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Inner London Education Authority

Volume 720: debated on Thursday 18 November 1965

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With permission, Mr. Speaker, I will make a statement about the Inner London Education Authority.

The London Government Act transferred to this Authority responsibility for education and the Youth Employment Service in the Inner London area on a provisional basis. The Act imposed upon me an obligation to carry out a review of the arrangements relating to education and to lay a report before Parliament not later than 31st March, 1970. A corresponding obligation in relation to the Youth Employment Service was imposed on my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour.

The Government have been examining these arrangements. The Education Service and the Youth Employment Service of the I.L.E.A. are soundly organised and efficiently administered. The Government are convinced that any disruption or fragmentation of these services would be bound to lead to a lowering of standards. It appears essential, in the interests of sound local government, to preserve the long-established unified service of educational administration in the London area, and hence to confirm the position of the I.L.E.A.

The Government have therefore decided to introduce legislation giving permanent effect to those provisions of the London Government Act, 1963, which transfer to the I.L.E.A. the responsibility for education and the Youth Employment Service in London. The legislation will repeal those provisions of the Act which require my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour and myself to carry out a review of the arrangements made by the Act and to report on them to Parliament.

The Government wish to make their intention clear now, in advance of legislation, because there is evidence of a growing feeling of insecurity amongst teachers and other staff employed by the Authority. Any review would take a long time to complete, and would inevitably have an unsettling effect. This uncertainty about the future must be removed, and the Authority itself must be given confidence to embark on long-term plans without the threat of further upheaval.

Could the right hon. Gentleman say, first, how soon he proposes to introduce this legislation? Secondly, would he agree that, while the balance of educational advantage in the future may very probably lie in retaining a single local education authority for Inner London—incidentally, the importance which we attached to educa- tion in Inner London was shown by the fact that I myself approved £4 million-worth of school improvement projects for this Authority, both for 1965–66 and also for 1966–67—would the right hon. Gentleman not also agree that the legitimate interests and wishes of the London boroughs should also be considered—over, for example, such matters as the appointment of school managers? This decision of the Government will come as a real shock to the London boroughs. Have they been consulted, and would it not have been better at least to have given them a full opportunity of stating their views before reaching this decision and announcing it to the House?

I can give no definite assurance about the date on which legislation will be introduced. On the more general point which the right hon. Gentleman mentioned, the position is that London has had a unified education service since 1870. Everybody admits that the old L.C.C. and the present I.L.E.A. are a first-class education authority, perhaps the most distinguished in the world. Therefore, no Government, of whatever party, would change the present situation when it came to 1970. That being so, it seems realistic, in order to eliminate uncertainty among the teaching staff, to take a decision now that there will not be a review under the Act.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that this promised legislation gives effect to a demand which we made at the time of the London Government Bill? Would he draw it to the attention of his right hon. Friend that precisely the same arguments that he has used for the preservation of the I.L.E.A. would have applied to the Children's Service in Greater London? It is a matter of regret to us that the Government have not been able to give effect to that pledge as well as to this one.

That demand during the passage of the Bill was hardly confined to the Liberal Party, but came from some of my hon. Friends as well. On the subject of the Children's Services, my right hon. Friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government made a long statement on this on 2nd February and he was questioned by the hon. Member. I have nothing to add to what he then said.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that his statement will give great satisfaction not only to all the teaching profession in London, but to thousands of parents of school children who were getting very worried about the situation?

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that this statement will be taken by many London boroughs as a further indication of the suspected determination of the Government to wreck the whole principle of the 1963 London Government Act, and that the policy of the Government in trying to reimpose the old and discredited L.C.C. structure does not command the confidence of the public? Will he consider this again and, especially, ask his right hon. Friend not to apply this to the housing provisions of the Act?

The hon. Member's judgment about what commands the confidence of the public seems to have been heavily defied by the results of elections in the London area last May. On his question about breaking up the principles of the 1963 Act, and without commenting on this, I happen to take a different view from that of the hon. Gentleman. That is not the point here. This decision does not wreck the principles of the Act, as was made clear by the then Parliamentary Secretary in replying to debates on Amendments as the Bill was going through the House.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the imaginary fears expressed by hon. Members opposite have no real relevance to the existing situation, and that, so far from any opposition to the statement which he has made being forthcoming, it will be almost unanimously welcomed by all the boroughs and by anyone who knows anything at all about the work of the I.L.E.A. during the last few months?

Could the right hon. Gentleman answer my point about con- sultation and about giving the boroughs the opportunity of expressing their views? Is it not true that, irrespective of the main question about maintaining this area under a single education authority, the boroughs have certain legitimate interests here and that such issues as the appointment of school managers could have been profitably considered when the projected review took place?

No, Sir. This is one of the cases in which the whole subject has been sufficiently studied and every argument which could be used by one side or the other has been exhaustively used over the last two or three years, with first the Royal Commission and then the detailed debate on the Clauses in the London Government Bill when it was going through the House. I believe that this is a case in which every argument is known and that now one must take a decision one way or another.

Can I press the right hon. Gentleman to give more serious consideration to the point put by my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Handsworth (Sir E. Boyle), particularly in view of the fact that, while it is true that this authority historically has a great reputation as an education authority, nevertheless, there has been creeping in in recent years a certain pragmatic intolerance on the part of the authority in its treatment of the teachers?

This is not true, and it is not the view of the teachers. The people most strongly in favour of the decision I have announced are precisely the London teachers, from whom very strong representations have been received, as hon. Members opposite know, in favour of the course which we have decided on.