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Orders Of The Day

Volume 978: debated on Wednesday 13 February 1980

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Education (No 2) Bill

[2nd ALLOTED DAY]

As amended ( in the Standing Cornmittee), further considered.

Clause 19

AWARDS FOR FURTHER AND HIGHER EDUCATION

4.10 pm

I beg to move amendment No. 80, in page 19, line 21 after 'certain', insert 'other'.

With this we may take the following amendments: No. 81, in page 19, line 21, leave out from 'courses' to end of line 17.

No. 82, in Schedule 5, page 41, line 38, at end insert—

'(e) other such courses as the Secretary of State shall prescribe by regulations'.

Amendments Nos. 80 and 81 simply pave the way to the amendment of the schedule by amendment No. 82.

The House should be aware that the system of discretionary grants to students in higher education is chaotic. A farcical situation exists, where students apply to various colleges and are selected on a competitive basis. When some students are awarded a place, they attempt to obtain a grant. Many students fail to get a grant, but often some students who fail to obtain a place manage subsequently to obtain a grant. It often happens that the least attractive students, as far as the colleges are concerned obtain a grant and a place in a college, and sometimes a student who appears to the college to be more worth while fails to get a grant.

The problem that I should like to highlight is one that has been brought to my attention by the British Association of Social Workers and the directors of social service departments, because it concerns the certificate of qualification in social work, where the problem is particularly acute. There are several ways in which people can gain a qualification in social work, some involving a mandatory award and some involving a discretionary award.

I ask the Minister to make a modest provision in the Bill so that if and when money is available he can change a discretionary award to a mandatory award. I should prefer the Minister to make that change immediately, but I suspect that if I were to press him his answer would be "Absolutely, No". However, in simply asking him to make the regulations, I hope that he can do something about it as soon as resources are available. I am asking for a very modest measure, which I hope the Minister can accept.

In Committee the Minister went some way to indicate that he was sympathetic to the problem. I stress that although I emphasised the certificate of qualification in social work I am aware that the problem exists in many other qualifications, particularly for people who have a degree and who then want to obtain a professional qualification. I hope that the Minister can give an assurance that either here or in another place he will accept the amendment.

May I add my support to the amendment of my hon. Friend the Member for Stockport, North (Mr. Bennett)? This is not a party matter, but it is a very serious matter for many students who, in the old days, would have automatically qualified for discretionary awards when a reasonable amount of money was available. Now that money available to local authorities is so limited, it is incumbent upon the Minister to take more seriously the national needs when fixing mandatory awards.

The Minister will be aware that the Select Committee is currently studying the matter. One conclusion that I have reached is that the pattern of mandatory awards fixes what happens in our higher education institutions more than anything else. I hope that the Minister—whatever the final outcome of these amendments—will be as helpful as possible. I assure him that it is a real problem for qualified manpower, which the nation needs. It is absurd to waste qualified manpower in this way, simply because the Department has not assembled the machinery to add the social work qualifications, and perhaps others, to those awards which qualify as mandatory.

I take the point made by the hon. Member for Stockport, North (Mr. Bennett) about the difficulty of mandatory and discretionary awards. There is a need for a clarifying and strengthening measure.

Similarly, I take the point made by the hon. Member for Lewisham, West (Mr. Price) that where mandatory grants are automatically paid it obviously conditions the courses that are retained and expanded. The whole matter will have to be examined at some stage. I welcome the fact that the Select Committee on education, science and arts is examining the matter. The problem has grown up over the years, and, particularly at a time when local authorities are under pressure due to lack of resources, there is a risk that courses that should exist could be cut back.

The amendment would empower the Secretary of State to designate any course for a mandatory award at whatever level and whether part-lime or full-time, the only condition being that it would be provided as mentioned in subsection (2) (a), at a university, a college or an institution.

Clearly, to designate all such courses would be prohibitively expensive at the present time, but presumably the intention is for my right hon. and learned Friend to be selective in regard to the courses that he chooses to designate. I appreciate that. Nevertheless, the amendment would raise the expectations of many groups. Reference has been made, for example, to social workers, particularly in view of the fact that some courses are mandatory and others are discretionary in regard to the awarding of grants. The training procedure for lawyers is expensive, and there have been a good many letters on that question. We have to consider the Open University students. We have to remember all these matters when we are thinking about mandatory and discretionary awards. The problems of part-time students will also have to be examined.

There is also the question of what is called lifetime or continuing education. This is a non-party matter. The whole question of part-time students and how they are to be financed must be examined. I hope that the Select Committee is looking at this question.

In view of the present need to restrain rather than expand public expenditure, there is not at the moment any possibility of meeting such claims. Our estimate is that it would cost about £8 million to accept the amendment. Some people might suggest that it is a negligible amount. Perhaps so, but such sums, taken together add up in the end to a considerable amount.

We are aware of and concerned about this matter. It is being made more acute because of the problems associated with the resources of local authorities. I am aware that some people accept that at present the resources are not available to enable additional courses to be designated for mandatory awards but who nevertheless—I am sure that the two hon. Members who have spoken come within this category—wish to see a reserve power in the Bill, to be used only when resources can be made available.

I cannot say any more at the moment than I said in Committee. I am aware, as we all are, of the strength of the case on this issue. I listened carefully to the arguments put forward in Committee. I acknowledge, as do other hon. Members, that genuine cases have been put to us. The Government will take due note of the views expressed in Committee and this afternoon. Note will also be taken of the discussion when the Bill is dealt with in another place.

In view of that assurance from the Minister—it was a fairly small one, but it was something—I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 22

SCHOOL MEALS: ENGLAND AND WALES

I beg to move amendment No. 34, in page 20, line 30, after 'supplement', insert

'or whose income level is less than a qualifying level to be prescribed by order by the Secretary of State'.

With this we may take the following amendments:

No. 35, in page 20, line 30, after 'supplement'. insert

'or receive rent or rate rebate'.

No. 36, in page 20, line 30, after 'supplement', insert

'or whose income would quality them for assistance under any regulations made by the Secretary of State under clauses 17 and 18 of this Act.'.

No. 38, in page 20, leave out lines 36 and 37 and insert

'in relation to any pupil whose parents are in receipt of supplementary benefits or family income supplement.'.

No. 39, in page 20, line 41, at end insert

'or if they are satisfied that the effect of the charges under this section and section 23(3) would be to cause that pupil's family to be poorer than they would be if their income were reduced to Family Income Supplement or Supplementary Benefit level.'.

No. 40, in page 20, line 41, at end insert—

'(3A) The Secretary of State may make regulations specifying a maximum charge for an adequate meal.'.

No. 53, in Clause 24, page 23, line 16, after 'supplement', insert

'or receive rent or rate rebate'.

No. 84, in page 23, line 16, after 'supplement', insert

'or whose income level is less than a qualifying level to be prescribed by order by the Secretary of State'.

No. 54, in page 23, line 26, at end insert

'or if they are satisfied that the effect of the charges under this section and section 25(3) would be to cause that pupil's family to be poorer than they would be if their income were reduced to Family Income Supplement or Supplementary Benefit level.'.

We come now to another very important stage in the Bill—that which deals with the provision of school milk and school meals.

The amendment seeks to ensure that all local authorities shall have to provide free school meals for pupils from poorer families where the family is not on family income supplement or supplementary benefit, those categories being covered by the Bill as it stands. We feel that the Secretary of State should lay down income levels and that local authorities should abide by them in regard to the provision of free school meals. Grouped with the amendment are several other amendments which also deal with the question of entitlement to free school meals.

The clause that we are seeking to amend does several very important things. Overall, the effect of clause 22 will be to dismantle the school meals system as we know it in this country. The Government will be doing this under the guise of giving new freedom to local authorities, but it will happen nevertheless. The clause is a very serious one because it removes all nutritional standards from school meals provision. The idea is that in future, in regard to the school meals, the policy is to be one of "anything goes". A local authority will be free to provide whatever level of school meals it sees fit to provide. That is in contrast with the present system, under which certain nutritional standards are established by the Secretary of State and local authorities are obliged to abide by them.

The clause goes even further, in that it also removes the provision and the guarantee that all children from low-income families can get free school meals.

The clause will lead to a reduction in school meals provision, to higher charges for school meals throughout the country, and to many redundancies among the staff who at present are employed in the school meals service. We believe that the clause and the Bill will have a very serious and detrimental effect not only on the school meals service but also on the educational opportunities of the children.

When the clause was discussed in Committee, the Minister did not say at any time that he thought that school meals were a bad thing or that they should not be provided. Indeed, the Government are not seeking to cut this form of provision because they think it is wrong to make it. They are cutting it because they want to make savings in the education budget, and have decided that this is a vulnerable area in which local authorities should be free to cut as they wish.

Local authorities will take advantage of this clause in the Bill as a means of reducing their expenditure. They will also take advantage of it in increasing the price of school meals. The House should be clear about the kinds of prices that we are talking about. The price of school meals has already been increased once this month in anticipation of the passing of the Bill. The Under-Secretary of State will recall the debate that we had on that occasion. He will also recall the statement made by his right hon. and learned Friend, when the price increase was announced, that the increase had been made pending further increases in the price of school meals which will follow very shortly.

It is important also to remind the House that we now know the kind of level of prices that local authorities are proposing to charge in the very near future. Some authorities, such as Devon and Warwick, have already announced that they intend to go for a 45p charge immediately the Bill goes through. We know that the Government hope that the Bill will be passed in April. Northampton shire has already said that it intends to charge 55p in April. Other authorities have announced similar levels of charges. Some authorities have gone further and said that they intend to introduce a 60p charge from September of this year or from January 1981.

The increases in prices that we are talking about are not insubstantial; they are significant and very important. The Minister cannot simply shrug the issue to one side and say that the increases do not matter, or say, as he has said in the past, that when we talked about 50p or 60p school meals we were being alarmist and spreading fear and despondency. Our predications have been proved right, for proposals of the sort that we mentioned are now being adopted by many councils in this country. By this time next year the price of school meals in most areas will have more than doubled as a result of the Bill, at a time when the Government are giving no extra help to families in need and are refusing to increase child benefit or give extra family support.

4.30 pm

It is against that background that we have tabled our amendment. Our aim is to minimise the effect on those worst hit by the provision. We also wish to emphasise that there should be a national policy introduced and maintained by the Secretary of State, both in terms of the pricing and the nutritional value of school meals.

Children who receive free school meals in future will not be guaranteed a meal of any particular nutritional value. It is important that we do not shrug off the fact and say that nutritional values do not matter because everyone is well fed these days and children do not need a meal at lunchtime.

In Committee the Under-Secretary almost fell into the trap of saying that it did not matter what sort of meals were provided. He said that there were good reasons for including nutritional standards in the 1944 Act, but he implied that perhaps it did not matter if nutritional standards were now abolished.

However, the Under-Secretary also acknowledged that the changes and the abolition of nutritional standards would cause hardship and problems. Indeed, he even acknowledged that the Bill might bring about a little malnutrition among some children, but he shrugged that off and said that it did not really matter because only a few children would be affected. It is important that the hon. Gentleman was at least honest enough to admit that the Bill and the clause will cause problems.

In Committee many of my hon. Friends pointed out to the Under-Secretary much of the recent evidence about the importance of school meals in children's diets. Has the Minister looked up the articles and surveys, in The Lancet and elsewhere, which prove that school meals are necessary for the children who need a sheet anchor for their nutrition? If the Under-Secretary has not done so, I suggest that he should. He cannot remove all the conditions on the standard of meals to be provided by local authorities and expect that not to have detrimental results.

If the hon. Gentleman is willing to admit that it may have serious results it is incumbent upon him to look at the matter again. If he will not assure us today that he will reintroduce national nutritional standards, I hope that he will reconsider the matter before the Bill goes to another place and will change his mind.

If the Bill goes through, it will hit many children and families severely and one of its major impacts will be the increased charges provided for in this clause.

The clause will hit families who pay for school meals in the ordinary way, and it is important to remember that the majority of families allow and encourage their children to take school meals. More than 75 per cent. of junior children and more than 50 per cent. of secondary pupils take school meals. If the new charges are introduced many family budgets will be badly hit.

We have only to look at a typical family with two children to see what will happen. When the Bill was introduced in October the price of a school meal was 30p. Within a short time it will have doubled to 60p—an increase of £1·50 per child per week. If we take this clause with the other new charges that the Government hope to introduce, we see that the average family will have to spend on meals and transport more than £5 a week for each child, simply to send him to school and to provide him with a meal.

The hon. Lady is taking the maximum situation under all the circumstances. There will be alternative provision. Only one-third of the cost of school meals is represented by food; the rest is catering, administration and all the other bits and pieces. If they wish, families will be able to provide a nutritional meal for their children to take to school at less than the existing cost of a school meal.

The hon. Member would do well to read the Committee Hansards, because he would see that much evidence was brought before the Committee about the proposed charges that many local authorities have decided to introduce. If the authority charges 60p for a school meal, that will involve a cost of £3 per week per child. I know that the hon. Gentleman has reservations about the new transport charges proposed by the Government—he has tabled an amendment on that matter and perhaps the Government will take notice of it—but if the new charges are introduced the average family will have to pay £5 a week for each child. That is not an exaggeration. Indeed, depending on what happens to transport charges, it may be an underestimate.

The new charge of £5 a week simply to send a child to school will obviously cause hardship to many families, but some families will suffer even more than those who are paying the current rate for school meals. I refer to the families who are entitled to free school meals because they are low-income families.

Many such families will face an increase not from the current price of a school meal, but from nothing to 50p or 60p a day for each child. They will suddenly have to find £2·50 or £3 a week for each child. Those families where a parent is working, but not claiming family income supplement or supplementary benefits, will be severely hit by the Government's proposals. They will be forced deeper into the poverty trap. The balance will be tipped in favour of those families being better off not working.

Over the years we have heard a great deal from Conservative hon. Members about the problems of the poverty trap and how it is wrong that people should be better off on social security than in work. Yet this one measure will ensure that many more families are forced into the poverty trap and made worse off because they are working than they would be if they were on social security.

There has been some dispute about just how many families and children come into that category. When we first discussed the matter last year, the Secretary of State said that 500,000 children at present entitled to free school meals would lose that right as a result of the clause. In Committee, the Under-Secretary revised that figure. He said that only 300,000 children—I emphasise "only"—would lose their right to free school meals. What he failed to point out then, but has since acknowledged in a letter to my hon. Friend the Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Kinnock), was that the real figure is 450,000, because 150,000 children entitled to free school meals on income grounds do not take them up. Many of us know why. It is because there is a stigma attached to that entitlement. But all of the 450,000, on the Minister's now confirmed figures, will lose that entitlement if the clause goes through as it is.

The hon. Lady said that the additional 150,000 was accounted for in part by the stigma that often attaches to children being "free school meals children". Will she remind the Minister that under the Bill there will be a double stigma? The Government are to make it really hard for children to have free school meals, even if they are entitled to them. They will have to prove not merely that they are financially entitled to them, but also that they are in need of special provision, because the obligation to provide free school meals applies only where the local authority thinks that such provision is appropriate or necessary for the children.

The hon. Gentleman has made a valid observation. It was confirmed by the Minister in Committee in an interesting discussion about what made up a good breakfast and what judgments the local authority should use in determining who should have a free meal.

It is clear that many children will be at a disadvantage because of the Bill. Many families will be hit by the increased charges. Many thousands of children will be hit because their right to a free school meal will be removed. As the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) pointed out, those entitled to free school meals in the future will be put at an even greater disadvantage, because there will be a completely new category. Only children on family income supplement or supplementary benefit will be entitled to free school meals. That means singling out those children even more and increasing the stigma that often discourages children who need free school meals from taking advantage of their entitlement.

What do the Government want to happen as a result of the clause? Does the Minister want to see the break-up of the school meals system, the dismantling of all the present provisions? Does he want to discourage families from allowing their children to have school meals, or does he want to encourage them to pay the economic cost of the meals? If he wants them to pay the economic cost, he must be prepared to provide the income for them to be able to do that.

If the Government refuse to give more family support through child benefit and similar measures, the Minister should expect all those wage earners who have responsibility for children to make increased wage claims simply to cover the kind of increased charges that the Government are imposing on them. How- ever, I strongly suspect that he and his right hon. and learned Friend will continue to say, as do their right hon. and hon. Friends, that those who make large wage claims to compensate for increased charges are acting irresponsibly. All that the Government are concerned about is cutting public expenditure, not maintaining family support and the education service, which should be their first responsibility.

4.45 pm

The clause gives the pretence of local authority freedom. We have heard a great deal about that freedom, both from the Secretary of State and from his hon. Friends. But it is a pretence. It is not real freedom. It is a freedom without cash, a freedom simply to cut the existing services.

The Government are trying to pass the buck to local authorities. The Secretary of State is the person with responsibility for education services. It is he who should be protecting the services. He and his right hon. and hon. Friends are damaging the education service and education opportunities by dismantling the school meals service.

Our amendments are intended to try to minimise the damage that will be caused by the clause. I hope that the Under-Secretary will be able to accept some of them, because he has said that he is concerned about the effect of the clause on poor families. If he is concerned about the future of school meals or about the future welfare of the children who will be hit by the clause, he needs to think again about what he and his Government are doing, and to accept some of our amendments to give better safeguards for those children who need help most.

I rise to support the amendment and to speak to a number of the amendments grouped with it—amendments Nos. 36, 38, 39, 40 and 54, all of which are in my name and the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Cardigan (Mr. Howells) or my hon. Friend the Member for Inverness (Mr. Johnston).

The school meals service has a record to be proud of. It is a service of very high standards, a service that can point to a proven record of improved nutrition. It is one of the few parts of the education service that can be demonstrated to have had a precise improving effect. Therefore, we should be cautious about making drastic changes in it.

I do not deny that it is desirable to experiment both with the way in which meals are provided and served and with how we cater for those whose income does not allow them to use the system. Therefore, there are two kinds of experiment that I am anxious to encourage. One is in the establishment of better, more flexible income scales for help with school meals than exist under the present, rigid free school meals system. The other is in the provision of more choice of food, perhaps related to the purchase of individual items.

A great deal has been done on those lines, and a great deal can be done, within the framework of the present law. Some easing of the statutory provision may be necessary, particularly to develop cafeteria systems and to ensure that local authorities generally can operate a proper incomes scale, instead of the present free school meals system.

However, the provisions of the Bill do neither of those things. They very much worsen poverty trap problems presented by the way in which help is given to those who cannot afford schools meals. They go far beyond what is necessary to enable local authorities to run an efficient and inviting cafeteria system of meals for children within their areas. The Bill does a number of damaging things that these amendments are designed to prevent.

Even if these experiments in the provision of cafeteria services are pursued, has the hon. Gentleman been able to find out whether the Government will make extra allocations to enable local education authorities to meet the enormous capital cost of moving their school meals service from the current provision to a new space-age provision? Is he aware that the required equipment is costing West Glam organ county council £16,000 without putting even a slice of bread before any pupil?

The Government have no intention of putting more money into the school meals service. They are trying to take out as much as possible. Any experiments conducted under the present Government's arrangements must be of a limited nature. Any local authority that pours money into expensive new systems is likely to be making a great mistake. There is scope for limited experiments within capital investment already made. Most local authorities have made substantial capital investment in the school meals service in the post-war years. One has only to tour schools in one's constituency to see well-equipped kitchens, maintained to the highest standards of hygiene, that would be envied by any commercial concern and by any public health inspector who know the standards that exist in some commercial restaurants and cafes. We should be loth to waste or disregard what has been achieved.

Unless the Bill is amended in the ways that have been suggested, much damage will be caused. We shall leave the way open for local authorities to provide no school meals at all, except for a limited number of children. We shall place no limit on the cost of meals. We shall create a terrible poverty trap problem.

The hon. Gentleman mentions a matter with which I had not intended to deal, but it is a fact, particularly in a constituency such as mine, that a great number of people, who are not very well paid, do a very good job within the school meals system and contribute a great deal to the welfare of the school. In Committee, the Under-Secretary of State, the hon. Member for Brent, North (Dr. Boyson) testified that the school meals staff often played as big a part in educational welfare and pastoral work in schools as any of the teaching staff. These people will be put on the scrap-heap as a result of some of the Bill's proposals.

The Bill would leave the way open for a situation in which there would be no school meals at all for the vast majority of children. Meals would be available only to those of families receiving supplementary benefit and family income supplement. The effect will be severe in certain circumstances. Families with both parents working who have hitherto relied on the school meals system to ensure that their children get a decent mid-day meal will he especially hit. These are often the families that depend on two wages. They are families on low wages.

Single parent families will be badly hit. The single mother depends on her child getting a hot meal at mid-day so that when she returns home after a hard day's work she is not obliged to cook a full meal for herself and the child. The Government now seem to be saying, through this and other aspects of the Bill, that single mothers should not worry and that instead of going out to work and trying to pay their own way, it would be better if they received State benefit.

By accepting State benefit, the Government seem to say, the school meal will be free and the single mother will be better off in every way. If the mother goes out to work there will be no school meal provision for the child as her earnings will be too high. Why should the Government say this to people who want to exist by their own efforts and not depend on State benefits?

I have listened with care to the hon. Gentleman. Will he give some examples of the areas that have announced that they will abandon all school meals?

The Secretary of State has left local authorities in an extraordinary position. He should not open that issue. Local authorities are told to plan their school meals provision next year on the basis of a Bill that the right hon. and learned Gentleman has not yet got through Parliament. The provisions may, we hope, be changed in this and other respects. Some local authorities have announced terrifying proposals that will put school meals far beyond the reach of families earning any ordinary country working wage. Other authorities may find, not next year, but the following year, that the system can be run only by making the minimum provision for those on supplementary benefit and family income supplement and none for the remainder.

The hon. Gentleman says that, in many areas, there would be no provision for school meals under the Bill. Will he justify that by saying in what areas he believes it will happen?

I have said that the Bill leaves the way open for a local authority not to provide any school meals except for those on supplementary benefit and family income supplement. Some authorities, including mine in Northumberland, have said that they do not want to do that. Nor do they want to get rid of free school transport. The Secretary of State, replying to a question from me, has said that authorities that fail to achieve the massive savings for which he asks must find savings in the mainstream of education to make up for indulging in the luxury of providing children with school meals and enabling them to get to school without paying large fees for transport.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman cannot tell the House that authorities can disregard what he is asking them to do and make all the provisions for which the Opposition are asking and at the same time deny that he intends to penalise those authorities by ensuring that they pay for their savings in the mainstream of education. The right hon. and learned Gentleman is saying to authorities, particularly those in large rural areas and those with large numbers of families just above the family income supplement level, that their general education standard must be lower than those authorities that find it easier to comply with what he asks. The right hon. and learned Gentleman has left authorities in an absurd position.

If school meals provision is either removed or made prohibitively expensive in large scattered rural areas, a whole series of further problems arise. Children in those areas face an enormously long school day. They leave for school at 7·15 am or 7·30 am and do not return home until 5·15 pm or 5·30 pm. Their journey often means changing buses or waiting at the end of a farm track for a car or bus to pick them up. They often arrive at school cold and wet having waited for transport in cold and adverse weather conditions. They, above all, need a hot meal at school to sustain them.

These same children have to attend schools in distant towns. Ministers seem unable to appreciate the concern of parents whose children, in the absence of school meals provision or where school meals are too expensive, go out into the town to get something suitable to eat in cafes and restaurants. The right hon. and learned Gentleman should understand that this may be all right in Runcorn. But, in an area where children are attending schools 20 miles from their homes, in a town that they visit only for the purpose of attending school, parents do not want their children wandering around that strange town in the middle of the day looking for cafes, restaurants or, if they can give the impression they are over 18, pubs, to get something to eat. Parents would much prefer an adequate and cheap school meals system for their children.

More should be done to safeguard the school meals system. One of my amendments tries to ensure that a basic school meal continues to exist at some maximum charge. The Bill provides no limit to the cost of a basic school meal. I have tried to word the amendment in such a way as to leave open to the local authority the chance to offer a variety of foods, perhaps some more expensive, while still recognising what the Government seek to achieve. I refer to amendment No. 40.

There must be some way in which the Government can set a maximum for provision of a reasonably priced meal. So far, however, that is not the Government's intention. The Government's intention is that there should be no compulsion to provide anything and no maximum cost for what is provided. That could spell disaster for parents in many areas.

5 pm

The other main aspect of the Bill with which I wish to deal is its creation of a class of children much smaller than those at present receiving school meals—a class I have called the statutory poor and whom the hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field), in an evocative phrase, called the people who earn their poverty. His description goes far too wide, and I want to concentrate on the "statutory poor" those who qualify for free school meals under the Bill because they are entitled to family income supplement or supplementary benefit. These children do not merely have to prove that they are within that category. The local authority's obligation to them is to make for them

"such provision…as appears…to be requisite."

The authority could therefore say of any child whose parents were not on family income supplement or supplementary

benefit" We need do nothing for you because we know perfectly well that your mother gives you a good breakfast in the morning and that you will get a decent tea when you get home." But when they inquire into the case of another child, they find that he is not getting a breakfast and that the mother comes home very late and probably does not provide a meal when the child gets home from school. In such a case the authority knows that it will have to make some provision.

Any local authority that strictly interpreted the intention of the Bill would find itself investigating the particular circumstances of every individual child. Why else should that phrase be included? Why else does the Bill not simply say that school meals have to be provided for the children of parents on family income supplement or supplementary benefit? Instead the Bill makes a case-by-case provision. The local authority must make

"such provision…as appears…to be requisite".

In that way the Bill adopts the old poor law approach whereby the local authority will decide in individual cases whether children are getting enough food at home.

If the child cannot be shown to need a meal at school the local authority will have no obligation to provide one. If the child can be shown to need a meal, that meal must be free of charge. So the Bill creates two categories of children who must either be given something free or be given nothing. I cannot imagine what the Minister envisages local authorities are supposed to do in operating the clause.

The parents who are supposed to benefit from such provision as the local authorities must make face a much more fundamental problem. They will be in the most steeply-sided poverty trap that the Government have yet managed to invent. The moment they move above family income supplement level, or begin work after having been on supplementary benefit, they will lose the lot. They will lose free school meals and free school transport, and they will find themselves paying a massive rate of tax—perhaps a marginal rate of 250 per cent. They could be paying £5 on school meals and £5 on school transport per child under some of the schemes that have been suggested by some local authorities.

In their manifesto the Conservatives said:

"we shall do all we can to find other ways to simplify the system, restore the incentive to work, reduce the poverty trap".

The Bill will massively increase the poverty trap. Education Ministers have got away with it so far. They have managed to carry on the discussion on the Bill without their colleagues in other Government Departments, who we hope are still trying to implement that manifesto aim, taking any notice of what they are doing. I can assure Conservative Members that the total effect of these provisions and those in the school transport clause will be to erect a massive poverty trap at a cut-off point that affects a great many families.

I ask Conservative Members who have rural constituences to think of a farm worker earning between £66 and £70 per week. With two children such a man would be just above the family income supplement level. With three children he would be just within that limit. The moment he earns overtime pay he will lose free school meals and free school transport and he will be clobbered by an extraordinary poverty trap.

We should remember also the hospital porters and the low paid workers in the hospital service. They are drastically affected the moment they do any overtime. They do not find themselves on a sliding scale by which they lose some benefit. They lose everything and have to pay fully for anything they receive. They pay heavily for the privilege of sending their children to school and of their children receiving a meal when they are at school.

I cannot understand how Ministers who fought an election on a pledge to make it attractive and worthwhile to work can be prepared to tell us from the Dispatch Box and in the Standing Committee that they are standing by this kind of scheme for no other reason than that they have been unable to think of anything better. That is the only answer we have had so far. It is the only way they can devise of discharging some sort of obligation to those whom they know cannot afford school meals or school transport under the proposals they are making.

They are saying to hundreds of thousands of families that it pays not to work. They are telling them to stay on State benefit and under no circumstances to get a job. To those with work their message is to stay below the family income supplement level because once they exceed that level they have too much to lose. They are telling these families that they will be better off as beneficiaries of the State than by aiding themselves by their own efforts.

The curious thing is that the Government have adopted a different approach to the assisted places scheme. They have devised a generous incomes scale for that scheme which would enable people on substantial incomes to obtain at least some benefit. But it is beyond their wit and imagination to devise any such scale which would bring benefits on school meals or school transport to families that are just over the supplementary benefit or family income supplement levels. That must be absurd.

Most of the amendments—certainly the one on which we shall vote—are attempts to deal with that problem. We have given up the attempt to persuade the Government to abandon their plans on school meals. The amendments deal with a much narrower issue, one upon which we would hope for some support from Conservative Members who are also concerned about the poverty trap. They are being invited tonight to build some safeguards into the Bill to ensure, as amendment No. 39 does, that families are not worse off working than staying out of work.

Amendment No. 39 proposes to insert the words—

"or if they are satisfied that the effect of the charges under this section and section 23(3)"—

that is the school transport clause—

"would be to cause that pupil's family to be poorer than they would be if their income were reduced to Family Income Supplement or Supplementary Benefit level.'."

How can Ministers not want to write that minimum into their Bill? How can they want to retain the situation in which people are better off on State benefit thatn they are in work?

The Goverment's proposals have been badly thought out. There is no evidence that Ministers have listened to the pleas and advice from many quarters, including people who are not unsympathetic to some of the things the Government are trying to do on school transport. There are people in the local authorities who are terrified of having to implement the Government's plans. Why on earth cannot the Government apply some thought to the matter? Is it too late, or are they still prepared to listen?

The hon. Member for Bolton, West (Mrs. Taylor) and the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) have justly identified a significant problem in the case of school meals and school transport charges. However, the remedy they suggest is quite insufficient and will only add to the expense and to the bureaucratic problems that local authorities would face. In their speeches we have heard a requiem for the Labour Government's failure to continue to introduce tax credits or negative income tax which is the vital clue to this and many other problems that we face. I accept that that would be complicated and expensive, but until we reach that target we shall always have to face the poverty trap.

I have no wish to be rude to the hon. Lady, but in the case of school meals she reminded me somewhat of Mary Poppins. On the one hand Mary Poppins nannied us into the fact that we must have a full nutritional value of each school meal laid down by the State, just in case the child did not get the necessary vitamin on a particular day at a particular time. Having dealt with that, Mary Poppins then explained to us that meals were very expensive because of the conditions she had so carefully and exactly laid down.

We live in a real world, however, where the economy is totally out of kilter. We must urgently adapt the economic folly of the school meals system no matter what our political philosophy. We must prevent the situation where the food content of the meal is 16p or 17p of the 50p total value. That is a matter of urgency, because that is where the waste occurs. We must also remember that many of the pupils qualifying for and receiving free school meals—I know this for a fact—sell their vouchers and go to the chip shop. Forty per cent. of pupils do that in one large school in Kent. They prefer fish and chips and Mars bars.

The advice of Mary Poppins is not suitable for 1980. It is not good economic advice. I believe that school meal charges will not rocket as dramatically as the hon. Member for Bolton, West has suggested because there is an economic takeoff point where, as has been suggested, parents provide instead of pay.

Every time school meals charges are raised we shall find that there is a cut-off point where money is not recouped. That is why, in Kent, we are fully aware of the situation and are limiting rises in charges accordingly. Let us have tax credits as soon as we possibly can—

If there is a diminution in the marginal propensity to consume as a consequence of the rise in school meal prices how much of a loss is the county of Kent prepared to sustain on each school meal by under-charging for nutritious or even non-nutritious meals? Will the consequence not be that, even with higher charges on that scale, under the freedoms given in the Bill the cost of the school meals service per unit to the providing county will be greater and thus defeat the hon. Gentleman's objective?

The hon. Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Kinnock) has used many long words. Quite simply, Kent is determined to make the school meals service a fully economic operation with choice of meals and with private enterprise running part of the operation. That system will solve many problems. I cannot support this amendment.

5.15 pm.

I believe that these parts of the Bill are absolutely central to the Government's economic and political philosophy. The clauses on school meals, milk and transport are the meanest, most rotten and most evil pieces of legislation. I believe that thousands of people throughout the country are now in open revolt over these proposals. It is important therefore that the House gives serious consideration to the amendments.

The hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) properly raised the question of the social usefulness of school meals and the problem of the poverty trap. If one defines the usefulness of school meals in our society and asks why these amendments should be carried into legislation, one must take account of the social usefulness of school meals to the children themselves. At mid-day children should have the opportunity to sit down to a communal meal.

In talking about the value of school meals we must consider them important because they provide nutritional support for the poorest children. When we consider the cost of the school meals service we must remember that the Government are not acting in a vacuum but in the context of the wider economic problems that they face.

I challenge the need to cut the school meals service at all, given the fact that Government revenues from North Sea oil will be substantial in the next four years. By 1984 North Sea oil will be bringing in probably more than income tax—something to the tune of £25,000 million a year. Against that background should the Government not be saying that they will spend some of those revenues to support the poorest families and provide a service regarded by many people as essential to the welfare of children?

The school meals service is important for a child's educational and social development. The proposals in the Bill which the amendments seek to rectify have been put forward against the background of falling consumption—according to a national food survey—of meat, cheese and milk. That consumption was falling during the first years of the last Labour Government. Unfortunately that is as far as the figures go.

It is absolutely monstrous that the Government should pretend that, somehow, economic circumstances have so changed that we must abolish the school meals service in many parts of the country or allow it to continue only in such an attenuated form that it benefits the smallest proportion of our children.

The Government argue that the cuts in the school meals service can be achieved by reorganisation and changes in nutritional standards. The Secretary of State is fond of saying that local authorities have been given the power to vary the school meals service in order to provide more choice. That argument is completely at variance with previous advice issued by his own Department and is totally at variance with reality. In 1975 the Department of Education and Science published a report "Catering in Schools". Dealing with infants and younger school pupils, the report said
"We believe that the school catering service should not normally offer any daily choice of menu to these children. The exercise of even the simplest choice can be a difficult matter for young children…The meal for this group should be the set two-course type, and include a variety of suitable combinations of meat and vegetables and main dishes built around other animal protein foods—fish, eggs or cheese."
The report went on to describe the problems of choice affecting children in the 9–14 age group. It stated:
"We recommend that the middle years' age group should be offered a set meal with some choice in each of the two courses provided…We considered whether the older pupils in the age group…should be given the option of an a la carte meal, but we decided against this. These particular pupils are at a critical stage in their physical development, and they have an enhanced need for both energy and nutrients. It is particularly important for them to eat a midday meal which meetts the recommended nutritional standard and an a la carte system would provide no guarantee that they would do so."
Savings cannot be made by introducing such an a la carte system without cutting the nutritional standards for children under 14 and causing substantial harm to their health. A number of local authorities are engaged in experiments with cafeteria and a la carte systems. Examples are Leicester, Cornwall, Red bridge, Hillingdon, Surrey, Devon, Somerset, Lancashire, Berkshire and North Yorkshire.

Savings on school meals will be made by introducing a la carte systems, not because the authorities want to extend choice but because they want to cut costs by lowering nutritional standards and by reducing the number of workers. Earlier the Secretary of State asked for examples of local authorities which are taking action to remove the school meals service completely. If a local authority increases the price of a school meal to 60p that is the result of a political decision. Such an authority is saying to its electors "We do not really want to run a school meals service. We want to ration the number of school meals provided by price". If local authorities seriously want to phase out the school meals system in an area, all that they have to do is to raise the prices, because parents will not be able to afford them.

Will the local authority in whose area the hon. Member for Wood Green (Mr. Race) lives do that?

My local authority is Labour-controlled and I hope that it will do nothing of the kind. However, I am sure that many Conservative-controlled authorities will do it because they have said that they will. Many Conservative-controlled authorities will reduce the nutritional standard of school meals. That is wholly deplorable.

For example, the Lincolnshire county council school working party has agreed to a simplified menu pattern which will cut food costs, by 2·3p per meal, at November 1979 prices, and reduce the food value of the meal by approximately 13 per cent. That is a far cry from the attacks by Tory Members on the high marginal costs of the school meal service. That authority has been given the freedom by the Secretary of State. It is not cutting manpower costs but cutting nutrition by 13 per cent. That is the name of the game for the Tory-controlled local authorities.

Liverpool plans to save £1 million by using frozen meals prepared by outside contractors. Essex county council plans to cut the cost of food in primary schools by 2p a meal to produce a £700,000 saving. That authority plans to use convenience foods at such a level that staff can be cut by 40 per cent. A number of other authorities are planning similar cuts.

If we are serious about providing meals for children at school it is no good assuming that local authorities will, under the terms of the Bill, be prepared to provide proper meals of set nutritional values. The whole purpose of the Bill is to remove that obligation from local authorities and to enable them to save money as part of the Government's public expenditure programme.

The current cost of a school meal is 54p of which only 16·5 is spent on food. The implication is that the rest is wasted or frittered away in administration. That is not so. The rest of the cost goes to pay the wages of the workers who are relatively low paid, although they are paid more than the catering wages council rates. If Tory Members are critical of the amount spent on the meals service simply because the workers are paid slightly more than poverty-line wages, they should say so openly.

The school meals service is efficient. That is not only my view, it is the view of the local authority employers. When they were examining the prospect of reducing the number of workers in local Government under the last Labour Government they examined the possibility of introducing a bonus scheme in the school meals service. They discovered that the prospect of doing that wasnon-existent because the school meal workers were so efficient that the majority of them were working at above the bonus performance. The authorities did not want to pay out money on a performance level which was already achieved. To say that waste is incurred on a vast scale is the biggest load of garbage that I have heard in the House since I was elected.

It is clear that a reduction in the school meals provision will affect women at work. The Equal Opportunities Commission has said that such a reduction and attacks on other items such as nurseries will affect working women. The Government have an appalling record for making provision for women. The Government have said that they intend to remove the statutory requirement to supply school meals and milk. They have said that they intend to remove other supportive measures for women in work, such as the return-to-work provisions in the Employment Protection Act. They are also reducing the number of nurseries.

It is nonsense to say that the Government are providing incentives, as they promised in their election manifesto. Children are being asked to perform better at school while going hungry at lunch time and doing without the protein and calcium now provided to the under-seven-year-olds in school milk. The amendments are necessary. If they are not carried a generation of children will grow up many of whom will be under fed and some of whom will have been deprived of the nutrient of school milk. That will store up many problems for the future.

5.30 pm

It is not the purpose of the debate to explore the economic position of the country. Nevertheless, the clause is included in the Bill because of the economic position. For the better part of the past decade public expenditure cuts have been the order of the day. Successive Governments have urged local authorities to cut back on their expenditure.

Unfortunately, because of the statutory overload that has been placed by Government legislation on local authorities, the areas that could be considered to make substantial savings have been narrowed. That has resulted in many of the services, in an overall sense, becoming depressed. Consequently, we have many three-wheeled wagons rolling along the road. We have done many things rather badly because we have been slicing off the top.

What the Bill attempts to do, in response to the tremendous pressure from local authorities for many years, is to give them greater discretion. It will allow them to consider larger areas of the expenditure that they incur and to use discretion. We hear much in the Chamber—and lip service is paid to it by hon. Members on both sides on occasions—about that essential ingredient of our democratic system, local authority freedom.

As I said on Second Reading, freedom carries with it its own responsibilities. Local authorities must not be afraid of exercising those responsibilities. By proposing to reduce by about 50 per cent. the amount contained in the rate support grant settlement for the school meals service we are giving to local authorities a greater area of discretion.

If freedom carries responsibility, does not responsibility carry freedom? The responsibilities that local authorities bear already and the reduced resources that are to be made available to them render that freedom ineffectual.

I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman's argument. Local authorities have proper means to consider areas that are of great importance to many people. We have heard many points of view this afternoon about the validity of the argument about the poverty trap. As I said in Committee, hon. Members on both sides share many worries about that problem. However, the validity of that argument does not make invalid the reason for putting the clause in the Bill. Unless we are further to depress overall levels, we must find areas where greater discretion can be applied.

My hon. Friend the Member for Gravesend (Mr. Brinton) touched on the present inequities that exist within our social security system. That has to be considered in the context of where we are today. The Act was framed in 1944, and when considered against the background of 1980 it is clear that social conditions have changed. It is perfectly fair to say that there are still many in this country who are, by any definition, deprived. But it is equally true to say that the position is not as bad, and that the demands for a public and expensive umbrella in the school meals service are not as great in 1980 as they were in 1944.

While I accept the points made by the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) about the poverty trap, so eloquently expressed by the hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field) in the debate last week, the validity of the clause being in the Bill still exists.

From the point of view advanced by the Conservative Party, is it not the case that it is almost irrespective of whether people are poor? One of the questions that he should be asking is whether they would be better off working. The effect of the Bill is to make sure that that is not the case.

That may or may not be the case. It is not a point to ne argued in an education debate. I stand by my statement that it is the function of the education service to educate. We have to consider the issue in the context of 1980 and ask "Are we getting value for money that we are putting into education?" We must consider all areas of education expenditure.

Five per cent. of the total budget for education is spent on the school meals service. It is an expensive service, especially at the top end where it might be top heavy. A cutback to 2· per cent. of that in no way can be construed as abandoning the service. It is merely fixing it at a more realistic level.

I wish to make two more points. One relates to an issue that concerned all Members in Committee, namely, the stigma upon those in receipt of free school meals. It must be the concern of everyone in the House, and of every responsible LEA councillor, to ensure that whatever scheme is put into force in individual local authorities to provide children with free meals—those whose families are in receipt of family income supplement or supplementary benefit, or fall within the provisions of a later clause in the Bill referring to local authority discretion—is operated in such a manner that the individual child is in no way singled out.

To continue, regrettably, with the position that has existed in the past is totaly indefensible, and I hope that hon. Members on both sides of the House will support me in saying that.

Secondly, I should like the House to consider a small point in the drafting of the Bill. I refer to Clause 22(2), which appears to contradict itself. It begins in a mandatory form by stating:
"A local education authority shall exercise their power under subsection (l)(a) above.".
it finishes by stating:
"so as to ensure that such provision is made for him in the middle of the day as appears to the authority to be requisite".
There appears to be a conflict in the drafting on that point. I should be glad if the Minister would turn his mind to that matter when he replies.

Hon. Members who served on the Committee were briefed by practically every possible organisation. I wish to make one or two fundamental points, as one who has lived all his teaching life with the school meals service. Clause 22(3)(a) states that a local education authority

"may make such charges as they think fit for anything provided by them".
That is the position that the Bill will bring about at a time of developing mass unemployment, strikes, industrial struggles and so on. The hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) was a teacher, and I pay tribute to the way in which he has fought valiantly, both in Committee and in his speech in the House today, against the Bill. He pointed out the contribution to the health and education of our children that has been made by the school meals service. I wish to speak from that viewpoint.

I remember the dinner woman and the ancillary staff in the kitchens of schools. Teachers and, in my case, a head teacher visited the kitchens every morning and saw how clean they were and how well fed the children were. It meant that teachers were able to teach children that much better.

There is one sentence in the brief from the National Union of Teachers of which everyone should take account:
"Large numbers of children now go to school without breakfast, so that they have depended on their school dinner and milk to keep them going through the day. This lack of adequate nourishment would threaten all those children in local authorities which could, as a result of the proposed legislation, choose to discontinue a nutrionally adequate meals service for the majority of children."
The NUT makes the educational point:
"Teachers recognise the pre-lunch-time slackening of effort and attention which is due to poor concentration resulting from hunger. How much worse a problem this would become if there was no midday meal provided and children tried to get by on a bag of crisps and a fizzy drink. The teachers' efforts to assist their pupils' learning would be wasted in the afternoons."
That is the essence of what would occur in education in view of what the Government, in my view unwittingly, are about to perpetrate on our children. Five million children—there used to be more—take school meals, and about 1 million of those have free school meals.

The heading of the Advisory Centre for Education's brief is:
"How LEAs will he free to demolish school meals service."
This is an all-out attack on the school meals service, just as the Bill is a demolition attack on nursery education.

The ACE states:
"If the Government's proposals to alter the school meals service go through, education authorities will be able to provide meals of any nutritional standard they like, charge any price, and offer free school meals only when they feel it is 'necessary'."
Having mentioned the educational point, I want now to refer to those children—in some areas it is as many as five or six out of every 10—who go to school without breakfast. In the 1930s there were centres in every area to which children could go for breakfast. A mug of cocoa and a slice of bread and dripping were provided for many children. A Birmingham school has recently started giving breakfast and it is trying to continue to do so because the headmaster saw the need for this provision.

I turn now to a recent experiment in providing free school meals for children. Many more children will soon be in need of free school meals, but, under the provisions of the Bill, fewer children will get them. Therefore, rickets will begin to creep back. That is the reality.

Recently, the Lancet produced an analysis of the heights of children receiving free school meals compared with those receiving subsidised school meals. The
"analysis of the heights of 10,000 primary children from 28 areas of England and Scotland showed that children receiving free school meals were significantly shorter than those children in the other two groups after making allowances for differences in father's social class".
That analysis is saying that these children, before they got the free school meals were already deprived and smaller and were suffering more than other children before applications for free school meals were made.

I know many proud, honourable working people whom I had to ask to apply for free school meals for their children, but who were too proud to do so. I asked them to apply for free clothing for their children, but they were too proud to do that. Even when it was proved that they had a right to these benefits, many of them still held out and would not apply for them. They would hear on the television and so on about slackers and dodgers, and these honourable people would not avail themselves of their rights. Therefore, as I said in Committee, there is a submerged one-tenth of people who are too proud to apply for and accept these benefits even when they are offered.

Will my hon. Friend also bear in mind that there is geographical discrimination? A recent parliamentary reply pointed out that in the county of Durham 18 per cent. of children having school meals were free mealers compared with 7 per cent. in the county of Surrey.

That is true. My right hon. Friend was a distinguished head teacher and had to work within the school meals service.

What the Government are about to do will aim a terrible educational blow at our children. Many children are in need. This legislation will make them even more in need. I am staggered that the Government can talk incessantly about educational standards when the only educational standards that they want to raise are private educational standards. The Bill will limit the educational standards of the vast majority of children, especially the poorest of our children.

5.45 pm

On 26 October last year the Secretary of State for Education and Science held a press conference to introduce this miserable Bill. He is reported to have admitted that of the 1,100,000 pupils receiving free meals, 500,000 will no longer be eligible as a result of this legislation.

I take it that these figures refer only to England and Wales. But, as we now have the Secretary of State for Scotland here on one of his rare appearances, perhaps he will clarify that point. At any rate, in reply to a question, he told me that in Scotland out of 430,000 pupils receiving school meals, 143,000 were receiving free meals. I should guess that if the proportion is roughly the same as in England and Wales, about 70,000 children in Scotland will no longer qualify for free school meals as a result of this legislation.

The parents of those children do not receive supplementary benefit or family income supplement. Their children qualify for free school meals because the scale rates of income for free meals, as laid down by the Secretary of State, are more generous than the scale rate of income for supplementary benefit or family income supplement. Therefore, the parents of those children will, in the first instance, face an increase of 35p as a result of the increased approved a fortnight ago. But already I hear that certain local authorities in Scotland and elsewhere are to put prices up far beyond the 35p for the coming financial year. The whole aim of the Bill is to give them discretion to charge what they like. I have heard of some authorities which charge 40p and others 50p and others as much as 60p. The whole thing will escalate in the months and years to come.

Those who will be penalised most will be the working poor on low incomes. They will be deprived of the incentive to work by a Government who claim that they were elected on a manifesto that would increase incentives to work. What incentive is there for low income people to work if by so doing, taking into account the social wage, they will have less than they would have if they were not working? This clause will make the so-called poverty trap deeper and wider and more people will fall into it.

My hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Flannery) referred to the article in the Lancet. I should like to emphasise one point in that same article:
"These results suggest that a large proportion of the children who received free school meals were of lower nutritional status."
It sums up by stating that surveillance indicates
"that free school meals are going to the right group of children and that withdrawal might well prejudice their future development."
That is backed by a circular, which we received, from the Advisory Centre for Education referring to another survey by Baker and others reported in the Lancet on 29 September 1979 supporting the previous survey. The circular from the Advisory Centre for Education goes on to say:
"It is perhaps worth pointing out that both of the above studies were set up and funded by the DHSS Sub-Committee on Nutritional Surveillance…Mrs. Thatcher herself announced in the House of Commons that these studies would be undertaken: the government thus has within its possession information strongly suggesting that the proposed changes in eligibility to free school meals are not a good idea."
Yet, the Government continue to propose such regressive ideas. As my hon. Friend the Member for Hillsborough pointed out, we should be aware of the possibility of the return of rickets as a result of the lack of nutrition to children, through the deprivation of their rights to school meals and milk.

I shall not give way to the hon. Gentleman as we are short of time. I do not believe that the hon. Gentleman was present for the early part of the debate.

I am sorry that the hon. Member for Brent, North (Dr. Boyson) is not here. I have a report of a survey of schoolchildren in the London borough of Brent which shows that a substantial number of children there go to school having had no breakfast. That number consisted of 4 per cent. in the infant classes, 9 per cent. in the junior classes and 21 per cent. in the senior classes. Therefore, the Minister is clobbering not only all our constituents but his own as well. It is no wonder that there has been such universal protest from parents, teachers, teachers unions, teachers associations, family service unions, the Child Poverty Action Group and even from the National Farmers Union about the proposals. The Scottish National Farmers Union sent a circular to hon. Members who had the privilege or otherwise of serving on the Committee. On the subject of clause 24, "School meals in Scotland", the circular stated:
"Mr. Dennis Canavan has already put forward amendment 85 to substitute 'shall' for 'may' in line 31 on page 22 of the Bill. We would recommend this amendment for your attention."
Contrary to rumours, I am not sponsored by the Scottish National Farmers Union.

I wonder if the hon. Gentleman would agree with my suggestion that the responsibility for sending children to school without breakfast should not end up solely on the Government Front Bench, but it should rest in some part with parents.

In some cases, there may be an element of parental blame. However, part of the historical reason why the school meals service was instituted was that the school, although it should never be seen as a replacement for the home, should be a complement to the home as far as education and other aspects of looking after children are concerned.

I understand that the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities is opposed to the proposals. It expressed its opposition as long ago as October when the Scottish Office sent out a secret confidential memorandum to it which stated:
"Under the present regulations education authorities are required to provide meals free of charge for children from low income families. In line with the Government's policy of allowing greater discretion to local authorities, the intention is to let education authorities decide entirely for themselves what provision should be made in future for children from low income families."
In other words, not only will the number of eligible children be reduced but also the standard of the meals will be reduced. That is completely contrary to a Scottish Education Department recommendation that was published as recently as 1975. Recommendation 16 of the document "Catering in Scottish Schools" stated:
"The Scottish Education Department should, from time to time, give general guidance to education authorities on the minimum nutritional requirements for nursery and primary school children and should also give such other guidance on nutrition as may be considered necessary".
Yet, so soon after that publication, the Government are giving local authorities carte blanche about the standards of nutrition of the school meals. Their only justification, if there is one, is that it will save public money. The sum of £220 million is mentioned in the Bill—it is £20 million as far as Scotland is concerned. Yet, the figures in the financial and explanatory memorandum of the Bill—although they are being reconsidered—state that the sum of £55 million is being set aside for the assisted places scheme for fee-paying schools—an extra £5 million for fee-paying schools in Scotland.

At the same time, it looks as though the Government will reduce the school meals service by half. The Secretary of State for Scotland has said that the school meals budget is about £39·3 million per annum. Perhaps employment will be reduced by half as well. That will involve about 8,500 or 9,000 jobs in Scotland at a time when unemployment there is already over 200,000. This clause will cause a reduction in children's standards of health and education. It will increase the poverty trap and unemployment. If the clause is not withdrawn by the Government, I hope that they will accept some of our amendments. This is one of the most miserable clauses in one of the most miserable pieces of legislation in the history of education in this country.

I am sure that the Scottish National Farmers Union will be grateful for the clarification given by the hon. Member for West Stirlingshire (Mr. Canavan).

In as short a time as possible I shall try to deal with some of the many points that have been raised during this all-too short debate. The hon. Member for Bolton, West (Mrs. Taylor) referred, as usual—indeed we have been over this ground so much over the last 120 hours or so, but I am happy to argue the case again—to the dismantling of the school meals service. I reassure the House that there is no such intention. What depresses me is the fact that so few Opposition Members have faith or confidence in their local representatives. They do not exhibit much confidence in locally elected representatives from their party, local officials or local school governors.

The hon. Member for Bolton, West also took me to task for the apparent suggestion in Committee that I indicated at some stage that I was less than caring about nutrition and nutritional standards. I should like to verify, for the sake of the debate, that at 6 pm on 30 January 1980 I said:
"There is a risk that a small number of children may be less well nourished as a result, or by general withdrawal of milk, but that is no argument for continuing the obligation on local education authorities to supply free milk to large numbers of children who do not need it."—[Official Report, Standing Committee D; 30 January 1980; c. 1824.]
I shall not bore the House by continuing with that quotation. Suffice it to say that, subsequently, Opposition Members have indicated that I said that there would be malnutrition. That is certainly not what I said. I said that some children might be less well nourished. I hope that that clarifies the point.

The effect of amendment No. 34 will be to empower the Secretary of State to prescribe by order, exercise able by a statutory instrument under clause 34(1), an income level below which parents would be entitled to have such free provision made for their children at school at mid-day as appeared to the authority to be requisite. The intention behind subsections (2) and (3) is that, although any local education authority will have wide discretionary powers under the rest of clause 22 as regards what to provide and charge, there should be a statutory safeguard for children from the poorest families, namely, those receiving supplementary benefit or family income supplement. However, if an authority considered it appropriate to remit charges for other classes of children it would be bound to do to sunder subsection (2)(b). In that event, it might well make use of an income scale similar to the present statutory scale but with different income levels.

Although I am aware of the arguments put forward in favour of uniform entitlement to free provision in order to preclude inter-local education authority variation, I do not find convincing the arguments that have been put forward this afternoon.

6 pm

I should prefer to finish my speech as time is tight. The circumstances of local education authorities vary, as do the circumstances of the populations and communities that they serve. However, local authorities must be given the maximum scope for making reductions in expenditure. Therefore, the only national prescription of entitlement to free provision should be the national poverty levels. Beyond that, it must be for the local education authorities to determine their expenditure precisely. If they consider that inter-local education authority variation is undesirable, they have the means—through local authority associations—of reaching agreement on a scale that could be used or adapted by all local education authorities.

The Minister has made a telling point. He said that the purpose of the clause was to give maximum scope to local authorities to reduce their expenditure. The Government will maintain that pressure. Therefore, local authorities will have no opportunity of using such discretion in any substantial way, because the Government will continue to twist their arms. They therefore will be unable to get the resources.

We shall leave 50 per cent. of the school meals subsidy in the budget for 1980–81. The hon. Lady knows that. It depends upon the view that one takes of local authorities. It depends upon the chief education officer, the chairman of the education committee and, above all, the attitude displayed towards head teachers. Head teachers, form teachers and pastoral heads must know where discretionary powers should be exercised.

This is relevant to the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Garston (Mr. Thornton) and to amendment No. 37. There is no inconsistency between the phrase "shall exercise" in page 20, line 27 of the Bill, and the phrase found in lines 31 and 32,
"as appears to the authority to be requisite."
The first requires the local education authority to exercise its power under subsection (1)(a) in respect of those pupils. The second requires them to consider what is requisite in each case, and to provide accordingly. The two are linked by the words "so as to ensure". That phrase relates the exercise of the power to the performance of the duty to the pupil. If hon. Members have a copy of the Bill they will see that clause 22(2) makes that perfectly clear.

From the hon. Gentleman's words, it appears that he wants to make the poverty trap official. He has accepted that only nationally recognised poverty levels might require local authorities to make particular provision. If that is the case, why can he not accept amendment No. 39? At least that amendment ensures that someone who is poorer than a person on family income supplement and supplementary benefit will not suffer unduly as a result of the clause.

I shall come to that amendment shortly. However, I acknowledge the hon. Gentleman's point. We discussed the amendment in some detail in Committee. The hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) referred to the poverty trap. He propounded amendments Nos. 38, 39 and 40 which stand in his name, and that of the hon. Member for Cardigan (Mr. Howells). The theme of his speech surprised me. He did not exercise much confidence in local authority representatives. He seemed to think that most metropolitan authorities and county councils were dominated solely by representatives from the last century, who take no interest in the life of the community. That is depressing. I am concerned, because I judge from his remarks that many schools in his constituency will dismantle the meals service immediately. He therefore appears to consider that schools are incapable of acknowledging the problems of the community.

The hon. Gentleman painted a picture of the problems facing children in rural areas. He referred to the long distances that they have to travel and to the fact that the Bill will have the effect of turning them on to the streets at lunch time. That does not display much confidence in the schools' understanding of the local community. If he thinks that so many schools in his constituency are incapable of understanding the needs of parents and of children, he should talk about those schools so that we can understand his precise problems.

The schools are perfectly capable of understanding such problems. However, the Government are telling them to do this or that. The Government have said that, if the authorities do not make such changes, they will have to make cuts in the mainstream of education. The Secretary of State has admitted that.

The hon. Gentleman surprises me. He does not owe such alarm and despondency to his constituents. I beg him not to send a copy of Hansardto the local papers. If he did so, he would create gloom and despondency. One can only conclude that the hon. Gentleman has not looked closely at the legislation. That is the last thing that the Bill does. He does not owe that behaviour to his constituents.

I shall speak to amendment No. 39. In doing so, I hope that I shall answer some of the points raised by the hon. Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Kinnock). There must be hon. Members from all parties who are sympathetic with the intentions of the amendment. The poverty and incentive traps provide serious problems for the low-paid. Several hon. Members made that point when referring to the recent speech of the hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field). I am surprised and disappointed that the hon. Member for Birkenhead is not here, but perhaps there are good reasons for his absence.

Some of those who receive supplementary benefit or family income supplement will be worse off if they lose their entitlement as a result of increased income. Others, who do not receive supplementary benefit and family income supplement may be better off if they forgo some income and thereby become entitled to the benefits.

Nevertheless, the amendment could involve a local education authority in assessing family income according to two sets of rules, namely, those for supplementary benefit and those for family income supplement. The local authority is not familiar with either. The Department of Health and Social Security deals with both of those categories. It is familiar with the current free school meal regulations.

Under subsection 3(b) a local education authority is required to consider whether it would be appropriate to remit the charge for a class or description of pupil. That is in the Bill. It therefore has power to mitigate the poverty trap problem. Several authorities recognise the importance of doing so. I commend their policies to those that do not have full regard to local circumstances, and the needs and problems of families in their areas. However, to introduce a statutory safeguard would involve statutory regulations, whereas we have to decide that regulations relating to the provision of school meals and milk should be abandoned. That must go some way towards pacifying those Opposition Members who are justifiably concerned.

Many points have been made during the debate. My hon. Friend the Member for Gravesend (Mr. Brinton) spoke about the disproportionate cost of administering the school meals service. He also spoke of the low proportion that is spent on food. We know from experience that under existing legislation many local authorities have adapted their school meals service. They have adapted the type of storage used. Some authorities have central freezing units and have effective means of distribution. Some authorities may also use local private enterprise. I agree with the hon. Member for Wood Green (Mr. Race), who paid tribute to those who work in the school meals service. I freely and fully acknowledge the enormous contribution that that service makes to the life of schools. [Interruption.] Local education authorities, officers and chairmen of county authorities are responsible people. They know what is needed within the school community and they acknowledge their duties. Hon. Members should not be so disparaging about local government. They have no confidence. I am delighted that I attract such a lot of sedentary fire. However, I do not wish to inflame the situation further. I am always mindful of the words of the righthon. Member for Widnes (Mr. Oakes). He said that a Minister must be a peacemaker. I hope that I shall always fulfil those words.

Over the past five or six months I have communicated with local authority representatives from Devon, Somerset, Sheffield, Liverpool, Merseyside, the North-East and Northumberland. I have been in touch with many local education authorities and I have discussed their plans with them. In every case I found a mood of confidence and enthusiasm for the clause. [Interruption.] I am sorry if the hon. Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Kinnock) feels that derisive laughter is the order of the day. If he does not know what is going on in his local authority or in his local schools, he should get out and about and quickly find out.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned that he went to Sheffield. I was a member of the Sheffield education committee for many years. I shall be delighted if the hon Gentleman can prove that the committee was enthusiastic about the Bill. It has not conveyed that impression to me. On numerous occasions it has expressed the very opposite impression.

The local authorities with which I had discussions expressed approval for the theme behind this clause. They welcome it. The Association of County Councils and the Association of Metropolitan Authorities have expressed approval for the Bill. During the past 10 or 15 years there has been a change in catering on school premises. That aspect of nutrition does not hold good in 1979–80. Opposition Members know that that is the case. The diet and eating habits of children have changed and that is what children want.

It is right to let local education authorities have the freedom to adapt to local community needs. We are confident that local education authorities, chief education officers, chairmen of education committees and parent-teacher associations are responsible bodies and that they have the community interest at heart. The clause will not undermine or demolish the principle of the meals service. It is right that my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State has concentrated far more upon the preservation of educational services than on ancillary services. With that in mind, I urge the House to reject the amendments.

We were anxious to hear the Minister's reply in the hope that he had learned something from the Committee proceedings. However, we heard the same speech in Committee, and our doubtful pleasure in listening to it again tonight demonstrates that the Minister does not have it well rehearsed. We are no more convinced tonight than we were in Committee.

I have seldom heard such facile arguments as those put forward by Ministers and Government Back Benchers. We have put down amendments about nutritional standards of school meals, and all hon. Members know, no one better that the Secretary of State for Education and Science and the Secretary of State for Scotland, that this clause and the accompanying Scottish clause, clause 24, are concerned purely with saving money. They have nothing to do with nutritional standards and the need to make sure that our children are adequately fed.

As the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) says, the clauses are about saving money. The Minister replied to the hon. Gentleman by saying that if local authorities do not make the cuts imposed by the Government in respect of school meals, milk and transport, other educational services will not necessarily have to be cut. That denial is a clear indication that he has no idea of the content of circulars from the Scottish Office.

I have a report of the meeting between the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities and officials from the Scottish Education Department. I shall not name the officials as they were speaking for the Minister, and he will want to accept full responsibility for what they said. They said:
"the percentage savings in meals, milk and transport would have to be proportionately greater if the main education service was not to undergo severe cuts".
It is the cruellest deception for Ministers to seek to present the proposals as a better way of feeding our children at school. [Interruption.]

The hon. Member for Rochester and Chatham (Mrs. Fenner), who had responsibility for prices in the previous Conservative Government, between 1970 and 1974, was once described by me as the most expensive hen in Great Britain. She will be well advised to sit quietly in her seat tonight.

This proposal is the cruellest deception on children and parents since education Acts were introduced.

Last night we saw the beginning of the end of nursery education. Tonight it is the beginning of the end of the school meals service. It is a service entrenched in legislation since 1945. Since then local authorities have been under a duty to provide mid-day meals. Children have been entitled to those meals for 35 years. We are suddenly told, in a blinding flash by the right hon. and learned Gentleman and his colleagues, that these meals are not as good for children as we have been led to believe over the past 35 years. The Government give that service no credit for our children's improved health standards.

The hon. Member for Gravesend (Mr. Brinton) says that the alternative to reducing expenditure on school meals is a negative income tax system. I can imagine his constituents saying "We do not have negative income tax, Mr. Brinton. What do we do in the meantime?" He will reply "I just go to the House of Commons and tell fairy tales about Mary Poppins". I am sure that his constituents will be impressed.

6.15 pm

We have thrown life-line after life-line to the Government, which they have refused to grasp even, I believe, against the will of their Back Benchers. The debate has been significant for its lack of support from the Government Back Benches. However, the number of Government Back Benchers now present is about 10 times what it has been during the debate. I suspect that no Government Back Bencher has the stomach to bulldoze such a proposal through. However, they will do so, and that greatly annoys us.

I wish to mention mainly the Scottish provision. I referred earlier to a meeting between the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities and officials from the Scottish Education Department. Expenditure on school meals in Scotland is to be cut by 44 per cent. in the coming financial year. Let us assume that there is no drop in the uptake of school meals. Those paying for meals, and not having them free of charge, will have to pay an extra 24½p a day to make good the 44 per cent. that is being filched from Scottish local authorities by the Minister with responsibility for education at the Scottish Office.

If the normal pattern prevails, and the uptake drops by 25 per cent., the increase for those still taking school meals will be 40p a day. I asked the Minister to quantify the likely increase in October of last year, and he then gave me a figure of 30p a day. That was assuming no drop in the uptake. He said that he could not give a figure, assuming a drop in the uptake. My calculation comes from a good source. We already see signs of substantial increases. Grampian regional council has decided to increase school meal prices, when it is free to do so, to 42p.

As my hon. Friend the Member for West Stirlingshire (Mr. Canavan) said, we are talking of an increase of from nothing to 42p for children whose families receive neither family income supplement nor supplementary benefit, but are just above that level. The Minister should not authorise his officials to say to the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities that it will be left to authorities to define what a low income family is. What we shall have in Scotland will be 10 different definitions of "low income families".

We have heard a lot of nonsense today about Labour Members not trusting local councillors. That is the biggest smokescreen that has ever been cast across any proposition by any Government. Of course we trust local councillors. But if we trusted them we would give them the money. The Government claim to trust them but at the same time they tell them that they will not give them money. When the local authorities exercise their discretion and decide to maintain the school meals service in its present form, the Minister from the Scottish Office, aided and abetted by the Secretary of State, holds press conferences to castigate local authorities because they have taken this decision.

The truth is that local councillors cannot win. On the one hand, the Government say that they have complete freedom and total discretion. On the other hand, they refuse to give them the money. When the local authorities decide to exercise their complete freedom, they are confronted by the Secretary of State for the Environment, who wants to vet all their speeches. Then the Secretary of State for Scotland calls them "rogue elephants".

We are seeing the beginning of the end of the school meals service. There will be no savings by the Government. Instead, they will incur the wrath of parents and children, and they will have to meet the expenditure incurred as a result of the redundancies. If the school meals service is dismantled, obviously there will be redundancies. The contracts of employment of those who work in the school meals service have not been considered. There will have to be discussions with the trade union movement. No Government should get the idea that they can just alter a contract of employment without discussing that alteration with the trade union involved. There will need to be discussions about the necessary changes in the contract of employment of all those employed in the school meals service.

No estimates have been made of the offsetting administrative costs. The kind of system that the Minister wants to see introduced, whereby local authorities have all this discretion will not mean what the Government claim it will mean. If the local authority wants to exercise its full discretion it will be able to do so only if the Government allow it to employ more administrative staff in order to operate the rather complex and compli- cated scheme. Local councillors are on a hiding to nothing. They have been placed in an impossible position

The Convention of Scottish Local Authorities summed it up in a letter to the Minister on 15 October. The letter said:

"We view with extreme disquiet the Government's intention to achieve through this legislation a substancial saving in public expenditure amounting to a 40 per cent. reduction".

The local authorities say they are in favour of discretion but they are not in favour of being placed in the position of possibly having to abandon the service. If the Minister wants evidence of local authorities worrying about having to abandon the service, that evidence is contained in this letter. The letter was written after the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities had been advised, first on 2 October and then by letter on 9 October, that the Scottish Office was thinking about introducing these clauses into this Bill.

There was a meeting on 9 October between officials from the Minister's Department and the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities to discuss one of the most radical changes that has been wrought on the local authorities since 1945. The convention was told that it had to submit its views within six days. That means that 35 years' history was turned upside down in six days by a Government which could not care less about children, old-age pensioners or anyone else.

Then we had the Bill published, presented to Parliament and read a Second time on 5 November. It is very difficult to avoid the suspicion that the Bill was drafted before the Minister went to the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities. From my experience I would say that it would have been nearly impossible to put together a Bill on 15 October and have it presented to Parliament and read a Second time by 5 November if the convention's views were to be taken seriously. But of course, there was never any intention of taking the convention's submissions seriously. The whole purpose of this exercise is to cut expenditure and save money in order to make more tax concessions to those who do not need them.

We are getting a little sick of being lectured about the nutritional needs of children by people who never see the inside of a State school except during a meeting at election time. Some of them would not know a school meal if they saw one. This is a disgraceful proposition and I invite my right hon. and hon. Friends to vote it down.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Division No. 179]

AYES

[6.27 pm

Abse, LeoDunnett, JackLeadbitter, Ted
Adams, AllenDunwoody, Mrs GwynethLeighton, Ronald
Allaun, FrankEadie, AlexLestor, Miss Joan (Eton & Slough)
Alton, DavidEastham, KenLewis, Arthur (Newham North West)
Anderson, DonaldEdwards, Robert (Wolv SE)Lewis, Ron (Carlisle)
Archer, Rt Hon PeterEllis, Raymond (NE Derbyshire)Litherland, Robert
Armstrong, Rt Hon ErnestEllis, Tom (Wrexham)Lofthouse, Geoffrey
Ashley, Rt Hon JackEnglish, MichaelLyon, Alexander (York)
Ashton, JoeEvans, Ioan (Aberdare)Lyons, Edward (Bradford West)
Atkinson, Norman (H'gey, Tott'ham)Ewing, HarryMabon, Rt Hon Dr J. Dickson
Barnett, Guy (Greenwich)Fitch, AlanMcCartney, Hugh
Barnett, Rt Hon Joel (Heywood)Fitt. GerardMcDonald, Dr Oonagh
Beith, A. J.Flannery, MartinMcElhone, Frank
Benn, Rt Hon Anthony WedgwoodFletcher, Ted (Darlington)McKay, Allen (Penistone)
Bennett, Andrew (Stockport N)Foot, Rt Hon MichaelMcKelvey, William
Bidwell, SydneyForrester, JohnMacKenzie, Rt Hon Gregor
Booth, Rt Hon AlbertFoster, DerekMaclennan, Robert
Boothroyd, Miss BettyFoulkes, GeorgeMcMahon, Andrew
Bottomley, Rt Hon Arthur (M'brough)Fraser, John (Lambeth, Norwood)McMillan, Tom (Glasgow, Central)
Bradley, TomFreeson, Rt Hon ReginaldMagee, Bryan
Bray, Dr JeremyFreud, ClementMarks, Kenneth
Brown, Hugh D. (Provan)Garrett, John (Norwich S)Marshall, David (Gl'asgow, Shettles'n)
Brown, Robert C. (Newcastle W)Garrett, W. E. (Wallsend)Marshall, Dr Edmund (Goole)
Brown, Ronald W. (Hackney S)George, BruceMarshall, Jim (Leicester South)
Brown, Ron (Edinburgh, Leith) Gilbert, Rt Hon Dr John Martin, Michael (Gl'gow, Sprlngb'rn)
Buchan, NormanGinsburg, DavidMason, Rt Hon Roy
Callaghan, Rt Hon J. (Cardiff SE)Golding, JohnMaxton, John
Callaghan, Jim (Middleton & P)Gourlay, HarryMaynard, Miss Joan
Campbell, IanGraham, TedMeacher, Michael
Campbell-Savours, DaleGrant, George (Morpeth)Mellish, Rt Hon Robert
Canavan, DennisGrant, John (Islington C)Millan, Rt Hon Bruce
Cant, R. B.Grimond, Rt Hon J. Miller, Dr M. S. (East Klbride)
Carmichael, NeilHamilton, James (Bothwell)Mitchell, Austin (Grimsby)
Carter-Jones, LewisHamilton, W. W. (Central iie)Mitchell, R. C. (Soton, Itchen)
Cartwright, JohnHarrison, Rt Hon WalterMorris, Rt Hon Alfred (Wythenshawe)
Clark, Dr David (South Shields)Hart, Rt Hon Dame JudithMorris, Rt Hon Charles (Openshaw)
Cocks, Rt Hon Michael (Bristol S)Hattersley, Rt Hon RoyMorris, Rt Hon John (Aberavon)
Cohen, StanleyKaynes, FrankMorton, George
Coleman, DonaldHealey, Rt Hon DenisMoyle, Rt Hon Roland
Concannon, Rt Hon J. D.Heffer, Eric S.Mulley, Rt Hon Frederick
Conlan, BernardHogg, Norman (E Dunbartonshire)Newens, Stanley
Cook, Robin F.Holland, Stuart (L'beth, Vauxhail)Oakes, Rt Hon Gordon
Cowans, HarryHome Robertson, JohnO'Halloran, Michael
Craigen, J. M. (Glasgow, Maryhill)Homewood, WilliamO'Neill, Martin
Crowther, J. S.Hooley, FrankOrme, Rt Hon Stanley
Cryer, BobHoram, JohnOwen, Rt Hon Dr David
Cunlilfe, LawrenceHowell, Rt Hon Denis (B'ham, Sm H)Palmer, Arthur
Cunningham, George (Islington S)Hughes, Mark (Durham)Park, George
Dalyell, TamHughes, Robert (Aberdeen North)Parker, John
Davidson, ArthurHughes, Roy (Newport)Parry, Robert
Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)Janner, Hon GrevillePavitt, Laurie
Davies, Ifor (Gower)Jay, Rt Hon DouglasPendry, Tom
Davis, Clinton (Hackney Central)John, BrynmorPenhaligon, David
Deakins, EricJohnson, James (Hull West)Powell, Raymond (Ogmore)
Dean, Joseph (Leeds West)Johnston, Russell (Iverness)Prescott, John
Dempsey, JamesJones, Rt Hon Alec (Rhondda)Price, Christopher (Lewisham West)
Dewar, DonaldJones, Barry (East Flint)Race, Reg
Dixon, DonaldJones, Dan (Burnley)Radice, Giles
Dobson, FrankKaufman, Rt Hon Co'aldRees, Rt Hon Merlyn (Leeds South)
Dormand, JackKerr, RussellRichardson, Jo
Douglas, DickKilroy-Silk, RobertRoberts, Allan (Bootle)
Douglas-Mann, BruceKinnock, NellRoberts, Ernest (Hackney North)
Dubs, AlfredLambie, DavidRoberts, Gwilym (Cannock)
Duffy, A. E. P.Lamborn, HarryRobertson, George
Dunn, James A. (Liverpool, Kirkdale)Lamond, JamesRobinson, Geoffrey (Coventry NW)

Amendment proposed: No. 39, in page 20, line 41, at end insert—

'or if they are satisfied that the effect of the charges under this section and section 23(3) would be to cause that pupil's family to be poorer than they would be if their income were reduced to Family Income Supplement or Supplementary Benefit level.'.—[Mrs. Ann Taylor.]

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The House divided: Ayes 252, Noes 313.

Rodgers, Rt Hon WilliamSteel, Rt Hon DavidWeetch, Ken
Rooker, J. W.Stoddart, DavidWellbeloved, James
Ross, Ernest (Dundee West)Stott, RogerWelsh, Michael
Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight)Strang, GavinWhite, Frank R. (Bury & Radcliffe)
Rowlands, TedStraw, JackWhite, James (Glasgow, Pollok)
Sandelson, NevilleSummerskill, Hon Dr ShirleyWhitehead, Phillip
Sever, JohnTaylor, Mrs Ann (Bolton West)Whitlock, William
Sheer man, BarryThomas, Dafydd (Merioneth)Wigley, Dafydd
Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert (A'ton-u-L)Thomas, Jeffrey (Abertillery)Willey, Rt Hon Frederick
Shore, Rt Hon Peter (Step and Pop)Thomas, Mike (Newcastle East)Wilson, Rt Hon Sir Harold (Huyton)
Short, Mrs RenéeThomas, Dr Roger (Carmarthen)Wilson, William (Coventry SE)
Silkin, Rt Hon John (Deptford)Thorne, Stan (Preston South)Winnick, David
Sllkin, Rt Hon S. C. (Dulwich)Tilley, JohnWoodall, Alec
Silverman, JuliusTinn, JamesWrigglesworth, Ian
Smith, Cyril (Rochdaie)Torney, TomWright, Sheila
Smith, Rt Hon J. (North Lanarkshire)Urwin, Rt Hon TomYoung, David (Bolton East)
Snape, peterVarley, Rt Hon Eric G.
Soley, CliveWainwright, Edwin (Dearne Valley)TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Spearing, NigelWainwright, Richard (Colne Valley)Mr. John Evans and
Spriggs, LeslieWalker, Rt Hon Harold (Doncaster)Mr. Terry Davis.
Stallard, A. W.

NOES

Adley, RobertCorrie, JohnHayhoe, Barney
Aitken, JonathanCostain, A. P.Heath, Rt Hon Edward
Alexander, RichardCranborne, ViscountHeddle, John
Alison, MichaelCritchley, JulianHenderson, Barry
Amery, Rt Hon JulianCrouch, DavidHaseltine, Rt Hon Michael
Ancram, MichaelDean, Paul (North Somerset)Hicks, Robert
Arnold, TomDickens, GeoffreyHiggins, Rt Hon Terence L.
Aspinwall, JackDorrell, StephenHill, James
Atkins, Rt Hon H. (Spelthorne)Douglas-Hamilton, Lord JamesHogg, Hon Douglas (Grantham)
Atkins, Robert (Preston North)Dover, DenshoreHolland, Philip (Carlton)
Atkinson, David (B'mouth, East)du Cann, Rt Hon EdwardHooson, Tom
Baker, Kenneth (St. Marylebone)Dunn, Robert (Dartford)Hordern, Peter
Baker, Nicholas (North Dorset)Durant, TonyHowe, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey
Beaumont-Dark, AnthonyDykes, HughHowell, Rt Hon David (Guildford)
Bell, Sir RonaldEden, Rt Hon Sir JohnHowell, Ralph (North Norfolk)
Bendall, VivianEdwards, Rt Hon N. (Pembroke)Hunt, David (Wirral)
Benyon, Thomas (Abingdon)Eggar, TimothyHunt, John (Ravensbourne)
Benyon, W. (Buckingham)Elliott, Sir WilliamHurd, Hon Douglas
Best, KeithEmery, PeterIrvine, Charles (Cheltenham)
Bevan, David GilroyFairbairn, NicholasJenkin, Rt Hon Patrick
Biffen, Rt Hon JohnFairgrieve, RussellJohnson Smith, Geoffrey
Biggs-Davison, JohnFaith, Mrs SheilaJopling, Rt Hon Michael
Blackburn, JohnFarr, JohnJoseph, Rt Hon Sir Keith
Blaker, PeterFell, AnthonyKaberry, Sir Donald
Body, RichardFenner, Mrs PeggyKimball, Marcus
Bonsor, Sir NicholasFinsberg, GeoffreyKing, Rt Hon Tom
Boscawen, Hon RobertFisher, Sir NigelKitson, Sir Timothy
Bottomley, Peter (Woolwich West)Fietcher, Alexander (Edinburgh N)Knight, Mrs Jill
Bowden, AndrewFookes, Miss JanetKnox, David
Boyson, Dr RhodesForman, NigelLamont, Norman
Braine, Sir BernardFowler, Rt Hon NormanLang, Ian
Bright, GrahamFox, MarcusLangford-Holt, Sir John
Brinton, TimFraser, Rt Hon H. (Stafford & St)Latham, Michael
Brittan, LeonFraser, Peter (South Angus)Lawrence, Ivan
Brocklebank-Fowler, ChristopherFry, PeterLee, John
Brooke, Hon PeterGalbraith, Hon T. G. D.Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark
Brotherton, MichaelGardiner George (Reigate)Lester, Jim (Beeston)
Brown, Michael (Brigg & Sc'thorpe)Gardner, Edward (South Fylde)Lewis, Kenneth (Rutland)
Browne, John (Winchester)Garel-Jones, TristanLloyd, Ian (Havant & Waterloo)
Bruce-Gardyne, JohnGilmour, Rt Hon Sir IanLloyd, Peter (Fareham)
Bryan, Sir PaulGlyn, Dr AlanLoveridge, John
Buchanan-Smith, Hon AlickGoodhart, PhilipLuce, Richard
Buck, AntonyGoodlad, AlastairLyell, Nicholas
Budgen, NickGorst, JohnMcCrindie, Robert
Bulmer, EsmondGow, IanMcCusker, H.
Burden, F. A.Gower, Sir RaymondMacfarlane, Neil
Butcher, JohnGrant, Anthony (Harrow C)MacGregor, John
Butler, Hon AdamGray, HamishMacKay, John (Argyll)
Cadbury, JocelynGreenway, HarryMcNair-Wilson, Michael (Newbury)
Carlisle, John (Luton West)Griffiths, Eldon (Bury St Edmunds)McNair-Wilson, Patrick (New Forest)
Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth N)McQuarrie, Albert
Carlisle, Rt Hon Mark (Runcorn)Grist, IanMade), David
Chalker, Mrs LyndaGrylls, MichaelMajor, John
Channon, PaulGummer, John SelwynMarland, Paul
Chapman, SydneyHamilton, Hon Archie (Eps'm&Ew'll)Marlow, Tony
Clark, Hon Alan (Plymouth, Sutton)Hamilton, Michael (Salisbury)Marshall, Michael (Arundel)
Clark, Sir William (Croydon South)Hampson, Dr KeithMarten, Neil (Banbury)
Clarke, Kenneth (Rushcliffe)Hannam, JohnMates, Michael
Cockeram, EricHaselhurst, AlanMather, Carol
Colvin, MichaelHastings, StephenMaude, Rt Hon Angus
Cope,JohnHavers, Rt Hon Sir MichaelMawby, Ray
Cormack, PatrickHawksley, WarrenMawhinney, Dr Brian

Maxwell-Hyslop, RobinPrior, Rt Hon JamesTapsell, Peter
Mayhew, PatrickProctor, K. HarveyTaylor, Robert (Croydon NW)
Mellor, DavidPym, Rt Hon FrancisTebbit, Norman
Meyer, Sir AnthonyRaison, TimothyTemple-Morris, Peter
Miller, Hal (Bromsgrove & Redditch)Rathbone, TimThatcher, Rt Hon Mrs Margaret
Mills, Iain (Meriden)Rees, Peter (Dover and Deal)Thomas, Rt Hon Peter (Hendon S)
Mills, Peter (West Devon)Rees-Davies, W. R.Thompson, Donald
Miscampbell, NormanRenton, TimThorne, Neil (Ilford South)
Mitchell, David (Basingstoke)Rhodes James, RobertThornton, Malcolm
Moate, RogerRidley, Hon NicholasTownend, John (Bridlington)
Molyneaux, JamesRidsdale, JulianTownsend, Cyril D. (Bexleyheath)
Monro, HectorRifkind, MalcolmTrippier, David
Montgomery, FergusRoberts, Wyn (Conway)Trotter, Neville
Moore, JohnRoss, Wm. (Londonderry)van Straubenzee, W. R.
Morris, Michael (Northampton, Sth)Rossi, HughVaughan, Dr Gerard
Morrison, Hon Charles (Devizes)Rost, PeterViggers, Peter
Morrison, Hon Peter (City of Chester)Royle, Sir AnthonyWaddington, David
Mudd, DavidSainsbury, Hon TimothyWakeham, John
Murphy, ChristopherSt. John-Stevas, Rt Hon NormanWaldegrave, Hon William
Myles, DavidScott, NicholasWalker, Rl Hon peter (Worcester)
Neale, GerrardShaw, Giles (Pudsey)Walker, Bill (Perth & E Perthshire)
Needham, RichardShelton, William (Streatham)Walker-Smith, Rt Hon Sir Derek
Nelson, AnthonyShepherd, Richard (Aldridge-Br'hills)Waller, Gary
Neubert, MichaelShersby, MichaelWalters, Dennis
Newton, TonySilvester, FredWard, John
Nott, Rt Hon JohnSims, RogerWarren, Kenneth
Onslow, CranleySkeet, T. H. H.Watson, John
Osborn, JohnSmith, Dudley (War. and Leam'ton)Wells, John (Maidstone)
Page, John (Harrow, West)Speed, KeithWells, Bowen (Hert'rd & Stev'nage)
Page, Rt Hon Sir R. GrahamSpeller, TonyWheeler, John
Page, Richard (SW Hertfordshire)Spence, JohnWhitelaw, Rt Hon William
Parkinson, CecilSpicer, Jim (West Dorset)Whitney, Raymond
Parris, MatthewSpicer, Michael (S Worcestershire)Wickenden, Keith
Patten, Christopher (Bath)Sproat, IainWiggin, Jerry
Patten, John (Oxford)Squire, RobinWilkinson, John
Patltie, GeoffreyStainton, KeithWinterton, Nicholas
Pawsey, JamesStanbrook, IvorWolfson, Mark
Percival, Sir IanStanley, JohnYoung, Sir George (Acton)
Peyton, Rt Hon JohnSteen, AnthonyYounger, Rt Hon George
Pink, R. BonnerStevens, Martin
Pollock, AlexanderStewart, Ian (Hitchin)TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Porter, GeorgeStewart, John (East Renfrewshire)Mr. Spencer Le Marchant and Mr. Anthony Berry.
Powell, Rt Hon J. Enoch (S Down)Stokes, John
Price, David (Eastleigh)Stradling Thomas, J.

Question accordingly negatived.

It being after half past Six o'clock, Mr. SPEAKER proceeded, pursuant to the Order [29 January] and the Resolution yesterday, to put forthwith the Question necessary for the disposal of the business to be concluded at half-past Six o'clock.

Clause 24

SCHOOL MEALS: SCOTLAND

Amendment made, No. 55, in page 23, line 38, at end insert—

'(6) In section 24(1) of the Education (Scotland) Act 1962 (provision by education authority for education of pupils belonging to areas of other authorities) after the word "Act" there shall be inserted the words "or the Education Act 1980".'.—[Mr. Younger.]

Clause 23

TRANSPORT: ENGLAND AND WALES

I beg to move amendment No. 139, in page 21, line 14, leave out clause 23.

With this, we may take the following amendments. No. 42, in page 21, line 41, after' charges', insert:

',not exceeding 25 pence per pupil per day'.
No. 43, in page 21, line 44, after 'applies' insert:
'provided that such charges do not exceed 20 per cent. of the total cost of their provision'.
No. 44, in page 22, line 4, at end insert:
'and shall remit that part of the charge which relates to any journey beyond 2 miles for a junior pupil and 3 miles for a secondary pupil'.
No. 45, in page 22, line 4, at end insert:
'and shall remit the whole of the charge for any junior pupil living more than 2 miles and any secondary pupil living more than 3 miles from the school which he attends'.
No. 132, in page 22, line 4, at end insert:
(c) where a charge is made on any such service for a child who attends a school which is within walking distance of his home or for any pupil attending a course or class provided in pursuance of a scheme of further education—
  • (i) the powers conferred by this subsection shall not be exercised by the authority without the written consent of the traffic commissioners in whose area that service, or any part of it, is operated and, in respect of any service or part of a service operated in Grater London, also of the London Transport Executive; and
  • (ii) the traffic commissioners concerned shall not give their written consent unless they are satisfied that there are no other transport facilities which meet the reasonable needs of the children or other pupils referred to in this paragraph.'.
  • No. 46, in page 22, line 4, at end insert—
    '(3) The Secretary of State may give directions to a local education authority to waive any school transport charges in respect of any child whose parents can show that their children had been given a guarantee of free school transport by the local education authority as part of plans for the closure, reorganisation or relocation of schools.'.
    No. 48, in page 22, line 4, at end insert—
    '(4) The Secretary of State may by order vary the sum of 25 pence mentioned in subsection 3(c) above, and any such order shall be subject to annulment in pursuance of a resolution of either House of Parliament.'.
    Government amendment No. 134, in page 22, line 4, at end insert—
    '(4) In the case of pupils in attendance at schools, the charges made by a local education authority under subsection (3)(a) above for the provision of transport shall be at a uniform rate, that is to say, a rate not depending on the length of the journey or the school attended, except that there may be rates which differ according to the age of the pupil or according to whether the school is a primary or a secondary school.'.
    Sub-amendment (a), in line 3, after 'rate', insert:
    'which shall not exceed 50 pence per family per week'.
    Sub-amendment (b), in line 5, at end insert:
    'any such rate shall not exceed the maximum cost of direct travel to school by public transport within the appropriate statutory walking distance in that local education authority's area.'.
    No. 140, in page 22, leave out lines 12 to 15.

    No. 92, in page 22, leave out lines 16 and 17 and insert—
    '(b) the income of the parents does not exceed one and a half times the maximum amount at which family income supplement is payable to parents with the same number of dependents'.
    No. 49, in page 22, line 17, after' supplement,' insert:
    'or are in receipt of rent or rate rebate'.
    No. 127, in page 22, line 17, at end insert:
    'or an income which is less than 40per cent. above the level of either, as determined by the Secretary of State'.
    No. 50, in page 22, line 17, at end insert—
    'or—
    (c) the school is a voluntary school providing denominational education in accordance with parental choice.'.
    No. 51, in page 22, line 17, at end insert—
    'or—
    (c) the school provides instruction through the medium of the Welsh language or bilingual education which is not available at a school within walking distance.
    No. 133, in page 22, leave out lines 18 and 19 and insert—
    '(5A) In this section the expression "walking distance" has the same meaning as in section 39 of the said Act of 1944.'.
    No. 56, in page 24, line 10, clause 25, after 'charges' insert:
    "not exceeding 25 pence per pupil per day'.
    No. 86, in page 24, line 18 at end insert
    'and shall remit that part of the charge which relates to any journey beyond two miles for a primary and three miles for a secondary pupil'.
    No. 87, in page 24, line 18, at end insert
    'and shall remit the whole of the charge for any pupil living more than two miles from the school which he attends'.
    No. 137, in page 24, line 18, at end insert
    ';and
    (c) where a charge is made on any such service for a child who attends a school which is within walking distance of his home or for any pupil attending a course or class provided in pursuance of a scheme of further education—
  • (i) the powers conferred by this subsection shall not be exercised by the authority without the written consent of the traffic commissioners for the Scottish Traffic Area; and
  • (ii) the traffic commissioners shall not give their written consent unless they are satisfied that there are no other transport facilities which meet the reasonable needs of the children or other pupils referred to in this paragraph.'.
  • Government amendment No. 151, in page 24, line 18, at end insert
    '(4) In the case of pupils in attendance at schools, the charges made by an education authority under subsection (3)(a) above for the provision of transport shall be at a uniform rate, that is to say, a rate not depending on the length of the journey or the school attended, except that there may be rates which differ according to the age of the pupil or according to whether the school is a primary or a secondary school.'.
    Sub-amendment (a), in line 5, at end add
    'but such rates shall not exceed 50 pence per pupil per week and the charge shall not apply to more than two children in one family'.
    Sub-amendment (b), in line 5, at end add
    'and such rate shall not exceed the cost of the local charge for a two mile journey in respect of children up to the age of 14 years'.
    Sub-amendment (c), in line 31, after first 'rate' insert
    'which shall not exceed 50 pence per family per week'.
    Amendment No. 58, in page 24, line 18, at end insert—
    '(4) The Secretary of State may by order vary the sum of 25 pence mentioned in subsection 3(a) above, and any such order shall be subject to annulment in pursuance of a resolution of either House of Parliament.'.
    No. 141, in page 24, leave out lines 26 to 29.

    No. 138, in page 24, leave out lines 32 to 34 and insert—
    '(6) In this section the expression "walking distance" has the same meaning as in section 42 of the Education (Scotland) Act 1962.'.
    No. 59, in page 24, line 31, after supplement', insert:
    'or are in receipt of rent or rate rebate'.
    No. 60, in page 24, line 31, at end insert—
    '(c) the school is a voluntary school providing denominational education in accordance with parental choice.'.
    No. 69, in page 31, line 3, clause 34, after 15(6)', insert '23(4) and 25(4)',

    On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. If time should permit, would it be possible to seek a separate Division on amendment No. 42?

    Hon. Members will be aware that the purpose of clause 23 is to allow local authorities to charge for transport to schools, whereas at the moment they have a statutory obligation to provide such transport free of charge. The purpose of my amendment is to remove the clause from the Bill and to leave the law as it stands, so that the free transport provision will remain as it now is.

    6.45 pm

    The reasons for my doing so are manifold, and they are based on the principle that to change the provision in the way that is suggested would be most ill-conceived and inequitable. I say that it would be ill-conceived because, first, it would put a charge on to people who have no way of avoiding that charge, as it is a charge upon them for fulfilling their statutory duty. They have a duty, which they cannot escape, to send their children to State schools. In many cases, with those who have to travel a long way to school, that duty is already a heavy burden in terms of convenience and of time.

    To add to that burden a further burden of finance would, in my view, be wrong. It is different from those circumstances in which people are having to pay higher charges for many things. Inevitably the economy forces that upon us, and in those cases a choice can be made. But somebody living in a rural village has no choice but to send his child to a school that is in many cases miles away. To put a charge upon that is to discriminate between those who live near a town or in a town and those who live out in the countryside.

    I object to a measure that is entirely divisive in our country, which we are trying to make into one.

    I have been listening to my hon. Friend's argument with great care. Is he advancing the proposition that the parent has a statutory duty to get his child to school and that it is wrong that he should be faced with a charge in order to fulfil that statutory duty? What about the position of the parent who is, say, 2¾ miles or 2⅞miles from a school who has a similar duty to get his child to school, and who receives no assistance of any kind?

    I do not, with respect to my hon. Friend, think that that is a very good point. I am not here to defend the idea that somebody living 2⅞ miles from a school should pay a transport charge or should not. I am saying that it is wrong to make the provision in much broader terms so that people have to pay when they are living far away from the school and have no choice in the matter.

    I consider it to be iniquitous that over the years we should have enticed people into not objecting to the abandonment of their own village schools on the ground that the leaders of the nation, in both major parties, said to them, in effect, "We are removing the village schools from you but we shall take your children to the nearest available State school." Now we are saying to them "We know that you have not got your village schools but we intend to impose a transport charge upon you."

    Many village schools would have been fought for with far greater vigour had it been known by the inhabitants of many villages and market towns that they would have to pay a charge to send their children to another school.

    For those reasons, I consider it to be an ill-conceived idea to make this imposition. It would lead also to the closure of many Roman Catholic schools. [HON. MEMBERS: "Nonsense."] My hon. Friends say "Nonsense", but they can argue that with the Catholics who say so. Those who run these schools and send their children to them are best able to judge the consequences of having to pay a charge to get their children there. I say that it would lead to the closure of Catholic schools. I am not a Catholic, but I have the greatest sympathy with those who wish to see their children properly and fully educated in the school of their own choice.

    I look with some despair at some of our own schooling systems in which the whole concept of religion seems to be part of a humanist theory and has nothing to do with religion. The Bible is treated as a textbook on a par with the writings of Karl Marx. Some hon. Members may think that that is an excellent thing, but I do not. I therefore feel that it is quite wrong that Roman Catholics should find that they can no longer afford to send their children to a Catholic school of their choice, and will have to take them away and send them to a school which may in many cases not have any kind of religious instruction.

    The principal ground upon which I object to a charge being made is that poor families, living in rural areas and in villages, and working on the land—and very often in industries which are small and cannot afford to pay high wages—are the very people who will be hit the hardest by the measure.

    Is the hon. Gentleman aware, in the context of his argument, that although the provision concerning Catholic schools, under the 1944 Act settlement, is being threatened by the Government's proposal in clause 23, the problem is not confined to rural areas? I can give him figures for the urban area of Newcastle upon Tyne, which is a very small city. They were provided to me by the education authorities. St. Mary's school in Newcastle has half of its pupils on free transport. Under the present proposals the proportion will be less than one-fifth.

    Order. As a large number of hon. Members wish to speak in the debate, I hope that hon. Members will be fair to other hon. Members and make brief interventions.

    I wish only to make the point, Mr. Speaker, that this is an urban as well as a rural problem. Indeed, in other schools in Newcastle the problem is worse than in the one that I have mentioned.

    I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for drawing attention to the point. It is true that the clause does not affect only people in rural areas. The whole idea of making a charge of this nature is widely discriminatory and divisive. I shall therefore ask hon. Members to support the amendment in due course.

    I consider that the proposal is inequitable as a concept and as a law because of the wide variations in local practice that will result from it. It will be possible to find people who are living within 100 or 200 yards of somebody in another area, and who will be paying a vast sum, whereas those in the other area are paying nothing. Where somebody lives out in the country and finds himself faced with a transport charge of £6 or £7 a week or more to send his child to the nearest State school, what does my right hon. and learned Friend suggest that such a person should do? The farm worker—

    With regard to my hon. Friend's last point about a payment of £6 or £7 a week per child, I ought to point out to him that the county that he and I both represent is proposing a sum of 20p a day.

    My right hon. and learned Friend is right, of course, but I did not say "per child". If I did, that is not what I meant; I meant to say £6 or £7 per family.

    Did my hon. Friend deduce from the intervention of my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State that he advocates a rate of 20p per day?

    I wish that my right hon. and learned Friend would do so. Perhaps he would like to indicate such an intention when he replies to the debate.

    I had hoped that my hon. Friend the Member for Faversham (Mr. Moate) was about to remind me that the original plans of the Kent county council were to charge £3·50 a week for the first child and £2·50 a week for the next. Indeed, it may have been £3·50 for each child. That would produce the £7 per week per family which I mentioned earlier.

    There will be a wide inequity if two children are charged £7 a week to go to school in some areas, 20p per day each in areas such as Cheshire and nothing in counties such as Essex.

    Is my hon. Friend aware that there is already great disquiet in sonic areas that have different old-age pensioner bus pass schemes, and that the Government's proposals will duplicate that problem?

    They will indeed. There is widespread concern about the proposals.

    One of my objections to the clause is that there are no upper safeguards against the irresponsible use of the provisions by local authorities. Had the Government introduced an upper limit that would overcome the difficulty of poor families facing charges that they could not afford, I should be much more inclined to support the clause.

    What explanations are we given of the inequities and the injustice? How are we reassured that the consequences of this measure will be acceptable and fair? I regret that the only answer that I have received is that we must have blind faith that local authorities will act reasonably and properly and that we should pass to them all authority and power in this matter.

    Of course I have faith in my local authority—but not blind faith. The Kent county council was prepared to put in £3·50 as the charge for one child and I do not consider that to be a reasonable way of exercising the powers provided in the clause.

    My hon. Friend has twice mentioned that Kent had "put in" plans to charge £2·50 and £3·50 a week. Those were always proposals and the present plan, which has still to be put through, is for £1·50 and £2·50. It would be helpful if my hon. Friend would use the right figures.

    I appreciate my hon. Friend's concern, but my information was that Kent's original plan was for £3·50 per child per week.

    I have looked through the newspapers for reassurance that local authorities would exercise properly the untrammelled authority that the Government propose to give them. I have found some interesting examples of the sheer irresponsibility of local government spending.

    For example, the West Midlands county council proposes to spend £30,000 on a new members' bar. Hon. Members who were in the House when I presented my Private Member's Bill may expect me to show sympathy for that, and indeed I do, but that sympathy is tempered when I see that the county council has also budgeted £19,000 for a new lavatory for the chairman.

    The London borough of Brent has budgeted £38,000 for a new mayoral car, which has all the necessary appurtenances of a mayoral car including a cocktail bar and a colour television. Not satisfied with that, the council immediately spent a further £20,000 to make sure that the car was up to standard. I do not have a bottomless faith in the way in which local authorities spend their money.

    Let me give an example from another Labour authority, the London borough of Southwark. It planned to spend a puny £50 million to build a new council building, though, to be fair, it has now scrapped that plan.

    My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary made great play of the fact that we must show faith in local couucils. Of course we must, but we must also have a residual power to make sure that when our faith is not justified we can prevent abuses.

    The second argument against the removal of the clause is "Where else can we find the money that is to be saved?". My right hon. and learned Friend will correct me if I am wrong, but I understand that the sum that we are talking about is £20 million and that it is based on the assumption that many local authorities will charge. However, we have already discovered that many authorities will not charge and I doubt whether £20 million will be brought in—in this extraordinarily unfair way varying from one region to another—when we consider the net benefit gained to the State after deduction of the additional administrative expenses involved in the introduction of this tax.

    I do not believe that it will work. I do not often agree with the right hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan) but, as he said, £20 million will not make or break the Government—and it will be gained at great hardship. That is why I pull away from the Government's line.

    Some people have to live on the minimum agricultural wage of £58 per week and out of that they have to pay for rent, electricity and gas charges, living expenses and clothes. Those on small, isolated farms already face heavy transport charges. The imposition of an additional burden would be absolutely wrong.

    Does my hon. Friend agree that there is an economic price that the low-income family, in work in rural areas, can afford to pay, and, as far as the Secretary of State is concerned, there will be a political price that they will be prepared to pay?

    I am grateful to my hon. Friend and I agree with him. Further cuts could undoubtedly be made within the education system without attacking the transport provision. Of course local government will tell us that it has pared to the bone, but I do not accept that that is so.

    A CBI report on the efficiency of Cheshire county council was, in general, extremely favourable, but it made the grave criticism that the education service was overmanned. The main evidence offered for that statement was that for every 100 people who teach there are 75 providing ancillary services.

    I do not accept that that is the right ratio on which to run our education system. I had hoped that in the light of that report there would have been some self-examination by the county council to see whether changes were needed. Not a bit of it. The letter that the county council wrote when these points were raised was, if anything, self-congratulatory. It said:
    "If the facts of this bald statement"—
    that for every 100 teachers there are 75 ancillary staff—
    "are examined, it will be found that of the 75 in support'70 are actually working in and with the schools and colleges, that is they are at the 'sharp end' of the service, directly helping the teachers and working with students and pupils. They are either clerical, laboratory or workshop assistants or employees of the school meals service."
    There is no question of saying "Yes. We shall look at the ways in which our expenditure is made up." The council is not prepared to examine its own system. There is a self-satisfied acceptance that the criticism is wrong and that the council's expenditure is absolutely right.

    7 pm

    It is the duty of hon. Members to keep some control over local government expenditure, so that we have the right, as we have now, to examine closely the way in which expenditures are made up. I know of one primary school where there are fewer than 50 children and three full-time cooks. I do not accept that no other cuts can be made in our education service. That is true throughout our whole local government system.

    The first reason for my opposition to clause 23 is one of principle. I consider it to be wrong. It is wrong to put a statutory duty on somebody and then, years later, say "I shall charge you for it", when the authority has already taken many actions in the abolition of primary schools and of secondary schools that have been accepted on the basis that free transport is provided.

    It is wrong to impose a charge on people in the rural areas and the urban areas—Catholics in particular in urban areas—where the children have to travel distances because we say so and their families are already poor. Finally, and conclusively, the inequities that would exist, whether my figures for Kent, Essex and Cheshire are right or wrong, would be wide. There would be a big difference between one area and another in the ways in which the provision would have an effect.

    I would not oppose any proposal by my right hon. and learned Friend to charge for school transport, provided that the House imposed a limit, so that we were satisfied that the charge would not be such as to cause the hardship that I have tried to describe. That has not been done. I hope that my right hon. and learned Friend will consider it, perhaps for introduction in another place. Because that has not been done, I ask my right hon. and hon. Friends to support the amendment.

    Speaking on behalf, not only of the Opposition but of many Conservative right hon. and hon. Members, I congratulate the hon. Member for Northwich—[HON. MEMBERS: "Nantwich".] I apologise to the hon. Member for Northwich (Mr. Goodlad). I congratulate the hon. Member for Nantwich (Sir N. Bonsor) on moving the amendment and speaking to it as he did.

    The amendment is exactly the same as an Opposition amendment that was moved in Committee, when we were able to have a short debate, though I am sure that that amendment was not the source of the hon. Gentleman's inspiration. The importance of the matter has been greatly heightened by the fact that we now have the hon. Gentleman moving the amendment, with the support of his hon. Friends the Members for Northampton, North (Mr. Marlow) and Aldridge-Brown hills (Mr. Shepherd).

    If the Government take the advice of the hon. Member for Nantwich and his hon. Friend the Member for Bodmin (Mr. Hicks), who gave similar advice with equal sagacity last night, they will save themselves a great deal of trouble. Much more important, they will prevent a great deal of difficulty for the people whom we in this House represent. Even now, some of that difficulty is unimaginable in terms of the extra impositions on the family budget and the other problems, educational as well as social and domestic, that the clause will cause.

    We are having a real debate, because there are votes to be gained. People will be listening to the arguments, and Conservative hon. Members will make up their own minds. There are votes to be gained not only here but elsewhere.

    Conservative hon. Members do not adopt a defensive attitude because they fear for their parliamentary lives if they support the amendment. They are moved by the view of the hon. Member for Nantwich that the proposition in clause 23 is ill-conceived, inequitable, discriminatory and divisive. The hon. Gentleman spoke as a true British Member of Parliament He did not want to see great disparities between different parts of the country growing. He recognised that it was the ultimate responsibility of this House and the Government to ensure that people's difficulties did not exceed certain levels of difficulty and that they should not be expected to bear impositions of more than a certain amount. I hope that the hon. Gentleman's attitude and the responsibility that he puts to the House are acknowledged by the Government.

    The Secretary of State insists that he is releasing local government from some of the obligations that it has had since 1944, but his proposal is almost universally deplored. There is opposition from the Standing Conference of Rural Community Councils at one end to the Council of Head Teachers at Voluntary Schools at the other, from the National Association of Health Authorities to the National Farmers Union, and coupled with them the National Union of Agricultural and Allied Workers. The opposition comes from bishops and bus conductors.

    Even in a Bill that has been as hotly contested as the one before us, which has drawn so much critical comment, it is difficult to find any other part that has so united so many disparate sections of the community—people of religious persuasion, people seeking to represent rural interests, people concerned about the future of education in our great cities, people with a professional interest, people with a parental interest, people with an interest that goes beyond the view expressed in education.

    The Government must recognise the breadth and the depth of the opposition to their proposal. There are good reasons for the breadth and depth of that opposition. The clause will mean a negation of choice, brought about by a Government supposed to espouse choice in education. It means reneging on promises solemnly given by local education authorities seeking to reorganise education provision in their areas since 1944. It will have an effect on parents who permitted their local schools to close, agreeing with the local education authority to send their children to particular schools on the basis that they were completely assured that no extra payment would be imposed on them as a consequence of accepting the local education authority's proposal.

    A further grave possibility, probably the saddest of all, is that the clause is a truant's licence. Most families will face the difficulties and do their best to ensure that their children have the money to go to school, regardless of the cost. They will be in contrast with that minority, regrettable as this fact of life may be, who will use the major financial burdens imposed on them to avoid their responsibility for getting their children to school. Any disincentive added to the disincentives that currently worry us, any addition to the level of truancy, which already concerns hon. Members on both sides of the House, must secure the unreserved hostility of us all.

    The breach of trust and the negation of choice are of particular consequence for those parents who wish to send their children to denominational schools. As I said in Committee, possibly unnecessarily, I have no religious convictions. But it is self-evident to anyone who has libertarian views that those who wish to have freedom to worship and freedom to secure the education of their children within the beliefs that they espouse should have that freedom. It is a time-honoured tradition, won at great cost to the people, throughout the history of this country, and cherished among those who have religious convictions and those who, like me, have none.

    The power that the Government offer in clause 23 imposes a burden and constitutes a significant threat to the effective fulfilment of that denominational choice.

    I am sure that the hon. Gentleman's argument is sincerely put. I was not a Member of the last Parliament. I am not certain about the hon. Gentleman's responsibilities. I do not think that he spoke on, or was responsible for, education in his party in the last Parliament. But he will, perhaps, recall that the previous Government took steps to impose upon local authorities such as Trafford, in part of my constituency, the obligation of comprehensive education, which struck at the root of the existence of Catholic schools—[HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Yes, it did. Is it not mildly hypocritical for Opposition Members to advance the argument that the hon. Gentleman has done?

    The best answer is for the hon. Gentleman to visit the Catholic Educational Council and ask its views on comprehensive education. In those benighted areas, such as Bolton and one or two in the South-East that still retain 11-plus selection, the only parts of the seconlary sector that are comprehensive are those run as voluntary schools by the Catholic Church. The Catholic Church has an extremely good record of abolishing the inane system of selection at the age of 11. It was not the superimpositions of the 1976 Act that brought that about. It has been a continuing process, regardless of the Government and regardless of the proddings of legislation, for many years past, in the schools of the Catholic Church.

    Is it not true that, under a Labour Government, an 85 per cent. grant was given to denominational schools—a tremendous advance?

    My hon. Friend is correct. That was because we not only believe in liberty—as I am sure do hon. Members on the Government side—but we also believe in providing the means for fulfilling that liberty. That is why the assistance was made available. That is why we oppose clause 23 of this Bill.

    The hon. Member for Knutsford (Mr. Bruce-Gardyne) has hit the nub of the issue without realising it. The Roman Catholic authorities voluntarily negotiated with the local education authority in the city of Newcastle upon Tyne a comprehensive scheme. The local education authority pledged, as part of the new system, that free transport would be maintained for Roman Catholic schools. I have received a letter from the Bishop of Hexham and Newcastle in which he sets out his fears that even an authority such as Newcastle, with the best will in the world, may be forced to charge if the clause is carried.

    I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I, too, have seen the letter from the bishop and, indeed, letters from one or two other bishops drawing my attention to the possibility of huge impositions being made if parents seek to fulfil their choice on a denominational basis. Because of the wide distribution of details from every diocese in the country of the consequences of making impositions of charges, not only on the family pocket but also on the possible viability of schools in the secondary sector, I shall not exhaust the House by making extensive reference to the effects of charges where no charge has previously been imposed.

    But the House should know that there are whole schools whose existence is threatened if pupils have to meet substantial charges for getting to school. There are some Catholic schools where 80 per cent., 90 per cent., and even 95 per cent. of pupils travelling on buses would have to pay substantial fares if they were to continue attending those schools after the date of which subsidies were withdrawn.

    7.15pm

    If the Secretary of State had followed the suggestion of the hon. Member for Faversham (Mr. Moate) and imposed a reasonable upper limit, the Opposition might have taken a different view of his amendment introducing the idea of a flat rate. In the absence of that, our only realistic course in defending the right of parents to get their children to denominational schools of their religious choice is to join the hon. Gentleman in pursuing this amendment to remove the clause in a Division.

    There is no reason why all the counties should not adopt a flat rate charge irrespective of distance. It is obvious to anyone meeting together that this should take place. A flat rate would in no sense be harmful to denominational schools or to village as opposed to town.

    I am grateful to the hon. and learned Gentleman for that intervention. It makes my next point for me. Without the requirement of Government, the possibility of unanimity among all the local education authorities and a uniformity of provision among those authorities, let alone an equity of provision, is extremely remote. That is what unitary Government is for—to seek to lay down conditions and to set upper and lower limits. It is not a derogation of local democracy to do so. It is the fulfilment of responsibility of national government to do so. I only wish that the Secretary of State would listen to the advice that he is getting from his hon. Friends on these matters.

    The loss of trust is taken further by the fact that hundreds of thousands of parents whose children are currently in schools will now have to pay what I have called this new tax on parenthood. They had never expected to do so. The point has been made by hon. Members in interruptions and by the hon. Member for Nantwich that people accepted the idea of putting their children in particular schools on the absolute trust that they would never be required to pay to get those children to school.

    The least that the Minister could do is to say that, wherever people have accepted a change of school, or the closure of a school, on the basis of the acceptance of a free school transport pass, then, by law, the local education authority will be required not to impose a charge and the Government will compensate them. Otherwise a midstream, unheralded, major change in responsibilities is imposed on parents. That must be most unfair and totally unsupportable.

    The hon. Gentleman has highlighted a valid point with which I find myself in considerable sympathy. What information has he received from local authorities that have given such commitments that the commitments were open-ended in the sense that free school transport would be available for ever to children and children's children because of the closure of a village school? Or was an assurance given merely for the period during which the children already at that school would remain at school?

    I do not think that it helps anybody to put upon the matter the kind of legalistic interpretation sought by the hon. Gentleman. I am sure that if parents had been told that at some future date free transport was to be removed, or had been given a direct warning of that possibility, their attitudes to closure would have been dramatically different. I do not think that consideration of a debating point such as that introduced by the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton) will get us much further in this consideration.

    The attitude of the rural communities is probably best enunciated by the National Farmers Union in its circular of 24 January. With commendable brevity it says
    "The withdrawal of transport services and/or the imposition of charges will lead to parents in rural areas becoming disadvantaged in comparison to their urban counterparts in terms of the range of choices available to them and their children as regards schools, means of transport and the cost of transport."
    I am sure that hon. Members on both sides of the House have seen the circular and I am sure that they know that the NFU is giving a most direct and categoric warning that the consequences of this important change will be very serious for rural communities.

    The kind of costs that will be imposed on parents are now being discussed and presented by local education authorities all over the country. For instance, the removal of subsidies would cost parents in the city of Birmingham £50,000. That is a sum they never had to find before. In Coventry the sum is £70,000, in the city of Oxford £77,000, in Was all £89,000, and in Cardiff £50,000. That is the kind of transfer of wealth—to borrow a phrase from the Labour Party manifesto—that will take place. Instead of the whole community assuming responsibility for assisting parents with the cost of getting their children to school, the imposition will now be made direct upon the parents. That is what characterises the charge as a tax on parenthood.

    Devon county council is expecting to save £26,000. The figure for North Yorkshire is £400,000, for Northants £800,000 and for Northumberland £26,000, and the list goes on. That list indicates the money that will be taken from the pockets of the parents of these children.

    Subsidies are being stopped in Surrey, Hampshire, Cambridge shire, Wiltshire, Redbridge, Avon, Dorset and Doncaster. In Shropshire the charge is expected to be 20p a day or £40 a year per pupil. In Staffordshire it will be 25p a day except for families on supplementary benefit or family income supplement, or for children receiving special education. That amounts to £50 a year. In Hereford and Worcestershire the figure will be £15 per term per child up to a maximum of two—that is £45 a year for one child or £90 a year for two. In East Sussex the charge will be 35p a day for children at secondary and further education, up to a maximum of two, which is £1·75 a week or £70 a year.

    We then come to Kent. I am glad to see that the continual representations and advertisements about the position in Kent appear to be having a desirable effect. Whereas the county was previously planning to charge even more extortionate sums, it is now down to £1·50 a week for primary school children and £2·50 for children at secondary schools. If we could keep talking long enough on the Bill we might reduce the charges to a civilised level. However, it still amounts to £60 a year in respect of primary school children and £100 per year for a secondary school child. As Kent is not placing any poverty limit on these charges, the normal-sized family with two children, one in primary school and one in secondary school, will have to pay £160 a year, an outlay that it did not previously have to face.

    If that is not a disincentive, a broadening of the poverty trap, a tax on parenthood, a derogation of responsibility and a negation of choice I do not know what is. Yet the Secretary of State is prepared to sit in the Department and preside over this kind of occurrence.

    We have heard from him and from the Under-Secretary that it is a choice of transport of classrooms. If the choice were that stark, I am sure that the debate would go a great deal wider than it has gone. But if he wants evidence that his policy is not an alternative to cuts in the classroom, but a precursor to them, and that the most that can be claimed for his policy of cuts is that they absorb some of the initial impact of the classroom cuts, he has only to look at the report of the Educational Publishers Council produced yesterday, showing reductions of up to 25 or 30 per cent. in real terms in the amounts being spent by education authorities on books.

    So the right hon. and learned Gentleman's policy is not a serious alternative, certainly not to the extent of £20 million a year, which is the saving that he is expected to make under clause 23 if it remains in the Bill.

    The question arises of whether a vote for the amendment seeking to remove clause 23 is a vote of no confidence in local government. I say that it is not. It is a vote against the enormous dilemma, the tortuous position into which the right hon. and learned Gentleman is putting local government by his action. I said in Committee that there was no good democratic reason for local or any other form of government not being faced with difficulties and invidious choices. That is what democratic government exists for. But it is totally unsupportable for impositions to be made upon local authorities and then for the national Government to desert their responsibility for providing those authorities with the means of meeting those burdens. The authorities are being faced with a hopelessly invidious choice involving how they make the cuts and who shall suffer as a consequence of them. They are being given freedom without the means of exercising it, and new responsibilites without new powers. That cannot be supported.

    It is not good enough for Ministers to give the replies that they have given. I have two here, but there are many of them. The first is given in a letter to the Transport and General Workers Union—my union—which states that the Government expect that local education authorities
    "will make sensible use of their powers."
    The other is in a letter to my right hon. Friend the Member for Brent, East (Mr. Freeson). It reads:
    "Accordingly, the legislation we have introduced will give LEAs discretion to charge for providing transport, but we have no reason to suppose that LEAs will not continue to give sympathetic consideration to families whose children attend Church schools."
    Of course there is no reason to suppose that. The LEAs will do their level best, but they will be £20 million worse off next year than they were last with the same or even greater responsibilities in some respects. They will certainly have the same responsibilities to meet the desire of parents to exercise their denominational choice. So the Government are taking a very insular attitude and are deserting their responsibilities.

    Let us consider the realities that face the local education authorities. They have enjoyed discretionary powers over many years in many spheres. They have exercised such powers over school uniform allowances, educational maintenance allowances for the 16-plus category, and on the statutory limits for assisting with free school transport. The disparity of treatment of pupils and parents from authority to authority makes us believe that in all these matters the Government should seek to give guidance and direction, and the means of fulfilling obligations. Rather than expanding the area of discretion without providing the means effectively to exercise that discretion on behalf of and to the advantage of the children in the care of those LEAs, the Government should be narrowing the degree of discretion.

    The clause will make it more difficult for the LEAs to reorganise education. It will make administration massively more expensive. It is invidious, insidious and entirely odious, and we shall be glad to support the hon. Member for Nantwich (Sir N. Bonsor) in the Lobby later.

    I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Nantwich (Sir N. Bonsor) on introducing this amendment. I am a rural Roman Catholic and it is on the subject of the rural areas that I make my brief remarks. There is a distinct danger that people who live in the country are now being disadvantaged, whether the problem is one of assistant postmasters, rural bus services, or wages—

    7.30 pm

    No, not racing.

    We have a strange phenomenon in the country now. There is a mixture of classes in the villages as country people move out. There are rich whites and poor villagers and those features which were formerly the basis of village life are being pushed out. That fact is demonstrated by remarks by Ministers both of this Administration and of the Labour Administration to the effect that village halls were of no importance.

    Conditions in rural areas could deteriorate. There is the probable rise in the price of oil which would mean that something like 30 per cent. of rural transport over the next few years would vanish. That is why I support my hon. Friend's amendment.

    Roman Catholics and people of other denominations will face problems such as the distances children will have to travel to school. Roman Catholics in this country may be better off than Roman Catholics in the United States who must pay for the whole of their education but English Roman Catholics still put down 15 per cent. more than anyone else for their children's education.

    What is happening to our rural schools? The admirable education authority in Staffordshire is discussing the closure of 33 schools, many of them rural schools. If those schools are closed, it will mean not only that a pledge has been broken but that insult will have been added to injury for those people whose children have lost their school. They will have to pay to transport their children to another school.

    It has been said that we must strike a balance between economics and politics. I regard the two as combined. What is at stake here is a comparatively small sum of money in relation to the damage that will be done. I hope that when the Secretary of State replies he will deal with all the problems described by my hon. Friend who so bravely and properly tabled this amendment. I hope that he will win the confidence of the House which, I regret to say, he does not enjoy at the moment.

    I intend to stick to educational matters in my speech. There is no doubt that this clause is part of a Bill which sets back the educational clock. Writing in The Guardian yesterday, John Fairhall said:

    "there is still just time for…Conservative MPs to put country before party and save us from the worst effects of the Education Bill…concerned with money raising rather than an educational motivation."
    There is no doubt that any impoverishment of public services affects children. It particularly affects children from families least able to look after themselves. This clause will have that direct effect.

    The Roman Catholic Bishop of Hex-ham and Newcastle has written a considered letter to local Members indicating that between the Tweed and the Tees there are 50,000 secondary schoolchildren in Roman Catholic schools. Of that number 12,000 travel to school free on subsidised transport. He estimates that if the Bill is passed as drafted 10,000 children will have to pay to travel to school. The cost per pupil has been given as £1 a week by the Secretary of State who believes that that is a reasonable figure.

    The bishop reckons that on that estimate the cost to the Catholic community of his part of the Northern region will be £400,000 a year. That is money that families did not previously have to find.

    I spent most of my life in education trying to persuade parents that it was important for their children to stay on at school. We all have colleagues who had to leave school for economic reasons and this clause will be a deterrent to a boy or girl of 16 wishing to stay on at school. They are mature enough to know that the cost of school bus fares will be a terrible burden on the family finances. The incentive to leave school at the statutory age will be all the greater for them. That is another backward step.

    There is now ample evidence—and everyone in the education service agrees —that parental motivation, interest and involvement has a greater influence on the child than does the school. I have always said that the home is a more powerful influence than the school. I do not think it can be denied that there are families, certainly in my constituency, in Catholic communities where 80 per cent. of children travel to school by bus. If this Bill goes through, some of those families will not be able to afford even 20p a day for school bus fares. In The Guardian yesterday, John Fairhall wrote:
    "This Bill is sentencing such families to years of grinding poverty."
    The educational features of the Bill bother me even more than the financial aspects. We need to increase the numbers of people who wish to take the opportunity of full education and any deterrent to that aim must be closely examined by the House, since the Bill will be a deterrent to parents doing the best for their children. The expense for some of those parents will be so great that they will encourage their children to leave school at the earliest opportunity.

    I feel strongly that we think about education in too narrow terms. Education is far more than the achievement of O-levels and A-levels. Parents who choose an education in a denominational school for their children are saying that there are more important things in education. They are saying that other values are as important as academic attainment.

    The Bill will deny the legal right of parents to choose a school for their children. Parents may not be able to afford to send their children to a particular school because they live too far away from it. In the last nine months the divisions in society have increased. Society is more divided than it was a year ago. The Bill creates even greater divisions. I beg the Secretary of State to have second thoughts and to seek to withdraw the clause.

    So many hon. Members wish to address the House that it behoves us to be brief.

    I start with a proposition which I think will command the support of the House. Of all the provisions with which I, as an ordinary Back Bencher, have to deal, few are more unpopular than the present system of imposing a two-or three-mile limit for charging. Few issues cause deeper resentment. Although that has not been spelt out today, it has been in the debate generally. There is a reaching-back attitude that the present system is perfect and an essential part of the British way of life. That is a curious attitude of mind. I cannot believe that many hon. Members actually want the proposition which was so ably moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Nantwich (Sir N. Bonsor), which would permanently put us back in that position. At the end of his able speech, my hon. Friend made it explicitly clear that he was not against charging. He and the hon. Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Kinnock) want an upper limit but in principle they are not against a charge across the board.

    Reluctantly I must be harsh. The House knows my personal commitment to a particular denominational form of schooling. I stand second to none in my total commitment to that. However, I have to say, reluctantly, that some of the arguments put to me from outside by my friends in the Roman Catholic Church have verged on the unscrupulous. I carefully exempt from that my hon. Friend the Member for Rugby (Mr. Pawsey), who has been the Roman Catholic spokesman on this side of the House. He has fought his corner with courtesy, good humour and vigour—as he has the right to do—and with total fairness throughout.

    I am totally committed to Anglican schools and my hon. Friend the Member for Rugby is committed to Roman Catholic schools. We must remind ourselves that such schools receive 85 per cent. of their capital costs and the whole of their running costs. They have a special position which is totally different from that in the maintained sector. A real moral problem is involved. We should ask whether those figures are becoming so large that we are claiming from our friends in the State rights which morally we can no longer justify. It speaks volumes for the general approaches of the House and the nation that in their tolerance they are prepared to grant the denominations and the Jewish community that special position, in spite of the comparatively small amount of effort financially which they contribute.

    I place it on record that I resent the assertion by some that there is a deliberate act by my right hon. and learned Friend and other Ministers to undermine the 1944 settlement. No good has come from making such assertions. Of course, in Anglican schools at secondary level, as in Roman Catholic schools at secondary level, the catchment area tends to be wide. Of course, there are anxieties in country districts. I have deep roots in a country district and I think that I understand the problem, even though my constituency is no longer as agricultural as it once was.

    7.45 pm

    The fear is that some local authorities will positively discriminate against denominational schools and those attending them and against those who have to travel long distances. The costs of attending a denominational school can be high if one lives 15 miles or 20 miles away from it. It is almost unbelievable that there has been so little mention of another of the amendments in the group which we are discussing—that which provides that any charge should be across the board. That would remove the greater part of the legitimate and well-understood anxiety of those involved in denominational schools or who live in country districts.

    In an age of inflation I cannot believe that we can honestly say that a figure should be written into the Bill. If it is not written into the Bill it would have to be provided for by order. If it is provided for by order it can be changed by order, and we are back where we started. I am convinced that the Secretary of State's strategy is right. For too long expenditure has not been directed at what happens in the classroom. My right hon. and learned Friend's strategy is coupled with a trust in local authorities. I am prepared to go all the way with his strategy.

    Perhaps I misunderstood some of the comments by the hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. van Strubenzee) but I thought he said that the Catholic Church was unscrupulous. If I am right, I take him to task. Not only the Catholic Church, but the local authorities, the Church of England and all those organisations which are trying to provide a good education service are anxious about the proposition. It was most unfair to use the term unscrupulous.

    I give credit to the hon. Member for Nantwich (Sir N. Bonsor) for his courage and sincerity. Many of us are concerned—not in a political sense—about the effect of the Bill on the education service.

    I pay tribute to the Under-Secretary of State for the courtesy he showed to a deputation that I brought to London last week to discuss the matter with him. I am sure that an interpretation of our discussions has been passed to the Secretary of State.

    There is a general concern within local authorities and denominational schools about the impact that the imposition of clause 23 could have on the education service. We must recognise that in rural areas it will create a massive problem. I represent Leeds, which is a compact area, but we will face difficulties also.

    I am speaking as a former Under-Secretary of State for Education and Science. One issue that has not arisen in the debate is that, because of the drop in the birth rate, within the next two or three years the school population will drop by about one-third. That will cause great problems for the local authorities and the denominational schools. Instead of children travelling from point A to point B, they will have to travel from point A to point C. We are discussing the present costs to parents, but in three years' time those costs will be increased considerably because they will have to pay for their children to travel to point C instead of to point B.

    The Secretary of State, his Ministers, and those who sit behind him, have to be reminded that on political platforms at local and national level their main argument has been the right of parental choice. If the Bill is passed in its present form the consequence will be that parental choice will no longer exist, except for the wealthiest section of the community. What about the remainder of the community?

    I declare my interest as a Catholic. Although I am speaking mainly on behalf of the Catholic community, I am speaking also on behalf of the Church of England. The Churches feel that they and the children who attend their schools will be adversely affected by the Bill. It would be impossible for me, my wife, or any other Catholic parent in the lower income group to send their children to the school of their denomination. That is vitally important to many people in this country. There is a large section of parents who are anxious that their children should be able to attend the schools of their choice.

    If the Bill passes unamended, it will create grave problems for those parents. I hope that the Government will reflect very seriously before pushing the Bill through unamended.

    I attended the debate this evening with an open mind. I have listened carefully to the contributions of all hon. Members. I look forward to the contribution of my hon. Friend the Minister, and would like clarification on a number of points when he replies. I wish to place on record my thanks to him and his colleagues for listening to the representations of right hon. and hon. Members on clause 23.

    I was interested in the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (Mr. van Straubenzee), who pointed out the dilemmas faced by those with strong connections with the Roman Catholic Church and by Roman Catholic pupils. There are two ways of considering the argument. It could be argued that the position of Roman Catholics is a privileged one. It would be argued also that the Roman Catholic communities subsidise the places of their pupils to the tune of 15 per cent. per place.

    I have received interesting correspondence from a gentleman named Father Devaney, who lives in Coventry, South-West. In his letter, he told me that there are 219 children in his parish attending the Bishop Ullathorne school. He pointed out the difficulties that families will face if transport charges are introduced at £1 and upwards per head. He said:
    "it is often overlooked what the parish contributes to education; we give—4,800 each year to the general diocesan fund, £438 per capita levy of £2 per child for Ullathorne, and last year we spent £2,000 on painting the junior school of which we received an 85 per cent. grant".
    Roman Catholic and other denominational schools are our friends in the education system. They pay their way. I hope that the Minister will in his reply give some indication of his views on the contribution from denominational schools.

    I listened equally carefully to the contribution of my hon. Friend the Member for Nantwich (Sir N. Bonsor) and found myself in agreement with much of what he said about the use of resources inside the education service.

    I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for answering a written question on the matter. I am dismayed to find there is plenty of leverage inside the education service for finding cuts of at least £20 million, starting in 1980–81, in addition to those for which we have already asked.

    The figures given to me by my hon. Friend are that in 1978 there were 671,000 non-teaching and administrative staff employed in the service. They were distributed between 201,000 full-time non-teaching and administrative staff, and 470,000 part-time staff. If that is reduced to full-time equivalents, that gives a figure of about 550,000 non-teaching staff in England and Wales. There are 480,000 teachers in England and Wales. That is a ratio of more than 1 to 1.

    If we are to give guidance to local authorities—and the Lord knows that we are giving guidance to them, especially under the clause, on the manner in which charges can be made if they were to use discretion—surely we can say that it is about time that the gravy train in administration in the education departments of local authorities is at least slowed down.

    In Coventry we are facing a reduction of about 210 teachers. There is a disproportionate cut in the number of teachers in the coming year compared with the cut in non-teaching and support staff. I appreciate that we cannot control local authorities, and that we cannot dictate the policies that they must pursue. But we, as the Government, must say to local authorities "Here is guidance on how you cope with a reduction in the resources in the light of falling school rolls. You may cut your non-teaching staff and accelerate the natural wastage programme in line with falling school rolls."

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    I must refer to another response from my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of

    State in reply to a parliamentary question on 4 February 1980 when he said:

    "The Government's plans as set out in Cmnd.7746, and reflected in the 1980–81 rate support grant settlement, allow for a 3·7 per cent.—or about 18,000—reduction in school teaching staff between 1978–79 and 1980–81…Non-teaching staff…are not separately identified in the annual statistics"—

    I find that incredible. He went on:

    "the Government's plans allow for expenditure per pupil on school's non-teaching costs—including ancillary staff—to be 2 per cent. higher in real terms".—[Official Report, 4th February 1980; Vol. 978, c. 82–3.]

    If we are interested in giving resources to the chalk face, in having a lean and keen education service and in maintaining the pupil-teacher ratio, I feel that the Government should start looking very hard at the management information that they are collecting and how they are using it and say to local authorities "We shall introduce something like a manpower service audit or a national manpower account which will have the power not to dictate, but to check on those local authorities which are efficient. "That, in turn, can turn the spotlight on local authorities and say "Given the same social make-up as city X, you are misusing your resources and your ratepayers are justified in being thoroughly jaundiced about the whole matter."

    I suspect that the DES collect statistics from local authorities in forms which are presentable to local councillors, and are tabulated in massive form, as my research assistant from Princeton university would tell me, and then forgets them. I should like a good cost accountant to be turned loose on our education service.

    As hon. Members may know, Coventry was bombed during the war. The centre was razed to the ground. This is relevant to the debate. It meant that schools and factories had to be built on the periphery of the city. Coventry's citizens had to commute outwards and their children also had to travel out to the edge of the city. Therefore, school transport costs are significant.

    The hon. Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Kinnock) estimated the costs at £70,000. I fear that in trying to save £20 million in this way we are fudging the issue. If we are to honour our election commitment to freedom of choice and if we are to honour the speeches that many of us made about cutting overheads rather than simply attacking the public sector borrowing requirement by increasing incomes, I believe that there is salvation for us on this issue.

    I look forward to hearing my hon. Friend's comments. I still have an open mind on this matter.

    The hon. Member for Coventry, South-West (Mr. Butcher) was right to suggest that, if we must look for savings in education, one of the last areas should be transport costs.

    I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Nantwich (Sir N. Bonsor) for the way in which he moved the amendment. It must have been difficult for him, because no one enjoys differing from his party. However, we have to do that from time to time to represent our constituents properly.

    I am sad to notice that there are no Scottish Conservative Back Benchers representing rural constituencies present in the Chamber. Indeed, not one has appended his name to the amendment. I hope, however, that they will in due course join us in the Lobbies and thereby represent and protect the interests of their constituents.

    The provisions of the Bill will have far-reaching effects on virtually every local education authority area which embraces, even in part, a rural area. The Secretary of State for Scotland—and presumably the Secretary of State for the. Environment—has jumped the gun on this issue. He has taken away from local authorities the money that he anticipates they will he able to save as a result of implementing the provisions of the Bill. He has taken away the money by a reduction in the rate support grant.

    The Secretary of State is right when he says that local authorities will have the freedom to do what they like. They will have freedom to clobber the people that they represent in either of two ways. The Secretary of State has issued them with two boots—a left boot and a right boot. I have one of each operating in my constituency. The left boot is in the Lothian region—a Labour-controlled authority—which has decided not to cut services. In order not to cut services, it has to put up the rates by up to 40 per cent. The Borders regional council at the other end of my constituency is not Labour controlled. It has decided to impose cuts. It has already declared that it intends to impose charges for school transport under these provisions.

    The hon. Member for Nantwich was right to say that it is important not to take these charges in isolation. We must also bear in mind local authorities which have in the past closed village schools and those which are doing so now.

    There are four village schools in my constituency which are at present under the axe: St. Abbs, Whit some, Millburn and Mertoun. If the regional council fulfills the policy on which it has embarked, we shall have only 11 primary schools in the whole tract of the former county of Berwick shire where there are now 25. If the closures go through, besides losing their schools, the people in these communities will have to pay for transport to the next nearest primary school. They will have insult added to injury in that respect.

    I should have declared two interests. First, I am the father of a baby boy who in due course, if the school is still open, will need transport to a village school. Secondly, I am a member of the National Farmers Union for Scotland. I am not a sponsored Member, unlike my hon. Friend, the Member for West Stirling-shire (Mr. Canavan). However, it is worth pointing out some of the comments that the NFU has made to Scottish Members of Parliament. It is to its credit that it sought to represent all people in rural agricultural areas. It states that its basic cause for concern over clause 25 remains.

    The union was accused of exaggerating the potential problem of charges for transport of schoolchildren following the calculations in its previous letter. It states:
    "In the event, our worries have been shown to be perfectly justified. We understand that one English local authority (Kent county council) proposes to introduce from 1 April flat rate charges for school transport."
    We have already heard about this matter. I understand that the authority has now revised the rates downwards. However, I understand that in the current financial year the average cost of transport of pupils within the Highlands regional council area is £145 per head. Taking that into account, it is not diffi- cult to imagine that in due course families in rural areas could he paying up to £185 per head per year.

    I pay tribute to the National Farmers Union for Scotland for representing all people in rural areas and joining the representatives of farm workers on this occasion in this worthwhile campaign.

    Having studied the amendment, I have come to the conclusion that the hon. Member for Nantwich is right that the clause is not amendable. The truth is that no amendment can redeem this clause. The Government's fundamental objective is to make some families, particularly those in rural areas and those whose children attend denominational schools, pay for what has hitherto been provided free by the State.

    Finally, I should like to point out the basic dishonesty—it is not unfair to say that it is dishonesty—of the Secretary of State's amendment No. 151, which refers to flat rate charges being imposed. He knows well that the charges are not flat rate. They will apply only to children who need transport to school. By no means does that cover all children. He also knows that they will apply only in regions where a high proportion of children have to be transported—in other words, in rural areas and places where children are sent to denominational schools.

    It is dishonest to imply that a flat rate will mean equal charges for people within a given area. The clauses are designed to discriminate, as the hon. Member for Nantwich has pointed out, against a large proportion of families in this country. That includes virtually every family in my constituency. I sincerely hope that the House will reject the clause in due course.

    I should like to turn to another unsatisfactory aspect of the clause. Bus operators in this country are concerned that the protection under the Education (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1953 is removed by the clause. We have already heard about the problems of rural England. A real problem for rural England is the decline of public transport. I do not wish to trespass into the area of a Committee that has been sitting upstairs this week, but, if the clause goes through as it stands, the law which protected many rural bus services will be rendered nugatory. There is a real danger that the present protection for many of these services, which is still recognised in the Transport Bill which is going through the House, will be removed.

    Therefore, I have put down certain amendments, which are conjoined with the amendment of my hon. Friend the Member for Nantwich (Sir N. Bonsor), to draw the attention of my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State to the real danger of a deterioration because bus services will not be protected. At the moment, a local authority can put on a service provided that it obtains the consent of the Traffic Commissioner. In my amendments I ask simply that the protection should continue.

    I should like to say one or two words in support of tonight's main debate. I admit that before Christmas I held roughly the same line as my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State. I am now willing to admit that I was wrong. I should like him to admit that he and the Government have made a mistake in pressing ahead as they have done. The reason why I reached my decision is that I felt, like my right hon. Friend the Member for Stafford and Stone (Mr. Fraser), that the issue had moved away from the simple one of school transport. It concerns the quality of life in rural England.

    The resistance in my constituency to the proposal has been one of the most remarkable upsurges in feeling that I have seen since I have been a member of this House. In one of my villages only eight children use the school bus but virtually everybody—old-age pensioners, farm workers and those with no connection with children using the school bus—has signed a petition. They regard the proposal as a direct threat to the continuing life of their community. We in the Conservative Party will ignore that feeling at our peril. Once we have alienated our bedrock support in those areas, we shall find it difficult to get it back. The people have gradually felt betrayed over the years. The last people that they expected to betray them were those in our party.

    Therefore, with great determination, I shall join my hon. Friend the Member for Nantwich in voting for his amendment. I also advise my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Front Bench that, should that vote fail, I am afraid that I cannot support the Government on Third Reading.

    The strong and courageous criticisms that have been made of the clause by Conservative Back Benchers come as no surprise for we tied on the issue in Committee on an amendment which attempted to bring about some change. That amendment was moved by the hon. Member for Rugby (Mr. Pawsey). I venture to suggest that the Government would have been defeated on a subsequent amendment in Committee if it had not been said then that further consideration would be given to the matter and that a new amendment would be brought forward.

    8.15 pm

    However, the new amendment does little or nothing to allay the fears of those who were concerned on all sides of the Committee. It is true that the Government amendment provides that the rate for any one age group shall be uniform and flat but it places no limit on the rate. We have seen the enormous range of possibilities. Therefore, we must come back to the Government and say that this will not do. The most effective vehicle for doing that has been brought forward by the hon. Member for Nantwich (Sir N. Bonsor). In effect, he has dug a hole in the Bill and said that the Government cannot have the Bill as drafted and unamended.

    The effects of the provisions would be to discriminate severely against groups in our society that the Government should not discriminate against. Whatever the intentions of the Government, there is an inherent discrimination in charging those who, for the reasons that I am about to state, have to make use of school transport. Large numbers of people are able to get their children to school for nothing or at minimal cost because they live within a reasonable distance of the school. However, for certain groups of people that is not so.

    Many children in rural areas who live at considerable distances from schools—setting aside the question of school closures and reorganisations to which I shall return—particularly children of farm workers and so on and those in remote settlements, have no choice but to travel long distances to school. Incidentally, long distances apply to every aspect of their lives: whether it is entertainment for teenagers or shopping for housewives, their cost of living is more expensive than those of people living in towns because of the distances they have to travel. Therefore, in practice, they are discriminated against because they have to pay for school transport. Likewise, the proposal discriminates against those who send their children to denominational schools because they believe that to be important. The sense of indignation and shock in the Roman Catholic community is genuine. It is based on the practical fact that in most cases their children have to travel further than the statutory walking distances to school. They have been encouraged to build their schools on the basis of operating a wide catchment area for many years.

    Other groups are affected by the proposal. People in Wales have sought to make provision for education through the medium of the Welsh language. In such cases, local authorities have encouraged the schools to serve a wide catchment area. They, too, will be discriminated against because they will have to pay a price to get the children to the schools.

    Perhaps the keenest sense of grievance is felt by those put into those categories by education decision-making. The hon. Member for Nantwich pointed out that such people would have fought to the death for their village school if they had known that the price of its closure would be not merely to lose the benefits of a school in the community but to have to pay transport charges to attend a school miles away to which they never wanted to send their children. That will go on for generations. Even some people without children fight against village school closures because they have every intention of sending children to the school in subsequent years.

    Many people have been affected by the reorganisation of education. I do not refer simply to the secondary reorganisation of the last few years of comprehensive schools; I refer right back to 1944 and the creation of secondary schools as opposed to the old all-age school in each village. In times past, all the children attended the local school. The expansion of secondary education has taken them further away. People have been critical of that sort of development and they will be the most aggrieved of all at having to pay transport charges.

    The only people who will receive free school transport, if the local authorities behave as the Government wish, are a narrowly defined group—the statutory poor. I shall not deploy at length arguments that I have used on previous issues, but unless people receive family income supplement or supplementary benefit they will suffer under the provisions. That means that a farm worker who is earning enough to raise him just above the family income supplement level will suffer heavily. A person will be better off if he remains out of work, because if he gets a job he will have to pay heavy charges. If someone is asked to work overtime, he should refuse because it will not pay him to do so. If he works overtime he may have to pay school transport charges.

    In every way the Bill is a disincentive to anyone prepared to help himself, and who does not wish to rely on supplementary benefit, or the larger State benefit of family income supplement.

    The Government use two arguments against me. First, they argue that there is an anomaly in the present law. They say that the present law is unsatisfactory, because many people live just within the two-or three-mile limit and they have to pay quite heavy charges for school transport. However, there is nothing in the Bill to help those people. The Bill will merely provide for their discomfort to be shared. Equality of misery is a new Tory policy.

    I pay tribute to my local education authority in Cumberland. It has tried very hard to take up those who live just inside the two- and three-mile limits, by using its discretionary power. It has filled empty places on the school buses. It has tried to help those living on the outer limits. As a result of Government pressure such authorities are increasingly unable to continue such discretionary activities. The Bill does not help those people. Secondly, the Government argue that local authorities do not have to make these charges. In several debates Ministers have said that local authorities are reasonable and that they will not impose such harsh charges. However, with every other breath the Government tell local authorities to levy such charges. How else can the Government's savings be made, in the absence of alternative provisions? The Secretary of State has repeatedly said that authorities that do not make savings by imposing these charges will have to pay the price of cuts in the mainstream of education. Rural authorities and those in which, for historical reasons, many children travel long distances will have to lower their educational standards more than other authorities, if they do not impose the charges. There is no way out.

    The hon. Member for Bodmin (Mr. Hicks) pointed out that the Government would have to pay a political price if they continued down this road. I can think of nothing more favourable to my party. In rural areas we are the main rivals of the Conservative Party. If the Bill is implemented in its harshest form, it can only favour us. However, I do not invite Conservative Members to implement the Bill. Unlike them, I am concerned about those on low wages, because they will suffer the most.

    Conservative Members have a last chance to join us and to use their power to ensure that the provisions do not remain in the Bill. I beg them to do so.

    I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Nantwich(Sir N. Bonsor) on the brevity of his speech. However, I do not go along with his argument. Conservative Members are always prepared to pay lip service to cutting public expenditure. I remind my colleagues that that was one of our main planks in the manifesto. We pay lip service to the generality of cutting public expenditure. However, when we get to particular instances we begin to argue.

    My hon. Friend the Member for Nantwich will no doubt find a number of supporters. The whole Opposition will support him to a man. However, I remind my hon. Friend that the Opposition to a man—or to a woman—are diametrically opposed to any cut in public expenditure.

    Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will contain himself for a minute. He may get excited about what I am about to say.

    One must look at the Government's strategy on the PSBR. I subscribe to that strategy. It is essential to get our PSBR down. Every hour of every day we spend just over £1 million more than we have earned. Someone must pay that back. My right hon. and learned Friend's amendment is reasonable, as regards our school transport. The Conservative Party has always been in favour of giving autonomy to local representatives. The Secretary of State has done that.

    Opposition Members may laugh when I mention democracy. They probably have a different understanding of that concept. I do not believe in the democracy of the Labour Party's NEC. However, local authorities should have the right to do as they wish with their money. The Government are merely stating that they can choose whether to charge. Local authorities and local health athuorities sometimes take up an emotive issue, such as that of closing a casualty ward or an old people's home. However, they never tackle administrative over manning. As my hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (Mr. van Straubenzee) mentioned, because of present anomalies 85 per cent. of parents are already paying the transport costs of their children.

    If we cut public expenditure, we must make local authorities responsible for economising in their administrative staff and so on. However, if the Government of the day succumb to pressure because it is an emotive issue, local authorities will think that they need only kick up a fuss for the Government to give way. As a result, the PSBR will go up.

    There is much hypocritical talk about public expenditure and school transport. My hon. Friends know that Opposition Members are making a political issue out of that, and we should not fall into the trap. We must stick to our strategy. It was agreed in the manifesto. We should not give way simply because it is an emotive issue. We must put the responsibility on local authorities to economise in other sections of their education vote. If they do not, let the local Member of Parliament press them and let local voters see that they are not returned next time.

    I shall not congratulate the hon. Member for Croydon, South (Sir W.Clark) on his imitation of the captain of the Titanic.

    Many Conservative Members have put forcefully the essential case. It is a debate that will be decided, as it were, within the family on the Conservative Benches.

    We shall put our point of view, and endorse the statements of the hon. Member for Nantwich (Sir N. Bonsor). He spoke courageously, surrounded as he was by the heavy brigade from Cheshire, who were there to keep him in order—the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton) and his hon. Friends, who forcibly disagree with the hon. Gentleman. Perhaps they have not taken on board the single point that the hon. Gentleman was making—that the unfairness of the proposals is implicit in everything that the Government are saying and doing. I have great respect for the Secretary of State, and I see him shaking his head. The proposals discriminate against a particular section of parents. The reasons put forward for not opposing the clause entirely ignore that fact.

    It has been suggested that some people now have to pay for transport for a distance of less than three miles, and, because they are miserable, others should also be made miserable. The hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. van Straubenzee) suggested that those of us who were putting that point of view had fallen for a sucker punch from the Roman Catholic church. I greatly resent that remark.

    8.30 pm

    I am not a Roman Catholic, and I disagree with Roman Catholic pressure groups on many issues, notably that which we have been discussing last week and this. Nevertheless, Roman Catholics have the same right as other parents to put arguments forward if they are unfairly discriminated against.

    My school took its pupils from a catchment area of 90 parishes in Derbyshire, consisting of small villages like the village that I live in—and I see village schools closing down all around me. The major Catholic school in my constituency in the city of Derby takes its pupils from a 20-mile radius. The cost and burden for those parents, at the estimate of £4 or £5 per week per child, will be very great. In common fairness, the House should follow the hon. Member for Nantwich and root clause 23 out of the Bill.

    I take it that the hon. Gentleman appreciates that the great majority of local authorities are under no obligation to provide transport for the Roman Catholic community? The Roman Catholic school is not necessarily the nearest appropriate school, which is the test under the Act. That being so, why should the hon. Gentleman expect a change of policy?

    In many cases, including my area, local authorities are providing that transport. Since the 1944 Act, it has come to be expected and welcomed by the Catholic community and by other parents who are able to send their children to the school of their choice, not necessarily the nearest school, as a result of these payments.

    The imposition of these charges will hurt precisely those parents who are least able to afford it. My hon. Friend the Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Kinnock)'quoted from the Minister of State's letter. He could have continued the quotation:
    "We continue to attach great importance to parental preferences for the education of children, but this general principle has to be applied with due regard to what the public purse can afford."
    That was the point made by the hon. Member for Croydon, South. However, the private purse will now determine which children can go to the school of their choice and which cannot. That is what is wrong with the proposals and why they have been so savagely attacked from all sides. I hope that many Conservative Members will join us in the Lobby tonight.

    I appreciate that the intention of clause 23 is twofold. First, it is to assist the Government in the overriding need to reduce public spending. Secondly, it is to devolve power to local authorities.

    I am in general agreement with the Government's overall strategy. We were elected on the basic premise that we should reduce public spending and borrowing. It is fair to remember, however, that the saving envisaged under the clause is £20 million out of a total of £120 million, amounting to about 17 per cent. That is not a significant part of the education budget and it is an even smaller part of the national budget. The difficulties caused by effecting such a saving will be out of all proportion to the distress caused.

    The intention of amendments Nos. 42 and 92, and withdrawn amendment No. 91 is basically to protect the large family from the effects of clause 23. I make no apology for my defence of the larger family—very often the larger family is the poorer family. Large families are often derided, but there is nothing funny in having to feed and clothe several children and transport them to school everyday.

    Amendment No. 42 makes 25p the maximum figure, and quite clearly there will be the discretion for local authorities to charge less. Even assuming that 25p is accepted as a reasonable transport charge, it means that a family of three children will still have to pay an additional £3·75 a week over and above every current charge that family is experiencing. That is a new expense, and for the larger family it is an unacceptable and unreasonable expense. Therefore, I hope that focal authorities, when they read the report of this debate in Hansard, will take note of the views that have been expressed and interpret them in an appropriate and civilised manner.

    Perhaps my hon. Friend can help me on this point. I know that he believes in local democracy, because he has said so repeatedly. If that is the case, why is he not content to leave these issues to the local authorities, which surely will respond immediately to local pressure?

    Had my hon. Friend allowed me to develop my theme, he would have received a complete answer to his question.

    I have heard it said in this House and elsewhere that child benefit should be used to defray the cost of getting children to school. That is just not equitable. Child benefit was introduced long before this charge was thought of. If we should decide to use child benefit as a method of defraying transport costs, that benefit must be increased. Therefore, where is the point? There is none.

    Amendments Nos. 42 and 92 do nothing to damage the principle or the fabric of the Bill, but they build in a safeguard for the large rural family. I cannot believe that parents should be penalised simply because of their address and the fact that they live in the country. Once it may have been argued that those living in the country were compensated by lower rates, but successive adjustments to the rate support grant to the detriment of shire counties has altered the balance, and the difference, if any, is now much smaller.

    In supporting the amendments, I do not seek to denigrate local authorities. I have been involved in local government as a councillor for 23 years and I am well aware of the virtues of local authorities. I am convinced that, should we give these new powers to local authorities, they will not suddenly go berserk and seek to impose highly expensive transport charges on parents. But there are exceptions to every rule and already those exceptions are becoming apparent. We have heard a lot about the exceptions in this debate this evening. The hon. Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Kinnock) produced a comprehensive list of them. Other Members have referred to several counties which are being grossly unfair and discriminatory.

    Another argument that has been used to justify clause 23 is the need to remove the anomalies that are inherent in the present system—particularly the two-mile and three-mile limits. It has been said that the limits are disliked by parents. For example, in the same street there may be one child who travels free while there is another who pays. I accept that that is an anomaly. But in my 23 years as a councillor I have found that very few people have complained. That does not mean that they do not dislike it—of course they do—but they accept it because it has existed for so many years.

    I believe that the basic premise on the question of anomalies is wrong. The effect of clause 23 will create, not reduce, anomalies. The county of Warwickshire is proposing a rate of 20p per day per child. Solihull, which until the county was reorganised, was in Warwickshire, is proposing 10p per day. Children in Birmingham, adjacent to Warwickshire, will receive free transport. Oxford shire, which also adjoins Warwickshire, is giving no help to denominational pupils. Leicestershire is deferring any charges for 12 months. In a small geographical area there are five different schemes. If the decision on transport charges is left to the discretion of local authorities, it will result in a great unevenness of transport provisions. We are not reducing the number of anomalies. We are building them into the system. For local authorities, ideas will differ enormously. I do not doubt that individual Members of Parliament will receive representations from constituents. They will protest that in one local authority area transport is free but in another a certain price will be fixed. In the removal of one anomaly we create another. Hon. Members with far greater experience than I have will be aware of the furore which has been created by old-age pensioners protesting about the anomalies in concessionary fares. We have all received demands that a national charge should be levied to remove the anomalies from the system.

    The protest by the elderly will be as nothing compared to the protests that we shall receive from parents. Parents have a statutory duty to get their children to school. For them, that journey is not a pleasure. It is a positive and absolute duty.

    The Minister is clearly anxious to allow local authorities to use discretion. The inference is that we should trust the local authorities because they are supposed to be responsible to the electorate, as are hon. Members. Yet the Minister is careful to undermine that very point. He has put at least one safeguard into the Bill: children and parents in receipt of family income supplements will travel free. We already distrust local authorities to that extent.

    I turn now to the question of denominational schools, particularly Catholic schools. I declare an interest. I am a Catholic. Now I have heard two clear and very conflicting views expressed: first, that the Catholic bishops are not really concerned; secondly, that the fuss that is being created about clause 23 is a Catholic fuss and is merely an example of Catholics maintaining their traditional reputation for awkwardness.

    I quote from a letter from the Bishop of Portsmouth, who is also the chairman of the Catholic Education Council. He writes:
    "Our Catholic school system in many local authority areas is dependent upon the provision of transport to school. Very many of our schools have been sited, built or reorganised on the understanding or agreement that there would be free transport. The bishops of England and Wales are very concerned indeed about the whole question. I am writing on their behalf as well as for the Catholic Education Council to ask for all the help and support you can give us at the Report stage of the Education Bill which could have grave consequences for Catholic education."
    There is nothing ambiguous in that statement. It is a clear cry to this House to defend the principle of denominational education.

    I should like to emphasise my ecumical reputation to be impartial and to quote this time from the Anglican Bishop of Coventry. He says:
    "The dual system in this country is a unique partnership in education between Church and State and this clause puts it into jeopardy. If the Government's proposal to allow greater discretion to local education authorities on school transport results in the withdrawal of subsidies then the aided schools could be very hard hit indeed, particularly in rural areas. This may well mean in many cases the withdrawal of a freedom of parental choice for a voluntary school, which would not only appear to deny the Government's declared intention to widen parental choice, but also deny the opportunity of Church school education which the dual system makes possible. In not a few cases it would mean the closure of schools."

    8.45 pm

    Is the hon. Gentleman, having quoted statements from an Anglican bishop and a Catholic bishop, aware that this simply emphasises the fact that when the agreement was made with Lord Butler, just before the 1944 Act, it was not simply about the dual system and about voluntary schools? The free transport element was an integral part of that agreement made with Lord Butler between the two great Churches in this country and the State system.

    I am obliged to the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. I should like later, with the permission of the House, to touch gently on something that Lord Butler said.

    I turn now to my second point concerning the argument that the whole of the fuss is a Catholic fuss. I believe that it would be a grievous error to identify the uproar so far caused by clause 23 as a purely denominational uproar. It would be an even greater mistake for this House to assume that it is a Catholic uproar. It is true that denominational schools are greatly concerned about the effects of the clause, but all the denominational schools are involved, as I have sought to prove from the two letters from which I have quoted.

    The reason why perhaps the Catholic Church has been the most vocal is simply that it has the most denominational schools and has the largest school population likely to be affected by the clause. It is therefore entirely reasonable that we should have heard the Catholic voice being expressed very loud and clear.

    Catholics rightly maintain that denominational schools have larger catchment areas than most. No one can argue with that. It is also worth while recalling that Catholic parents, as has been said elsewhere in the debate, find 15 per cent. of the cost of those denominational schools. In round figures, that is about £6 million a year.

    The current Catholic school population is about 800,000 children. That is the number attending Catholic aided schools. That is a fairly sizeable minority. Interestingly, the last complete transport survey taken was in 1972. It showed that 21·5 per cent. of all secondary pupils travelled over 3 miles, but that figure rose to 40 per cent. for denominational schools. Again I emphasise the date—1972. Would any hon. Member argue with me that the number of such children has increased enormously since that date?

    The Catholic contribution to education is a sizeable one, and that is over and above the contribution that is currently made by Catholics as individual tax and rate payers. I am well aware—and here I come to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (Mr. van Straubenzee)—that it is not the intention of the Government, and certainly not the intention of my right hon. and learned Friend or of the Bill, to discriminate against denominational schools. But again I put it to the House that the impact of clause 23, in charging for transport, must be to push families to the nearest school, irrespective of conscience or religious belief. That is not the intention but it will be the effect.

    Government amendment No. 134 provides for a flat rate charge and that any charges made must be uniform, but it does not make it mandatory for local authorities to provide transport in the first place. While I welcome the cart in the amendment, it is a pity that my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State has not put a horse between the shafts.

    I was hoping that the hon. Member for Rugby (Mr. Pawsey) had power to talk out the clause. The hon. Member for Croydon, South (Sir W. Clark) referred to Conservative Members campaigning on the theme of cutting public expenditure, but complaining when they got down to detail. It would have been more honest of them if they had campaigned on the detail and told the people what would result from the election of a Conservative Government. Conservative Members have an opportunity tonight to put that right.

    It was significant that the hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. van Straubenzee), in one of the rare speeches in defence of the Government, talked about the Church as a corporate body, while other hon. Members, including the hon. Members for Nantwich (Sir N. Bonsor) and for Rugby have talked about a group of people whose standard of living would be cut if the clause went through.

    We all have experiences of the anomalies of the three-mile system. We all know about children going to the same bus stop and some getting free transport while others have to pay, but local authorities have always had the power to use their discretion to get rid of those anomalies. It is a criticism of some authorities that they have not used that discretion. We have a minimum standard plus local authority discretion.

    If the Government were simply trying to get rid of the anomalies we would have some sympathy for them, but that is not the purpose of the clause. Its object is to cut Government and local authority expenditure on school transport. Almost every clause in the Bill, with the significant exception of the provisions on public and private schools, is intended to cut public expenditure. I once called a previous Conservative Government's Education (Milk) Act mean, messy and miserable. That description applies equally to this Bill and a number of others going through the House at the moment.

    What will happen if a local authority uses the powers that the Bill is supposed to provide and maintains expenditure on school transport or even increases it, because of the growth of population? It will have the Secretary of State for the Environment breathing down its neck. He will be looking at not only the rate poundage, but at the speeches of councillors.

    The Government intend to save money and to transfer it to someone else. They are not saying that the expenditure should stop or that children should not go to school on buses. Who will pay? It will be large families, mainly on lower incomes and above FIS and supplementary benefit level. They will be asked to make too much of a sacrifice for the Government's policies.

    Those families did not get the income tax cuts that others received. They have had to bear the burden of big increases in mortgages, and the child benefit has been frozen. Families with children at school are having to make unduly large sacrifices.

    The problem with school transport is mainly in the countryside, but my constituency falls within two metropolitan areas—Manchester and Tameside—and the Catholic schools in Tame side, which have gone comprehensive, have free transport provided for 25 per cent. of pupils. It is not just a rural problem, though the rural areas will suffer, just as they will suffer from other Government policies.

    Therefore, the existing system, under which local authorities have duties and powers, is much better, despite its anomalies. I urge the Secretary of State to accept the view of the vast majority of his hon. Friends who have spoken, and to get rid of the clause.

    I have given the Secretary of State an undertaking that I shall sit clown at 9 o'clock. I want to use this brief opportunity to put on record the Scottish position. I take it that the Secretary of State will give an undertaking that the decision of the House on the amendment to delete clause 23, whatever the decision be, will apply equally to clause 25, relating to Scotland.

    The issue that we are debating split the Committee right down the middle. Although the amendments to delete the clauses were not selected, the Committee divided after the clause stand part debate, and the result was 11–11, with the Chairman giving his casting vote in favour of the Government. Rural communities in Scotland, just as in England, must be preserved. If the provisions of clause 25, which are similar to those of clause 23, are enacted, the rural communities will undoubtedly be seriously affected.

    I congratulate the hon. Member for Nantwich (Sir N. Bonsor) on moving the amendment. I wish that some Scottish Tory Back Benchers had the same courage as the English Tory Back Benchers have shown in tabling the amendments. Not one Scottish Tory has had the courage to table an amendment to clause 25, despite the fact that it will drastically affect every Scottish constituency represented by a Tory.

    I must join issue with the hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. van Straubenzee). I do not believe that the Catholic Church or the Catholic education authorities would distort the argument in the way that he suggested. In Scotland there is the problem of the Catholic schools, the effect on children travelling to their denominational schools if clause 25 is allowed to remain in the Bill.

    If the Government honestly believe that clauses 23 and 25, the transport clauses, will have no effect on children's ability to attend school, why are they relaxing the provision on acceptable excuses for nonattendance? There is a clear indication that that is being done. I am led to think that the Government accept that if the clauses remain in the Bill more children will be absent from school. There may be some other explanation for what they are doing, but I strongly suspect that it is because the right hon. and learned Gentleman knows the effect that the transport clauses will have, particularly on rural children.

    The Secretary of State, with his eloquence, will no doubt seek to persuade his hon. Friends not to vote for the amendment. My guidance is to the contrary. I advise hon. Members not to accept an undertaking that the Government will seek to do something in another place. The Bill and the amendments are before this House. We have an opportunity to impose our will.

    Although I have agreed to give the Secretary of State half an hour for his speech, I really need give him only two minutes, because it would be sensible for him to say gracefully "We have got it wrong" and agree to withdraw these clauses. Then we could move on to the next amendment.

    9 pm

    I should like first to deal with the two points raised by the hon. Member for Stirling, Falkirk and Grange mouth (Mr. Ewing). I am grateful to him for sitting down when he did. If there is a vote, it will be on the first of the amendments, applying only to England and Wales. The result of that vote would clearly have ramifications for Scotland.

    I accept the hon. Gentleman's point that it would not be possible in this House to have a vote on the Scottish amendment. But the Government would have to take into account the result of the first vote in deciding their attitude to Scotland. I have not got the answer to the second point that the hon. Gentleman made. It is a technical point. I will make sure that he receives the answer.

    Anyone who has listened to this debate, running to over two-and-a-half hours, will have been impressed by the sincerity and the seriousness of the speeches that have been delivered on both sides of the issue. I have listened with interest and concern not only to the speeches made from the Government Benches but also to the contributions of the hon. Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Kinnock) and his right hon. Friend the Member for Durham, North-West (Mr. Armstrong). These are important amendments and this is an important clause.

    This is a matter, as many of my hon. Friends have indicated, of substantial political sensitivity. The reason for that sensitivity is that this part of the Bill implements the decision of the Government to allow local authorities to charge for school transport. This means, in many cases, that local authorities will be allowed to impose charges when, at the moment, people are receiving a free service. I accept that the imposition of a charge where the service has been free is a matter of sensitivity and of concern.

    I hope to show the House, particularly my right hon. and hon. Friends, that the proposal to provide freedom for local authorities to charge for transport, with the one limitation covered by the amendment, in my name, imposing a flat-rate basis of charge for children of the same age and the same area, to ensure that there can be no possibility of discrimination against any particular type of school and no discrimination over the different distances children have to travel, are not ill-conceived and inequitable, as my hon. Friend the Member for Nantwich (Sir N. Bonsor) described them, but are necessary, just and fair.

    I understood that my right hon. and learned Friend's original amendment on this subject made a uniform charge right across the board, irrespective of the age of the child, the school the child attended, or the distance travelled. I was concerned when I subsequently read that the amendment now differentiates between schools. If there has been a change, I should like to know the reason.

    There was a sensible reason. Many of the authorities intending to charge have specifically proposed lower charges for primary schools than for secondary schools. To allow for that, I drafted the amendment in the way it appears. So far as the other amendments we are debating—

    Before my right hon. and learned Friend leaves that narrow point, which is of great interest to many of us on the Government Benches, will he say something about our concern that four out of five children in rural areas need public transport to get to school whereas in the cities the proportion is only one in five? As a result the country-dwelling children will be worst hit.

    Of course I accept that if charges are imposed where there were none before, the people who inevitably will be affected are those who were not paying before. Of course, I realise that children in rural areas tend to go greater distances to school than children in the towns. But my amendment is an attempt to ensure that in any charging policy the local authorities pursue they shall operate on a basis that does not discriminate against any type of school and is not related to distance. I believe that in that amendment I go substantially towards meeting many of the fears that have been expressed.

    All of the amendments that we are debating tonight attempt in different ways to restrict local education authorities' discretion as to the level of those charges. The amendments in the names of my hon. Friend the Member for Rugby (Mr. Pawsey) and the hon. Member for Bedwellty, seek to impose a figure. The hon. Member for Bedwellty is also seeking to relate the charge to the cost of public transport. The Liberal amendment is designed to limit the provision to certain groups of people. Other amendments attempt to raise the basic limit.

    I hope that I can persuade the House that all these amendments should be resisted, since they seek to impose shackles on the discretion of local authorities to decide ways in which to make their economies.

    Since the whole issue is the correctness or otherwise of the clause I must tell my hon. Friends that the clear reason for it is to enable local education authorities to make savings in public expenditure in this area. We have told the local education authorities that for the year 1980–81 we are looking for a cut of 5 per cent. in proposed expenditure. I do not think that I have to persuade my right hon. and hon. Friends that cuts in public expenditure are essential. I do not think that any of them would doubt, as my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, South (Sir W. Clark) has said, that we have as a country been living beyond our means. Public expenditure has been increasing at a time when there has been no increase in wealth. The result is well known. It is over-high taxation and a lack of adequate resources in the private sector.

    Faced with that and a request to local authorities to make savings, the Association of County Councils specifically said that if savings of this kind were to be made the authorities should have the freedom in this area and that of school meals. The reason is simple. It is that by today the cost of the subsidy on transport has already risen to £125 million a year. If we are to make savings of the kind I have described it is only reasonable that local authorities should have the opportunity of choosing in which area they wish to make them. It is consistent with the Government's philosophy of giving local authorities the maximum freedom to decide their own policies in accordance with their local circumstances.

    Since local authorities are having to make difficult decisions about where they make savings in other forms of expenditure on education, it is right that if they wish to make them on transport rather than on nursery schools, adult education or something of that kind, they should be free to do so. We have to widen the area of expenditure out of which these savings can be made. I must, therefore, ask my hon. Friends to trust the local education authorities to act responsibly and to decide where the savings should be made.

    My right hon. and learned Friend has ruled out charges for nursery education. Many people welcome that and many people do not. However, if it is right to impose on local authorities a policy for the sale of council houses, surely it is equally right to say that they shall not charge more than a certain sum for transport.

    We debated that issue yesterday. I have many points to answer and I should like to be allowed to proceed. It was said that only £20 million was involved. That does not appear to be a large saving in the context of a total budget of £8 billion a year for education. But if we start knocking away at different parts of the edifice the whole structure crumbles. If we say that on every individual piece of education expenditure we can save only a small amount we have to look for savings elsewhere. I listened with care to what my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry South-West (Mr. Butcher) said about non-teaching staff. The numbers of non-teaching staff have fallen by 10,000 in the last five years. In the same five years the cost of education administration fell by £40 million, or 10 per cent. I do not believe that there are any easy answers when looking for the savings that are required.

    The right hon. and learned Gentleman should remember that the financial and explanatory memorandum states that the so-called savings on school transport would amount to £22 million. That is less than half of what the Secretary of State proposes to spend on the assisted places scheme. If he is intent on cutting public expenditure, will he scrap completely the assisted places scheme?

    The hon. Member knows that that is not true.

    I was saying that there are no easy answers in making savings of this kind. I repeat that if local authorities do not make savings in this area savings have to come from elsewhere in their budget. I am desperately anxious to ensure that we can preserve the level of expenditure in the classroom consistent with our election manifesto pledges on education.

    I take up the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (Mr. van Straubenzee). The present situation is illogical. There is no obligation on an authority to provide transport up to the walking distance but beyond that distance to provide it free. No account is taken of the circumstances of the person who on the one side of the dividing line pays the full price, and subsidises the person on the other side of the line who pays less.

    This problem has caused great concern to Governments for many years. In some communities one side of the village pays for transport and the other side does not. However, overall only 10 per cent. of people get free transport and only 20 per cent. get free transport to secondary schools. The hon. Member for Bedwellty quoted suggested charges in the region of £1 to £2 a week. I accept them. My right hon. Friend the Member for Stafford and Stone (Mr. Fraser), referred to a charge of 25p a day for children in Staffordshire. I remind him that the equivalent journey of just under three miles by public transport would cost them 43p a day in Staffordshire.

    Kent originally proposed a charge of 35p and withdrew it. That was because many people in that county were already paying that amount. Essex charges between 12p and 36p a day, East Sussex charges 34p, Wiltshire 28p, Hampshire 30p and Dorset 25p. I earnestly beg my hon. Friends to remember that many people, irrespective of their financial positions, pay similar sums and out of their other pockets they subsidise free transport for others.

    9.15 pm

    Is the Secretary of State making a threat or a promise? Is he saying that, because some people have to meet those costs, everybody should? Who will be advantaged by that? A manageable system for school meals payments is now changed because of the feeling that the full cost should be met. Is that not likely to happen to transport so that it becomes totally prohibitive?

    When we are trying to reduce public expenditure, and knowing that people are already paying certain sums, it is not unreasonable for local authorities to consider introducing a modest charge for transport.

    I turn to the question of Roman Catholics. I listened with interest to what was said. The availability of an appropriate school that is nearer than the Catholic school to which a pupil already goes means that much of the present provision is not statutory but discretionary. I fear that if local authorities do not have the opportunity to recoup some of the money which is being spent on free transport they may decide to withdraw the service. That is a greater threat to the Catholic schools than asking for a modest charge to be made. For example, Oxford shire proposes to do that under the present law.

    We are not against denominational schools. I fully recognise their importance but the principle is that those attending denominational schools should be treated in a similar way to others. That is why I propose a flat rate, non-discriminatory charge.

    I shall explain briefly why I am not able to accept any of the amendments. I have explained why I cannot accept that the clause should be deleted. I urge my hon. Friends who wish a figure to be inserted in the Bill to remember that any one figure would not take account of local circumstances. The cost of transport varies enormously in different parts of the country because of various subsidies. A maximum charge would not lead to fairness. Many people in the same area would still have to pay different sums.

    The county in which my right hon. and learned Friend lives is charging 23p a day. Kent proposed to charge 35p a day, or £2·50 a week. Would my right hon. and learned Friend be satisfied if his local authority charged the same as Kent?

    It is inevitable that different figures would be charged in different parts of the country, taking account of local circumstances. I pose the question to hon. Members on both sides of the House: who is best to decide what that charge should be—we in central Government or the local councillors who are sensitive to the local view and are themselves elected representatives? I hope that none of the amendments will be accepted.

    Although I do not wish to see on the face of the Bill any of the amendments that have been proposed, nevertheless the Government and the House should express a view as to what should be general good practice. It should not be allowed, in any way, to discriminate between types of schools or distance.

    Local authorities, in using their powers, should take account of the total effect of their proposals on family budgets. They should take account especially of the size of a family. Many counties are limiting their proposals in that way. They should consider the effect of their proposals on poorer families.

    I have much sympathy with the second amendment proposed by my hon. Friend the Member for Rugby, and with some of the views expressed by the hon. Member for Bedwellty. I hope that local authorities, when considering their schemes, will take into account the problems of the poverty trap, and the possibility of adopting an income scale test of entitlement, as previously existed in the schools meals service and which was a reasonable and fair practice.

    Having considered carefully all the proposals that have been made by local authorities—although some have not made their final decision—I feel that the sort of sums that they are proposing are reasonable and fair in the economic position that we face. Their proposals in limiting the number of children and the types of sums that they have in mind are reasonable. We ought to trust the local education authorities to make the savings in the way that they wish.

    I say to the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) that I am getting somewhat sick of the irresponsibility of the Liberals on this matter. They claim to be a party that believes in local Government, yet they do nothing but attack the responsibility of local councillors.

    During the debate on education expenditure last week, they complained about the savings that might be made by closing schools. Yesterday, the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed called for more money to be spent on nursery school provision. This afternoon, he complained about the savings to be made in the school meals service. This evening, he complained about any savings that might be made in the transport service. Next week, he will be going around the country complaining about the rises in the rates and the taxes—

    —that he, by his votes, his speeches and his unwillingness to accept that savings in expenditure have to be made, will have been largely responsible for bringing about. Any bandwagon is good enough for the hon. Gentleman, provided he feels that it has a vote in it somewhere.

    The Secretary of State is forgetting that I went into the Lobby with him to vote for the increase to 35p for school meals only a fortnight ago. Is he now saying that if all local authorities took his advice and did not impose the charges that we have criticised, they would be able to make the savings that he has referred to in the memorandum to the Bill?

    In making the savings for which we are looking we have assumed that the savings for the year 1980–81 can be £20 million, which is about 25 per cent. of the expenditure on transport now. I have clearly said, and I repeat, there can be no going back on the savings. Therefore, if local authorities choose not to use their powers here, the savings have to be made elsewhere.

    Since the right hon. and learned Gentleman is always berating us about our alleged lack of confidence in local education authorities compared with his alleged great confidence in them, why has he found it necessary to table an amendment laying down that flat-rate fares have to be charged?

    I tabled it because I was requested by many people to do so. I tabled the amendment to meet fears which I believe to be groundless. Other than one Socialist council—Mid Glamorgan—no one was proposing discriminatory charges. However, as that fear existed, I decided to make the amendment.

    I understood my right hon. and learned Friend to say that he had examined the many schemes which have so far been submitted and that he thought them reasonable. Is he not therefore saying that the Kent proposal, which for secondary school children is currently £2·50 a week, is reasonable? If so, is not that an open invitation to every education authority in the country to put up rates to that kind of level at some future date?

    The vast majority of proposals that I have seen appear to be reasonable. It is for local councillors to justify the figures to their own local electorates. It is not for us to impose them.

    I have made it clear that savings in education have to be made. As my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, South said, if we do not make savings in public expenditure, if we go on living beyond

    Division No. 180]

    AYES

    [9.30 pm

    Abse, LeoBrown, Ron (Edinburgh, Leith)Davies, Ifor (Gower)
    Adams, AllenBuchan, NormanDavis, Clinton (Hackney Central)
    Allaun, FrankCallaghan, Rt Hon J. (Cardiff SE)Davis, Terry (B'rm'ham, Stechford)
    Alton, DavidCallaghan, Jim (Middleton & P)Deakins, Eric
    Anderson, DonaldCampbell, IanDean, Joseph (Leeds West)
    Archer, Rt Hon PeterCampbell-Savours, DaleDempsey, James
    Armstrong, Rt Hon ErnestCanavan, DennisDewar, Donald
    Ashley, Rt Hon JackCant, R. B.Dixon, Donald
    Ashton, JoeCarmichael, NeilDobson, Frank
    Atkinson, Norman (H'gey, Tott'ham)Carter-Jones, LewisDormand, Jack
    Barnett, Guy (Greenwich)Cartwright, JohnDouglas, Dick
    Barnett, Rt Hon Joel (Heywood)Clark, Dr David (South Shields)Douglas-Mann, Bruce
    Belth, A. J.Cocks, Rt Hon Michael (Bristol S)Dubs, Alfred
    Benn, Rt Hon Anthony WedgwoodConcannon, Rt Hon J. D.Duffy, A. E. P.
    Bennett, Andrew (Stockport N)Conlan, BernardDunn, James A. (Liverpool, Kirkdale)
    Bevan, David GilroyCook, Robin F.Dunnett, Jack
    Bidwell, SydneyCormack, PatrickDunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth
    Bonsor, Sir NicholasCowans, HarryEadle, Alex
    Booth, Rt Hon AlbertCraigen, J. M. (Glasgow, Maryhill)Eastham, Ken
    Boothroyd, Miss BettyCrowther, J. S.Edwards, Robert (Wolv SE)
    Bottomley, Rt Hon Arthur (M'brough)Cryer, BobEllis, Raymond (NE Derbyshire)
    Bradley, TomCunliffe, LawrenceEllis, Tom (Wrexham)
    Bray, Dr JeremyCunningham, George (Islington S)English, Michael
    Brown, Hugh D. (Provan)Dalyell, TamEvans, Ioan (Aberdare)
    Brown, Robert C. (Newcastle W)Davidson, ArthurEvans, John (Newton)
    Brown, Ronald W. (Hackney S)Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)Ewing, Harry

    our means to the extent that we have done, we shall continue with higher interest rates and mortgages. Those who are being asked to make some contribution towards the expense of getting their children to school must consider in their minds the alternative ways in which the money may otherwise be spent.

    We have given authorities the widest freedom to choose where and in what way they believe it is right to make the savings for which we are asking. As I have said on many occasions from this Dispatch Box, it is far better to protect the classroom than to continue with increasing subsidies in all other areas. Yet I believe that would be the corollory of what some of my hon. Friends have been advocating tonight.

    I heard what was said in this debate, and some of my hon. Friends made similar remarks in the previous debate. I believe that when considering what is a reasonable charge to make, taking account of local transport and the effect on the family, the local councillor is more sensitive and better able to understand and react to the views of people on the savings that we are seeking in this area.

    For those reasons, I ask the House to reject the amendment moved by my hon. Friend the Member of Nantwich.

    Question put, That the amendment be made:—

    The House divided: Ayes 279, Noes 302.

    Farr, JohnLewis, Ron (Carlisle)Robinson, Geoffrey (Coventry NW)
    Field, FrankLitherland, RobertRodgers, Rt Hon William
    Filch, AlanLofthouse, GeoffreyRooker, J. W.
    Fitt, GerardLyon, Alexander (York)Ross, Ernest (Dundee West)
    Fiannery, MartinLyons, Edward (Bradford West)Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight)
    Fletcher, L. R. (Ilkeston)Mabon, Rt Hon Dr J. DicksonRoss, Wm. (Londonderry)
    Fletcher, Ted (Darlington)McCartney, HughRowlands, Ted
    Foot, Rt Hon MichaelMcCusker, H.Ryman, John
    Forrester, JohnMcDonald, Dr OonaghSandelson, Neville
    Foster, DerekMcElhone, FrankSever, John
    Foulkes, GeorgeMcKay, Allen (Penistone)Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert (A'ton-u-L)
    Fraser, Rt Hon H. (Stafford a St)McKelvey, WilliamShepherd, Richard (Aldridge-Br'hills)
    Fraser, John (Lambeth, Norwood)MacKenzie, Rt Hon GregorShore, Rt Hon Peter (Step and Pop)
    Freeson, Rt Hon ReginaldMaclennan, RobertShort, Mrs Renée
    Freud, ClementMcMahon, AndrewSilkin, Rt Hon John (Deptford)
    Fry, PeterMcMillan, Tom (Glasgow, Central)Silkin, Rt Hon S. C. (Dulwich)
    Garrett, John (Norwich S)Magee, BryanSilverman, Julius
    Garrett, W. E. (Wallsend)Marks, KennethSmith, Cyril (Rochdale)
    George, BruceMarlow, TonySmith, Rt Hon J. (North Lanarkshire)
    Gilbert, Rt Hon Dr JohnMarshall, David (Gl'sgow, Shettles'n)Snape, Peter
    Ginsburg, DavidMarshal), Dr Edmund (Goole)Soley, Clive
    Golding, JohnMarshall, Jim (Leicester South)Spearing, Nigel
    Gourlay, HarryMartin, Michael (Gl'gow, Springb'rn)Spriggs, Leslie
    Graham, TedMason, Rt Hon RoyStallard, A. W.
    Grant, George (Morpeth)Maxton, JohnSteel, Rt Hon David
    Grant, John (Islington C)Maynard, Miss JoanStewart, Rt Hon Donald (W Isles)
    Grimond, Rt Hon J.Meacher, MichaelStoddart, David
    Hamilton, W. W. (Central Fite)Mellish, Rt Hon RobertStott, Roger
    Harrison, Rt Hon WalterMikardo, IanStrang, Gavin
    Hart, Rt Hon Dame JudithMillan, Rt Hon BruceStraw, Jack
    Hattersley, Rt Hon RoyMiller, Dr M. S. (East Kilbride)Summerskill, Hon Dr Shirley
    Haynes, FrankMitchell, Austin (Grimsby)Taylor, Mrs Ann (Bolton West)
    Healey, Rt Hon DenisMitchell, R. C. (Soton, Itchen)Thomas, Dafydd (Merioneth)
    Heffer, Eric S.Moate, RogerThomas, Jeffrey (Abertillery)
    Hicks, RobertMolyneaux, JamesThomas, Mike (Newcastle East)
    Hogg, Norman (E Dunbartonshire)Morris, Rt Hon Alfred (Wythenshawe)Thomas, Dr Roger (Carmarthen)
    Holland, Stuart (L'beth, Vauxhall)Morris, Rt Hon Charles (Openshaw)Thorne, Stan (Preston South)
    Home Robertson, JohnMorris, Rt Hon John (Aberavon)Tilley, John
    Homewood, WilliamMorton, GeorgeTinn, James
    Hooley, FrankMoyle, Rt Hon RolandTorney, Tom
    Hooson, TomMulley, Rt Hon FrederickUrwin, Rt Hon Tom
    Horam, JohnNewens, StanleyVarley, Rt Hon Eric G.
    Howell, Rt Hon Denis (B'ham, Sm H)Oakes, Rt Hon GordonWainwright, Edwin (Dearne Valley)
    Howells, GeraintOgden, EricWainwright, Richard (Colne Valley)
    Huckfield, LesO'Halloran, MichaelWalker, Rt Hon Harold (Doncaster)
    Hudson Davies, Gwilym EdnyfedO'Neill, MartinWeetch, Ken
    Hughes, Mark (Durham)Orme, Rt Hon StanleyWellbeloved, James
    Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen North)Owen, Rt Hon Dr DavidWelsh, Michael
    Hughes, Roy (Newport)Palmer, ArthurWhite, Frank B. (Bury & Radcliffe)
    Janner, Hon GrevillePark, GeorgeWhite, James (Glasgow, Pollok)
    Jay, Rt Hon DouglasParker, JohnWhitehead, Phillip
    John, BrynmorParry, RobertWhitlock, William
    Johnson, James (Hull West)Pavitt, LaurieWigley, Dafydd
    Johnston, Russell (Iverness)Pawsey, JamesWilley, Rt Hon Frederick
    Jones, Rt Hon Alec (Rhondda)Pendry, TomWilliams, Rt Hon Alan (Swansea W)
    Jones, Barry (East Flint)Penhaligon, DavidWilliams, Sir Thomas (Warrington)
    Jones, Dan (Burnley)Powell, Rt Hon J. Enoch (S Down)Wilson, Gordon (Dundee East)
    Kaufman, Rt Hon GeraldPowell, Raymond (Ogmore)Wilson, Rt Hon Sir Harold (Huyton)
    Kerr, RussellPrescott, JohnWilson, William (Coventry SE)
    Kilroy-Silk, RobertPrice, Christopher (Lewisham West)Winnick, David
    Kinnock, NeilRace, RegWoodall, Alec
    Knox, DavidRadice, GilesWrigglesworth, Ian
    Lambie, DavidRees, Rt Hon Merlyn (Leeds South)Wright, Sheila
    Lamborn, HarryRichardson, JoYoung, David (Bolton East)
    Lamond, JamesRoberts, Allan (Bootle)
    Leadbitter, TedRoberts, Ernest (Hackney North)TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
    Leighton, RonaldRoberts, Gwilym (Cannock)Mr. Donald Coleman and Mr. James Hamilton.
    Lestor, Miss Joan (Eton & Slough)Robertson, George
    Lewis, Arthur (Newham North West)

    NOES

    Adley, RobertBell, Sir RonaldBraine, Sir Bernard
    Aitken, JonathanBendall, VivianBright, Graham
    Alexander, RichardBenyon, Thomas (Abingdon)Brinton, Tim
    Alison, MichaelBenyon, W. (Buckingham)Brittan, Leon
    Amery, Rt Hon JulianBest, KeithBrocklebank-Fowler, Christopher
    Ancram, MichaelBiffen, Rt Hon JohnBrooke, Hon Peter
    Arnold, TomBiggs-Davi8on, JohnBrotherton, Michael
    Aspinwall, JackBlackburn, JohnBrown, Michael (Brigg & Sc'thorpe)
    Atkins, Rt Hon H. (Spelthorne)Blaker, PeterBrowne, John (Winchester)
    Atkins, Robert (Preston North)Body, RichardBruce-Gardyne, John
    Atkinson, David (B'mouth, East)Boscawen, Hon RobertBryan, Sir Paul
    Baker, Kenneth (St. Marylebone)Bottomley, Peter (Woolwich West)Buchanan-Smith, Hon Alick
    Baker, Nicholas (North Dorset)Bowden, AndrewBuck, Antony
    Beaumont-Dark, AnthonyBoyson, Dr RhodesBudgen, Nick

    Bulmer, EsmondHogg, Hon Douglas (Grantham)Pattie, Geoffrey
    Burden, F. A.Holland, Philip (Carlton)Percival, Sir Ian
    Butcher, JohnHordern, PeterPeyton, Rt Hon John
    Butler, Hon AdamHowe, Rt Hon Sir GeoffreyPink, R. Bonner
    Cadbury, JocelynHowell, Rt Hon David (Guildford)Pollock, Alexander
    Carlisle, John (Luton West)Howell, Ralph (North Norfolk)Porter, George
    Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoin)Hunt, David (Wirral)Prentice, Rt Hon Reg
    Carlisle, Rt Hon Mark (Runcorn)Hunt, John (Ravensbourne)Price, David (Eastleigh)
    Chalker, Mrs LyndaHurd, Hon DouglasPrior, Rt Hon James
    Channon, PaulIrvine, Charles (Cheltenham)Proctor, K. Harvey
    Chapman, SydneyJenkin, Rt Hon PatrickPym, Rt Hon Francis
    Clark, Hon Alan (Plymouth, Sutton)Johnson Smith, GeoffreyRalson, Timothy
    Clark, Sir William (Croydon South)Jopling, Rt Hon MichaelRathbone, Tim
    Clarke, Kenneth (Rushcliffe)Joseph, Rt Hon Sir KeithRees, Peter (Dover and Deal)
    Cockeram, EricKaberry Sir DonaldRees-Davies, W. R.
    Colvin, MichaelKimball, MarcusRenton, Tim
    Cope, JohnKing, Rt Hon TomRhodes James, Robert
    Corrie, JohnKitson, Sir TimothyRhys Williams, Sir Brandon
    Costain, A. P.Knight, Mrs JillRidley, Hon Nicholas
    Cranborne, ViscountLamont, NormanRidsdale, Julian
    Critchley, JulianLang, IanRifkind, Malcolm
    Crouch, DavidLangford-Holt, Sir JohnRippon, Rt Hon Geoffrey
    Dean, Paul (North Somerset)Latham, MichaelRoberts, Wyn (Conway)
    Dickens, GeoffreyLawrence, IvanRossi, Hugh
    Dorrell, StephenLawson, NigelRost, Peter
    Douglas-Hamilton, Lord JamesLee, JohnRoyle, Sir Anthony
    Dover, DenshoreLennox-Boyd, Hon MarkSainsbury, Hon Timothy
    du Cann, Rt Hon EdwardLester, Jim (Beeston)St. John Stevas, Rt Hon Norman
    Dunn, Robert (Dartford)Lewis, Kenneth (Rutland)Scott, Nicholas
    Durant, TonyLloyd, Ian (Havant & Waterloo)Shaw, Giles (Pudsey)
    Dykes, HughLloyd, Peter (Fareham)Shelton, William (Streatham)
    Eden, Rt Hon Sir JohnLoveridge, JohnShersby, Michael
    Edwards, Rt Hon N. (Pembroke)Luce, RichardSilvester, Fred
    Eggar, TimothyLyell, NicholasSims, Roger
    Elliott Sir WilliamMcCrindle, RobertSkeet, T. H. H.
    Emery, PeterMacfarlane, NeilSmith, Dudley (War. and Leam'ton)
    Eyre, ReginaldMacGregor, JohnSpeed, Keith
    Fairbairn, NicholasMacKay, John (Argyll)Speller, Tony
    Fairgrieve RussellMcNair-Wilson, Michael (Newbury)Spence, John
    Faith Mrs SheilaMcNair-Wilson, Patrick (New Forest)Spicer, Jim (West Dorset)
    Fell, AnthonyMcQuarrie, AlbertSpicer, Michael (S Worcestershire)
    Fenner, Mrs PeggyMadel, DavidSproat, Iain
    Finsberg, GeoffreyMajor. JohnSquire, Robin
    Fisher, Sir NigelMarland, PaulStainton, Keith
    Fletcher, Alexander (Edinburgh N)Marshall, Michael (Arundel)Stanbrook, Ivor
    Fletcher-Cooke, CharlesMarten, Neil (Banbury)Stanley, John
    Fookes, Miss JanetMates, MichaelSteen, Anthony
    Forman, NigelMather, CarolStevens, Martin
    Fowler, Rt Hon NormanMaude, Rt Hon AngusStewart, Ian (Hitchin)
    Fox, MarcusMawby, RayStewart, John (East Renfrewshire)
    Fraser, Peter (South Angus)Mawhinney, Dr BrianStokes, John
    Galbraith, Hon T. G. D.Maxwell-Hyslop, RobinStradllng Thomas, J.
    Gardiner George (Reigate)Mayhew, PatrickTapsell, peter
    Gardner, Edward (South Fylde)Mellor, DavidTaylor, Robert (Croydon NW)
    Garel-Jones, TristanMeyer, Sir AnthonyTebbit, Norman
    Gllmour, Rt Hon Sir IanMiller, Hal (Bromsgrove & Redditch)Temple-Morris, peter
    Glyn, Dr AlanMills, Iain (Meriden)Thatcher, Rt Hon Mrs Margaret
    Goodhart, PhilipMills, Peter (West Devon)Thomas, Rt Hon Peter (Hendon S)
    Goodlad, AlastairMiscampbeil, NormanThompson, Donald
    Gorst, JohnMitchell, David (Basingstoke)Thome, Neil (Ilford South)
    Gow, IanMonro, HectorThornton, Malcolm
    Gower, Sir RaymondMoore, JohnTownend, John (Bridlington)
    Grant, Anthony (Harrow C)Morgan, GeraintTownsend, Cyril D. (Bexleyheath)
    Gray, HamishMorris, Michael (Northampton, Sth)Trippier, David
    Greenway, HarryMorrison, Hon Charles (Devizes)Trotter, Neville
    Griffiths, Eldon (Bury St Edmunds)Morrison, Hon Peter (City of Chester)van Straubenzee, W. R.
    Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth N)Mudd, DavidVaughan, Dr Gerard
    Grist, IanMurphy, ChristopherViggers, Peter
    Grylls, MichaelMyles, DavidWaddlngton, David
    Gummer, John SelwynNeale, GerardWakeham, John
    Hamilton, Hon Archie (Eps'm&Ew'll)Needham, RichardWaldegrave, Hon William
    Hamilton, Michael (Salisbury)Nelson, AnthonyWalker, Bill (Perth & E Perthshire)
    Hampson, Dr KeithNeubert, MichaelWalkef-Smith, Rt Hon Sir Derek
    Hannam, JohnNewton, TonyWaller, Gary
    Haselhurst, AlanNormanton, TomWalters, Dennis
    Hastings. StephenNott, Rt Hon JohnWard, John
    Havers Rt Hon Sir MichaelOnslow, CranleyWarren, Kenneth
    Hawksley, WarrenOppenheim, Rt Hon Mrs SallyWatson, John
    Hsyhoe, BarneyOsborn, JohnWells, John (Maidstone)
    Heath, Rt Hon EdwardPage, John (Harrow, West)Wells, Bowen (Hert'rd & Stev'nage)
    Heddle, JohnPage, Richard (SW Hertfordshire)Wheeler, John
    Henderson, BarryParkinson, CecilWhitelaw, Rt Hon William
    Heseltine, Rt Hon MichaelParris, MatthewWhitney, Raymond
    Higgins, Rt Hon Terence L.Patten, Christopher (Bath)Wickenden, Keith
    Hill, JamesPatten, John (Oxford)Wiggin, Jerry

    Wilkinson, JohnYoung, Sir George (Acton)TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
    Winterton, NicholasYounger, Rt Hon GeorgeMr. Spencer Le Marchant and Mr. Anthony Berry.
    Wolfson Mark

    Question accordingly negatived.

    Order. I am now required to put the Questions on the three remaining Government amendments up to clause 25, Nos. 134, 151 and 61. Does any hon. Gentleman wish to seek a Division on any of these amendments?

    Clause 23

    TRANSPORT: ENGLAND AND WALES

    Amendment made: No. 134, in page 22, line 4, at end insert—

    '(4) In the case of pupils in attendance at schools, the charges made by a local education authority under subsection (3)(a) above for provision of transport shall be at a uniform rate, that is to say, a rate not depending on the length of the journey or the school attended, except that there may be rates which differ according to the age of the pupil or according to whether the school is a primary or a secondary school.'.—[Mr. Mark Carlisle.]

    Clause 25

    TRANSPORT: SCOTLAND

    Amendments made: No. 151, in page 24, line 18, at end insert—

    '(4) In the case of pupils in attendance at schools, the charges made by an education authority under subsection (3)(a) above for the provision of transport shall be at a uniform rate, that is to say, a rate not depending on the length of the journey or the school attended, except that there may be rates which differ according to the age of the pupil or according to whether the school is a primary or a secondary school.'.

    No. 61, in page 25, leave out line 4 and '"(i)'in line 5 and insert sub-paragraphs—

    "(i) in the case of a child to whom section 50 of this Act applies, no arrangements have been made under that section with regard to the child; or
    (ia) in any other case,'.—[Mr. Younger.]

    Clause 26

    DAY NURSERIES

    Amendment made:No. 62, in page 26, line 26, leave out from first 'section' to end of line 28.—[ Mr. Mark Carlisle.]

    Clause 30

    RECOUPMENT BETWEEN LOCAL EDUCATION AUTHORITIES

    9.45 pm

    Amendments made: No. 63, in page 27, line 31, after '(1)' insert subject to subsection (1A) below'.

    No. 64, in page 27, line 39 at end insert—

    '(1A) Subsection (1) above does not apply to any provision for primary education made in respect of a pupil who has not attained the age of five years unless it is made with the consent of the authority from whom recoupment is claimed.'.

    No. 65, in page 28, line 13 at end insert—

    '(3A) The Secretary of State may make regulations requiring or authorising payments of amounts determined by or under the regulations to be made by one authority to another where—
  • (a) the authority receiving the payment makes, in such cases or circumstances as may be specified in the regulations, provision for education in respect of a pupil having such connection with the area of the paying authority as may be so specified; and,>
  • (b) one of the authorities is a local education authority and the other an education authority in Scotland.'.
  • No. 66, in page 28, line 17, leave out 'and references' and insert '(4A) References in subsections (2) and (3) above'.—[ Mr. Mark Carlisle.]

    Clause 31

    EDUCATION EXPENDITURE AND RATE SUPPORT GRANT

    Amendment made: No. 67, in page 28, line 36, after 'authority', insert 'or to the area of any education authority in Scotland'.—[ Mr. Mark Carlisle.]

    Clause 37

    CITATION, CONSTRUCTION, REPEALS AND EXTENT

    Amendments made: No. 72, in page 32, line 2 after 'particular', insert 'local education authority or'.

    No. 74, in page 32, line 11 after '25', insert '30(3A) and (4)'.—[ Mr. Mark Carlisle.]

    Clause 31

    EDUCATION EXPENDITURE AND RATE SUPPORT GRANT

    I beg to move amendment No. 88, in page 29, line 20, at end insert—

  • '(5) The Minister shall not make regulations under section 31 and Schedule 6 to this Act before he has consulted an Advanced Further Education Commission as set out in subsection (6) below.
  • (6) An Advanced Further Education Commission shall be set up, consisting of not less than 25 persons whom the Secretary of State shall appoint, after consulting bodies representing local authorities, governing bodies of further education institutions, principals of such institutions, and teachers and students in such institutions.'.
  • The last amendment that we debated concerned the small matter of £20 million. Even though that will place a major imposition on parents, the amendment I now move concerns £375 million. As we lost the last amendment by only 23 votes, we can confidently expect to win this one, given its additional importance.

    The great sadness attached to this debate is that, because of the guillotine, we did not have the opportunity to discuss clause 31 in committee. Indeed, the only contribution was a learned one from my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, West (Mr. Price), who is one of the four people in the country who understands the mechanism for the capping of the pool. We concluded our Committee sittings when my hon. Friend was on his feet speaking on this matter. It is an issue of considerable importance and I hope that in the course of this short debate the Minister will provide some answers.

    We want to stress the need that is widely felt for accepting this amendment, which requires the establishment of an advanced further education commission in order to deal with finance in the advanced further education sector.

    We hope that the Minister will accept the amendment, because every representative body in advanced further education has endorsed the recommendation of the Oakes committee, which was chaired so ably by my right hon. Friend the Member for Widnes (Mr. Oakes) when he was Minister of State, Department of Education and Science. Not only has the recommendation received endorsement and agreement from that source, it has been supported by all the representative bodies of students, teachers and other workers in the advanced further education sector.

    At the beginning of this year the council of local education authorities met and, in the absence of any kind of undertaking from the Minister that he would set up the AFEC, it decided to form a crypto AFEC of its own to manage what might otherwise be a totally unmanageable area of educational expenditure which will be subject directly to the whim of Governments and to no other influence.

    I know that the Minister has the greatest respect for the judgments of local education authorities and a close interest in advanced further education. Therefore, it is difficult to understand how someone with such a commitment and experience has been so far unable to give an undertaking that the AFEC will be set up. I hope it is not that the ideological commitment of both the Under-Secretary and the Secretary of State is so inflexible that they consider the AFEC to be yet another quango and consequently they plan to avoid the recommendation of the Oakes committee. There must be more profound reasons, and I hope that we shall hear them tonight.

    The Oakes committee intended to promote efficiency and equity in local government finance and in educational provision in the advanced further education sector. The capping system proposed by the Oakes committee was systematic and fair. It met the financial needs of advanced further education. It gratified the interests of local education authorities that do not have institutions of advanced further education within their boundaries and it provided a reasonable procedure for local education authorities that have such institutions in their areas.

    In order to meet those needs, and in order to gratify and to provide for those interests, it was necessary that the national body should be set up. An advanced further education commission—or a similar body with a different title—is a prerequisite of the efficiency and equity which characterised the recommendations of the Oakes report, and which has commanded the support of all bodies of opinion and representation concerned with furtther education. It is necesary because it is the only means of effectively ensuring that we have the proper management, control, co-ordination and opportunity for improvement of provision in the polytechnics and colleges of further and higher education.

    The system adopted by the Government, of appointing a person, however well-intentioned, talented and knowledgeable, to sit in the Department of Education and Science and, by the use of the Civil Service mechanism, perform the task which should be performed—according to the Oakes recommendations—by a national body that is representatative of local authorities and other interests in advanced further education does not provide an adequate substitute.

    In place of the widely supported and gradual means of rationalising and managing the finance of advanced further education, the Government now offer a crude mechanism—the proposal contained in clause 31 of the Bill. It has been outlined by the Under-Secretary of State in public, but, as far as I know, never in Parliament. It is not a system of control or co-ordination. It is a vehicle for cuts—and it is an extremely crude and blunt system of performing those cuts. It involves financial cuts of great severity, so much so that they jeopardise the existence not only of courses, but of some institutions in the advanced further education sector. It would also lead to curriculum cuts. That is a matter of particular sensitivity, especially in the advanced further education sector.

    If the hon. Gentleman and his right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State were looking for a sector that would meet the technological and scientific demands of the country, they would be well recommended to look at the advanced further education sector, among other places. However, because of the system they propose, one college of further education—I shall not name it because it will cause undue alarm, but if the hon. Gentleman would like the details in private later, I shall be happy to supply them—will have to meet cuts of 13 per cent. in the amount of money necessary to maintain its current provision. In another college the cuts will be 17 per cent. Kingston polytechnic will have to meet cuts of 10 per cent., Newcastle polytechnic, 10 per cent., Leicester polytechnic, 10 per cent. and Middlesex polytechnic, 9 per cent. The city of Manchester college of higher education—which has the delightful title "Comanche"—will have to meet cuts of 7·5 per cent. These are in relation to total available facilities of £10 million to £12 million. Cuts of that nature are not shavings off a great fat body but they are cuts straight through the flesh and into the bone at the level of 10 per cent.

    It is an interesting development in a new era of Select Committees that we are having a debate on the Floor of the House immediately after a Select Committee has taken evidence this morning from the committee of directors of polytechnics. Is my hon. Friend aware that it was made clear that the average 10 per cent. cut was only a basic cut? On top of that cut, the matter of overseas students' fees turns a basic 10 per cent. cut into a cut of 16 per cent., 17 per cent., 18 per cent. or even 19 per cent. in individual institutions.

    My hon. Friend has done me and the House a service by enabling me to abbreviate my remarks. He has referred to a point that I was about to make. The basic cuts in the very nature of education generally, but specifically in higher education—because of the wide dispersal of courses and the small number of staff in some of those courses—can begin as cuts of 10 per cent. and, because of the multiplier effect, can easily end up as cuts of 15 per cent. or 17 per cent.

    It was proposed that a 6 per cent. cut be made in the case of the universities. The effect of that will be to produce a 10 per cent. cut in the finances available and in the number of courses available to students. The position is exactly the same in the advanced further education sector and, indeed, in the maintained sector.

    ; Will my hon. Friend agree that these cuts—never mind the initial finance—will be more adverse in terms of their engineering and technical potential?

    My hon. Friends are greatly helping me. I hope that my speech is not that stereotyped and that all they are doing is to endorse the fact that there is a central argument to be made. It is a very simple argument and has been made by the National Association of Teachers in Further and Higher Education and by the other bodies representing polytechnic teachers, by the Association of Scientific, Engineering and Managerial Staffs, by the National Union of Students, and by the Standing Conference of Principals and Directors of Institutions and Colleges of Higher Education, a conference of which body the Under-Secretary of State addressed while I attended it. All those bodies have put forward the straightforward argument that I have been making, although obviously in more detail, and covering the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Burnley (Mr. Jones), my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, West and everybody else interested in this area.

    The greatest irony of all in regard to the cuts is that it is the institutions that have been most obedient to previous bouts of public expenditure restraint that will suffer most. So crude and so blunt is the Government's proposition in clause 31 that the virtue that these institutions have shown in complying with previous demands for cutbacks in the use of finance demands has meant that they are the ones that will suffer most. In addition to the crudity of the Government's mechanism—I suppose that we dignify what they are doing even by the use of the term mechanism—there is the fact that, as my hon. Friend the Member for Burnley clearly recognised, these are institutions with a very strong vocational orientation and a very strong commitment to technology, to science and to the industrial arts.

    In a country that is daily being reminded of its increasing dependence on imports and of the way in which it lags behind in so many technological and scientific races, for a blow to be dealt at the very base of our means of shortening the distances between ourselves and other industrial nations is lunacy of the most profound nature. It is being committed at a time when we have a Government who earnestly remind us at frequent intervals of the need to encourage the development of our scientific and technological education and training.

    The further bad news, as has already been suggested, is that the effect of the Government's proposals to increase the fees in the advanced further education sector, as in every other higher educational sector, and to charge full cost fees for overseas students, will mean that in addition to the blows resulting from the crude cuts wrought by clause 31, there will be increasingly a dramatic fall in the number of overseas students seeking places in advanced further education in Britain, with the additional and crucial loss of the revenue necessary to keep those institutions viable.

    10 pm

    Taking together the way in which the Government are cutting the commitment of finance to the advanced further education sector and the impact of the reduction of overseas students, because of the full-cost fees strategy, it is clear that the Government are dealing a mortal blow to some courses and institutions and a deep wound to the provision of advanced further education in this country.

    The Council of Local Education Authorities has already offered the Government a way out. It has approved an arrangement under which it would set up what The Times Higher Education Supplement calls a "crypto-Oakes"—a rather indelicate description, but not a bad suggestion for the Under-Secretary to follow.

    We cannot help thinking that nothing of which we warn in the advanced further education sector is occurring by accident. It is not because of the haste with which the Government have approached the question that we are left with these difficulties. It may be because of the way in which the Under-Secretary has expressed himself that our suspicion, which is shared by many others in advanced further education, is well-founded.

    For example, the Under-Secretary has said:

    "We are looking at the rationalisation of all courses in higher education. The universities are doing their study now and this will be done for the maintained sector as well."

    If the hon. Gentleman were speaking as a convinced missionary on behalf of the Oakes proposal, we would recognise that as a benign attitude, as a matter of need and as a way of carefully husbanding the country's resources while seeing that we

    got the best value for money out of the higher and advanced further education sectors so that the interests of local education authorities, students and staffs in the institutions could be served.

    But we have to conclude that, given the example and the argument of Oakes and the consensus in support of Oakes, any Government who choose to recognise and follow neither must have not a benign, but a malign, reason for coming to that conclusion.

    This is a technical matter which does not arouse strong political passions. Therefore, there would be no purpose in my using hyperbole unless it were justified, but on the basis of what I have heard from the Under-Secretary, at the conference to which I referred and from the odd quotations that drop from his lips, we can come to no conclusion other than that in the absence of an undertaking to accept our amendment or to change their attitude and introduce an amendment meeting the demands raised by our amendment, the Government are not serious about wanting to sustain advanced further education or meeting their obligations to local education authorities.

    I plead with the Under-Secretary to recognise that many of Britain's industrial needs can be met only by the development of the advanced further education sector. There can be no benefit for education, the economy or the opportunities for the young people of this country if the responsibility for setting up an advanced further education body is not met.

    I have received a letter from a lecturer at the Croydon college of technology, who tells me that the college

    "is being forced to make real cuts for 1980–81, of £100,000. This will mean, for example, that something like a 7 per cent. cut will be made on the teaching of A-level science subjects. This is in spite of Carlisle's"—

    an irreverent reference to the Secretary of State—

    "statement that a 'modest expansion' in further education was contemplated."

    Did I hear the Under-Secretary of State say that he expected that from a polytechnic lecturer?

    No. I think that courtesy is a virtue that we should have on both sides of the House. If the writer cannot use the form "Mr. Carlisle" or "the right hon. Mark Carlisle", that may be relevant to the validity of the rest of what he says.

    I realise that the hour is late, and the hon. Gentleman may be a little tetchy, having lost so many arguments in the past two days.

    I never expected to have to characterise the hon. Gentleman as a parliamentary bully, but those were the words of a parliamentary bully: "We might have lost the argument, but we have not lost a vote." I never expected to hear that from the hon. Gentleman, but it is duly recorded. I shall take special pleasure in sending a copy of the Hansard report of today's proceedings to that Croydon college, so that the staff can read the hon. Gentleman's comments.

    It must be later than we thought. If we were to have to be here until 2 am, as we were this morning, goodness knows what the hon. Gentleman would be getting up to. I know that his interruption is at least partly inspired by the fact that he is desperate to respond to the debate and give an undertaking that the Government will proceed along the course that I have asked.

    I hope that the hon. Gentleman will answer a few other questions. What will be the total amount of the advanced further education pool for the financial year 1980–81? How does this compare with the total for the last financial year for which figures are available? That is probably 1978–79. The figures will not yet be available for the most recent year.

    What is the allocation of the pool to individual local authorities? What were the hon. Gentleman's estimates of the individual local authorities' claims upon the pool?

    If the hon. Gentleman can answer those questions, it will have been a useful debate, but we would much prefer a full and well-deserved reward, not for ourselves but for those engaged in advanced further education, in the form of an assurance about their future, the curriculum that they provide and the future of the students for whom they care.

    It is a characteristic of our debates that when we discuss £20 million the Benches are full, the officials' box is full, the whole House is full of heat and yet there are abstentions. We even see strange faces in our lobby. But when we discuss £375 million the Chamber empties and not one functionary decides to serve the Department. I see that two are now arriving. Professor Parkinson and others have commented on this phenomenon that afflicts us in public affairs.

    Owing to a curious arrangement of the guillotine, under which time was very limited for the discussion of the question of transport, we suddenly seem to be able to discuss this subject at our leisure, and it is worth devoting a moment or two to it.

    We now have a system of Select Committees that can examine, in detail, complicated matters that hitherto have flowed through Standing Committee with no scrutiny whatever. I am sorry that when the Government, rightly and properly, introduced Select Committees they did not at the same time introduce the Procedure Committee's recommendation that Standing Committees should be able to spend one, two or three sittings taking evidence from experts before proceeding to line-by-line consideration of a Bill. This subject, called capping the pool, which has nothing to do with what we were discussing last Friday and will be discussing again this Friday, is an esoteric subject—

    Regarding the Select Committee on procedure, is my hon. Friend aware that the Leader of the House has not ruled out such a procedure but those who observe these matters feel that he may be looking at it after the Bills on which it would be most appropriate have been given Second Readings in this first Session of this new Parliament?

    My hon. Friend the Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Kinnock) is sending to the staff and students of Croydon college of technology the Hansard report of this debate. I shall send a copy to the Leader of the House. This is a serious parliamentary point. It would have helped the Standing Committee on this Bill if it could have interviewed witnesses about the Bill's technical aspects before proceeding to debate the legislation.

    It is appropriate that we should be holding this debate on Report. When we reached this part of the Bill in Committee, I was discoursing on these matters but, because of the fall of the guillotine, the Under-Secretary of State did not have time to reply. Some words from the hon. Gentleman on Report would be apposite.

    The amendment seeks to insist that before the Under-Secretary makes regulations under the clause he should appoint a representative body of all the interests in the public sector of further and higher education rather than operate bureaucratically through his functionaries in the Department of Education and Science. We want open government, not closed government. It is important that the House should understand the issues.

    Before the general election, there took place nearly 18 months of detailed consultation with every interest in further and higher education—

    On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Will you terminate the subcommittee of two Welshmen so that hon. Members can deal adequately with this highly technical subject?

    If the hon. Members wish to speak to each other, they should do so in a whisper.

    No apology is necessary. Although my surname is well known in Wales, I am the only English Welshman in the House. It was a sub-committee of two. When two Welshmen are gathered together, who can stop them indulging in a sub-committee?

    The House should realise the effect of the Government's doctrinaire activities. For nearly 18 months before the general election, on a completely nonparty basis, all the interests involved had entered into difficult negotiations. The interests were difficult to reconcile—the local authorities, further education, metropolitan and county authorities, the people in the polytechnics and the Department itself. Eventually they reached agreement. Not everyone was wholly satisfied, but there was broad agreement with what the Oakes committee, as it was christened, had done. I am not sure of the wisdom of attaching names to these committees. Perhaps it would be better to give them a completely inanimate label—

    10.15 pm

    It was named after my right hon. Friend the Member for Widnes (Mr. Oakes). It seemed that whatever the result of the general election that committee would have been set up and been allowed to carry on its work as a sort of counterpart to the University Grants Cornmittee. Those who worked in polytechnics and other higher education institutes could then have known that the distribution of resources to them was carried out by their professional peers and colleagues as happened with the universities and the UGC.

    However, the election saw the victory of the most neurotic and manic Government for some time and their mania was against quangos, particularly quangos with the wrong names attached to them. A ludicrous decision was therefore taken, without consultation, to chop this quango so that the distribution of the £375 million should go unsupervised.

    I am not speaking for the Select Committee of which I am the Chairman and which is examining this matter. I believe personally that the Government will live to regret their decision. An extraordinary situation has arisen. When the Select Committee was appointed, we received a letter from the Secretary of State saying that he was very concerned about this issue. He was not seeking to dictate to us what we should do, since he recognised that we were an independent Committee, but he suggested that we might look at the whole system of applying broad subject guidelines to higher education and consider some sort of mechanism under which those guidelines might be implemented.

    We decided to accept that subject, although we had many other alternatives. Mr. Alan Thompson, the deputy secretary in charge of higher education in the Department, gave evidence to the Committee and he sketched out in rather greater detail—

    Order. The hon. Gentleman must not go into detail about what has happened in the Select Committee. It has not yet reported, so I hope he will not continue along that line.

    I take the point, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Although the activities of the Committee, which sat in public, were widely reported in the press and are common knowledge, I shall not take it further.

    We face a problem which must be overcome. Committees sit in public and newspapers report every word of their proceedings, but an antiquated rule prevents us from mentioning on the Floor of the House what happened in the Committee until a report has been placed on the Table.

    If my hon. Friend feels inhibited by the customs of the House, perhaps he will tell us of the visit he made to the DES to attend a seminar on capping the pool. We could usefully employ our time for the remainder of the debate hearing his instructive views of that experience.

    I shall not follow my hon. Friend down that road, except to say that if members of the assessment and performance unit had sat in on that seminar I believe that they would have made even more severe strictures than they recently made on mathematics teaching throughout the country.

    I wish to compare the responsible way in which the Secretary of State and the Department have approached this matter with the attitude of the hon. Member for Brent, North (Dr. Boyson) when he spoke to a conference of principals of higher education colleges and institutes just before Christmas. In what was obviously a prepared speech, he made the clear statement that it might be that no mechanism was necessary and the whole matter could be dealt with by the Department.

    The Minister made the point to me in Committee that there was a time difference between the two events. He said that his speech was made at the end of October and that the other event of which I have spoken took place later. Since few people are listening, perhaps the hon. Gentleman can be more frank than other Ministers have been. If there has been a change of heart and the Department is moving towards acceptance of the fact that there will have to be some mechanism of an Oakes committee sort, will the hon. Gentleman tell us about it? That would help everybody in the House, not least those members of the Select Committee who are struggling with these problems and who want to know the Department's present policy.

    I know that policy changes constantly, but I want to know whether the Department has reached a conclusion on this matter. Is it in favour of managing the matter wholely within the Department, or will it set up a broadly representative body to distribute money in the public sector of higher education? It is an important question because the capping of the pool imposes a severe cut on every college in the land.

    I fully understand the reason for cash limits being imposed on further education. The previous situation, which I liken to an .ever-fattening goldfish spin- ning out the water until it takes up all the space in the bowl, could not continue. Cash limits had to be imposed. However, once cash limits are imposed, one consequence is that the money must be distributed in a coherent fashion.

    The capping of the £375 million in the pool has, without any consideration of overseas students' fees or other consequences, involved something like a 10 per cent. cut in further and higher education institutions. There is no real quarrel about that in the institutions. However, following the cuts, we now have a new system of funding the cost of overseas students, about which there has been much discussion.

    Unless an institution recruits the same number of overseas students as it recruited last year, its income will be cut even further. No one knows how much will be involved and nobody can know until later in the year. Some polytechnics will have to find as much as £2½ million by October 1980, or October 1981 at the latest. Enormous savings have to be made, and the Government must give some guidance about where they should be made. Without such guidance there will be complete chaos. Courses which the country needs desperately will be cut and courses which are not needed will continue.

    We were given examples this morning in the Select Committee. The principal of Leicester polytechnic said that his knitwear engineering course could disappear by October 1981. Half of the students on that course come from overseas. There are few courses of that kind in Britain.

    There are two such courses in the country and it appears that one might be in jeopardy. The hon. Member should be accurate when referring to evidence given to a Select Committee.

    I do not wish to be inaccurate. Knitwear engineering is an example of a type of course, of which there are only two or three, which is in jeopardy. The Government should not simply stand back and watch what happens for two years, but that is exactly what they have decided to do. They are talking in terms of a £375 million capped pool. They say that they will fix the pool on the basis of a Treasury diktat. They do not intend to have consultation about what should be invested in higher education. Instead, someone will pull out a piece of paper from a bran tub. The means by which the figure is arrived at is shrouded in bureaucracy and is not subject to open government.

    The means by which the £375 million is to be distributed in the next two years is the worst of all possibilities. I am no great supporter of the University Grants Committee, but it tries to distribute its money in a coherent manner. It distributes it after consultation with the universities, local authorities and industry. The system has the confidence of the institutions.

    However, the money about which we are talking will be distributed on the basis of a balance between historical expenditure and forecast—on what institutions received last year and what they expect to receive next year. The House should pause and understand the implications. If in 1980 an institution such as that involved in teacher training is winding down, it will be given money that it does not need. The expenditure of other institutions, particularly in the development areas where new courses have been introduced, will be chopped and they will be unable to cope with the need.

    10.30 pm

    The great tradition of further education is that it has been immediately responsive to regional and national needs. If a course is needed, it is provided. If it is unnecessary, it is taken away. There is a degree of flexibility in the secondary education sector that does not exist in the higher education sector.

    If the capped pool is not overseen by some body such as the Oakes committee, the great danger is that public money—the distribution of which is meant to be supervised by the House—would be spent in ways that no one in the House would wish to defend. It would be spent in those ways simply because of the Government's obstinacy in scrapping an agreed procedure for the distribution of that money because they have an obsession about having no more quangos.

    I realise that I have spoken for rather longer than most hon. Members in this part of the debate. It has been reasonable to do so as the House has not been bristling with Members wishing to contribute. I appeal to the Minister to take the matter seriously. We are dealing with an enormous amount of money. We have in embryo form machinery that could be brought into being quickly to distribute the money in a coherent manner. To date, the Under-Secretary of State has said "No, we will do this in closed government, behind closed doors, bureaucratically in the Department of Education."

    Amendment No. 88 simply provides that the Minister must, under clause 31, make a whole range of regulations once the Bill becomes law. Is he intending to make those regulations without the consultation that would be expected in every sphere of the education system? If he were to accept the amendment, he would have a body at his disposal that would enable him to make the regulations very rapidly indeed.

    The Minister may find flaws in the amendment, and he may feel that it is not properly drafted and that it would be better done another way. I would not argue tremendously about that. However, I beg him to say that before the Bill reaches another place he will come forward with coherent arrangements to ensure that this large amount of public money is distributed in such a way that it serves national needs rather than out-of-date historical patterns.

    This is not a party issue. It is an issue on which the House is properly saying "We want to supervise public expenditure, and we are not being allowed to do so because of the obstinacy of the Department of Education." I hope that the Minister, when he replies, will try to reassure the House on some of the questions raised by my hon. Friends and will reassure me on some of the complaints that I have made.

    Of all the policy statements that have come from the Government, this must be the most idiotic of the lot. I cannot understand it coming from the Under-Secretary of State. I have known him through the years—although I have not shared the same political views—as a man of tremendous common sense. The hon. Gentleman comes from a part of Lancashire where common sense is the people's greatest asset.

    For the Government to restrict spending on technical education seems almost suicidal folly. Is the Minister aware that for 35 years, despite unemployment rising with almost disturbing regularity, we have always been short of skilled employees? Any economic recovery in an industrial society must depend on that element being stimulated.

    I ask the Minister to pay attention to some practical matters which any Government—Labour or Conservative—would neglect at their peril. The Prime Minister has repeatedly, but wisely, said that this is an interim period and that eventually we shall recover our economic balance and develop the economy. The Minister's colleague, the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam (Mr. Macfarlane), laughs. I am glad that he can find something to laugh at, because I am damned if I can.

    All right, so we agree. But people do not usually show agreement with such a smiling countenance.

    I have had personal experience of the period to which I have referred. This factor has had a remarkably disturbing impact on our economy. Only two years ago we had a great debate in the House about paying skilled men the rate for the job. Indeed, we had strikes during that period because it was not applied.

    If lads are prepared to serve apprenticeships by going to work during the day and going to school in the evening, that must bring its own reward. But where are they to get the finance? The Government are proposing to cut down on this financial help. In the process, they will cut the wherewithal that produces the talent that we shall require more in the future than we have in the past. The Government are proposing to cut the stream of money that will enable this talent to be brought out. I cannot understand their reasoning.

    The Minister is from the education profession. There must be a spirit of fraternity amongst its members. He could expect to believe that fraternity rather than those who are here.

    I speak from a background of practical experience. I ask the Minister to believe that I know what I am talking about in practical, not theoretical, terms. Is it not possible for the Minister to call a meeting of the heads of all the technical colleges in Wales, England and Scotland, and, for that matter, Northern Ireland—it would take only a couple of hours—and ask them, the specialists in this area, to give him the benefit of their experience and beliefs and their promises for the future and be guided by them? He could ignore the Opposition as being prejudiced but seek the views of those who are knowledgeable and know full well what they are talking about.

    If the Government continue to make these inroads into the finance of our technical colleges, the country will pay a very heavy price in future. I beg a teacher—for such the Minister is—to acquaint himself with the views of the teaching profession on this important matter.

    We have had an interesting debate. We all agree with the strong feelings expressed by the hon. Member for Burnley (Mr. Jones). His constituency is very near the valley of Rossendale in which I was born and in which I lived for so long. No hon. Member would disagree with the importance that he placed on technical education. We all wish for its recovery, irrespective of party. We were privileged to hear the hon. Member speaking with such conviction.

    This debate has been more relaxed and has crossed party boundaries. We are concerned with the distribution of money in the maintained sector of advanced further education. In shorthand, we refer to this as capping the pool. The situation is reminiscent of Schleswig-Holstein in the nineteenth century. Of those who understood that complicated situation, one was dead, one had gone and the other had forgotten. Few of those concerned with advanced further education in the maintained sector would disagree that formerly we had no means of limiting the amount of money spent. That is why we had to cap the pool. Colleges could spend and subsequently draw money from the pool.

    Once courses had been established, there was little control on the money spent. As a result there was greater financial than academic drift. We are all grateful for the work that the right hon. Member for Widnes (Mr. Oakes) put into the Oakes committee. Most hon. Members will have read the proceedings of that committee. The capping of the pool may be likened to student union finance. Charges could be fixed without undertaking any responsibility for payment. Colleges established courses and levied the cost of those courses on a nationwide pool. The local authority paid only a minimal sum towards the cost. That system obviously had to end. Therefore, we decided in June that the pool would have to be capped. I shall deal presently with the percentage differences as regards previous expenditure on further education. I shall also deal with the budget for this year and next year.

    Something had to be done about the distribution of money. I am aware of the remarks of the hon. Member for Lewisham, West (Mr. Price) concerning long-term control. However, during debate on the Labour Government's Education Bill of 1979, which fell when the Government fell on 28 March, we opposed the Oakes committee. It was no surprise that we did not put that committee into operation when we came into office. My hon. Friend the Member for Ripon (Dr. Hampson) and I said in Committee that the arrangements were too bureaucratic. The Opposition did not agree. We accepted the need to cap the pool. We said that we would look at the distribution of resources when we would consider whether a national body was needed.

    Mr. Christopher Price