HL Deb 19 July 1979 vol 401 cc1509-21

3.44 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.

Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.—(Baroness Young.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.

[The EARL OF LISTOWEL in the Chair.]

Clause 1 [Abolition of duty to give effect to comprehensive principle]:

Baroness DAVID moved Amendment No. 1: Page 2, line 2, at beginning insert (" or ").

The noble Baroness said: In moving Amendment No. 1 I should like to speak at the same time to Amendments Nos. 2, 6 and 7, and I understand that the Minister is agreeable to this. The amendment is put forward for clarification. Following a question from me on Second Reading, the Minister replied that the phrase " managers or governors concerned " referred to the managers or governors of voluntary schools, as I thought it did. However, both Houses have been puzzled by and unsure about the meaning of the phrase, even though it appears in subsection (2) of Clause 1. Even the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Leek, misunderstood the phrase and was not clear about it, and I am sure we would all agree that there are no flies on him. If Members of Parliament are confused, what about councils and councillors all over the country? I consider that the words proposed in the various amendments should be added in order to make the situation crystal clear. I hope that the Minister will accept the amendment. I beg to move.

Baroness YOUNG

I am grateful to the noble Baroness for taking the four amendments together because that will be easier for the Committee at this stage. I hope I can show that the amendments are unnecessary and that the point that she and her noble friends are concerned about is in fact met in the Bill. As I indicated on Second Reading, the reference to managers or governors refers to managers or governors of voluntary schools. I recognise that the noble Baroness and her noble friends have put down the amendments because they desire clarification on this point, so perhaps I may explain the position further. Subsections (3) and (4) have to be taken together with subsection (2) which refers to those provisions of Section 13 of the Education Act 1944 dealing with the submission of their respective proposals by local education authorities and voluntary bodies. Subsection (2) makes it clear that " managers or governors " as mentioned in the Bill are managers or governors of voluntary schools who are treated as having made proposals under Section 13(2). The references to " managers or governors concerned " in subsections (3) and (4) are therefore references to managers or governors of voluntary schools. I hope that following that clarification the noble Baroness will recognise that her point has been met and that she will feel that she can withdraw the amendment because the Bill does in fact say what she would like it to say.

Baroness BACON

I feel that it would be better if the proposed words were included in the Bill so as to make the position crystal clear. The noble Baroness may consider that the phrase " managers or governors concerned " means managers or governors of voluntary schools and we might understand that, but I wonder what the courts might understand it to mean in the future. We all know that in the past year or two various parts of the 1944 Education Act have been brought before the courts and the judges have ruled that certain matters that for many years we had thought to be so were not legal. It would not in any way alter the purpose of the Bill if the words that my noble friend proposes were included.

Baroness YOUNG

When one is not a lawyer it is perhaps not wise to involve oneself in legal points, but my advisers assure me that the Bill intends the meaning that has been described by both noble Baronesses, Lady David and Lady Bacon. The reference does in fact mean managers or governors of voluntary schools. As the Bill has the effect of putting back the legislation to what it was prior to 1976, and the interpretation would be the same as that used from the 1944 Education Act onwards to that date, we need not feel that the phrase is likely to be open to a new interpretation in the future.

Baroness DAVID

Following what the Minister has said and the assurances that she has given—and, after all, what the phrase means will appear in print—we are prepared to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 2 not moved.]

3.50 p.m.

Baroness DAVID moved Amendment No. 3: Page 2, line 2, at end insert (" provided the application is made before the date of implementation ").

The noble Baroness said: Once more, this amendment aims at clarification. Again, I asked at Second Reading about the meaning of this subsection, and the noble Baroness said that it was the case that application for revocation could not be made after reorganisation plans had been put into operation. If this is the honest intent of the Government, there seems absolutely no reason why they should not accept this amendment. There are four authorities where proposals put forward under Section 2 of the 1976 Act have been implemented, and there are eight authorities where, from the last information I have had from the DES, it is expected that the plans proposed will be implemented in September 1979. As this Bill stands there is no reason why at some future date—no time limit is mentioned—these authorities should not apply to revoke. Think of the chaos and disruption that that would cause to children and to teachers.

Here I should like to refer to Erith comprehensive school, in the London Borough of Bexley. I am quite aware that this school did not go comprehensive under the 1976 Act, but I think that the atmosphere and climate of opinion that this new Bill has created has made the Bexley education committee chairman try to unscramble the Erith comprehensive school and turn it back into a grammar school and a secondary modern. I am told that yesterday the education committee decided that they would unscramble, in spite of a parents' meeting last week, at which 800 were present, deciding, unanimously I think, that they did not want to go ahead with this. Mr. Sams, the chairman of the education committee, was asked—this was reported in the Guardian of 26th June—whether his attempts to restore grammar school education were inconsistent with statements by the Education Secretary, Mr. Mark Carlisle, about not going back on comprehensive education ", and Mr. Sams said: That is just the noise a Tory Secretary of State makes. I cannot see that he would oppose it ".

I hope he will oppose it, and I think it will be a test of the sincerity of the Secretary of State's commitment to parental feeling and his statement that his criteria will be educational ones when he receives proposals under Section 13 of the 1944 Act. But I believe it is alarming to think of that, and it is for this reason that I should like this amendment to be accepted. It does not stop people from revoking if they want to: it merely makes it absolutely clear that they cannot do this after plans have been implemented. I hope the noble Baroness will accept this amendment. I beg to move.

Baroness YOUNG

On this amendment I hope I can show the noble Baroness that in fact her point is met implicitly in the Bill. As she has quite rightly described, local authorities, managers and governors are under a duty to implement approved proposals which have been made to maintain, cease to maintain or to make any change in the character of a school unless they apply under this subsection for the approval to be revoked. It follows, therefore, that they must apply to be relieved of the duty before the date of implementation, which I understand is the point which the noble Baroness is making.

The fact is—and I should like to give this assurance to the Committee—once the proposals have been implemented they have fulfilled their duty, and any further change must be subject to fresh proposals under Section 13. This means that, where an authority has implemented its proposals, if it should wish to revoke them it has to start the whole procedure under Section 13 once again. I should like to give an assurance to the Committee that my right honourable and learned friend would in fact look at each case submitted under Section 13, whether under this particular case or, indeed, under any case, on its merits, and would consider most carefully all the evidence put before him.

I would therefore suggest that revocation of approval would not have any significance, and that it would be unnecessary to say expressly that applications cannot be applied for after implementation. In fact, once a scheme has been implemented there must be a new application under Section 13 if the authority wishes to revoke the approval. I hope that, with this explanation, the noble Baroness and her noble friends will recognise that the point they are making is in fact met under the Bill, and that I have been able to reassure her on this matter.

Baroness DAVID

With those assurances, though I am left with a few lingering doubts, we will accept what the noble Baroness has said and I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Baroness DAVID moved Amendment No. 4:

Page 2, line 2, at end insert: (" (3A) In making an application under subsection (3) above the local education authority, managers or governors concerned, shall inform the Secretary of State of the consultation they have had locally with parents of children in the schools involved, with parents whose children are now in primary schools in the area, and likely to attend the secondary schools involved, with members of the teaching profession in the schools involved, and in local primary schools, and with local community interest.").

The noble Baroness said: It seems reasonable, where plans are to be revoked by councils, that there should be further discussion with the people most intimately concerned—the parents, the teachers and people in the local community. Even if plans were put forward as a result of the 1976 Act and there might then have been some unwillingness, those plans must have gone through education committees and councils quite a long time ago. Local people may well now want those plans to go forward, and will be worried over the uncertainty and further disruption at a later stage. I think of suddenly involving children in an 11-plus exam at the end of the summer term, or perhaps in the holidays. The term is about over in most areas.

I should like noble Lords to look at the case of Bolton. Bolton is the only authority with plans to be implemented in September 1979 which is going to apply to revoke, so far as my most recent information goes. I now ask noble Lords to look at the general election results there. Labour Members were returned for Bolton East and Bolton West in spite of visits to the constituencies by Mr. Carlisle, no doubt extolling this Bill. I am told that it is likely that Labour will gain control of the council next May. I am pretty sure that if local people were consulted they would opt to go ahead. Are the Government sincere in their promises to consult and involve parents? If so, they will no doubt accept this amendment. I beg to move.

Baroness YOUNG

I entirely accept that there should be full consultations about all proposed changes in the organisation of schools, and this is particularly true of the pattern of secondary education. This consultation should of course include parents, teachers and other local people, and, indeed, in the case of all proposals under Section 13 of the 1944 Education Act it is a practice which is encouraged by the department and is in fact carried out. In this particular clause, which empowers the Secretary of State to revoke approval in respect of proposals made as a result of action under the 1976 Act, we are in a somewhat different situation because the fact is that the proposals were made under the Act: that is to say, the local authority was obliged to make the proposals; they were not proposals that they chose to make. Under those circumstances, it cannot be said that the proposals necessarily reflected the true wishes of the authority or the governors. It may be that, nevertheless, they had to make them in order to comply with the Act.

It is true that the authorities, governors and managers concerned would have consulted on the basis of different types of reorganisation, and we cannot say for certain that these were the ones that they would have wished for without the compulsion of the 1976 Act. It seems to us that the elected representatives in an authority are well informed of the varying views of their constituents. Whatever may or may not be true about Bolton, we cannot possibly project now what will be the outcome of the elections next year. They are a case in point where the local authority are entitled to consider the views of the elected representatives and what it is that they believe that people wish to have done. They are thus well-equipped to take a decision whether or not to proceed to implement the approved proposals. Several authorities will undoubtedly decide to continue with their reorganisation proposals; and they will do so without further consultation. Others will apply for the approval to be revoked; and they may do this without further consultation. We believe that that should be a matter for their own judgment. In those circumstances, I am afraid that I cannot accept the amendment.


I am not satisfied with what the noble Baroness has said. The problem that we are up against is that of reintroducing something which, on this side of the Committee, we believe to be, in itself, a very bad thing indeed; and we know that in every community there is a large number of people, not necessarily a majority, who agree with us. We believe that before the action made possible by this Bill takes place, there should be, within the Bill, a definite requirement for the widest possible consultation as stated in this amendment. I do not think that there is anything more to be said about this. One either thinks that before an action of this kind is taken there should be democratic discussion and consultation or one does not. We do and I hope that my noble friend will press this amendment.


I should like to support this amendment. I follow, on the whole, the arguments which have been made by the Opposition Front Bench, but there are two extra points that I should like to make. One is that I do not think that the statement which the noble Baroness has made about the total satisfactoriness of the representation by the local government representatives of the opinion of the people of an area stands up entirely. We all know that people are elected to local government councils for all sorts of reasons. What they are usually elected upon is an across-the-board profile of whether or not they like a particular party at a particular time. There are occasions when particular interests and particular subjects affect elections. In the history of the battle over comprehensive schools, it has more than once happened that a case has been won by the election of people to local councils against the grain of the general feeling in the country about elections according to party allegiances. Nevertheless, on the whole it is not true to say that the election of a Conservative or Labour majority or even of a Liberal majority to some local council will reflect necessarily the people's views on whether there should be a particular kind of educational system in that area. I think, therefore, that there is a very good reason to have a great deal of consultation.

I would pick out as my second point for praise particularly that bit in this amendment which includes consultation with parents whose children are now at primary schools in the area. A long time ago, I commissioned an opinion poll on comprehensive schools. It was in the middle of a general election, too long ago almost to remember. One of the most interesting things that came out of that was the very much higher percentage of opinion in favour of comprehensives by parents who had children already in primary schools or even younger, over the rest of the population. There is nothing which concentrates a man's or woman's ideas so much as the fact that their child is shortly to be executed. I think that the inclusion of these particular consultations would be worth it in themselves, apart from the fact that the whole principle seems to be a right one.

Viscount SIMON

From these Benches, we support this amendment. It may be true, as the noble Baroness has said, that when these proposals were put forward they were put forward because there was compulsion in the 1947 Act. But once the proposals had been put forward everybody was looking ahead to their being implemented. It seems to me that even if there were people who at that time might have preferred the proposals not to go forward there may be at this time those who are anxious to see them go forward. I feel that it is desirable that there should be consultation before the elected council makes its decision to ensure, and so to inform the Secretary of State, that there has been consultation and what the response to that consultation has been. I hope that the noble Baroness will perhaps be prepared to think again on this very important amendment.

4.6 p.m.


I should like to follow closely the noble Viscount, Lord Simon, in his case for supporting this amendment. The noble Baroness, in explaining why she would not be able to accept it, made the point that was made by the noble Lord: that the parents, the teachers and the members of the local community were not consulted about the plans put forward—if you like, under duress—as required by the then-Secretary of State for Education. That may be so; it may not be so. It may be right, or it may be wrong. I am clear however that two wrongs do not make a right and, in this case, it is most important—in fact, quite fundamental—that there should be fresh consultation to make certain that those closely concerned (the parents, teachers and, I think, the wider community) should be sounded on their views as to whether revocation should take place.

Viscount ECCLES

I have great sympathy with consultation. Of course, there should be consultation; but the problem is this: Do you put it in a Bill? What is consultation with children? You have a legal obligation to consult children in primary schools as to whether they want their school to be one way or the other—

Several noble Lords: No!

Viscount ECCLES

Parents and children! It is in the amendment.

Several noble Lords: No!

Viscount ECCLES

It is " parents of children ". I take that back. I do not read so well. But even if it is parents then these things are done in all good authorities, and I wonder whether we want to have a national obligation to have this consultation. In my village school there was consultation with parents: they were over-ruled and the school was closed. We had wonderful consultations and it is going that way in the country. Do we really want to put it in a statute?

Several noble Lords: Yes!


Would my noble friend not agree that all these schools have boards of managers or governors all of whom are bound to be consulted on the future of their schools? All of those bodies include a very substantial number of parents who are chosen because they are highly responsible and well-known local parents with an interest in their children's education. It is not suggested that the comprehensive education be wiped out. It is highly unlikely that any of these areas will lose comprehensive education entirely, even if they decide that they wish to have grammar schools. The choice of parents to send their child to a comprehensive school will still remain.


May I be allowed to comment on something that the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, has said? We all of us listen to him on this subject with great attention. It does not seem to me that this amendment, in the way that he expressed it, requires the local authority to make these inquiries. It says merely that they must report to the Secretary of State what inquiries they have made. If they report to the Secretary of State that they have made only minimal inquiries, he will take that into account in reaching his decision.


If I may dot an occasional " i ", the truth is that the party opposite has two minds over this Bill and over the whole question. As we heard in speeches on Second Reading, a number of Tory supporters are almost as keen on comprehensive education as we are, and a certain number are very bitterly against it. We are not satisfied to leave this to the goodwill of a Government which may develop in what we consider the wrong direction; we want it down in black and white and we must insist on it.

Baroness YOUNG

There are two different situations. Under the proposals which are made for reorganisation under Section 13 of the 1944 Act, there must be consultation, because the authority is required to publish notices and the Secretary of State receives objections. Therefore there would clearly be consultation with the teachers and the parents. Under this Bill, if an authority were obliged to go through the consultative process—not under the proposals under Section 13, because of course it was not doing the reorganisation because it wanted to, but because it had been obliged to—the consultations could only be on the basis of saying: " You have various forms of comprehensive reorganisation, you must take it or leave it ". Many people under these circumstances objected very strongly to it. Others did not; but some did. What we are saying under this Bill is that if an authority decides now that it does not wish to go forward with the proposals which it had already indicated it did not want, and it consulted on that

basis and it had objections, there is no need for it to go through the consultative process again.

The noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, asked: " How can we trust the local authorities? Are they really representative? " It may well be that local authorities are not perfect, but then representative democracy is the best system of government that we have. We have representative democracy in local government and it seems to me that it would be quite right for the local education authorities to decide, if they had been obliged to do something under duress, to revoke under this clause of this Bill. It is for that reason—because we feel that the situation is different from what it had been before the 1976 Act—that I cannot ask the Committee to accept this amendment.


With respect, I did not say that we could not trust the local government system, nor is there anything in this Amendment which in any way detracts from representative government—I am a total believer in and supporter of representative government. What I tried to say—and what I believe—is that, in dealing with any particular single subject in the case of a body which is elected representatively on issues across a much wider field, it is a very good thing to add to the representative nature of the democracy by special consultations in that particular field to find out what people want and take specific advice in connection with that particular point, as opposed to the whole spectrum of what kind of complexion of government a particular council wants. That seems a thoroughly different matter and in the spirit of this amendment.

4.14 p.m.

On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 4) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 91; Not-Contents, 107.

Airedale, L. Aylestone, L. Boston of Faversham, L.
Aldenham, L. Bacon, B. Bowden, L.
Amherst, E. Balogh, L. Brockway, L.
Amulree, L. Banks, L. Burton o] Coventry, B.
Ardwick, L. Beaumont of Whitley, L. Byers, L.
Avebury, L. Blease, L. Chitnis, L.
Clancarty, E. Hunt, L. Rochester, L.
Cledwyn of Penrhos, L. Kirkhill, L. Sainsbury, L.
Collison, L. Leatherland, L. Segal, L.
Crook, L. Lee of Newton, L. Shannon, E.
David, B. Leonard, L. Shinwell, L.
Davies of Leek, L. Listowel, E. Simon, V.
Donaldson of Kingsbridge, L. Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, B. [Teller.] Sligo, M.
Douglas of Barloch, L. Snow, L.
Dowding, L. Lloyd of Hampstead, L. Stewart of Alvechurch, B.
Elwyn-Jones, L. Lloyd of Kilgerran, L. Stewart of Fulham, L.
Evans of Hungershall, L. Lovell-Davis, L. Stone, L.
Fisher of Camden, L. McCarthy, L. Strabolgi, L.
Fisher of Rednal, B. McNair, L. Strauss, L.
Gaitskell, B. Melchett, L. Swaythling, L.
Gardiner, L. Mishcon, L. Taylor of Blackburn, L.
Gladwyn, L. Murray of Gravesend, L. Underhill, L.
Goronwy-Roberts, L. Oram, L. Wallace of Coslany, L.
Gregson, L. Paget of Northampton, L. Wedderburn of Charlton, L.
Grey, E. Parry, L. Wells-Pestell, L. [Teller.]
Hale, L. Peart, L. Whaddon, L.
Hampton, L. Plant, L. Wigg, L.
Hanworth, V. Porritt, L. Wigoder, L.
Hatch of Lusby, L. Rathcreedan, L. Wilson of Radcliffe, L.
Henderson, L. Reilly, L. Wynne-Jones, L.
Houghton of Sowerby, L. Richardson, L.
Abinger, L. Exeter, M. Milverton, L.
Adeane, L. Faithfull, B. Monck, V.
Ailesbury, M. Fortescue, E. Morris, L.
Alexander of Tunis, E. Fraser of Kilmorack, L. Mowbray and Stourton, L.
Alport, L. Gainford, L. Newall, L.
Amory, V. Galloway, E. Northchurch, B.
Ampthill, L. Glasgow, E. Nugent of Guildford, L.
Auckland, L. Gowrie, E. Penrhyn, L.
Barnby, L. Greenway, L. Rankeillour, L.
Belstead, L. Gridley, L. Reay, L.
Berkeley, B. Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, L. (L. Chancellor.) Rochdale, V.
Bessborough, E. Romney, E.
Bourne, L. Harding of Petherton, L. Saint Albans, Bp.
Carrington, L. Hawke, L. St. Aldwyn, E.
Cathcart, E. Henley, L. St. Davids, V.
Chelwood, L. Hornsby-Smith, B. Salisbury, M.
Clitheroe, L. Hunt of Fawley, L. Sandford, L.
Cockfield, L. Hylton-Foster, B. Sandys, L. [Teller.]
Craigavon, V. Inglewood, L. Selkirk, E.
Croft, L. Ironside, L. Sempill, Ly.
Cross, V. James of Rusholme, L. Sharples, B.
Cullen of Ashbourne, L. Kemsley, V. Shuttleworth, L.
de Clifford, L. Kimberley, E. Skelmersdale, L.
De Freyne, L. Long, V. Soames, L. (Lord President)
Denham, L. [Teller.] Loudoun, C. Spens, L.
Derwent, L. Lovat, L. Strathclyde, L.
Digby, L. Lucas of Chilworth, L. Strathspey, L.
Donegall, M. Lyell, L. Swinton, E.
Drumalbyn, L. MacAndrew, L. Trenchard, V.
Ebbisham, L. Macleod of Borve, B. Vickers, B.
Eccles, V. Mancroft, L. Wakefield of Kendal, L.
Effingham, E. Mansfield, E. Ward of North Tyneside, B.
Ellenborough, L. Margadale, L. Ward of Witley, V.
Elphinstone, L. Marley, L. Westbury, L.
Elton, L. Massereene and Ferrard, V. Willoughby de Broke, L.
Emmet of Amberley, B. Merrivale, L. Young, B.

Resolved in the negative and Amendment disagreed to accordingly.

House resumed.