§ 3.5 p.m.
§ The MINISTER of STATE, DEPARTMENT of EDUCATION and SCIENCE (Baroness Young)
My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. I am very conscious, in moving the Second Reading of this Education Bill, of the great knowledge, experience and interest of many of your Lordships in education. There are no fewer than 18 former Ministers in the House, and of those eight occupied a position equivalent to that of the Secretary of State, today. I am particularly pleased that the noble Lord, Lord Butler of Saffron Walden, is speaking. His great Act of 1944 changed the education system and established the framework for the relationship between central and local government in education, and the dual system between the voluntary and county schools. It set out the relationship between local education authorities and school governors and allowed a flexibility under these great principles for the education system to develop into the one that we have today. If this Bill becomes law, it will be the 18th amending Act we have had since 1944. It will also be, by a clear margin, the most substantial of the amending Acts whether measured by number of clauses or by the importance of the matters dealt with. It will have had the most prolonged and thorough public and parliamentary discussion of any education legislation since 1944.
I draw attention to these facts for two reasons. The first is to underline the importance of some of the issues we shall be discussing, but the second is to emphasise that this is still an amendment of the 1944 and subsequent Acts which does not undermine or radically change any of the main principles of that Act. It is significant that, time and again, when Governments have seen the need for some changes in the law affecting education, and despite some calls for a radical new Education Act, it has been found on examination that the main structural features of the 1944 Act which I have outlined still hold good and that what is needed is not a fundamentally new and different Act but some modification and updating of the legislation which we already have. This seems to me a great tribute to the legislators who were responsible for the Education Act 1944, particularly 1011 when one recalls that the time that has elapsed since the passing of the 1944 Act is now not far short of the period which elapsed between the great Act of 1902 and the 1944 Act, and that this country has passed through economic and social changes over the past 35 years which have exceeded in speed and significance those that took place during the earlier period.
This Bill represents a part—and a part only—of the Government's response to the new challenges that the education system must meet today. The first of these is the changed economic position of our country. Thirty years ago, despite the fearful cost of the Second World War, we were still one of the richest countries in the world. Today, among the members of the European Economic Community only Italy and Ireland are poorer than ourselves, and the saddest fact of all is that when we took office last May we were producing less than we did five years ago. Inevitably, our public services reflect these melancholy facts. They are particularly unpalatable for those of us who care about education and who cannot recall a time, until 1975, when there has not been an expansion in the resources available for the education service each year. The Government and the LEAs are therefore confronted by difficult and often painful decisions. Indeed, the purpose of our proposals on school meals, milk and transport (to which I shall return later in my speech) is to enable LEAs to make those economies for which we have asked, and which the economic position of the country demands, in the strictly non-educational parts of the education budget, thus enabling the money that is available to be spent on the fabric of the education system to maintain and improve the standards in our schools.
Secondly, the Bill reflects some of the great changes which have taken place in our society. Not only are the individuals in it much better off financially than they were thirty years ago, but they are not as deferential as they once were. This may well be one good result of our education system. The fact is that we now have highly articulate parents, who care deeply about their children's education, and who are well able to take a positive and constructive 1012 interest in their child's school. Quite rightly, they ask for more choice and more involvement in the education system. The Bill before the House recognises this fact and places a new emphasis on the need for a stronger relationship between the home and the school. Our proposals on school government and on school admissions, including the establishment of a statutory system for appeals, the publication of information about schools and the automatic recoupment of costs between local education authorities will build on, and strengthen, parental involvement and will lead, we believe, to the raising of educational standards.
I turn now to the Bill itself. Perhaps I could say at this point that, for those who will be taking part in the Committee stage of the Bill, notes on clauses are available in the Printed Paper Office. A number of non-controversial provisions which were included in the Bill introduced by the Labour Administration in another place in 1978 are repeated. These clauses—and I enumerate them—provide a statutory basis for the industrial scholarships scheme (Clause 20); empower the Secretary of State to pay grants to local education authorities and others in connection with the provision of education in Welsh (Clause 21); authorise the making of arrangements for the provision of education in day nurseries (Clause 28); and provide for the extension of student awards to include courses provided jointly by universities and other institutions in this country and similar institutions overseas (Clause 19).
Secondly, the Bill removes or relaxes a number of central controls over local authorities. Among these are the repeal of Sections 11 and 12 of the Education Act 1944. Section 11 (a transitory provision) provided that authorities were to draw up development plans relating to their provision of primary and secondary schools. When these plans had been approved by the Secretary of State, they were to be incorporated under Section 12 in local education orders which were to govern the subsequent development of primary and secondary schools by the authority. This was the way in which the noble Lord, Lord Butler, and those who framed the 1944 Act, proposed to oversee the transformation of the pre-war educational system into what we now 1013 know as primary and secondary education. It was a massive task, and control and direction of this kind was clearly required. In the result, the task was completed without any local education order being issued. Nor have development plans been used for the last fifteen years or so. Both sections have served their purpose and their honourable discharge in this Bill leaves unaffected the present balance of responsibilities between central Government and the local authorities.
It is also proposed to repeal Section 13 of the Education Act, but in this case only to restore it in a revised form. The procedure to be followed on the establishment, closure, enlargement or change of character of schools is now to be found in Clauses 12 to 16 of the Bill. These clauses remove the requirement for the Secretary of State's approval to such proposals affecting county schools, where there have been no local objections. It is estimated that in the last two years over half these proposals attracted no objections at all, and it is a waste of time and money to require that such proposals should be submitted to the Secretary of State. The Secretary of State's approval will, however, continue to be required for all proposals relating to voluntary schools. There are new requirements for the publication of proposals where intake to schools is to be reduced by 20 per cent. or more—an important change in the context of the falling school population—and where it is proposed to close nursery schools, something which has not previously been subject to the Secretary of State's approval and to which I shall refer again later.
Next, the Bill contains important new provisions in Clause 34 relating to the pooling or sharing of expenditure between local education authorities, which includes for the first time provision giving effect to the agreement between the Government and the local authority associations that an upper limit should be set straight away to the amount of local education authorities' expenditure on advanced further education (including the polytechnics) which can be pooled. Initially, the apportionment of this expenditure among all authorities will be on the basis of a relatively crude formula, but it is a formula which has been agreed between ourselves and the authorities.
1014 I should now like to say a word about three new clauses which were added to the Bill in another place. First, Clause 29 empowers the Secretary of State to make regulations covering schools, further education establishments, the employment of teachers and other matters. This may look like a formidable provision, but it is not: regulations with regard to all the matters set out in the clause already exist, but the general powers under which they are made, in Section 5(2) of the Local Government Act 1974, are proposed for repeal by the Local Government Planning and Land (No. 2) Bill, which is now being considered in another place. Clause 29 simply replaces these powers, but it does so, not in the old way by giving the Secretary of State general power to make regulations about anything he likes, but by specifying more precisely what the regulations should cover. We expect that this clause will, in practice, lead to a very substantial reduction in the number of regulations that are made.
Two other important new clauses—Clauses 26 and 27—were also added to the Bill and make analogous provision for nursery education in England and Wales and in Scotland. The effect of these clauses is to empower local authorities to provide and maintain nursery schools and classes. The clauses replace Section 8 of the Education Act 1944 and Section 1 of the Education (Scotland) Act 1962 so far as they required authorities to make such provision for the under-fives. I wish right away to affirm that this change does not mean any alteration in the Government's support for nursery education, a cause to which I personally am fully committed. Although it was the intention of the 1944 Act and of the parallel legislation in Scotland to make the provision of nursery education a duty, shortage of resources and the priority understandably given by authorities to the education of children of compulsory school age in the years of the expansion of the school population after the war turned this duty in practice into a discretionary power. The new clauses do no more than bring the law into line with what it has been widely, if wrongly, assumed to be.
§ Lord ELWYN-JONES
My Lords, would the noble Baroness not acknowledge the significant difference between 1015 "empowering" and "requiring" a local authority to provide nursery education?
§ Baroness YOUNG
My Lords, of course I acknowledge that there is a difference. What I am saying is that we are in fact putting the law into what everybody thought it was, although in fact it was not. We shall have more nursery education when the country is richer and if we all address ourselves to that question then we shall be able to solve the problem.
It was argued in another place that this change would encourage authorities to abandon nursery education. I think this is mistaken: the key to nursery provision is resources. Changing the duty to provide nursery education to a power is not in itself likely to affect provision. Moreover, these new clauses must be read in relation to Clause 12 of the Bill, which will require that the closure of a nursery school is to be subject to the Secretary of State's approval if there are local objections. This is the first time that nursery school closures have been made subject to the familiar "Section 13" procedures and this will represent a new and important safeguard.
At this point I should like to say a word about special schools. I realise that many of your Lordships who will be speaking in this debate today take a particular interest in this subject. I recognise that there is concern that the provisions on admissions do not extend to special schools. Let me assure your Lordships that this is not because we do not think the principles embodied in Clauses 6, 7 and 8 should be applied to the handicapped. It is simply that, as they stand, they have been prepared with what I may call "ordinary" schools in mind and could not be applied directly to the very different circumstances of special school admissions. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State will be making an announcement before we consider the Bill in detail in Committee about the Government's response to the report of the Warnock Committee, and we think that precise provisions relating to the education of the handicapped, including admissions, should be considered in that context. There is no other reason and there are certainly no 1016 differences of opinion about the principles which should be applied.
I turn now to those provisions which are at the heart of the Bill. First to those measures which were requested by the local education authorities themselves, which will enable them to make the economies which the present economic situation of the country requires. The provisions covering meals and transport relating to England and Wales are contained in Clauses 22 and 23, and Clauses 24 and 25 relate to Scotland. It is the Government's hope that when these measures become law local education authorities in England and Wales will be able to reduce the annual rate of expenditure on school meals and milk by some £200 million and on school transport by some £30 million.
Taking school meals first, under the present law a school meal, suitable as the main meal of the day, must be provided for every pupil who wants one. The charge is prescribed centrally, as are the conditions under which it has to be provided free. In 1978–79, the total subsidy on the provision of school meals was about £400 million in England and Wales and about £40 million in Scotland. This was made up of a subsidy of about £240 million to the 4 million pupils who paid, and £120 million for the 1 million or so pupils who had a free meal; the balance of £40 million subsidy being the cost of free meals for adults—kitchen and canteen staff, midday supervisory assistants and teachers—who were entitled to have them under their conditions of service.
Clauses 22 and 24 enable authorities to take their own decisions on all these matters, subject to two important requirements: first, that appropriate provision must be made free of charge to meet the requirements of children whose parents receive supplementary benefit or family income supplement; and, secondly, that facilities for pupils to eat their own food on the school premises must be provided without charge.
We now have a good idea of how authorities plan to use the new powers in this Bill, if they are approved by Parliament. There is considerable variation in the level of charge which authorities have in mind, but this is hardly surprising in view of the existing wide variation in the 1017 amount authorities spend on providing a meal. Authorities are also uncertain about the effect on demand of variations in the charge and their present plan for September may well be modified in the light of experience next term.
It is the Government's hope that local education authorities will recognise that receipt of supplementary benefit or family income supplement is intended to be a minimum criterion of entitlement to free provision. The Bill provides, as a statutory minimum, that an authority must make whatever provision is appropriate for children from such families. But the Bill also requires an authority to remit the whole or part of the charge where, having regard to the particular circumstances of a pupil or class of pupil, they consider it appropriate to do so.
I turn now to the question of school transport, which has caused concern both inside and outside Parliament. Let me start by setting out the present position. We spend about £130 million annually in England and Wales, and about £14 million in Scotland, on the provision of home to school transport. About £100 million is the cost of transporting something like three-quarters of a million pupils, or approximately 1 in 10 of all school pupils. Those who are, in practice, entitled to free transport are those who attend the nearest available maintained school and live over a statutory walking distance from it, defined as being two miles for pupils under the age of 8, and three miles for those who are over the age of 8.
For a decade or more, there have been continuing protests at the inequity of the present arrangements. For example, a parent living just inside the three-mile limit with an 11 year-old child at secondary school must pay the full economic cost of transporting that child to school. And, my Lords, this can be a very considerable cost. I understand that a daily cost of 70p per child is not uncommon. A parent on the other side of the town, whose house is just outside the three-mile limit, has his child transported free of charge, regardless of his income and personal circumstances.
When I first became a Minister, I received many letters on this subject, making the point that it would be fairer and more equitable to distribute the subsidy 1018 in some different way. Furthermore, LEAs are concerned at the ever-increasing cost of providing home to school transport. Expenditure on it has nearly doubled in the last 10 years. In 1960–70, it cost £67.7 million and in 1978–79 £128.4 million. All these figures are at 1979 survey prices.
One reason for this is not hard to find. The price of crude oil trebled in 1974, and has increased ever since. Anyone who uses the bus, or who drives a car, knows how greatly the cost has gone up. Under the law as it stands, LEAs are committed to an ever-increasing cost of transport caused by the rising world prices of oil—something over which no LEA has any control. No-one responsible for education could have foreseen this turn of events in 1944, and many today could well ask: What will be the cost in, say, five years' time?
The proposals under Clauses 23 and 25 of this Bill enable an LEA to make a charge for the transport service they provide, subject to two important provisions. First, free transport will continue for children living beyond the statutory walking distance, whose parents receive supplementary benefit or family income supplement and who are attending the nearest appropriate school. And authorities will, as at present, be under a duty to make arrangements for the transport of children attending the nearest available school for whom public transport is not available. The discretionary powers to assist in respect of the cost of school transport will be as wide as they are now.
Secondly, following an important amendment moved on Report in another place, to meet in particular the concerns expressed both by those living in rural areas, and the Churches, the charge to be made for providing transport can be only a flat rate charge, and cannot vary according to the length of the journey, nor whether the child could have attended a school nearer to his home. It will readily be apparent that this amendment was designed to help in particular the parents of children in remote rural areas, who may have to travel 10 or more miles to their nearest available school.
Secondly, it is designed to help parents who choose a denominational school for their child, but which is not the nearest available school that the child could 1019 attend. I, and my colleagues, appreciate the point so well made by representatives both of the Roman Catholic and the Anglican Churches, that because church schools are fewer in number the children attending them have greater distances to travel. We hope that this amendment will allay their fears, and will be recognised for what it is: a help to denominational schools and those living in rural areas. This amendment becomes more important when we consider that the fall in pupil numbers now being experienced means that many more pupils will be attending denominational schools as a matter of parental choice, when a place is, in fact, available for them at a nearer school.
The present law does not require authorities to make any transport arrangements in these circumstances, although most authorities are prepared to meet or assist with the cost of public transport. Many, even now, do not provide a school bus specifically for pupils attending a denominational school, if public transport is not available. Without the relaxation of the statutory duty, that where arrangements are made for the provision of transport the transport must be free, it is possible that even more authorities will feel obliged to cut back on the arrangements which they at present make. We have already had one example of an LEA acting in this way.
I re-emphasise this point, because there is nothing in the 1944 Act which requires authorities to make special transport arrangements for those children who attend denominational schools. In fact, most LEAs have always done so. They have done so, my Lords. I believe because they support the dual system of education. If I may speak now as an ex-local education authority member, I would say that LEAs would hope that, just as they have helped the denominational schools in the past. gladly and willingly, and will continue to do so in future, so they hope that those responsible for leading opinion in the denominational schools today will accept and understand the present difficulties with which LEAs are confronted. It is always hard to have to pay for something which has previously been "free". But to ask for a small reduction in the present level of subsidy, 1020 which benefits only one pupil in 10 is not, I submit, to argue against the denominational schools.
Finally, I turn to those provisions in the Bill which are concerned with choice and parental involvement—two principles to which we, as a party, are deeply committed. Many noble Lords will agree with me when I say that a great disservice was done to education and to the opportunities available to parents, when the Labour Administration decided to phase out grants to the direct grant grammar schools. We have promised since 1975 that we would restore to parents the extra dimension of choice that was offered by these schools. That promise was in our manifesto and was repeated in the Queen's Speech. This is what the assisted places scheme is intended to achieve.
It has been alleged that it is contrary to the principles of the 1944 Act. This is not the case. The House might like to be reminded that Section 100 of that Act imposes a duty on the Secretary of State:by regulations [to] make provision … for the payment by him, for the purpose of enabling pupils to take advantage without hardship to themselves or their parents of any educational facilities available to them, of the whole or any part of the fees and expenses payable in respect of children attending schools at which fees are payable".This section has not been repealed and it is largely for technical reasons that we are not relying on it for the assisted places scheme. We have not restored the direct grant scheme as such because we believe that that system had its drawbacks. In particular, the scheme that we are now proposing will be a more flexible scheme, and will be capable of growth and development. All the assistance available will be provided in the form of the remission of fees to parents, rather than in the form of assistance to the school. There will thus be no subvention for parents who do not qualify for it in terms of their income, and our proposals for an incomes scale, which have now been published for consultation, make clear our intention that assistance should only go to parents of modest means. There will be no free places which are allocated on the basis of examination success without reference to the parents' ability to pay.
We believe that the scheme will be welcomed by former direct grant schools 1021 which have always regretted not being able to maintain their traditional links with children from the whole range of their local community and will also provide a challenge to independent schools which have always pressed for closer links with the maintained system. We have always said that in considering applications for membership of the scheme we would, other things being equal, give a degree of priority to the former direct grant schools, and I am glad to say that of the 122 direct grant schools which are becoming independent 120 have now indicated their interest in joining the assisted places scheme. In total some 451 schools have now indicated their interest and we shall shortly be starting the process of inviting formal applications. With this increased number of schools, we should be able to get a better geographical distribution.
The scheme has been subject to criticism on two grounds. The first is that it will remove from maintained schools able children who are necessary to the educational well-being of the school and, in particular, to the provision of a full range of sixth-form courses. The second argument is simply that of cost. My reply to both these points is basically the same. It is that we had a system of direct grant schools which was fully operational up to and including the academic year 1975–76. Until then the maintained and direct grant systems were living quite happily side by side, and I would remind noble Lords that because of the way the direct grant was phased out those schools which are going independent still have a direct grant sixth form. There has not, therefore, yet been a single extra sixth-form entrant to a school in the maintained sector because of the phasing out of the direct grant. The maintained sector cannot be said to have suffered.
It is also true that up to and including the school year 1975–76 we were continuing to afford the direct grant system in full and that the department and local education authorities are still spending considerable sums on the support of direct grant pupils who have yet to complete their courses in those schools—an estimated £6.2 million of DES expenditure in the coming financial year. We shall be starting to phase the assisted places scheme in at about the time the last few 1022 direct grant pupils are being phased out. All we are doing is partially restoring expenditure which we would, in fact, still be incurring if the Labour Government had not, in our view mistakenly, done away with the direct grant system without putting anything in its place, or putting the extra money hack into the education system.
My Lords, I turn now to school admissions and school government. We believe that, so far as possible, parents should be able to choose the school their children attend; and we believe that parents are well able to make such choices. We accept that parental choice cannot be absolute and must be qualified by the needs of authorities to make sensible use of the resources available to them in the interests of all the children in their area. There is always hound to be conflict between the wishes of parents individually and the wishes of parents collectively as taxpayers and ratepayers. We believe, however, that local authorities should be obliged to draw up their school admission arrangements to take account of the wishes of parents from the first and not to make parental wishes a residual which may or may not be taken into account at the end of the allocation process.
All that the Bill is trying to achieve in this respect is already the practice in many authorities who are sensitive to parental wishes. We are trying to ensure that parents should have adequate information about schools (Clause 8 of the Bill) in order that parents can make an informed choice, and that authorities should take full account of parental wishes in deciding on admissions. Authorities should not disregard parental wishes without good reason and where parental wishes are disregarded parents should have the reassurance of a local appeal system which will guarantee a genuine second look.
The appeal procedure that we are establishing is not intended to replace local administrative procedures for dealing with these matters. We want to ensure that where administrative procedures are exhausted the parent who is still dissatisfied can "take it to the top" and go to a committee of the authority with power to review the case and to take a binding decision. A number of authorities already have committees of elected members which function in very much the way we have in 1023 mind. We think that all authorities ought to be prepared to give parents the chance to take their case to a committee of this kind, but we do not want such committees to turn into mini-courts or administrative tribunals, and the procedure should be as informal as possible. This, basically, is what is provided in Clauses 6, 7 and 8 of the Bill, and, because we believe that decisions about school admissions should be taken on equitable and rational grounds, we are at the same time amending the school attendance provisions in existing law to ensure that parents who are unscrupulous enough to keep their children out of school for very long periods will not thereby gain an unfair advantage over parents who comply with the law (Clauses 10 and 11). These clauses should be read in conjunction with Clause 33 which provides for the automatic recoupment of costs for the child who lives in the area of one local education authority but who attends a school in the area of another.
Further, we believe that the parental role does not begin and end with the exercise of choice or the expression of preference. We believe—and again we are drawing on current practice in many areas—that parents should also be involved in the way the schools their children attend are run. This does not mean that we believe simply that "parent power" should supersede the local democratic process or the professional judgment of teachers. It does mean that school governing bodies should provide a place where parents and teachers and local authority representatives can come together, with others from the local community where this is appropriate—and here may I say there is nothing to prevent there being representatives of local industry—to share their concerns about the school and the wellbeing of the children and, we hope, to provide each other with support and assistance.
I am conscious that these proposals may be regarded by some noble Lords (and perhaps in particular the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Blackburn) as modest and not going far enough. In particular, the Bill makes no provision with regard to the powers and duties of governing bodies and it provides for only a minimum number of parents and teachers, rather than laying down the 1024 composition of governing bodies in detail. In both these areas we believe that there is and should be plenty of room for experiment locally. There are already many interesting developments and we believe it would be wrong to try to lay down a definitive and, inevitably, over-prescriptive policy.
My Lords, I said at the beginning of my speech that this Bill represents only a part of the Government's policies on education. It contains those measures to meet our changed position as a country. It contains positive proposals to allow parental choice and involvement in education. Both these groups of measures must be seen against the Government's basic commitment to maintain and improve standards in all our schools. The publication of our consultative document on the core curriculum; our recently published proposals on the 16-plus examination, the Statement that we intend to make shortly on the Warnock Report on handicapped children, show our active concern for the education of all. These proposals are not part of this Bill, as most of them do not require legislation, but I hope your Lordships will bear them in mind as this Bill proceeds through this House. I hope that your Lordships will give the Bill a Second Reading. I beg to move.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Baroness Young.)
§ 3.40 p.m.
§ Baroness DAVID
My Lords, this untimely and ill-conceived Bill has aroused the hostility of the local authority associations, the Society of Education Officers, the teachers, the parents and even the National Farmers' Union and a good deal of the Press—neither of the last two usually so critical of Tory policies. The Churches and even some members of the Tory Party are opposed to some parts of the Bill. So noble Lords will not be surprised to hear that it has aroused the anger and dismay of Members on these Benches—and, I suspect, some Members sitting on other Benches, too. The weight of public opinion has obliged the Government already to modify some of their proposals; I hope that opinions expressed here today may influence them to make further changes and, indeed, that they will have the courage to remove some of the more hurtful clauses.
1025 The Bill is, to my mind, riddled with inconsistencies and is a dishonest Bill. What it pretends to give with one hand it takes away with the other. I shall hope to show this as I go on. An Education Bill that does not command the support and the respect of so many of those working in, and using, that service is a bad Bill. What has angered and upset those who want to see the educational opportunities of every child in the United Kingdom made as equal as possible, is the undermining of the 1944 Act. Whatever the Minister may say, it is undermined in several respects and I very much look forward to hearing what the noble Lord, Lord Butler of Saffron Walden, has to say. That Act ensured the right of children everywhere to free education, wherever they lived, whatever the contents of their parents' pockets. Clauses 23 and 24—the transport clauses—go completely against that principle. It is manifestly unfair, just because a person happens to live some distance from the school because of his job, that he is to be penalised financially, and heavily so if there are several children. It is a tax on living in the country and a tax on families. A Kent parent addressing a huge meeting in Deal said:It is socially divisive, educationally destructive, morally wrong and not even sound economics".That is what many parents feel. In this context I am particularly worried about the 16–19-year-olds. In many areas sixth-form colleges and tertiary colleges are being set up because—and this is certainly my own view—they provide the best and most economical way of providing education for that age group. But these colleges must be in centres of population as must the technical colleges to which again this group needs access. What will happen when parents have to pay fares? It is inevitable that many children who would have gone on to further education will drop out—just when the need is particularly great with unemployment among young people rising and the country needing the technical and other trained skills that these young people, our assets for the future, could provide. It is a blinkered and shortsighted policy.
What of the practical aspects of charging? What happens when a child arrives at the bus stop without a bus pass or the money for his fare? Is the bus driver 1026 to refuse to pick him up? What happens when a parent keeps a child away from school because he cannot find the money for the fare at that moment? How will the money be collected? How much costly administrative machinery will be needed to manage this complicated operation? Council staff will have to be expanded, not cut, as even the Explanatory and Financial Memorandum to the Bill admits. My post, I am sure like that of the Minister, has been full of letters from parents, both furious and fearful. What will an LEA do if a parent accuses them of not providing in their area such full-time education as is demanded under the Act, quoting Section 8(1) of the 1944 Act—and I quote:and the schools available for an area shall not be deemed to be sufficient unless they are sufficient in number, character, and equipment"—saying there is no such school their child can get to. These Clauses 23 and 24 are in some ways the most pernicious in the Bill.
Further undermining the 1944 Act is the new Clause 26, rushed in with unseemly haste at Report stage in another place, removing from LEAs the statutory duty under Section 8(2)(b) to securethat provision is made for pupils who have not attained the age of five years by the provision of nursery schools … or nursery classes in other schools".Among other letters, I have received one from a nursery nurse in Truro, saying:I am worried about how the present cuts affect children. In particular, the amendment to the 1944 Act regarding nurseries was put forward at such a late stage that there was no time to state any reason for opposition. I feel that the present crisis with money means that certain Bills will be approved and passed as Acts of Parliament without the implications to the people directly affected by them being fully realised".That is true. This is a mean proposal, playing into the hands of mean authorities who will use it as an excuse for doing nothing even when the need is very great. Because there may have to be some restriction now there is surely no reason to remove the obligation on LEAs, who should be keeping their eyes on the ideal (pronounced in Mrs. Thatcher's A Framework for Expansion) of nursery education for 90 per cent. of four-year-olds and 50 per cent. of three-year-olds as recommended by the Plowden Report. We have slipped a long way since the Conservatives, 1027 in their February 1974 manifesto, announced:We shall extend … free nursery education throughout the country".What is the real attitude of the Government now?
The 1944 Act did a wonderful job in laying the basis for the Church and State partnership which settled the class and religious squabbles that had disfigured the educational scene over the previous century. The partnership has, on the whole, worked extremely well. I fear that certain provisions in this Bill may work against that happy relationship continuing. In a situation where the rolls are falling, the new admissions and the appeals procedure proposed would appear to favour voluntary schools and give them much greater powers over who goes to them. With their governors running their own appeals committees, as I read the Bill, the LEA, which should be controlling the overall provision and pattern of education in their area, will in fact not have control and there could be grave problems for the county schools.
Unless the LEA has such power of control some comprehensives could easily become selective and local authorities anxious to reintroduce selection have the power to turn comprehensive schools back into selective schools, as the Conservatives promised would be permitted in their 1977 document Better Schools for All. The party that believes in market forces may say that if the church schools attract the pupils and some comprehensives are more popular than others, so be it. But I say that, unless the LEA has the power to plan admissions overall very carefully, some children in the less popular schools are going to have a very poor deal indeed. We have an omen of what may come in the Church trying to buy the Twyford School in Ealing. At Committee stage we shall be exploring the strength and powers of an authority to plan its admissions.
I should like now to speak more specifically about the admissions and appeals clauses. Of course, we would all like children to go to the school that their parents want, and it is right and proper that parents should have the opportunity to express a preference. I am aware that the first two sections of Clause 6 are 1028 identical to those in the Labour Bill of 1978, but there are differences after that. It is the exceptions—where parental choice does not apply—that gives one pause. Under the Bill, the duty of the LEA to respect parental choice applies only to comprehensive and secondary modern schools. It does not apply (see Clause 6(3)) to maintained grammar schools, fee paying schools, aided schools (which reach agreements with authorities to control their own entries) or to any school at any stage which admits by aptitude or ability. This could mean a sixth-form in an 11 to 18 school or a sixth-form college. There are thus two classes of parents: those who have a choice of both selective and non-selective schools and those who only have a choice of non-selective schools. It is, of course, a return to the old 11-plus selection and what it means is that the 11-plus under Clause 6(3) will now be legal, will have the force of law, for the first time. Previously it had just been a practice. That is what this Bill does.
The appeals procedure as proposed in the Bill is complicated and cumbersome. The burden on hard-pressed LEAs, both in finance and manpower, is very considerable. Do the Government realise what they are asking of LEAs, both officers and members? How long is the appeal process expected to take? Will the child be kept out of school until the process is over? If so, he may well be out for several terms. I believe this clause and Schedule 2 were concocted by people who have not had experience on the ground, because otherwise they could not have done it. I served on an appeals panel for four years from 1974, so I can claim recent and personal experience. With five members and two officers—we had all previously been at meetings of the secondary admissions committee, so that we knew the background—we took many days to hear the appeals, and it is not easy finding days when five people can meet. The time between allocation of pupils to schools and the date parents should have a final answer is not very long. Parents do not want to be left in uncertainty. I simply cannot see how it will work with numbers of newcomers unfamiliar with what has gone before coming on the scene.
I have another reservation. Members of tribunals and members of the authority, 1029 not being members of the appeals committee, can attend as observers. In human terms, I think this is deplorable. One point of appeals is to give parents a chance to talk confidentially. Parents bring up medical histories, psychiatric troubles and personal problems, and to do this in front of a large audience is intolerable; they want it to be private. I think it shows complete lack of imagination and human understanding to suggest it.
I pass on to Clause 8, which requires LEAs and governors of aided and special agreement schools to provide information about their admission policies, and such other information as may be required by regulations made by the Secretary of State. We would all want parents to know as much as possible before making up their minds about which school to choose, but I feel uneasy about agreeing to Clause 8(5)(a) before knowing what those regulations are going to be. There are references in a good many places in the Bill to regulations to be made, and I think it is highly unsatisfactory that these are not before us. When she replies, can the Minister tell us whether we shall have a draft of these before we go into Committee? Will there be consultations about them? If, as I suspect may happen, LEAs are going to be asked to publish examination results, there will be strong objections, because it is very difficult to present them without misrepresentation, and the professional skills of advisers or inspectors are needed to interpret them. We want to know what the proposals are.
Of course, my Lords, there are some things in the Bill that we can applaud. We think it sensible that primary schools should have governors rather than managers and instruments of government rather than rules of management, to bring them into line with secondary schools. I do not understand why the further step of having the articles approved by the Secretary of State, as in the case of secondary schools, has not been taken. And it is strange that no word is said of the powers of governors. It is interesting that the Glasgow Report, just published, on Scottish School Councils goes a great deal further than the Taylor Report. We are glad that the Bill follows the recommendations of the Taylor Committee to put parents and teachers on governing bodies, but we feel that the Bill does not go far enough, and we shall be putting down amendments at Committee 1030 stage on the composition of governing bodies and other matters in Clause 2. We welcome the fact that each school is to have its own governing body; at least that, I assume, is the intention, and I should like the Minister to confirm this.
The changes in Clauses 12, 13, 14 and 15 purport to give greater freedom to local authorities, but I confess that I doubt that these will make a lot of difference. I wonder whether having to publish proposals where an LEA intends to reduce the intake of a school by 20 per cent. or more, and thereby allowing people to object, may not tie some authorities' hands, where numbers are falling rapidly, rather too much.
We now come to the controversial section on awards and grants. It is quite incredible that the Government can persevere with the ill-judged assisted places scheme when cuts of such magnitude are being imposed on the maintained sector. Some traces of conscience can be seen in the Government's announcement that £3 million (only £3 million, as they say) will be spent in 1981–2, rather than £6 million. Why cannot they retract altogether? It seems hard to believe that independent schools will be foolish enough to place any faith in the emergence of this scheme into reality. The effect on the State sector may not be very great in the 11 to 16 part of schools, but it could be extreme and disastrous in reducing the size of groups in the 16-plus area and really diminish the number of subjects and opportunities available. How can the Government give as one of their aims the maintenance and improvement—improvement, mind you—of standards in education, and show such indifference to the great mass of the children of the country, over 80 per cent., who are in our own schools. Recent research in Professor Rutter's book 15,000 Hours shows that having bright children in a school raises the level of achievement of all pupils.
Surely the £3 million would be better spent on more teachers to help the gifted in the State system—Heaven knows! we must have more gifted children than the few thousand who may go into the private sector—or spend it in in-service training to improve the teaching of maths and physics, as Jack Springett, the chief education officer of Essex, suggested in last Friday's Education. We do need all our bright 1031 children to be brought up to their full potential. They are the inventors and leaders of the future, our greatest asset as a nation, and we should be investing in more research in our schools to find out if we are doing our best for these children, not wasting £3 million, and more later, on this divisive scheme, for that is what it is. The old system of independent grammar schools on the one side, and secondary moderns on the other, has not provided us with the technicians and the management we need in the modern world, and yet the Government are trying to bring back that outdated system.
At the same time, in this Bill no awards are being given to encourage 16-year-olds to stay on in education. The youth opportunities schemes may be excellent, but they are short-term. We need much more work to be done on the right courses, the right curriculum for those who tend to drift out of education. Discretionary awards are being cut in many authorities, making still more difficulties for the less well off who do want to continue their studies.
The industrial scholarships mentioned in Clause 20 are welcome, but they are for those in advanced higher education. Where we are short of trained workers is in the layer below that. Even Dr. Rhodes Boyson seems to recognise that. In his address to the Association of Principals of Colleges on 20th February he said:If non-advanced further education had been subject to expenditure restraints, with advanced further education escaping, there would have been a clear temptation for colleges to concentrate on the latter at the expense of the former. It would have been wrong to allow such a temptation to exist, particularly …"—and this is the point—…when the need for non-advanced provision is as pressing, sometimes more pressing, than that for advanced provision".But he has put nothing in this Bill to encourage young people to go into non-advanced further education and fulfil that need.
There is uncertainty about the whole future of the maintained sector in higher education. The Labour Party accept that financing of higher education through the pooling system was not satisfactory. We, after all, set up the Oakes Committee. What we do not like about what is 1032 proposed in the Bill—capping the pool as it is called, which sounds a gentlemanly gesture but is in fact just another cut—is the arbitrary nature of the exercise, the bluntness of the instrument. The effect will be that authorities that have been extravagant and have exploited the pool will not really be penalised, and the authorities that have been good boys and efficient and careful with the spending of public money will. It appears that Dr. Rhodes Boyson envisages abreathing space for the consideration of more refined measures, the precise nature of which would take time to work out and need widespread consultation and discussion".Well, my Lords, there has been a lot of that already.
The feeling is that central Government are taking over whatever happens, and this no doubt in part explains the hostility of the local authority associations. I believe the Oakes Committee's proposal to set up a national committee to overview the overall provision is right and that it should not be the prerogative of the DES or the Minister to make final judgements. The DES and HMIs should certainly have a place on the committee. Higher education in the maintained sector is intimately linked with the industry in each area, and local knowledge is important and should have a voice. Above all, there should be liaison between the maintained and the university sectors in higher education. Now they each go their own sweet way, and much duplication of courses can happen.
I have not mentioned school meals and milk, not because I do not think that they are of vital importance in what should be a commitment to the total education and welfare of the child, but because I know that other noble friends will enlarge on that. All I wish to say now is that in Clause 22(2) local education authorities are told to exercise their powers to ensure that children of parents on supplementary benefit or family income supplement should have such provision in the middle of the day:as appears to the authority to be requisite"—no nutritional standards, no guidance. One can imagine what authorities like Kent might—or might not—do after what we have seen about its transport charges. This seems to me typical of the Government's approach to everything—an unimaginative, 1033 uncaring attitude with no appreciation of how the majority of the people of this country live, work and feel. It is a big brother attitude, telling the rest to pull their socks up, behave and get on with it.
This is a dangerous attitude and could lead to the polarisation of society and real trouble. People generally are rebelling against the transport charges—I hope the Government are warned. I said at the Second Reading debate on the first Education Bill which this Government produced, that it was unnecessary, irrelevant and totally inappropriate to the needs of education and of the country in the 1980s. I believe that this is also true of their Education (No. 2) Bill and I repeat what I said earlier: an Education Bill that does not command the support and the respect of those working in and using the education service is a bad Bill.
§ 4.2 p.m.
§ Viscount SIMON
My Lords, I think that the whole House is grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Young, for the manner in which she introduced this Bill. However, I am afraid she will find that there is a good deal of opposition to it from many quarters, including these Benches. The noble Baroness will not be surprised to learn that we find some of the clauses quite unacceptable, while there are others to which we can give only a rather qualified welcome. Before I outline our objections I want, as one should do on a Second Reading debate, to try to get down to the principle of the Bill. This I have found rather difficult to assess. The noble Baroness did not give us much idea of the guiding principle which led the Government to introduce the Bill.
Naturally, in a Bill of this kind there are a number of propositions which do not easily link together, but we expect them to be ruled by some sort of general philosophy, if I may put it that way. I wonder whether one of the principles which govern this Bill is to be found in an Answer given by the noble Baroness, Lady Young, to the noble Baroness, Lady David, on 5th February in reply to a Question about adult education. At column 1156 of Hansard of 5th February the noble Baroness said:We have accepted that as there have to be cuts in Government expenditure, the education 1034 service has to bear its share and the adult education service within that has to bear its share".Of course, we have often heard similar comments made by different Government spokesmen, or should I say "spokespersons"? But what is meant by "its share"? How are these shares assessed? The implication appears to be that if a total cut of, let us say, X per cent. is deemed to be necessary, each and every area of expenditure should bear a cut of approximately that size. Is that the right way to do it? We think not. We agree that public expenditure needs to be cut, and cut substantially at present. In that respect we may not be quite in line with noble Lords sitting on my left-hand side. However, I suggest that any Government, having decided what total reduction in public expenditure is necessary should then proceed in three stages.
The first stage is to ascertain wasteful expenditure in all departments and to get rid of wasteful expenditure. There is no reason to expect wasteful expenditure to form the same proportion of each department's budget. After that, I believe the second stage should be to identify what I might call cost-non-effective expenditure. Again, that will not be the same proportion of everybody's budget. When those two categories are removed we come to the difficult third stage, because at the third stage the Government have to decide upon priorities and have to stand up and defend those priorities. Reductions across-the-board, as I think they are called, are the easy way, the lazy way, to achieve reductions in total expenditure. No doubt there is less squabbling round the Cabinet table; there is less resistance in this or that department. But to do it that way is an abdication of any Government's responsibility to establish priorities and justify them; indeed, to be fair to the present Government, they recognise that because they have, in fact, agreed to increases in defence expenditure.
If the right thing to do is to try to assess the relative importance of the different activities in which Government engage—and it is not an easy task—I submit that education on all grounds has the very highest priority. Education cannot be postponed; children go on getting older every month of the year and every year of their lives. Every year of every child's education is vital. The whole 1035 future of our country depends upon the education of the children of today and tomorrow. Will they leave school or college fitted to play their part in industry—as the noble Baroness, Lady David, suggested —in administration, because we must have some administrators but I hope not too many, or—most important of all—in citizenship? For an intelligent, educated electorate is essential for the survival of democratic institutions in this or any other country—I suggest just as essential as an effective defence force.
I turn briefly to the objections which we on these Benches have to the present Bill. Some will be elaborated and followed up by other noble friends when they speak. We are fairly happy about Clause 2 and the governing bodies, though we feel that the clause does not go far enough. I rather hoped that the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Blackburn, might tell us his views about that. We believe that there should be more parent governors and more teacher governors. In fact, we are in favour of the view that local education authorities should be in a minority. But most important of all is to get the governing bodies of schools really closely associated with the schools themselves. I am thinking in terms of rural areas. A school may be 40, 50 or more miles away from the headquarters of the local education authority, and members of local education authority seem very distant people.
I visualise a governing body which is composed much more of people in the immediate locality of the school and people who can take an interest in the school, not only in relation to their formal and legal duties, but who can take the sort of interest which is taken by a fairy godmother or fairy godfather—really feeling that they are part of what makes the school tick. I know that it is not possible to put that into legislation, but I hope that before we reach the end of this Bill, the Government will think of some way of getting across the fact that governing bodies should be closely related to the locality of the school; and by "locality", I do not mean in the sense of the local education authority, but something very much closer than that.
I go on to parental choice. Here we are glad to see that efforts are being 1036 made to increase the effectiveness of parental choice, though I think there are at least two flaws, as I see them, in this part of the Bill to which I should like to refer. The first is the almost complete let-out given by Clause 6(3)(a), which reads:The duty"—that is the duty to follow parental preference—does not apply—(a) if compliance with the preference would prejudice the provision of efficient education or the efficient use of resources;This seems a very wide and woolly clause. I do not see how the unfortunate appellant will ever be able to get around it if the local education authority says it falls within those words. I feel we ought to tighten the words up a little and give the appellant a little better chance of establishing his case.
The other flaw is in the composition of the appeal bodies in Schedule 2. It seems to me that anybody appealing against a decision finds himself appealing to a panel which is entirely appointed by the local education authority, and in spite of the protection that is given that a member of the authority cannot be chairman and that the authority cannot have a majority of more than one, I should have thought that the appellant would feel he was getting a pretty unsatisfactory deal from that sort of appeal body. We all know the old cliché that justice must not only be done but be seen to be done. I hope that we may be able to suggest some amendment in that direction.
I had prepared a few words on Clause 17, but the noble Baroness, Lady David, said them so much better than I can that all I shall say at this stage is that we warmly agree with what she said. Perhaps we shall find that jointly we can do something to get the situation put right. On the subject of meals there is only one thing that I thought the noble Baroness, Lady Young, rather skated over. I recognise that the provision of meals in schools is of fairly recent introduction. I believe it goes back only to the 1939/45 war. However, since that time we have all of us observed, have we not? the great improvement in the health of children all over the country. I should have thought that at least a part of that 1037 improvement was almost certainly due to the provision of school meals.
If you try to imagine what would happen when school meals are not provided except for those for whom they have to be provided, the poorest, one gets very worried. Are the children going to bring sandwiches? Maybe they will, if their mothers provide them with sandwiches; but that is not a very good midday meal for anybody. Or are they going to go out into a town and try to find a meal? That can lead to undesirable results. In a village probably there is not anywhere to get a meal, anyway. I wish the Government would think again about this.
As to transport, if the Conservative Party had put in their manifesto that they were going to abolish school transport I do not think they would have won as many seats in rural areas as they did.
§ Baroness YOUNG
My Lords, I am sorry to interrupt the noble Viscount, Lord Simon, but it is not fair to say that we are abolishing school transport. At least £100 million will remain in the form of a subsidy to it, and I think it will help if we keep to the facts.
§ Viscount SIMON
My Lords, I will accept that, but when people have had this for free for some time, when they have to pay, even if not the whole cost of it, it is difficult to persuade them that somehow there has not been a cut. Anyway, we shall no doubt have an opportunity to discuss that later. There are many other proposals in the Bill which we would wish to see altered, and we shall no doubt discuss these in Committee. I hope on some of the main issues, and for instance on school transport, the combined efforts of the official Opposition and my noble friends will gain support not only from the Cross-Benches but also from noble Lords who ordinarily support the Government, and who might perhaps he persuaded to follow the example of some of their honourable friends in another place.
Why should we not send these proposals back to the other place? We are a revising Chamber. We recognise that the other place has the last word. But it seems to me that it would be right to give them an opportunity to think again on that 1038 issue particularly, and perhaps on one or two others. A minute or two ago I asked myself why should we not do this. I have thought of only one reason. I think it would be a great favour to the Conservative Government, and I am not particularly in favour of doing that. I have a feeling that they did not realise the extent of the opposition to this proposal and that they might be quite glad to be let off the hook; and I know that the noble Baroness, with all her charm, cannot get them off the hook in this House. So at the end of this debate, in accordance with the convention which governs our relationship with the other place, I am sure that we shall give this deplorable Bill a Second Reading.
§ 4.17 p.m.
§ Baroness BACON
My Lords, before I speak about the content of this Bill I should like to say a word about its arrangement. For two or three years I represented this side of your Lordships' House on the Renton Committee on the Preparation of Legislation—a committee which had to try to produce ways in which Bills could be made more simple and easier to understand. We have, as the noble Baroness said, had the great 1944 Education Act and several minor ones, and now this one, and, looking at the Schedules, repeals, alterations and amendments, it is going to be difficult indeed for those who wish to see what the education law is to find their way through the multiplicity of Acts. This could have been one Bill that the Government could have prepared which might have taken into consideration one of the recommendations of the Renton Committee—that is to rewrite the whole Bill with parts of it in italics. I am sure it will not be long before the noble and learned Lord who sits on the Woolsack will come along to your Lordships' House with a Bill entitled Education (Consolidation) Bill. It is indeed difficult to find where we are with these many Acts.
As has been said this Bill of 1980 is the first major Education Bill since 1944. There have been minor ones, but the 1944 Education Act has for 36 years stood the test of time. The 1944 Education Act has lasted because it was an Education Act which was agreed between the parties and resulted from a consensus. We must not forget that in 1944 we had a wartime coalition Government, and this was the 1039 product of that Government. The noble Lord, Lord Butler, who I am pleased to see here today and who is to address your Lordships' House next, was always ready to listen and to revise as the Bill went through Parliament. I was not in Parliament then but I know that that was so. I am sure he will agree that he had a very able lieutenant in the late Mr. Chuter Ede, who helped so much and had so much practical experience.
A fortnight ago, in the Sunday Times for 10th February, the noble Lord, Lord Butler, had a very good article entitled, "How to Break Class Barriers". But I was absolutely aghast to see that in the introduction to the article a staff member of the Sunday Times had written:Lord 'Rab' Butler, architect of the most significant of these reforms—the 1944 Education Act which introduced the 11-plus exam as a way of opening up grammar schools to bright working-class children—replies".I was surprised that anybody on the Sunday Times should make that mistake, because, far from introducing the 11-plus exam, the 1944 Act showed the way to ending the 11-plus. I remember that before the 1944 Act a White Paper had been issued saying that secondary education was to be divided into three distinct parts—secondary modern, secondary technical and secondary grammar—but before the measure was published the noble Lord, Lord Butler of Saffron Walden, was persuaded that that was wrong; and instead of that, Section 8 of the Education Act 1944 merely said there should be sufficient secondary education according to each pupil's age, ability and aptitude. So it was in fact the 1944 Act which opened the way to the abolition of the 11-plus and the comprehensive school.
It has been clear for some time that we have needed a new Education Act; we have a new veneration in our schools and in recent years there have been a few challenges in the courts about some of the provisions in the 1944 Act. We also have new problems, and I believe there should be a great deal of accent on, for instance, the 16 to 19 age group. At long last, after waiting, we have this new education measure, but what does it do for the future of education in Britain? All I can say is that it does very little. It is not a great Bill. Indeed, I would call it a paltry little Bill, a hotch-potch of a Bill 1040 dealing with restrictions on school transport, school meals and a rather phoney window-dressing scheme of so-called parental choice. In fact, the Bill is quite irrelevant to the education problems of today.
How paltry the Bill is is illustrated by Clause 22. Indeed, I was rather surprised that the noble Baroness, Lady Young, quoted that clause; I should have thought the Government would have preferred to forget that part of the Bill, because Clause 22(1)(b) says:A local education authority … shall provide such pupils with facilities for consuming any meals or other refreshment brought to the school by them".In other words, local authorities are now being given the duty to provide rooms for children to eat sandwiches which they bring to school because they cannot afford school meals. That is how paltry the Bill is.
I find it very difficult to deal with the Bill as a whole because it contains no central theme; the clauses are completely unrelated and are concerned more with the present financial problems of the Government that with the future of education. We must therefore speak about these details because of this lack of a central theme. There is, however, one theme running through it, a theme which runs through other Bills the Government have produced—namely, that it is apparent that not only in education policy but in other spheres, under the guise of freedom for local authorities, local authorities are having a greater burden thrust upon them. They are being given a choice, but it is a sort of Hobson's choice. An example of this is transport and meals, with less money to exercise that choice. And local authorities today have some agonising decisions to make: whether to cut services like meals and transport; whether to increase charges to parents; or whether to increase rates to ratepayers.
Even those authorities which are economising as much as they can are still having to increase rates owing to a change in the rate support grant which the Government are allowing to local authorities. What is in fact happening is that the burden for a great deal of this expenditure is being transferred from taxes to rates. We have had a cut in income tax which only the wealthy have noticed. One 1041 thing about taxes, little as any of us likes paying them, is that they are fair, while rates are not. There is a class of people today who will feel this very much indeed in the coming months, because rates are levied on property and not on income, no matter how many incomes there may be in a household. I believe, too, that the way in which the transport and school meals services will be administered will make the poverty trap much greater.
In many spheres this Government have been window-dressing, with great announcements which hit the headlines but which, when analysed, do not mean very much. For example, we had the announcement by the Home Secretary that we were to see a great new way of treating offenders—with a "short, sharp shock"—yet now the governors of detention centres are saying there will be no change; it will just be the regime we had before. In immigration we have had great headline hitters, but when we analyse the facts we see that what they propose will make very little difference. Similarly, in this Bill the window-dressing is so-called parental choice. I agree with parental choice, providing it is real choice.
The Education Act 1944 gave some parental choice within certain limits and an appeal to the Minister, and in my view that part of the 1944 Act needed amendment. Some of my noble friends and some of my friends in another place are not particularly happy to see the appeal to the Minister being taken away, but as one who has been at the receiving end of this, I am happy to see this appeal to the Minister being abolished, because no Minister can decide, without a great deal of local knowledge, to which school a child should go. I sat at my desk with maps, but how could I know when I saw a certain road whether it was a busy or lonely road and all the other local details? I am therefore quite happy to see that go. I believe that such a matter is better left in local hands, but without the cumbersome machinery as proposed in Clause 7 of this Bill. Lately, in the interests of democracy, we are taking power from democratically elected representatives, but I believe this matter should be left in the hands of local authorities.
The Bill does not make a great deal of change with regard to parental choice. In fact, it does not say "parental choice"; 1042 the Bill talks about parents being asked to express a preference, but that is not being given a choice.
Most local authorities are administered through catchment areas, but these catchment areas are not really legal. They have worked very well, but any parent could ask for their children to go to a school in another part of the local authority's area. This Bill makes it obligatory for all local authorities to operate the same scheme, and it is quite clear that there is going to be no absolute choice in this. No local authority would have one school half full and another bursting at the seams. As has been pointed out this afternoon, in a local authority area where there is still selection at 11, 13, or whatever age, if a child does not pass the test to go to a grammar school, the parents have no choice; they cannot demand that their child does go to a grammar school.
Then we have the rather difficult problem over parents being able to state a preference for their children to go into another local authority area. I can see the reason for this where in a very scattered agricultural area, for instance, one school is much nearer the child's home than is another school. But what will happen in areas with adjacent local authorities, where one local authority has a comprehensive scheme of education and the other has a selective scheme of education? Are the parents going to be able to opt for their children to go into the adjoining area just because there is a different system in that area?
I am concerned, too, about the neighbourhood schools. I know that there are two views on this. Some people think it right that children should go from their own neighbourhoods to schools some distance away, while others—including myself—take the point of view that the school should be the centre of the community. I believe that if we have children travelling too far, we shall completely destroy that community which has the school as the focal point.
I turn finally to the proposal for assisted places. I believe that this k the worst and most objectionable part of the Bill. It is opposed by many educational bodies. Under this provision millions of pounds are to be spent; to be paid direct to 1043 independent schools in fees for children from local authority schools. At a time when expenditure on. State schools is being cut these millions of pounds could be better spent in bringing those schools up to standard. Because of the criticism the Government have now reduced the amount that they are to spend, but this does not affect the principle. The principle is that the Government are going to introduce a new, super 11-plus scheme by the back door. It will cream off the better and more able children from the State schools. But more importantly—and I think that this is the crux of the whole matter—this is in effect demoting the State schools, by implying that there is something better to be had in the independent schools, and that in fact the State schools are second-class.
I have always maintained that the independent schools have one great advantage over the State schools—at least some of them do. It is the advantage of smaller classes and individual attention. However, instead of spending millions of pounds in order to send children from local authority schools to independent schools, the Government should be spending the money on bringing the State schools up to the standard of some of the independent schools. The Government should he narrowing that gap. Instead, Government policies are widening the gap by making less money available to the State system.
As I said at the beginning of my speech, this is not a great Bill. It does not advance education. In fact, it is a non-Bill. The period from 1944 to 1980 is 36 years, and much of the 1944 Education Act is still relevant today. In 36 years from now we shall be in the year 2016. How relevant will this Bill be then? I suggest that the 1944 Act will be remembered long after the squalid 1980 one is forgotten.
§ 4.35 p.m.
§ Lord BUTLER of SAFFRON WALDEN
My Lords, I rise with some emotion to speak on this subject, since I have not had occasion to make either critical or positive observations on the 1944 Act practically since it was passed. Before I come to the real point of my speech, I should like to refer to a statement at 1044 the beginning of the speech of the noble Baroness who has just spoken. She referred to the drafting of the 1944 Act. She was quite right; it was drafted in very broad terms, so that the forms of secondary education could be amalgamated. The noble Baroness left out only one point. She mentioned the White Paper of 1943. In that White Paper I wrote myself, with my own pen, that the forms of secondary education could be amalgamated under one roof; and therefore the noble Baroness was right in saying that the comprehensive system was foreseen. I am very glad to be able to make this statement because it is not always widely known.
The reason I intervene is primarily to establish the relationship of this Bill to the settlement, or concordat, of 1944. The noble Baroness, Lady David, referred to the Church and State relationship. That is a very good expression. I do not believe—and I shall give reasons in a minute—that the Church and State relationship has been fundamentally altered. I am afraid that I shall not have the agreement of all my noble friends, or necessarily the agreement of any part of the House, when I criticise certain portions of the Bill. I do not believe that the fundamental concordat which was reached between the State and the Roman Catholics, the Anglicans, and the Free Churches—remember, my Lords—has been altered, and I hope that it will not be altered for many years.
Remember, my Lords, that this was an all-Party measure, as the noble Baroness who has just spoken, said. She referred to my old friend, James Chuter Ede, who was later to become Home Secretary under a Labour Government. There were also many other rather distinguished people. Lord Selbourne and Lord Salisbury helped to pass the Bill through your Lordships' House in the early summer of 1944. They told me that they had quite a tough time because there was such a colossal Bench of Bishops. Today we have two Bishops present—but I appreciate that the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Blackburn is to speak after me.
The 1944 Act was also supported by some very important gentlemen from the other side, I do not see the noble Lord, Lord Greenwood of Rossendale here; his father, Arthur, was probably one 1045 of the great architects of the Bill. And Ernest Bevin, whom we all regard as perhaps one of the greatest Foreign Secretaries, was always behind me in helping with the Bill. What is more, the noble Lord, Lord Shinwell, who is famed for his power of speech, often spoke to me in favour of the Bill, and he was behind it, too. It was very widely supported by united parties—not divided parties—and by the Liberal Party. Therefore it is not an Act to be lightly disregarded. The right reverend Prelate who is to speak next will. I hope, make it clear, at any rate from the Anglican point of view, that we were in agreement.
Of course there have to be changes. The opening phrases, paragraphs and clauses of the present Bill contain changes in regard to the attitude to parents; I take no exception to the opening clauses. Of course there have to be adaptations with regard to parents, governors, the status of governors, and all that. But if noble Lords want to know whether this Bill fundamentally alters what I might call the leather-strapping of the settlement of 1944, they should look at the repeals schedule. I was a little alarmed when I first read the repeals schedule.
In the left-hand column there is reference to the Education Act 1944 and in the right-hand column there are references to a great many repeals. I found to my astonished mind, that there are repeals of a considerable portion of the 1944 Act, the most important of which are Sections 11, 12 and 13. I have been into this, not only in an interview with the Minister but in an interview with the draftsman, and I regret very much that, in my old age, I have had to work overtime on this Bill. I realise that Sections 11 and 12 of the original Act of 1944 referred largely to the passage from elementary education to primary and secondary education. Therefore, as they have all been re-enacted in the new Clause 12 of this Bill, I regard the machinery part as having been justified in the light of modern times.
When we come to one or two of the other repeals that I shall be talking about in a moment, I am not quite so happy, but I think the fundamental machinery is preserved. I think it is preserved for the very solid reason, which has not been mentioned yet by any speaker, that Sections 68 and 99 of the Act of 1944, 1046 which I have lying beside me, which give the Secretary of State an overriding power of intervention if necessary in a variety of terms expressed in Sections 68 and 99 of the 1944 Act, give the Act durability; and I am thankful that the Government have not repealed either Section 68 or Section 99. I hope this will be clear to all the denominations and the local authorities because otherwise I would not be in the shoes of any Government which tried to revise, for example, the grants by local education authorities to the denominations, which have been extremely generous and which we wish to continue.
Now I come to various points upon which I give a variety of rather differing answers, but these answers are what I believe. We come first to meals and milk. This was a great favourite of mine. I wanted the children to have meals and milk. In those days, in the middle of the war, especially when I drafted these provisions in 1942, then put them in the White Paper of 1943 and then put them in the Act of 1944, the children were in need of these meals and this milk. I am thankful to say that the health of the children since that date has vastly improved. I have tried this on my own local doctor, with whom I have been in touch about 50 years, and I have tried this with the medical authorities, and I believe it to be a great triumph for Britain that the health of our children has improved.
I am then met by the point that the noble Baroness said that this is a Bill to economise. I think Winston Churchill, who was not all too keen on the early part, anyway, of my Bill, was very keen on the clauses which dealt with meals and milk. In fact, he said, "Do pour it down their throats". Then he waved the usual champagne glass and said to his wife, "Could they have some of this?" She said, "Don't be silly, Winston; you are far too generous with it already, and you will not be able to afford it". He said in his usual, inimitable way, "I wish all cottage homes could have what I have". So Winston, although he was not too keen on some of the clauses of my Bill, was delighted with this and with the denominational settlement, because he remembered 1902, when there had been a terrible dogfight between the Churches. He remembered enjoying that dogfight, 1047 but he did not want to go through it again while he was Prime Minister. We managed to avoid that; but we now come to the problem whether we can keep up the meals and milk.
I believe—and I am sorry to say this—that if economies must be made, they must be made here; otherwise, you will not get much economy out of this Bill. The real truth is that expenditure on meals and milk at present comes to about 8 per cent. of the total educational budget, and it is a large amount. The noble Baroness will correct me if it is more than that. But the fact is that it is a very large sum of money, as she mentioned in her speech; and I think that if you are going to make economies—and I must say, although I do not necessarily agree in every particular with the theories behind the Government's economic policy, as an ex-Chancellor of the Exchequer I do believe in saving money—then they must be made here. So, very reluctantly, I told the noble Baroness before this debate that I will support this clause.
With regard to transport, I find this matter very contentious. It is not exactly an integral feature of the 1944 settlement, but it is a vital feature. The clause in which I introduced free transport was one to which we attached great importance at the time, because we thought that if we were establishing a national system of education children must be got to school. We were especially impressed by the cries of the Roman Catholics and the Anglicans and of other people living in the country about the difficulty of reaching school in some places. I see that Mr. Van Straubenzee, in the endless columns of Commons Hansard which I have read—column 1620 of just the other day—made what he called a harsh speech, which was very noble, in support of the Government's plan; but I am afraid I should like to have this looked into by the Government. The noble Baroness said in her speech today that this plan was going to save only £30 million. Before coming to the House this afternoon I understood from my researches that it was going to save only £20 million. Whichever it is, if the Government can find some other way before the Committee stage, which I believe is on 10th March, to raise this money, I believe it would be a very good 1048 thing. If they cannot, I do not know what to do; I shall have to think about the matter.
The fact is, my Lords, that it is not a very good idea; and I am supported very much by a non-party body, the Standing Conference of Rural Community Councils, under the National Council of Social Service, and I have had endless literature from the National Farmers' Union, with which I fear I have a family association. The most telling, point in these documents is that they speak as follows. The reorganisation of primary education in some rural districts has been based on the belief that there will be free school transport. Having read all the endless literature which has been sent to me, I think that is the most important argument I have read about this subject. I believe there was an understanding. The noble Baroness will have the right to reply, and I shall be here. She might tell us what she feels about that basis of the rural reorganisation. I find this clause a very difficult one. The right reverend Prelate who is to follow me, and I think probably my noble friend the Duke of Norfolk, will have a little more to say about this, so I shall say no more.
I now come to the assisted places. The noble Baroness scored a shrewd hit when she referred to Section 100 (which is lying beside me) of the Act of 1944. It is true that under Section 100 of the Act of 1944 it is possible for the Minister to give money for fees in independent schools, and she is quite right. I am not very taken by this clause, although I know that the school of which I was a governor for 40 years—namely, Felsted—has applied, and I know that over 100 direct grant schools have applied. I have at last understood the reason why the Government have introduced this idea. They have introduced it because they were upset, as I was, by the destruction of the direct grant school. I spoke in your Lordships' House from the Cross-Benches against the elimination of the direct grant schools. The noble Baroness spoke of creating a further gap, and of making divisive introductions into the education system. One of the most divisive was the destruction of the direct grant schools.
I therefore believe that this Bill is based upon the idea that a few assisted places may help; but now, when we find 1049 that the scheme has been halved—it is not going to cost £50 million in five or six years, it is going to cost only a few million in the next year or two; and in my view it cannot affect more than 5,000, 6,000 or 7,000 pupils—I really wonder whether the money might not be saved on this and given over to rural transport. I would not regret that at all, partly because I am, as was indicated in an article in the Sunday Times, especially keen to see the sixth-form classes at comprehensive schools improved. They are slowly improving. I have now retired from a great college, but my college is beginning to take sixth-form scholars of comprehensive schools, and I am encouraging them to take more. That means an improvement in the classes. I think that what is really wanted in education is an improvement in the State system. I do not know how to solve the public school system. I discussed it 40 years ago with Sir Will Spens and Sir Cyril Norwood, who I think did a certain amount of harm in introducing the idea of a divisive secondary education.
Now we come to parental choice. The funny part is that I think I am open to criticism here, because in our Act of 1944 we included one clause giving the parent the choice of school—but only one clause. It was Clause 76, if I remember. That clause is not enough. It induced some parents to put forward their choice of school, and it gave a right of appeal to the Minister. But I think it was a very simple clause. Perhaps noble Lords would like to know why. I started discussing the choice for parents early in my time at what was then called the Board of Education. I discussed it with, I think, the greatest parliamentary draftsman of our century, Sir Granville Ram, who did the beautiful drafting of the Act itself, aided by Mr. Cooke, who later became famous as a draftsman. I discussed it with the very intelligent heads of my office. We concluded that if one introduced an appeals procedure it would lead to terrific delays and muddles. We thought it out 36 years ago; and I do not see how I can alter my mind now. That is the conclusion we came to then.
One very important director of education and a legal adviser have told me that these appeals will be the same as in the industrial appeals courts. I have been assured that that is not the case. They are simple 1050 appeals, as written in the Bill. But even so, if they escape the danger of the industrial appeals courts—and they have upset a lot of people in this country—they are a complicated addition to the Bill which may lead to despondency and misunderstanding and, in the end, disappointment. Therefore, I do not know if the noble Baroness would feel that the effect of this particular clause, although it is not, I think, a vital part of the Bill—it is so small—is going to be minute. The total number of people in the whole independent sector is under 4 per cent. of the school population; and the number which is going to be affected by the few direct grant schools is very small compared with the enormous size of the State system.
I come now to nursery schools—and here we might have a bit of fun. I believe that there is an obligation in the 1944 Act—and I have it here—in Clauses 8 and 9 to make nursery education obligatory. This is reading Clause 8 together with Clause 9 of the original Act. Clause 9 takes the trouble to point out that pupils, as referred to earlier, start at 2 and go up to 5. Therefore, there is an obligation on pupils between 2 and 5. I am further comforted by the fact that I believe that the law, as expressed and acted upon by the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor is more important than the law as acted upon by the Minister of Education, even though he be a QC. I will explain what I mean. The noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor, when he was Minister for Education, invoked this Act—my Act—against the Somersetshire authority for not proceeding with nursery schools. He did that on the advice of his department. After closely searching a Hansard Report stage, I find that the Minister inadvertently said that his department believed that there was an obligation under the Act of 1944.
Therefore, the new amendment brought in by the Minister, which simply gives the power, is very disappointing. What I want to know is how the Minister in this case defied the Prime Minister, which, it appears, nobody has yet been able to do; because the Prime Minister introduced, in her time as Secretary of State, provision for advanced nursery education, as was mentioned by the noble Baroness on the Front Bench opposite. Therefore, if that is the case, I am sorry, but I hope that nursery education has not suffered a 1051 shock. Two or three speakers in the Report stage in another place said that it had received the death knell. I believe that is not the case. The Minister and the noble Baroness, I believe, want to support it. They are going to intervene in the case of closure. Like the noble Baroness on the Front Bench, I have had correspondence from Cornwall. I have had correspondence from Kent and a deputation of angry correspondents from Oxfordshire. A lot of counties are very worried about this point. The real thing is that I believe that a power is not as good as an authority or a request. Therefore, I hope that the Secretary of State, who I know believes in nursery education, will intervene as often as he can to make it possible to be provided by the authorities.
Before I close, I should like to take up a point about further education raised by the noble Baroness on the Front Bench. I think that the most disappointing thing in this Bill, and in all the Bills since 1944, is the neglect of the child leaving school at 16, the child who almost falls into a pit and is lucky to get a job. Mr. H. A. L. Fisher, the distinguished author of The History of Europe and Warden of New College, introduced in his Bill in 1917 a continuation education scheme for young people. I introduced a similar, but rather more advanced scheme, in 1944. Practically nothing except a few sixth-form colleges has come to fill that gap. I believe that this Bill ought to have tackled the older end of the pupils with more determination, as well as the younger end. A child at 2 is at the age which is known by the Roman Catholic Church and by all who covet children as being in the vital years; but the age after education and before further education is equally vital.
Therefore, the noble Baroness, who I hope will have a long term of office, undeterred by me, will have many opportunities to improve the education system of the country. I shall always do my best to help in any way that I can; I shall always say what I think about education because I. have lived with it all my days. I have always believed in education; and I will now lift up the Act for a moment and read to noble Lords simply Clause 1. This is a very large copy, photographed from your Lordships' library. The opening clause says: 1052It shall be lawful for His Majesty to appoint a Minister whose duty it shall be to promote the education of the people of England and Wales and the progressive development of institutions for that purpose and to secure the effective amalgamation and help of the local authorities, under his control and direction, of the national policy so as to provide in the end a varied"—and I put this word in myself to Granville Ram—and comprehensive educational service to every child".
§ 4.58 p.m.
The Lord Bishop of BLACKBURN
My Lords, I find myself happy to follow the noble Lord, the founder and architect of the dual system, a system appreciated not just by the Church of England nor just by the Roman Catholic Church, but by the Free Churches, the Jewish people—for there are Jewish schools—and, I believe, appreciated (so far as our contacts with the DES are concerned) by the department itself. After the consultations which took place when the commission on the government of schools under the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, was sitting, the prospect of this Bill was welcomed—the prospect! It is good to see that wider representation of interests is given to governing bodies, not least by the inclusion of parents—who have a personal concern in the schools—and of teacher-governors. It is good to see that the position of the head teacher as a governor (especially if the head teacher wishes not to be) is clarified. It is interesting to note also that, as a result of this Bill, if it is passed, the governing body of a voluntary aided school, irrespective of its denomination, will be closer to that envisaged by the Taylor Commission than that of a county school—not least because the governors own the premises and also the governors employ the teachers. The governing bodies of our voluntary-aided schools will be much more widely representative of the local community. And the local community in the villages will be the rural community.
Having said that, I find it quite remarkable that this Bill should spell out so clearly the constitution of the governing body without saying anything about the duties of the governor or the measure of responsibility of the governors in respect of the conduct of the school and the curriculum of the school. Nor is any provision made, so far as I can see, for the governors to be a body corporate. I would have thought that this was an opportunity 1053 to have incorporated that change. Doubtless the liability of individual governors in respect of claims could be covered by some form of insurance, but it seems an unfortunate second best when the opportunity to make the governing body a body corporate was there.
Turning to Clause 6 of the Bill, this is a welcome development, as I see it, of Section 76 of the 1944 Act. If parents were to give their reasons at the time of expressing their preference for a particular school, the appeals procedure provided for in Clause 7 and Schedule 2 would be made simpler. In other words, instead of just expressing a preference for this school rather than that school, if they stated in advance what their reasons were, then the recognition of those reasons and of their preference would be made so much simpler. Indeed, if it could be spelt out that only the reasons so given by the parents in advance could be taken into account when their preference was either accepted or rejected, then the appeals procedure would be far simplified.
In some of our many Church secondary schools in Lancashire we have, for instance, hundreds of disappointed parents every year, and the prospect of an appeal procedure whereby under Schedule 2 the parents can be represented (presumably by a solicitor) is certainly daunting. Even if, as I understand, the cost in money of this procedure, provided for in Clause 7(2), is met by the LEA, for both their own and aided schools, the cost in time would be enormous.
Further, the assurance given in subsection (5) that the decision is binding sounds at first encouraging, but is of doubtful comfort. For an aided school, the present provisions of the 1944 Act, as I understand them, still apply; namely, that the governors ultimately control the admission policy to the school; nothing in this Bill appears to alter that, but since the LEA controls staffing numbers, and also building allocations, voluntary aided schools cannot enlarge to meet the demands if the demands are made. So the appeals procedure then would come into force, because we cannot take those who wish to come. It is to be hoped that this cumbersome system of appeals and the balance between the appeals tribunal and the ultimate responsibility of the governors to determine the admissions policy will not 1054 in any way alter the basis of partnership through the dual system.
On the other hand, the publication of particulars of admissions policy spelt out in Clause 8 is welcomed. In areas, such as, for instance, that from which I come, where there is a high proportion of Asiatics, many of whom attend voluntary aided primary schools, there is a constant tension at the secondary level between the desire of those families to continue to have their children educated at a Church school, and the desire of Church families in the area to do the same. To have to spell out the admissions policy, as required in Clause 8, would be a help and not a hindrance.
Clauses 12 to 16, which effectively supersede the Section 13 procedure, are a welcome move. Clause 17 will obviously come under fire from many quarters and be warmly welcomed in others. On these assisted places, if the only criterion were to be academic ability, then I think the scheme would be open to considerable criticism. If, however, it were spelt out that it was in terms of need, both of the pupil and of the community, the position might be very different. For instance, an LEA might not be able to offer in its own schools or even in its sixth-form colleges some scarcity subjects. If it could send pupils to an independent school which did make such a provision, not only would the pupil benefit but so also would the local community (not to mention the school). It therefore seems a pity also that the scheme seems to be so direct between the centre and the school, as I understand it rather bypassing the LEA. Many independent schools have already established cordial relations with the LEAs—the ones in the area in which they are situated—and, as I see it, the scheme as it stands does not seem to take this sufficiently into account. Further, it explicitly excludes boarding fees, and one can readily imagine situations where this would be just what was needed.
I come finally to the matter of transport charges. This clause has already come under fire; it will obviously continue to do so. Quite apart from the financial argument, that the saving is expected to be only £30 million compared with a saving of about £200 million in respect of meals and milk, there is a matter of principle involved. Much reorganisation was 1055 undertaken, and was agreed to by the voluntary providing bodies and others, on the basis of Section 55 of the 1944 Act; nor did this apply only to voluntary schools. Many small county schools were united for good educational reasons, and Section 55 provided the safeguard:transport arrangements shall be provided free of charge".To take away this facility is not just to hit at those families who have good reason, may be on religious grounds, to wish their child to go to a particular school. Indeed, in Lancashire, where more than 60 per cent. of the children go to Church schools, the nearest county school may be the one that they want to go to and may be at some distance. None the less this cuts at the very basis on which some of this reorganisation and some of the siting of our secondary schools at the edges of our big towns has taken place. If this clause is pressed, then at the very least it ought not to apply to more than one member of a family; the sibling principle is so strong that it would seen wholly unfair to penalise a family because they want their sons and their daughters to go to the same school. But I sincerely hope this clause will not be pressed.
I have said nothing about the clauses on nursery education. The noble Lord, Lord Butler of Saffron Walden, has already referred to these; they give some cause for concern. Nor has anything been said, so far as I can see, on the provision for education in Welsh-medium schools, which I am delighted to see. I should not like to close, however, without placing on record our appreciation of the consideration and courtesy of the officers of the DES whenever they are approached on matters which relate to the voluntary providing bodies.
§ 5.10 p.m.
§ Baroness PHILLIPS
My Lords, I shall be brief because so many of my noble friends have expressed their views so well, and there are many more to come. In common with many of your Lordships, I think I have rarely received so many letters about a particular Bill. These have come not from great revolutionaries but from non-political people, people who are concerned about the handicapped, and from people from my own Catholic Education Council Group, and so on. I 1056 am very sorry that the noble Baroness, for whom I have such a regard, has to be the one to introduce this highly unpopular Bill into your Lordships' House. I thought she did it with great skill, but I hope that even her skill will be overruled and that some of these terrible clauses will be dealt with as they should be. I can only assume that the Government wanted as many people as possible to dislike them at one time, and they have quite successfully achieved that aim.
I feel very sad, because this Bill has definitely a Dickensian quality: "If you wants your education, then you jolly well pay for it!" If we think that that is not the philosophy behind it, I would only quote the speech of a gentleman in print today, who has now suggested that parents should pay £10 a term for education. I know this is not included in the Bill, but the moment that a department of State makes the suggestion that you pay more for this and pay for that, there are always other people who will go a little further; and I think this is very much the thin end of the wedge.
I was very sad that the noble Lord, Lord Butler, for whom, like everybody else, I have great respect, seemed to think that economies were necessary. A democracy economises on education at its peril. I still believe that the cynical thought which was, I believe, put over by a Welshman, is absolutely true. He is supposed to have said that the Welsh have a great passion for education, the Scots have a great respect for it and the English have no particular objection to it. I must say that the older I grow the more certain I feel about this, because if there is to be an economy, where does any Government look first?—either at health or at education.
We all know that if you hand over too many discretionary powers to local education authorities the good ones will still go on working out plans for nursery education. They will still care for the special schools and they will still give real parental choice. The bad ones will seize the opportunity to save money where they possibly can. I have worked in primary, secondary and further education, and I could give a nice list to the Minister of the kinds of authorities that one knew instinctively were going to be mean or would not provide 1057 certain things, other than those which were mandatory. Discretionary powers are always dangerous because they give the opportunity to those who want to save money. I think that is highlighted by the many letters which have come to us about nursery education. People are deeply concerned because they know now that the nursery school can be started, can be continued or can be abolished. That is what they are so concerned about.
§ Baroness YOUNG
My Lords, I am sorry to interrupt the noble Baroness, but may I give just one point of clarification? The great feature about introducing Section 13 proposals on nursery education is that for the very first time they will actually prevent authorities from abolishing a nursery school without going through these procedures. Until we had this amendment, an authority could do just that and there were no means by which statutory objections could be heard by the Secretary of State.
§ Baroness PHILLIPS
My Lords, I accept the noble Baroness's explanation, but I am not sure that any authority has actually attempted to abolish nursery schools hitherto—
§ Baroness PHILLIPS
Well, in very recent times; but not as a matter of practice. However, I accept the explanation of the noble Baroness and hope that this will mean we shall have more nursery schools, though of that I am a little doubtful. I am a chairman of governors of a voluntary-aided school and I feel very strongly, with the right reverend Prelate who has just spoken, that the clause on transport is probably going to hit the voluntary-aided schools more than any others.
We talk so glibly about parental choice. There is no real parental choice now. We can select a school. I see this very much in the voluntary-aided sector. If Catholics want to have their child educated at a Catholic school, to which, after all, they are as entitled as anyone else, they pay full rates and make a general contribution to the community. They are restricted already by the peculiar system which lays down that you must have a 1058 certain number of Band 1, Band 2 and Band 3 children in any one school. If we add to this that parents are to have to pay for transport, I fear that the Catholic children will be hit most of all. These are still the groups that have the largest families, and if we look at this situation realistically we can see the cost they are going to be embroiled in.
There is also another danger in the Bill in relation to the voluntary schools. It seems there is a clause which gives some power to local education authorities to say that a child may enter a school unless, I think the phrase is, "there is comparable education available". That again seems to suggest there will be some danger. Parents, instead of using voluntary-aided schools, will put their children in State schools.
Turning now to school meals, I was teaching when school meals were introduced and I find it ironic that certain noble Lords—I cannot remember which ones—said how proud we should be of the health of our children. Of course we are proud of the health of our children, and the school meals and school milk have contributed in no small measure to the health of children today. The nutritional point is important, but I should like to suggest that there is another reason why school meals must be retained. The private sector—and I am the product of a private school (a convent)—and the public schools have always considered the meal as very much a part of school training, as a social exercise as well as making sure that the children have good meals.
I can envisage what will happen, if parents are asked to pay, as has been suggested in the Press, 53p per head—and I think even more than that has been suggested. Three children at 50p a head equals £1.50 a day, and the parents are going to give them something like 20p each and leave them to find some food. What will they find?—probably a bag of crisps. Where will they find the food? In great measure, they will be wandering about the streets, again creating a nuisance and a mischief, and we shall have additional juvenile delinquency, which already occurs when children wander about during their lunchtime. It is not much good the Government giving £148,000 from the Home Office to Devon and Cornwall to 1059 try to deal with juvenile delinquency, if they are going to turn more children out on to the streets and give them the opportunity to continue this.
I think that a society is judged not on the height and size of its buildings, and not on the number of cars or television sets it possesses, but on the way it shows that it cares for the elderly, the dispossessed, the handicapped and the small children. These are the people who are defenceless and these are the people this Bill hits at. If we on this side of the House, along with others, can amend some of these iniquitous clauses, it will be an extremely good day's work.
§ 5.18 p.m.
§ Baroness ELLIOT of HARWOOD
My Lords, it is with some diffidence that I rise to take part in this debate, because so far we have had only speakers who have been Ministers of Education, Under-Secretaries of Education or those who have held very high-ranking positions in the world of education. I can speak only with some ten years' experience as chairman of an education committee, but that is quite a long way away from the noble Lord, Lord Butler, and the people who make the Education Acts. I should like also to say with what interest and pleasure I listened to the noble Lord, Lord Butler. I remember very well in 1944, although I was not in Parliament at the time, going to listen to debates in the other place. My only association in those days was that I was chairman of one of the biggest of the youth organisations. It was at that time that the Department of Education had what I think was called a Youth Service Committee, which was designed to keep close liaison both with the voluntary organisations—and I was chairman of one of the biggest—and with the education authorities. So I do have some experience, which laid the foundation of the present liaison between the voluntary youth organisations and the local education authorities. That is another of the admirable results that sprang from Lord Butler's Act.
I should like to congratulate my noble friend Lady Young very much on the way in which she introduced this Bill. I realise, as we all do, that it is a much better Bill than the noble Baroness, Lady Phillips, has given it credit for, 1060 because it will do a number of things which are of great importance. But it has its critics, and I myself have one or two slight criticisms which I cannot resist making, although I will support the Bill as it goes through.
I entirely agree with those who are encouraging the change in school government. It is an excellent thing that there should he a much bigger representation of parents and that all schools, even small primary schools, should have parents and teachers in a small governing group. I am quite sure that that is excellent and it is something which is encouraged in the Bill. I also agree, as I think we all do, about parental choice, although one knows that it must be limited. But one of the rather better things that has resulted from the reorganisation of local government—much of which I do not think is an improvement—certainly in the area in which I live, is a widening of the counties. That means that a child who lives on the border of a county, who in the old days could not have gone to a certain school in another county, unless one county paid the other for taking him, is now less likely to be affected, because the counties have been amalgamated. That has happened ill a great many areas. Therefore, it is possible for schools to take children from a wider area and that has been successful. In many instances, there has also been more choice.
I welcome the introduction of assisted school places. I can remember one of our debates on the Labour Bill—I know that I was then sitting opposite—and listening to the noble Lord. Lord James of Rusholme. He made a marvellous speech about the direct grant aided schools, and the tremendous contribution which they had made to education in the case of the less well-off and those whose abilities were very great. They could go to schools such as Manchester Grammar School, of which he was then highmaster, and nobody knew whether they were grant aided. They were simply part of the whole community. That impressed me so much at the time that I have always felt that the idea that you are dividing people when you give them a grant is quite wrong. You are, in fact, uniting them, because you are bringing different groups in the community into one school, and that 1061 school has a wider number from which to choose which is good on all sides. A mixture is an excellent thing, and I do not believe that the assisted places plan will do anything but good. It will not divide—and I disagree with the Labour Opposition on this—and it will, in fact, enable a greater mixture in those schools, which will be a very good thing. I also approve of local authorities having freedom to use their own discretion over certain non-educational items.
However, I now come to two points about which I am afraid I am rather critical. Here I join with the noble Baroness, Lady Phillips, because I feel very much as she does about school meals. I wonder whether it could be arranged that the school meals service is not charged for, and whether there could be some economies somewhere else. I know that if I were chairman of an education committee today. I could think of a number of economies that would not hurt anybody, and economising on school meals is in many ways inadvisable.
I am also not happy about Clause 22, which deals with the milk in schools scheme. We have been listening to my noble friend Lord Butler who created the great Act of 1944. It was my husband who started the milk in schools scheme in 1933 and 1934, which did more for children's health than almost anything else. It was a great sorrow to me when the Conservative Government did away with it in, I think, 1974. I was very angry about it and I still am rather angry, because I think that the milk in schools scheme is an extremely valuable one.
I should like to suggest to the Government that a possible way of getting some help towards milk in schools is through grants from the European Community. Under its agricultural policy, the EEC is giving grants to schools in Europe for children to have milk in schools. If we pay large sums of money to the agricultural fund for Europe—as we do—why can we not get some money from that fund for milk in schools? I should like to suggest to my noble friend Lady Young that this is one of the avenues that might be explored as a possibility for getting some assistance.
One aspect of the Bill which I like is that it does not lay down definitely that all local 1062 authorities must do the same as regards milk or school meals. They have freedom to arrange matters in the way they want and I hope that in some areas—certainly, in Scotland—they will think that it is wiser to spend more money on milk and meals than, for instance, on recreation. Enormous sums of money are spent on organising recreation. I often wonder what used to happen when people played rugby, football, cricket and. goodness knows what else, unorganised by expensive people to train them. They managed perfectly well and enjoyed it very much, but vast sums of money are now spent on elaborate arrangements for indoor recreation and suchlike.
I have often thought that that money could well be spent on something else. Children are not going to stop playing football or other games because they will get wet out of doors. This went on for generations, and certainly in Scotland we had no complaints about rugby as one of the national games. However, that is only my idea and other people will not necessarily agree with me. But there are ways in which economies could be made, which would enable vital things to be carried through.
I should like to ask my noble friend one question about special schools. When I was chairman of an education committee I was tremendously concerned about schools for handicapped children and I was trying all the time to bring them as close as possible to the main school, so that they were not isolated. Of course, as we know, there are some very retarded children who never will get into an ordinary class, but there are children who, in present conditions and with the skills of the people who are training them, could sometimes get from a special class into an ordinary class. I hope that this Bill will encourage very close association between special schools for the mentally or physically handicapped and ordinary schools, if there is close liaison, that will make it easier for the changeover to be carried out.
I also hope that the Bill will continue to encourage co-operation between voluntary youth organisations and education authorities. This has been a great success. To some extent, though not entirely, this fills one of the gaps of which my noble friend Lord Butler spoke; that is, the gap 1063 between the ages of 16 to 20. The Youth Service, as I believe it is still called, helps in that way. It has now assumed very large proportions. It is far bigger than it was when I was running youth clubs. Youth clubs today are about three or four times the size they were then. That is largely because it has been a great success; a great many people have joined in. There has been more money to pay people to be youth leaders. More money has come from local authorities. I well remember calling on Lord Alexander in Sheffield when he was director of education there and trying to persuade him to give some money to the Sheffield youth clubs. At that time I was chairman of the National Youth Organisation. I think I got a favourable reply, but it was a very long time ago, so I am not quite sure.
My last plea would be that there should be close liaison and, I hope, assistance between voluntary organisations and the education authorities, because I think that would help to fill one of the gaps about which the noble Lord, Lord Butler of Saffron Walden, has spoken.
My last point is transport. I agree with everything which the noble Lord, Lord Butler of Saffron Walden, has said about that question. I live in an area of Scotland where public transport is almost non-existent. They took away all our railways about 10 years ago and the distances between schools are tremendous. If we want people to stay in the rural areas—and I do want them to stay in the rural areas—we absolutely must transport the children to the schools, otherwise people will all migrate into the towns. That is the last thing that anybody wants in the rural areas.
I agree so much with the noble Baroness, Lady Phillips, that the school is the centre of a village or small town. You cannot, of course, keep them all going. When I was chairman of an education committee I had to close quite a number of schools which had only six or eight children in them because they were so utterly uneconomic; but you can still keep schools going which have got 30or 40children. However, you will need to provide transport. I shall try my best in the area in which I live, and elsewhere in Scotland where we have these long distances to go, to persuade 1064 the local education authorities that it is worthwhile spending money on transport. Once they are there, then you can do things with them, but if they are not there it is no good. I do not want them all to go into the towns. I want them to stay in the countryside. That is where their life will be and that is where they will be brought up.
I am sorry that I have spoken for longer than I intended. I support the Bill. I hope that we shall be able to persuade the Government that one or two little things might be improved, but in the meantine I congratulate the noble Baroness and hope that the Bill will be successful.
§ 5.33 p.m.
§ Lord JAMES of RUSHOLME
My Lords, I was naturally gratified to hear the noble Baroness, who has just sat down, speak warmly about a speech that I made so long a time ago. I am rather sorry that she remembers it because she is about to hear virtually the same speech again, for I am going to direct my attention entirely to one section of this Bill, a Bill which, on the whole, I support. That section is, of course, the one which deals with the provision of assisted places. There are one or two other points about which I am rather less happy at the moment. Obviously, like so many people who know rural areas, I am not really happy about the transport provisions but I hope, and I rather expect, that my misgivings in that direction will be removed as our discussions continue.
With regard to assisted places, I think that there has been more misrepresentation about this section of the Bill than about any other. When one reads some of these things one is almost tempted to quote Dr. Johnson and say, "Clear your mind of cancer, clear your mind of cant." We have been told, after all, that these proposals are a means of propping up "the public schools"—a term which has no statutory significance at all—and of helping boarding schools, often ailing ones, all at the expense of the maintained system and in the interests of the middle class. All of those statements are untrue.
What is unfortunately only too true, and the thing which lies behind these provisions, is that there are many, many pupils of high academic ability who at 1065 present are unable to get the kind of teaching they need because in fact there are no teachers in their schools who are capable of giving it. This is particularly true of subjects like mathematics and science but it applies also to some others. Until the recent past it was possible, as we know, for many such children, irrespective of their parents' means, to enter a direct grant or a voluntary aided school if their grammar school was unable to give them what they needed. And in many cases, of course, the grammar school was. Now, by what can only be called an extraordinary process of well-meaning vandalism, that opportunity has been denied to them.
How much I agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Butler of Saffron Walden, said, about the abolition of the direct grant schools. Schools like Bradford Grammar School, Bolton School, Godolphin and Latymer have been forced, as we all know, into an unwilling independence. The result is that many of the boys and girls from poor or not very well-off homes that I taught at Manchester—and Manchester was predominately a lower middle-class school—are faced now with fees of £800 or £900 a year that simply cannot be paid. And back comes the answer—we know it so well: "If there is no one equipped to teach these gifted children adequately in the schools to which they will go now, is not the solution to raise the academic standards of all schools?" How attractive it sounds. It sounds particularly attractive when even the noble Lord, Lord Butler of Saffron Walden, with his great knowledge of education, repeats it. But, you know, it will not do. It will not stand up to the facts of life.
The hard, unpalatable reply is that it is impossible now, it always will be impossible and, even if it were possible, it might well be an uneconomic use of scarce manpower. I say it is impossible because the number of men and women capable of teaching mathematics to the standard, say, of a Trinity scholarship, will always be limited. The number of those prepared to go into teaching is far more limited. Just as not every hospital can provide a gifted neuro-surgeon on its staff, and therefore we have to move patients to centres of excellence for ceŕtain treatment, so it is with schools. And, of course, not all of those centres of 1066 excellence are independent schools though a good number, alas! are now—and more now than were, thanks to what we did a couple of years ago.
What the Bill before us does is, quite simply, to give us the power to use those schools for the poorest child, just as, even in the legislation of the previous Government, we were allowed to use special centres of excellence for those gifted in music and dancing. Mathematics was excluded, and one wonders why. And back we get another specious answer which I have heard even in this House: "Such gifted children can educate themselves". I have been wasting a lot of years of my life if that is so, because I have spent a lot of those years educating precisely those children. I know that it is untrue.
It may be, of course, that the quite exceptional child from the very favoured home, with books, music and conversation—above all, conversation—will make his way, though even for him, or more usually for her, if one looks back historically, if their gifts are scientific rather than literary, the road now will be so hard as to be almost impossible. But it is not that child I am thinking about. I am not interested in the privileged who can educate themselves because of their homes. I am interested in the child from the comparatively uneducated home, for whom the grammar schools and particularly the direct grant schools cater. It is, alas! statistically impossible that those children can receive not only the instruction but the stimulus they need if we leave them in many—not all, of course—of our comprehensive schools.
As we all know, this has had a good deal of opposition. I am surprised to read the condemnation of this provision by Dr. Rae, the headmaster of Westminster, apparently on the grounds that it introduced an undesirable element of creaming and selection. Well, coming from the headmaster of one of the most academically and socially selective schools in the country it is difficult to take that criticism very seriously. Nor indeed is his school one of those that I would expect to participate. That is not what we want. It is the former direct grant schools with their tradition and experience of educating able children of every social class that will, I hope, be willing and effective recipients of assisted pupils.
1067 The second class of objectors are opposed to the purely academic character of the scheme. They want to introduce that vague criterion of boarding need, as did the old ill-fated Fleming Board. A boarding need on social grounds is a totally different problem which has to be dealt with in totally different ways, as every social worker knows. Where it exists it is probably better dealt with by increasing existing provision in maintained schools. The most weighty objections, of course, come from the heads of good maintained schools, as shown, for example, in a letter to The Times from the headmaster of Watford Grammar School. There the fear—and it is a very comprehensible fear—is lest such schools lose their best pupils, but I would guess that a school like Watford Grammar School will be unaffected. With the kind of staff that I think it has, it can probably cope with the need. But there may be other maintained schools whose heads, if they look dispassionately at their schools and their staffs—admirable though they may be in many ways—if they contemplate the difficulties they experience in recruiting not first-class physicists but anybody at all to teach physics in their schools, realise that it is nonsense to talk about upgrading all schools. However, when they look at their schools in the light of that experience, if they are honest men (and most of them are) they will admit that they simply cannot deal with the sort of people we are talking about. To those heads who have the natural reluctance about losing the very few "high fliers"—and it would be very few—I would say this: What are we in the schools for?—and I still think of myself as half in school—what are we for if not to serve the individual child? We do not exist to serve schools; we exist to serve people and by giving them the appropriate opportunities, to serve the community as well. In the light of report after report—and the latest of all, of course, is the Finniston Report—can we afford to leave undeveloped any academic potential in our young people? To have regard for the prestige of our own institutions is right and admirable; to put that prestige before the interests of the individuals that the school exists to serve is an unworthy exercise in pride.
Of the doubters I would ask a simple and direct question, and your Lordships 1068 must forgive me: as old men do, one becomes anecdotal. I remember two boys aged 15 sitting in my classroom at Winchester and at 16 both obtained open scholarships to Trinity College, Cambridge; both were Fellows of the Royal Society before they were 30 and both today are among the most distinguished scientists in the Western World. I hasten to add that I had virtually nothing to do with their education, because I am not a mathematician nor a physicist, but there they are.
I think, at the other end of the scale, of a boy who was at Manchester Grammar School whose mother was an invalid, widowed, unemployed cotton operative and he ended with a first-class honours degree in physics and serves the country in industry. The question that headmasters have to ask is this: "Can I do justice, even rough justice, to people of that ability in my school as it is now, or as I am likely to make it?".
To noble Lords w ho are inclined to oppose this part of the Bill, I would say, "Exactly what do you propose we do with hays of that ability in many of our maintained schools?". Not "airy-fairy" things about raising the standards of all schools to the level of Winchester, or something like that, but hard facts for the next five years—"What do you propose to do with Bill Jones? Who in fact is to teach him physics?".
I suppose this measure is the nearest we can get to the direct grant system. I regret that we have not gone back to the direct grant system and I am not absolutely sure why we have not done so, because it seemed to me to be efficient and to work well. But perhaps this is the best we can do. I regret the passing of the direct grant system, because when I was the headmaster of a direct grant school I was in—and proud to be in—the State system. These participating schools will not be in it. I regret that financial stringency, or perhaps a few faint hearts, have reduced for a time the scale of the proposals. Nevertheless, the ideal is there in the Bill; the simple ideal of giving, so far as we can, appropriate opportunities to some of our ablest young people, irrespective of their social circumstances. It is a policy demanded by the needs of the community, by the needs of the individual child and by the necessity for our 1069 national culture to encourage all those, whatever their background, who can interpret, enrich and extend it in the years to come. That, my Lords, is why I hope that, whatever side of the House we are on, we shall see this section of the Bill as being something worth supporting.
§ Lord DAVIES of LEEK
My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down and while thanking him for his speech, may I ask him one question? I hated to interrupt, but what does the noble Lord think of the establishment of the sixth-form colleges, which we formed to try to answer this problem of the "high flier" who sometimes wanted an esoteric but very important subject, even in the field of engineering?
§ Lord JAMES of RUSHOLME
My Lords, it was an interesting experiment and I think some of them are very good; but for the kind of boy I was speaking about they may come a bit late and of course staffing some of the sixth-form colleges is not all that easy. However, I certainly welcome them as experiments and I shall look at them and their future with great interest. I do not think they are the answer because these extremely clever people have to be picked up a little earlier than that. Also, there are all sorts of social pressures on them at an early age which I do not think the sixth-form college gets round, but it is an interesting question.
§ 5.50 p.m.
§ Lord BANKS
My Lords, my noble friend Lord Simon explained our general attitude to this Bill, and in the course of doing so spoke about the assisted places scheme and our attitude to that; so I hope that the noble Lord, Lord James, who has just been talking so interestingly about that subject, will forgive me if I do not follow him, but confine my remarks to the provisions in the Bill relating to school meals, school transport and free milk. As we have heard this afternoon, the Government are reducing or removing the statutory obligations on local authorities with regard to all three.
In the Second Reading debate in another place, in dealing with these matters, the Secretary of State said this:The purpose here is to relax the statutory obligations on the local authorities to enable 1070 them to make considerable savings, believing that savings made in this way are better than those made by the reduction of educational provisions in the classroom".—[Official Report, Commons, 5/11/79; col. 46.]I think perhaps the essence of that was repeated by the noble Baroness, Lady Young, when she moved the Second Reading this afternoon.
There has been some talk on the part of apologists for this Bill of giving more freedom to local authorities. Yet it is clear from what the Secretary of State said, and I think from what the noble Baroness said, that the main reason for these three relaxations of obligations on local authorities is to make savings. It is part of the Government's overall reduction in public spending. So while greater theoretical freedom has been given to local authorities, they have been given less practical freedom owing to the imposition of financial stringency. Furthermore, it is clear from that quotation from the Secretary of State that the aim is to direct savings already imposed by the Government into certain channels. It may or may not be right that if there are to be savings in education they should be in those three spheres. But the fact remains that, while talking of greater freedom for local authorities, not only are the Government restricting their freedom in practice through financial stringency; they are seeking to influence the way in which that restricted choice is made.
It is, of course, possible to argue against the whole policy of public expenditure cuts at the present time, but if it is agreed that some cuts are necessary, or if it is accepted that some cuts will be made, whether necessary or not, then should the Government be seeking to save £220 million on school meals and milk, which is over half the present expenditure on school meals? Should they be seeking to save £32 million on school transport. A number of speakers this afternoon have voiced the strongest misgivings about that. At present school meals cost only 7 per cent. of the total education budget. It is a large sum, as the noble Lord, Lord Butler of Saffron Walden, said earlier, but nevertheless it does mean that 93 per cent. of education expenditure is going on other aspects of the education system.
Some two-thirds of children are taking the school meals. The parents pay 30p 1071 per meal, the taxpayer 24p per meal; the total cost is 54p per meal. The meal must be consistent with a nationally determined nutritional standard. Under the Bill local authorities will no longer be obliged to provide school meals for all those who wish to take them. They will be able to charge what they like where they do provide meals or snacks. There will be no national nutritional standard, a point emphasised by the noble Baroness, Lady David. The present provision of free meals to children of poor families will cease. It will be replaced by an obligation only to provide meals for the children of families on supplementary benefit and family income supplement. The result of this is that some 400,000 children will lose their automatic right to free school meals, nearly half the present recipients of free school meals. Yet a study of 10,000 primary school children, recently reported in the Lancet, suggested that a large proportion of the children who received free school meals were of lower nutritional status, that free school meals are going to the right group of children, and that withdrawal might well prejudice their future development. So, according to that report, free school meals were going to the right group of children. Yet that group is to be halved by this Bill.
It is clear that any stigma which attaches to children who seek free meals will be very much increased by these provisions, because the number continuing to receive free meals will be much smaller and more distinct from the rest of the children, and it will be known that their families are on supplementary benefit or family income supplement. They will not be guaranteed meals of any significant nutritional value. Clause 22 provides that those from families on supplementary benefit and family income supplement will havesuch provision … in the middle of the day as appears to the authority to be requisite".That is an extremely vague phrase and it is a phrase that could be used to justify almost anything in the way of a meal, or even no meal at all one would have thought. There will be no obligations at all to provide meals for the remainder, and in so far as they are provided for, there will be no obligation to maintan a nutritional standard. Yet the 1975 work- 1072 ing party on nutritional aspects of school meals stated this:We are especially concerned that all children should receive enough protein in school, since any shortfall in protein in the midday meal might easily not be made up on other meals or snacks and drinks consumed outside school".A recent survey of school children in the London Borough of Brent showed that a substantial number of children regularly go to school having had no breakfast. While we are considering the question of nutrition, I think we should bear in mind that the Bill also removes the statutory obligation on local authorities to provide free milk for those in the age range five to seven.
The price of a meal is likely to rise into the range 50p to 60p, which, if past experience is any guide, will mean that fewer will take school meals. In this connection, I think it is important to remember that nearly 2 million children live in families with incomes above the supplementary benefit level but within 40 per cent. of it. None of those children will have a statutory right to free meals under the Bill, although about one-quarter of them do now. And these are the children who will tend to stop taking school meals when the price goes up steeply. It is not impossible that the price of a school meal may be 60p. In some areas it certainly will; such a figure has already been mentioned. That means that for two children the cost per week will be £6, as against £3 at the present moment, an increase of £3 per week. But for those who will lose the right to free meals it would be an increase of £6 per week. So, except for those on supplementary benefit and family income supplement, the poorest will suffer most. Those who are better able to meet the cost are those who are likely to continue to receive the school meals.
Certain anomalies will be introduced by this policy. For example, widows claiming widows' benefit and the longterm sick claiming invalidity benefit may well be below the long-term supplementary benefit rate. But as they are over the short-term rate they will not qualify for any supplementary benefit topping up, and since they do not qualify for supplementary benefit their children will not get free meals, although children in families receiving slightly more per week from supplementary benefit will be eligible. 1073 Therefore, there are anomalies of that kind to be thought about and, if at all possible, ironed out.
I turn for a few minutes to the provision for school transport. As we know, at present local authorities must provide such transport for those who live more than two miles away from the school if they are under the age of eight and for those who live more than three miles away from the school if they are over the age of eight. There are objections to that system. There is the very sharp cut-off point; the distances themselves date back to the 1870s and might well be shortened. However, under the Bill local authorities will provide only as they think necessary, and they can charge what they like. There is no statutory obligation on them to provide free transport, except for those who come from families on supplementary benefit and family income supplement.
As has already been stated many times this afternoon, this will hit families in rural areas particularly hard. We know what has happened to village schools. We know of the long distances that children in rural areas have to travel to get to school. As has already been mentioned, this will hit families who have children attending denominational schools. It is not uncommon for over 90 per cent. of children who attend denominational schools to receive free transport at present. The noble Lord, Lord Butler of Saffron Walden, said that the question of cheap transport was a vital part—that was the phrase he used—of the 1944 settlement.
Finally, as the noble Baroness, Lady Bacon, pointed out, the policies with regard to school meals and transport affect the poverty trap by tying free meals and free transport to supplementary benefit and family income supplement. This has the effect of deepening the poverty trap. We are all familiar with the situation where someone on family income supplement increases his income so that he takes himself off family income supplement, he becomes above the limit for that, and thus loses it. He loses other benefits that are tied to it and he has to pay more in tax. Therefore, the extra money which he is earning is very considerably reduced by a rate of taxation which would be considered penal at the other end of the scale. This will be accentuated by tying to supplementary benefit and family income supple- 1074 ment the provision relating to free schools meals and transport.
If transport costs £1.50 per child per week, which is proposed by some authorities, and if schools meals cost £3 per week per child, then a family with two children would lose £9 on being lifted above the family income supplement level, in addition to other benefits which they would lose, which I have just mentioned, and including the tax which is imposed on them. Therefore, it can be seen how the poverty trap would be accentuated by these proposals. Because of all these unhappy consequences, we on these Benches feel obliged to object to the provisions in the Bill as they affect the provision of school meals, school transport and free milk.
§ 6.4 p.m.
§ Lady KINLOSS
My Lords, the Education (No. 2) Bill, to which we are giving a Second Reading today, has many virtues which the noble Baroness, Lady Young, has explained. There are several clauses which are causing some considerable concern to parents of disabled children, whether they are mentally or physically handicapped, blind or deaf. If Clause 9 is included in the Bill, the parents of disabled children will be deprived of the rights given to the parents of non-disabled children. Why should parents of handicapped children not have a say in choosing their child's school? It surely strikes a cruel blow at all those who are concerned with progress in educating the disabled and who are working for the integration of disabled people into our society.
In Clauses 6 and 8 there are arrangements whereby the choice of the parents can be refused if the education of the child would be more beneficial in a different school or if there would be more efficient use of resources. Parents of handicapped children are just as anxious to choose wisely for the best education for their children as are those of non-handicapped children. MIND, the National Association for Mental Health is particularly worried at the exclusion from Clause 7 of the appeal procedure as applied to parents of handicapped children. It is understood that the preference of parents could in some cases produce problems. But surely there should be some system whereby these parents are able to appeal.
1075 The Warnock Report, on which I understand there is to be a Statement before the Easter Recess, in Chapter 9, entitled "Parents as Partners", begins:We have insisted throughout this report that the successful education of children with special educational needs is dependent upon the full involvement of their parents".That surely applies to Clause 8. Parents of handicapped children should surely be given information as to schools and admission arrangements in the same manner as are other parents.
I am sorry not to see included in the Bill any reference with regard to the lighting and heating of school buildings. At present many schools are grossly overheated and overlit. This also applies to many other public buildings. Many parents and teachers have told me that the temperature is so high that they have to work in thin clothes, which are more appropriate to summer than winter. They also find that it induces drowsiness and inattention. I am simply amazed at the number of lights which are left burning when classes are over for the day. Could not guidelines be given to the heads of schools recommending the amount of light that is needed and the most suitable temperatures? Although this is not the time or the place to discuss this today, could not a national policy be introduced for the saving of energy? Surely quite a saving could be made here, rather than through Clause 23 which deals with school transport.
Roman Catholics are not alone as a minority group affected by the proposed charges for buses. There are also church schools run by Anglicans in rural areas, and other denominational groups have their own schools and need transport to get to them. I need not repeat all the undertakings given to minority groups at the time of the 1944 Act. These undertakings have stood the test of time for 36 years. In some less urbanised dioceses half the Catholic children in secondary schools have free transport, and in some individual schools 70 per cent. to 80 per cent. is not unknown. I have not been able to get a figure for Anglican church schools or other schools, but, equally, they have their rights. However, I believe that this problem will be discussed at a later stage.
The National Association for Mental Health asks that transport should be free 1076 for all disabled children, whether they are mentally or physically handicapped, especially where they need to attend a special school which may be further away than the ordinary school. There are often long distances involved for these children. If these handicapped children cannot get to their special schools, they will suffer more than being cut off from learning; they will feel isolated and perhaps lose the opportunity of mixing with and enjoying the society of other children. All the same, I hope that this Bill will have an easy passage when it has been suitably amended in Committee.
§ 6.9 p.m.
§ Lord SEGAL
My Lords, I should like to endorse as strongly as I can the eloquent plea just made by the noble Lady, Lady Kinloss, on behalf of mentally and physically handicapped children. The interesting fact about this Bill is that it has met with almost more criticism than any other Bill during the present Parliament, even among its own supporters. With the formidable list of amendments which I understand is being prepared for the Committee stage, the Government can gauge the degree of opposition which the Bill will meet and has already met not only in another place but also throughout the whole country. Surely the experiences it has had to undergo in another place should provide ample food for reflection.
Many speakers have already referred to the iniquities of Clause 22 restricting the provision of school meals, and Clause 23 imposing charges for transport. I should like only to emphasise here the extra hardship this entails for denominational schools—and this has been so well put forward by the noble Lady, Lady Kinloss, and by several other speakers—where parents are determined that the principle of selection should apply to their own children. With the imposition of transport charges this extra cost may fall heavily just on those parents who care intensely about their children's education and the denominational schools which they feel their children must attend. These are just the parents who can assist and encourage their children most of all in their education, lighten their teachers' burdens and help their children in their future careers.
1077 Are the Government fully aware of how strongly the Catholic hierarchy have denounced this Bill as the most grievous blow the Church schools have suffered since the 1944 settlement? I am glad that the noble Duke, the Duke of Norfolk, is to follow me. I feel we shall all listen intently to the views he holds on this particular aspect of the problem of school transport. I should like especially to draw the attention of Her Majesty's Government to the hardships imposed by Clauses 22 and 23 on the parents of mentally handicapped children attending special schools. To these children communal meals are an essential part of their education, in some cases almost as important as the instruction they receive at ordinary lessons. Many teachers realise this, and often are glad to help these children to coordinate their movements in the initial stages of training at communal mealtimes.
But far graver are the likely effects of Clause 23. A mentally handicapped child is far less likely to be able to travel by public transport, or even on a school bus except under proper supervision. In fact, many local education authorities have made special provisions for them to be collected in chartered taxis, with sympathetic taxi-drivers who assist them from their door at home to their door at school. How are these specially commissioned transport services for handicapped children to be affected under this Bill, and to what extent are they now to be cut? It would indeed be reassuring to many of these parents to hear from the Minister that no cut is intended whatsoever, where the transport of these children is concerned.
Worst of all in this Bill is Clause 9. Thousands of parents up and down the country are totally at a loss why all other parents should be granted the privilege of selecting their children's schools with elaborate provisions for their right of appeal, while parents of mentally handicapped children should be discriminated against and denied any such right. We fully accept the assurances that have been made on this matter, but I have been specially asked by the National Society for Mentally Handicapped Children, with its 450 branches all over the country, to plead with the Government to get this discrimination removed.
1078 This infamous clause actually states that none of the provisions of Clauses 6, 7 and 8 on parental preferences and information on schools shall apply.to nursery schools, special schools or children in need of special educational treatment".We recall the dismay that the noble Baroness felt on hearing that it was proposed to abolish nursery schools in her own county of Oxford. Has that dismay totally evaporated now that she is in charge of the Bill? Why should parents of nursery school children as well as parents of handicapped children be singled out for discrimination?
We are told that special legislation on the recommendations of the Warnock Report on the educational needs of handicapped children and young people is shortly to follow this Bill. But the Warnock Report was published nearly two years ago. Why all this delay? Why could not its implementation be incorporated in the present Bill? We are told that a Government Statement will be made before Easter. At least that might provide some hope, but anxiety nevertheless remains that the mountain of labour—and I speak of labour in the physiological sense—may yet bring forth merely a mouse. Meanwhile, resentment and suspicion are rife all over the country, and parents of mentally handicapped children are deeply sensitive parents with a highly developed protective faculty.
If a policy of parents' preferences is right and just, why not let all sections of the community share in it? Why deny it to some of the Government's most loyal supporters? These parents are perfectly willing to take their fair share of the cuts, but why should their children as well be made to suffer? Of course, they understand the Government's reasoning. They understand that the "arch Ayatollah" of the Treasury is retired to his eyrie fastness, untouchable and inarticulate while he is busy preparing for his next month's Budget, with its further instalment of cuts. But in the meantime, heads have had to roll indiscriminately in all directions. Every department has had to suffer, except of course the police, the doctors and the defence services. These have been given a reprieve, but why must the children be made to suffer as well?
1079 If the children have to suffer, why must the smallest most helpless of the children be singled out to suffer inevitably, while older children, despite the economic blizzard, are to receive financial help for assisted places in independent schools, and payment for their incidental expenses as promised in Clauses 17 and 18? However right this might conceivably be in principle, it is wholly misconceived in order of priority.
Clause 9 has made the parents of handicapped children feel that they are being held as hostages while the Government ruminates over the Warnock Report. If some hope were held out to them now, it might make their burden easier to bear. We must remember that the Warnock Report speaks of parents of mentally handicapped children.
§ Baroness YOUNG
My Lords, I do not wish to disturb the noble Lord's train of thought, but I did say in my opening remarks that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State will be making a Statement on the Warnock Report before we reach the Committee stage of this Bill.
§ Lord SEGAL
My Lords, I naturally gratefully accept the assurance of the noble Baroness on this matter, but meanwhile the anxiety persists and these parents feel, rightly or wrongly, that they have been discriminated against. That is the whole point of my plea that Clause 9 is iniquitous in its presence in this Bill. I hope earnestly that supporters of the Government will see fit, during the further stages of this Bill, to have this iniquitous clause removed.
The whole basis of voluntary effort on behalf of mentally handicapped children during the last 30 years has been to integrate them into the community. Now the Government seek to segregate them as a section of the community that must be set apart from all the parents of normal children. For years we have been agitating to transfer the care of these children from the Department of Health and Social Security to the Department of Education and Science on the grounds that they are suffering not from an illness but, through no fault of their own, labouring under a handicap.
After years of struggle, we finally succeeded in effecting the transfer. Can 1080 it be wondered that there should now be a widespread feeling of having been badly let down by this Government? We must, of course, readily acquit the Government of any evil intent; it is just a lack of sensitivity—a failure in basic psychology—that they do not realise the harm they create by their policy of equal cuts all round. If they indeed believe they have a mandate from the people of this country, let them be selective in their cuts and wise enough to justify their selectivity. Then they could really claim to be a Government worthy of the people's confidence.
There is, as I say, a feeling everywhere of having been badly let down, and this feeling was accentuated by the Government's behaviour on Third Reading in another place, where they stated not once but time and again, "Give us another chance. We admit the justice of your plea and are prepared to consider the matter again before the Bill goes to the House of Lords". Hence our amazement when we find Clause 9, even now, still retained in the Bill in its unaltered form. Can one wonder why there is a feeling of betrayal rampant? It is as if our education "Ayatollahs" are impervious to any appeal to reason or compassion or, in the last resort, to their own self-interest. "Cuts must be inflicted," they say, "all round. Let our educational, health and social services carry an equal share, regardless of the suffering they impose".
I believe the majority of the people of this country regard this as an ill-conceived, misbegotten, retrograde Bill. Particularly I would appeal to those who have hitherto felt they must support the Government to heed the pleas of the parents of mentally handicapped children, to see that this discrimination is lifted once and for all, and to banish Clause 9 from the Bill.
§ 6.22 p.m.
§ The Duke of NORFOLK
My Lords, I support most of the Bill and think that in many of its clauses it will do great good, but in Clause 23 I find very great harm, and in my view that clause should not be part of the Bill at all. I talked to the noble Baroness about this, and naturally I heard her opening speech today. She is a most understanding and sensible person, but I think she suffers from a complete misapprehension about the question of transport. To me, she said 1081 quite simply, "We want to leave the educational content of everything in the previous Acts and in this Bill exactly as it is or improve on it. We are going to make economies only in a non-educational subject", and she talked about making economies, as we know, in school meals, which is perhaps regrettable, and other ancillary matters.
However, transport is not an ancillary matter. If you live in a remote area, education starts only when you get to school, and transport is not part of education. It is a complete misapprehension to think that transport has anything to do with education. When free transport is taken away, two groups of people are penalised, and I am most concerned about those two groups; namely, the religious schools and the rural schools.
Consider the Church schools, which are terribly affected by this proposal. Noble Lords heard the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Blackburn. I thought that the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Norwich was going to take part; I spoke to him on the telephone, and if he is not here today I am sure he will be with us when we discuss the matter in Committee. The Church schools were set up in the great Butler Act of 1944—the noble Lord, Lord Butler of Saffron Walden, has already spoken on this—on the express understanding that they would be built in places suitable for Church schools and that there would be free transport to them. Inevitably, Church schools for Roman Catholics, Anglicans, Jews or Methodists—I am looking at the noble Lord, Lord Soper—have very wide catchment areas, and it was assumed and promised as a definite pledge that there would be free transport to those schools.
As is well known, the religious communities contributed, first, 50 per cent. of the capital cost, then 20 per cent., and the noble Lord, Lord Butler, prophesied it would get down, and it is only 15 per cent. now. But they have contributed 15 per cent. towards the capital cost of those schools. In the Archdiocese of Westminster there is still outstanding a debt of £6 million, which we find very hard to service out of collections made at Masses, and the same goes for the Church of England. That debt is being serviced, and until it has been paid off it has to be serviced out of collections.
1082 It was an integral part of the building of those schools that there was to be free transport to them, and I simply cannot see that Clause 23 can be allowed to remain part of the Bill.
There is another refinement I wish to call attention to at this stage. In the Bill at present there is a very dangerous thing: it is said that even if transport is to be charged for at a flat rate, the whole of Schedule 7—all the various provisions that are to be abolished—will include provisions making it the responsibility of the Minister to decide certain things, among them that the Minister should decide which schools should have transport to them. I understand it has already been said that Oxfordshire County Council envisages applying free transport only to people on relief, or transport which will have to be paid for, to the nearest county school, not to the nearest Anglican or Catholic school. This would of course entirely undermine the dual system. I very much hope that when the Minister replies she will explain that point, because it creates a most dangerous situation. It is a subtlety but something of great importance.
As for rural schools, I find it quite extraordinary that the Government and the party to which I belong should discriminate against the rural community in this way. Inevitably, the rural community live many miles from schools and it has always been a plank of the Tory Party, for which I vote, that the urban community should be treated well and that the rural community should be treated equally well, and naturally a part of rural life is that one lives far away. It was one of the planks of the Butler Act that these rural communities should have free transport so that they would be like the urban communities and be able to get to their schools even though they live far from them.
I find it quite extraordinary that there should be discrimination against the rural community. I hope that those of your Lordships who live in the rural areas and, for instance, in the remoter areas of Scotland will take very great note of this terrible provision of the Bill. The National Farmers' Union has expressly said that it thinks it is terrible that the clause should exist; so has the National 1083 Union of Agricultural Workers, as well as, I believe, other rural societies.
I should like to turn to finance. I understand that Clause 23 will save £32 million; that is 0.4 per cent. of the £8 billion spent on education. I much regret the going of school meals, though may be they have to. They represent 8 per cent. of spending. But this discriminatory clause, Clause 23, represents 0.4 per cent. On whom is that 0.4 per cent., that £32 million, going to fall? It is going to fall on those who go to Church schools—and I am speaking unashamedly for the Roman Catholics. The whole of the Catholic hierarchy and the Cardinal have asked me and the other Catholic Peers and Peeresses to speak on this subject. This £32 million will fall on the Anglicans, the Methodists, the Jews and the Roman Catholics in terms of their children getting to their schools, and it will fall on the poorest parts of the community—the agricultural labourers. I find it quite extraordinary that the agricultural labourers—the poorest group of the whole lot—should have to find the money for their children to be transported to school. I know that the minimum agricultural wage is £58, while I believe that the average agricultural wage, broadly speaking, is about £65. If a flat rate of £1.50 or £2.50 is to be charged, it might mean a cost of £5 for two children; that is additional cost representing 10 per cent. of an agricultural wage. That cannot be right, my Lords,
I believe that this clause represents a very retrograde step. I think of how this country has evolved with its great Acts. There was the Foster Act in 1870—a Liberal Act; my family was a Liberal family in those days. There was the Balfour Act in 1902—a Conservative Act. There was another Liberal Act, I think in 1918 brought in by the great historian Fisher. It all culminated in the great Butler Act which brought in secondary education and put it on a proper national basis. It also solved the awful squabbles that we can read about that took place among the Churches, the county authorities and the ecclesiastical bodies. Those squabbles were all resolved by saying that the State would help, and would maintain anyhow, the ecclesiastical schools, the Church schools, the denominational schools. Now this clause completely undermines 1084 all that, and I shall certainly move that the clause be taken out of the Bill. I should very much like the noble Baroness when she winds up to cover what I have said.
§ 6.34 p.m.
§ Baroness STEWART of ALVECHURCH
My Lords, I have a special interest in this Education Bill as a governor of a large comprehensive school and an evening institute in Inner London, and I have listened with very great interest to the speeches today and have learned much from them. It is my belief, shared I think by some, if not all, Members of this House, that education is the most important of all our social services. A democratic society depends for its survival on the active participation in national and local affairs not only of the privileged few, but of all its members, and to achieve this end it is necessary to provide a system of education which will meet the needs of young people of widely different cultural backgrounds and levels of ability.
But we must always bear in mind that, although there is a wide range of ability among human beings, we make a grave error of judgment if we assume that we can make an accurate assessment of the ability of young people at the age of 11 or 12. Speaking as both a school governor and a former WEA tutor, I am convinced that if we exclude the budding Shakespeare and Isaac Newton on the one hand, and the mentally handicapped on the other, the future achievements of the great majority of young people at the age of 11 or 12 depend not upon their level of intelligence as measured by intelligence tests, but upon the degree of help and encouragement that they receive from the adults around them.
The assisted places scheme proposed in the Bill, which will enable selected pupils of allegedly high ability to go to independent schools at a cost to the taxpayer of between £55 million and £60 million per year by 1988, is clearly based on the belief that such encouragement should be given only to the chosen few. In view of the fact that 15 of the 18 Members of the present Cabinet were educated at public schools, it is perhaps understandable that the Government should adopt this viewpoint. Nevertheless, I would urge the Government to give more thought to the likely con- 1085 sequences of this policy of assisted places. If they are convinced that the existing comprehensive schools cannot satisfy the needs of bright pupils—and may I say that many, though not all, can do so—surely the millions of pounds per annum which the Government are proposing to spend on assisted places should be spent in order to raise the educational standards of comprehensive schools.
The more thought that I give to this Education Bill the more shocked I am by the determination of the Government to restrict the educational opportunities and ambitions of all but the chosen few in our society. If the £200 million a year which the Government expect to save in school meals, and the £30 million a year that they hope to save on schools transport, were to be devoted to raising the standards of education, I might not have supported these proposals but I should have respected the Government's reasons for making them. But I am deeply shocked to learn that cuts relating to meals and transport for children are being made upon a scale which is to reduce the taxes paid by the well-to-do members of our community.
I am familiar with the school meals service in Inner London schools. I listened with very great interest to the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Butler of Saffron Walden. He said that one of the most important features of the 1944 Act when it was introduced was the provision of school meals. The school meals service is no less important today than it was 20 or 30 years ago. It not only provides free meals for children whose parents are on supplementary benefit; it also provides many thousands of other children daily with a meal which could not, or would not, he provided for them at home. The service has also raised health and nutrition standards and has enabled children to participate daily in a useful social activity which involves their teachers as well as themselves.
If the school meals service is abolished, the alternative for many children will be sandwiches or a snack bar, as well as the temptation to misbehave while hanging about with nothing useful or interesting to do until school starts again in the afternoon. The noble Baroness the Minister of State for Education knows that the National Union of Teachers and 1086 other associations to which teachers belong are opposed to the Bill. May I urge the Government to give further consideration to their views before the Bill becomes law.
§ 6.40 p.m.
§ Lord KILMARNOCK
My Lords, I want to confine my few remarks this evening to the context of rural deprivation, which of course is the loss by the rural communities of essential services, such as church, shop, pub, sub-post office. Among these essentials the school is the most important of all. Clauses 23 and 25 —the transport clauses of the Bill—undoubtedly constitute a threat to our rural communities. This point has already been stressed by the noble Lord, Lord Butler of Saffron Walden, and by other speakers. I make no apology for following in their footsteps. I also think I can add one or two points which have not been made before. To my mind, these clauses form a quite different category from those requiring payment for school meals, because many parents feel that feeding their children is one of their primal obligations. But Clauses 23 and 25 quite definitely go back on assurances given to parents over the years since 1944, at the time of the voluntary closure of many village schools, that free transport would be available to an appropriate school in the area; and I was extremely interested to hear the noble Lord, Lord Butler of Saffron Walden, himself, and also the right reverend Prelate, confirm this.
Furthermore, these clauses, if applied, would be quite astonishingly inequitable in their effect. Even if the flat-rate principle is accepted, we are left with a wide range of charges running from Kent, which is reputedly going to charge £95 for a secondary school pupil, to Essex, which had a change of heart (or perhaps I should say of social conscience) and is going to charge nothing. In addition, such charges as are agreed within the area of any one authority will not fall evenly at all. Let us take parents with a primary and a secondary school in their vicinity. They will pay nothing. Then there are those who have a primary school on the doorstep but need transport for their children to a secondary school. They would pay for four to six years for each child. Then, finally, there are those in the rural areas of lowest population 1087 density, who would pay for a minimum of seven and up to 13 years for each child.
My Lords, what is going to happen if these clauses are enacted? Truancy will undoubtedly rise. The teachers I have consulted on this point have absolutely no doubt about that. Some children will walk to school on rural roads carrying heavy lorries and with no pavements. Yet others will cycle, thus creating a hazard for themselves and for other road users. I think this is a point which has not so far been made by any other speaker. Of course, some people may be tempted to hark back to the good old days when children walked a mile or two, or even more, to school, and no harm was done. I myself have a child who is at the present moment attending a primary school in Spain. He is eight years old. Quite frequently he walks over a mile to school. There is a ford between us and the school and sometimes it is impassable by motor transport, so sometimes he walks over a mile to school and over a mile back from school. But what are the hazards he meets on the way? He might meet a donkey; he may conceivably meet a team of mules. As the track is not a very good track he might meet a Land Rover, but that will be going slowly and with caution. But this is not the case in this country. The surfaces of our rural roads are, on the whole, excellent, but many of them are very narrow and many are used by heavy or fairly heavy vehicles. Therefore, I should like to suggest to the noble Baroness that there is a considerable hazard here in children trying to get to school by means other than the pay transport system provided.
A further undesirable side-effect at a time of high youth unemployment will be a drop in the number of those staying on at school after 16. My Lords, who will be the hardest hit of all? Who else—and this has been very properly pointed out by the noble Duke, the Duke of Norfolk—but the low-paid agricultural worker, on whose long-suffering shoulders our agriculture, our much-vaunted and our most efficient industry, depends? It is all very well for the Secretary of State to say airily in an interview in The Times Educational Supplement of the 15th of this month that the average industrial wage today is £95 a week, and that he does not think it unreasonable to 1088 ask people to contribute to school transport. The industrial wage is not the point; it is the agricultural wage which we should be thinking about. Here is an instance of an agricultural worker on £77 a week with 5 children, reported in The Times Educational Supplement of the 22nd, who handed in a petition to Downing Street and said he was delighted Essex had backed down. Mr. Richards had said he would go to gaol rather than pay the original transport charges proposed. He was lucky that his county was Essex. What would have happened to him in Kent? Would he be paying some £500 a year for his five children, or would he be in gaol? So we should be thinking about the agricultural worker.
But, my Lords, should we not also be thinking very seriously about the survival of rural communities in general? Here is Lord Elton, on 14th February last year speaking from the Conservative Front Bench in the very interesting debate introduced in your Lordships' House by Lord Walston, on rural deprivation. I quote Lord Elton:In conclusion, without British agriculture this country would either go bankrupt or starve within a matter of years. Without the rural community there would be no agriculture. The countryside is a part of the British way of life. It is not simply an eventide home for the retired …"—[Official Report, Vol. 398, col. 1267.]My Lords, the rising cost of petrol is already discouraging people from remaining in the villages, let alone settling in them, and the proposed charge for school transport will discourage them even more. I find it very surprising that a Conservative Government, with some of their strongest roots in the rural areas, should promote a policy of rural depopulation. After all, we all know the disastrous social consequences of cramming too many people into large conurbations. I beg the Government—and certainly this evening I am not alone in doing this—to take another very serious look at the transport clauses in this Bill. I am not attacking the Bill as a whole. In fact, there are some parts of it of which I am really rather in favour. But even from the point of view of financial return there are grave doubts that the savings achieved will be anything like the £32 million claimed in the Explanatory Memorandum. The Times Educational Supplement estimates that even £20 million is too high a figure to put on it. Certainly, with unemployment 1089 expected to reach 2 million shortly, there will be a very large number of quite justifiable hard-luck stories which will take a great deal of bureaucratic sorting out, and that will detract considerably from the savings which these clauses pretend to achieve.
If the Government feel unable to drop these contentious clauses altogether, which would be the best solution, I for one shall come back at Committee stage, I hope in conjunction with other noble Lords, with amendments designed to set a ceiling on what local authorities can charge and on the number of children in any one family for whom a charge can be made. But perhaps the noble Baroness, when she comes to wind up, in view of the recommendations of the noble Lord, Lord Butler of Saffron Walden, and of the noble Duke, the Duke of Norfolk, will give us assurances which will make such amendments unnecessary. I very much hope that she will.
§ 6.48 p.m.
The Countess of LOUDOUN
My Lords, Section 10 of the Education Act 1967 was introduced at Report stage in this House by the Government of the day. This section marked the parliamentary and public acceptance of the criteria that no child should attend a special school if his or her needs could satisfactorily be met in any ordinary one, but it has never been implemented. The Warnock Report, which accepted the provisions of Section 10, was published in May 1978. It is now the end of February 1980. So it was with some relief that those of us involved with the handicapped read in Hansard of another place, in the report of their debate on 12th February of this year on the Bill we are now discussing, that the Minister accepted the principle involved in Warnock and that the Government expect to make an announcement on it before Easter. I am grateful to the Minister for having confirmed this today.
The chapter in the Warnock Report entitled "Parents as Partners" begins:We have insisted throughout this report that the successful education of children with special educational needs is dependent upon the full involvement of their parents: indeed, unless the parents are seen as equal partners in the educational process the purpose of our report will be frustrated".There are many factors which go to make up the particular needs of parents of 1090 disabled children. No two cases are alike. There is the nature of the disability, its degree of severity and the weight of dependence upon parental and family support. Family circumstances, too, can affect the needs of a particular parent. As I have already said, Warnock saw this as a partnership between the parents and members of the different professions who may be helping them at any time. Sometimes it is the parents who will be able to point to a particular aspect that needs to be considered.
I come now to Clause 9 of the Bill wherein it states that none of the much-welcomed provisions of Clauses 6, 7 and 8:shall have effect in relation to nursery schools, special schools or children in need of special educational treatment".Surely, this clause, if it were to go forward, would deprive parents of disabled children of the rights given to the parents of non-disabled children. Why should they be discriminated against and made to feel second-class citizens? To parents of disabled children it is more important than to parents of normal children that they should be able to speak out and help their children. I can see no reason why this clause should expressly withhold parental choice and information on parental preferences from parents whose children are in need of special educational treatment. There is no money involved in this; so why are the Government so insistent on this clause? But Clause 9 also excludes the very important appeal prodecure in Clause 7 from being used by the parents of handicapped children. Surely, this is not fair.
My Lords, I was going to say a few words about Clause 23; but it has been fully covered by other noble Lords and, due to the number of speakers, I shall confine myself to two sentences. The costs incurred by parents of a handicapped child in everyday expenses, extra clothing and sometimes an expensive diet are far greater than those incurred for any normal child. Take away from this child the free transport to school—school which means more to this child and his parents than just reading and writing—and you may isolate him completely.
§ 6.54 p.m.
§ Baroness FAITHFULL
My Lords, living in Oxford, as I do, it is inevitable 1091 that I should speak first on Clause 26 which deals with nursery education and with Clause 12, which is concerned with the method of appeal against closures of schools and nurseries. Like my noble friend Lady Elliot, I have not been a Minister in the education field, but I have worked in a nursery school. I am privileged to be the president of the National Association of Nursery Matrons and I have close contact with the Voluntary Organsiation Liaison Council for the Under-Fives and the Pre-school Play Group Association, both of which have Lady Plowden as their president, and also the British Association for Early Childhood Education. I need hardly say that I am in close touch with the Oxfordshire Branch of the National Campaign for Nursery Education. I hope that this will convince your Lordships of my passionate feeling and interest in the development of children under five.
We have debated in your Lordships' House the needs of children under five in all their aspects. We are all, I am sure, agreed that the wise, emotional, physical and educational care of the child under five years of age is of paramount importance in laying the foundation of a secure and mature personality. And yet this country is in a state of some confusion—and young people, young married people or those getting married are confused—as to how the needs of the young child should be met and how, at the same time, young women should come to terms with the changing role of mothers who, for financial reasons, perhaps, or for personal reasons, feel that they must work part-time or full-time.
In this country we have no co-ordinated policy for the care and development of the young child. I know that the Minister, the noble Baroness, Lady Young, is conscious of this modern dilemma. We are grateful for her interest. We are also grateful for the assertion of the Secretary of State, made in another place. I quote:The Government believe firmly in the value of nursery education for all young children. And that"—said the Secretary of State for Education in another place—remains our long-term aim".He went on to say:It is especially valuable for the handicappd and for those from disadvantaged backgrounds".1092 Furthermore, research done by the National Children's Bureau, by Dr. Neville Butler of Bristol, Dr. Tizard at the Thomas Coram Foundation, Dr. Donald Court and others emphasise the extraordinary necessity and abiding value of the care of the young child.
A policy and structure in this country needs to be formulated, but I am the first to admit that it must be within the bounds of our resources. Under Clause 26, local authorities shall have power to establish, maintain and assist nursery education. Despite the fact that I so much support nursery education, I would say here that I do not want the local authorities to be given the duty but a power. I was told by Dr. Donald Winnicott always to listen to parents. Some parents want to look after their children in their own homes until they are five. Some parents while supporting nursery education nevertheless prefer their children and themselves to be involved in the pre-school play group movement. Other parents want their children cared for by child-minders, and therefore we must allow for parental choice, and each of these groups supports the others.
I should say that I did look up the figures in Oxford and, although Oxford probably has, and has had in the past, more facilities for the under-fives than most places in this country, only 30 per cent. of the children are attending full-time or part-time nursery school or are at day nurseries. We should like it to be more, but we realise that at this stage we must keep within the bounds of our resources.
I pass on to another point, and I apologise to the noble Baroness, Lady Young, for not having given her notice of this matter. During our last debate on education, I made a plea that we should consider—or reconsider—mandatory awards. I wish to ask the noble Baroness—although perhaps not for an answer today, as I have not given notice—whether it would not be possible, under paragraph 19 of Schedule 5, for there to be mandatory awards agreed so that local authorities could send non-graduate students on courses at an older age. I have a particular interest in this point, because a number of people with experience of marriage, of having children and of life, want, when their children are older, 1093 to go into social work and to train as social workers. Many people have said to me that, with the very difficult cases that there are in the country at the moment, we need some older men and women not only to do the work at the grass-roots, particularly with the battered child, but in other areas as well, and to help the younger staff. The only way they could go into this work would be by a mandatory grant from the local authority.
I pass to transport, and do so with a great deal of trepidation. The noble Duke, the Duke of Norfolk, is not in his seat—
§ Baroness FAITHFULL
My Lords, I beg his pardon. I am delighted to see him. Whether he will be delighted is another matter, in view of what I have to say. The noble Duke gave two reasons why transport should be provided. One was that children should be able to go to the denominational school of their choice. I am a committed Anglican and I have had representations made to me, both by Anglicans and, if I may say so, by a very eminent Roman Catholic that we should think again about denominational schools. Are we really right to support denominational schools, and would it not be right if, instead of segregating the various different religions, we were to have a home-based religion, a religion which was developed within the family and within our Churches? Those children from families that are committed Roman Catholics, Anglians and Methodists, would mix with peers who perhaps had no religion.
If this is followed to the ultimate conclusion there may come a day when the ethnic groups would wish to set up black churches—and why not? Yet I would say that this throughout our society is perhaps divisive. I look particularly to the sorrows and tragedies in Northern Ireland and wonder whether, if we had more children going to the same schools, we would in the years to come perhaps not have problems. On the question of transport, while I understand the rural argument, I say with very much diffidence that I do not support the argument from the point of view of the Church schools.
Lastly, I must say a word about assisted places. The noble Lord, Lord James of 1094 Rusholme, spoke about boys and assisted places. May I say how important it is that girls wishing to go—
§ Lord JAMES of RUSHOLME
My Lords, I did mention a girls' school in the list of schools that I gave: Godolphin and Latymer. It is so difficult to include both sexes: "boys" includes "girls" for most purposes.
§ Baroness FAITHFULL
My Lords, there are many girls who want a very particular education which they cannot—at any rate at the moment—receive in the State system and we should not deny the girls the opportunity of any special training that they should have.
A boy came to me four years ago—a brilliant mathematician—who was directed to a school in his area where he wanted to go but found that there was not a good maths master. I therefore applied to the Butler Trust for a grant. That boy went to an independent school. He has attained nine O-levels and is expected to get a further five O-levels, and plans to be a doctor. The country would not have had that brilliant boy had he had to go to the comprehensive school. We cannot afford to lose the children of the here and now generation looking forward to something good that may occur later on. My Lords, I support this Bill.
§ 7.5 p.m.
§ Lord SOPER
My Lords, the provenance of this Bill is at least twofold; it might be manifold. But there are certain clauses which are strictly consequential upon the declared public policy of the Government to reduce public expenditure. It is therefore to those clauses referring to school meals and to transport that I would seek to attract the attention of your Lordships' House once again, as has already been done many times in this debate. I regard the clauses referring to school meals and the clause referring to school transport as pestiferous. I said in a previous debate a week or so ago 1095 that they accentuate and perpetuate a basic unfairness in the distribution and allocation of wealth. What is even worse, they make their impact most seriously upon those least capable of defending themselves. They take it out on children; they perpetuate conditions of poverty and create conditions within the poverty area which I believe are insufferable.
If I speak with certain heat on this matter, I hope I can contribute a certain amount of life. Let me get that off my chest straight away. I have no use for a Government which at this moment is imposing penalties upon the poor—who have already suffered enough—and which have imposed penalties educationally and in other respects upon children. Whatever may be the merits of other aspects of this Bill, I hope that we shall throw out with contempt those which impair not only the welfare of children who are already poverty stricken but the livelihoods of the families in which those children live, and—perhaps even more important—contaminate the possible future to which they can contribute.
With that somewhat stark declaration of intent, I presume to say something about these particular clauses. I am sure that in the 2,140,000 poverty stricken families which, as the noble Lord, Lord Banks, has said, are within 40 per cent. of the condition which would entitle them to benefit but they do not receive it, this will be a burden. They will be in very great difficulty in endeavouring to sustain this. The effects among many harassed parents and poverty stricken families already will be a diversion of monies and resources away from necessities such as are now a burden upon these families. The nutritional value of school meals is to be left to the discretion of local authorities, whereas before it was laid down, and this will contribute even more to the under-nourishment which is almost inevitable. There will be the fast food preference of those who will receive a certain amount of money going to school in order to buy something. Those, such as one-parent families, are unlikely to be able to stay at home long enough to prepare the right kind of meals when they are working themselves. Therefore, in this regard, the nutritional values will no doubt deteriorate.
1096 I quote as other noble Lords have quoted from the excellent document produced by the Child Poverty Action Group. I find that unanswerable and, with respect, I commend it to your Lordships. Here is evidence that the poverty grip will put itself much more firmly upon those who are compelled to provide another 50p for two-children families. At the same time, they are endeavouring to rescue themselves from the floor of the poverty gap. They are now within the limits in which they would not be entitled to child poverty and various compensatory benefits. These emoluments are taken from them the moment they take themselves out of a particular category. The inevitable prospect is a deterioration in the general quality of life for the children themselves. What is probably even more serious is that there will be a further problem of misintegration within many families who will find it almost impossible to deal with this aggravated situation
I turn now to the problem of transport, and it is my pleasure to offer to the noble Duke my assistance and my commendation of the most excellent presentation he made of his case—a case which I would commend. I share it, and my benevolence is unalloyed because in one sense I do not have an interest to declare any more, as Methodists have very few, if any, of these schools still in existence. But it seems to me that the religious communities have been "conned" in this particular Bill in respect of the promises which were made to them in 1944. They will find it extremely hard to meet the demands that will now be put upon them.
I respect the noble Baroness who has just sat down, but I have not taken much comfort from her synthetic offer of assistance in this regard, that we may have some kind of composite religious overall programme. I do not think this is within the bounds of possibility at the moment, and though I do not necessarily share all the ecclesiastical claims of the Church to which the noble Duke belongs, I at least belong to that Socialist group which believes that this freedom within the area of religion is of supreme worth and should not be damaged.
It is in respect of these matters that I would return to the substance of the objection already raised and which has been voiced time and time again in this 1097 debate. Here is, I believe, a piece of class legislation. Of course, I do not accuse the noble Baroness and the Government of direct malevolence—of course I do not—but I believe that either they have misunderstood the situation through a lack of contact with what really happens among poor people or they are so besotted with the need, as they see it, for the reduction of expenditure in the public sector that they are prepared to impoverish even that area which I would regard as sacrosanct—the area of education particularly for those who are least capable of providing it for themselves, namely, those who belong to the lower levels of poverty. They are not perhaps in the dire poverty to which our fathers were accustomed, but nevertheless they will find this an unfair and extra burden at a time when proper reference could be made to other means of curtailing expenditure, rather than impairing that most precious of all our potential and actual assets: that is, the cultivation of a true educational system for the children of tomorrow.
§ 7.13 p.m.
§ Lord ALEXANDER of POTTERHILL
My Lords, I think I should begin by declaring a personal interest. I do so because I have spent 50 years in the education service. In recent years I have a feeling that a number of people are losing faith in the importance of education. Therefore, I start by making it quite clear that, for myself, I accept the words of Disraeli and I believe in the decades that lie ahead. The future of this nation will depend fundamentally on its education service. Let me turn to the Bill. Its basic purpose, as I understand it, is economy and I do not dissent from that. I accept that it would be unreasonable that the education service should be exempt from cuts if in fact the national interest demands a decrease in public expenditure. But this is not the way to do it.
The education service, inevitably, is a highly labour-intensive service. This Bill, I believe, is based on a false premise. The Secretary of State has made clear that the one thing we must not do is to impact on the pupil-teacher ratio in the schools: that would be disastrous. I wonder what evidence the Secretary of State has for that assumption. The pupil-teacher ratio at the moment is the most favourable one there has ever been in the history of the 1098 country and it has improved every year for the past 10 years. Do the Government think that the quality of education has improved every year for the last 10 years? Is there any research evidence anywhere in the world which establishes that an increasing improvement in pupil-teacher ratios will lead to an improvement in the quality of education? I can find none. In fact a marginal adjustment in that ratio would save much more money than will be saved under the terms of this Bill and would not necessarily do any harm to the education service.
The need in education is not for more teachers but for better teachers; and in any event there are ways of impacting a substantial economy which would improve the education service. It is now over 10 years since I drew attention to what would increasingly become the major problem in the education service—that is, the education and training of the 16 to 19 year old groups. I said then, and repeat now, that the maintenance of sixth forms in comprehensive schools would reach a stage where it was neither educationally nor economically viable. That stage has been reached, my Lords. If you make a detailed analysis, you will find that the necessary staffing ratios are 1 to 4. If you establish tertiary colleges, as I advocated then and still do now, you would get better results and greater educational opportunities on a staffing ratio of 1 to 12, which would save something like £600 per pupil and would add up to a greater saving than this Bill will provide.
Let me come to the three proposals in this Bill which I think are major. I do not dissent from the proposals relating to governing bodies or to a number of other changes which I regard, frankly, as almost agreed changes, which are necessary. I want to speak first on the assisted places scheme, then on meals and transport, and then on parental choice.
Let me start with the assisted places scheme. Here again I find myself in complete agreement with the purpose which the scheme is designed to serve. I have for 30 years been concerned with adequate provision for the education of our most able children. I do not depart from that at all; but this is not the best way to do it. My first objection is to the offensive nature of a public declaration by a Government that the national 1099 system of education is incapable of providing education for our most able children. That I find offensive. I object also to what is an entirely new principle in the education service—the Government paying directly to parents for the education of children of secondary school age: a state scholarship scheme at the secondary level.
I share the view of the noble Lord, Lord Butler, that the proposal in itself is trivial: it will affect one child in 250, on the reduction which has been made. But there is a simple way of dealing with this problem, which I would hope might be acceptable to everybody. In Section 8 of the Educational Act 1944, it is the duty of a local education authority to provide for the educationally subnormal, in special schools or otherwise. The local authority does so in special schools in its own area, if it finds that this is the most convenient and effective method; or it takes places in independent schools for these children—because there are independent schools that are concerned with the subnormal, just as there are those that are concerned with the most able. A simple amendment to that section of the Act, which placed a similar duty on a local education authority to provide in special schools, or otherwise, for the most able children would enable a local authority to make provision in special schools in its own area.
The noble Lord, Lord James, cited Watford Grammar School, which I think he would agree could do this job. But in other areas, if they found this difficult, they could take places in independent schools. Most important, they could select those independent schools which were capable of providing adequately for the education of children with this level of ability. Because, let us make no mistake, there are not hundreds of them, not by any means. There are perhaps 20—a few more or a few less. This is a special job. It is not something that hundreds of independent schools can do.
I am a governor of a very reputable independent school. The governing body unanimously decided that they would not touch this scheme at any cost. Nor, indeed, did the headmaster argue that he could have coped. This is surely a much simpler way, or a less offensive way, 1100 which avoids what I am quite certain will create major problems, in the fact that there will have been created a new technique of central Governments directly financing the education of secondary school children. We have heard talk about freeing local authorities and strengthening local government, but this is not the way to do it. What the Government are saying is, "You cannot do this job. We will do it".
I turn now to the provisions for transport and meals. I share the view of the noble Lord, Lord Soper. I believe that the proposals relating to transport are a breach of the understandings, the agreements, which were made in 1944 and I am greatly worried as to the effect of these proposals. For let us be clear. They will not be uniform. One authority may decide not to charge at all. Another authority may decide to charge the full economic cost. So what are we going to do? Are we going to make educational opportunity dependent on place of birth?—because that is what it means. Let us also face the fact that we have a decreasing school roll. What happens over the next five years? Inevitably, there will be school closures particularly in rural areas—
§ Lord JAMES of RUSHOLME
My Lords, may I take the noble Lord back to his question? He has talked about making educational opportunity dependent on place of birth. Is not that what he has suggested as regards the able child, because he is putting responsibility entirely on the local authority? Have I understood the noble Lord correctly?
§ Lord ALEXANDER of POTTERHILL
Not at all, my Lords. Instead of that, it would be a duty of the local authority to see that adequate provision was made, and there is no reason why the Secretary of State should not be able to supervise that that is done. All I was suggesting, was that it might be done in different ways in different areas. Where was I? I was talking about transport and the falling school rolls, particularly in the rural areas where the closure of schools will mean a greater number of children necessarily involved in transport and, in many cases, a greater distance to travel. I find it very hard to accept a proposition which, in my 1101 opinion, is fundamentally contrary to the basic provisions of the 1944 Act.
I turn now to the formula for administrative cares, which is described as parental choice. I have operated parental choice for a limited number of schools. I think of the area in which I last administered, some 35 years ago—the City of Sheffield. There really would be no problem in a parent in Sheffield choosing any one of all the schools in the city, because transport is not a problem. The schools are near enough to get there rather easily. I then face the problem that I am a headmaster in a good school—the city knows that it is a good school—and I have 100 places available. Unfortunately, I receive 600 applications of preference. What do I do? How do I pick the 100 whom I have to admit, or who picks them? If I do it, I will pick the best 100—the most able 100, inevitably. So what will happen? The good schools will become better and the bad schools will become worse. So we will have a hierarchy of schools. Therefore, with the diminishing number of schools, which is inevitable with falling school rolls, this difference will increase.
So I look at the appeal machinery. I ask your Lordships to notice that the individual parent has a right of appeal He has to be heard by an appeals committee and he can be accompanied by a friend—a lawyer, a representative of some body with which he is associated or anybody he chooses. I would make a rough estimate that the appeals committee would sit full-time from about the end of May to September. And, of course, they will have to be manned, because you cannot run an appeals committee without staff, and records have to be kept. I wonder whether the saving which the Government are hoping to make in other things will he spent on building up a huge administration in relation to the appeals committee. I have been discussing this provision with colleagues who will have the responsibility of administering it. I can only quote how they describe it—"It is a perfect formula for administrative chaos."
Let me now say what I so strongly believe. I believe that the economies which are required could be effected with improvements in the education service, rather than with attacks on it. I find this Bill the worst piece of educational legislation in my experience. There were 1102 many virtues of the 1944 Act but there were two, in particular, which this Bill destroys. One is the fact that the 1944 Act was an agreed political measure. From 1945 until the early 1960s there was a consensus of opinion, and more progress was made in the education service than at any period in the history of this country. This Bill amounts to political polarisation. The Opposition are already committed to repealing at least sections of this Bill the moment they come to power.
The second principle, which I think is vital to the 1944 Act, is that educational opportunity should be independent of place of birth or the economic or social position of parents. This Bill destroys that principle. Educational opportunity will be dependent on place of birth and on the economic position of the parents. In one area a child can go to school without charge for transport and with a limited charge for school meals; in another area, particularly in the rural areas, it may cost the parent as much as £10 a week in order that the child should be educated. I apologise for speaking for so long.
§ Lord ALEXANDER of POTTER-HILL
My Lords, I know that it is a convention of your Lordships' House never to reject a Bill at Second Reading. I know that there are very strong reasons for that convention and I would not wish to depart from it, but I must say to your Lordships that if there were to be a Division on this Bill I should be happy to go into the Division Lobby in order to send it back so that the Government could think again. In fact, my Lords, I think that the word "again" is redundant—so that the Government could think about what they are doing to the education service.
§ Baroness YOUNG
My Lords, before the noble Lord, Lord Alexander of Potterhill, sits down, he said that his economy would be to increase the pupil-teacher ratio in schools because he does not think that it is important or contributes to raising academic standards if one lowers the pupil-teacher ratio. Would he indicate to the House what he thinks is an acceptable and desirable level of pupil-teacher ratio, as that is obviously his alternative, given his basic assumption that there must be economies in the education system?
§ Lord ALEXANDER of POTTER-HILL
My Lords, I suggested two things. One is the reorganisation of the 16- to 18-year-olds. The other is the pupil-teacher ratio. I can only say to your Lordships that when the pupil-teacher ratio was three points higher than it is now the standards of education were higher than they are now. I can only tell your Lordships that as long ago as 1932 when I was in America and Carlton Washbourne was Superintendent of Education in Winetka he did very careful research. Winetka had plenty of money; money was no object. The size of classes for junior school pupils varied from every number from 10 to 60, and he got the best results at 42. I am not suggesting by any means that that is the right answer, but I am reminding your Lordships that where groups fall below 25 the evidence is that the results are less satisfactory than they are when the numbers are between 25 and 30. That is quite recent research. However, the essential point is what I have said: that what we want is not more teachers but better teachers.
§ 7.33 p.m.
§ Lord WOLVERTON
My Lords, in rising to support the Government's Education (No. 2) Bill, I should like to congratulate the Minister, the noble Baroness, Lady Young, on an excellent explanation of the Bill and to address your Lordships briefly on transport, Clause 23, and school meals, Clause 24.
I do not pretend to be an expert on education, although I spent nine years on the old West Suffolk authority. During that time I was a governor of a grammar school and a secondary modern school at Newmarket and a manager of a Church of England primary school, also at Newmarket So I learned something of the education problem during that time and I have tried to keep up with the problem ever since.
I was delighted to hear the speech of my noble friend Lord Butler of Saffron Walden, and I am pleased to think that his great Education Act is only being slightly brought up to date by this Bill. All the main provisions of his great Act of 1944 remain.
My first point is on transport. I have always thought that in rural centres, such as my own county of Suffolk, 1104 transport is the responsibility of the local authority, as many of the new high schools are built in rural areas and many of the small village schools, for economy, have had to be closed. Therefore, I am glad that at my own County of Suffolk's budget meeting last week, which I attended, they decided to pay for this out of the block grant, and to support school transport. It involves about 25 per cent. of the children and it will cost the county about £2,262,000, which is approximately 3 per cent. of the education budget of £81 million for the year 1980–81. The total budget of the county for the coming year is about £123 million, so it represents 66 per cent, or two-thirds of the total budget. It will cost the ratepayers—this is important—about a 2½p extra rate, which is a large sum of money, but I think it is well worth it.
I understand that the Essex County Council have now done a U-turn and are going to adopt the same system. I hope that other county councils will find it possible to squeeze this out of their block grant and adopt the same kind of system. I am sure that it will please the noble Duke, because I feel very much as he does, that this is a responsibility of local authorities, especially in these large rural areas. However, I still think that local authorities should have the right to charge as they think fit, as laid down in the Bill because some local authorities may not be able to afford to pay these transport charges. I believe that they propose, even in my own county, to charge for short distances, if children want transport.
Before I sit down, I should like to say a few words on Clause 24, school meals. I was very interested to see for myself the proposed new cafeteria system. The chairman of the Suffolk County Council kindly arranged for me to visit a great new high school—and a very fine school it is, too—at Stowupland near Stow-market. It has just been completed. They have installed an experimental system on a cafetaria basis and I was very much impressed by what I saw. It is called the "Pay as you take" system. The chairman of the council, the chairman of the governors and the headmaster were also impressed. There is a good choice of food, and the children I talked to seemed to like this "Pay as you take" system.
1105 It is intended when the Bill becomes law to install the system in the high schools of the county during the coming year and in the middle schools during the following year, because it would be too big a job to do all the schools in one year. They are going to keep for the present the simpler two-course meals for primary schools. The school catering experts say that a considerable saving of money by adopting this new system will be brought about. The proposed cost—and this is the important thing because I have heard a lot of figures bandied about in this House tonight—for two courses will be approximately 45p, which I do not think is an unreasonable amount considering what I saw of the food.
If any of your Lordships have the time, many counties are experimenting with this system, and before we come to Committee stage perhaps in your own counties your Lordships will visit one of these systems. Many counties have different systems, but I think your Lordships will be impressed with them. The children will get a decent midday meal at a reasonable cost. I confirm, because a headmaster and some other masters have told me, that unfortunately some parents do not send their children to school after having an adequate breakfast. Therefore, it is important that they should have a reasonable midday meal, although I feel it is the responsibility of the parents to give their children a good breakfast before sending them to school otherwise if they do not have a meal in the middle of the day they cannot take in their lessons during the afternoon. With those few remarks, I should like to support this Bill.
§ 7.41 p.m.
§ Baroness SEEAR
My Lords, at this late hour and after so many speeches your Lordships will not want to hear very many more of great length and I will be extremely brief. I should like first to apologise for the fact that I have had to miss so many of the speeches which have been made during the course of the afternoon I had to chair a committee which was fixed long before I knew that this debate was to take place.
This country has a proud tradition of imaginative and creative education Acts—1870, 1902, the Fisher Act of 1918, the 1944 Education Act. It really is rather 1106 pathetic that this should be called an Education Bill at all—this cheese-parer's charter which is presented to your Lordships for Second Reading today. It is really extraordinary, the economies that the Government have chosen to make; extraordinary, the expenses they have chosen to indulge in, and interesting the omissions from this Bill.
Taking first the economies, other noble Lords have spoken in detail about school meals, milk and transport, but surely the point is this—and I daresay other noble Lords have made the point but I want to underline it: If there is one group in this country which is moving into real hardship because of rising prices and the cuts that are being made, it is the families with children, and these are all cuts which will affect the budgets of people with children—the weekly lay-out of the cash of the wage-earner with a large family.
The Government in their wisdom have decided not to do anything about child benefits and now, on top of that, they are adding very considerably in some cases to the weekly outgoings of people who are already the hardest hit. There are people in our community who are in a position to absorb the rising prices; but they are not the people with a number of children, or even with one or two children. These additional costs are hitting where it hurts the most. Therefore, I would say, looking at this in terms of the Government's overall policy and not merely in relation to education, it is quite extraordinary that a Government set on economy—and I agree with the need for economy—should have the idea that the axe must fall across the departments and that every department has to make economies regardless. Regardless, in this case, of the people least able to bear the burden and most affected by the inflation which is going on at the present time There are many other groups in our society which can carry that burden far better.
The noble Lord, Lord Wolverton, told us that he had seen school meals which were very good value at 45p per day per child. If a person has two children taking those meals, that represents £4.50 a week, which is a sizeable amount to have to pay for meals for two children on top of all the other expenses which have to be paid out; and of course a great many parents will not do it. The children will either take 1107 sandwiches—well, that is all right from time to time, but a regular mid-day meal of sandwiches is hardly to be recommended—or they will indulge in crisps and oddments of one sort or another instead of having a proper meal. Families with two children are just not going to pay £4.50 a week, even for a good nourishing meal which the noble Lord has inspected and recommends.
The same thing applies to transport. This particular economy, in terms of the Government's overall economies, is hitting the people who can least afford to bear it. So there are very strange economies, and coupled with them of course are very strange extravagances. I know that for some reason the Conservative Party put into its manifesto that it would do something about payment for bright children to go to fee-paying schools. Since when was the Conservative Party bitten by the Labour Party bug of feeling that everything that goes into a manifesto has to go into a Bill which comes before your Lordships' House? It really is a dotty way to carry on. Manifestos are got out at a particular time; the Government come in and find that circumstances have changed and difficulties are much greater than they expected, and yet they feel themselves committed to what has gone into their manifesto. I do not know why on earth they cannot say that this was something which, when they believed that the economy was going better than in fact it was, they thought, rightly or wrongly, wisely or foolishly, that they could do so.
Having said again and again (and one can sympathise with this) that the economic condition is far worse than they anticipated when they made that promise and when they committed themselves in their manifesto, they now find that the position is as bad as it is and they are not going to carry out what they then said. Surely people would respect the good sense of an adjustment of that sort, even if one thinks that the policy is right. I personally do not think it is right, and I do not even believe that the Government now think the policy is right. They believe that they are stuck with it, and they are so terrified of being told that they are doing a U-turn. For goodness' sake, if in changing circumstances the Government cannot change their mind, 1108 then they really are not capable of governing. If they cannot say that that was a mistake and take it out, it will cause tremendous bad feeling, tremendous stress in families, and jealousy and rivalry between different families. It simply is not worth it.
There is one other point on expenditure where the cuts fall which I should like to ask the noble Baroness, Lady Young, to answer. I feel very sorry for the noble Baroness, Lady Young, because I know that she is a very keen supporter of education. How can she bear to sit here supporting this wretched little Bill, I do not know. It is being said up and down the country—and I say this in no cavilling spirit but to get an answer from the Government—that the economies made in the departments are falling everywhere, and not only in education, at the sharp end, and that economies are not being made in the administrative services. Can the noble Baroness tell us what reductions in staff will occur, first in the Ministry of Education and, secondly, in local education authorities? I know that is more difficult, but perhaps the figure, or a sample can be obtained for us. I am certain that the people of this country would feel very much better about economies in education, if we have to make them, if they believed that the economies were really falling in the administrative end and not in the schools.
It may be that is an unfair criticism; it may be that the answer is that there have been substantial reductions in administrative services. If so, in fairness to the Government and to the department, let us know. But, until we get figures about this the belief will linger that the economies are all being made in the places where it is least easy for them to be borne and are not being carried out where, there is a very strong belief, there is very considerable overmanning. I hope the noble Baroness will be able to inform us, to reassure us that this criticism so frequently made is not in fact true.
There are one or two other points I should like to make. I am glad to welcome something in this Bill. I welcome the provision that parents and teachers should be represented on governing bodies. I believe that there should be more of them on governing bodies, and not just a single parent and a single teacher. Speaking as 1109 a single woman and a non-parent and therefore with some detachment about this question, it seems to me that parents ought to have quite a say in how their children are educated. They, after all, have to pick up the pieces when—and it does happen—the education system has not made a great success of their offspring. I think it entirely reasonable and desirable that teachers should be in on the act, that they should be encouraged to find out what is going on.
I must say about a discussion much publicised in the Press recently, whatever one may think about the virtues of certain publications, that the idea that parents should not be able to find out what their children are being taught seems to me quite extraordinary. I have not the enthusiasm for bureaucrats that is shown on the Labour Benches. I should like to see stronger representation of parents and teachers on governing bodies, with more rights for parents to find out what their children are being taught. I am not satisfied to he told that teachers have all the expert knowledge and parents should not interfere.
I would, however, wish to have other representation on governing bodies. Surely we now know that one of the great difficulties of youngsters, and in the economy, is the lack of understanding between education and the world at work —the fact that youngsters do not get the advice and help in schools that they need to have if they are going to be successful in the transition from school to work. Surely this is an opportunity, when we are reshaping governing bodies, to require that there should be on governing bodies two people—it may be that you have to go in for the usual pattern of one representative of employers and one of trade unions—with firsthand up-to-date knowledge about the world of work, so that when questions of curriculum and teaching methods come up there is on the governing body somebody who understands about the world into which these youngsters are going after leaving school. Perhaps the presence of parents will be of some help; presumably most parents will have some knowledge of the world of work. But only one parent is not enough.
I intend to put down an amendment to this effect at Committee stage, requiring that there should be on governing bodies 1110 people who can add this essential increment which is very much lacking in a great many schools—knowledge of the world into which the pupils are going. While we are reforming governing bodies surely this is an opportunity to do something about it.
§ Baroness YOUNG
My Lords, if I might intervene on that particular point, there is nothing to prevent any school governing body including representatives from the TUC or the CBI, or anybody else connected with industry or commerce or any activity in the community. There is nothing in our proposals to prevent that.
§ Baroness SEEAR
My Lords, I suppose there never has been anything to stop governing bodies doing it, but they do not appear to do it. Since we are writing into this legislation that parents and teachers should be represented, why not write in that there should be people with knowledge in this particular area as well? I do strongly suspect that, unless it is written in, these people will not appear in the future any more than they have in the past, and I am convinced that the need for them is very great indeed. The teachers' lack of understanding about the world of work is a very serious handicap at this time.
I would have hoped too (but this is obviously hoping for too much from a Bill of this kind) that the much bigger question, of vital educational and economic importance—the links between the school and the place of work—could have found some place in this Education Bill. If not now, can we not have further legislation which looks at this vital matter? Because, if we do not, we shall be reforming our schools—though not, one would hope, along these lines—but still not providing an adequate link for the children coming out of school and going into the world, where, so far as work is concerned, they are often totally inadequate.
§ 7.57 p.m.
§ Lord DAVIES of LEEK
My Lords, first of all, for being absent at the opening of this debate, I should like to apologise to the noble Baroness, Lady Young, the noble Baroness, Lady David, and the noble Viscount, Lord Simon. It was due to the inclement weather and the time it 1111 took to drive here, that I missed the opening speeches. It was not due to any arrogance on my part that I missed part of what I have found to be one of the best debates that I have ever listened to in this House since I have had the honour to be here. It has revealed a mass of well-informed knowledge. I have now cut my speech by about 70 per cent. and that at least will please noble Lords.
I have been around for many years now, from the bad old days of the 'thirties and before, working in the field of education, in all its branches, particularly in the adult field as well as in the child field. I find this a sad, sad Bill. It is not a fair deal for the children of Britain. It is not like the euphoria that we had when the war was on, when our lives were laid on the line because a lot of people had nothing else to offer to their countries but their lives. It was then said that we must make a Britain—not the Welsh Lloyd George's expression "fit for heroes to live in" but a Britain where our children have opportunity, where the underprivileged get equality of opportunity. All we ask for is equality of opportunity; and if we give it to our children and our citizens and they do not make the best use of those opportunities, then they cannot blame those who have rained the opportunities upon them.
This new legislation could mean the end of many things. I do not scoff about the end of school meals. They have made our children on average, some five inches taller and a stone or more heavier at the ages of 12, 13 and 14. Most children today are taller than their grandfathers were. They make good rugby players. Do not blame the Welsh alone for the roughness. Their fitness was built upon milk and meals.
I want to pay honour to the Butler Act. I was delighted to hear the noble Lord pay a tribute to Winston Churchill, in his own inimitable way, who believed that children should have the chance of meals and milk. I find this Bill sad, because I consider the Bill contemptuous; I consider it snivelling, churlish and—I do not like to use this word—I find it class-ridden. Noble Lords opposite have had generations of good culture, generations of first-class education; their stately homes were visited and looked at in wonder by people from all over the world. A genera- 1112 tion that from Anglo-Saxon times—we had Celts before that—has inherited the best of learning and philosophy has itself lost all sense of meaning.
The other night I took the trouble to read Lord Hugh Cecil's Philosophy and Conservatism. I picked it off my study shelf; it was among that famous home university set of books which in my day cost about half-a-crown, but which today will probably cost £5. I read the true philosophy of the old Tory Party. What has gone wrong? What has gone wrong with British Conservatism? It is losing its faith; it is unhappy; it is pitiable and it produces a child-bashing Bill, a Bill that is sired by the party opposite which has been blessed, as I said, with generations of privilege and education, and which has lost its way in a money-grabbing, acquisitive, aggressive society which at one time it abhored.
§ Baroness FAITHFULL
My Lords, perhaps I could put the noble Lord right on one matter. There are many of us on this side of the House who do not own estates, who have come—perhaps in one generation or two—from an ordinary working-class back-ground, and we are proud of it. We do not all have money or own estates.
§ Lord DAVIES of LEEK
My Lords, I know that quite well. I count myself among those people. I am simply saying that, in its own way, the great Conservative Party itself stood for uplift. When Franklin Delano Roosevelt in his State of the Union message in 1941, when the great euphoria was on, formulated the Four Freedoms—freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from want and freedom from fear, I added a fifth in a booklet I wrote:There is one freedom that embraces the lot for the mass of the under-privileged—freedom from contempt".If we take education, which is the great equaliser, away from the under-privileged, the possibility of losing that fifth freedom—freedom from contempt—appears.
The Archbishop of Canterbury, just before we had the introduction to the 1113 famous white Paper in the 1940s on reconstruction, said:There is no breach in the fellowship of our national life so deep as that created by the difference in educational opportunity".That is axiomatic. The Archbishop of Canterbury himself uttered that sentence in this noble House during a debate many years ago on that White Paper. It would be stupid of me to reiterate the criticisms about school meals and buses. It has all been said in dignified, quiet, constructive, non-abrasive language that ought to sink in to the Government. If it does not, I believe that the Committee stage of this Bill must be fought tooth and nail.
I should like to raise two other points and then I shall sit down. I shall raise them in the form of a question. I notice that Clause 20 deals with the giving of industrial scholarships. This is just messing around. When we look at it in depth we see that the Notes on Clauses, concerning this Bill, read:In 1979, the first full year of the scheme, 159 scholarships were awarded. The total cost of these awards is expected to be £80,000 in the financial year 1979–80, and to rise to nearly £900,000 a year when the scheme reaches its target of 500 new scholarships a year ".It is a wonderful clause. Opportunities of industrial scholarships will be given to 500 people throughout the country. Who will pay for them? Apparently the Government are to set up a trust to which they will ask industry to contribute. I do not think that that has been thought through. I do not believe that it has been fully discussed with the industrialists in Britain.
In Clause 21 I am delighted to find that a contribution is to be made to increase teaching in the Welsh language. That is rather nice. I do not know how much it will cost. I welcome that part of the Bill. However, I put it side by side with industrial scholarships. A nephew of mine jokingly told me a few years ago, "Uncle, I am going to do my A-levels in Welsh, woodwork and scripture." I said, "Good Heavens above!, what is that going to do for you?" He said, "I want to be an undertaker in Aberystwyth." Probably the party opposite is hoping to make a number of Welsh undertakers with its industrial scholarship scheme and its Welsh scheme.
1114 However, apart from that, I do not see this Bill doing much for our children. The rural case and the cost involved has been dealth with. The question of school meals has been dealt with. We have heard it all before. I have now been speaking for nine minutes, and it has cut me to the hone to have to ruin what would have been a longer philosophical speech. However, because the night is moving on, I shall leave it at that.
§ 8.6 p.m.
§ Viscount INGLEBY
My Lords, I share the concern of the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Leek, about rural areas. We live in a very remote rural area, five miles from the nearest primary school and 12 miles from the nearest secondary school. We used to have a village school of our own, although I could not call it a village school because there is no village. I believe it was the smallest school in Yorkshire. However, that was taken from us, and when it was taken away I am sure that a promise of free transport must have been made at that time. I very much hope that there will be no going back on that promise now.
However, I rise—metaphorically at least, if not literally—to give notice of an amendment which I hope to propose at the Committee stage concerning parental rights and sex education. This amendment was tabled in another place, hut was never reached, owing to the guillotine. The effect of it would be to make it compulsory for head teachers who are about to give a course on sex education to give notice in writing to the parents of the children concerned. They would give notice of the fact that the sex education would be given; they would have to explain fully to the parents the nature of the sex education to be given; they would have to give an opportunity to the parents to see the books, visual aids and other materials which would be used for this purpose; the parents would also have an opportunity to question the person who would actually be giving the sex education. Finally, as a last resort, the parent could —if he or she so wished—give notice of wtihdrawal of this child from those particular classes. This is an important amendment which was not discussed in another place and which would, rightly, involve parents in what is obviously a very important subject.
§ 8.8 p.m.
§ Lord BEAUMONT of WHITLEY
My Lords, as the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Leek, has said, this has been a very fine debate indeed, and a great amount of information has passed. It is, I suppose, a notable debate, concerning the largest Education Bill that we have had since the Butler Act, and it is a great pleasure and privilege that we have had the benefit of a speech from the noble Lord, Lord Butler of Saffron Walden. This is particularly so for me as I virtually had my first education in his house. When my mother died, when I was seven, the noble Lord—which he was not at that time—and his wife, took me in and for a short time I was educated with his sons. I do not think that either of us ever looked forward towards a day when I would be winding up for the Liberals in the House of Lords, in a debate in which he had taken part. I shall not detain the House long at this time of night. There are just three or four points I want briefly to take up. They are matters on which we, on these Benches, will be seeking to amend the Bill, or on which we wish to ask questions, and there is one matter I shall discuss at slightly greater length.
First, I look forward to the Secretary of State's announcement on the recommendations of the Warnock Committee, and what is going to be done as a result. What alternatives are going to be produced in this Bill, or outside this Bill, for handicapped children which excuses this extraordinary Clause 9 exempting both handicapped children and nursery schools from certain important provisions of the Bill. There has been a certain amount of awkwardness, or even worse than awkwardness, in the Government's handling of this matter. We should have been entitled to have this announcement at an earlier stage, or a rather fuller announcement as to what we are to talk about. I, for one, and I think many noble Lords, judging by the speeches we have had, are completely in the dark. Of course, whatever comes out of Warnock, we are not necessarily going to have any change in the way that Clause 9 means that a lot of good things in this Bill do not apply to nursery schools. We on these Benches shall be hoping to see that a number of the important questions about choice and publications about schools, and parental control and all that, apply to nursery 1116 schools just as much as to other schools.
There is also the matter of the appeals court. The noble Lord, Lord Alexander, may be right in his gloomy prognostications about how long appeals will take. I myself think that this is an experiment worth undertaking. I congratulate the Government on this. I do not think it will take so long. A great many educational authorities manage at the moment to give enormously high percentages of parents their first choice, and a very high percentage their first or second choice. With the possible exception of a few difficult and litigious parents, whom these rather informal committees will, fortunately or unfortunately, learn to dispatch quite quickly, I do not see that this matter is going to cause very great trouble. On the other hand, for a genuine grievance there will be a genuine loophole, and we certainly welcome that.
On governing bodies, a great opportunity has been missed. Here we very much lack the experience of the present Leader of another place. I cannot believe that Mr. St. John-Stevas would have seen this Bill come through to us with quite so appallingly low representation of teachers and parents as there is. When he launched his charter for parents three years ago one of the three main points was the right of parents to substantial representation on governing boards. I would ask the noble Baroness whether she really thinks that what is proposed in this Bill is substantial representation and, if not, what has happened to it.
We want to see more and more schools where there is real control by parents, teachers, and the neighbourhood. There is no neighbourhood so poor—although it is often imagined that there is—or so ill-educated that, if they are appealed to, they cannot help with the running of the local schools. What we must work on is the building up of community, particularly in a world which may not be as rich in the future as we thought it was going to be. Community help for schools, community governors, are going to be very important. From these Benches we shall be doing our best to see that we can build up some real representation on these bodies.
Finally, on matters I am dealing with cursorily, there is the question of transport. 1117 This is a remarkably silly provision in the Bill. I hope that this may be one victory that we may win. I think we shall find a lot of support, as indeed we have seen today, from all quarters of the House. In a way, this is almost a confidence trick. Over the last few years—and I include the last Tory Administration in that period—I do not believe that the parents, teachers, and education authorities, who have been reorganising schools as populations change and as the school population has shrunk and they have been shutting down the small village schools, would have gone along with any of these things for a moment had they known that this kind of thing was going to come up in an Education Bill. If this goes through without amendment, I forecast that we shall find extremely strong resistance to any future reorganisation and any future closing of village schools. That will be a good thing in itself, but I do not think it should happen in this way.
I come lastly to the assisted places scheme. As at present drafted the Bill is totally indefensible. I was fascinated by the speech of the noble Lord, Lord James of Rusholme. I think what he was suggesting that clause would be about was that it was for the child who cannot get what it needs in the local school or in the State system, to be subsidised to go elsewhere, and that that is obviously a worthwhile object. I am not going to argue the toss ideologically as to whether it is permissible or not, but it is something which one can understand and can say, "Yes" there you are doing something. And if you are doing anything for any individual school, for the child, or for the child's individual needs, you are doing something worth while."
If the Government care to redraft that clause so that it meets Lord James' criteria and does what he says he thinks it does, then from these Benches we might give it some support. But, of course, it does not. At the moment it is much wider than that. Look, for instance, at the whole question, that there has to be a geographical balance of the number of places; there has to be a balance between the number of boys and girls. Both are worthy things in themselves, but, putting in that kind of balance, absolutely nothing to do with the kind of thing that the noble Lord, Lord James, wants to see and that I regard in some ways as being admirable. 1118 Nor, if that is what they wanted, would they rule out boarding schools, because it might be that boarding is just the thing that a particular child might need. Certainly we on these Benches will look hard at this matter, to see whether, if the Government will not do it, we ought to improve on their drafting of this clause. If so, we shall expect to see the noble Lord, Lord James, with us at the barricades, even at 4 in the morning.
I think that it is going a little far to say that this is the worst Education Bill for years. I sympathise in a way with Lord Alexander's feelings, but it is a question of size, is it not? I seem to remember a Bill during the last Administration which was an Education Bill which was much smaller, but which was 100 per cent. bad so far as I could see. This one is only about 60 per cent. or 70 per cent. bad. It actually has some jolly good things in it. Our job on these Benches will not be to wage a major war about the Bill; but what we hope to do is to join with everyone in this House of good will and knowledge of education to amend it and make it a great deal better.
§ 8.02 p.m.
§ Lord STEWART of FULHAM
My Lords, we have had a lengthy and impressive debate. I am still a novice in this House, but I would hazard a guess that there has rarely been a debate in which out of all the speeches there has been so small a proportion of support for the Government. The noble Baroness, Lady Young, said at the outset she was very glad that the noble Lord, Lord Butler of Saffron Walden, was to take part. So were we all, though whether she was equally glad when he had finished his speech we are entitled to wonder.
§ Lord STEWART of FULHAM
My Lords, I am glad to hear she was pleased. In that case, I hope she will listen to and follow the advice which he gave, but I am afraid I am also at liberty to wonder whether that can happen.
§ Lord BUTLER of SAFFRON WALDEN
My Lords, I am glad to hear there will not be a Division tonight, because I think it would be wrong to have one, and if there were a Division 1119 tonight I should vote for the Government so that the Bill may be considered in Committee.
§ Lord STEWART of FULHAM
My Lords, in that case I am almost inclined to say, against my wishes, that I am glad there will not be a Division so as not to put the noble Lord in that equivocal position.
Several noble Lords have asked the question: What is the philosophy behind the Bill? The noble Viscount, Lord Simon, among other speakers asked that I fear I know the answer to that, having gone through the Bill time and again. The philosophy behind it is a divisive philosophy; it is to drive a greater wedge between those in the community who have done well out of the educational system and those who have not done so well, a wedge between them and their children. It is fatally easy for any Government to do that because of a special thing about education. If in this country an individual or family are short of food or clothing or adequate house room, they are acutely aware of that deprivation. The tragedy of education is that those who have been deprived of it are not aware of the value of what they have lost. It is fatally easy to do that in respect of the gap between those who have begun to understand and move forward and those who have failed to get enough support from the system and have begun to slip backwards, and what the Government are doing in the Bill is to drive a wedge and to do it to the disadvantage of those who are poorer, of those who are less aware of the importance of education for their children and of those are less articulate.
Let us take, first of all, what the noble Lord, Lord Alexander of Potterhill, called the administrative chaos of the appeals system. I do not believe that, in the main, local authorities are stupid or high-handed about this matter of parental preference; I believe the great majority of them approach their problem, and it can be a very complicated one, conscientiously. Some no doubt do better than others and the one I know best, the Inner London Education Authority, has a record of the kind to which the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, referred, of 80 to 90 per cent. between first and second choices. In a large city choice is 1120 at least physically possible. In thinly populated areas it is much harder, with the best intent, yet the Government in the transport clauses of the Bill are going to make it harder still for parents to exercise preference or choice if they live in the thinly populated areas.
What I think the Government should have done was to have surveyed the present practice of local authorities and set to work to encourage all local authorities to come up to the standard of the best. That would have been a constructive move. What they have done instead is to impose on top of whatever arrangements for allocation and appeal local authorities already make—the noble Baroness, Lady Young, said in her opening speech that what is put in the Bill is to be on top of whatever is there already—all the apparatus of the Bill; the delicate balancing and working out of proportions of different kinds of people who are entitled to sit on the appeals committee, the fact that apparently somebody who is employed as a gardener by the local authority cannot be a member of an appeals committee, and a great many other peculiar provisions.
Then we find, even when the committees are appointed, that the matter does not end there; the local ombudsman can be invoked and the Council of Tribunals can be called in and, according to Dr. Rhodes Boyson at one stage in the arguments in Committee in another place, the Secretary of State and the courts can be involved. That will not happen in every instance of course, but it could happen, and in the end, which parents are most like to get what they want? Once again it will be those who are well enough off to employ a lawyer if they think it necessary; those who have most leisure to attend appeal committees; and those who are most articulate and skilful in knowing how to work through the jungle.
And then, as if that were not enough, when we come to Clause 6(3)(c) we find that this whole business of parental preference can be thrown into the wastepaper basket if the local authority operates a selective scheme of education and decides what kind of school children will go to on the basis of an 11-plus examination and all the mumbo-jumbo that is associated with it—the doctrine of inherited 1121 intelligence quotients which was so exploited by the man who has since been shown to be a charlaton, Cyril Burt. In time past, the Government had no doubts that this was nonsense. There have been several quotations from the Government White Paper issued in 1943 about education and I shall add another one:The serious weaknesses of selection at 11 are now acknowledged. There is nothing to be said in favour of a system which submits children at the age of 11 to a competitive examination on which not only their future schooling but their future career may depend ".That was the product of a coalition government and it can be fairly said to express a censensus.
In this Bill we have for the first time a legal status given to the idea of this pathetic expedient of selection at 11-plus, and then this concept—that you can at this early age decide what kind of education, what kind of life, a child is going to lead—is given further life in the clauses dealing with the assisted places scheme. It is a little like The Old Man of the Sea—whenever you get hold of it and try to question the Government about it, it tends to turn into something else. We were told at one stage that the size of it had been reduced by a half, though I notice that the figure of £55 million is still in the Financial Memorandum of the Bill as it came to this House, as it was when it came to another place. Perhaps later on we can pursue that point.
This is to be used for the advantage, so we were told in popular language, of poor bright children. It looks as if they have to be so bright as to be in about the top ½ per cent. of the population, and presumably one will try, despite all the evidence of the futility of it, to pick them out by the 11-plus examination. It will be a hit-and-miss business. Who will decide actually whether the child goes to a particular school? I think it will probably be the headmaster; try as hard as they like to make it equal between boys and girls, I bet it will usually be a headmaster who is deciding this question. It will probably be the headmaster of the school who in the end will say, "I am having this child in my school", or the opposite. I have talked to a headmaster of a school of this kind and he said to me," The question I always ask is, Will this boy fit into the community of my school? '," and that is 1122 a fatally common popular doctrine, the doctrine that children are made for schools and not schools for children. I would not mind betting that one can have a boy as brilliant as anything, but if he is an awkward, difficult, badly behaved boy, I do not suppose he will get one of these assisted places. He will be left with the State system of education to cope with.
The Government have not considered these matters at all. Yet for the sake of this ill thought out scheme, they are going to insult the whole State system of education, as the noble Lord, Lord Alexander of Potterhill, said. What is this scheme saying to boys and girls in ordinary, local authority schools? It is saying: "Be very clever. The best prize you can win in this school is to be allowed to get out of it and go somewhere else." What kind of recipe for the morale of the school is that? Perhaps we shall be told that there will be so few of them that it will not matter. Well, in that case what are we spending £55 million on? In the course of the debate the noble Baroness has been given half-a-dozen better objectives on which that money could be better spent, and I think that she should look at some of them.
I must not delay the House too long, but I want to turn now to the clauses dealing with meals, milk and transport. The Government have had some friends on meals and milk; I do not think they have had any on transport. But with milk, meals and transport there is no doubt at all what the Bill is really about: it is about the redistribution of wealth in this country. It is making savings at the expense, very often, of people who can ill afford to be squeezed in that manner. Who are going to be worst hit? I think that it will be the family where the bread winner is in full-time work, so he is not drawing supplementary benefit, where there are perhaps rather more than the average number of children, and where the wage is decidedly below the national average. If he lives in the countryside, his wage is likely to be below the national average and he will have an exceptional need for school transport.
If this burden is to be imposed at all, it is of course right to exempt those who are on supplementary benefit. But once one has got that far in the exercise, one has quite perceptively narrowed the gap 1123 between the man who is in work and the man who is not. During the tenure of office of the last Government Tory propagandists went up and down the country talking about what they called the result of foolish Socialist action; that all over the country there were people who judged that it was more profitable not to work and to draw supplementary benefit. There was precious little in it. One could find the occasional case. But these transport clauses will make such cases much more likely. As the Government have been told so often—I need not labour it further—this proposal will hit in particular the rural economy. Again, during the tenure of office of the last Government there were repeated complaints that the wicked Labour Secretary of State kept closing schools in the rural areas. Of course, the Secretary of State could not close schools on her own notion; the request to do so came from rural authorities.
After all the Conservative protestation of concern for the rural areas, these transport clauses will hit the rural areas in particular. In addition, what really ought to weigh with the Government is the fact that they will create unnecessary strain and ill-feeling between the denominational part of our educational system and the rest; and in a great many cases they are a flagrant breach of faith.
That is why I believe that the Bill, the whole philosophy of it, is divisive. At each stage—the assisted places, the appeals procedure, the milk, the meals and the transport—it will he the poorer sections of the population, with less means of defending themselves, who will suffer worse. In some cases those who already see the prospect of a good education for their children will see a chance of improving their lot. Those who are already in difficulties, who are not doing as well as most, will be kicked further downstairs; and this applies even to the most recent clauses in the Bill, those dealing with nursery education. I take very fully the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull—that parents will have different views on the best way of caring for and beginning to educate their children at an early age. But I do not think that it can he disputed that for very many children the nursery school is an excellent answer, and that there are a great many children who are not receiving the care 1124 and education they should have at that age, either through nursery school or through some other means.
That means simply that, whatever other ways there are of dealing with the needs of these children, we certainly ought to have more nursery schools. The Government say, "Well, we are no longer making it a duty of local authorities to meet the demand in their areas for nursery schools." But, on the other hand, they say, "We are making it more difficult for them to close nursery schools." We must ask the noble Baroness, Lady Young, what does she expect the result of the Bill to be in regard to nursery schools? Does she consider that over the years it will result in more or less nursery education while its effects work out? My guess is that if it were not going to result in less nursery education, it would not he in the Bill—because that would be contrary to the whole purpose of the Bill, to reduce public expenditure.
Here again the need for nursery education is very well understood by those parents who are themselves well educated, knowledgeable, aware of what the world is like. The parents of some of the children who most need nursery education are often unaware of that need. Again, anything that discourages the provision of nursery education will make it easier for those who now do well but harder for those who do not do so well. There are some people, wrote Professor Tawney, for whom it is not enough—you see, my Lords, some people like this idea; they believe that there ought to be a stratified hierarchy of education to match and support a stratified hierarchy in society, and that different classes should be educated according to the station in life that they are expected to occupy. I was going to quote Professor Tawney.There are some people",he wrote,for whom it is not enough that their child should receive a good education. What they want to ensure is that somebody else's child shall have a worseIt is among those people that the noble Baroness, disappointed of champions in this House, will look for support for her Bill.
§ 8.37 p.m.
§ Baroness YOUNG
My Lords, we come to the end of a very long debate on 1125 education. First, in view of the fact that the noble Lord, Lord Stewart of Fulham, seems to think that I would not be grateful for the intervention of the noble Lord, Lord Butler of Saffron Walden, I should like to express my gratitude to him for his very thoughtful speech. which I shall study with very great care indeed. He said—and I think I am quoting him correctly—that the fundamental machinery of the 1944 Act has been preserved, and he was particularly pleased that we have kept Sections 68 and 99. This was the first point that I made in my opening remarks, and as I and the Government have been criticised for having a Bill that has no philosophy in it, at the risk of repetition I shall say again what I said at the beginning.
The Bill is the 18th amendment to the 1944 Act. It keeps the basic framework that that Act established, but it makes basic amendments to meet the changed circumstances of our country today. The most important part of our Bill is, we believe, those matters which strengthen the relationship between the home and the school, and I have been most grateful for the number of noble Lords who have recognised these important new principles and have indicated their support for them.
The second part of our Bill is more difficult, as I indicated, and I do not pretend that the proposals that we have made on school meals, milk and transport are easy or that they are proposals which either I or my colleagues particularly care for. But since every single member of the party opposite has referred to education cuts, I say to them collectively that many of their speeches have been long on epithets but short on argument. Neither I nor my colleagues need a lecture from them on economies in the education service. Look at their record when they were in Government! They made infinitely larger cuts in the education service than we are now proposing. Yet they have the hypocrisy to hold up every single example of every single educational cut in every single local education authority and say, "We did better". They did not do better; they did worse—and the facts speak for themselves.
In the year 1976–77 they cut £460 million off the education service; 4 per cent. off the education budget. They did it, not because they had thought about it or because they believed in it in principle: 1126 they did it because they had the IMF standing behind them and they had to do it in a hurry. They were very fortunate that they had a responsible Opposition. They were very fortunate—and I repeat it—that they had a responsible Opposition who faced a lot of the difficulties; but I shall remind them at every point of the Committee and Report stages of this Bill what they did when they were in Government if they read me a lecture on economics, and cutbacks, because the economies that we are asking for in the two years 1979–80 and 1980–81 amount to 3 per cent. of the education budget, 3 per cent. in two years, whereas it was 4 per cent. in one year from them. I think that when we come to discuss it we shall realise that we have both, both the Labour Administration and ourselves, faced very difficult and hard, hard times, and neither of us should involve ourselves in scoring cheap points off school children; it does not really advance us at all.
I might also say that, while we are cutting the budget by 3 per cent., it is at a time when the school population is estimated to fall by 4½ per cent. Indeed, the Labour Administration was fortunate—
§ Baroness DAVID
My Lords, would the noble Baroness give way for a second? Would she not agree that falling rolls very often cause much greater difficulty in schools, in that they cannot make do with less staff or else they are going to lose subject teachers? Falling rolls do not really help in making economies quickly.
§ Baroness YOUNG
My Lords, I absolutely take the noble Baroness's point, with which I agree 100 per cent. Of course, there are diseconomies of scale when you have falling rolls. The only point I am making is that, whereas we are cutting 3 per cent., the fall in rolls is in fact 4½per cent.; and the noble Baroness will see that in fact they are not running in parallel entirely because of the point that she has made, with which I agree. The Labour Administration indeed was fortunate (if that is the correct word to use) in that they were able to make a lot of the easier cuts in the education budget very largely on capital expenditure. Capital expenditure in schools actually fell by 50 per cent.
1127 Quite a number of noble Lords have referred to the post-16—again, an area which I agree is extremely important. I just put it in at this particular stage to say that in all our proposals on the budget we have allowed for an increase of expenditure in non-advanced further education, and this can be seen by anybody who cares to look at the figures in the White Paper published in November.
The noble Viscount, Lord Simon, and the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, said to us—that is to say, to myself and the Government—"We accept that you have got to make cuts in the education service, but why not be more selective? Why not make the cuts in administration?" I can tell the noble Baroness that, so far as the cuts in the Department of Education and Science are concerned, it is estimated that there will be a cut in staff of 6½ per cent. by 1982. Perhaps I might turn to administration in local government, and say that in the last five years the cost of education administration has fallen in real terms by £40 million, or nearly 10 per cent., and the number of staff other than teachers employed in the education service has fallen by 10,000, with further reductions to come. Fewer than 30,000 people are employed by local authorities directly on education administration in town and county halls to cope with a budget of £6 billion, a labour force of 1 million and 10 million pupils and students and their parents. I accept—
§ Baroness DAVID
My Lords, would the noble Baroness again give way? It is very kind of her. Would she not agree that some of these cuts in administrative staff which she has just been mentioning were some of the cuts which were made by the Labour Government?
§ Baroness YOUNG
My Lords, I entirely accept that. I have given the noble Baroness the point that it is over the last five years. I am not trying to make a party point on this; I am merely saying that there have been cuts in administration. But she must accept that, every time she and her party refer to our economies as if they were the only economies that have been made, the economies of the Labour Administration were greater.
1128 As I was saying, there is room, of course, for more efficiency in local government. We accept that; but I also hope that the noble Baroness and others will recognise that our proposals in Clause 34 of the Bill, on what has been called "capping" the further education pool, is another example of an economy which we will make. I think anybody who has served on a local education authority will realise that this is a very large area of expenditure which is not very easily controllable by locally-elected representatives on a local education authority. Furthermore, we also believe, in fact, that many of the provisions in the Local Government Bill, which is on its way, may also help to make economies.
This is all to the good. I am entirely in favour of any more economies that can be made in administration or in other matters. But we do not believe that, in the time scale required, all the economies can come from this area; and if anybody has other positive suggestions to make, please make them. It is much more helpful to be constructive about this. I would only say to the noble Lord, Lord Alexander, that I was nothing short of astonished by his remark that he believes that the most sensible economy we could make would be to increase the pupil-teacher ratio. I really wonder what world he is living in. He said, I think I am right in saying, that it is 35 years since he was in a local education authority. I think anybody getting up nowadays and saying that, as their first economy, they would increase the pupil-teacher ratio would have strikes in every single local education authority, would have the parents up in arms and would have absolute chaos from one end of the country to another; and I think it would be a most undesirable policy to say that we were advocating.
§ Lord ALEXANDER of POTTER-HILL
My Lords, perhaps the noble Baroness would give way. I accept that you are reluctant to face the teacher unions in this matter.
§ Baroness YOUNG
It is not so, my Lords. The noble Lord may not agree with what I say, but I hope he will accept that I am not someone who is afraid to say what I think in public, or indeed in discussion with anyone else. I recognise that the pupil-teacher ratio does matter. 1129 I think it contributes to better educational standards; and certainly it would be the last of all the economies I would make, to suggest that we should have larger classes in all our schools. Although I shall certainly look at the evidence which the noble Lord has produced, I cannot believe that the poorest children from the poorest homes would benefit by larger classes.
To turn now to school meals, of course my colleagues and I accept that since the war the health of children has improved. It has improved beyond recognition, and this is a very good thing, too; everybody is pleased. But the facts of today are that those taking the meal in secondary schools are only half of the school pupils. It is about 50 .6 per cent. take-up in secondary schools and about 75 per cent. take-up in primary schools, so that one out of four in a primary school is not taking the meal either. Either this means that those numbers of pupils are in fact not benefiting from the present system and are getting more ill, or it means that their parents are happy to have them at home, or it means that their parents are satisfied with some other arrangement that is being made. But I think that we need to look at life as it is today, and perhaps noble Lords will be encouraged to know of a school which I heard of only last week which has gone over to cafeteria-style meals and has found that the take-up of school meals has gone up promptly by 40 per cent. I suspect that this is something to do with the increased sophistication of teenagers today, who really do not like the traditional school dinner with its traditional school menu, and would prefer something else.
I believe that the school meals service will face the challenge of this and will provide meals that children want and which are nutritious, on a cafeteria-style in many cases, and I would not be surprised if we find that the take-up will increase. The safeguards remain for those families on supplementary benefit and family income supplement, and, indeed, for those families who would wish their children to take sandwiches, to have facilites provided for them to eat them, free of charge. I have made the point that there is not a charge for bringing your sandwiches to school. I hope I have made that quite clear.
§ Baroness YOUNG
My Lords, I am very glad that the noble and learned Lord thinks it is a good gesture. There are quite a number of people, professionals in the educational world, who would think otherwise. I have been asked about school milk, and it has been said that this is the greatest thing the children could have. It is only right to say—and this is information I gave to the House when asked a Question on this shortly before Christmas—that the latest view on milk for children in schools is that the only time when milk is essential is for the young infant up to the age of 6 months. That is the latest medical opinion. I think we can stand on it and say that, although it may be desirable and children like drinking milk, it is not essential.
§ Lord DONALDSON of KINGS-BRIDGE
My Lords, would the noble Baroness agree that medical opinion changes month by month?
§ Baroness YOUNG
My Lords, I always agree in thinking that you can get all kinds of medical opinion, as you can get all sorts of educational opinion. If you search far enough, it is surprising what views you can get. But when I speak from the Dispatch Box for the Government it is right to put the professional opinion on which I am advised. I give it to the House for what it is. I shall now move on to the appeals system. I listened to the noble Baroness, Lady David, with great care. I shall read her speech tomorrow in which she explained her appeals committee in Cambridge. It sounded to me like a model of what we propose in this Bill.
§ Baroness DAVID
My Lords, it is not. If the noble Baroness reads it carefully, she will find that it is substantially different.
§ Baroness YOUNG
My Lords, I shall read the speech again and see whether I agree with that statement. It seemed to me—and her experience is very recent—that this was exactly the kind of thing that we are looking for in this matter. The noble Lord, Lord Stewart of Fulham, made the point that what we should be doing on appeals is to try to take the example of the best authorities and apply it throughout the country. This is what we are trying to do in Clauses 6 to 8.
1131 I recognise that freedom of parental choice cannot be absolute; there are difficulties. But I think that I must reiterate that we look upon the appeals system that we are setting up as the last resort and not the first. Most local education authorities operate some kind of system of parental choice. Most have opportunities for parents to discuss the matter with the education officers, with councillors and others when they are worried about it. There is a further point. Parents—and I am sorry to refer to the noble Lord, Lord Alexander of Potterhill, again—are not going to take the kind of attitude he betrayed when he was talking about the appeals system. Life has moved on. People are different. Whether we like it or not, they are not prepared to say that the administrator knows best.
A lot of parents know that there are plenty of instances when this is not true. They feel that they care about their children's education and they have a right to say what they think about it and to argue their case. Understandably, parents who care very much about what happens in those vital years from five to 16 are going to argue as hard as they can for the best interests of their children. They are entitled to do this and to have their case heard and to look for fairness in all this. It is not easy to balance the two competing needs; but to say that there is no need or that parents should not be heard would be very unfortunate.
I turn to the point made by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Blackburn who indicated that he had to leave early. The appeals committee will be independent of those who took the first decisions on the allocation of school places. Nevertheless, for county and controlled-schools the elected members are in a majority on the appeals committee and thus their decision can be binding on the authority. Similarly, for voluntary-aided schools, the governors retain control of the appeals committee and thus that committee will not find against the admissions criteria of that aided school. They can still uphold denominational and other criteria for admissions.
At this point I should like to say a word on the technical matter which the right reverend Prelate raised of corporate status for aided-school governing bodies. 1132 The purpose of such a change as he suggested would be to limit the pecuniary liability of individual governors for decisions of the governing body as a whole. This has been discussed with representatives of all the Churches. I recognise that their wish is to safeguard the interests of individual governors particularly new parent- and teacher-governors. But it is not an acceptable proposal and I hope the Churches have now recognised this. I know that the Churches are concerned about recent employment legislation and the risk that governors might be sued by a teacher for wrongful dismissal In my department's view such a liability would almost certainly fall to the local education authority as part of the cost of maintaining a school, provided that the agreed procedures with the authority had been followed. I understood, and I hope that it is true, that the Churches and local authority associations were to discuss this and similar problems. It has been agreed to resume discussions at the department if matters are not satisfactorily resolved.
A more familiar problem is that of building costs. Incorporating governing bodies does not help; as an act of incorporation does not, of itself, produce funds for governing bodies. Contractors must have a means of redress or they will not enter into contracts. If the body corporate has no money, they will insist on entering into contracts with individual governors, so that personal liability would remain. I am not convinced that there is a problem here. The trustees stand behind the governors; in Church schools, this usually means the diocese. We have been careful to preserve a majority for the foundation on aided-school governing bodies. The chances of governors by a majority entering into financial commitments which the trustees would not honour is very remote; as is the chance of a contractor not getting his money.
I should like to say a word about those noble Lords, particularly the noble Lord, Lord Segal, the noble Lady, Lady Kinloss, the noble Countess, Lady Loudoun, and the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, who referred to the whole question of handicapped children and, in particular, to Clause 9. I may say that I deeply regret any distress that this clause may have caused, let alone any offence 1133 that might have been taken by it. I wish to reiterate that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State will be making a statement on the Warnock proposals before we enter into the Committee stage of the Bill. I reiterate that because I think that it might be helpful if I explained that we have taken great care over the important reports of Mrs. Warnock. When we were discussing the proposals of the Bill, we had not yet received all the consultations which we had sought on the report and we were not ready to make a statement. I hope that noble Lords will understand, as I have come to understand, that legislation on special schools is quite separate from legislation on (for want of a better word) ordinary schools. When one is constructing a Bill it is necessary to say first what the Bill does and then what it excludes. It is therefore a legal requirement in Clause 9 to exclude special schools.
It does not mean in any way that we believe they are somehow going to be second-class schools. I myself believe in the importance of getting right what we propose on special schools. I hope, therefore, that noble Lords will bear with me, will understand why the clause has been drafted as it has and will he able to be in the House when the statement is repeated here. We shall then have an opportunity to have questions about it. It is a matter to which we can return at the Committee stage.
Finally, I should like to turn to the question of transport. Perhaps it is brave of me in the circumstances. I felt like saying that, if I could speak with the tongues of men and of angels, I doubt whether I would convince all Members of the House of Lords on this subject at this stage this evening. Nevertheless, despite what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Alexander of Potterhill, I am nothing if not quite brave and even if I turn out to be in a very small minority, I think it is only right to tell the House what it is we had in mind over this and why we are doing it. Clearly a number of people have a few doubts about it. The first question is that if we do not make the savings on school transport, we will inevitably, I think, have to make the savings somewhere else. We have had all sorts of alternatives; we had Lord Alexander's. We could have a higher pupil-teacher ratio. That is certainly one. We can see whether 1134 noble Lords on the Liberal Benches will produce some more. I shall be very interested to hear what they have to say in the course of the Committee proceedings.
§ Viscount SIMON
My Lords, I should have thought that the money that was going to be saved on that could be recovered by the simple means of withdrawing Clause 17.
§ Baroness YOUNG
My Lords, that would not be possible. If we withdrew Clause 17, there would not be a single penny for the education system. It comes from a different fund. I wish to disillusion noble Lords of that idea right at the beginning. That is the truth of the matter and noble Lords might just as well accept it now.
Without the ability to charge a modest sum for transport over two or three miles—and this is what we are talking about—inevitably, with sharply rising fuel costs, local authorities could reduce to the statutory minimum what they are obliged to do. This is a serious point and I address this to those of my colleagues who are very worried about this matter; the denominational schools could be far more seriously harmed if local education authorities stuck to the letter of what the 1944 Act obliges them to do. In these more difficult circumstances, it is the kind of thing that could happen. It is not something that I would welcome, because I speak as a committed Anglican and as somebody who supports denominational schools and the dual system. I do not think that it would be right, when we have debated this at some length today, to leave anybody in doubt as to what might happen.
§ The Duke of NORFOLK
My Lords, would the noble Baroness allow me to say that the noble Lord, Lord Butler of Saffron Walden, is present and it was expressly said during the debates on the 1944 Act that he, as the Minister, would ensure that there was always going to be free transport, and there was an argument that went on in the other place. He said, "Leave it with me. I am the Minister and I assure the House"—that was the other place—" there will always be free transport to the denominational schools." I want to make the point that there is no question that that was the commitment that was taken on by the noble Lord, Lord 1135 Butler, and his Act. I think I am right in saying that.
§ Baroness YOUNG
My Lords, I would not dream of speaking for the noble Lord, Lord Butler, who I am sure can comment on his particular Act.
§ Lord BUTLER of SAFFRON WALDEN
My Lords, may I say that I have already expressed my view in my speech.
§ Baroness YOUNG
My Lords, I entirely accept what the noble Lord, Lord Butler said. I hope the House and the noble Lord, Lord Butler, will accept the point that I made in my opening remarks. No one in 1944 could have foreseen the circumstances of the costs going up. We are now talking about the real world. I am saying to my noble friend the Duke of Norfolk—whose sincerity I absolutely accept in this matter—that what is printed in Hansard is not binding as the law, whatever may have been intended. If it had been possible for local authorities to stick to the letter of the law, this could have a more undesirable effect—one that I would deeply regret myself—than making a charge for transport would have on denominational schools. Nine-tenths—90 per cent.—of parents already make their own transport arrangements. Many of these parents are just as poor, just as disadvantaged, as those living over the three-mile limit. Many are Roman Catholics and many are Anglicans; and some are in rural areas. I should emphasise that these people are already paying now £3, £4, or even £5 a week. All that we are asking is that the other 10 per cent. of the school population should make a small contribution to these costs, and that this large subsidy which will remain at about £100 million annually will remain to assist parents whose children live over the statutory walking distance and to assist for discretionary fares to denominational schools. We believe—and I hope that the noble Lords will consider this matter very carefully—that what we are suggesting may indeed protect the interests of denominational schools rather than the reverse.
I should like to conclude by saying a word about nursery schools. I was asked by the noble Lord, Lord Stewart of Fulham, what I thought would be the 1136 effect of our amendments. In the short run—and possibly in the long run—I think that we shall have protected a number of nursery schools. To that extent, we shall have increased the supply. In the short term—and again possibly in the long term—those authorities that wish to provide nursery education will continue to do so. It is very gratifying that a number of authorities are expanding their nursesy education and that under our proposals in 1979–80 we allowed money for there to be an extra 4,000 nursery school places and in 1980–81 a further 2,000. None of this is in any way altered by the amendments that we are bringing in.
I stand committed to nursery education. For those who want it it is a good thing. It is good on educational grounds. I hope that local authorities will use the powers, where they can, and will also look at the alternative ways of getting nursery education by the use of empty primary school classrooms and by bringing in voluntary organisations which are often very willing to help. This is not a time to develop this theme, but we all need to think positively how we can help on this matter.
In conclusion, I commend this Bill. It has a philosophy. Those who are against it, and have been against its proposals, have put up no positive alternatives for any of the economies that our country requires today; and many of them are, in my opinion, living in a totally unreal world. I believe that our positive philosophy of helping parents, of encouraging home to school co-operation, is something which will lead to a great deal of improvement in the schools, encouragement of parents, encouragement of parental responsibility; and, by concentrating our economies on the non-educational parts of the educational budget, we can stand by our principal philosophy, which is the maintenance and improvement of the standards of all our children in our schools.
§ On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.