§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.
§ THE PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY OF THE MINISTRY OF TRANSPORT (LORD PONSONBY OF SHULBREDE)
My Lords, this is a small Bill which is being introduced to correct an unforeseen consequence which affects local education authorities resulting from the Local Government Act, 1929, as it now stands. This measure is entirely uncontroversial, and I do not wish to detain your Lordships for more than a very few minutes. I think the situation can best be described by quoting a Question that was put down by Mr. Neville Chamberlain on May 1 last, addressed to the President of the Board of Education. Mr. Chamberlain asked—whether his attention has been drawn to the fact that, in the absence of further legislation, orders by the Minister of Health under Section 46 of the Local Government Act, 1929, may result in the creation of a series of new Part III education authorities; and whether he proposes to introduce legislation in order to obviate such a result, which was not intended when the Act of 1929 was framed?The President of the Board of Education replied:—Yes, Sir. I am aware of the serious difficulties with which county councils will be confronted in carrying out their plans for educational re-organisation if large numbers of new Part III authorities are created as a result of orders made under the Local Government Act, 1929. It 143 appears, as the right hon. gentleman's Question suggests, that such a result was never intended when last year's legislation was framed. His Majesty's Government are, therefore, prepared to introduce a short Bill to obviate the creation, by orders under the Local Government Act, of new authorities for elementary education.I think this really explains the situation, and shows that the previous Government would have introduced such a Bill as this in order to make the necessary corrections.
Section 46 of the Local Government Act provides, as your Lordships know, for the re-arrangement of existing divisions of counties into rural and urban districts. It was inserted in order to secure greater ease of administration in general. There was no intention at that time of interfering at all with local education authorities. I may explain that, in the Education Act, 1902, it was attempted to consolidate elementary education in the hands of councils of counties and of county boroughs, but it was not expedient at that time to sweep away the school board system entirely, and therefore it was provided that, in addition, the councils of boroughs of a population of more than 10,000 and of urban districts of a population of more than 20,000 (in each case the population was to be calculated on the census of 1901), should be local education authorities for elementary education. This definition of local education authorities for elementary education was continued in the Education Act of 1921. Until 1929 there had been nine cases only in which changes in boundaries or the incorporation of an urban district as a borough had resulted in the councils of boroughs or urban districts being entitled, according to the population recorded in the census of 1901, to become local education authorities, and so to become independent, for the purposes of elementary education, of the authority of the councils of the counties in which they are situated.
The rearrangement of the county areas now proceeding under the Local Government Act will, in the absence of the legislation contemplated in this Bill, probably result in the creation of a considerable number of boroughs and urban districts which, according to the population census taken in 1901, will be entitled to become local education 144 authorities. The re-arrangement is really for administrative purposes and is not related in any degree to educational demands. If these new authorities were to be local education authorities, there would probably be considerable dislocation involved in transferring educational responsibilities to them from the county councils. This would seriously disorganise the existing system of elementary education in the counties, and the urban councils in many cases are not likely to have sufficient resources to become efficient education authorities. The Bill is designed with the simple object of securing that new local education authorities for elementary education shall not come into existence where they have not existed already, by keeping the control of elementary education in the hands of those already exercising educational responsibility, and by preventing the extension of the exercise of such responsibility to those authorities which, as the result of the rearrangement under the Local Government Act, may be entitled under Section 3 of the Education Act, 1921, to become education authorities.
The number of such education authorities that might be created cannot be ascertained at present, because the whole thing is being decided, but there would be likely to be a considerable number if this Bill were not passed. The Bill, I may say, will not result in any increased expenditure to the Exchequer, nor does it apply to the Administrative County of London. The essence of the Bill is in subsection (I) of Clause I, which lays down the broad rule that the council of a borough or urban district shall not become a local education authority unless it is already a local education authority, or unless it is expressly constituted as such by an Act of Parliament, or by the union of two or more urban districts, one of which is already a local education authority. I think your Lordships will see that local authorities will be placed in a very serious dilemma if such a Bill as this is not passed into law very rapidly, and will be handicapped in the proper arrangement of the boundaries, which is desired for the more efficient discharge of their administrative powers. I beg to move.
§ Moved. That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede.)145
§ LORD STRACHIE
My Lords, I only rise for a moment to say on behalf of the County Councils Association that we thank the Government very much for bringing in this Bill, which we welcome. Under the Local Government Act of 1929 we had to have a survey of county districts. That is going on, and if we have not this Bill we shall he in very great difficulty, as has been pointed out by the noble Lord. In many cases we shall have to add to municipal boroughs under 10,000, or amalgamate two district authorities who will be over 20,000 and, therefore, have the right to Maim to administer their local affairs in their own way. I beg once more on behalf of the County Councils Association to thank the Government, and to express the hope that they will press forward the Bill as quickly as possible.
§ On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the whole House.