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Education (No 2) Bill

Volume 982: debated on Wednesday 2 April 1980

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Lords amendments again considered.

That interruption was bad for my nerves. I feel that I am under some degree of persecution. I was coming towards the end of a graphic description of these complicated matters. I commend the amendments to the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Lords amendments Nos. 3, 4, 5 and 6 agreed to.

Clause 9

Nursery Schools And Special Schools

Lords amendment: No. 7, in page 9, line 27, after first "schools" insert:

or to children who will not have attained the age of five years at the time of their proposed admission except that where the arrangements for the admission of pupils to a school maintained by a local education authority provide for the admission of children who will attain that age within six months after their admission those sections shall have effect in relation to the admission of such pupils to that school.
( ) None of the provisions of those sections other than subsections (5) and (6) of section 8 have effect in relation to".

I beg to move, That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said amendment.

Amendments to Lords amendment No. 7:

Leave out 'five' and insert 'three'.

Leave out from first 'admission' to the end.

Lords amendment No. 8, in clause 12, page 12, line 17, at end insert:

"excluding pupils who will not have attained the age of five years within six months after their admission".

The following amendments thereto:

Leave out 'will not have' and insert 'have not'.

Leave out 'five' and insert 'four'.

Leave out:

'within six months after their admission'.

Lords amendment No. 9, in clause 15, page 15, line 11, at beginning insert

"Subject to subsection (1A) below"

Lords amendment No. 12, in page 15, line 17, at end insert—

"(1A) Where the age group in question includes children who will not have attained the age of five years within six months after their admission, those children shall be disregarded both in determining the number of pupils who are to be admitted and the standard number applying under this section."

Lords amendment No. 21, in clause 26, page 26, line 5, at end insert—

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

The following amendment thereto: leave out 'five' and insert 'four'.

As the Under-Secretary of State suggested, some parts of the debate will be controversial.

We consider this section of the Lords amendments and the amendments that we have tabled to them to be important and significant.

The amendments to the Lords amendments do two specific things. First, we have sought to reduce the age limit which is written into clause 9 so that the parents of children from the age of 3 should be entitled to information about school places and be able to appeal against the allocation or non-allocation of places by a local education authority.

The Minister may tell us that the parents of 3-year-old children may not wish to use the facilities that we are trying to write into the Bill. However, we feel that some parents of 3-year-olds will wish to have information about school places and may wish to appeal against the refusal by a local authority to provide nursery school places.

We also believe that many parents of 4-year-old children will want to take advantage of this kind of provision and will want information about nursery schools and classes and about the method of selection of pupils to go to nursery school classes. Certainly many parents of 4-year-olds will wish to be able to appeal if they are dissatisfied with the attitude of the local education authority on the allocation of places.

Our second amendment seeks to leave out part of clause 9, which exempts a large number of local education authorities from this provision. Clause 9 as drafted means that only authorities which choose to admit rising fives to their primary schools will be covered by the appeals procedure. Under the Lords amendment, it may be that only schools where the local authority has decided that rising fives should be admitted will be covered by the appeals procedure. That is far too restrictive and should be amended.

The Government's attitude on this matter is extremely restrictive and is against the under-fives. This is a deliberate decision by the Government to discourage local education authorities from making provision for under-age pupils. It would have been extremely easy for the Government to encourage authorities to provide for rising fives and under-fives generally. If the Government had left the Bill as it was when it left the Commons, the under-fives would have had a much better deal than they will get from the amendments that the Government want us to approve.

Hon. Members who served on the Standing Committee on the Bill will realise that the orginal provision which gave appeal facilities to the under-fives seems almost to have been a mistake by the Government. We all recall, no doubt, when, on 18 December, the Under-Secretary was pressed to be explicit about these provisions covering appeals for the under-fives. He is indicating that he remembers it. We certainly do, because it was only thanks to some kindly intervention by Labour Members that the Minister was able rapidly to obtain some advice from his officials enabling him to confirm our interpretation of the clause—namely, that it applied to the rising fives and 4-yearolds seeking places in primary schools.

At the time, we welcomed the provision. We were surprised about it, but we thought it right that under-fives should be covered by clauses 6, 7 and 8. However, we should have known that it was too good to be true for the Government to be taking constructive action in the Bill. They are now backing down, changing their mind and withdrawing the provision. It is silly of them to take that attitude. All the items that are covered by the provision—parental preference rights, appeals procedure and information—do not mean that the auth- orities have to provide places for all the 4-year-olds in their areas.

Those of us who were on the Standing Committee know that there is a great escape clause in respect of appeals and parental preference. Clause 6 provides that parental preference will not apply if it is detrimental to the efficient use of resources. That means that local authorities can get out of many obligations if they wish. It would have been right for the Government to try to emphasise to the local authorities that they should continue to provide for the under-fives and that that was the kind of direction they should be following.

It is strange that the Secretary of State and other Ministers have taken this course of action. On many occasions over the last few months while he has been Secretary of State, the right hon. and learned Gentleman and his colleagues in the Department have stated, both in speeches and in parliamentary answers, that they believe that there should be more provision for rising fives. The Under-Secretary of State has said that it is Government policy to encourage provision for the under-fives and to admit under-fives to primary schools wherever possible.

If the Minister is serious about wanting to encourage local authorities to admit rising fives to primary schools, he should have left this provision in the Bill to bring pressure on local authorities such as Oxfordshire, which has no provision for rising fives, and Ealing, which has decided that it wants to stop all provision for rising fives. If Ministers are serious in what they say, they would not have introduced the amendment in another place and asked us to confirm it tonight. They would not be stating in press releases, as the Government did recently on their plans for expenditure cuts in education, that they anticipated a reduction in the number of places for under-fives in primary schools.

We believe that the Government are not concerned about the situation for under-fives. They are not concerned about using the spare capacity that exists. They are concerned only about education cuts. That is the reason for the amendment which is before the House.

The Government are getting themselves into a lot of difficulties. They are saying that there is no need to worry about cuts in nursery education and closure of nursery schools and nursery classes. The Government say that instead of developing nursery education they intend to take more under-age pupils into primary schools, which is made possible by falling roles and spare capacity. At the same time, the Government are actively refusing to take advantage of a clause in the Bill that would allow parents and everyone involved in education to put pressure on local authorities to take advantage of the spare capacity and to make provision for the under-fives through that process.

The Minister should be willing to tell the House why he thinks that it would be disastrous to keep the clause in the Bill. If he believes that something should be done for the rising fives, he must realise that the proposals that he puts forward are damaging to the interests of the under-fives and, therefore, damaging to many children's future education prospects as a whole.

I have also put my name to these amendments to the Lords amendments. It is important for the House to take the amendments seriously. I am prepared, if any of my hon. Friends or any Conservative Member would join me, to press the amendments to a Division. The Bill contains a new system of parental preference, appeals and information. Much of this was contained in the Labour Government's Bill. It could be said to be agreed legislation between the two sides of the House.

However, the Government, in their amendments, are to apply this system of information and appeals, which ought to stretch right across the age range of children at school, to only part of that age range, and, in certain local authorities, only to children aged five and over. It is no excuse for the Government to say that the rules about nursery education have been changed and that, although there was some doubt in the past, there is now no doubt that there is no duty on local authorities to provide nursery education for children.

There is no duty on local authorities to provide education for children over the age of 16 if they do not wish to do so. But because that is education which, on the whole, tends to he afforded to the privileged rather than the under-privileged, it is generally provided by local authorities. Education between the ages of 16 and 19 is subject to parental preference, information procedures and everything else in the Bill.

10.15 pm

Anyone who served on the Standing Committee will know the nature of the panic the Government got themselves into over nursery schools when it was realised that there was a problem. That is an example of the danger inherent in rushed legislation. In this case it would have the effect of excluding some youngsters and their parents from the system, and it is not good enough that the Government should do that because they got into a panic.

It is particularly dangerous for the Government to do that, because the school a child attends at 3 or 4 years of age determines the school it will attend at the age of 18. Conservative Members constantly regale us with stories of parents moving into particular districts so that they can pick particular primary schools and so be in a position to select the secondary school to which their children will go.

If that is so, the system of parental preference, of provision of information and of final appeal should be as available to the parents of children of nursery school age—the rising fives—as it is available to every other parent in the school system.

But it is worse than that. The Bill differentiates between local education authorities. The amendment states:
"Where the arrangements for the admission of pupils to a school maintained by a local education authority provide for the admission of children who will attain that age within six months after their admission…"
We are meant to have a national system of preference, information and appeal, but we are legislating for two classes of local education authority. The first class comprises those authorities which have decided to be mean about nursery schools—such as Oxfordshire and Ealing—and I am sure there will be other examples as this year goes on. The second class comprises those authorities which have decided to try to maintain their responsibilities for nursery education.

Because of the importance of a child's first school, because of the undesirability of creating two classes of local education authority by legislation, because of the need, when we legislate, for a national system which is available as much as to one parent as to another, thus avoiding discrimination, and, beyond that, because of the need to re-emphasise in this House something on which we might be broadly in agreement, pre-school education is a more crucial stage in the system than primary or secondary education. All the evidence from the National Children's Bureau states that the great differences in ability among youngsters appear not between the ages of 5 and 16 or between 5 and 18 but before the age of 5.

I do not wish to make too much of this amendment. It is not central to the fabric of the system. However, it is an important erosion of the principle of having a national system. It arises not from mature consideration by the Government but from panic reaction to a reactionary local education authority—Oxfordshire—that could have been taken to court by the citizens of the county. The Government felt that they had to leap in and use the House to protect their political friends in Oxfordshire from being taken to court.

Some Ministers feel that Lords amendments are an opportunity to be generous. I appeal to the Minister to accept the amendment and thereby achieve a national system.

The hon. Member for Lewisham, West (Mr. Price) stretched the point a little when he said that a nursery school attended by a child of 3 or 4 years of age could determine what happened to that child when he was 18. However, I do not contradict his opinion that nursery schools have a deep and lasting value. I cannot agree with him about his comparison with tertiary education. I should like to restate my conviction that nursery education is valuable to all children who are ready for it. But not all children are ready at that age, and this fact must be remembered in all discussion on this sector. I am an educationist, and I know that that is so.

Nursery education is especially valuable because it comes when children first begin to establish relationships with adults and other children. The earlier that they begin that process, the better. They also learn to handle materials, and deprived children experience an environment which is brighter than that which they have at home. That is valuable.

There is no substitute for a child's relationship with its mother and, as the hon. Member for Eton and Slough (Miss Lestor) reminded me on Report, with its father. For some children that is almost enough until they are 5 years of age. However, many children are ready for school well before they are that age. Society should recognise that.

I support the concept of nursery education. It is valuable in itself. I would give priority to deprived children—the children who live in an unacceptable and unhappy and a socially unstructured environment. All such children should attend nursery school. There is nowhere else for them at that age.

Additionally, some nursery education should be provided in areas where there is none at present. In principle, education should be available to all children who can profit from it at the beginning of the term in which they reach their fifth birthday. That cannot be made compulsory. We do not want more compulsion in education; it can be damaging. From there we might grow downwards chronologically towards the age of 3 and bring aid to children when they are little able to help themselves and when parents in particular and society in general have an extra duty towards them. This is an age when children are at their most robust and when they are most ready to learn. They are also at their most vulnerable, and we must always remember that vulnerability is of concern to us all and when children are involved it is of special concern.

I realise the great sincerity with which my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway) speaks when he makes clear his belief in the importance of nursery education for the rising fives. I am sure that those he represents will take note of what he has said.

In replying to the amendment moved by the hon. Member for Bolton, West (Mrs. Taylor), I shall deal with the whole group of Lords amendments that are being taken together. Although the amendments have rightly, in the judg- ment of Mr. Speaker, been taken together as a group, I do not know whether the House realises that they deal with four totally different points. However, from the way in which the amendments are worded it is clear why they have been grouped as they have.

First, Lords amendment No. 7 deals in part—this is what the amendment of the hon. Member for Bolton, West was about—with the application of clauses 6, 7 and 8 to the rising fives but not those below the age of rising fives. Secondly, Lords amendment No. 7, in its second part, deals with the important point about the publication of information on special schools, which I think will be welcomed by all hon. Members. Thirdly, Lords amendments Nos. 8, 9 and 12 state that the clause 15 procedure shall not apply to education at an age below that of rising fives. Finally, Lords amendment No. 21 is a technical amendment dealing with the definition of a pupil under the 1944 Act arising out of the decisions that the House took on nursery education.

Before I turn to the effect of these various amendments, I should like to say one thing to the hon. Member for Lewisham, West (Mr. Price). He made the same point as was made by many Opposition Members when I moved previous amendments on nursery education. I was attacked on that evening by many hon. Members who said that I was moving the clauses merely to allow my political friends in Oxfordshire to get off the hook. The hon. Member for Lewisham, West repeated that today. The hon. Member is always very fair in debate and I am sure he will agree that that was not the way my political friends in Oxfordshire apparently saw it. In fact, on the following day they announced that, in view of the Government's decision not to allow the closing of nursery schools, they had withdrawn their proposals to close nursery schools in Oxfordshire. Therefore, what I said in my speech in introducing the purpose of those clauses and attempting to get a balance was proved more right than some of the comments made by the hon. Member for Lewisham, West and some of his hon. Friends on that occasion about my motivation.

Having said that, I turn to the amendments now before us. I shall deal first with the part which I describe as wholly non-contentious, which is the effect of the second paragraph of Lords amendment No. 7. It will require local education authorities to publish information about their policy and arrangements relating to special educational treatment. That resulted from an undertaking, which I gave to the House on Report, that we would look at this matter before the Bill reached the other place. I said that we would see whether we could at least do something about the information clauses in the other place and that we could look at the other points beforehand.

10.30 pm

The House will know that early in March I made a statement indicating the Government's proposals with regard to Warnock. Also, we moved the amendment in the other place the effect of which is to provide that the information parts of clauses 6, 7 and 8 apply to children at special schools. For technical reasons, I believe that that was as far as we could go in this Bill. I think that we are right to deal with the other matters, as I said we would, in the Warnock legislation.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman has in part answered the point that I wanted to raise. However, I think he will accept that when he spoke on Report the indications which he gave were slightly stronger than the undertakings which he has fulfilled. They applied not only to the provision of information but to a degree of parental preference in regard to children in special schools, as well as to the appeals system. Some of us would take some convincing that the technical difficulties were so great that those points could not be encompassed in this Bill rather than in future legislation.

I did not want to get into a controversial frame of mind, because that is not the mood that I am in tonight. However, I cannot accept what the hon. Lady has said. What I said was:

"I still believe that the Warnock report should be considered generally. If my hon. Friends think that it will help, I give the undertaking to reconsider the information clause and to do anything else that is possible before the Bill goes to another place".—[Official Report, 12 February 1980; Vol. 978, c. 1427.]
I also made an announcement on Warnock on 3 March, in which I said:
"The legislation will also define and protect the rights of parents to adequate information and consultation about the education offered for their children, taking account of the relevant recommendations of the report and in the spirit of the provisions about information and parental preference embodied in the Education (No. 2) Bill":—[Official Report, 3 March 1980; Vol. 980, c. 42–3.]
In fact I went further, because I discovered that we could meet the limited information point in the other place. With the greatest respect, I think that carries out in its totality the undertaking which I gave:
"to reconsider the information clause and to do anything else that is possible before the Bill goes to another place".
I believe that I have succeeded in doing that.

I am in a controversial frame of mind, as ever, but not a churlish one. The right hon. and learned Gentleman's statement on the Warnock proposals was made on 3 March. It is now 2 April. Given that he could coin important amendments to section 8 of the 1944 Act in respect of the statutory definitions on the provision of nursery education, and given the right hon. and learned Gentleman's modest aims to make statutory changes with regard to the rights of parents and other matters—such as the needs of the disabled or children in need of special education—why has it not been possible for him to bring forward amendments which would have provided such parents with those rights 18 months in advance of the time when they can now look forward to them?

For the reasons which I gave the hon. Gentleman when I made my statement on the Warnock report. In practice, I believe that the hon. Gentleman will find that there is no time gap between the implementation of that part of the Bill and our hopeful implementation of Warnock legislation. Of course, I cannot assume what will come in the next Loyal Address, and I do not attempt to do so. That is not my decision; it is for my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House.

I stick to the view that we have held throughout. In fact, the appeal provisions as laid out in the Bill do not apply suitably to parents of children with special educational needs. That matter will be better dealt with under the provisions of our proposed Warnock legislation. However, in the other place I was able to meet the point with regard to the information clauses. The hon. Lady's second amendment to Lords amendment No. 7 would remove that totally.

The first part of Lords amendment No. 7 is to apply clauses 6 to 8 to the admission of pupils below compulsory school age, but only if they are what is known as rising fives—that is, within six months of their fifth birthday. I realise that the hon. Lady's amendment would wish us to go further and apply clauses 6 to 8 to any child over the age of three. I do not believe that it is realistic to do so. Had we left the Bill as it was, there would have been confusion. In principle, I agree that where local authorities have normal arrangements for accepting rising fives, the provisions of clauses 6, 7 and 8 should apply to them. Equally, I must make it clear that it is not Government policy that the clauses should be used as a method of appeal in areas where the local authorities have chosen not to make such provision.

It was argued that although there was no provision for the education of children under five in a particular area, and although there is no compulsion on local authorities to make such provision, nevertheless parents might attempt to use an appeal under clause 8, claiming that they had been refused an application to a school when the local authority made no such provision. To make it clearer, we have said specifically that where arrangements are made for the education of rising fives parents should have the same rights as parents of children above compulsory school age.

Will the Secretary of State comment on the areas which do not make any provision at all for the rising fives? Is his Department quite content to sit back and let the clause apply only to local authorities which choose to have it apply to them? If that is so, local authorities could say that they did not want to be bothered by appeals and, therefore, they would have no provision at all. Is that really satisfactory?

The hon. Lady is probably more correct this time than she was earlier. It is true that these clauses will not apply to children under the age of five in an area where there is not normally an arrangement for accepting rising fives. It will still apply to the schools for children of compulsory school age. If we are talking about nursery provision, it is a question of whether it is there or not. It is not a question of which nursery school one wishes one's children to attend. While we are anxious to make it clear that the clauses apply to children under five, it is not right for us to leave a confused situation in which it might be argued that these clauses provide a right of appeal for parents for education of children under compulsory school age in an area where a local authority had made no such provision.

In the remarks that the Secretary of State has just made, he referred to nursery education. We are talking about rising fives who are admitted to primary schools. Surely that situation is different.

If arrangements are made—this touches on Lords amendments Nos. 8, 9 and 12 as well—for the acceptance of rising fives, these clauses will apply. Had we left it at compulsory school age, the advantages of these provisions would not have applied to the parents of children who had begun school under 5 years of age.

Where authorities do not make provision for rising fives—

I shall answer the hon. Lady's question. Where no provision has been made for those under the age, of 5, these clauses cannot bite, because it is an appeal against the school to which one's child has been allocated. If there is no such provision, those children will not have been allocated to a school. There is a degree of confusion. Indeed, I am sure that there is now that I have attempted to explain the law. However, we put down our amendment to alleviate that confusion.

The situation is very confusing. The right hon. and learned Gentleman is trying hard to explain it. He is doing so in a clear manner. However, the situation remains confusing. He speaks as if a clear-cut distinction can be made between the situation when rising fives are admitted to school and when they are not. He assumes that any area will find it readily apparent whether the clause bites in such cases.

Perhaps the right hon. and learned Gentleman will apply his mind to the position that he and other hon. Members have sought to encourage. The issue is very flexible. In one year, a school may say that it has extra space and that it will consider applications from rising fives. However, the situation may change the following year and the school may find that it has too many children of compulsory school age. Within a small town, one school may admit rising fives and another may not.

A parent might exercise the system by pointing out that in the previous year a school had admitted a child who was only 4 years and 7 months old. He might point out that the school had refused to accept his child the following year. The position is often more fluid than the Secretary of State has described. Parents may say that at another time or place a child had been allocated to a school in comparable circumstances and that the case for pressing his own child's case could therefore be made.

I do not dispute the hon. Gentleman's remarks. The situation is fluid. It is not entirely black and white. However, a limit must be set to the application of these clauses. Our amendments seek to make clear that the clauses apply to schools—whose arrangements on admission procedure will now have to be published—which claim to admit rising fives. They will not apply to children under the age of 5 in areas where local authorities do not make arrangements for them.

I must now turn to the other amendments. I do not wish to mislead the House. Lords amendments Nos. 8, 9 and 12 specifically exclude the effects of clause 15 from rising fives. The reduction in the numbers of rising fives—even if over 20 per cent. in a standard year—would not require the publication of proposals in an area.

We believe that we have given protection by implementing and introducing nursery schools for the first time, under the old clause 13 procedure. From tomorrow, that clause will become section 12. They cannot be closed without application to the Secretary of State. If the removal of nursery classes were to make a significant alteration to the type of school, that would be a matter for clause 13. Tomorrow that clause will become section 12. We have made adequate provision for nursery education.

We are right to say that clauses 6, 7 and 8 should apply to rising fives but not to those below that age. The provisions contained in clause 15 about limiting the size of a class should not include those below compulsory school age.

10.45 pm

I am grateful to the right hon. and learned Gentleman, especially for his last point. Is he aware that in Committee, when the rights of parents to be exercised under clauses 6, 7 and 8 arose, the Under-Secretary of State, without any intention to mislead, gave the strong impression that the right of appeal would exist throughout England and Wales? It was not limited to the local education authorities which on a previous occasion, without notice, warning or anticipation of the change in the law that the right hon. and learned Gentleman proposes, had adopted a policy of accepting rising fives in their schools or making nursery provision for them. We responded on that basis. Had we been aware that the criterion of whether the writ of the law would run on the exercise of parental rights was limited to LEAs which already had arrangements for the admission of rising fives, our attitude would have been very different. Our amendments would have been different in substance and intensity.

May I raise two further small points? The right hon. and learned Gentleman talked of the appeal being against allocation. That is correct, but it omits the powers that a parent has under section 6 to express a preference. Presumably that preference can be expressed in favour of securing education at a particular age for a child, and not only in terms of securing allocation to a particular school.

I wonder how the principle of recoupment between local authorities works in relation to a policy that says that the right of a parent to secure admission of his rising five child to a school will be denied in an area that does not already have provision, yet in another part of the Bill there is provision for children to be moved across borders, with recoupment and rights for the LEA written in. Does the same consideration apply to rising fives as to rising elevens, fifteens or sixteens?

With great respect, the hon. Gentleman must realise that it is totally illogical to use clauses 6, 7 and 8 where there is no compulsory schooling below the age of five.

To take the hon. Gentleman's example that the parent of a child under 5 in an area which has no provision for children under 5 should be able nevertheless to express a preference for a school, I would point out that, the preference having been stated and the local authority having refused to take the child because it was not making provision for educating children under 5, the parent could not appeal, because there was no school in the area at which a child under 5 could be educated.

The only logical, sensible answer is to say that these clauses do not apply to children other than of compulsory school age, except—this is a concession that we made to meet the points made by the Opposition—that where a local authority has arrangements for taking rising fives—and under clause 8 authorities will have to publish their arrangements for admission—these clauses shall apply.

I know that the Secretary of State is trying to be helpful, but he sometimes uses the word "authority" and sometimes "area". When he uses the word "area", does he mean coterminous with the whole authority?

The hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) was right. Very few local authorities are totally against rising fives. The whole point of the Bill, emphasised by the Under-Secretary of State in Committee, is that it is allowing far more free places than before. Did the Secretary of State mean "authority" when he said "area"? What does he mean by "area"?

On reflection, I am probably wrong to use either word. The requirement of the Bill is that the local education authority—I should not have used the word "area"—is required to state the arrangements for admission to its schools. Therefore, the admission arrangements to its schools in part of its area may be different from those in other parts. Clauses 6, 7 and 8 will apply to schools that admit rising fives. A parent will be able to express a preference and will be able to appeal. It would be illogical to continue and extend these clauses to schools where no provision is made for rising fives.

I do not hesitate in taking time over these amendments. Among other things. I find them extremely complicated, even if they do not appear so to the rest of the House. Taken with these amendments is Lords amendment No. 21. It is a technical amendment which changes the definition of "pupil".

If we did not change the definition, a pupil would be defined only as a child beyond the age of 5. The provisions in the Bill, which impose certain statutory responsibilities on local authorities with regard to children at school, would not apply to any child under the age of 5. We are amending it to say that "pupil" shall mean not only a child of compulsory school age but shall include
"a junior pupil who has not attained the age of five years."
The effect of the Opposition's amendment would be contrary to what they intended. It would mean that a pupil was a child under 4 or over 5 but that between 4 and 5 he would not be a pupil.

I had not intended to intervene, but we have stumbled upon a difficulty and a complication. As I understand the clause, it appears to apply to a specific school. As the Minister conceded, the concept of an area, whether a local authority or a district area, is not what we are discussing. Therefore, if a parent specifies that he wishes his child to be admitted to Holly Road infants school, which is admitting children at the age of 4½, the parent can appeal against a refusal. He can say that he wishes his child to be allocated to that school because it admits rising fives.

The local education authority may have a perfectly good reason on which to win the appeal, for example, by arguing that there is no room at that school because it is full of children of compulsory school age. I am anxious that that matter should be made clear. If that is not the case, I anticipate that we shall have a nasty side-kick from the clause. If it were the case that the whole area was affected, the authority could say "We have only one or two schools admitting rising fives, but if we stop that altogether we will free ourselves from any reference to rising fives under the clause." Some hard-pressed education officer may say that it is better to scrap all the rising five provision than to become involved in such a problem. I am sure that that is not what the Minister intends, but he should realise the side effects.

The interpretation that we appear to have arrived at through discussion is that we are referring to individual schools and that the right of appeal will apply.

Question put and agreed to.

Lords amendments Nos. 8 and 9 agreed to.

Clause 15

Reduction Of School Places

Lords amendment: No. 10, in page 15, line 11, after "where" insert "( a)".

I beg to move, That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said amendment.

With this we may take Lords amendment No. 11.

The purpose of the amendment is to remove the duty on local education authorities and governors of voluntary schools to publish proposals when they intend to restrict admission to primary schools where the standard number of admissions is fewer than 20. It in no way affects the need of local authorities to publish notices in the normal way under section 12 if they attempt to close a school.

It was argued in another place that to include clause 15, which deals with reducing numbers by over 20 per cent., and to publish notices was not appropriate for schools with 20 or fewer admissions. The effect of the clause would have been to oblige them to go through the process of publishing notices under section 12 if, for example, they reduced admissions by four pupils a year.

The Opposition are worried about the whole of clause 15 and the new addition. We accept that in the event of a proposal to close a school the normal section 12 procedures will have to be operated. What will be the situation if a school is transferred from the wholly maintained sector to the voluntary aided sector? Will the same safeguards apply?

An example is likely to come before the Secretary of State, although admittedly it is in the secondary sector. In the borough of Ealing it is proposed that the Twyford comprehensive school should become a Church of England school, and that its management and decisions about the basis of selection or admission should be moved to a different body and from the local education authority.

I do not wish to labour the point. I hope that there will be other opportunities to discuss the matter of Twyford. There is overwhelming support in the community for those who are trying to prevent the change.

11 pm

With specific reference to amendment No. 11, we wonder whether it is possible—because of the inclusion of primary schools, especially those with a small annual intake—that a change could take place which would result in a system of selectivity which would prejudice the general provision of education in the area.

We should also like to know, if the Secretary of State is disposed to respond—we have no power to insist that he does so—with reference to the primary school provisions, but also more generally, what criteria he will employ in making his decision on whether the intention under clause 15(2) to reduce the number of pupils, either in secondary or in primary schools, is satisfactory.

I am also worried about the amendment, not simply because of its intention but because of its possible wider effects.

Lord Ridley, who was chairman of the county council in my constituency—we do not share the same party, but we share the same county—pointed out that attendance at schools with small numbers of pupils could fluctuate considerably because of a change of numbers of families in the area. That applies in many parts of my constituency.

A classic example is a school in my constituency which serves families of shepherds living in the hills. The shepherds change jobs at May each term-year, and if three shepherds with families leave the valley in one year the attendance at school can decrease from 20 to five. Classes at that school are then suspended temporarily. It reopens if the numbers increase again when two or three shepherds come into the valley at the next May term.

That is simply a natural change. The amendment would not affect it, and the amendment is not necessary to deal with it. Those changes have happened because families have come and gone. We are dealing with the prevention of administrative complications if a local authority wishes to use this procedure to reduce the strength of the school by reducing admission numbers. I cannot imagine its doing that. It seems extraordinary. In practice, when local authorities start trimming down the small schools, they do so in other ways—by narrowing the catchment area of the school. I know of one or two cases where a local authority has intended to close a school, and it has narrowed down the catchment area to the smallest area of the village and has shipped all the children from outside the village into another neighbouring school.

Schools with fewer than 20 pupils have a place in the rural education scene, and they can work effectively. Often they are one-teacher, or occasionally two-teacher, schools, or in some cases with which we are experimenting in Northumberland there is one full-time teacher and a shared teacher. It is often right to keep those schools in existence—even if attendance drops to 10 pupils in a particular year—in order to prepare them for a build-up of 16 or 20 pupils in a future year.

I hope that we can make it absolutely clear that, in trying to cut down the bureaucratic complications that would arise in the very undesirable and unlikely event of an education authority's applying the provisions of the clause to such schools, we are not trying to say that we disapprove of, or would want to discourage, these very small schools where they have a role to play in isolated communities.

In my constituency there is an island which has a one-teacher school. I have valleys where there are one-teacher schools. They exist in other parts of the country, too, They can work very well with talented teachers, and we should defend and maintain them.

To make this exception would be of academic consequence. I hope that no local authority would want to start applying this sort of provision to such schools in any case. But let us be clear that we do not want authorities to do so.

The hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) is quite right: it was Lord Ridley who first raised the matter.

I share the views that the hon. Gentleman has expressed. We believe that in dealing with schools of the size in question authorities will close the school entirely, in which case clause 12 still applies, or there will be pressure to try to enlarge the school rather than deliberately to reduce its size. Therefore, the provision in the clause was unnecessary, and we thought it right to exempt such schools.

I assure the hon. Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Kinnock) that his point about the transfer of the school is in no way affected by clause 15, which relates merely to a reduction in the size of the school. Any application by a local education authority to cease to maintain a school, even if another body is taking it over, would still have to come under clause 12 in the normal way.

Question put and agreed to.

Lords amendments Nos. 11 and 12 agreed to.

Lords amendment: No. 13, in page 15, line 27, at end insert—

"( ) The published proposals shall be accompanied by a statement of the effect of section 12(3) or, as the case may be, section 13(3) as applied by subsection (2) above."

I beg to move, That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said amendment.

The amendment simply ensures that the rights of objectors are published when proposals are made to restrict admissions to a school. This provision is already made in relation to proposals submitted under clauses 12 and 13. The amendment clarifies the position as regards proposals under clause 15. A local authority that wants to cut the size of a school by 20 per cent. must go to the Secretary of State for permission, so schools cannot be run down intentionally.

The only reason for the amendment is to make sure that, as is already ensured under other clauses, objectors know their rights. Their rights to object are to be publicised at the same time as publicity is given to the fact that the local authority wants to reduce the size of the school.

I do not think that this is a contentious matter.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 16

Provisions Supplementary To Ss 12 To 15

Lords amendment: No. 14, in page 17, line 13, at end insert:

"(6) Section 14(1), (2) and (4) above shall apply, and subsection (6) of the said section 13 shall not apply, in relation to proposals for the matters referred to in paragraphs ( a), ( b) and ( c) of section 14(1) above—

  • (a) which are approved under the said section 13 on or after the date on which this subsection comes into force; or
  • (b) which have then already been approved under that section but in respect of which specifications and plans have not yet been submitted under subsection (6) of that section;
  • and, in relation to any such proposals, subsection (7) of the said section 13 shall apply as if references to specifications and plans being approved or not required under that section were references to particulars being approved or not required under section 14 above.

    (7) In subsection (6) above references to subsections (6) and (7) of the said section 13 include references to those subsections as applied by subsection (9) of that section."

    I beg to move, That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said amendment.

    It is pleasant to be involved in non-controversial amendments tonight. It may be out of character, but it is good character training.

    The amendment simply allows the Department's new building control procedures to come into operation immediately and not have to wait until clauses 12 to 16 come into force. The object is to cut down the number of regulations.

    I am relieved by the Under-Secretary's explanation, because, with all the education journalists having gone to China recently, I thought that they had returned and drafted the amendment. My hon. Friend the Member for Stirling, Falkirk and Grangemouth (Mr. Ewing) and I tried, with the assistance of the 1944 Act, to work out precisely what was intended.

    Although I realise that the amendment applies to building regulations, problems arise from the clause. Not the least of the reasons is that we could not spend too much time on it during our other deliberations. This may be an appropriate time to draw attention to a problem that will apply both as regards the clause and in the implementation of the clause.

    Subsection (1) has implications for the remainder of the clause, including the amendment. The clause includes the words:
    "but the Secretary of State may in any case allow such steps to be taken pending compliance with those provisions and the giving of any necessary approval as he considers reasonable in the circumstances of the case."
    As this is what is called the speeding-up clause, which permits the expedition of a local authority's intentions to make changes in the provisions for schooling, we are bound to wonder whether a Secretary of State, having received a section 12 notice—it was a section 13 notice under the 1944 Act—on further assessment of those proposals, will have to contradict his own judgment. In the first instance, having allowed such steps to be taken pending compliance—permitting the local education authority to proceed towards its objective of making changes—and then having received objections from parents or other electors in the community, he may come to the conclusion that his decision to allow such steps to be taken was ill-advised and have to change his mind.

    We are not afraid of the embarrassment of Secretaries of State having to change their minds. We are afraid that, having in their judgment permitted local education authorities to take such steps, they are unlikely to change their minds. Therefore, they could perpetrate changes in school provision which would be contrary to the express wishes and best interests of the local community served by a particular school.

    I take the hon. Gentleman's point. It is involved not in this amendment but in the clause. There is a degree of deprivation as we did not discuss this matter in great depth in Committee. Therefore, whatever we say on this matter tonight will have no bearing on the extent of the Lords amendment.

    Any Secretary of State must be responsive not only to the requirements of a local education authority but to the opinions of people in the area. Knowing how quickly people's opinions are passed not only to their local councillors but to their Members of Parliament and how quickly those Members send their views to the Department, I cannot envisage a situation whereby a Secretary of State would not be aware if there really were strong feelings in an area.

    I have a note which has just descended from heaven, and it may help if I read it so that we can interpret it between us. The note says:
    "The provision in clause 16(1) allowing for preliminary work to he undertaken repeats a provision already existing in section 13."
    This is obviously of great importance to the hon. Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Kinnock) and me. I think that we both agree on that matter. I cannot envisage the Secretary of State not being responsive to strong feelings in any area in view of our lively democracy and the speed with which Departments are made aware of local opinion and feeling.

    Question put and agreed to.

    Clause 17

    Assisted Places At Independent Schools

    Lords amendment: No. 15, in page 18, line 28, leave out "it" and insert "the scheme"

    I beg to move, That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said amendment.

    I think that the hon. Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Kinnock) will have difficulty on this one, even with the time that we detained the Committee on this matter. However, I must not take that for granted. At any rate, I do not think this matter will worry the Secretary of State.

    This is a question of a floating "it". There is an "it" which does not mean anything. No one knows how and why this "it" continued until it came back to us tonight. It is a lesson to us all. I know how carefully the Opposition have looked through every jot and tittle of the Bill. I came away from the Committee stage believing that nothing had been missed by the eagle eye of the Opposition. The Bill went to the other place and the Lords noticed this floating "it"—a lonely, unbalanced and meaningless word. Our desire is to settle the matter now or the word will float for all time like something in outer space. I ask all hon. Members of compassion on both sides to agree that we should sink this "it" and replace it with "the scheme" so that we may bring meaning to this part of the Bill. If we do not, the clause will be the subject of terrible textual analysis and would become a question in O-level and A-level examinations in future years.

    11.15 pm

    I thought that when the Under-Secretary spoke of a floating "it" in orbit he was committing a grave disloyalty by referring to the right hon. Member for Leeds, North-East (Sir K. Joseph). The matter is to be taken up with our resident classics scholar on the Committee, my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, West (Mr. Price), since we shall be forced to call him to account on how he could possibly have missed this floating "it" and the offensive syntax that thereupon arises.

    Nevertheless, we note that subsection (8) of the infamous assisted places scheme clause refers to the requirement of the Secretary of State
    "to consult such bodies as appear to him to be appropriate".
    Both Under-Secretaries will recall with clarity and pride the sessions of debate and rigorous analysis which we employed in Committee in our discussions on clause 17.

    We made the point then that the requirement in the Bill that the Secretary of State shall
    "consult such bodies as appear to him to be appropriate"
    provided an inadequate safeguard for those local education authorities whose whole planning of secondary school admission and, indeed, planning of primary school curricula could be detrimentally affected by the introduction of an assisted places scheme in their areas.

    Order. "It" is only a small word, and I do not think that that entitles the hon. Gentleman to cover the whole of clause 17.

    I would not dare to attempt that, not even at this time of night, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am expressing these views precisely in relation to subsection (8), and since the"it"is, as the Under-Secretary said, a matter of orbital, not to say interplanetary, significance, it seems appropriate to consider the implications of the subsection, which imposes on the Secretary of State a very loose duty to undertake certain consultations.

    The case I am putting is in order—I hope—because of the reference in Lords amendment No. 15 to the substance of the subsection. I hope that that is the case, because the last thing I want to do as we move towards Easter, of all times, is to offend the Chair.

    In Committee we expressed grave reservations about the looseness of the obligation. Similar reservations were expressed by the Society of Education Officers, by the local education authorities and by other bodies and organisations concerned about the possibility, which we consider to be strong and definite, of assisted places scheme pupils being creamed out of the maintained schools system.

    We are bound to wonder, too, since the subsection refers directly to consultations, whether the bodies that the Secretary of State would consider it "appropriate" to consult would include the National Children's Bureau. Mrs. Shirley Williams, when she was Secretary of State, initiated a survey and in the light of that the bureau came to certain conclusions which were provided in draft form to the Secretary of State as long ago as November. Its findings had a direct reference to the ability of secondary schools in the maintained sector to cater for the needs of children of above-average ability. The publication, even in a digest form, of those findings would have been of considerable use to us in our deliberations and to bodies of opinion outside Parliament wishing to form a perspective of the assisted places scheme. I hope that after further deliberation the Secretary of State will deem it appropriate to consult the National Children's Bureau or similar research bodies.

    Never has the word "it" been stretched as it has this evening.

    Consultation is taking place on the assisted places scheme with local education authorities and schools. The National Children's Bureau—or the NCB—should not be confused with the National Coal Board. I have no doubt that the Secretary of State will consult the bureau. The word "it" is to come out and for all time the words "the scheme" will take its place.

    Question put and agreed to.

    Clause 22

    School Meals: England And Wales

    Lords amendment: No. 16, in page 20, line 24, leave out from "such" to end of line 26 and insert—

    "facilities as the authority consider appropriate for the consumption of any meals or other refreshment brought to the school by such pupils."

    I beg to move, That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said amendment.

    The amendment provides that it is for the local authority to decide on appropriate facilities for children to eat their own food on school premises. Without the amendment, there could be dispute about how far local authorities should go in providing facilities. A local authority must provide suitable accommodation but is not required to provide cooking facilities. In certain circumstances it might be appropriate to make arrangements for storing food, but that is for the authority to decide.

    I am grateful to the hon. Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Kinnock) for not wishing to move his amendment to the Lords amendment. He will acknowledge that certain factors could be attached to his proposition.

    I did not move my amendment because of the implications. We considered our opposition to the amendment to be more a matter of principle than of detail.

    This is one of the most serious amendments to come from the Lords. It has not had the publicity which was attached to Lords amendment No. 17, which caused something of a sensation. We were led to believe during deliberations on clause 22 that the changes would place upon local authorities an absolute statutory obligation to provide pupils who brought their own refreshments or food to school with facilities for consuming that food on the premises. That was the safeguard offered. That was the undertaking and the reassurance. It was supposed to blunt fears that, given the power not to provide school meals, local authorities would interpret that provision literally and not even provide facilities for meals or refreshments on the premises.

    Although our fears and the fear of people outside were not abated by the reassurances of the Government, at least they were written into the Bill. Unless we have grossly misinterpreted the meaning of Lords amendment No. 16, it appears that the force of the obligatory word "shall" at the beginning of clause 22(1)(b) is neutralised by the words
    "as the authority consider appropriate for the consumption of any meals"
    which appear in the amendment.

    In clause 22(2)—I use it only for the purpose of illustration—we have the phrase
    "as appears to the authority to be requisite."
    This caused a great deal of dissension, and counsel's opinion was taken by the Child Poverty Action Group and others as to the implication of that phrase. Exhaustive consideration could also be given to the phrase
    "as the authority consider appropriate".
    I understand what the Under-Secretary has said. In his opinion, it is substantially a matter of the kind of accommodation that should be provided by a local education authority, and he has no qualms about saying that the authority will be expected to provide accommodation. He said that in very definite terms. As he said, it is very much a local authority matter—and I believe I quote him precisely. It is also up to the local education authority to decide whether to provide facilities for additional refreshments, such as a drink of water, or for the storage of food.

    I do not want to be unduly harsh but a few examples have been accumulating in recent weeks of LEAs that are being over-zealous—I use no stronger term—in their interpretation of the new freedoms that the Government have given them under the Bill. Some local authorities have extended those freedoms to the point where they have become dead liberties. I have in mind Kent, Surrey and, to some extent East Sussex. East Sussex has applied the freedoms that the Government proffered to it in the Bill and has even anticipated those freedoms before the Bill has received Royal Assent.

    The LEAs, under their present control, not just their political control—their "philosophical tendency" is the phrase that would be used if they were Labour controlled, but perhaps the Conservative Party does not have tendencies—are given the freedom to decide what is appropriate and have no obligation to serve the interests of the community other than very general obligations. The members of the local community have no power under the Bill to say to the Secretary of State "Would you come and help us because the interpretation of the word of the law by our LEA has been much too literal? It has let it be known that it does not consider it appropriate to provide a decently lit, heated and hygienic room that is kept clean and swept daily." In Kent, of course, the pupils will have to sweep the room themselves.

    Members of the community have no power to say to the Secretary of State that they do not have facilities for liquid refreshment or for storage of food. Such sophistications are beyond their wildest dreams—"Our local authority does not even consider it appropriate to provide facilities for the consumption of meals." That would happen because the clause, as amended, would read
    "shall provide such facilities as the authority consider appropriate for the consumption of any meals or of other refreshment brought to the school by pupils."
    The onus has moved and become much more a matter of the will, whim or predilection of the local education authority. It is no longer one in which the right of pupils or, indeed, parents are upheld. Compared with this amendment, the original form of words was strongly preferable. I find it difficult to understand—even given the view of the Minister that all power should be given to these latter-day soviets and that the local authorities should be complete masters in their own domain—why the form of words in clause 22 (1) (b) which caused no problem earlier should have been amended in this way.

    11.30 pm

    I hope that we may have further explanation on this point, because it will cause consternation and concern among those bodies and pupils who will be relying upon a satisfactory standard of provision of facilities for the consumption of snack meals, sandwiches or whatever on school premises.

    The hon. Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Kinnock) has raised a number of points, with which I shall try to deal as briefly as I can. I am surprised at the hon. Member's sudden turnabout within the past 18 months or so. He said that the Socialist Party was one which had tendencies. He certainly had some tendencies 18 months or so ago when he was one of the most indefatigable antidevolvers in the House. Now he is showing signs of not wishing to devolve any powers to local authorities.

    The Conservative Party is the party of principles. I hope that I shall be able to convince some Labour Members that this amendment from their Lordships is worthy of acceptance. The hon. Member for Bedwellty and I have often clashed over the question of how one should view the role and responsibilities and commitments of local education authorities and school teachers. I do not believe that the local authorities or the school teachers are irresponsible. It is in their social interests and in the interests of the whole community that they provide these facilities and control the way in which food is consumed on the premises.

    Hon. Members have graphically illustrated the problems which can arise if schools do not control pupils during the lunch break. I am confident that this amendment will result in those involved acting authoritatively and responsibly. I have faith in the capacity of head teachers to control pupils during the lunch break.

    While the hon. Gentleman has every right to raise a few beacons over some of his fears and to take the opportunity to do a bit of "Conservative bashing" with certain selected local authorities, I am convinced that the head teachers will provide the facilities which they consider appropriate for the consumption of any meals. This question has to be left to the local education authorities. We believe that this clearly includes accommodation, furniture and supervision which will enable pupils to eat in a civilised manner, in suitable conditions, the sandwiches they have brought from home. The duty would not extend to providing facilities, for example, for cooking or heating food. That is straightforward. It is the intention of my Department to provide guidance to local authorities at the appropriate stage.

    I hope that with those words—

    I have read the amendment with some care. Would I be right in supposing that, if the local authority decided that it was inappropriate to provide any such facilities, it would be under no obligation to do so?

    I draw my hon. Friend's attention to clause 22(1)(b). As amended, it would state clearly that local authorities

    "shall provide such facilities as the authority consider appropriate".
    I would deem that to be an obligation.

    Is not the first question for the local authority that of deciding whether it is appropriate or inappropriate? If it decides that it is inappropriate, there is no mandatory obligation.

    There is. Clause 22(1)(b), as amended, would state that the authority

    "shall provide such facilities as the authority consider appropriate".
    I should have thought that my hon. Friend would take the view that local education authorities, chairmen of education committees and chief officers of local education authorities would recognise their commitment to pupils to provide facilities. If my hon. Friend takes an opposite view, I think that he is being gravely and unnecessarily critical and disparaging of some extremely responsible people, and I hope that his fears—

    It is a matter of interpretation, but I should have thought that, given the social responsibilities of local authorities and local head teachers, hon. Members on both sides of the House could have their fears allayed because of the commitments and responsibilities that exist.

    I had hoped that at this late stage in our consideration of the Bill—indeed, right at the buttock of the Bill—the hon. Gentleman would not employ his favourite stratagem of dodging behind his praise of local education authorities, chief executive officers, headmasters and so on—a view that we share in full—to avoid the question that has been put to him both by myself and by the hon. Member for Grantham (Mr. Hogg). Is it not the case that the obligatory "shall", which precedes the subparagraph, is neutralised, neutered, rendered eunuch-like, by the inclusion of the phrase

    "as the authority consider appropriate"?
    Is it not the case also that if the local education authority, for whatever reason, considers it not appropriate to provide facilities in a school, neither the hon. Gentleman, with the best will and with his high motivations, which we share, nor any parent or anybody else will be able to do anything to change the will of that authority by the employment of the law against it, short of excluding the clause from the Bill? Why did not the hon. Gentleman take the opportunity to do that now and leave the Bill in its original form?

    Again, it is a question of interpretation of words. I can understand the concern of my hon. Friend who has raised the matter. One has to look at the phrase

    "such facilities as the authority consider appropriate".
    That is an interpretation of the facilities that will be provided. It may be a classroom, a kind of refectory, a converted refectory, a small dining room or some accommodation on the school premises.

    I should have thought that that was putting the clock back to some Mid-Glamorgan-type view. I should have thought that the matter was clear, and I hope that hon. Members will accept the amendment.

    Question put and agreed to.

    Clause 23

    Transport: England And Wales

    Lords amendment: No. 17, in page 21, line 14, leave out clause 23.

    I beg to move, That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said amendment.

    With this we may take Lords amendments Nos. 19, 25, 26, 27 and 28.

    I shall be brief on these amendments—[HoN. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."]—that is, if I am allowed to be.

    The House will be aware that another place voted to delete clauses 23 and 25. The House will also be aware that on 18 March I informed hon. Members that the Government had decided not to attempt to reintroduce the clauses. The purpose of these amendments is to delete the clauses and to make the necessary consequential changes.

    I make no secret of the fact that I am very resentful at the action of another place, and I say that for three short reasons because we are working against time.

    I do not have the cowing respect of the hon. Gentleman for a hereditary Chamber.

    The first reason why I resent what has been done is that the other place has thrown out—this is quite the right analogy in an Education Bill—the baby with the bath water. The other place has thrown out a few admittedly objectionable babies, but it has also thrown out a good deal of bath water and we are back to the two-and three-mile limits, which I think all hon. Members, whatever their views, find objectionable and about which we receive a large number of letters, which are not generally addressed to their Lordships.

    We must live with this every day. There were some very good schemes. For brevity, I shall cite merely one. In the part of the county which I represent, a scheme was in preparation and was ready to be brought into operation under which there would be no charge for any child attending any primary school. All the usual exemptions, which are properly regarded by the House as important, would have applied. The exemptions set down by my right hon and learned Friend would have applied. For 28½p a day for the remainder, we would have raised £580,000 in a full year. Frankly, that money must be found from alternative sources. I believe that it was a proper use of resources and a proper use of priorities. It placed the expenditure at the place where it ought to be placed.

    Secondly, I am resentful because, in all my modest experience in the House, local education authorities have consistently asked for the freedom which the clause gave them in part. The trouble was that a very small number of them abused it. If ever there was an undertaker for this clause, it was the Conservative leaders in the county of Kent. The warning is extremely clear, and my party had better take it very much to heart, because there is a warning for us in this episode. If one operates a policy, or gives the appearance of operating it, in an extreme way, one incurs reaction and resentment from a great weight of middle opinion. That middle opinion must be taken along with any Government who anticipate, as we confidently anticipate, governing the nation for a considerable number of years. I give the briefest of examples so as not to stray out of order. There are lessons in that with regard to employment policy and so on.

    Thirdly, I am resentful and sad because I think that the opposition in some quarters was conducted with a stridency which was not appropriate for the occasion. It was conducted with an assumption which was not valued—the assumption that in 1944 a settlement was made which was absolute and which had not been altered on either side. As I have said before, three times within the last 21 years the crucial part of that settlement, which is the capital ratio between Churches and State, has been altered. It was altered rightly, with good will and by Governments of different political colours. On the last two occasions, in 1967 and 1975, with other hon. Members I was very close to the negotiations which led up to it.

    Those compacts were changed because conditions had changed, money had lost its value and the State understood and recognised that there should be changes. Yet when the State, for equally valid reasons and with the same kind of background, sought to make changes, that was denied.

    My real anxiety is that when once again the Churches approach the State—I do not believe that it is "if", in a modern, inflationary age; I believe that it is "when"—some of them will find that their stridency has considerably prejudiced their case. I mean that very deeply. What we are seeing today is an example of a battle being won but a war being lost. In strategic terms, I believe that the decision is very short-sighted.

    11.45 pm

    My hope is that we shall make a considerable change. I shall draw the House's attention to a most remarkable speech on this matter by the Duke of Norfolk. The rules of the House do not permit me to quote it verbatim. He told the House of Lords that he would use the language of the barrack room, acquired over 30 years. He then used very quiet words, so I think that the barrack rooms in which he lived were not those that I experienced as a young man. He said that he hoped he could say "Roll on Christian schools". I think that that will be the way in which it will work. We shall see the denominational schools making way for schools of all denominations combined.

    I wish to make a small constructive suggestion. The political reality of what we are seeing tonight is that no Government of any colour will touch this subject again in the foreseeable future. All politicians have burnt their fingers on this issue, and there is now a deadlock.

    Why not let us see whether the House, which has put us in this position, might not, by its membership, have the ability to assist the nation to see its way through? Would it be possible for some distinguished Member of another place—there are many such persons with experience and education—to bring together a grouping, crossing party lines? Perhaps out of that grouping could come a solution to a state of affairs that we simply cannot leave as it is. I accept without question that, given the political realities at the time, there was no other alternative open to the Secretary of State. I believe that from the start he was right and another place was wrong.

    We have just heard a typically direct, brief and pungent speech from the hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. van Straubenzee). There is a great deal in what he says. This could be the time for a certain gleeful celebration, but we must lace heavily our joy about the morale-boosting effect of the Government defeat, which was accomplished with the help of 96 Labour Members of the other place, with concern for the implications of the action which they took.

    I think that they took the right action. Indeed, the amendment that they passed was precisely the amendment that we put before the Standing Committee. Unfortunately, despite the efforts of the official Opposition, Liberal Members and one or two courageous Conservative Members, our effort was not sustained. Obviously, I am not critical of what the Lords have done, and I do not join with the hon. Member for Wokingham to that extent.

    Despite the expected savings that the hon. Member for Wokingham and his local education authority hoped would be made, the experience of local authorities, with which I have close acquaintance, is that they would have had to make such broad omissions and exemptions from the general rule of imposing charges that their actual savings would have been a fraction of those originally intended.

    Those original savings, although fractional, would have been secured at the expense of further fractures in the community. They would have been secured at the expense of further differentiation between those attending denominational schools and those attending others. I know of two cases in which children have attended schools where Welsh was the medium of expression. Those additional burdens would have had to be borne by the community. In addition, parents would have had to pay charges. Exemptions would have imposed a bureaucratic surcharge on the operation of the scheme.

    The proposal would have varied in its effect from area to area, class to class and family to family. However, the proposals contained in the original Education (No. 2) Bill would not have provided the opportunities imagined by the hon. Member for Wokingham. As a student of politics, I warmly applaud the hon. Gentleman's advice to his Front Bench colleagues. As a member of the Labour Party and as a Socialist, I fear that advice. The hon. Gentleman echoes the Lord Privy Seal and other eminences in the Conservative Party when he says that the consensus should not be breached, that the centre should not be offended and that no impression of being didactic or ideological should be given. He implied that peril lay ahead for the Conservative Party if that were done. The hon. Gentleman is correct.

    In a partisan sense, I take considerable joy from the type of smash-ups that occur, and will occur, as a result of pursuing an intransigent and uncharacteristically ideological course. Some people have warned of its effect. For the country's sake, I hope that the Government implement that advice. I hope for the sake of the Labour Party that they continue to ignore the hon. Gentleman. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman knows what I mean.

    It was not merely the relationship between Church and State that led to contention in debate on clause 23. Although the noble Lady the Minister of State, Department of Education and Science put up a sterling struggle in the other place, especially in the closing stages of debate on clause 23, she made similar reference to the concordat and to the benefit provided for religious denominations as a result of changes wrought since the enactment of the 1944 Act. I still believe that the most fearsome, effective and telling opposition to clause 23 came from the rural areas. Those who accepted the closure of schools and those who were faced with enormous imposts on the sad level of wages earned in rural communities made their voices heard.

    Regardless of which party is in power, I hope that heed will be taken of our experience of clause 23. I hope that the organisations and mobilisation presently in existence will be maintained. Recognition should be given to the fact that the rural community is forceful and articulate. It does not have to obey anyone's will merely because it has been dictated. The interests of the rural communities should be asserted. That has not been done for many years. Perhaps those interests have not been asserted since the days when Rebecca and her hosts rode the turnpike roads of West Wales. Let us hope to have not a "Jacquerie"—although the Government deserve that—but an articulate, effective and assertive rural lobby that will confront any Government. That is good for democracy and for the protection of the countryside and its people. All Governments would then be more cautious about rural interests.

    The most important effect of the decision not to leave clause 23 in the Bill, which in general delights me, is the impact on the financial resources available to local education authorities. We have said continually, and I still hold it to be the case, that the savings or additional resources made available to local education authorities as a result of implementing clause 23 would have been much smaller than the estimate in the financial memorandum to the Bill of £30 million in England and Wales and £2 million in Scotland. Had it been even one-half or one-third of that figure, £10 million would still have had to be withdrawn from expenditure in the classroom and associated activities. We always felt that that was unjustifiable and unnecessary. That figure is now more likely to be £30 million.

    When the Secretary of State conceded on 18 March that the changes wrought in the House of Lords would have to be acknowledged by the Government in this place, he did not announce that a further subscription was to be made through the rate support grant or in some other form to enable local education authorities to sustain their obligations to provide transport for children who need subsidised or free transport. Even more recently, in the press release published on Budget day and in the accompanying papers, the right hon. and learned Gentleman said:
    "The Government will consider in the course of the 1980 Public Expenditure Survey, in readiness for the 1981–82 RSG settlement, the implications of the decision of the House of Lords on school transport which I accepted in the House of Commons on 18 March."
    At the very least, during this financial year there will be £30 million less than expected in the Government's previous public and education expenditure pronouncements.

    There is no guarantee that in this year's expenditure survey the Government will have a change of heart and reduce education expenditure—a course on which they are already set—by £30 million less than otherwise. They have acknowledged that it is unfair to anticipate a policy of reducing expenditure, accept defeat and then have to concede not only the wisdom of that majority decision but the financial implications for education.

    I plead with the right hon. and learned Gentleman and his colleagues, as we did on 18 March, that as he has conceded that the proposition has been defeated I give him every thanks and accolade, because he still would have had a majority—the obligation that he takes on is to secure an additional £30 million, so that there is no danger of an even greater cut into the flesh and bone of the education provision. I hope that he will encourage us with news of such efforts or at least indicate that in the course of the expenditure survey in this financial year he will try to convince his right hon. Friends that they should find that additional £30 million.

    It is out of order for me to quote the words of another place. It is a quaint custom, and on this occasion it denies the House the ecstatic pleasure of reading the speech of Baroness Young in her concluding remarks in the debate on clause 23. I have whet the appetite of the House, and I hope that I am in order in suggesting that hon. Members should rush out and purchase all remaining copies of the House of Lords Hansard of 13 March and note in columns 1270 and 1271 the remarkable insight provided into the thinking of the Minister of State, Department of Education and Science. She holds an entirely responsible opinion. It is a respectable perspective of our society in transition. It is one of the most extraordinary social surveys that I have ever had the pleasure of reading. I hope that it will be widely read in the House.

    12 midnight

    I have given the Minister and the Government full credit for facing the realities of what was done in another place on 13 March. I hope that they will now face the realities of our education system and ensure that people shall not pay as a result of this decision.

    My final point arises from the remarks of the hon. Member for Wokingham. He said that, having seen one Government burn their fingers on the vexed subject of school transport, he was sure that no other Government would make the attempt. I hope to contradict that by demonstrating that the policy of the Labour Party—which we enunciated in our manifesto at the last election—is to ensure that there are no demarcations of treatment between people living on one side of the border and people living on the other. We acknowledged the heavy cost of school transport, even over relatively short distances, and the necessity of transport to school because of the hazardous conditions on our roads. I hope that we can honour that commitment at some future date. It seems to be the only sensible way, in justice, in which we can make developments in the absolute guarantee and assurance that children can travel to school in as great safety as the local authority and the State can guarantee and at as low a cost as possible—and, therefore, the least disincentive—to parents.

    Was it not the proposal of the Labour Party, when in Government, to introduce flat-rate charges for transport to school?

    When Labour was in Government, that was among the proposals. We referred to that in Committee. I do not think that that proposal was ever put in any precise form, and certainly it was not promoted as part of the legislation.

    The Labour Party policy which preceded or superseded—that is a matter for debate—that proposition was a development of that and a movement towards the provision of free school transport where necessary. I shall not make any promises from the Dispatch Box that would be idle gestures. We have considered the matter on other questions arising from the Bill. Whether it is the Conservative Party or the Labour Party that brings this about, the necessities of our modern, crowded society—with its dangerous roads, with communities that are becoming increasingly isolated, with falling school rolls and with a concentration and rationalisation of schools and school population—will continue to impose on any Government an obligation to ensure that children are able to travel to school at costs that are not only not prohibitive but are conducive to the involvement and assistance of parents in taking their children to school.

    That requirement will eventually boil down to the provision of free school transport. I hope that it will be found out of a Vote other than the education Vote. That is a campaign on which we can join hands across the Table. Nevertheless, that will be the only way in which this continuing dilemma, which is becoming harsher by the year, will ever be resolved.

    I was ex-extremely pleased to hear what I think was a clear undertaking from my hon. Friend the Member for Beclwellty (Mr. Kinnock) that in due course a Labour Government will be in a position to provide free school transport for every pupil who needs it, whether in rural areas or elsewhere. I was grateful to my hon. Friend for the tribute that he paid to the campaign that was waged in the rural areas of the United Kingdom to preserve the existing degree of free school transport. A strong campaign was mounted throughout the United Kingdom. It is ironic that the representatives of the overwhelming majority of rural families who sit on the Conservative Benches let down their constituents. Those families had to rely on another place to protect their interests.

    I was delighted to hear that the hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. van Straubenzee) was not cowed by the ideas of those in another place. If he had as many members of another place residing in his constituency as I have in mine, he might pay more attention to them. I had the genuine privilege not long ago of taking part in a meeting of the Royal British Legion in my constituency, at which Lord Haig of Bemersyde, a constituent of mine whom my hon. Friend the Member for West Stirlingshire (Mr. Canavan) frequently quotes, was present. I paid tribute to the noble Lord in public on that occasion for his vote in the proceedings in another place. He took the opportunity to protect the interests of those in rural areas.

    I am not in the habit of detaining the House at this time of night, especially when a number of Scottish hon. Members have trains to catch, but I have been goaded into contributing to the debate by a half-witted reply today from the Secretary of State for Scotland. Two weeks ago I tabled a question to ask the Secretary of State for Scotland by what amount he had reduced the rate support grant to the Borders regional council and Lothian regional council for 1980–81 as a result of his decision on school transport. It appeared as question No. 25 on the Order Paper. As a result of the verbosity of some of my hon. Friends, some Conservative Members and Ministers, the question was not reached. In due course I received a written answer to tell me that the deletion of clause 25 of this Bill would not result in any reduction of rate support grant.

    I said that that was a half-witted reply, and I meant precisely that. How could the deletion lead to any further reduction of the rate support grant? The reduction had already taken place. It had taken place in all local education authorities throughout the United Kingdom. It had taken place in the Lothian regional council, as the hon. Member for Edinburgh, North (Mr. Fletcher), the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, probably knows better than I do because the whole of his constituency lies within that council. As many hon. Members will know, the council had decided, in common with all local education authorities in Scotland bar one, not to impose school transport charges.

    It may interest the House if I refer to the one local education authority in Scotland which decided to impose school transport charges, which includes a part of my constituency, namely, the Borders regional council. I quote what the convener of the council said in a press statement. Major Jock Askew, the Conservative convener of the council, said:
    "The Borders Regional Council is faced with having to consider a rate of 63p, an increase of 17p, and at the same time cut its services. As Convener, I view this situation with the gravest concern. I can appreciate that ratepayers faced with paying substantially more for a reduced service must be both perplexed and angry."
    How true. That represented an increase of 37 per cent. on the rates and considerable cuts in public services, including the imposition of a charge for school transport. That appears in the papers that the council circulated, namely, item No. 41:
    "Introduce a flat rate charge of 10p per day per pupil for transport to and from school £100,000."
    I appreciate that that is peanuts compared to the figure that some of their reactionary brethren in the South-East and in the county of Kent have in mind. That is the figure for the Borders. Presumably, considerably more had already been deducted from the rate support grant to the other regional councils within Scotland by the Secretary of State for Scotland. We are given to understand that the total is about £2 million.

    Even if I were to refrain from dwelling on the shortcomings of the Borders regional council, it must be accepted that in anticipation of the implementation of this clause—which has rightly been deleted by the House of Lords—the Secretary of State for Scotland took £100,000 from the Borders regional council. Overall, he has taken over £2 million from all education authorities in Scotland. As a result of the decision, which the Secretary of State has rightly accepted, that £2 million will have to be deducted from other education services in Scotland. That is outrageous.

    The Secretary of State has accepted the decision of the House of Lords, and the decision and the will of the people in rural areas. If he accepts that decision, he should also accept that he is duty bound and honour bound to give back the money which he took away prematurely from the local education authorities. I sincerely hope that he will take the opportunity of this debate to make an appropriate announcement.

    The House of Lords did a grand day's work on this clause. It did so with a combination of Conservative peers, Liberal peers, Labour peers, Cross-Bench peers and bishops. It did it not merely with a decisive majority, but with a massive majority. In doing so it brought relief to hundreds of thousands of people in Britain, particularly in rural areas where there was real fear about families on wages just above family income supplement level—

    Indeed. I am glad that the Secretary of State is saying that the peers were egged on by us.

    I said that the fear was egged on by the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith), who deliberately and persistently exaggerated, totally without regard to the provisions I included. I remember a speech in which he talked about figures which had no relationship whatever to the sort of figures that were being requested. That is fear-mongering by the Liberal Party.

    They were the figures of the Kent county council. The hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. van Straubenzee) has already described the mess into which the Kent county council put the Secretary of State by putting flesh on the bone, quoting figures and bringing them before the—

    In that speech—which I remember well—the hon. Gentleman did not mention Kent once. He talked about people living in his constituency and the appalling amounts that the council would have to charge at a time when it said that it would not charge anything. He was responsible for any fear that was created by the intentions of the Government—not the Government's proposals. That is the sort of propaganda put forward by the hon. Gentleman.

    The propaganda was entirely true. I suppose that the Secretary of State is now saying that I misled Lord Butler, the Duke of Norfolk, half the bishops, and the majority of Conservative peers. The Conservative peers, with the aid of the Liberal peers, would not have needed the 96 Labour peers who voted in the House of Lords for what I am advocating. There were enough Conservative peers—misled by people such as myself—who pointed to the effects of these proposals.

    My county council was one of the first to say that it wanted nothing to do with those provisions. It did not wish to implement them. The Secretary of State cannot say that it would have been all right in the hon. Member's constituency because the county council was refusing to do what I told it to do. Because it had extensive school transport obligations, it would have had to cut far more services than other authorities in order to satisfy that requirement. I welcomed my county council's decision, but it was not made thanks to the Secretary of State. The council was acting directly against his advice.

    12.15 am

    The fears were real. They were based on the charges that could have been imposed—not only in my constituency but in many other parts of the country where the threat was made by some local authorities—upon families whose incomes were marginally above the family income supplement and supplementary benefit level. Those charges could have been enormous.

    It took a long time before we had the concession that the charges must be uniform. That did not come out at the beginning. It was wrenched out of the Government. It was not until the Bill went to another place that there was the concession that not all the children of large families would be affected. Never during the passage of the Bill through this House did any Minister say "We are prepared to make a concession. Only two children will be affected." The Government had to see the peers chasing them before they made a concession. The charges could still have mounted up to a high level for families with two children.

    Great relief is felt by rural families, especially families that had gone through the whole traumatic business of having village primary schools closed, with the result that their children had to go further away, and families that had gone through secondary reorganisation, not simply in the past few years but throughout the years since the war, involving their children in travelling 15, 20 or even 25 miles to school, with the parents being expected to pay for that privilege.

    The amendment has also brought considerable relief to the Roman Catholic community. Here I entirely dissent from the view of the hon. Member for Woking-ham. He may think that when people genuinely state their objections and anxieties in strong terms they are being strident. I do not find such expressions in any way objectionable. No letter or other representation that I received from the Roman Catholic community could be criticised in any way for having been other than a genuine expression of concern about the implications of the Bill. I totally disagree with the hon. Gentleman's view that it is somehow improper for people to express their views in those terms.

    Perhaps in the clubland of London or the higher reaches of society there are discreet and polite ways of gently tipping the wink, saying "This isn't on, old boy. It's not quite the thing." But Roman Catholics in my constituency and in other parts of the country speak their mind in simple and straightforward terms. They said that they saw the proposals as a threat to their schools, and that view was strongly held throughout the Roman Catholic community—parents, teachers, headmasters and clergy. They put it to us honestly and straightforwardly. Some Members disagreed with that view, but nobody challenged people's right to put it, and it carried a great deal of weight in another place.

    A number of hon. Members have said tonight that the Government must make up the money. I am not sure that I go all the way with that. My own local authority was among the first to be prepared to face up to making cuts elsewhere, and I must recognise that it was possible to do that. But at every stage when we argued with the Government about the assisted places scheme they said "If we dropped the scheme the money would not come back to education. It comes out of some other fund, a special new fund for projects that we really like. There is access there to funds that are not generally otherwise available to education."

    I have never been able to understand the philosophy that there is a special kind of money that can be obtained from elsewhere. However, the Government have waived it at us often enough. It is time we waved it back at them. If they can pluck money out of the air for the assisted places scheme, they can mitigate the impact of the sensible and necessary decision that school transport must continue to be provided.

    There are two important criticisms to be made of the speech of the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith). First, the Liberal Party goes on emphasising through the country the importance of local government. I agree. It says that this, that and another thing should be left to the discretion of local authorities. I agree about that, too. What I find astonishing is that the hon. Gentleman seeks to reconcile that general view with his virulent attack on clause 23.

    The clause did one thing, and one thing only. It empowered local authorities to charge. I happen to believe that, generally speaking, they should not charge. I was very pleased that the Lincolnshire county council decided not to do so. But I also think that this is precisely the kind of area in which local authorities should have a discretion. If we are to have local authorities, it is very important that decisions of great consequence be left to them. I do not think that it is possible to reconcile the hon. Gentleman's remarks with the general principles that the Liberal Party purports to profess.

    The other point that I want to make is this.

    I shall deal with that matter in another debate—not tonight, because time is short. I shall deal with it when the hon. Member for West Stirlingshire (Mr. Canavan) intervenes in a proper way, and not until then.

    I shall give way when the hon. Gentleman intervenes in a proper way, and I am referring to the hon. Member for West Stirlingshire, who is sitting down. As he is incapable of intervening in a proper way, I do not propose to deal with the point.

    No.

    The second point that I should like to make on the speech made by the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed concerns his suggestion that the position of the Roman Catholic church was justi- fled. I think that he was wrong. If one goes back to the Education Act 1944, one sees that the only obligation on local authorities was to transport pupils to the nearest appropriate school. The denominational schools to which most pupils were being transported for free were not the nearest appropriate schools in all cases. The local authorities could, in the majority of cases, refuse to transport those pupils. In fact, the local authorities, exercising an undoubted discretion, chose to transport those pupils for free. I have no reason to suppose that that policy would have changed as a result of anything in clause 23.

    I shall give way in a moment if the hon. Gentleman wishes to intervene.

    The position has been made worse, because, as the local authorities are going to find it difficult to raise money as a result of the deletion of clause 23, they may stand on their undoubted statutory right to decline to transport pupils to denominational schools if they do not happen to be the nearest appropriate schools. That was the second area in which the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed made a major mistake. Because I am a courteous fellow, I shall give way to the hon. Gentleman.

    Three-quarters of what the hon. Gentleman said is correct, and the Roman Catholic community knows it very well. Most of the transport of Roman Catholic children to school is at present discretionary. But what the hon. Gentleman neglects to understand is that if local authorities were charging to convey non-Catholic children to the nearest appropriate school, it would be virtually impossible for those same local authorities to continue to provide free transport for Roman Catholic children to schools at a similar distance from their homes.

    I disagree. I must tell the hon. Gentleman what my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State told him. The Catholic community did not appreciate the true position. One reason why it did not appreciate the true position was the speeches made by Opposition Members who repeatedly misled people as to the true statutory position. The hon. Member for West Stirlingshire, who is sitting on his backside at the moment, has a great deal to answer for on this particular point.

    It is perhaps a measure of this extremist and reactionary Government when the Department of Education and Science and the Scottish Education Department try to take up a position which is even more Right-wing than the Right-wing House of Lords.

    The Secretary of State for Education and Science, the Secretary of State for Scotland and the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland ought to be thoroughly ashamed to be members of a Government who had to be forced and almost kicked by the House of Lords into the position in which they are now. I think that we can all thank the grand old Duke of Norfolk to get this nasty clause deleted from this nasty Bill. It appeared that there was agreement across party lines in the other place. Indeed, many of the friends of Conservative Members voted against them in the other place. I think that one of the junior Ministers, who has a smile on his face, is grateful that the House of Lords let the Government off the hook on this matter.

    Does the hon. Gentleman recognise that the vote in the other place simply underlines the fact that the Members of that place are no more than running dogs and lackeys of Conservative Central Office?

    I never ever said that they were. If the hon. Gentleman reads my speeches criticising the House of Lords—especially those I made during the lifetime of the last Parliament—he will see that I never described them in the terms in which the hon. Gentleman has just used. Perhaps even I may take back some of the things I said about them. I may even postpone bringing forward my next Private Member's Bill to abolish the other place.

    However, it is quite clear that on this crucial issue there were a minority of courageous Members of the Tory Party in this House—the hon. Member for Rugby (Mr. Pawsey), for example, and one of his benighted hon. Friends whose constituency I cannot recall—who led the attack against their party here. Most of the lapdogs obeyed the three-line Whip when they voted. However, Members in another place decided to take a strong line on the matter. It was quite clear that it was not just the Tory Party that was divided on this issue. Families were divided. The hon. Member for Edinburgh, South (Mr. Ancram), for example, voted in this place for the retention of the clause, whereas his father the Marquess of Lothian and his uncle-in-law the Duke of Norfolk voted for the deletion of the clause in the other place.

    I noticed on checking the Division list that the father of the Secretary of State for Scotland did not even turn up to support his son. I do not know whether that was a conscientious abstention. It may have been that Viscount Younger had been persuaded by the eloquence of his local Member of Parliament, because he happens to live in my constituency. I used to ask "Can anything good come out of the House of Lords?" This was one good result which did.

    The hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr van Straubenzee) referred to anomalies which occur under the existing legislation and which will continue because of the two and three mile limits which have been restored. The hon. Member for—Hailsham, is it?

    The hon. Member foz Grantham (Mr. Hogg) referred to the desirability of giving a certain amount of discretion to local authorities. There is no contradiction between the two. One can lay down a national statutory minimum while giving local authorities a discretion to be more generous. That is precisely what the two Labour-controlled education authorities in my constituency—Strathclyde and Central regional councils—do. The former, for example, imposes a limit of one mile for all primary schoolchildren and two miles for all secondary schoolchildren. There is, therefore, no contradiction there, and I look forward to hearing the hon. Member's justification for his rather ambivalent stance in wanting to give discretion to local authorities on school transport but not on the sale of council houses.

    In general, I think that those local authorities, the churches the National Farmers Union and the trade unions, expecially those representing the workers in rural areas, ought to be congratulated on their campaign. It was reasonable. The adjective "strident" has been used. Sometimes one has to be strident in this place, and even in the other place, to attain one's objectives.

    12.30 am

    I turn now to another important matter—and I hope that the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, who is responsible for education, has not yet fallen asleep. The Rate Support Grant (Scotland) Order 1979 states:
    "Provision for education is 4½2 per cent. in real terms less than the coresponding figure for 1979–80. It has been assumed that authorities will be able to effect substantial savings in expenditure on school meals, school milk and school transport as a consequence of the increased freedom that they will have in providing and charging for these services under the Education (No. 2) Bill now before Parliament."
    That wording was misleading. Instead of "increased freedom", the Government should have talked about deprivation of children's rights to free school transport. That is no longer applicable. There has been a change of circumstances. The Bill, as proposed by the Government when the rate support grant was approved by the House, has been substantially amended. It affects the rate support grant.

    The financial memorandum states that the amount that the Government hoped to cut or save by removing children's legal rights to free school transport in Scotland was £2 million. That means that the Government should now introduce a supplementary rate support grant order for Scotland providing at least an extra £2 million. I hope that the Minister will comment on that.

    I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman, who was a member of the Committee on the Bill, does not realise the position. As usual, the hon. Member for Berwick and East Lothian (Mr. Home Robertson) was mistaken about his constituency. Before the Lords amended the Bill all Scottish local authorities had made it clear that they would not charge. I presume that they therefore adjusted their 1980–81 budgets accordingly. In those circumstances, there is no need for an alteration to be made to the rate support grant for this year.

    Nevertheless, the total rate support grant to the Scottish local authorities was calculated on the assumption that £2 million would be cut. Now the legal obligation is to be continued, the rate support grant should be increased by at least £2 million to enable local authorities to fulfil their statutory obligation.

    The Ministers will say that no money is left in the kitty. Earlier this week was the closing date for submissions on that tatty document on the assisted places scheme. There is little if any support in Scotland for that silly scheme on which he proposes to spend £5 million a year. Let us scrap the assisted places scheme and find at least £2 million in rate support grant so that local authorities can continue to provide free school transport.

    The Secretary of State is not entitled to say that, because the Scottish Office played little or no part in the debate, in spite of three major clauses in the Bill which refer to Scotland. It is not right to slip Scottish clauses into a Bill and complain when Scottish shadow spokesmen and hon. Members take part in a debate. It is not up to the Secretary of State's usual standard to complain about our contribution to a debate. That is out of character.

    I shall direct most of my remarks to the deletion of clause 25 but I shall say something about the debate so far. There is a feeling that we should debate all over again whether local authorities should have discretion to grant free transport or whether a statutory obligation should be placed upon them.

    The effect of the deletion of clauses 23 and 25 is to leave local education authorities in England, Wales and Scotland with the statutory obligation to provide school transport within certain limits. Beyond those limits they have discretion. I take it that the House is not engaged in a debate about the principle.

    What surprised me was that when the hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. van Straubenzee) was making what I regarded as a courageous speech—I did not agree with it, but I regarded it as courageous—the Secretary of State kept nodding in agreement and apparently saying "Hear, hear." If that is so, it leads us to the clear conclusion that the Government simply have not had the courage to overturn a decision of the other place which is not acceptable to them.

    Instead of having the courage to overturn that decision, the Government are saying in the most generous terms they can muster that they will accept it but will not provide the money—as my hon. Friend the Member for West Stirling-shire (Mr. Canavan) said—to implement their acceptance.

    When clauses 23 and 25 are taken out of the Bill, there will be a statutory obligation on LEAs throughout Great Britain to provide free school transport. The Secretary of State has made it clear that he is imposing that obligation by virtue of the fact that he is accepting the decision of the other place. There can be no ifs or buts about that. As a result of that acceptance, the Secretary of State is saying "I shall still go ahead and punish the LEAs, and I will not give them the money."

    Before the hon Member develops his argument on the financial point, may I ask whether he has not been intrigued, as I have been, by the fact that since the Lords defeat the Government have kept saying "All we were trying to do was to give the LEAs what they asked for—the freedom to charge for school transport and relieve them of the statutory obligation"? I asked the Secretary of State for Scotland this week whether the removal of the statutory obligation to provide free school transport was done at the request of the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities and I got a one word answer—"No".

    I am grateful to the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith). The simple fact is that there is nothing in the Bill in relation to Scotland that has been done with the agreement of the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities. As the Minister knows, the Convention is strongly opposed to the Government's provisions on school meals, milk and transport. The Bill has no friends in Scotland, and the Minister well knows it.

    That brings me to the financial aspect, and I shall relate my remarks exclusively to clause 25. I get the feeling that the Minister simply does not understand the rate support grant in Scotland. He certainly does not understand the Education (No. 2) Bill. The rate support grant settlement was not agreed with the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities; it was imposed on Scottish local authorities. In that rate suport grant settlement imposed on Scottish local authorities, there was a reduction of £2 million to take account of the Government's decision to abolish free school transport.

    I take it that the Minister accepts that the explanatory and financial memorandum says that £2 million less will be made available because the Government have decided—it is in corporated in the Bill—that free school transport for children should not now be available but should be at the discretion of the local authority.

    I shall take the Secretary of State through this stage by stage. Does he accept that £2 million less will be made available? I have to spell it out in simple terms for the right hon. and learned Gentleman. Having taken him through the first stage—that the rate suport grant settlement leaves £2 million less available to the Scottish local authorities because he decided that free school transport should be a discretionary aspect of education at the disposal of the education authorities in Scotland—I should tell him that the position has now changed. What the right hon. and learned Gentleman is saying is that Ministers have changed their minds. Whereas, before, school transport was to be discretionary, it is now mandatory. I take it that the Minister agrees with that. That is the implication of accepting the amendments from the other place.

    If the Minister accepts that the provision of free school transport is now mandatory and that there is a statutory obligation upon local authorities in Scotland to provide this, his decision has been changed. He is, therefore, under an obligation to restore to the Scottish local authorities the £2 million. If he does not do so, basically he is stealing £2 million from the local authorities in Scotland in respect of school transport.

    In response to my hon. Friend the Member for Berwick and East Lothian (Mr. Home Robertson), the Minister said that the arrangements made no difference to the budget plans of the regional authorities. That is misleading, to say the least. It is not true and the Minister knows it. Of course, the authorities budgeted on the basis that they would not have the £2 million. But they did so on the advice given by the Scottish Office that free school transport would no longer be available. That is not what the Minister is now saying. He is saying to local authorities in Scotland that, as a result of the decision in the other place, free school transport is a statutory obligation, but the Government will not give back the £2 million which they took away when they thought that school transport provision would be discretionary. There is no dispute about that.

    Earlier today, the Minister sought to answer questions about a reduction in rate support grant to various Scottish authorities. The question was not about the effect of the deletion of clause 25 from the Bill, and the Minister knows that. He is an expert at not answering questions. He knows that the question was about the reduction in rate support grant. We shall press him and we shall find out—whether he wants to tell us or not—how much each of the Scottish regional authorities is having stolen from it by him as a result of the Government's refusal to restore the rate support grant.

    While I join my hon. Friends in welcoming the decision of the other place, I do so, not with regret but certainly with mixed feelings, because I wish that the other place had had the courage to take matters to a logical conclusion and remove the provision inserted by the Government concerning school meals and school milk. The other place, while it has done us a service in one respect, has done us a disservice in another. It could have made a major contribution. We owe a debt of gratitude to Lord Butler, to whom I freely give thanks. I wish that the other place had deleted those other provisions.

    The Secretary of State is about to reply. I can understand his touchiness. No one likes to receive the humiliating defeat which he has had to suffer on this clause. I hope that, in replying, the right hon. and learned Gentleman will complete the answer he gave to us on 18 March and tell the House and local authorities throughout Great Britain that he accepts the decision fully, that he will not punish local authorities and will restore the rate support grant, and that he will also ensure that common sense prevails in the Scottish Office so that the rate support grant is restored in Scotland, too.

    I start by apologising to the hon. Member for Stirling, Falkirk and Grangemouth (Mr. Ewing) for what I said when he got to his feet. It was not that I objected to his intervening as a Scottish Shadow Minister. It was merely that there had been one speech from the Opposition Bench and I did not realise that we were to have two. If the hon. Member felt that I was discourteous to him, I apologise.

    Perhaps there is one thing to be said for this matter. If it means that, for the first time, Labour Members are ready to accept the importance of a bicamarel legislature, some good will come out of the decision made by the Lords.

    12.45 am

    I am immensely grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (Mr. van Straubenzee) for the support that he attempted to give me on this clause throughout the passage of the Bill through this place and for his speech tonight. I regret the decision that was made in the other place. I made that clear at the time, and I made it clear in my statement when I said that, nevertheless, the Government, being realistic and seeing the size and composition of the majority in the other place, thought that the only right thing to do was to accept the decision. The fact that one accepts the decision does not mean that one necessarily believes that the other place was right, and, for the reasons that my hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham gave, I regret the decision that it took.

    The hon. Member for Stirling, Falkirk and Grangemouth spoke about the penalty on local authorities. His hon. Friends the Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Kinnock) and for West Stirlingshire (Mr. Canavan) demanded that I should put back into the rate support grant the money that had been allowed for to provide school trans- port. I must repeat what I said quite clearly in my statement on 18 March in accepting the decision taken by another place. The fact that it is not now open to local authorities to make savings in this way in no way withdraws from them the need to make savings in their education budgets.

    The Government made it clear at an early stage last summer that they would look for savings in public expenditure because they were essential in the public interest. We believed that it was right that in looking for those savings local authorities should have the opportunity, if they wished, to make part of those savings by bringing in charges for school transport. Parliament has decided that that option is no longer open to them, but that does not mean that those savings do not still have to be made. The rate support grant has been fixed, the cash limits have been fixed, and the fact that this is a matter for local authorities is confirmed by the fact that the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) agreed that several counties had decided to make the savings that we were looking for in other ways.

    Local authorities have always realised that we were looking for savings of a certain percentage in their budgets and that it was up to them to decide how they were made, but many of them asked that in looking for those savings they should be able to look for them in transport provision. So it is not a question of penalising them. It is not a question of putting money back. They recognise that the savings that have to be made will have to be made in ways that do not include modest charging for transport.

    I totally agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Grantham (Mr. Hogg). It is extraordinary that the Liberal Party, which seems to support the concept of giving more power to local authorities and is always arguing for the devolving of power to local authorities, objected to a principle when this occurred. I can only assume that the principle of devolution to local authorities was outweighed by the principle that Labour Members did not want to support anything that might be unpopular with the electorate.

    The hon. Member for Berwick and East Lothian (Mr. Home Robertson), who, unfortunately, has left the Chamber —I know why he has had to leave—said that he was glad to hear the clear undertaking by his hon. Friend the Member for Bedwellty that the Labour Party was now committed to free school transport for all. I did not think that the hon. Member for Bedwellty was quite as clear as the hon. Member for Berwick and East Lothian thought he was. I thought that the undertaking was hedged around with ifs and buts and "I should like to say but I really cannot quite."

    If that was a commitment by the Opposition, the hon. Member for Bedwellty might like to reflect on the cost of it. The cost of school transport in the current year is likely to be £125 million, and it benefits only one of 10 families. If one considers for a moment the cost of providing free transport for the other 90 per cent. of children, I think that the hon. Gentleman—if he gave that clear undertaking, which I rather doubt—may live to regret the fact that he did so.

    Question put and agreed to.

    On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I wanted to put a brief question to the Secretary of State before he sat down, and I wonder whether I can ask it during our discussion on clause 25.

    Lords amendments Nos. 18 and 19 agreed to.