HL Deb 12 July 1944 vol 132 cc885-92

Delegation of functions of local education authorities to divisional executives.

7. A local education authority, before submitting to the Minister any scheme of divisional administration (whether made by them or by a council of a borough or district which is an excepted district) shall consult the council of every county district in their area, and shall after such consultation serve a copy of the scheme upon each of those councils; and before any scheme of divisional administration is submitted to the Minister the local education authority or council by whom the scheme was made shall publish such notices with respect thereto as may be prescribed.

8. Every scheme of divisional administration shall— (a) provide for the constitution of every body which is to be a divisional executive for the purposes of the scheme, except where the scheme provides for the functions thereby delegated being exercised by the council of a borough or urban district as the divisional executive; Provided that no such scheme shall authorize any divisional executive to borrow money or to raise a rate.

EARL STANHOPE moved, in paragraph 7 of Part III, after "A local education authority," to insert "before representing to the Minister that the making of a scheme for divisional administration for its area is unnecessary or." The noble Earl said: My Lords, the Bill as drafted compels a local education authority before submitting a scheme of divisional administration to the Minister to notify the Part III authorities as to the details of the scheme and to issue notices about it. But supposing the local education authority decides not to have a scheme at all; they need not then notify the district authorities or anybody else, nor publish any details. So what happens? You get the Part III authorities thinking that the local education authority are still planning a scheme, and therefore they wait to be told of that scheme. Presently they find there is to be no scheme of delegation at all, that the matter has gone up to the Minister, that the Minister has thought that these district authorities have been consulted and has given his approval. The first thing the district authorities know is that it is approved by the Minister and has been decided by the local authority that no scheme is necessary. They suggest that whether there is a scheme or not they should be consulted, and given an opportunity of considering the matter. Therefore I have put down this Amendment, so that if there is no scheme they shall be told equally as in the case where the local education authority does draw up a scheme.

Amendment moved— Page 91, line 1, after ("authority") insert the said words.—(Earl Stanhope.)


My Lords, surely my noble friend has not given quite sufficient attention to the proviso in paragraph 2 of Part III of this Schedule. If he will look at the top of page go he will find that the second sentence reads: Provided that if the Minister is satisfied with respect to the area of any local education authority that the making of a scheme of divisional administration for that area is unnecessary, he may by order direct that this Part of this Schedule shall not apply to that local education authority.


My Lords, my point relates to an area where it is deemed unnecessary to have a scheme and where neither the Minister nor the Part III authorities have been told anything about it.


My Lords, the noble Earl's experience in matters of educational administration is very much greater than mine, but I would like to put this to him. As I understand the policy of the Board of Education and of my right honourable friend, it is that this scheme of divisional administration will be necessary in nearly every part of the country except in some very sparsely inhabited counties such as, let us say, some Welsh counties, and possibly others. In the vast majority of cases schemes of divisional administration will be necessary, and it is only where the Minister decides that special circumstances render them unnecessary, that the power is given to him to exempt the local authority from the necessity of providing for divisional administration. That being the case it is unnecessary—it is quite wrong in fact—to ask a local education authority to inform the district councils that this is to be done because it is not the local education authority that is going to take the decision, it is the Minister who is to take it.


My Lords, if my noble friend will give me an assurance that the Minister will see that these junior authorities are notified if a scheme is not necessary, then I am perfectly satisfied. All I want to ensure is that a local education authority shall not make a decision on a scheme behind the backs of the district authorities without their knowing anything about it. If the Minister will see that what I suggest is done, that will be perfectly satisfactory. All that I want to ensure is that what I foresee shall not happen.


My Lords, if I may speak again with the leave of your Lordships I should like to say that it is not the county authorities with whom the matter will rest. This question is to be settled by the Minister.


That satisfies me perfectly.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.


My next Amendment is consequential, and I do not move it.

THE LORD BISHOP OF WAKEFIELD moved, in paragraph 8 of Part III, to insert: (i) provide that the divisional executive shall admit representatives of the Press to its meetings unless the said executive by resolution excludes the Press from any particular meeting. The right reverend Prelate said: My Lords, the most reverend Primate, who is not able to be here, has asked me to move this Amendment. I called attention to this matter on the Second Reading of the Bill, and I want briefly to make an appeal once again to the Government on the subject, because I conceive it to be of some importance. The point is this. Under the Admission of the Press Act, 1908, the Press are able to attend local education authority and education committee meetings unless they are expressly excluded. The new divisional executives are to have to a very large extent the functions and work of an education committee, and they are to be very important bodies.

It seems to me that what applies to an education committee should apply to the divisional executives, and that for two reasons. First of all, we have been saying all the while that we want to interest the public as a whole in this work of education, and, that being so, we ought to have the help of the Press in so doing. Secondly, it is possible that with some authorities hole-and-corner methods will be used and wire-pulling will take place, and the great safeguard against this sort of thing—and this is one of our democratic principles—is publicity. I have read very carefully what the noble Earl said in reply on the previous occasion when the Government resisted this proposal. The Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Education favoured this provision, and said that he would see that it was inserted somewhere, but it has not been inserted, and the answer was given that this is all dealt with in the Act of 1908, and that that Act may be amended at some later time. I do not think that that is satisfactory, because if these divisional executives are in the same position as education committees you are in effect not amending the Act of 1908 by what I now propose, but simply saying that that Act shall apply to divisional executives as it does to education committees. On public grounds I think that this is most desirable, and I must confess that I do not feel at all convinced by the answer which has been given.

Amendment moved— Page 91, line 40, at end insert the said new paragraph —(The Lord Bishop of Wakefield.)


My Lords, I am glad that the right reverend Prelate has raised this matter again, because it seems to me, from certain reports of our last debate which I have read in the Press, that there is considerable misapprehension abroad as to the attitude of His Majesty's Government in this matter. There is no desire on the part of His Majesty's Government that discussions in public bodies should take place in camera; and I agree, and the Government agree, with the right reverend Prelate when he says that publicity is a most valuable safeguard in our public life. The point which moves the Government in this matter is that of piecemeal legislation. It is a little like the point which I had to make to my noble friend Lord Aberdare in connexion with community centres. After all, we are covering a great many subjects in this Education Bill, and when we are passing so much legislation it is important that each subject should be dealt with properly and not piecemeal, and that the subjects should not be mixed up together.

In the view of His Majesty's Government, the question of the attendance of the Press at meetings of public bodies is dealt with by the Act of 1908, and in their opinion it would be premature to adopt the Amendment moved by the right reverend Prelate, since it would tend to prejudice the future consideration of the position of the Press at public meetings. The divisional executives will be free to admit the Press whenever they so desire. They will also be free to exclude the Press. For the time being, in the view of His Majesty's Government, it is best to leave the matter there, and it would be unwise to attempt to make any change in the Act of 1908 when passing an Education Bill. I hope that I have made my point clear to the right reverend Prelate.


My Lords, I know from my own experience that the Press feel very strongly on this matter. If there is nothing to conceal at these meetings there is no reason why the Press should not be admitted. This matter has been discussed by the Press generally in this country, and especially by the provincial Press, and they were hoping that the Government could meet them on this small point. If the Press are not admitted, the impression will obviously be that something of a hole-and-corner nature is going on. That cannot fail to have an effect on the new Act, and I think that on a matter of this kind the Government could meet us. I wish that the noble Earl would look at this matter again and see whether it is not possible to make it impossible for the Press to be excluded from these meetings.


My Lords, there need be no confusion or suspicion on this matter if the Press will only try to appreciate the Government's point. The Government have nothing to hide in this matter, and in fact this does not relate to Government business at all, but to what local education authorities will do up and down the country. It is merely a question of dealing with the law relating to Press attendance when passing an Education Bill; and, as I have already said, the opinion of the Government is that this is not the appropriate moment to alter, or the appropriate method of altering, the Act of 1908.


My Lords, I hope that the Government will take early steps to try to get the Act of 1908 altered, because there can be no question that in a country such as this, where there is freedom of the Press, the Press should be admitted to all these meetings, apart from most exceptional circumstances, and there cannot possibly be exceptional circumstances in discussing education.


My Lords, these divisional executives are entirely new bodies; no such bodies have ever existed before. It is therefore not unnatural in a Bill dealing with them to say what shall be their relation to the Press. Since they are exercising important functions, I should have thought it was quite relevant to say that the Press shall be admitted, except where by resolution and for important reasons it is desired to exclude them. The point is that these are new bodies, bodies which have not existed before, and therefore this matter might quite well be dealt with in the Bill.


My Lords, I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment, but I do hope the noble Earl will still consider what has been said this afternoon.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Fifth Schedule [Constitution of independent schools tribunals]:

THE EARL OF SELBORNE moved to leave out the Fifth Schedule and insert the said Schedule after the Sixth Schedule. The noble Earl said: My Lords, this Amendment is necessary because the Sixth Schedule is referred to in the new clause which is to be inserted after Clause 28. The Fifth Schedule is not mentioned until we come to Clause 70. If this is passed it will be necessary to instruct the officers of the House to make a number of consequential Amendments. The effect of the Amendment is to turn the Fifth Schedule into the Sixth Schedule and the Sixth Schedule into the Fifth Schedule. This is necessary because as the Bill is drafted at present the Sixth Schedule is mentioned before the Fifth Schedule, and that apparently just is not done.

Amendment moved— Page 96, leave out the Fifth Schedule and insert the said Schedule on page 98, line 38, after the Sixth Schedule.—(The Earl of Selborne.)

On Question, Amendment agreed to.


My Lords, I beg to move that the officers of the House be instructed to make the necessary consequential Amendments.

Moved, That the officers of the House be instructed to make the necessary consequential Amendments.—(The Earl of Selborne.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Sixth Schedule: