HL Deb 16 December 1947 vol 153 cc239-49

2.45 p.m.

Amendments reported (according to Order).

Clause 4:

Delegation to education committee.

4. Where in an administrative scheme under the Local Government (Scotland) Act, 1947, provision is made for delegation by the council to the education committee of any function, then until a revised administrative scheme recalling the provision comes into force the function shall be discharged by the education committee and not by the council, and the council shall not be entitled to instruct the committee as to the manner in which the function shall be discharged.

THE EARL OF ELGIN and KINCARDINE moved to delete Clause 4. The noble Lord said: My Lords, probably some apology is due to the House for introducing an Amendment of this kind at such a late stage of the Bill. An Amendment so drastic as the deletion of one-sixth of the Bill certainly is one which requires some explanation, but I think your Lordships will understand that the matter has already been referred to in the previous stages through which the Bill has gone. When the Bill was read a second time, Lord Polwarth stressed the fact that it had not been available for examination beforehand and that therefore it was impossible to do more than make a protest. Similarly, in the Committee, the noble Lord, Lord Saltoun, voiced a certain amount of agitation which had arisen in Scotland concerning the Bill, and in deference to that the noble Lord, Lord Morrison, who introduced the Bill as non-contentious, modified his description by saying it was "as non-contentious as any Bill which dealt with Scotland could be." I do not think that is strictly accurate, or strictly in accordance with the picture as it presents itself to me. The real ground on which I think the Bill could be held to be non-contentious was that it was kept a closely-guarded secret and nobody was allowed to see what was in it.

I would like to express my gratitude to the noble Viscount, the Leader of the House, and to Lord Morrison for having extended the period between the Committee stage and this stage to allow local authorities to go into the Bill and to formulate and present their views, upon it. That is the matter with which I am concerned to-day in moving the Amendment, which I do, to delete Clause 4. It is true that in the 1947 Act delegation was an agreed policy. Delegation has been recently put into practice. Quite a number of schemes have been produced and a number of them are in operation, in which the majority of the functions are delegated by education authorities to the education committees. But the present Bill goes a great deal further than that. One cannot help feeling that in this Bill there is hidden the wish, the open secret which we know is the fact, of several predecessors of the present Secretary of State for Scotland to return to the ad hoc education authority instead of the education authority being the county council, and one is tempted to think that this Bill is really an attempt to secure that by the side door. As I have said, delegation is not objected to, but it is this proposal in Clause 4, beyond the power of delegation, which is objected to and which has raised a storm of protest among education authorities in Scotland.

It claims that the education authority must denude itself entirely of any authority to criticize the actions of the education committee, if a delegation scheme has been passed, until a new scheme is introduced and becomes law. That may seem an inoffesive clause, until it is examined in more detail. You find when you examine it in more detail that what is meant is that an education authority denudes itself of any power to criticize its education committee unless and until a new scheme is promoted which receives the sanction of the Secretary of State for Scotland. What is the use of having a popularly elected education authority if the Secretary of State for Scotland, a single individual, is to become the autocratic controller of what may be criticized and what may be done? That is, in effect, the position that will be produced by this Clause 1f it is allowed to be enacted.

It may seem and may probably be considered a rather wild and extravagant statement for me to say that there is wide objection in Scotland, but I should like your Lordships to understand what actually has happened in the interval. As soon as the Bill became known, it was taken into consideration by the County Councils' Association, a body formed of representatives of all county councils. It was considered by two definite, independent committees, one of them definitely charged with education and the other with the general purposes of the association. Both these committees came to the unanimous decision that this clause must be opposed and a protest made on account of the wide powers which it was taking. Moreover, I have received from the City of Edinburgh, the capital city of Scotland, a letter saying that that authority supports the action of the County Councils' Association. Following on that, a number of county councils—my own is one of them—have taken independent resolutions protesting against this clause. The decision of the County Council of fife was a unanimous one, taken after full deliberation and debate on a prepared paper submitted to every member of the council before the county council meeting; the subject was on the agenda. Therefore, I think your Lordships may take it that we have the Association of County Councils, one, it any rate, of the largest cities, and a number of the county councils independently opposed to and protesting against this clause. That, I claim, and I think your Lordships will admit, is a fairly wide protest on the part of Scotland.

I come now to the root of the matter and the basis of our grounds for objection. As I have said the principle of delegation is not objected to, but the position is seriously altered when this delegation is followed up as it is in Clause 4. Clause 4 says: … until a revised administrative scheme recalling the provision comes into force … the council shall not be entitled to instruct the committee as to the manner in which the function shall be discharged. As I have said, a revised scheme can be brought into being only with the approval of the Secretary of State for Scotland. Therefore, I would repeat, because I thick it is important, that no such provision can take place except under the authority and with the consent of the Secretary of State for Scotland, who, after all, although he is a Minister of the Crown, is only one individual, as against popularly elected members of the county councils as education authorities. Surely, this cannot be described as democratic.

If the clause becomes law, it also seriously affects the interior economy of the county council. I can best illustrate this by figures taken from my own county council The County Council of Fife consists of no members; the education committee numbers forty. It will, therefore, be seen, from these round figures, that seventy county councillors, members of the education authority, will be disfranchised in all questions of education. But that is not the end of the matter, because included in these general figures are the members representing twenty-four large boroughs. Of those twenty-four, only four have seats on the education committee. Therefore, taking four for each of the boroughs, sixteen of those would be completely disfranchised from entering into any question of education policy. I wish to stress here that these large boroughs are linked with the county council simply and solely for the purpose of education. Therefore, it does seem strange that these members of the county council should be allowed to sit as members of the education authority and take no part in the deliberations on education. Further, there are some sixteen members of small boroughs who would be similarly deprived, and a similar number of the landward members. It is from this point of view, I think, that we must appreciate that the action proposed by this Clause 1s completely and utterly undemocratic.

Further, on the education authority there are eight co-opted members, who do not seek their place on the education authority through popular election, but are brought in to represent various interests; two represent the churches; two represent those who are specially interested in education, and with experience of it; two represent religious instruction; and two represent women. I do not wish in any way to decry the valuable services given by these co-opted members. They have given very great assistance to the authority in all its deliberations, and have taken a live part in the work of the committee. But is it fair that these eight members who do not seek popular election, and who gain their places through nomination, should be put in a privileged position above those who find their way to the education authority through popular election and, therefore, definitely represent the people? It is on that point of view that I think the whole basis of the opposition to this clause rests.

There is a suggestion that there still remains to an education authority, and to the members not included in the education committee, the power of criticizing from a financial aspect the deeds of that committee. But is that really so? If that is so, it means that there will remain with the finance committee, who have the responsibility of criticizing the budget, and of vetting every additional proposal which may come up, the charge of looking into whether or not this new service, or this full service, should be granted to the education committee, thereby, I think, engendering—and I have seen it myself in my own county council—interminable irritation between the two committees, which is not conducive to good work. For those reasons, I submit that there is a case for further consideration of this clause. I would repeat that we do not object to the principle of delegation, but we do strongly object to the delegation being taken so far that the authority, though they still remain the authority, have no right or title to criticize in any way the doings of their own education committee. I hope I have said enough to convince some, at least, of your Lordships that this is not democratic and that it should be resisted. It is in that spirit that I beg to move the deletion of Clause 4.

Amendment moved— Leave out Clause 4.—(The Earl of Elgin and Kincardine.)

3.0 p.m.


My Lords, I am also a member of a county council in Scotland—whether I am in touch with them or not, I leave your Lordships to judge. I wish, however, sincerely to congratulate the Government on Clause 4. What does it mean? It means that at long last education committees will have real control over all important matters of education. That was the intention of the 1945 Act, and I am informed that the new clause has been introduced because of a recent decision in the Law Courts which indicated that under the present Act County Courts would remain paramount even in delegated functions. My experience shows that in certain County Courts decisions taken by the education committees have been turned down on non-educational grounds, to the detriment of the children. Education, in my opinion, and I am sure in the opinion of all your Lordships, should be above politics, and the education authorities should make the welfare of the school population their first consideration. They should not be deflected from that by demands from Party caucuses, whether from the Right or from the Left.

The Association of County Councils want Clause 4 deleted. They say that all those members of the county council who are not members of the education committee would be debarred from participating in the exercise of the council's educational functions, and that amongst them might be large borough representatives, whose principal interest in county councils is education. The simple answer to that is for the large boroughs to see that their representatives are appointed to education committees.


They cannot do it. They are limited.


If not all, at any rate some of them. I listened carefully to the speech of the noble Earl who introduced the Amendment. He made little or no reference to the political partisanship to which I have referred, which in my opinion is detrimental to education. This may not be the reason for the introduction of this clause by the Government, but it is the reason for my supporting it. Then the noble Earl said that there was a storm of protest amongst educationists in Scotland—


I said education authorities.


I wonder whether the noble Earl knows that directors of education throughout Scotland held a meeting and were entirely in favour of this clause, and not against it. In moving the deletion of Clause 4 the noble Earl has undoubtedly the backing of most, if not. all, of the county councils of Scotland. But, as your Lordships who have had experience of local government know, nothing is more resented by members of county councils than any limitation of their powers. It is for this paltry and petty reason that they want the deletion of this clause, and they will still want deletion even if it should be proved to them that deletion would be harmful to the school population. The noble Earl, Lord Elgin, who has a record of public service which has earned the respect and esteem of all Scotsmen, has traditional ties with one powerful Party whose principles used to be "Peace, Retrenchment and Reform." What they are now I do not quite know. If your Lordships allow this clause to pass my noble friend should be happy to know that reform will be efficiently carried out in peace. I am not so sure about retrenchment, but even that might be possible in an atmosphere which would be much more clear of Party bias than it is at present.

The short point is that members of education committees, however they may be elected, are more directly interested in education than are the average members of the county council; and the passing of this clause will ensure that in future decisions of an education committee will not be trammelled and trampled upon for political or other extraneous reasons. When I was in Scotland last week. I was told that some county councils proposed to get round the clause by appointing all their members to the education committee. I hope the Government will take note of that. Never before in your Lordships' House have I backed the Government; but on this occasion I do so from my heart.

3.8 p.m.


My Lords, in the light of the two speeches to which we have just listened, I feel that the only thing I can do in passing is to offer my apologies to your Lordships for my foolishness at having said at an earlier stage that this Bill was non-contentious. What I meant and what I endeavoured to explain on the Committee stage was that from a Party political point of view, I was sure that it was non-contentious—at least as non-contentious as any Scottish Bill can ever be. But the two speeches this afternoon have convinced me that even that was too optimistic a statement.

The noble Earl, Lord Elgin, has produced a somewhat unusual Amendment for your Lordships' House. He proposes at the Report stage of this small Education Bill a major surgical operation to remove entirely the main clause of the Bill. Clause 4 is the main clause of this Bill, and I am sure that your Lordships would assent to this drastic surgery only if the arguments in favour were overwhelming—and that, of course, is for your Lordships to decide. The noble Earl made out an excellent case, as he always does. My only complaint would be that possibly he made the matter appear a little more complicated than it really is. I know that we, in your Lordships' House are accustomed to matters from Scotland always being of a complicated character; but I thought the noble Earl made this particular dispute between us even more complicated than it is. I have already explained twice to your Lordships how this particular situation arose, and I hesitate to do so again, but I will in a sentence or two.

The Scottish Education Bill was introduced by the National Government in 1945, the Second Reading being moved in another place on May 1, 1945. It was then referred to the Scottish Grand Committee and the Scottish Grand Committee had given, I think, only one day's consideration to what was a very large Education Bill, almost comparable to the English Education Bill, when it was announced that the National Government had come to an end and what was called the Caretaker Government took over. This meant a change of Secretary of State for Scotland from the Right Honourable Tom Johnston to the noble Earl, Lord Rosebery. Then conversations took place through what are called in the other place "the usual channels" as to what legislation should be dropped and what should be completed; and it was decided that the Scottish Education Bill, having by and large received the assent of all Parties in the House, should be proceeded with. Therefore, the amount of discussion was very small in another place, and smaller still in your Lordships' House where, I think, the Committee stage lasted something like half an hour.

Those were the circumstances in which that Bill was passed. It is not surprising, therefore, that in these conditions one or two faults should develop fairly early. It is to remedy some of these defects in the Act that this Bill is introduced. The principal one is that which we endeavour to remedy in Clause 4. The Scottish Education Act of 1945 delegated certain powers to education committees, so that they should have powers, within certain financial limits, to conduct the education business of their areas. Some time after the Bill became law, legal doubts arose as to the meaning of the particular section of the Act dealing with this matter, and there was a decision in the Courts. First of all, there was an English case of over fifty years ago, followed by a decision in a Scottish Court which created doubts as to whether the clause actually meant what the Government and all those who had supported it thought it did mean—namely, that education, apart from finance, was delegated to the education committees. So the object of Clause 4 is not to introduce any new principle into our legislation, but merely to restate again, in language about which I hope there will no longer be any doubt, what the Education Bill of 1945 had already laid down. It merely restores the position of delegation to what it was generally understood to be when the 1945 Act was passed.

The noble Earl, Lord Elgin, says that, as a result of my hasty introduction of this Bill, a storm has arisen in Scotland. The noble Earl, of course, is much more closely in touch with Scottish affairs than I am, and so is the noble Earl, Lord Glasgow. From the rumblings I have heard this afternoon, probably that is correct, but, whether it is true to say that they constitute a Scottish storm, I am not so sure: it sounds to me more like a storm in a teacup. The real question at issue is: Is delegation good or not? If your Lordships would permit me, I should like to quote what was said by an ex-Secretary of State for Scotland, Mr. Tom Johnston, in moving the Second Reading of the 1945 Bill in another place. This is what he endeavoured to make clear, but unfortunately, the language of the Bill did not do so. He said that the purpose was to secure (and these are his own words) the continuance of the present system of running education as a conjoint service with health, housing, water and the other services but qualified by delegation of real and effective education powers to the education committee from its parent body … That is a quotation from the Parliamentary Debates in the House of Commons, dated May 1, 1945, column 1274. From these words, your Lordships will see—at least, I do, at any rate—that it is perfectly clear that the purpose of this section of the 1945 Act was to prevent a council from interfering with the education committee exercising a delegated function, and that a council which exercises a function which it has delegated is not carrying out its administrative scheme. Clause 4 seeks to put this beyond dispute, as I have already said.

May I remind your Lordships of this further point? This Bill, unlike a good many Bills, originated in this House and it has still to go to another place for all its stages and discussions in Committee. In these circumstances. I should be surprised if your Lordships would be willing to cut the main clause out of a Bill without the detailed examination on its merits which your Lordships would wish to give to every Bill before coming to such an important decision. And my final word is this. The object of Clause 4, as I have already said, is to make clear what was the intention of Parliament in passing the Act of 1945—namely, that the delegation to the education committee should be an effective delegation. The Government feel that they must adhere to the substance of the clause, but, as recently as yesterday, representatives of the Association of County Councils have had an opportunity of expressing their views to the Secretary of State. Discussions are still proceeding. In these circumstances, I hope that the noble Earl will agree that the clause should stand at any rate pending the result of these discussions.


My Lords, I must say that I am not convinced by the arguments either of the noble Lord, Lord Morrison, or of the noble Earl, Lord Glasgow, but I should certainly not wish to do anything which would prevent the negotiations, which I understand are at present taking place between the Secretary of State and the Association of County Councils, Teaching a conclusion. Perhaps your Lordships would allow me to end in the same spirit as that in which I addressed your Lordships a few days ago, saying that I feel quite certain that this matter would be better decided round a table than across the floor of your Lordships' House., I beg leave to withdraw my Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.