HL Deb 13 March 1980 vol 406 cc1290-317

House again in Committee.

Clause 26 [Nursery education: England and Wales]:

8 p.m.

Baroness DAVID moved Amendment No. 274: Page 25, line 37, leave out ("have power to").

The noble Baroness said: This is the third time in the course of this Committee that I have had to move an amendment which I was expecting someone else to move, so I am at a slight disadvantage. However, I know exactly the principle which we wish to establish about this clause. We wish to keep the whole principle that it is the duty of an LEA to provide nursery education. We are well aware of the financial situation at the moment, and that we cannot expect local authorities to start many new nursery schools, though we feel that a great many nursery classes could be started in the empty rooms in primary schools. We do not think that the really splended aspiration of having nursery schools provided by local authorities throughout the length and breadth of the land should be lost, and I am quite sure that the people of the country would not support legislation against authorities which were providing nursery schools in every town—and every little bit of every town.

I think it would be a disaster if this duty were taken away from local authorities, and even if the general public are not aware that this duty exists—and even some local education authorities may be unaware of it—I think we should accept that it is something we should all aspire to. I hope very much that the Government will accept this amendment and will change their minds. The first amendment, to leave out "have power to "will leave the words: a local education authority shall establish nursery schools, to maintain such schools established by them or a former authority and to assist any such school which is not so established".

Really, this goes to the heart of the matter and I would have hoped that the Government would have felt that the country is against them on this. Just as I had hundreds of letters about transport, not only from Kent but from all over the country, so I have had letters about nursery education and it is quite clear that the people of this country feel just as strongly about this as they do about transport. I beg to move.


Strange as it may seem, I wish to speak against this amendment. I say "strange "because I am the President of the National Association of Nursery Matrons and as such I absolutely approve of nursery education and of course I want to sponsor it as far as possible. But, despite the fact that all of us have had an enormous number of letters from all over the country, I have equally had letters from people—and a good many of them teachers and parents and I have here an article out of the AMMA's magazine—not speaking against nurseries, but not recommending this amendment.

I am sure that the noble Baroness, Lady David, will say that if nurseries are provided people do not have to send their children to them, but my experience is that if the nurseries are there and a lot of women do not want to send their children to them the feeling will gradually grow that they ought to send them although they do not really want to. A number of women have written to me—mostly from rural areas—to say that they would much rather keep their children at home with them. Other parents have written to tell me that they much prefer to support the pre-school play group movement which is the movement to look after children, with parents looking after the children, but they have said that of course they would welcome professional advice.

A number of parents have written to me asking whether they could not use empty school rooms and run the nurseries and pre-school play groups themselves, but at the same time have the advice of a teacher with regard to equipment and books and play equipment, and so on. I think if we do have nurseries, to which admittedly people would not have to send their children, nevertheless the feeling that they ought to send them would grow up. I should also like to say that nursery schools do not meet the needs of the unmarried mother and the single parent family, because the hours do not fit and day nurseries meet that kind of need.

Of course, there is—and I hardly dare say this although the noble Baroness has already referred to it—the question of cost. I asked the Office of Population Censuses what the figures were and I find that in 1978 in England and Wales there were 1,247,000. 2 children aged three and four. If it gradually grows and more and more people want to send their children to nurseries, this will be very expensive.

When it comes to the wellbeing of children I think that nothing should count; but I am not convinced that the nursery school is really necessary for the wellbeing of children. It is a very good facility, but it is not the only one. There are other facilities, and I think that parents looking after their own children and organising their own pre-school playgroups is a very good facility. Therefore, despite the fact that I approve of nursery schools and support them, I would not support this amendment.

In conclusion, I should like to say that I have tried to look up the research, and I find that there has been a piece of research done which shows that after the age of eight it is impossible to tell whether or not a child went to nursery school. It is perfectly true that, on admission to primary school, certainly for the first year a child who has been to nursery school does better than a child who has not, at an academic and intellectual level. But there are many children, particularly in the country areas, who stay at home with their parents and have a relationship with their parents, who are emotionally as well-balanced—if not better—than those who go to nursery schools. Therefore, I oppose this amendment.

8.9 p.m.

Baroness SEEAR

I should like to support this amendment. I know that the noble Baroness the Minister has very great sympathy with the whole issue of nursery schools; in many ways, she would like to see the present position maintained. Of course, it is true that we are nowhere near carrying out what is embodied in the existing legislation, which this amendment hopes to maintain. But surely the Bill would be seen to remove the requirement for local authorities to provide nursery schools. It will be seen in the country as a sign that the support for the whole idea of nursery schools is waning and it will give an even lower priority to the provision of nursery school education than it has at the present time.

Now I think we should all agree with the noble Lady, Lady Faithfull, when she says that some parents prefer—and it must be their judgment—to stay at home and be with their children. For many this is obviously the right thing to do. One wants the choice to be there; but the fact of the matter is, as your Lordships know, that the choice is not there in the vast majority of cases in this country, because this country compares very unfavourably in this regard with both France and the Scandinavian countries. We have such a small provision of nursery education that there is not the faintest danger that many people will feel that public pressure is forcing them to put their children into nursery education when they do not want to. The chance of there being that number of places is in reality so small that I really cannot think that this issue will arise.

I agree that from the point of view of employment the day nursery, rather than the nursery school, meets the needs of the mother who wishes to work. On the other hand, for a great many women who want to keep in contact with the labour market in this country there is a lot of part-time work, and for the people doing part-time work the nursery school can provide what is needed in the way of looking after the children.

I think it is generally agreed that for many women and it has to be the choice of the woman and her husband—parttime work: while the children are still small is what they really prefer, but they are unable to do it because there is inadequate provision of nursery education. So from the point of view of the woman who wants to continue working but does not want to do it on a full-time basis because she wants to spread her time between children and job, it is very important that this provision should be there. One last word for that woman who wants to continue on a part-time basis. All we know about mothers coming hack into the labour market tells us that the longer they are completely out of touch with the labour market the more difficult it is for them satisfactorily to come back, and a period of part-time employment is of the greatest help in facilitating their return. For them, the nursery school is a very great help indeed. I strongly support the amendment.


Before the noble Baroness sits down, may I make one comment? Although there are nursery schools in France, the French prefer their children to stay at home. In fact, mothers are paid the equivalent of a teacher's salary if they stay at home with their children under five.

Baroness SEEAR

I do not wish to enter into a discussion on this subject but I would have considerable doubt about whether that is in fact absolutely accurate. I hesitate to cross swords with the noble Baroness on this matter. I can only say that the mothers working in France are on a very large scale, larger than in this country.


It might help the Committee in its deliberations on Amendment 274 if 1 point out that if this amendment were to be carried it would be necessary to make consequential amendments to lines 38 and 39; otherwise the subsection will make no sense at all.


I am grateful for that advice; we are never too proud to take it. We have the opportunity of making alterations of this kind on Report. I only want to say this. I was not in any sense in charge of education, but I had a position within the department and several times I had to answer in this House on this question. The answer was always the same: we believe strongly, as the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, has said, that nursery education should be available much more widely than it is. We were aware that with the pressures we were putting on local authorities to spend less money it was difficult to push them any further, but we were happy that the mandatory obligation should remain there and we stood by that always.

The other thing I invariably said, and I should think it is still true, is that if you looked at the league of local authority behaviour, in this case the Tories came out fearfully badly and the Labour Party rather well. It is a pleasure for me to be able to announce that. But, my Lords, I think the serious thing here—and it is serious—is when you have something which so many people think is very valuable and certain other people do not want for themselves. I do not feel the noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull, thinks that this is a bad thing; she thinks it may not be something every parent will want to use. Of course, the parents are free not to do so. But if you then take away the mandatory position which has existed in a situation where the expansion has been much slower than we wanted, and I think much slower than the noble Baroness wants, you are doing something actually depressing to the \\ hole movement for nursery education. The movement for nursery and under-five education applies equally to the play school group and to the day nursery. The whole thing is really one.

My own belief and my experience from 11 grandchildren is that it is very healthy for children to get away from their parents, but even more healthy for parents to be relieved for some of the time of their children. This may be a personal point of view and I know that not everybody thinks it. I believe it is the greatest possible pity in a Bill of this kind, which has a number of very questionable things in it that the Tory Party feel they have to include, to do anything which is quite as unnecessary as this. It would have been perfectly easy just to have left it and said, as we have always said, "We want to see more, we realise we will not necessarily get it at the moment, but we repeat that we wish to leave the mandatory obligation here in position.".


My Lords, may I quickly say, commenting on what the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, has just said, that if his criterion of what local authorities were doing in relation to nursery education is based upon the figures of spending, then I am quite sure he is right as regards what the Labour authorities were doing. If, however, the assessment, the measurement, were to be in terms of provisional achievement, I suggest that the picture might be rather different.


I accept the suggestion with total scepticism.

Baroness DAVID

May I ask the noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull I am rather surprised by what she said—whether she agrees with the present Prime Minister's desire which she expressed in Framework for Expansion, her 1972 document, that there should be nursery provision for 90 per cent. of four to five year olds, and 50 per cent. of three to four year olds? It seems to me that that is something to aim for, and I do not think that parents are quite so stupid as to feel that they have got to fit in that if other parents are sending their children to nursery schools they have got to do the same. After all, there is a lot you can do in broadcasting and in general in the media, the newspapers and so on; if you want to influence public opinion you can do it in that way. I certainly was glad to get rid of my children for a couple of hours in the morning, and I think I was a much better mother when I came fresh to them for the rest of the day. I believe that is the situation with a great many people.

Day nurseries, of course, are essential for single parent families. They need to work and to be relieved of the responsibility for long hours. But the vast majority of mothers are left with their children for many hours during the day, and small children are very tiring. I think that nursery education is extremely important. Some people are very calm by temperament and can manage their children all day. They are all right, but many other people are not and they need this relief. Another point is that a great many nursery schools have many disadvantaged children in them. They have the deprived children, children from single parent families and so on. It is important that there should be a mixture in nursery schools. Many children are from families that are not disadvantaged, so there is a proper mix in every way. For these reasons I am very sad that I do not have the noble Baroness's support on this matter. I really thought that I should.


May I make a very short intervention on this point? Going way back to the beginning of the century, I myself decided that whatever happened to me, after I was married and had children, I should always want to do something outside the home as well as something in the home. I think it is not only important for the woman. I did not want not to have the children at home, but it is very good for the children. They start having a social life in a way that they rarely do, particularly since we have so many working mothers at the moment. It is for those women. There is really nothing against having nursery schools; no one can come up and say there is something against having nursery schools. I simply do not accept that from the noble Baroness, Lady Faithful!. I am rather surprised that she put it if women wanted to get rid of their children. It is not wanting to get rid of their children; it is wanting to have something to do for oneself, and also it is very good for children to have a social life at a very early age.


If I may reply, I have worked in a nursery school, and of course I agree with nursery education. I have run a nursery school, I have worked in a nursery school and I have seen what it can do for parents. What I am saying is that this is not the time, when the financial situation is as it is, for every local authority to have a mandatory duty to run nurseries. I know that at the moment there are many women, particularly on some of the big housing estates, who are enjoying running preschool play groups, getting the time away from their children, organising the play groups themselves, getting professional help. These are women who, if there were nursery schools provided by the local authority, would feel a kind of inferiority complex and they would have to send their children there. The nursery schools would have to grow at a very great rate. I do agree that, given the money, it would be a good thing in time to come for us to have mandatory powers given to the local authorities, but I do not think that this is the time, particularly as there are so many women who are prepared to organise pre-school play groups. In any case, I think I am right in saying that it is a permissive power, and if in any local authority area it is necessary to run nurseries and there is a big lobby for it, particularly in the towns, then the local authority has a permissive power to do it.

Baroness DAVID

I have listened to the noble Baroness with great interest. I am going to divide the Committee on this, but I presume that if I lose this I will have her support on my amendment to Clause 28, where there will be extra help for the play groups and day nurseries.


I should like to oppose this amendment. I am wondering whether anybody who has spoken here has considered what the cost might be for a start. The amendment intends to take the decision away from the local authority as to whether they shall have nursery schools or not, and I would suggest that it is much better in the present circumstances to leave that discretion with them.


I simply want to say that I think we should reject this. The idea of putting a statutory duty on local authorities—

Baroness DAVID

If I may intervene, the duty is there; it is not putting it on them.


It is taking it off. Our hearts have been much wrung tonight about rural communities. I live in one. The idea of continuing to make it a statutory duty to have a full-blown nursery school in our villages up Wensleydale is most unrealistic. In fact we have a jolly good little local play group and that is the sort of thing we want to build on. I certainly hope that the noble Baroness gets ahead with her support for play groups. But to go on with this charade of statutory nursery schools is, I am sure, a mistake.


I am worried about this amendment, because I do not think I can support it, much as I support nursery education. This amendment imposes the duty to provide nursery schools. I think the future development of nursery education will lie not in the provision of nursery schools but in the provision of nursery classes attached to infants' schools. As the school rolls drop—and we know they will drop and in fact have started dropping —accommodation will become available in all the infants' schools in the country, where provision could be made for a nursery class at very much less cost, which I think would do a perfectly good job. Unless I misunderstand the position, this amendment would make the statutory duty the provision of nursery schools, not nursery classes.

Baroness DAVID

I shall look forward to hearing what the Minister says in reply. I had thought that a nursery school could be established in the premises of primary schools. I now have an interes- ting thought; if I lose on this Division I can put up something new at Report stage.

8.26 p.m.

Baroness YOUNG

I must first of all apologise to the noble Baroness, Lady David, for not being in my place when she began her opening remarks on this amendment. The purpose of her amendment is to oppose changing the current duty on local authorities to provide nursery education into a power to do so. Let me say at the start that I am one who believes very firmly in nursery education. I have myself brought up three children and they all went to nursery schools, and I believe they all benefited from it. I believe in nursery education from the point of view of education, not because mothers need to go to work. It stands or falls on the educational issue, and, to be perfectly frank, I think those who argue that we need nursery schools to allow women to go out to work have not always benefited the cause of nursery education. Indeed, my record will show that when I was in local government—I cannot remember whether it was 11 or 12 years on an education committee—that authority provided six purpose-built nursery schools which admitted rising-fives and which did a great deal for the under-five provision. So I hope that my record, both as an individual, as a mother and as a local councillor, will show that I am someone who believes in nursery education.

However, I shall not go over all that has happened this afternoon. I am, above all, a realist about everything. I must say quite frankly to the noble Baroness, Lady David, and to the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, that as a result of the activities of this House today there is likely to be less nursery provision than there was. I deeply regret it, because I happen to think that it matters. But I am sensible enough to see that at the end of the day two and two make four, and you simply cannot, at half-past six in the afternoon, say, "We are not going to have charges for transport ", and then get up an hour later and say, "On the other hand, we shall ask local authorities to spend a whole lot more on something else". It really does not add up. Everybody who voted in the last amendment will have to realise that on nurseries, on teachers, on adult education, on that extremely im- portant area of education for the post-16s there will be less money to spend.

Let us look at the record of the last Labour Government. The noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, said how much he believes in nursery education, and I do not doubt for one moment that that is absolutely true. It was my right honourable friend the Prime Minister, when she was Secretary of State for Education, who published the White Paper in which she said there should be nursery education for all those whose parents want it, and she very much supported play groups. Indeed, in 1974–75 the nursery education building programme was £25. 1 million. We then, alas, fell from grace and the noble Lords opposite came into office. By 1975–76 the nursery education building programme had fallen to £17. 2 million and by 1977–78 the nursery education building programme had fallen to £2. 7 million.


Perhaps I may clarify this. My recollection although, as I say, I was not in charge of these things—is that these figures were allowed to go down because they were not being used by the local authorities.

Baroness YOUNG

They were not being used by the local authority because of the economic situation in the country. The reality of the situation was that they went down. Let me give the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, some comfort in this respect. In 1978–79 they actually went up to £4 million. In the course of the last year, 1979–80, money for 4,000 new nursery school places has been provided and 2,000 are expected to be provided in the year 1980–81.

It is encouraging that the current nursery school building programme has been over-subscribed by local authorities, which I welcome. I am pleased to know that the available money will be taken up. This is a good thing. But let nobody be under any illusion. Many local authorities who have decided to take up this money will now, as a result of tonight's vote, decide not to take it up because they will have to find the savings from somewhere else. That is what we have done, and I deeply regret it.

Baroness SEEAR

The Minister is trying to tell us that the choice has to be between the cost of transport and the cost of day nursery schools. I do not accept that, and I shall not accept it until I have had a satisfactory answer—which so far I have not had—as to what has happened in the administrative structures in Whitehall and local government. How many of the bureaucrats have gone? Why cannot the Government take the money from a saving in that direction and not from the transport services?


The Minister has been interrupted, and one appreciates the fact that over supper she has had to adjust to the result of the Division. I have in my hand a letter which I received from a nursery school organization—


The noble Lord is supposed to be making an intervention. If he wants to make a speech, perhaps he should wait his turn.


Very well, I shall seek to do so.

Baroness YOUNG

I always enjoy the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Parry, and I hope that he will show me the letter after the debate. The answer to the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, is not that I believe there is an alternative—namely, transport or nursery schools—but that local education authorities will now have to reexamine all their budgets. Many authorities which have hovered over the question of nursery education will decide that this is an area, because it is outside compulsory school ages, in which they can economise. I deeply regret that. That is one reason why I have fought over these painful decisions. However, I accept the will of the Committee; the matter has been decided. But I am merely saying that having decided such a thing, it is no use thinking that one can ask for a great deal more expenditure.

I wonder what an ex-Treasury Minister, such as the noble Lord, Lord Diamond, makes of all this discussion. I am not as grand as that; I have never been in the Treasury, and, as a Member of this House, obviously I cannot be. But I like to think that I have some common sense and know where we are going. This amendment is against the conversion of this duty into a power. The interesting thing about the duty is that in the course of the time I have been Minister of State I have met a number of deputations. Each deputation said to me, starting from last May, "We wish the Government would lay a duty on local authorities so that they would have to provide nursery education." So unclear was the law, that they were unaware that it was a duty and always has been. Even Lady Plowden in her report never made the point that it was a duty. That was the case, oddly enough—at least I could not find it in the report.

When we came to examine the subject we took a great deal of legal advice to make sure that it was a duty. The reason why the position has been unclear is that it is no use laying a duty on a local education authority unless one provides it with the wherewithal to carry it out. That must be logical. The fact is that the country, because of the rising child population, has had to concentrate its money on the compulsory school years between five and 16. With the growth of further and university education, all of which I greatly welcome, the country has spent money on those items and has had less to spend on the under-fives.

The Government are converting the duty into a power so that local authorities can still implement this provision, but this is an acknowledgement of the reality of the situation. This conversion into a power must be read in relation to what the Government have said in Clause 12 about the new procedures for closure. For the first time ever in England and Wales closures of nursery schools will be subject to all the procedures. Authorities will have to publish notices; there will be opportunities for parents and anybody else to object, and the matter will be settled, as in the closure of a school, by the Secretary of State. This is a safeguard that has not existed before.

I was asked on Second Reading what difference I thought a change would make. I can assure the Committee that one authority which was proposing to close its nursery schools has had second thoughts because of the new proposals which we introduced on nursery school closures. What we are doing in this provision is putting back the situation to what everybody thought it was. In fact, they were wrong. But we will still have a power to provide nursery schools. Everybody can still fight for them and work for them, and I hope that they will. We have a stronger safeguard about the closure of nursery schools, which is of benefit. I believe in nursery schools, and I hope that the Opposition and others will join in trying to make the best use of resources.

Perhaps I may express a personal opinion and not speak as a Minister. I think that in face of falling school rolls and empty primary school classrooms, there are many opportunities to bring about more nursery classes, with the goodwill of the head teacher and some volunteers, particularly parents. I commend to the Committee a striking example of a nursery school in an Inner London borough—not a rich area—which had been built by the parents. As a result of that the Inner London Education Authority has taken on the running costs. it succeeded because the headmaster, the parents and the community wanted it. It goes to prove the old adage that where there is a will there is a way. One can achieve more even under difficult circumstances.

I suggest that if we want to think positively on this subject—and I for one do—there are golden opportunities at the present time for us to grasp if all who are involved will do so. I suggest that that is the way forward—not to convert a duty without providing any money, because that would be an empty way of proceeding. We must think positively how we can get together all those who are interested in nursery education to improve the situation.

Viscount SIMON

Some of us share the fear of my noble friend Lady Seear that the act of turning a duty into a power will have a psychological effect on this movement. Would it not be possible to defeat that effect by leaving the position as it was—namely, by accepting this Amendment, and then postponing its operation, which the Secretary of State can do? He can bring it into operation at any time he likes. It would mean that at some time this will be a duty.

Baroness YOUNG

I see the point which has been put to me, but the fact is that it has been a duty since 1944. It has not operated in that way because there is not any money. One can take the view that perhaps it is a good idea to have measures on the statute book that are inoperable. Frankly, we believe that it is undesirable to have provisions on the statute book for which we know there will not be the resources which we should all like to have in the immediate future. We hope that as resources improve authorities will provide more nursery education. There is, as everybody has said, a great demand for such education. When we come on to discuss the Warnock proposals, we shall see that one major proposal in that report is that handicapped children should be helped by going to nursery classes. But why confer a duty on local authorities when we know that we do not have the money to support it? I could not do that because I should feel that it was being dishonest to them—that is why.

Baroness BACON

If my noble friend's amendment is accepted, is not the noble Baroness assuming that it will be the duty of local education authorities to provide nursery schools or classes for all children who wish to attend? Whereas, if my noble friend's amendment is accepted, it will simply say:

A local education authority shall establish nursery schools, to maintain such schools and so on. In other words, it will ensure that all local education authorities have at least some nursery schools. However, if we do not make this amendment it will give the green light, as it were, to those who now have nursery schools to cease to have such nursery schools. It would be totally unrealistic to say that over the next few years local education authorities could provide so many nursery places for every child who wishes to attend a nursery school or a nursery class. However, if the amendment is accepted, the clause will say that local authorities at any rate must provide some nursery education.

Baroness YOUNG

Yes, but if I may say so the noble Baroness, Lady Bacon, has missed the point. The proposals under Clause 26 must be read in conjunction with our proposals under Clause 12. Under our proposals, local authorities cannot just close nursery schools. They can no more close nursery schools—and we have passed Clause 12, so I hope we are all agreed that it is in the Bill—than they can close a primary school or a secondary school. I believe that that is a great step forward, because it means that, if an authority wishes to close one of its established nursery schools, it must go through all the procedures with which the noble Baroness will be familiar so I do not need to go into them in detail. The two go together. That must signal to any local education authority that the Government are not in favour of the wholesale abandonment of nursery education. But the power is a recognition of the realities of our economic position, because we are saying, "We are not, unfortunately, able to provide you with the overall power to borrow a lot more money and so fulfil your duty "—the Government have never provided local education authorities with the money; they simply allow them to borrow. That must surely be the right stance at this moment.


I should like to make one further comment. I think that there is really very little between us. The noble Baroness made a very useful speech about how we could all get together and have more nursery schools, which is exactly what we are saying and it is, I think, what all people of goodwill here want. If we were saying, "There is no duty; we think that you ought to put one on ", there would be some substance in the noble Baroness's attitude. However, we are not saying that. We are saying that this duty has existed since 1944 and there has never been enough money to enforce it properly. We said again and again during the period of Labour Government that we were trying to squeeze more, but that we would not push it further than we could, which is exactly the same point as that made by the noble Baroness. To take it out may be very realistic, but it is being totally and absolutely misunderstood by most of the people concerned, which is a very great pity. I do not think that it is more serious than that. However, the impression has been given, which I do not believe to be true, that the noble Baroness and her colleagues are not interested in this subject.

Baroness YOUNG

I entirely agree with the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge, that the position has been misunderstood. Everyone outside has assumed that we now think that nursery education does not matter. That is not a statement that has ever been made by myself or any of my colleagues, and I hope that I have said enough to the Committee to indicate my own personal commitment. As I am the Minister with departmental responsibilities for nursery schools, noble Lords may take that as my personal commitment on this subject. I do not wish to labour the point, but we are trying not to say to local authorities: "Do something for which we shall not provide the money". The key to the duty is resources, and because of that lam afraid I cannot accept the amendment. We have said that at the same time as we are changing the duty into a power, we are introducing the new Section 12 procedures to stop the wholesale closure of nursery schools.

I should love to pursue this debate, but time marches on. I really believe that that is the way forward and I am very pleased to have the commitment of the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, to this matter. I believe that we could have more nursery education in the present circumstances if we really set our hearts and minds to it. I hope that, at some stage, we shall have an opportunity to discuss the positive aspects of this matter.

Baroness DAVID

I am absolutely delighted about some of the things that the noble Baroness has said. I am with her on experiment, innovation, the opportunities that there will be with empty rooms in primary schools and so on. I am glad that she reminded me of the Warnock Report because, of course, she has said

that she accepts the Warnock Report and nearly all its recommendations, one of which is that there should be nursery schools for not only the handicapped, if I can refer to them in that way although I know that we shall have different definitions, but as Warnock says, it is particularly important to have nursery education for a great many children, because that will increase and improve the nursery education for those in need of special education.

I am totally against the noble Baroness as regards what she said about from where will come the £20 million that they are not going to get for transport. There is absolutely no reason why any local authority must take it out of nursery education. There are a great many other things that it could come out of; and I would remind her, now that the Government have been defeated on that clause, that the Budget will appear in a fortnight's time or thereabouts. The most minute amount on the income tax would produce that £20 million. The tiniest little bit would produce it. I cannot tell your Lordships the figure because I do not have that sort of mind. However, I have received letter after letter saying that it would be very much fairer to put a minute amount on the income tax for everybody, than to charge certain people for transport to school and stop the free education. I wish to divide the Committee.

8.48 p.m.

On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 274) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 59; Not-Contents, 116.

Airedale, L. Hale, L. Ponsonby of Shulbrcde, L. [Teller.]
Ardwick, L. Ingleby, V.
Bacon, B. Irving of Dartford, L. Ritchie-Calder, L.
Beaumont of Whitley, L. Jacobson, L. Robson of Kiddington, B.
Blease, L. Jacques, L. Rochester, L.
Blyton, L. Jeger, B. Ross of Marnock, L.
Boston of Faversham, L. Kahn, L. Seear, B.
Brooks of Tremorfa, L. Kaldor, L. Simon, V.
Collison, L. Kirkhill, L. Stewart of Alvechurch, B.
Cudlipp, L. Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, B. Stewart of Fulham, L.
David, B. Longford, E. Stone, L.
Davies of Leek, L. Lovell-Davis, L. Strabolgi, L.
Davies of Penrhys, L. McCarthy, L. Taylor of Blackburn, L.
Denington, B. Mackie of Benshie, L. Thomson of Monifieth, L.
Diamond, L. Milner of Leeds, L. Underhill, L.
Donaldson of Kingsbridge, L. Mishcon, L. Wallace of Coslany, L. [Teller.]
Gaitskell, B. Ogmore, L. Wedderburn of Charlton, L.
Galpern, L. Parry, L. Wells-Pestell, L.
Gardiner, L. Peart, L. Wootton of Abinger, B.
Gregson, L. Pitt of Hampstead, L. Wynne-Jones, L.
Abercorn, D. Gormanston, V. Monson, L.
Abinger, L. Gowrie, E. Morris, L.
Airey of Abingdon, B. Gray, L. Mottistone, L.
Alexander of Potterhill, L. Greenway, L. Mountgarret, V.
Amherst of Hackney, L. Gridley, L. Mowbray and Stourton, L.
Ampthill, L. Haig, E. Moyne, L.
Auckland, L. Halisham of Saint Marylebone, L.(Chancellor.) Murton of Lindisfarne, L.
Bellwin, L. Newall, L.
Belstead, L. Hanworth, V. Negent of Guildford, L.
Brougham and Vaux, L. Harvington, V. Onslow, E.
Campbell of Croy, L. Hatherton, L. Pender, L.
Carr of Hadley, L. Henley, L. Redmayne, L.
Cathcart, E. Hill of Luton, L. Renton, L.
Chesham, L. Hives, L. Ridley, V.
Cockfield, L. Holderness, L. Rochdale, V.
Cork and Orrery, E. Home of the Hirsel, L. St. Davids, V.
Cottesloe, L. Hornsby-Foster, B. St. Just, L.
Craigavon, V. Hylton, L. Sandys, L.[Teller.]
Craigmyle, L. Hylton-Foster, B. Savile, L.
Craigton, L. James of Rusholme, L. Semphill, Ly.
Cullen of Ashbourne, L. Kilmornock, L. Spens, L.
Davidson, V. Kimberley, E. Stamp, L.
de Clifford, L. Kinloss, Ly. Strathcarron, L.
De Freyne, L. Kinnaird, L. Strathcona and Mount Royal, L.
Denham, L. Lauderdale, E. Suffield, L.
Digby, L. Lindsey and Abingdon, E. Swansea, L.
Drumalbyn, L. Eccles, V. Long, V. Swinfen, L.
Eccles, V. Lothian, M. Swinton, E.
Exeter, M. Loudoun, C. Thorneycroft, L.
Faithful], B. Lyell, L. Torphichen, L.
Falkland, V. Mackay of Clashfcrn, L. Tranmire, L.
Ferrers, E. Macleod of Borve, B. Trefgarne, L. [Teller.]
Fortescue, E. Mancroft, L. Trenchard, V.
Gage, V. Mansfield, E. Vaux of Harrowden, L.
Gainford, L. Margadale, L. Vernon, L.
Galloway, E. Massereene and Ferrard, V. Vickers, B.
Gibson-Watt, L. Merrivale, L. Vivian, L.
Glendevon, L. Milverton, L. Waldegrave, E.
Glenkinglas, L. Monk Bretton, L. Young, B.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN of COMMITTEES (Lord Nugent of Guildford)

The next amendment, No. 274A, is marshalled in the wrong order so I shall call Amendment No. 275 first.

[Amendment No. 275 not moved.]

8.56 p.m.

Lord MORRIS moved Amendment No. 274A: Page 25, line 42, after ("section 8") insert (1)(a)").

The noble Lord said

This amendment is of such hideous minutiae that I feel rather ashamed to move it. Noble Lords may recall that during the discussion of Clause 23 there was mention of a reference in the clause to Section 39 of the 1944 Act. This I looked at closely and, as a result, discovered that it was a reference to a definition and that it was not Section 39, but Section 39(5). This amendment is nothing other than worshipping at the altar of precision and clarity, because the reference to the "duty "to provide in actual fact is Section 8(1)(a) rather than Section 8 itself. I have looked at this quite carefully. The precedent is within the Bill itself because there are precisely 82 references to previous enactments and in the vast majority of cases, other than where the whole section applies or it is a single clause section, the subsections and paragraphs are specifically referred to. In the interests of precision and clarity, therefore, I move this amendment.


As I understand it, my noble friend is absolutely right, and the reference ought to be to Section 8(l)(a). However, from a drafting point of view I am not quite sure whether it is right, as my noble friend contends, that that is how it should be printed, or whether the way in which it is printed at the moment in the Bill, as simply "Section 8 ", should be the correct way. Perhaps the Government could take it away and look at it. If my noble friend is right in his drafting, we shall certainly ask him to table the amendment again on Report and then accept it; but I think that we should have one further look at it before it is actually written in the Bill in the way he wishes.


I am most grateful to my noble friend and, as a result, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord BELSTEAD moved Amendment No. 276:

Page 26, line 5, at end insert— ("(3) In the definition of "pupil "in section 114(1) of the said Act of 1944 (which defines pupils as those for whom education is required to be provided under that Act) there shall be added at the end the words "but includes a junior pupil who has not attained the age of five years.".").

The noble Lord said: This is a technical amendment to secure that children under the age of five are not excluded from the definition of "pupil "in Section 114(1) of the Education Act 1944 as a side effect of Clause 26.

A "pupil "is at present defined in Section 114(1) of the Education Act 1944 as: a person of any age for whom education is required to be provided".

To change the nursery duty to a power would, therefore, exclude children below compulsory school age from that definition, which applies throughout the provisions of the Education Acts of 1944 and later years—the provisions in existing Acts and this Bill as regards school meals and transport are examples. So if the amendment which I put to your Lordships were not made, local education authorities would have no powers or duties in respect, for instance, of meals or transport for such children. In view of the important amendment which the Committee has approved earlier this afternoon, I am sure your Lordships would not want that. The amendment merely ensures that pupils under the age of five will continue to fall within the definition of pupil as hitherto. I beg to move.

9.1 p.m.

Baroness DAVID moved Amendment No. 277:

Page 26, line 5, at end insert— ("(3) A local education authority shall not charge for any education in nursery schools or nursery classes.").

The noble Baroness said

The Minister, who is not here at the moment, gave an assurance at some moment in this Chamber that there will be no charges for any education in nursery schools or nursery classes. The purpose of this amendment is to get that assurance again.


The amendment is not necessary. Section 61 of the Education Act 1944 already prohibits charging in respect of admission to any school maintained by a local education authority and in respect of the education provided in such a school. Therefore, it would not be possible for a drafting reason to write it into the Bill.


What would the effect be on a nursery class in a voluntary aided school?


I have no idea.

Baroness DAVID

I want to get this clear. Section 61 may say that. I think that was the section that the noble Lord mentioned. What I want to know is that the Government have no intention of altering the law and bringing in anything in the future that will enable charges to be made.


Perhaps I had better first say that I have thought of the answer to my noble friend. The answer, subject to any correction, is that it would not have any effect upon charges in a voluntary aided school. Perhaps I rather live in the past so far as this is concerned. It occurred to me when I was looking at this amendment before your Lordships met this evening, that when in the 1960s the Plowden Report was published the noble Baroness will remember that there was in that report a minority report on the possibilities of charging for nursery education.

I do not think it would come as any surprise to the Front Bench opposite that when the White Paper, to which the noble Baroness referred earlier this evening, was published in 1972 the Government of that time looked, as they had every reason to look, at the Plowden Report and at the minority report. One of the things that were particularly persuasive—quite apart from the principle of the matter—on practical grounds was that it would be exceedingly difficult and disruptive to charge for nursery education if only because of the considerable number of nursery-age children, for instance rising fives, who are to be found in ordinary primary classes.

On that ground alone, if for no other, if my memory serves me rightly, in 1972 the idea of charges was discarded. I am afraid that that is the best answer I can give, because I must admit that I am not privy to the plans of my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for the Department of Education. If that indication to the noble Baroness is helpful, I think that that should indicate to her that that would be the way in which the mind of the Government is working. If indeed an assurance to that effect has been given on the Floor of either House, may I say that it does not surprise me one bit. I was full of hope that a message which has arrived would give me an absolute answer to the noble Baroness but unfortunately all it does is to bear out the answer I gave to my noble friend Lord Hylton.

Baroness DAVID

I cannot say that I am entirely satisfied. What I am prepared to do is to withdraw the amendment for now, but give notice, if this is something that I can do, that as I have not had a satisfactory answer I shall bring it back on Report.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 278 not moved.]

9.5 p.m.

On Question, Whether Clause 26 shall stand part of the Bill?

Baroness DAVID

I feel that the debate we had on Amendment No. 274 really covered the whole issue, and I think it would be unnecessary to have it again and to divide, as I should have liked to do. Although we are against the clause, we shall not divide the Committee on it.

Clause 26 agreed to.

Clause 27 [Nursery Education: Scotland]:

Lord ROSS of MARNOCK moved Amendment No. 279: Page 26, line 6, leave out ("have power to").

The noble Lord said: We trail along behind England again, dealing with exactly the same subject. I give due warning that we are not going to divide the Committee on these amendments because, as I said on transport, we accepted the will of the Committee. We have had the will of the Committee in respect of the main part of this particular clause. I was moved and touched by part of the speech of the noble Baroness the Minister when she proclaimed her faith in nursery schools. I agreed with every word. My own belief and experience as a parent was exactly the same as hers.

I had a small daughter and we had a new baby in the house, and she was accepted in a nursery school in North London. It did wonders for discipline as a result of the kind of social training that children, are prepared to accept from others and in consequence of being with other children and it increased her general preparedness for education. The only bad thing was that she went there with a decided Scottish accent and completely lost it, and when we went back home to Ayr she was known as the "little Cockney". However, within a a fortnight she was broad Scots again. What we propose here would have the effect of returning the position to what it is at the present time.

There never has been any doubt in Scotland about what the law says; it is in Section 2 of the Education (Scotland) Act 1962. I heard a cry from the heart from the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, the other night because he was hoping that somebody would define "nursery classes." I can tell him that the definition is in that Act. It was laid on local authorities to provide this form of education—

" methods in schools and classes (hereinafter referred to as nursery schools ' and nursery classes ') "—

activities of a kind suitable in the ordinary sense for pupils under school age. So there it is, and if it is of any help to English draftsmen, let them have a look at Scottish legislation occasionally.

There has, of course, always been pressure in regard to finance, and I am sure the Minister appreciates that it is easy for Secretaries of State to control developments in education; they can control progress—stop it, push it ahead and start it—with their powers of borrowing consent, and that is what we did in Scotland. We should have liked to go faster. In certain areas—Glasgow and Lanarkshire, for instance—where we felt there was special need, we went faster than in other places. There were other local authorities which were not anxious to take these steps probably because they felt there was a lack of demand. I believe that the provision was inserted in the Act in advance of demand from parents, and I agree with the noble Baroness the Minister that it should be there for educational purposes, not just because parents want to get rid of their children for an hour or two.

Baroness YOUNG

Perhaps I may return the compliment; I am pleased the noble Lord, Lord Ross of Marnock, feels I have some redeeming features.


That is only the first of them; but I shall not list them tonight. If we had not had that duty, I do not think our progress would have been as good as it has been. The provision in the Act has been there for a long time, and there has never been any dubiety in Scotland about the fact that the duty was there and, as I say, the Act mentions not only nursery schools but nursery classes, so there need not be any difficulty over defining what we are talking about.

I feel that we are here taking the pressure away from local authorities, making it easier for them, by only empowering them. After all, I trust we shall not always be without the cash. I see the noble Lord, Lord Cockfield, smiling at that, but I would remind him that when we in Scotland got a windfall of a sum of money from the Treasury—when they were feeling soft-hearted about the trials and tribulations of, say, the central area—often we used that to further nursery education within the central area, considerably to the advantage of that area. It is, of course, a matter of priorities. If we take away the duty and leave it as only a power, we shall not make the progress we have made and I fear we shall stultify progress in future.

The Lord Bishop of NORWICH

I listened with the greatest care to the noble Lord, Lord Ross of Marnock, because I have always had a feeling that Scottish education had a great deal to teach English education, and it is proper that we should get well north of the Border for a short period in this debate. I well remember that fine Scotsman who was minister of Saint George's, Troon, Tom Allen. When, after nursery education, he took his five-year-old child to school and introduced the little Scottish boy to the schoolmistress, the child began to cry. His father was not sure whether that meant he did not like education. In fact, the little boy stood there with tears pouring down his face and said to the schoolmistress, it being his first day at school, "There is just one thing you should know; I can neither read nor write ", which he imagined were things one should be able to do before starting school. I therefore listened with care to what the noble Lord had to say.


Since the noble Lord, Lord Ross of Marnock, has intimated that he does not intend to divide the Committee on this matter, I can leave out of my speech some of the more ebullient remarks to which I might have given vent—but they will come again; they will keep. I confirm what the noble Lord has said: in Scotland the law has been widely understood, and perfectly appreciated, by the local authorities, and I believe that the figures speak for themselves in this matter as to the seriousness with which they have considered and sought to carry out their role in this direction.

I can illustrate the matter in the following way. In September 1974 the number of children in full-time (so to speak) nursery education was 2,833. In September 1979 it was 3,740. With regard to children in part-time nursery education, in September 1974 the total was 17,629, but by September 1979 it had risen to 28,058. So the totals for the two are 20,462 and 31,798. Given as a percentage of the three-and four-year-old population, in September 1974 12 per cent., or just over, were receiving nursery education, and by September 1979 it was 23. 9 per cent., which is of course a very large increase, but one must remember that there have been population changes, which slightly distort that percentage figure. I am quite sure that education authorities will continue to act responsibility in the future so far as the provision of nursery education is concerned.

There is one final matter which I should perhaps mention to the Committee, in view of the matters to which my noble friend has already referred in relation to the closure of schools. Noble Lords will already have divined that Clause 12 does not apply to Scotland. The noble Lord, Lord Ross, will know from his experience that it did not need to, because under the Education (Scotland) Act 1962 education authorities are already required to seek the approval of the Secretary of State for Scotland before they can discontinue nursery schools and classes. I suggest that in the circumstances the situation in Scotland, though one can never be smug about it, is by no means unsatisfactory.


That would be one good reason for leaving the proposal out of this Bill altogether.

On Question, amendment negatived.

[Amendments Nos. 280 to 281A not moved.]

Clause 27 agreed to.

House resumed.