§ [SECOND READING.]
§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.
§ THE LORD PRESIDENT OF THE COUNCIL (VISCOUNT WOLVERHAMPTON)
My Lords, I need not trouble your Lordships at any great length in asking you to give a Second Reading to this Bill. The Bill is of a purely departmental character. It has been before the House for some little time, and up to the present no serious exception has been taken to it. Should any criticisms on points of detail be forthcoming, I think they would be more appropriately and conveniently dealt with when we reach the Committee stage. I will, therefore, confine myself to a short explanatory summary of the proposals to which I ask your Lordships' assent.
Clause 1 provides that the delegation by a local education authority of its powers under the Education Act of 1902 to its education committee shall be applicable also to the educational powers conferred by subsequent Acts, with the exception, of course, of the power of raising a rate or of borrowing money. The power of delegation under the 1902 Act has been widely exercised, but, in view of the wording of Section 17, it is open to doubt whether specific powers conferred by subsequent Statutes are powers within the meaning of the Act, and, more generally, whether a local authority can delegate any such powers which it may have acquired since 1902. By way of illustration, I may refer to the Children Act of last year. Some doubt exists whether the function of cleansing verminous children can be delegated to the education committee, as administrative convenience would naturally suggest, and the Home Office agrees with the Board of Education that in the public interest the point ought to be cleared up. The difficulty is of a purely technical nature, and this clause is designed to effect its removal.
Clause 2 applies to the managers of provided secondary and technical schools the system of financial control and audit which the Act of 1902 imposes in the case of elementary schools. In practice it is found necessary to place sums of money at the disposal of the governors or managers of secondary and technical schools, and it 872 goes without saying that the expenditure of such funds should be properly controlled and audited.
Clause 3 extends, for the purposes of higher education, the power which the Education Act of 1870 gives to two or more local education authorities to combine in the maintenance of elementary schools serving the areas of more that one authority. Administrative experience has shown the great necessity for the establishment of such machinery in the case of secondary and technical schools. I may mention that, where these combinations are effected, the accounts of the joint body will be audited as if they were a separate local education authority, unless the Local Government Board sanction an agreement to the contrary.
Clause 4 proposes to simplify the means whereby students who enter a training college may give to the Board of Education some security that they will either follow the profession of teacher for a specified period, or will repay the money spent out of the Parliamentary grant to give them the education they receive at the college. The State has clearly the right, where it sets apart money for a specific purpose, to insist that the money shall be made to serve the object in view, and to impose conditions to that end on the persons benefiting by the expenditure. In this particular case the principal difficulty arises from the circumstance that the beneficiaries are almost invariably minors when they enter the training colleges, and that consequently, in default of statutory provisions to the contrary, agreements made with them are not enforcible at law. Prior to 1907 a declaration of intention to follow the teaching profession was usually exacted from such students, but this declaration had no legal force to bind the student, and did not in practice prove very effective, although obstacles were placed in the way of his entering the Civil Service. The Treasury were dissatisfied with the result and pressed for some amendment of the system. Since 1907 a new experiment has been tried, consisting of a tripartite agreement between the Board, the governing body of the training college, and the student, whereby the latter undertook either to serve as a teacher or to refund the money wasted on his specialised education; but in this arrangement also legal and administrative difficulties have 873 arisen. To refer to one point only, the students being minors, it was thought desirable to make the governors of the college parties to the instrument, but, as these mostly are unincorporated bodies, great obstacles presented themselves in obtaining their adhesion to the agreement. The clause in the Bill provides a remedy by substituting a simple agreement between the Board of Education and the students, and by giving it legal force in spite of the minority of one of the contracting parties. As the details are to be embodied in the Board's Regulations, it will be possible to ventilate any grievances through the usual channels.
Clause 5 is designed to enable a local education authority, subject to the approval of the Board of Education and the Local Government Board, to appropriate to non-educational purposes land which they hold for educational purposes. Previous Statutes, notably the Education Act of 1870 and the Education (Administrative Provisions) Act of 1907, enable education authorities to sell or lease land which they hold for educational purposes; to appropriate to the purposes of elementary education land held for the purposes of higher education, and vice versâ; to alienate educational land; and to appropriate to educational purposes land held for other purposes. This clause legalises the converse of the last-named process, and completes the series. I may mention that it is drawn on the model of Section 95 of the Public Health Acts Amendment Act of 1907. Some of your Lordships will, perhaps, think that there should be a local inquiry into the conditions of any proposed appropriation, and I have no doubt that in Committee we shall be able to discuss that point and to deal with it in a manner satisfactory to those competent to express an opinion upon it. I beg to move.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Viscount Wolverhampton.)
§ THE MARQUESS OF LONDONDERRY
My Lords, I concur with the noble Viscount that this would not be the stage in which to deal at any length with the provisions of the Bill which he has so lucidly explained, but I think at the same time it would not be altogether out of place if I, as Minister for Education in the late Government, asked the noble Viscount to explain one or two provisions in the Bill which I do not 874 quite understand. Clause 1 of this Bill is introduced for the purpose of amending Section 17 of the Education Act, 1902. With that I have no fault to find; but the provision in the clause applies not only with respect to the powers conferred under the Act of 1902 but also to "any powers I connected with education conferred on the I authority or council under any other Act," except the power of raising a rate or borrowing money. I should like to ask the noble Viscount what are those other powers which are alluded to in the clause. The clause is not very clearly defined. I do not ask the question in any hostile spirit, but merely to get some idea as to what those powers are.
Clause 5 opens up a new field. It allows the council of any county, borough, or urban district, with the consent of the Board of Education, to appropriate to other purposes land acquired originally for educational purposes only. There was a provision in the Education (Administrative Provisions) Act of 1907 enabling land acquired for the purpose of elementary education to be appropriated to the purpose of higher education, and vice versâ. That requires no comment. There was also a provision that land acquired for other purposes could be appropriated to educational purposes, but in that case the appropriation could only be with the consent of, and after inquiry by, the Local Government Board. In another case the council was allowed to alienate land acquired for the purposes of higher education, but that could only be done after inquiry by the Board of Education. I ask the noble Viscount to explain why there is this alteration in the present case, and why no inquiry is provided for in this Bill. If land were taken without inquiry for some other purpose it might be unfair to the person who sold it, or to the parishioners themselves who understood that the land was taken for one purpose only; and in my opinion an inquiry in such cases is always desirable. I think it would be advisable if the noble Viscount could see his way to introduce an Amendment in Committee to meet this point. Clause 1 of the Act of 1907 affords a precedent, for it is there provided that a local education authority may appropriate "with the consent of, and after inquiry by, the Local Government Board."
§ VISCOUNT WOLVERHAMPTON
I can 875 see very clearly the force of the second point which the noble Marquess has raised with reference to the necessity for inquiry. We will consider it before the Committee stage is reached, and I hope we shall be able to come to a satisfactory arrangement upon it. I can quite see that it might in certain cases be desirable for the protection of the various interests that there should be a local inquiry, but, if the noble Marquess agrees, I will leave that point to be discussed when we reach the Committee stage, with the observation that, so far as my own personal opinion is concerned, I rather incline to the view taken by the noble Marquess. As to the other point, I will give my best attention to the subject to see whether there are any powers which it might not be desirable to transfer.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LONDONDERRY
May I ask when the noble Viscount proposes to take the Committee stage?
§ VISCOUNT WOLVERHAMPTON
Not this week. I will endeavour to meet the convenience of your Lordships in this matter.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
If the noble Viscount says not this week, I presume he means not for at least three weeks.
§ On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the whole House.