HL Deb 07 July 1958 vol 210 cc657-69

5.15 p.m.

Report stage resumed.

First Schedule:

General Grants

Part V.—Adjustments of General Grants for pooling, etc., arrangements:

(4) This paragraph applies to expenditure incurred— (c) in the provision, or in assisting the provision, of such facilities for further education of an advanced character as may be specified by or under regulations under this paragraph.

LORD ADDINGTON moved in Part IV, paragraph 1 (4), to leave out sub-paragraph (c). The noble Lord said: My Lords, I put down this Amendment on the Committee stage, but I did not move it because discussions were then going on between the Ministry of Education and the County Councils' Association representing one side of the local government authorities concerned. So far as I understand it, those discussions are still going on, so that the points are, so to speak, sub judice. If there are any words that can be inserted on the Third Reading so as to embody the results of those discussions, I shall be glad to help in any way I can, and, if it were preferred, to put down certain words to be so inserted.

The main objection to the pooling provisions of the Bill is, as I understand it, that they would upset the arrangements agreed to as recently as July, 1956, between Sir David Eccles, a former Minister of Education, and the County Councils' Association which were designed to promote what is called "free trade" in regard to attendance at further education courses provided by one local authority with students living in the area of another such authority. Under pooling arrangements, counties, and especially the rural counties with no rateable values, would apparently have to pay more, and in some cases much more, and in the large centres of population they would pay less. I would suggest that in this House we should regard fully the interests of the rural areas where the product of a penny rate is comparatively small. No detailed figures have been produced to show on what basis pooling would be actually carried out.

I suggest, further, that local authorities which do not provide such courses would have to contribute to expenditure over which they would have no control; and if the expenditure was pooled, those authorities that do provide them would be less likely to see that they were run economically. I understand also that there is no great difficulty in continuing the payments on the present basis, which is on a user basis. I do not propose at this stage to put the points forward at all fully, or to weary your Lordships with such figures as have been suggested. I am only anxious that a fair and reasonable basis should be worked out for these courses and that the expenditure should be provided equitably. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Page 53, line 23, leave out the said subparagraph.—(Lord Addington.)


My Lords, I wish to support my noble friend, because there is a principle behind this Amendment and the Government's present proposals. The object of the Bill, as a whole, is to increase the responsibility and power of local governments for dealing themselves, without undue pressure from ministerial Departments, with money raised from the rates and with the new general grant. If that is so, then it would appear to be a departure from this principle to insert in this Bill these pooling proposals for this particular form of education. On the one hand you give the local authorities more power to deal with monies, rates and so on, which they raise themselves, and on the other hand you withdraw these powers—powers they already have. I think that is a point which should be mentioned. The local authorities already have the power of paying for this particular form of education on what my noble friend has described as a user basis. That power, so far as I can make out, is being taken away by this Bill, and instead we are to have a pooling system.

Unless a special case can be made for those proposals, they cannot really be identified with the main principle of this Bill, which is to give local authorities more local responsibility. Pooling already exists for teachers, but the pooling of teachers is quite a different subject from technical and other sorts of education. I am bound to say that there is a case—I believe a strong case—to be made for looking into this matter, or for continuing these conversations between the interested parties, at any rate for a little time.

There is one proposal I would submit to your Lordships as a practical one, because this is merely an administrative affair and there are no politics in it. It might be worth while considering whether the Minister of Education should hold his hand during the first year or two while these new arrangements were running-in, and not use his powers of pooling the resources of all the local authorities at the beginning. That would give time for everybody to have another look round to see which side of the argument is right. I am no educational authority, but I have a sheaf of papers from education authorities who are in considerable anxiety about this point. I do not wish to speak any longer than my noble friend has spoken, but I believe that these points should be put before your Lordships' House. I hope the noble and learned Viscount will at least give us a grain of hope.

5.23 p.m.


My Lords, I am sure that no one in the House, and least of all myself, grudges either of my noble friends the time they have spent on this Amendment. It would, of course, have the effect, as they told us, of moving from the Bill the provision for pooling expenditure on such facilities for further education as the Minister may by regulation specify—I should emphasise that: it is only by regulations subject to annulment that this can be done.

I want to put the difficulties which my right honourable friend finds in this matter as it has been adumbrated before your Lordships. Your Lordships will see that the Bill proposes that expenditure on advanced further education should be pooled, so that each local education authority will contribute towards the total expenditure of all authorities a share based on an objective formula, and will recover from the pool its own actual expenditure. Although I see the differences which my noble friend attempted to draw, it is, of course, accurate, as he said, that it has been applied to expenditure on teacher training and on pupils who do not belong to any authority. The definition of advanced further education, and the formula to be used (which would differ from that used for the two existing pools), will be laid down in regulations, and the local authorities will be consulted before these regulations are made.

I think I can fairly sum up the objections which have been made to the Government's proposal under three heads. First, that pooling of advanced further education is wrong in principle, because it trenches on the responsibility and independence of the individual authority. My noble friend Lord Hylton repeated that a few moment ago. Secondly, that it will operate inequitably in the redistribution of the financial burden in this part of the education service; and, thirdly, that it is unnecessary because the present system, which includes inter-authority payments on behalf of extra-district students, is working satisfactorily. I should like to deal with these points because my right honourable friend is anxious to show that he is giving them full consideration.

On the first argument, that the independence of the authorities would be prejudiced, I think it is necessary to look at the nature of the service in question. Advanced further education is of university or near-university standard. It necessarily involves large establishments, with expensive buildings and equipment and highly trained staff. Efficiency and economy alike demand that these facilities should be sited in accordance with regional plans, in centres which are accessible to large numbers of students. To help this kind of planning, regional advisory councils for further education have for long been established. All local education authorities in the region are represented on them, and all proposals to start new advanced courses have to be considered by the regional advisory council concerned before they can be approved by the Minister of Education. In other words, I think it is fair to say that in this field the authorities are interdependent, rather than independent, and the only way in which this Bill will lessen their present degree of independence is by depriving of their main weapon those authorities who are restraining the free movement of students across local authority boundaries.

Now may I turn for a moment to the fear that the new arrangements will bring about an unfair shift in the financial burden? Of course, details of the effect on individual authorities involved are not yet available, because the proposed formula for distributing the expenditure has still to be discussed with the local authority associations, and it may be (I hope the noble Lord, Lord Addington, will consider this) that when the formula has been settled some of our critics will find that their fears are not so great as they at first thought. There is a further point which I should like my noble friends to consider also. Have they taken full account of the effect of the change from the percentage to the general grant? At present, as we have heard so often in an earlier stage of the Bill, that grant is directly related to the expenditure of each authority; and an authority which spends little gets little grant. As I said on Second Reading, and again in Committee, the general grant works quite differently as each authority gets a share of the grant based on the formula in the Bill, irrespective of what it spends. This would be manifestly unfair to the authorities who spend a great deal on advanced further education, unless it were accompanied by the redistribution of expenditure which the pool is intended to bring about. It is true that there are other classes of educational expenditure which vary between authorities, but there is no substantial element of the educational service on which direct expenditure varies, and must always vary, so widely between different authorities.

I admit that under present arrangements authorities which provide facilities for the use of others do not have to carry the whole burden themselves, because they make a charge to the other authorities for the students who use the facilities. I take the point which the objectors make: why should these arrangements not continue under the general grant? There would be certain technical and accounting difficulties, but though I think they are perfectly genuine I do not want to enter into that aspect or to rest my case on it. The more important point is that the recoupment system depends on the home authority giving its consent to the admission of students to another authority's college. Two years ago, as I think the noble Lord, Lord Addington said, the then Minister of Education reached an agreement with the local authority associations which was designed to secure virtually complete "free trade" between authorities in that respect. The agreement resulted in some improvement; but, taking the counties as an example, by no means all are yet prepared to give automatic consent to suitably qualified students to attend colleges of advanced technology, and the majority have important reservations, seriously incompatible with the agreement, about giving automatic consent to the attendance of students at advanced technical courses at other colleges. This situation was a major factor in the Government's decision to propose pooling, which removes the need for consent so far as inter-authority payments are concerned.

These are the difficulties, and we are very sorry that this element in our proposals should have caused so much concern in the County Councils Association. We hope and believe, however, that a number of their fears are misconceived. It is the convinced view of the Government that the pooling of expenditure on advanced further education gives the best assurance for carrying out the essential development, within a local authority framework, of a service which is of peculiar importance for the efficiency and survival of this country. I need not emphasise that aspect, for we are all at one on it—that unless we can make advances, especially in scientific and technological education, the whole future of the country is jeopardised. The Government feel as I say, that no inequity need be involved for any group of authorities, but they will, in any event, be prepared to review the matter, in consultation with the local authority associations, for the second general grant period. For the first, they feel that the system of pooling must be introduced.

I think it is convenient that I should have set out these reasons. If they show any gaps in the argument or that the basis is faulty, I think that the County Councils Association will point out the flaws in my argument to my right honourable friend the Minister of Education. But, although I have considered this point with great sympathy, I have not been able to find out the flaws, and therefore I am afraid that I cannot accept my noble friend's Amendment.


My Lords, I am in the same position as my noble friend in front of me; that is, I am by no means perfect in my knowledge of the details of education as administered by local authorities. But we are here in a good deal of difficulty, largely because the practical application of this clause, if it remains in its present form, will have to be decided by regulations not yet made. I think our friends in the local authority associations, worried as they are about many things, are more worried over this point than anything else; they feel they are being taken into the unknown. There are two or three points which seem to stand out. One is that local authorities want to get as many places as they need for boys and girls in the local authority area who want education of the kind dealt with in paragraph (c). The second is that, though they want to pay what is right for them, they do not want to pay for other people. Fair shares, as has been said in another place, are not always equal shares. Thirdly, the whole matter is complicated by the previous discussion which has taken place between the Minister of Education and local authorities, to which my noble and learned friend referred just now, over the question of what is called "free trade".

It looks now as if the position is this. First of all, my noble and learned friend has said that the Minister of Education will be prepared to review the matter in the second period. Secondly, he said, I think, that the local authority associations were going to be called into discussion before the framing of the regulations So far so good. As for any financial or accounting difficulties, I am not sure what they are, but I should have thought it would not be beyond the wit of the Ministry to solve them, with the assistance of the various local authorities' treasurers.


My Lords, I just want to assure my noble friend Lord Bridgeman that the regulations will be made after consultation, and what the local authority associations say will be given every weight in the making of the regulations. That is the modern legislative practice; and one of the advantages of subsidiary legislation is that you can have these discussions and perhaps improve it in the making. I am sorry that I have not been able to go further in this matter. I will give my noble friends complete freedom and licence to point out the grosser errors in my argument to my right honourable friend the Minister, and I shall not be in the least offended if they find those errors are gross, although I have not seen them myself. I am afraid that I cannot accept my noble friend Lord Addington's Amendment.


My Lords, lest it be thought that this side of the House is not interested in the matter, I would point out that this is certainly the penultimate stage of this legislation. I have listened with the greatest care to what the noble and learned Viscount the Lord Chancellor said, and also read with the greatest care the dossier which I understand was unanimously approved by the County Councils Association. The noble and learned Viscount the Lord Chancellor said that the point will be looked at again, but to-day he is taking the power to do the thing which all the associations think bad. Whilst apparently it is quite impossible to move the noble and learned Viscount from his present position, I think it should be made quite clear what the situation is—nothing at all.


My Lords, I am grateful for the reply of the noble and learned Viscount the Lord Chancellor and the support of noble Lords who have spoken. The only point I would add is that some rural counties do not find there is any need whatsoever to send somebody who is working in agriculture to one of these highly technical courses for specialists; and therefore it seems unfair that they should, as presumably they will, have to pay quite a large sum to the pool because of their general population. Although the extent to which certain local authorities use these courses varies very considerably, the practice may not follow a general pattern. I think that, so far as authorities are concerned, the only people who really speak for them are the executive bodies of their associations, or, as regards a county council, its council as a whole. I know from my own experience that a finance committee of the council can override and alter even the estimates put up by the education and other committees; and a number of the education authorities have a certain number of co-opted specialists who have no responsibility whatever for the raising of a rate. But as the noble and learned Viscount has held out some chance of consultation, and some prospect that there may be some review at an early date, I ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Eighth Schedule [Minor and consequential amendments]:

5.41 p.m.

VISCOUNT GAGE moved, in paragraph 2, to leave out sub-paragraph (1) and to insert instead: (1) Where contributions under section eighty-six of the Children and Young Persons Act, 1933, in respect of a child or young person committed to, or received into the care of a local authority are payable, by the person liable to make the contributions, to an authority other than the authority responsible for maintenance, the authority receiving the contributions from the said person shall pay them over to the authority responsible for maintenance, subject however to such deductions in respect of services rendered by the authority paying the contributions over as may be agreed beween the two authorities or as in default of agreement may be determined by the Secretary of State (2) In the foregoing sub-paragraph references to the authority responsible for maintenance—

  1. (a) in relation to a child or young person committed to the care of a local authority, are references to that authority;
  2. (b) in relation to a child received into the care of a local authority, are references to the local authority into whose care the child has been received, except that where the authority to whom the contributions are payable by the person liable to make them has been notified that under subsection (4) of section one of the Children Act, 1948 expenses are being recovered from another authority, the said references shall be construed as references to that other authority.
(3) In subsection (3) of section eighty-six of the Children and Young Persons Act, 1933 after the word 'and' where it first occurs there shall be inserted the words 'in the case of a child or young person ordered to be sent to an approved school.'

The noble Viscount said: My Lords, this is a formidable looking Amendment but I can assure your Lordships that it deals with only a small administrative point. I am happy to say that it has the support of all the authorities directly concerned—the County Councils Association, the Association of Municipal Corporations, the London County Council, and, I hope, Her Majesty's Government. But as it is a new point, although a small one, perhaps I should explain its object if only for record purposes.

Section 86 of the Children and Young Persons Act, 1933, which is being amended, provides that it is the duty of certain persons to make contributions for the maintenance of a child who has been committed to the care of a fit person or sent to an approved school. This section has been applied to children in the care of a local authority by the Children Act, 1948. Subsection (3) of Section 86 states to whom the contributions should be paid: they are to be paid to the local authority of the area where the person making the contribution (usually the father) resides—for convenience I will call that authority local authority A. Local authority A deducts expenses for collection and sends the balance to the Home Office. The Home Office act as a clearing house, and pass the contributions (less 50 per cent., being the amount of the Exchequer grant for the children service) to the authority responsible for the maintenance of the child, which I will call local authority B. The purpose of paragraph 2 of the Eighth Schedule is to remove from the Home Office the task of acting as a clearing house, and instead to require local authority A to pay the contributions direct to local authority B.

This administrative change, which is consequential on the abolition of the 50 per cent. Exchequer grant and the introduction of the general grant, is satisfactory to the local authorities, with one exception with which I will now deal. There may be a further complication in the case of a child in the care of a local authority. A child who is ordinarily resident in the area of local authority B may be received into care by a local authority of some other area, which I shall call local authority C. In that event, local authority C is entitled to claim the cost of maintenance from local authority B. The question arises whether the contributions collected by local authority A should be paid over to local authority B or local authority C. Under the terms of the Bill, contributions collected by local authority A would be paid to local authority C, with the intention that local authority C would deduct the amounts before rendering accounts to local authority B. Under the terms of my Amendment, the contributions collected would be paid to local authority B. That authority would not have to earmark each contribution towards a particular child's maintenance, but would accept it as income; on the other hand, local authority B would pay the accounts rendered by local authority C. This would save detailed financial records and unnecessary work. I hope that that indication has made the matter clear. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Page 69, line 15, leave out sub-paragraph (1) and insert the said new sub-paragraphs.—(Viscount Gage.)


My Lords, I am most grateful to my noble friend for putting down this useful Amendment which modifies the arrangements in regard to parental contributions towards the cost of maintenance of children in the care of local authorities. The Bill provides for a method of direct adjustment between the authorities responsible respectively for collecting the contributions and for care of the child to which they relate. That was in substitution for the existing method of adjust- ment undertaken by the Secretary of State and tied in with the specific grant now absorbed in the general grant. The Amendment of my noble friend improves the method provided for in the Bill, by securing that the contributions shall go direct to the authority ultimately financially responsible where this authority is a different one from the collecting and the "care" authority. This will save some double accounting for money and, as I have said, should be useful to all the authorities concerned. I hope your Lordships will accept my noble friend's Amendment.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

5.46 p.m.


Amendment No. 8 is an Amendment of my own and it is linked with the Amendment at page 72, line 1. They are drafting improvements to those provisions in the Eighth Schedule which relate to the charters of boroughs constituted by amalgamations embracing existing boroughs under the 1933 Act. Their effect is that the Minister will be enabled to continue in force, as part of the new borough's charter, any of the provisions of any of the charters of the boroughs from which it is formed. I think that this is a liberal and useful improvement, and I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Page 71, line 31, leave out from ("provision") to end of line 34 and insert ("for the charter of the new borough, by applying thereto, with any necessary exceptions or modifications, the charter of any borough comprised in the union, provisions of charters of two or more boroughs comprised in the union, or the charter of one and provisions of the charters of one or more of the others.")—(The Lord Chancellor.)

On Question, Amendment agreed to.


My Lords, Amendments Nos. 9 and 10 are both consequential to previous Amendments. I beg to move Amendment No. 9.

Amendment moved— Page 72, line 1, leave out from ("provision") to end of line 4 and insert ("for the charter of the new borough, by applying thereto, with any necessary exceptions or modifications, the charter of any amalgamated borough, or, in the case of an amalgamation including two or more boroughs, by applying as aforesaid to the new borough provisions of charters of two or more amalgamated boroughs or the charter of one and provisions of the charters of one or more of the others.").—(The Lord Chancellor.)

On Question, Amendment agreed to.


My Lords, this Amendment is consequential. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Page 77, line 7, column 3, leave out ("'or by the London County Council' and") and insert ("from 'consolidated' to the next 'or in' and the words").—(The Lord Chancellor.)

On Question, Amendment agreed to.