HL Deb 02 April 1946 vol 140 cc478-91

2.48 p.m.

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, you will remember the Education Act of 1944 as the boldest and most far-sighted measure of social reform carried through Parliament during the war years. It was also memorable as a further stage in the development of our collective responsibility for giving an equal educational opportunity and a higher standard of culture to those who lack the advantages of parental affluence. This Bill merely consequential upon the Act of 1944. It seeks to make more effective the policy approved at that time by all Parties represented in the Coalition Government and by both the voluntary and public agencies that together operate our system of education. For this purpose it sets out to qualify existing law and to make a certain number of minor modifications in it. These small amendments are required to bring about the educational advance proposed in 1944 with greater speed and efficiency.

I propose to deal in my remarks on the Bill with the main alterations in existing law needed in our view to complete the job begun by the Education Act 1944. My first example occurs in Clause 1 of the Bill. Under the 1944 Act, local education authorities are responsible for all expenses of maintaining a controlled school, but they cannot pay for the enlargement of such a school if the additional building they have in mind is extensive enough to amount to the provision of a new school. There are many cases, however, where it would be more economical and educationally efficient to enlarge an existing controlled school than to build an entirely new county school or to keep in being a number of small controlled schools. Clause 1, therefore, enables local education authorities to pay for such an extension of an existing controlled school provided, of course, that the Minister is satisfied by their reasons in every case.

Under Clause 6 of the Bill the local education authorities would be able to get the work of enlargement and any other building or repairs undertaken carried out by themselves. As I have already mentioned, these authorities are already responsible for the expenses involved in maintaining a controlled school. They ought, therefore, to be in a position to make sure that the work is done as economically as possible. It is also probable that, in these days, with their greater resources they will be able to get this constructional work done more quickly than the school managers or governors. A third clause which is designed to hasten preparation for the raising of the school-leaving age, is Clause 5, which widens the scope of Section 109 of the 1944 Act. That section empowers the local education authorities to provide temporary accommodation for voluntary schools if the Minister is satisfied that it is essential, owing either to difficulties arising from war conditions or to the coming into operation of Part II of the main Act.

These powers, however, can be used only when the permanent accommodation will ultimately be provided by the managers or governors of the school concerned. This limitation is, at present, hampering preparations for the raising of the compulsory school-leaving age which is due to go up on April 1 of next year, and the purpose of the clause is to remove it. Authorities will then be in a position to provide temporary accommodation for a voluntary school whatever the agency may be that will provide permanent accommodation for its pupils. Let me give an example if I may. There are many Church schools of mixed ages from which the senior children will ultimately go to county secondary schools. The clauses which I have mentioned so far are those which are aimed at making available as quickly as possible the increased accommodation which will be needed when we have to cater for a very much larger number of schoolchildren.

I should now like to turn to Clause 7, which will, I believe, be specially appre- ciated by those of your Lordships who are keenly interested in the question of religious education. Under the Education Act of 1921 it was a common practice for Church of England and Roman Catholic schools to celebrate religious worship on certain occasions of special significance in Church and not on the school premises. Under the terms of the 1944 Act this practice is no longer possible; the collective act of worship must take place on the school premises, but it was not intended by the authors of the Act that this should be an invariable rule in all types of school. Aided and special agreement schools are clearly in a different position as compared with other schools. Provision is, therefore, made that in these types of school the collective act of worship may, on appropriate occasions of high religious significance, such as the Feast of Title or Ascension Day, take place elsewhere than in a classroom or other part of a school building.

Those who speak in this House for the Church of England and for the other religious denominations in the country will, I am sure, welcome this particular provision. I believe that they will also be pleased to note the provision in paragraph I of the First Schedule of the Bill. It is made clear in this paragraph that the responsibility for providing any additional site which may be needed for an existing voluntary school or a new site to which a voluntary school is transferred under Section 16 of the 1944 Act rests with the local education authority, and not with the managers or governors of the school. This conclusion is, indeed, implied in the 1944 Act, but it is reached there in such a roundabout way that there has already been misunderstanding about the intention of the Act; hence the urgent need for the clarification of the law contained in paragraph 1 of the First Schedule.

The First Schedule further provides, in paragraph 6—and here it does break new ground—that any such site shall be conveyed by the local education authority to the trustees of the school. This is to get over the legal difficulty that in many cases trust moneys cannot be used for erecting buildings on land which does not actually belong to the trust, and which, of course, does not, therefore, offer complete security of tenure. It would, of course, defeat the object of the local authorities in giving this limited assistance to voluntary schools if the managers were then unable to put up their school buildings on the land purchased expressly for that purpose. But the obligation of fairness in monetary matters works both ways. It it, of course, mutual as between the trustees of such properties and the local education authorities. In the case of a controlled school, the local education authority will also cover the cost of the erection of any new buildings on the site, and since the trustees may be able to sell the old site or buildings for a considerable sum—quite a likely event in these days—a duty is placed on them by paragraph 7 of the First Schedule of the Bill to pay to the local education authority such sum as the Minister may consider just, as a contribution towards the cost of the new buildings. It would certainly be unreasonable to suggest—and I do not believe that anyone does suggest it—that the trustees should pocket the whole of what may be a considerable windfall.

It is possible that when a piece of land has been provided for a voluntary school by a local education authority, in the way I have just described, and has been conveyed to the trustees, a portion of it may subsequently be acquired by a public authority—for example, by a highway authority for road-widening purposes. A duty is therefore placed upon the trustees by paragraph 8 of the First Schedule of the Bill to pay to the local education authority a fair share of the compensation or purchase money. It is also necessary to safeguard public moneys in the event of the closure of a voluntary school on which capital expenditure has been incurred either by the local education authority or by the Minister. Accordingly, among the miscellaneous amendments in the Second Schedule of the Bill is one to empower the Minister to require the repayment of so much of the expenditure as he thinks just. Alternatively, if the premises in question are still needed for educational purposes, he may require them to be conveyed to the local education authority. Any payment made will be a value payment. It will have regard, of course, to the circumstances existing at the time the transaction takes place, and will take full account of any increase in the value of the site, or any fall in the value of the buildings. Of course, it cuts the other way too. The local education authority will themselves, if they acquire the premises, have to make a payment to the school in so far as any part of the buildings or premises concerned was not provided by them, by the local education authorities, in the first instance.

There is one other aspect of the financial relations between public education authorities and the voluntary schools I think I ought to mention. Clause 4 of the Bill provides that the managers or governors of a voluntary school shall pay to the local education authority any proceed from the letting or hiring of any part of the school premises other than school buildings. This means, in effect, that the local education authority are to receive any sums derived from the letting or hiring, out of school hours of course, of playing fields, a caretaker's house, a pavilion, a medical inspection room, or a dining room. The justification for this injunction is that the playing fields and the buildings I have just mentioned are provided entirely at the expense of the local education authorities.

Clause 9 of the Bill is important because it gives local education authorities additional powers to provide clothing. The need for a supply of spare clothing in a nursery school or for children attending nursery classes, is obvious enough, and calls for no explanation; but I would like to say something about the effect of paragraph (a) of this clause, and the reason for its inclusion in the Bill. The powers here conferred on local education authorities are primarily designed for mentally or physically handicapped children attending residential special schools. But they will also be useful when conditions make it possible for local education authorities to provide boarding schools for normal children. Under the 1944 Act, the parent is, in 99 cases out of 100, not required to make any contribution to the cost of boarding his child at a special school, as the child is sent there because it is only in that way that he can be given a suitable education. But under Section 51 of this Act, the 1944 Act, the parent is liable to contribute to the cost of clothing worn by the child. There are two objections to this arrangement. In the first place, a strict application of Section 51 will involve an examination of the wardrobe of each child admitted to a residential special school, the application of a means test to the parent, and the subsequent charge of varying contributions according to the parents' financial position and the amount of clothes provided for an individual child.

Apart from the obvious objections to such an inquisitorial procedure, the effort and cost involved would be quite disproportionate to the results achieved. In the second place, it is still not generally realized what very little clothing poor children actually have. They have practically no reserve of clothing to meet an emergency. Their parents, if they are not completely indifferent, get over this difficulty by sending the child to bed while his clothes are being washed; but no public authority can resort to procedure of this kind, nor can it allow the children to go about in the streets in clothes which, being extremely scanty or shabby, might seriously reflect on the good management of the school. Another point I would make is this. Special schools aim at making their pupils as normal-looking as possible, and they are helped in off-setting the visible impression of particular defects if the children's clothing is sufficient and attractive. The Government have therefore decided that it is in the best interests of the defective children to enable authorities to provide the additional clothing free of charge, and without inquiry into the parents' means.

These few remarks have been directed to those provisions of the Bill that were either of outstanding importance in themselves or likely to be of special interest to the House, but of course I will gladly give further explanations if they are asked for by any noble Lords who may speak later in the debate. In the meantime, I do commend this Bill to the House as the humble instrument of a great design, and I beg to move that it be now read a second time.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(The Earl of Listowel.)

3.6 p.m.


My Lords, I should like very briefly to congratulate the Minister of Education on producing this Bill, and to thank the noble Earl for the clarity with which he has laid it before us. I noticed that in another place there was complete agreement on almost every detail of the Bill, and that there was agreement throughout the Committee stage when a number of Amendments were moved, both by the Minister and by members of other parts of the House. I think that is not surprising when we remember the discussions we had in your Lordships' House during the passage of the Bill of 1944. I have not actually looked up and counted the number of days, but I should be very much surprised if we did not spend more than ten days in Committee with a great number of Amendments. It is not surprising that now, when the Bill is beginning to be examined and put into operation, a number of points should require adjustment. There is only one point I venture to make, which is to support what Mr. Butler said, in another place, in asking the Minister to consider very seriously the early consolidation of this Bill with the Act of 1944. It is most desirable for educational administrators to be able to pick up one Act and really see what is required of them. I can only see one possible argument against taking this action at once, and that is, as is quite possible during the next twelve months or so, that other points still may become apparent; other points may require adjustment. Naturally, if the Minister thinks that is likely to happen, she will desire to postpone any consolidation.

With such considerable degree of agreement on this Bill, I do not think it is necessary to weary your Lordships with reference to particular clauses. I would like, however, to mention Clause I. Clause I undoubtedly may not satisfy all the noble Lords entirely, but I think we should be agreed that it is a very considerable advance on the powers of local authorities in assisting a particular type of voluntary schools—controlled schools, perhaps I should say. It is only another registration of the fact of how far we have outgrown the old religious controversies connected with education, which in the past did so much harm to the general cause.

The noble Lord referred to a considerable number of clauses, but I do not think he mentioned one clause which I particularly welcome. That is Clause 8. There is no doubt that these broken terms have been the cause of an immense amount of disorganization in the schools. The fact that a pupil could leave the school in the middle of a term, on the very day on which he or she attained the school-leaving age, resulted in a considerable breaking up of classes and disorganization of school life. I should like to congratulate the Minister on having tackled that problem.

I also welcome Clause 4, which I think one should read with the First Schedule to the Bill. We have here a considerable clarification and strengthening of the obligations of authorities with regard to the provision of facilities for medical inspection, for canteens and for playing fields. As I read the Schedule—perhaps the noble Earl will correct me if I am wrong—it makes the ultimate responsibility of the local authorities with regard to this matter very much clearer than in the past. Indeed, it places the ultimate responsibility upon them with regard to all types of school. These are the only clauses in the Bill to which I would make particular reference. I should like, however, once again to congratulate the Minister on tackling this difficult and most important matter and on making these adjustments.

3.11 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to add my congratulations to the Minister of Education on this admirable Bill, not only on account of its contents but in having persuaded her colleagues, when there is so much competing legislation, to find time for it. That is no mean achievement. It was of course inevitable in a Bill of the magnitude of the 1944 Act that certain small cracks and flaws should begin to show themselves. The marvel indeed is that not more have been revealed. As my noble friend has pointed out, I think that is largely due not only to the long and patient negotiations which preceded that legislation but to the careful and protracted attention given to it in Committee. It would probably be a very good thing if all our legislation could receive similar care and attention.

There are very few clauses to which I would make reference. Clauses 1 to 5 will I think be of very great help to local authorities in carrying out the class of development which is prescribed for in the 1944 Act. Speaking as a member of a local education authority, I can assure your Lordships that they will be aware of the help which they can receive. I think it is probable that, under the policy of providing secondary education for all, in due course there will be a con- siderable discontinuance of the smaller schools, such as the village and voluntary schools. That tendency was already in operation before the war as a result of the policy of reorganization. As noble Lords are aware, local authorities were then busy in building new schools for the children of eleven years of age and over. In the rural districts many of these schools—I think too many—were being sited in the local towns. That was no doubt a convenience to the local authority, and probably there were many points in the favour of such a policy.

With such experience as I had, I formed the opinion that, with regard to what are called the area schools, the East Suffolk authority probably made the best provision for that type of school, which is called a senior school, that could be made in the country. It was not possible to do what this Bill now makes it possible to do, but the Suffolk authority built these new schools in the countryside in a central position reasonably adjacent to a number of village schools and within a practical radius. But they could not do what this Bill now proposes may be done. Nor indeed did the 1944 Act make it possible. It is now possible to take a suitably sited voluntary village school and enlarge it so as to make a central school in the same way as one finds with East Suffolk area schools at present. The result, of which many of your Lordships I am sure will approve, will be to make secondary education available in the countryside without the children having to go into the towns for it. There is only one point which I should like to make with regard to these enlarged schools, and that is that I hope they will not be too large. It is difficult to define what the size of a school should be, just as it is in business or industry or indeed any human undertaking. I would, however, say that where one has the case of a headmaster of a school no longer being able to act, as it were, as the guide, philosopher and friend of the pupils, but mainly as administrator, then that school in my opinion is too large.

Clause 5 will be of very considerable help to local authorities in their task of making provision for the raising of the school-leaving age in about a year's time. Clause 109 of the 1944 Act is certainly unduly restrictive. It is essential to have power to build these temporary classrooms for the new age group, where the school permits, where there is room for them. Without that I can see very considerable difficulty indeed in arranging accommodation for the children of the new age group. Of course what we all want are good, permanent school buildings everywhere, but sometimes one could wish that our ancestors had themselves indulged in a bit of temporary building instead of some of the frightful and indestructible buildings which the Victorian age produced for the benefit of the children of that time. With the standard of educational equipment and building changing so rapidly, one might be excused for wondering whether even now it is safe to build a school to last for more than one generation. At any rate, the position is this: unless advantage is taken of this clause to provide this temporary accommodation (which can be quite pleasant and agreeable), and, unless that is provided in considerable quantity, there will be a great danger of producing what is the great bugbear to all teachers—the large class. I notice that in another place the Parliamentary Secretary said in his opinion a good building was as important as a good teacher. I doubt that. With such experience as I have had in opening very fine new schools, I have always formed the opinion that, unless the quality of the teacher was as good as or better than that of the building, the school would not have a successful future.

There is one other clause in respect of which I will say a few words. That is Clause 9, to which the noble Earl referred. That, if I may say so, is an admirable clause. I am, however, wondering whether it goes quite far enough. For instance, so far as I can see, a local authority is to provide clothing free of charge—that is, blazers, gym. costumes, and so forth—for any pupil who is a boarder at any educational institution maintained by the authority, and for the pupils at the nursery schools. So far as I can see, this would not enable the authority to make such provision for a boarder in a direct-grant school or in a school assisted by a local authority. I am also not clear whether such provision would be made for a child in the area of one authority who boards in a school maintained by another authority. Nor, of course, does it presumably apply to children who go to independent schools. I hope the future will see a much larger proportion of these poorer children eventually finding their way to these schools. I may have, however, misunderstood the clause, and I should be obliged if the noble Earl in his reply would enlighten me on that point. Otherwise I personally have no criticism and no misgivings about this admirable Bill, and I hope your Lordships will give it your full approval.

3.19 p.m.


My Lords, I am speaking on this occasion as a Roman Catholic, and not as a member of the Liberal Party. We welcome this Bill, which we think is a clarification of the original Act and will help considerably from an administrative point of view. I confess that when the Bill was introduced in another place we had certain qualms about some of its provisions. These qualms have been largely allayed because the Minister was able to accept the principle of certain Amendments we put forward and gave us also an assurance on one particular point—namely, Clause 14, Schedule 2. But I would ask the noble Earl to note that it is probable, arising out of that assurance, that I shall put down an Amendment at the Committee stage when it comes before your Lordships. It will only be a small Amendment and in line with the assurance to which I have referred. Meanwhile I would like to express to the Minister our thanks for the attention and courtesy she gave to the proposals we placed before her in another place.

Your Lordships will see that, as I have said, we welcome this Bill and we have acquiesced in and generally welcomed the 1944 Act. I feel bound to take this opportunity to remind your Lordships that while the Catholic community has pledged itself to do its utmost to make that Act workable it is by no means satisfied with all the provisions of that Act. We find it is quite intolerable that Catholic parents should be penalized financially for sending their children to Catholic schools. We look upon that not only as a severe burden but as a grave injustice and we intend to do our utmost to get it obliterated as soon as an opportunity arises. Meanwhile we welcome this Bill.

3.23 p.m.


My Lords, I want just to add one word of welcome for this Bill. It was a Bill necessary to meet a number of difficulties which had arisen in the actual administration., and I think that it is agreed that most of these Amendments do improve the Bill. Perhaps Clause 7 may need a little scrutiny when we come to the Committee stage and I hope that that may be interpreted very liberally on the few occasions on which there may be special services in a building or otherwise actually in the schools. It is possible that later on in the Committee stage the clause may be made clearer. Meanwhile I welcome the Bill and say that it is indeed satisfactory to find that a wide-reaching measure of educational reform can go through without reviving the old controversies which so often hampered education in the past.

3.24 p.m.


My Lords, I will only add a very brief word on this Second Reading. I agree with those noble Lords who have congratulated the framers of the Bill upon the Bill, which seems to me on the whole a very desirable measure. The only remark I want to make is this. When a Bill of this kind comes up and I have an opportunity of reading it, I read it with the object of seeing whether as a lawyer I can understand it and whether it is something which the Courts or other people who have to deal with it will be able to understand. On the whole I express the opinion, because I am sometimes a critic on these occasions, that this Bill is very well drafted and is a credit to the draftsman.

The only portion which for my part I cannot construe with any accurate meaning is at line 10 on the first page—namely, Clause 1, subsection (1). That refers to the enlargement of controlled schools. The clause provides that: If upon the application of a local education authority and the managers or governors of a controlled school maintained by the authority, the Minister of Education (hereinafter referred to as the Minister) is satisfied of something, then he can make a certain order. But he has got to be satisfied of two conditions, first: that it is expedient that the premises of the school should be enlarged to such an extent that the enlargement would amount to the establishment of a new school. I have tried to realize for myself when an enlargement of a building would amount to the establishment of a new school. If there is an existing school with an existing building and the enlargement would amount to, we will say, thirty pupils, would that amount to the establishment of a new school, or would fifty pupils he right? There must be something which is in the mind of the draftsman and I cannot quite see why it should not be ten pupils, if necessary. If the meaning is so vague, those who have to advise the Minister as to whether he could be satisfied that the enlargement was equal to the establishment of a new school would have a very difficult task to perform; and if the Minister requires advice he may be told that no advice can be given him and he must make up his own mind. It is not as if it was a question of the number of pupils.

There is also the second condition: that the enlargement is wholly or mainly required for the purpose of providing accommodation for pupils for whom accommodation would have been provided in some other voluntary school if that other school had not been discontinued or had not otherwise ceased to be available for the purpose. So that you have got some pupils who have to be reasonably provided for and of course the enlargement has got to be a fairly substantial one if the order specified in subsection (1) is going to be made, and the expense of giving effect to the proposals has got to be paid by the local education authority. I am only putting this before the noble Earl in charge of the Bill so that he may consider whether it is not desirable to make it a good deal simpler in order to make the clause, which is a perfectly valid and necessary clause, work. Of course, if the Government are satisfied to leave all insoluble conundrums for the future Minister of Education I have nothing more to say, but I think it is a matter which might be considered before the Committee stage.

3.28 p.m.


My Lords, I should like first to thank the House and all the noble Lords who spoke for the extremely cordial welcome that has been given to this Bill. It is indeed gratifying to all who are keen about education that neither Party interests nor denominational issues are in these days allowed to impede educational advance. And that fact has emerged very clearly from the discussion we have had this afternoon. There are one or two points raised by noble Lords which I should like to answer immediately. The noble Earl, Lord De La Warr, said he wished that the Education Acts of 1944–46 could be consolidated because that would be greatly to the convenience of the average person who would otherwise have considerable difficulty in understanding the law. Of course, we are entirely in agreement with him on that point. There is a great deal of leeway in consolidation to make up in many different departments of the law, and I am sure the noble Earl appreciates that education has to take its place and that its claims have to be related to those of other branches of the law.

A point was raised by the noble Lord, Lord Soulbury, which I think I can also answer at this moment. He wondered whether a local education authority would be able to provide clothing for a child boarded outside the area in which it lived by a neighbouring local education authority. I can assure him on that point that arrangements have been made for a neighbouring authority to recover the cost involved from the education authority in the area of the child's home. I would only say, on the point to which our attention was directed by the noble Viscount, Lord Maugham, that it has been the practice since 1921 for the Minister to determine whether or not an enlargement was of the size to constitute a new school, and that decision has been taken regularly without causing criticism, ever since the Minister was given this power. Accordingly, it is to be hoped and expected that it will not involve the Minister in any difficulties in time to come. I should like to thank the House again for its very gratifying attitude towards a Bill of some importance in education, and to say that I shall be of course delighted during the ensuing stages to deal with any of the Amendments which were foreshadowed.

On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.