as possible. However, on many occasions, both inside the House and outside, there has been a deliberate attempt by Conservatives to mislead parents about what they mean by freedom of choice. They have frequently held out carrots to parents. They have made sweeping statements about the provisions that they will make to improve parental choice. They have said, for example, "We shall let you choose the school to which your children will go". It is interesting to study exactly what the Bill states about parental choice.

The hon. Member for Luton, West (Mr. Carlisle) described the provisions on parental choice as music to the ears of his constituents. What does the Bill do? I hope that the hon. Gentleman has read it in detail. It defines the limitations on parental choice, an area that has often been neglected by the Conservative Party. Its attitude is made clear in the Bill.

Mr. Mark Carlisle


Mrs. Taylor

I shall read from the explanatory memorandum. I am sure that the Minister will not mind my choosing the explanatory memorandum rather than the Bill itself. Bearing in mind the previous difficulties that we have had with explanatory memoranda, I am sure that he will have had the Bill's explanatory memorandum checked carefully. It states that Arrangements are to be made for parents to express a preference for a particular school and those responsible for admissions are required to comply with such a preference except where to do so would prejudice the provision of efficient education or the efficient use of resources, would be incompatible with admission arrangements agreed between the governors of an aided or special agreement school and or would be incompatible with admission arrangements based upon selection by reference to ability or aptitude". So when exceptions have been made for efficient education, for the efficient use of resources, for arrangements with aided schools and selective procedures in many areas, the freedom that is left for parents may not be what the Conservative Party led many of them to believe would be provided. I do not think that the constituents of Luton, West will find much joy in the music of those particular phrases.

I believe that the Government have learnt some of the realities and difficulties that are associated with parental choice, but they have still a great deal to learn. They have to learn that the whole idea of the selective system of education, of dividing children into grammar schools and secondary modern schools, is completely incompatible with parental choice to the vast majority of parents and children. This has been recognised by some Conservatives. A little progress has been made, because recently Mrs. Dorothy Marshall, Conservative chairman of the education committee in Cumbria, said of the selective system there parental choice has not worked because there have been too many applications for the grammar schools". We on the Labour side believe that there should be as much parental choice as possible, but we also recognise, as does the Secretary of State when he is being more realistic, that parental choice cannot be absolute—

Mr. Mark Carlisle

I said so.

Mrs. Taylor

Indeed, the right hon. and learned Gentleman may have said so, and I hope that he agrees that the provisions in the Bill for parental choice are not absolute and that the limitations are extremely severe, which he did not mention before the Bill appeared.

We also recognise that choice is least in those areas without the comprehensive system, and that a choice in education is less if resources are being diverted out of State schools. I was glad to see that this last point was recognised by the Under-Secretary of State—the hon. Member for Brent, North (Dr. Boyson)—recently, when he said that the only way to improve parental choice was to improve the quality of the maintained system. If that is what he wants to do I can assure him that he will have our full support, but he will not do it with this Bill.

Let me deal now with the appeal system proposed in these clauses. We recognise the need for an appeal system but we do not accept the suggestions in the Bill to be an improvement on the existing position. Our objections are to a situation in which the local authority is both judge and jury. The local authority will decide the original allocation of children to schools. Then, according to the Bill, it will have a majority on the appeal committee that looks at the complaints of dissatisfied parents. Since at present many allocations are already reconsidered by local authorities at the request of parents, often with little success, and when we hear how some of these appeals are considered, it is no wonder we have little faith in the proposals.

In a case of which I heard recently a letter of appeal was put into the letter box of a local education office after it had closed one evening. The reply from the same education department rejecting the appeal was posted back before 2 p.m. the following day with an assurance to the parents that this appeal has received full and detailed consideration. Such instances do not enable us to look favourably on the idea of local authorities being judge and jury.

Mr. Paul Hawkins (Norfolk, South-West)

I bet that it was a Labour authority.

Mrs. Taylor

It was not. The authority concerned was a Conservative one. If the hon. Gentleman would like to look at the envelope and the original letter, I can send him copies.

I also wonder whether the Minister has calculated the cost of a new formal appeals system, because as local authorities are being told to cut expenditure they are not likely to look favourably on being given a new obligation to set up a new mini-bureaucracy. I hope that if the Minister has considered that or has consulted local authorities he will let the House know how much he thinks it will cost to administer the provision.

I now turn to those areas that have dominated the debate. The most significant proposals in the Bill, as my hon. Friends have pointed out, are those dealing with school meals, school milk and transport, and those dealing with the assisted places scheme. I mention these two very different proposals together because they are related. Money has to be saved, so we are told, in education, and local education authorities have to reduce their services. This means that the Government must release them from many of the statutory obligations which exist at present. That is why we have clauses 24 and 25, on school meals and transport. However, clauses 17 to 21 are there for exactly the opposite reason. They are there to allow the Government to make new public expenditure on private education.

When the Secretary of State took over he said that education had to take its fair share of public expenditure cuts and that education had to suffer cuts in the interests of equality of sacrifice in all Departments. But for private education there is no equality of sacrifice.

In clauses 24 and 25 the Government are trying to hide behind the slogan of giving more freedom to local authorities. We all know what is happening in reality. Conservative authorities have told the Government that they cannot meet their target cuts in public spending unless they can ditch some of their responsibilities. Some are even saying that they cannot meet these targets even if they reduce services; therefore, school meals, school milk and transport are the main targets for cuts. We are told that over £250 million can be saved here. It seems to us that many local authorities will find it easier and quicker to increase the price of school meals rather than to reorganise the service completely, as some hon. Members have predicted.

It is fair to say that next year we shall see school meal charges of over 50p in many areas. That prediction may well be as modest as our earlier prediction that the Government would double prescription charges. Of course, there have been increases in school meal prices in the past, as the Secretary of State pointed out earlier. Many of my hon. Friends have in the past joined in criticism of these increases, but we have never before had a proposal for the complete removal of nutritional standards, the removal of all school meals for some children, and the removal of free school meals for many children. Indeed, when prices were increased in the past there was always a raising of the income level for eligibility.

Now we are getting to a position in which the Government's proposals will cause real hardship. The children who will lose most come from the families who gained nothing from the Conservative Budget. The Government are now making sure that more families fall into the poverty trap.

A similar situation exists in respect of school transport. Many of my hon. Friends have referred to the difficulties that will be experienced in rural areas. I am surprised—indeed, astonished—that more Conservative Members have not referred to the way in which rural areas will be affected. As they read their constituency correspondence, I hope that they realise just how severely many families will be affected. We have heard how the proposals on school transport will affect children who go to denominational schools. My hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, Central (Mr. McNamara) showed clearly how denominational schools had planned their policies on the assumption that transport subsidies would continue.

There is another type of authority that will be affected by the changes in school transport, and it is one that has not yet been covered in the debate. It concerns those areas that still practice selection at the age of 11. If there is selection in an area, more children have to travel greater distances to get to their grammar or secondary modern school. If the grammar schools are as popular as the Conservative Party sometimes says, perhaps parents will not mind having to pay for their children to go to grammar schools. However, I get as many complaints about the three-mile limit from parents whose children go to grammar schools as I do from those whose children go to secondary modern schools.

We should think of the children who go to secondary modern schools and their parents. Many children travel more than three miles to go to secondary modern schools. At present parents and children do not like it. How will they feel when they are told that they will have to pay full bus fares for the privilege of attending secondary modern schools that are often unpopular?

The Secretary of State said earlier that he thought that the scheme on transport should be ended, because the three-mile limit created some anomalies. He said that the three-mile limit gave certain children privileges, because it gave them free bus travel. That was his reason for saying that the system should be ended completely. If the right hon. and learned Gentleman is so keen on abolishing privileges I am surprised that he does not turn his attention to the private sector of education in order to end some of the privileges there.

There are many provisions in the Bill relating to cuts in public expenditure. As was pointed out by my hon. Friend the Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Kinnock), this is against a general background of cuts in public expenditure, capitation allowances and nursery schools. I see the hon. Member for Preston, North (Mr. Atkins) present. I am sorry that he did not speak, because he might have explained satisfactorily why new nursery schools in Preston are at present lying empty and cannot be opened because of the Government's cuts.

There have already been cuts, and the Bill allows for many more. But what will the Government do if these economies are not considered sufficient? What if the Government decide that they have to make even further economies? Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman accept even more of the proposals of the Association of County Councils—because that is the origin of the proposals before us? Will we next have changes in school opening hours, the removal of minimum standards for playing areas, charges for nursery education, or even a reduction in the period of statutory schooling? All these are proposals from the ACC, which the Minister seems to listen to very carefully. I should like some assurances from the Minister that we shall not have further developments along those lines.

I wish to say something about the assisted places scheme. To take money out of education in the way in which the Government are doing at present is bad enough in itself, but to do so at the same time—and by means of the same Bill—as they are providing for the assisted places scheme is downright insulting.

The Minister was quibbling earlier about the exact amount of money involved. I believe that any money spent on the scheme is wrong in principle, and especially so against the background of present cuts.

The Government have not revealed all their plans about the scheme. They have said that it is to help the bright child from a poor background, but I doubt whether it will give any real educational advantage to those children.

There are some important questions to be answered. Is the Secretary of State really saying that State schools cannot cope with bright children? That is the implication behind the scheme. He appears to be implying that because State schools cannot cope with bright children, these children have to be siphoned off to the private sector. I suggest that the Secretary of State gets to know the State schools and their achievements better. They can provide the best in education.

However, if the right hon. and learned Gentleman persists in believing that maintained schools cannot cope with bright children, he should be fighting in Cabinet for more resources for his Department and not volunteering the cuts that he has been volunteering over the past few months.

We shall have to wait until the Bill is in Committee to ask the many questions that we would like answered. These concern such matters as the regional imbalance of the scheme and the number of places for girls, as opposed to boys.

Those matters are secondary, however. Our central charge against the Secretary of State is that his priority should be the maintained sector. He has direct responsibility for State schools, and with the Bill he is abdicating that responsibility. He is not only depriving the maintained sector of funds; he is damaging morale by undervaluing the education that it provides. By depriving State schools of some of their brightest pupils he is attempting to damage the system.

In his admirable speech the hon. and learned Member for Blackpool, North illustrated just how wrong the Government are, and I echo many of his points. Their priorities are wrong. Their main responsibility is to the maintained sector, and they are acting recklessly and insulting children in State schools. The Bill has as its aim political and not educational ends. It is intended to promote the interests of a minority in private education. The aim of hon. Members on the Labour Benches is to protect the interests of the education system as a whole. Because of that, and because the Secretary of State is damaging education for the majority of the children, we are completely against the proposals in the Bill.

9.34 p.m.

The Under-Secretary of State for Education and Science (Dr. Rhodes Boyson)

The discussion has been wide today and, like the behaviour of Opposition Members, it illustrates the clear divide between both sides of the House in philosophy and the ways in which the matter is approached.

First, I pay tribute to the maiden speaker and those who, as the phrase goes, made "retread" speeches. My hon. Friend the Member for The Wrekin (Mr. Hawksley) made his maiden speech today. Having spoken in his area, I know that there is a great deal of interest in education there. [Interruption.] If Opposition Members had such an intense interest in education, why did they replace their education spokesman at the last election? That was the sort of degree of commitment that was shown.

My hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth, North (Mr. Griffiths) made his second maiden speech. My hon. Friend the Member for Eye (Mr. Gummer) was one of the few speakers to draw attention to the economic situation in which the Bill is being brought forward.

In his wide-ranging speech, the hon. Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Kinnock), occasionally mentioning the Bill by accident, implied that education is coming to an end in this country. He said that vast numbers of teachers were being dismissed. I shall take up one figure that he quoted. In the next two years, the number of pupils in our schools will decline by 4.7 per cent. The number of teachers will decline by 3.7 per cent. only, which means that the pupil-teacher ratio, now at its lowest ever of 18.9 per cent., will be even lower at 18.7 per cent. The hon. Member for Bedwellty referred to good husbandry. Conservative Members prefer improved husbandry. There is every evidence that we can achieve that.

I shall take six topics of discussion, as was done by my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State. First, the reforming over a period of time of the governing bodies. It is important that that proposal should be fed in as the local authorities want it so that they can assess the cost-effectiveness of the additional staff. I received a letter this morning, by coincidence, from Tyrrell Burgess and Tony Travers, who are not known to favour Conservative policy. The letter says: So far as school government is concerned this is a better Bill than its predecessor. It provides for parents and teachers on governing bodies without complexity, rigidity and over-regulation. It still does not legislate for a genuine partnership, but unlike the last Bill it would not stop this happening. The same letter points out how much more effective from its point of view is the Bill than the previous one that we tried to improve in Committee.

Mr. Kinnock

Read the rest of it.

Dr. Boyson

It goes on to list the ways in which the Bill is better than the previous one. In no way does it say that the Bill is worse than last time. I shall send a copy to the hon. Member for Bedwellty. Once he has read it, he will not ask for it to be read publicly. It is courteous of him to help me in that way.

There is a wide difference of opinion between the two sides of the House on the question of choice. Thirteen days ago an hon. Member for whom I have great respect, the right hon. Member for Durham, North-West (Mr. Armstrong), said at Question Time: Whatever we may build into any Act of Parliament about legal rights and other matters, the great mass of our children and their parents will have no choice at all about the schools they attend".—[Official Report, 23 October 1979; Vol. 972 c. 180.] That is not true. We can increase parental choice and we intend to do so. The hon. Member for Bolton, West (Mrs. Taylor) made a competent speech this evening. I agree that there can be no absolute choice. That was also said by my right hon. and learned Friend, and I have said the same consistently. However, just because there cannot be a 100 per cent. choice, just because everybody cannot play at the Wembley cup final, that does not mean that everybody is prohibited from playing at the Wembley cup final.

Mr. Ted Graham (Edmonton)

That is in the hon. Member's constituency.

Dr. Boyson

Of course it is in my constituency. People in the public houses who are listening to this debate on LBC radio will be delighted to know that their constituency is remembered in the House tonight. It is important that we extend and not contract the choice. I believe that we are doing so. I have myself been quoted, but I have before me the Labour manifesto. I do not of course look at it every day, but I have it before me now. If right hon. and hon. Members care to look at it they will find no mention of parental choice from beginning to end. I should like an Opposition Member who mentioned it in his election address to send me a copy, because I have looked at those of some of the right hon. and hon. Members on the Opposition Front Bench, and I have found no mention of parental choice.

Mrs. Ann Taylor

The hon. Gentleman mentions the importance of parental choice and its absence from the election addresses of my right hon. and hon. Friends. Can he say whether there was an explicit definition of the limitations on parental choice which he outlines in the Bill in his own election address?

Dr. Boyson

Mr. Speaker—[HON. MEMBERS: "Answer."] I shall answer. In my view, questions are to be answered, unlike the reaction of Opposition Members. There was a statement in most of our election addresses that we would extend parental choice of schools. We have done so. I shall deal with the hon. Lady's question in a moment, if she will be patient. However, before I do so I want to quote from a letter in The Times in 1973 from Cardinal Hume. He wrote: The liberty in question is that of parental choice of schooling. Is it too much to ask politicians to apply their minds to the question of how that liberty can he extended rather than how it can first be limited still further and then abolished entirely? That is what Opposition Members would do. It would be limited, and then it would be abolished entirely. The Government want to see it extended, and there is no doubt that parents, too, want to see it extended. There is no doubt that parental choice at school will mean that if parents get the schools they want, they will back the schools that their children attend, and discipline and everything else will be easier. Similarly, there is no doubt that if schools know that they have to respond to parental demands, the standards of those schools will improve in a way that the odd visit by inspectors will never equal.

I refer now to Lord Young, another authority who as far as I know has never sat on the Conservative Benches in this House. He is director of the Institute of Community Studies which carried out a study, with the Advisory Centre for Education, of parental wishes in Hackney and concluded recently that the quality of local schools was of special importance because, if people were dissatisfied with them, they were likely to move out. There is no doubt that one of the reasons for urban deprivation is that people have moved out of our city centres because of their dissatisfaction with school standards in their areas.

I suspect that Opposition Members do not not really want to trust people in the choice that they want. We are prepared to do so. This is just like council house sales. The Opposition prefer to tell people what they want, as mandarins, instead of asking them what they require.

Mr. Allen McKay


Dr. Boyson

No, I shall not give way to the hon. Gentleman. My time is limited. Having given way once, I have already given way more than the hon. Member for Bolton, West did. I come to what the hon. Lady said, and I hope that I shall not be interrupted again before I can reply to her.

The Bill says quite clearly that parents have a right. It is the first time that that has been put into any Act of Parliament. They have the right to state a preference. The Bill also provides how that preference can be met. The local authority has to inform parents how selection for schools will happen, how many children will be taken, and what is being done inside the schools. We accept what the hon. Lady said. There is no means of absolute choice. That is why we say that we cannot have admission if it would be prejudicial to the provision of efficient education or the efficient use of resources.

Most parental choices are not against that. I ask hon. Members to look at what is happening in inner London at present. The schools which inner London is trying to close are the schools to which parents want their children to go. The schools which inner London is trying to keep open—and I cannot understand how even the Labour Party can do this—are in most cases the schools to which no one wants to go. [HON. MEMBERS: "Name them."] I shall name one. Islington Green had only two A-level passes this year from 800 children. That school is being kept open. A school nearby with 40 A-level passes is being closed.

Mr. Canavan

Name them.

Dr. Boyson

I have named them. How many more does the hon. Gentleman want? Does not he read the papers? I shall send the hon. Gentleman some more. I apologise, Mr. Speaker. I must not allow the Opposition to agitate me in this way. I must go on giving the true faith as Government supporters understand it.

Still on parental choice, we have established a parental appeals system which is realistic. There is no point in setting up a parental appeals system which is not realistic and which a local authority can ignore. One has a choice between an appeals system that is not realistic, and the recommendations of which are ignored by local authorities, and a system in which the local authority has a majority of only one, with the rest of the members being drawn from parents and teachers, and in which the decision is binding upon the local authority. I have no doubt that the vast improvements that will come from that appeals system will not only increase parental choice but will improve the standard of schools.

Mr. Allen McKay

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Dr. Boyson

No. There are three other aspects of parental choice. One is automatic recoupment. Parents will have a clear right to express preference for a school in the area of another authority.

Subject to the same conditions as exist in the authority area in which that parent lives, there will be a duty on the other authority to comply with a parent's preference. That is a tremendous increase in parental choice.

Parents who are dissatisfied with a nearby school will be able to opt for a school on the other side of a boundary. They cannot do that now. The children must be considered by the school on the other side of the boundary as though they were living in that school's area.

Mr. Edwin Wainwright

Does not the Minister realise that schools are not built on wheels? Populations vary from place to place and there has to be zoning. If we are not careful, the Government will be promising parents complete freedom of choice, but zoning will not allow that to happen.

Dr. Boyson

Schools may not be on wheels, but children have legs.

Mr. John Evans

They will need them when the hon. Gentleman's lot abolish free school transport.

Dr. Boyson

The first proposal that increases parental choice is automatic recoupment. The second is that if local authorities want to cut the size of schools, they can no longer do so wherever they wish. If they cut school rolls by 20 per cent. when the population has fallen by 25 per cent., the decision will be referred to the Secretary of State.

Mr. Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield, East)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Is not an hon. Member supposed to speak in a language that we can all understand? The Minister might as well be speaking in Welsh or Hindustani. We cannot understand him.

Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Member for Huddersfield, East (Mr. Sheerman) picked on the wrong language!

Dr. Boyson

If we had a little more peace and quiet on the Opposition Benches, the hon. Member for Huddersfield, East (Mr. Sheerman) would be able to hear more.

The other proposal that will enhance parental choice is the presentation of additional information. There are two views of what Sir James Goldsmith calls the "see-through society", but the Government believe in the presentation of information. I quote in aid Peter Wilby writing in New SocietyWhether it is corporal punishment or exam results or school records, the assumption is that information must be withheld from the general populace because we are too ignorant or too wicked to be entrusted with it. The assumption is that professionals know what is best for us, that though we are both paymasters and consumers, we cannot be allowed to exercise the rights of either. That is the view of the Labour Party. Eric Midwinter of the Advisory Committee for Education, which is not a Conservative body, said recently: Publishing exam results baldly can be misleading, but not publishing them is not leading at all. It is vital that we publish full information on schools so that when parents make their choice of which school they want their children to go to, that choice is an informed choice.

I would like to turn to the assisted places scheme—

Mr. Kinnock

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Dr. Boyson

No, I will not give way. I have given way three times. The hon. Gentleman spoke for nearly an hour. I have had only 12 minutes and I am not giving way. Clause 17 makes clear that this is not a divisive measure to benefit the rich. It is to help the poor who cannot otherwise go to those schools. It is to enable pupils who might not otherwise be able to do so to benefit from education at independent schools. There is a means test. Only those who cannot afford to go will be helped directly by the State system.

Mr. Kinnock


Dr. Boyson

I shall not give way, even if the hon. Gentleman stays there until half-past 10 o'clock. I consider that 56 minutes was long enough for the hon. Gentleman, too long for some. The average cost will not apply at all for the next two years. By that time, we trust that the economy will have improved. We want to get the country on its feet following the mess in which it was left by the Labour Party. Even then, the cost will be only £600 per person. The cost in State education is £550 at present. It is not a gross cost. Those children would have to be educated at State schools. The difference is £50.

Years ago, Labour Members attacked the 11-plus examination on the grounds that it was inefficient and did not select properly. It was apparently unable to select properly 20 per cent. of pupils. Now, apparently, Labour Members believe that 2 per cent. selection can be done so accurately that it will be perfect in those selected, and draw away children so that the rest of the system cannot work properly. Which do they believe? Do they believe that the 11-plus was so inaccurate that it could not even pick 20 per cent., and that this new test, now that they have seen the light, will be so accurate about some degree of selection that I do not even accept, that the 2 per cent. will be perfect? If comprehensive schools cannot actually run without keeping 2 per cent. of children, they are much more fragile than I believe they are.

Mr.. Kinnock


Dr. Boyson

No. I am not giving way. In 1975, the hon. Member for Bolton, West asked whether there were comprehensive schools in which children needed to go to those places. In 1975, in the Inner London Education Authority, half the comprehensive schools did not even offer a mathematics A-level, let alone achieve a pass. One-third did not offer a single A-level technical subject and one-fifth did not offer a single foreign language. There were bright and able children in those schools. But the ladder of mobility was knocked down by the Labour Party to permit Socialist feudalism and Socialist rotten boroughs in the middle of cities. We want to rebuild the ladders for those children. If the move is divisive it is divisive on the side of those for whom it should be divisive—not for the rich but for those who cannot afford to go. All that the Labour Party achieved when it put direct grant schools inside the independent sector was that those who had enough money could go to those schools but no one else could attend them.

I trust that all hon. Members went to church some time during yesterday and read their bibles. When they came home, it would have been a good idea for them to read their dictionaries. As someone once said, the plot is not very good and it is difficult to follow. If, however, one reads through the dictionary and looks up the word "comprehensive", one finds that it means "containing much". It does not mean 100 per cent. It would be a good idea if Labour Members actually looked at the meaning of the word, which means "much", "most", but certainly not "the whole".

I commend to my hon. Friends the assisted places scheme. The hon. Member for Bedwellty—I can quote him, even if I do not give way to him—said that Tory policies are a barbarous crime against working class parents and their kids. Most of Labour's so-called campaign against birth, rank, wealth and privilege becomes a campaign against talent, excellence, social mobility and the open society in an attempt to retain Labour's rotten boroughs in depressed inner cities which have suffered Labour control for 50 years. The sale of council houses, increased parental choice at school, and the assisted places scheme are all part of an attempt to enfranchise them into a socially mobile society and release them from the shackles of Socialist feudalism. [Interruption.] That is what this is basically all about. That is why Labour Members are making so much noise. They do not like it. They know that people will realise that ladders of social mobility are coming back.

I want to refer now to school meals, milk and transport—and perhaps even to the fascinating subject of the higher education pool. The school meals system was built up over a long period, not just for the poor but also, in World War Two, as a way of feeding children, increasing rations for the family and to avoid the parents eating the food. Hon. Members may laugh, but they can read the debates on this matter. Also, more women were going out to work during the war.

Where is the social justice in spending £225 million of the £330 million school meals subsidy on children who can afford to pay the full amount? Only 40 per cent. of the subsidy goes to those who cannot afford to pay. The Bill makes it clear—we shall make it clearer in Committee—that anyone on family income supplement or on supplementary benefit will continue to qualify for free school meals and transport. From November, anyone on FIS with two children will be able to earn £60.50 before having to pay for school meals. All the examples which were quoted will now come under family income supplement.

It is a pity that so many teachers have withdrawn from school meals supervision, causing almost a breakdown in many city areas. One immediate way of improving the schools meal service would be for teachers to return to school meals duty, as head teachers wish them to do.

The subject of school transport has been raised in the House ever since I have been here. It has never been satisfactory in the eyes of hon. Members on either side of the House. As has been said, anyone 10 yards within the three-mile limit does not get a penny, however poor, while anyone 10 yards beyond it, however rich, gets free transport. That is utterly wrong. There will still be £100 million available for school transport to ensure that money is used properly for the transport of those who require it.

Mr. Hawkins


Dr. Boyson

No, I had better get on. I have only two minutes. I shall see my hon. Friend in the Lobby later.

The Bill is only a framework for the improvement and the widening of parental choice.

Mr. Kinnoek


Mr. Speaker

Order. The Minister is not giving way.

Dr. Boyson

The Bill is a means of increasing parental choice, the powers of local authorities and the opportunities of children to go to good schools. At the same time, we are improving teacher quality—

Mr. James Johnson (Kingston upon Hull, West)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I do not like the Minister gabbling away, but is it not an old custom of the House that a Minister should at least give way to a Shadow Minister?

Mr. Speaker


Dr. Boyson

We shall also be improving education in wide areas. We are already improving the quality of teachers, which was so low when we inherited it. We are also checking the curriculum to ensure that we are moving towards a core curriculum. We are also making sure how this can be tested by the assessment of performance unit and in many other ways. We are improving O-level

standards so that we can maintain O-level standards in this country.

Question put, That the Bill be now read a Second time:—

The House divided: Ayes 305, Noes 253.

Division No. 92] AYES 10.00 p.m.
Adley, Robert Durant, Tony Joseph, Rt Hon Sir Keith
Aitken, Jonathan Eden, Rt Hon Sir John Kaberry, Sir Donald
Alexander, Richard Edwards, Rt Hon N. (Pembroke) Kellett-Bowman, Mrs Elaine
Amery, Rt Hon Julian Eggar, Timothy Kimball, Marcus
Ancram, Michael Elliott, Sir William King, Rt Hon Tom
Arnold, Tom Emery, Peter Kitson, Sir Timothy
Aspinwall, Jack Eyre, Reginald Knight, Mrs Jill
Atkins, Robert (Preston North) Fairbairn, Nicholas Lamont, Norman
Baker, Kenneth (St. Marylebone) Fairgrieve, Russell Lang, Ian
Baker, Nicholas (North Dorset) Faith, Mrs Sheila Langford-Holt, Sir John
Beaumont-Dark, Anthony Farr, John Latham, Michael
Bell, Ronald Fell, Anthony Lawrence, Ivan
Bendall, Vivian Fenner, Mrs Peggy Lawson, Nigel
Benyon, Thomas (Abingdon) Finsberg, Geoffrey Lee, John
Benyon, W. (Buckingham) Fisher, Sir Nigel Lester, Jim (Beeston)
Best, Keith Fletcher, Alexander (Edinburgh N) Lewis, Kenneth (Rutland)
Bevan, David Gilroy Fletcher-Cooke, Charles Lloyd, Ian (Havant & Waterloo)
Biffen, Rt Hon John Fookes, Miss Janet Lloyd, Peter (Fareham)
Biggs-Davison, John Forman, Nigel Loveridge, John
Blackburn, John Fowler, Rt Hon Norman Luce, Richard
Blaker, Peter Fox, Marcus Lyell, Nicholas
Body, Richard Fraser, Rt Hon H. (Stafford & St) McAdden, Sir Stephen
Bonsor, Sir Nicholas Fraser, Peter (South Angus) McCrindle, Robert
Boscawen, Hon Robert Fry, Peter Macfarlane, Nell
Bottomley, Peter (Woolwich West) Galbraith, Hon T. G. D. MacGregor, John
Bowden, Andrew Gardiner, George (Reigate) MacKsy, John (Argyll)
Boyson, Dr Rhodes Gardner, Edward (South Fylde) McNair-Wilson, Michael (Newbury)
Braine, Sir Bernard Garel-Jones, Tristan McNair-Wilson, Patrick (New Forest)
Bright, Graham Gilmour, Rt Hon Sir Ian McQuarrie, Albert
Brinton, Tim Goodhew, Victor Madel, David
Brittan, Leon Goodlad, Alastair Major, John
Brocklebank-Fowler, Christopher Gorst, John Marland, Paul
Brooke, Hon Peter Gow, Ian Marlow, Tony
Brotherton, Michael Gower, Sir Raymond Mates, Michael
Brown, Michael (Brigg & Sc'thorpe) Grant, Anthony (Harrow C) Mather, Carol
Browne, John (Winchester) Gray, Hamish Maude, Rt Hon Angus
Bruce-Gardyne, John Greenway, Harry Mawby, Ray
Bryan, Sir Paul Grleve, Percy Mawhinney, Dr Brian
Buchanan-Smith, Hon Alick Griffiths, Eldon (Bury St Edmunds) Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin
Buck, Antony Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth N) Mayhew, Patrick
Budgen, Nick Grist, Ian Mellor, David
Bulmer, Esmond Grylls, Michael Meyer, Sir Anthony
Burden, F. A. Gummer, John Selwyn Miller, Hal (Bromsgrove & Redditch)
Butcher, John Hamilton, Hon Archie (Eps'm&Ew'll) Mills, Iain (Meriden)
Butler, Hon Adam Hamilton, Michael (Salisbury) Mills, Peter (West Devon)
Cadbury, Jocelyn Hampson, Dr Keith Miscampbell, Norman
Carlisle, John (Luton West) Hannam, John Mitchell, David (Basingstoke)
Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln) Haselhurst, Alan Moate, Roger
Carlisle, Rt Hon Mark (Runcorn) Hastings, Stephen Monro, Hector
Chalker, Mrs. Lynda Havers, Rt Hon Sir Michael Montgomery, Fergus
Channon, Paul Hawkins, Paul Moore, John
Chapman, Sydney Hawksley, Warren Morris, Michael (Northampton, Sth)
Clark, Hon Alan (Plymouth, Sutton) Hayhoe, Barney Morrison, Hon Charles (Devizes)
Clark, Dr William (Croydon South) Heath, Rt Hon Edward Morrison, Hon Peter (City of Chester)
Clarke, Kenneth (Rushcliffe) Heddle, John Mudd, David
Clegg, Walter Henderson, Barry Murphy, Christopher
Cockeram, Eric Heseltine, Rt Hon Michael Myles, David
Colvin, Michael Higgins, Rt Hon Terence L. Neale, Gerrard
Cope, John Hill, James Needham, Richard
Cormack, Patrick Holland, Philip (Carlton) Nelson, Anthony
Corrie, John Hooson, Tom Neubert, Michael
Costain, A. P. Howe, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey Newton, Tony
Cranborne, Viscount Howell, Rt Hon David (Guildford) Normanton, Tom
Critchley, Julian Howell, Ralph (North Norfolk) Nott, Rt Hon John
Crouch, David Hunt, David (Wirral) Onslow, Cranley
Dean, Paul (North Somerset) Hunt, John (Ravensbourne) Oppenheim, Rt Hon Mrs Sally
Dickens, Geoffrey Hurd, Hon Douglas Osborn, John
Dorrell, Stephen Irving, Charles (Cheltenham) Page, Rt Hon R. Graham (Crosby)
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James Jenkin, Rt Hon Patrick Parkinson, Cecil
Dover, Denshore Jessel, Toby Parris, Matthew
du Cann, Rt Hon Edward Johnson Smith, Geoffrey Patten, Christopher (Bath)
Dunn, Robert (Dartford) Jopling, Rt Hon Michael Patten, John (Oxford)
Pawsey, James Shersby, Michael van Straubenzee, W. R.
Percival, Sir Ian Silvester, Fred Vaughan, Dr Gerard
Peyton, Rt Hon John Sims, Roger Viggers, Peter
Pink, R. Bonner Skeet, T. H. H. Waddington, David
Pollock, Alexander Smith, Dudley (War. and Leam'ton) Wakeham, John
Porter, George Speller, Tony waldegrave, Hon William
Prentice, Rt Hon Reg Spence, John Walker, Rt Hon. Peter (Worcester)
Price, David (Eastleigh) Spicer, Jim (West Dorset) Walker, Bill (Perth & E Perthshire)
prior, Rt Hon James Spicer, Michael (S Worcestershire) Walker-Smith, Rt Hon Sir Derek
Proctor, K. Harvey Squire, Robin Wall, Patrick
Pym, Rt Hon Francis Stanbrook, Ivor Waller, Gary
Raison, Timothy Stanley, John Walters, Dennis
Rathbone, Tim Steen, Anthony Ward, John
Rees, peter (Dover and Deal) Stevens, Martin Warren, Kenneth
Rees-Davies, W. R. Stewart, Ian (Hitchin) Watson, John
Renton, Tim Stewart, John (East Renfrewshire) Wells, John (Maidstone)
Rhodes James, Robert Stokes, John Wells, Bowen (Hert'rd & Stev'nage)
Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon Stradling Thomas, J. Wheeler, John
Ridley, Hon Nicholas Tapsell, peter Whitelaw, Rt Hon William
Rippon, Rt Hon Geoffrey Taylor, Robert (Croydon NW) Whitney, Raymond
Roberts, Allan (Bootle) Tebbit, Norman Wickenden, Keith
Roberts, Wyn (Conway) Temple-Morris, Peter Wilkinson, John
Rossl, Hugh Thatcher, Rt Hon Mrs Margaret Williams, Delwyn (Montgomery)
Rost, Peter Thomas, Rt Hon Peter (Hendon S) Winterton, Nicholas
Royle, Sir Anthony Thompson, Donald Wolfson, Mark
Sainsbury, Hon Timothy Thorne, Nell (Ilford South) Young, Sir George (Acton)
St. John-stevas, Rt Hon Norman Thornton, Malcolm Younger, Rt Hon George
Shaw, Michael (Scarborough) Townend, John (Bridllngton)
Shelton, William (Streatham) Townsend, Cyril D. (Bexleyheath) TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Shepherd, Colin (Hereford) Trippier, David Mr. Spencer Le Merchant and
Shepherd, Richard(Aldridge-Br'hills) Trotter, Neville Mr. Anthony Berry.
Abse, Leo Davis, Clinton (Hackney Central) Haynes, Frank
Adams, Allen Davis, Terry (B'rm'ham, Stechford) Healey, Rt Hon Denis
Allaun, Frank Deakins, Eric Heffer, Eric S.
Anderson, Donald Dean, Joseph (Leeds West) Hogg, Norman (E Dunbartonshire)
Archer, Rt Hon Peter Dempsey, James Holland, Stuart (L'beth, Vauxhall)
Armstrong, Rt Hon Ernest Dewar, Donald Home Robertson, John
Ashley, Rt Hon Jack Dixon, Donald Homewood, William
Ashton, Joe Dobson, Frank Hooley, Frank
Bagier, Gordon A. T. Dormand, Jack Horam, John
Barnett, Guy (Greenwich) Douglas, Dick Howell, Rt Hon Denis (B'ham, Sm H)
Barnett, Rt Hon Joel (Heywood) Douglas-Mann, Bruce Howells, Geraint
Beith, A. J. Dubs, Alfred Huckfield, Les
Benn Rt Hon Anthony Wedgwood Duffy, A. E. P. Hughes, Mark (Durham)
Bennett, Andrew (Stockport N) Dunn, James A. (Liverpool, Kirkdale) Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen North)
Bidwell, Sydney Dunnett, Jack Hughes, Roy (Newport)
Booth, Rt Hon Albert Dunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth Janner, Hon Greville
Boothroyd, Miss Betty Eadle, Alex Jay, Rt Hon Douglas
Bottomley, Rt Hon Arthur (M'brough) Eastham, Ken John, Brynmor
Bradley, Tom Ellis, Raymond (NE Derbyshire) Johnson, James (Hull West)
Bray, Dr Jeremy Ellis, Tom (Wrexham) Johnson, Walter (Derby South)
Brown, Hugh D. (Provan) English, Michael Johnston, Russell (Inverness)
Brown, Robert C. (Newcastle W) Ennais, Rt Hon David Jones, Barry (East Flint)
Brown, Ronald W. (Hackney S) Evans, Ioan (Aberdare) Jones, Dan (Burnley)
Brown, Ron (Edinburgh, Leith) Evans, John (Newton) Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald
Buchan, Norman Ewing, Harry Kerr, Russell
Callaghan, Rt Hon J. (Cardiff SE) Field, Frank Kilroy-Silk, Robert
Callaghan, Jim (Middleton & P) Fitch, Alan Kinnock, Neil
Campbell, Ian Flannery, Martin Lambie, David
Campbell-Savours, Dale Fletcher, L. R. (Ilkeston) Lamborn, Harry
Canavan, Dennis Fletcher, Ted (Darlington) Lamond, James
Cant, R. B. Ford, Ben Leadbitter, Ted
Carmichael, Neil Forrester, John Leighton, Ronald
Certwright, John Foster, Derek Lestor, Miss Joan (Eton & Slough)
Clark, David (South Shields) Foulkes, George Lewis, Arthur (Newham North West)
Cocks, Rt Hon Michael (Bristol S) Fraser, John (Lambeth, Norwood) Litherland, Robert
Cohen, Stanley Freeson, Rt Hon Reginald Lofthouse, Geoffrey
Coleman, Donald Garrett, John (Norwich S) Lyon, Alexander (York)
Concannon, Rt Hon J. D, Garrett, W. E. (Wallsend) Mabon, Rt Hon Dr J. Dickson
Conlan, Bernard George, Bruce McCartney, Hugh
Cook, Robin F. Gilbert, Rt Hon Dr John McDonald, Dr. Oonagh
Cowans, Harry Ginsburg, David McKay, Allen (Penistone)
Craigen, J. M. (Glasgow, Maryhill) Gourlay, Harry McKelvey, William
Crowther, J. S. Grant, George (Morpeth) MacKenzle, Rt Hon Gregor
Cryer, Bob Maclennan, Robert
Cunliffc, Lawrence Grant, John (Islington C) McMillan, Tom (Glasgow, Central)
Cunningham, George (Islington S) Grimond, Rt Hon J. McNally, Thomas
Cunningham, Dr John (Whitehaven) Hamilton, James (Bothwell) McNamara, Kevin
Dalyell, Tam Hamilton, W. W. (Central Fife) McWilliam, John
Davidson, Arthur Harrison, Rt Hon Walter Magee, Bryan
Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli) Hart, Rt Hon Dame Judith Maguire, Frank (Fermanagh)
Davies, Ifor (Gower) Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy Marks, Kenneth
Marshall, David (Gl'sgow, Shettles'n) Rees, Rt Hon Merlyn (Leeds South) Summerskill, Hon Dr Shirley
Marshall, Dr Edmund (Goole) Richardson, Miss Jo Taylor, Mrs Ann (Bolton West)
Marshall, Jim (Leicester South) Roberts, Albert (Normanton) Thomas, Dafydd (Merioneth)
Mason, Fit Hon Roy Roberts, Allan (Bootle) Thomas, Jeffrey (Abertillery)
Maxton, John Roberts, Ernest (Hackney North) Thomas, Mike (Newcastle East)
Maynard, Miss Joan Roberts, Gwilym (Cannock) Thomas, Dr Roger (Carmarthen)
Mellish, Rl Hon Robert Robertson, George Thorne, Stan (Preston South)
Mikardo, Ian Robinson, Geoffrey (Coventry NW) Tilley, John
Millan, Rt Hon Bruce Rodgers, Rt Hon William Torney, Tom
Miller, Dr M. S. (East Kilbride) Rooker, J. W. Varley, Rt Hon Eric G.
Mitchell, Austin (Grimsby) Ross, Ernest (Dundee West) Wainwright, Edwin (Dearne Valley)
Mitchell, R. C. (Soton, Itchen) Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight) Wainwright, Richard (Coine Valley)
Morris, Rt Hon Alfred (Wythenshawe) Rowlands, Ted Walker, Rt Hon Harold (Doncaster)
Morris, Rt Hon Charles (Openshaw) Ryman, John Watkins, David
Morris, Rt Kon John (Aberavon) Sandelson, Neville Weetch, Ken
Morton, George Sever, John Wellbeloved, James
Moyle, Rt Hon Roland Sheerman, Barry Welsh, Michael
Newens, Stanley Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert (A'ton-u-L) White, Frank R. (Bury & Radcliffe)
Oakes, Rt Hon Gordon Shore, Rt Hon Peter (Step and Pop) White, James (Glasgow, Pollok)
Ogden, Eric Short, Mrs Renée Whitlock, William
O'Halloran, Michael Silkln, Rt Hon John (Deptford) Wigley, Dafydd
O'Neill, Martin Silkin, Rt Hon S. C. (Dulwich) Willey, Rt Hon Frederick
Orme, Rt Hon Stanley Silverman, Julius Williams, Rt Hon Alan (Swansea W)
Palmer, Arthur Skinner, Dennis Williams, Sir Thomas (Warrington)
Park, George Snape, peter Wilson, Gordon (Dundee East)
Parker, John Soley. Clive Wilson, William (Coventry SE)
Parry, Robert Spearing, Nigel Winnick, David
Pavitt, Laurie Spriggs, Leslie Woolmer, Kenneth
Pendry, Tom Stallard, A. W. Wrigglesworth, Ian
Penhaligon, David Steel, Rt Hon David Wright, Shella
Powell, Raymond (Ogmore) Stewart, Rt Hon Donald (W Isles) Young, David (Bolton East)
Prescott, John Stoddart, David
Price, Christopher (Lewisham West) Stott, Roger TELLERS FOR THE NOES
Race, Reg Strang, Gavin Mr. Ted Graham and
Radice, Giles Straw, Jack Mr. James Tinn.
Question accordingly agreed to.
Bill read a Second time.
Bill committed to a Standing Committee pursuant to Standing Order No. 40 (Committal of Bills).