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Education (No 2) Bill

Volume 981: debated on Monday 17 March 1980

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I beg to ask leave to move the Adjournment of the House, under Standing Order No. 9, for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter that should have urgent consideration, namely,

"the situation now existing as a result of the decision of the House of Lords on Thursday last to remove clauses 23 and 25 from the Education (No. 2) Bill, and the Government's failure to make a statement of their intentions following that important change in proposed legislation."
The matter is specific, as it relates to a Bill that is currently before Parliament. You will recall, Mr. Speaker, that it was a matter of great contention when it was discussed in the House, with Members of all parties voting for the removal of the clauses. It is an important matter, because it affects the legal standing and financial position of all local education authorities, especially the 20 that have decided to impose substantial charges for the provision of transport for children living some distance from their schools.

Most important of all is that the matter is one of great urgency. The beginning of the new financial year is less than three weeks away. Local education authorities have made their policies on education spending and rate revenue on the basis of proposals contained in the Education (No. 2) Bill when it left this place. It is vital that we obtain from the Government an immediate statement on whether they intend to reinstate clauses 23 and 25 of the Bill in this place, or, if they do not intend to do that, whether they will make additional moneys available to local education authorities to permit them to maintain school transport services at the current level. If the Government take the former course, of reinstatement, they will, as was repeatedly said in this place and in another place last week, cause immense harm to rural communities by permitting local education authorities to charge up to £200 a year for the transport of children. They will make nonsense—

Order. The hon. Gentleman is not entitled to make the speech that he would make if I granted the application.

I have no intention of making such a speech either in content or in length, Mr. Speaker. However, in support of the view that it is an urgent matter, as only three weeks remain until the beginning of the financial year it appears to be important to relate that fact so that you may give full consideration to the situation that will arise in the event of the Government seeking to restore the two clauses in defiance of the decision of the House of Lords on Thursday last.

It is a further fact that nonsense would be made of denominational choice if restoration took place. Some local education authorities would be forced to betray promises made in good faith to parents in communities that have cooperated with reorganisation and the closure of schools in years past, since 1944.

If the Government do not take the course of restoration—this is related directly to the question whether we are likely to get a statement following the vote in the House of Lords—and still refuse to provide additional finance for school transport, they will ensure, as the Secretary of State and the Association of County Councils have said, that local authorities will make further cuts in classroom provision, in capitation allowances and in book allowances. They will have to sack teachers unless that money is made available.

I submit, Mr. Speaker, that we need to debate these matters urgently. Any further delay from the Government will ensure that local education authorities enter the new financial year in financial and administrative bewilderment and legal confusion. That will harm significantly the interests of parents and children throughout the length and breadth of the country who are supposed to be represented by Conservative Members.

It is possible for the Government to reassure parents in rural communities. It is possible for the Government to safeguard children against the effect of further cuts. The House of Lords has made its decision. It did so by a majority of two to one last Thursday. As the elected representatives of the parents who will be affected, I hope that we shall have the right to do the same.

The hon. Member for Bedwelity (Mr. Kinnock) gave me notice before 12 o'clock noon today that he would seek to move the Adjournment of the House for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter that he believes should have urgent consideration, namely,

"The situation now existing as a result of the decision of the House of Lords on Thursday last to remove clauses 23 and 25 from the Education (No. 2) Bill and the Government's failure to make a statement of their intentions following the important change in proposed legislation."
I listened with care to the hon. Gentleman and to the important matters that he raised. As the House knows, under Standing Order No. 9 I am directed to take account of the several factors set out in the Order but to give no reason for my decision. I have to rule that the hon. Gentleman's submission does not fall within the provisions of the Standing Order and, therefore, I cannot submit his application to the House.