HC Deb 05 December 1978 vol 959 cc1228-363

Order for Second Reading read.

3.41 p.m.

The Secretary of State for Education and Science and Paymaster General (Mrs. Shirley Williams)

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

I begin by welcoming the hon. and learned Member for Runcorn (Mr. Carlisle) to his new responsibilties as the Shadow spokesman on education and science. Those on the Government Benches know of the honourable and constructive contribution that he made as Minister of State at the Home Office. He will find that representing the interests of his party in education and science will involve him in certain circus riding tricks, and he may learn some of the adaptability and adept qualities of the hon. Member for Chelmsford (Mr. St. John-Stevas).

The hon. Member for Chelmsford, I discover, has departed with one of the jewels of the crown in the Department of Education and Science, namely, his responsibility as spokesman for the arts, but as he decorated that post so spendidly it is perhaps appropriate that he should take it with him.

More seriously, I hope that the hon. and learned Member for Runcorn will criticise when he feels he must, but also I hope that he will have the courage to support what he thinks is right in the Government's education policies. I am sure that he will agree with me that there is nothing more important than the education of our children and that we should not make political capital out of that except in cases where we have profound differences of opinion.

Mr. Nicholas Ridley (Cirencester and Tewkesbury)

Oh, who is talking?

Mrs. Williams

I am talking, and I shall go on talking for some little time to come.

There is general agreement that the role of the parent should be much more widely recognised than it was in earlier legislation, and, in particular, that parents should be represented as of right on the governing bodies of schools. Since the publication of the Taylor report, just over a year ago, there has been a lively period of public discussion, and three things in particular have emerged.

The first is that as there is now very wide agreement that, wherever possible, each school should have its own governing body and that the custom under which in some authorities a whole group of schools has been grouped together under one governing body, sometimes under the education committee, is not a proper way of managing and governing schools.

Secondly, there is widespread agreement that the composition and method of appointment of school governing bodies should be changed to include, in particular, parents and teachers who are, in most cases, elected by the people whom they represent. There has already been a substantial move in this direction over the last few years, and I believe that the time has come to lay down minimum standards of representation in a statutory form. The Bill proceeds by laying down in general terms requirements that are to be worked out in regulations, and we shall be issuing a consultative document to encourage discussion on them. The consultative document will, I hope, be fully available to the Committee that meets to discuss the clauses of the Bill. We shall take very careful note of what is said by hon. Members in the debate and in Committee, and will take that into account in laying the regulations before the House.

Mr. Timothy Raison (Aylesbury)

I apologise for intervening so soon, but I have an important point to make. There is a strong case for saying that the main principles of this matter should be written into the Bill. Will the Secretary of State give an assurance that it will not be impossible, if the Committee should so decide and the Government should be so persuaded, to write the main provisions into the Bill rather than that we should have to wait for regulations?

Mrs. Williams

I am happy to give that assurance to the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Raison), provided he and his colleagues also bear in mind that it would be undesirable to have an extremely rigid system, which might allow no local flexibility. One reason why we have left open the possibility of amend- ing the Bill on Report in this matter is that we are anxious to hear the views of hon. Members on both sides of the House before finally laying down statutory regulations, I believe that that is a proper way of treating the House of Commons and of respecting its wisdom and knowledge in this area.

Sir Anthony Royle (Richmond, Surrey)

Will the Secretary of State be as sensible about another aspect of the Bill, namely, clause 11? That clause appears to indicate that Catholic parents will no longer be able to send their children to school outside the borough in which they reside. Would it be possible to be flexible about this and make changes at a later stage of the Bill?

Mrs. Williams

I hope that the hon. Member for Richmond, Surrey (Sir A. Royle) will not mind if I say that that is a rather unfair intervention, as I have not yet reached even clause 1. I shall be happy to give way to the hon. Gentleman when we reach clause 11.

Sir A. Royle

This applies to flexibility.

Mrs. Williams

I agree, but if I give way at this stage I shall not get through the clauses. I am still talking about the governing body clauses.

Thirdly, there is still no agreement about what the formal powers of governing bodies should be. Most people, in my view rightly, see the nature of the relationship between the governing body and the school as something organic, which is individual to each school. Where the relationship works, it does not need any over-elaborate delegation of statutory powers, and where it does not work no amount of formal statutory power will increase its usefulness or its influence. The Bill, therefore, does not contain any provision relating to the specific powers of governing bodies, partly because I believe that the time is not yet right for such legislation and partly because I believe that getting the right people on to governing bodies in sufficient numbers will be enough to do the necessary task on its own.

We are, however, indicating that minor authorities should continue to have a right to appoint governors to primary schools, and we are putting forward proposals that there should be community governors in secondary schools, which will create a closer bridge between schools and industry and, not least, between community and industry.

I turn next to the question of school admissions. There is often a great deal of talk in the House about parental choice and parental wishes, as if it were not the case that under the old selective system only 20 per cent. of parents had any right to choose. That should be made quite clear. The purpose of the Bill is not to deal only with the articulate minority of parents who have the confidence to ring up heads and question teachers but, rather, to deal with all parents. The Bill protects and therefore legislates for all parents in all parts of England and Wales. For the first time it lays down the right for parents to express their preferences about the schools that they want their children to attend and for those preferences to be met if they reasonably and properly can be, compatibly with an efficient education service and with the comprehensive principle.

Incidentally, many thousands of parents do not have that right at the present time. Because the expression of wishes without any knowledge about schools would be meaningless, as every good consumers' organisation and parents' association knows, the Bill also lays down, again for the first time, that parents shall have full information about the schools in their areas. Again, the House can discuss what the scope of that information should be.

Certainly, apart from information about admission procedures, it is essential that there should be information about the subjects offered; about the examinations available to pupils; about the pastoral system; about the age range; about the question whether the school is voluntary aided, and whether it is a single-sex school or is coeducational; about what games and school societies are available; and not least, about how parents find out more about their own child's progress in the school.

The Bill also gives local authorities the power to limit admissions to schools. Frankly, there has been a fair amount of politicking, some of it wholly irresponsible, on this issue. Let me say this bluntly: we cannot manage an education system in which the secondary school population is falling by a quarter within 10 years—from next year's 4,083,000 children to 3,082,000 in 1989—without some such instruments, for either we will throw millions of pounds of taxpayers' and ratepayers' money away by keeping hundreds of schools half or three quarters full, including many in old, worn-out and unsuitable buildings, or we will allow a chaotic situation to develop in which some schools are so overcrowded that their own teaching achievements are put at risk, while others become unviable without regard to the buildings, the equipment or the teaching staff.

There must be sensible planning, and that planning must have regard to the efficient provision of the education system in each area and to the comprehensive reorganisation of our secondary schools. But it must have regard also to local opinion.

The Bill does not repeal section 13 of the 1944 Act, under which significant changes in the character of a school entail section 13 notices, local consultation, the lodging of objections and a final decision by the Secretary of State. But there is some uncertainty about the precise cases to which the phrase a significant change in character in the 1944 Act applies. I am looking into this matter to see how it can best be clarified, but I stress to the House that section 13 procedures are still open to those who wish to object.

It is ironic, perhaps, that the local education authorities themselves have been calling with increasing desperation for the power to limit admissions, believing that otherwise the falling school population will create expensive havoc with our schools. I tell the House—I stress this—that Conservative and Labour local authorities alike have been calling for this power.

Dr. Keith Hampson (Ripon)

Will the right hon. Lady give way?

Mrs. Williams

Not for the moment.

Both the Association of County Councils and the Association of Municipal Authorities are Conservative-controlled now. Both have pressed strongly for these provisions. Therefore, I was pleased to read in The Guardian of 1st December that the hon. and learned Member for Runcorn was trying to find a Carlisle solution to the conflict between national party philosophy and local administrative needs and that the Leader of the Opposition had enjoined him to produce a coherent chorus from the competing voices of Conservative education. He will be a brilliant choirmaster if he can achieve that—perhaps even better than the right hon. Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath).

With all respect, however, I doubt whether the solution that the hon. and learned Member is said to have found, of a planning review every few years, would tackle effectively this desperately serious problem. I believe that the hon. and learned Gentleman will have the honesty and concern for education and educational standards to admit that as he learns all that is involved, he may find that this proposal will not be sufficient to deal with the problem.

Dr. Hampson

As the right hon. Lady mentioned section 13, which refers to the significant extension of a school as being necessary for the operation of the procedures under section 13, why did she feel it necessary to table clause 6, as it stands, for annual changes in admissions levels, when she could have made a slight change to section 13 of the existing law to make it clear that not only enlargement but a diminution of the size of school could perhaps be operated under those proposed procedures?

Mrs. Williams

Because the hon. Gentleman will learn that if the phrase is not actually"a significant extension"it is a significant"enlargement of the premises"of a school. We are now talking not about changes to the premises of a school but, rather, changes to the numbers of a school. The hon. Member will appreciate that one of the great problems here is what happens if there is a steady small decline over several years in a school, none of which amounts to a significant change in its character. It is this point to which we are addressing ourselves and on which we hope to be able to say more at a later stage.

On this matter, I should like to quote from The Times Educational Supplement: In theory, the Conservatives are being more consistent about parental choice, but whoever is in power has to deal with the practicalities of looking after the interests of all children, and there can be little doubt that it is right and responsible for the Bill to include the planned admission capacity provisions. We are, I would say, trying to find a new balance between parents—I repeat, all parents, everywhere—legitimate right to express a preference and genuine administrative needs. I say frankly that it would be easy to meet the needs and the choices of 10 per cent. or 15 per cent. of parents—one could guarantee their first choices—and then let the other 90 per cent. or 85 per cent. go hang. That sometimes happens now.

I am concerned to meet, as far as possible, the preferences of the great majority of parents—though not always their first preference, I readily agree. Indeed, it would be wholly hypocritical to say anything else. Last year a number of authorities—to name three, the Inner London education authority, Hertfordshire and Sheffield—met over 96 per cent. of their parents' first or second preferences for schools. They did so by a variety of methods, from linked primaries to listing one's first three or four choices. What matters is that parents must be consulted, and must be able to appeal locally and with the minimum of fuss if they do not like the allocation made. But no one should pretend that every parent can get exactly what he wants for his child.

I quote from The Observer, and I believe that it is absolutely right: Choice has never existed for most parents and can never exist for all. It exists at the present time only for the rich, the strong and those with the sort of children any school may be happy to have. It is one of the functions of Government to see that the strong do not walk over the weak. Therefore, the Bill tries to give all parents the right to express a preference and not some parents the overriding right of their first choice.

Since the publication of the Bill—this deals with the point raised by the hon. Member for Richmond, Surrey—a number of hon. Members have drawn to my attention their concern that clause 7(5)—it is that clause which is more significant in respect of the point raised by the hon. Member—could reduce the opportunity at present enjoyed by children seeking denominational education in districts other than their own. This subsection was drafted to protect the position of local authorities with respect to their own children.

I am urgently looking into this matter. Its effect on voluntary schools is quite inadvertent, since it is not my intention in any way to limit parents' wishes in regard to a denominational education. We shall be bringing forward amendments to protect the position. I assure the House that the effect of this is wholly inadvertent.

Mr. William Shelton (Streatham)

I certainly welcome the last mention that the right hon. Lady made. She has moved on slightly. I wanted to ask her whether she is aware that, certainly in the ILEA area—the ILEA has a good record and is a good authority on the whole—parental choice is guided by the primary school headmaster and that it is often fairly strongly guided. I very much doubt whether it would be 95 per cent., or whatever the figure was, if there were pressures from the primary school headmaster guiding the parent on the question of which school would be suitable for his children.

Mrs. Williams

I accept what the hon. Member says. I think that he will find that this is very common throughout much of the country, in Conservative and Labour authorities alike. There is a problem here, in that many parents will welcome guidance from the head, but, of course, that guidance should never amount to a form of pressure upon the parent. The clause in the Bill which lays down a requirement for very full information about schools will put parents in a very much better position to argue with the headmaster or the class teacher, if that is what they wish to do, about guided parental choice.

I turn next to higher and further education. The main provisions of the new Bill cover education maintenance allowances and the implementation of the Oakes report. On education maintenance allowances, let me say right away that I wish that I could today be announcing a national scheme. I make no bones about that. I am afraid that the need to keep a tight rein on public expenditure at a time of great uncertainty in the world's financial situation, and also the overriding need to fight inflation at home, precludes a full start in 1979, but I believe that this delay, much as I regret it, can be turned to useful effect.

The Bill means that Parliament can extend the scheme for education maintenance allowances to all 16 to 19-yearolds by an affirmative resolution of both Houses, when resources allow. I hope that that will not be long delayed. Meanwhile, pilot schemes can be started in the areas of England and Wales most seriously afflicted by unemployment and with the lowest participation rates among 16-year-olds. I hope that we shall also be able to include some inner city areas.

I was astonished to read the attack on EMAs by some members of the Conservative Party, not least the chairman of the Association of Municipal Authorities education committee, Councillor Malcolm Thornton. I put before the House what are in my view three appalling facts. First, we have the lowest staying-on rate, after compulsory education, of any major EEC member country except Italy. We are simply losing a lot of our talented youngsters before they gain the higher qualifications of which they are capable. Secondly, the present power of local education authorities to make discretionary awards has been more honoured in the breach than in the observance; according to a recent survey, 2.4 per cent. of our pupils over 16 get EMAs, and 7 per cent. in full-time further education; and in 1974 the allowance averaged just £2.40 a week—

Dr. Hampson


Mrs. Williams

—I shall give way to the hon. Member in a moment—yet I have heard of cases of such hardship, involving parents who are invalids, or those on low wages with several children, that they are hard to believe—and all this at a time when we are so short of skilled men and women that growth in some areas is being held back, and when a youngster can draw far more on the dole than by qualifying to meet this pressing, national need. The hon. Member for Ripon wrote a long letter to The Guardian newspaper the other day about the educational maintenance allowance. In that letter he said: Why is The Guardian so willing to assume that an extra year in school will do anything for those who have for years been bored and alienated? All the evidence suggests that most young people want vocational courses that they see as relevant and useful. Already more and more go to further education colleges to find them. This is the crux of Conservative opposition to Mrs. Williams. The hon. Member for Ripon has a high standard of educational debate but on this occasion he has not done his homework, because he seems singularly unaware of the fact that EMAs will be readily available for courses in further education colleges leading to vocational qualifications; and at the present time there are more than three times as many educational maintenance awards for courses of this kind in further education colleges as there are for youngsters staying on at school.

Dr. Hampsonindicated dissent.

Mrs. Williams

I have given the House the figures—2.4 per cent. and 7 per cent. which is approximately three times as many. I must tell the hon. Member for Ripon, certainly before his Front Bench commits itself against EMAs, that the Conservative Party should be quite clear that the opportunity to extend support to youngsters from poor homes going on to vocational education and vocational skills is at the very heart of these proposals, and I hope that in future hon. Members on the Conservative Benches will recognise that before condemning them.

Dr. Hampson

I pointed out that it was the lack of discrimination in the right hon. Lady's scheme that led those on the Conservative Benches to feel that the money should be concentrated on further education grants rather than on further education in schools. There are two vital points that I would like her to answer. A Select Committee pointed out that, strictly, the educational maintenance allowances were not applicable to further education. Secondly, the right hon. Lady keeps making charges about disparaging the staying-on rate. A fortnight ago in this House she said that this country was worse than any other country apart from Spain, Portugal and Italy. Today she says that we are worse than any other country except Italy. The latest OECD figures that I was able to get from the Library show that if we include further education with the school staying-on rate we come up to almost 35 per cent., which is not the worst in Europe.

Mrs. Williams

I think that the hon. Gentleman was not listening very closely. I spoke of the Community. Secondly, quite frankly, if hon. Members read in the Official Report what is said in this debate and the letter of the hon. Gentleman to The Guardian, they will not be able to conclude from that that the position of the Conservative Party is one of favouring EMAs for further education. It certainly does not read one little bit in that way.

Some newspapers attack the scheme as"pocket money for teenagers ". At this stage I will not suggest that any member of the Conservative Party has used such a silly phrase, but that is really rubbish. We are talking about awards that will be means-tested and payable to parents unless the authorities decide otherwise. Frankly, I would have far more respect for the newspapers that oppose EMAs in these terms if they followed through their argument to a logical conclusion and opposed awards for students in universities and polytechnics as well. Nor, I must admit, have I heard urgent representations from the Conservative Benches to that effect. Until I do, I shall regard those who oppose EMAs and at the same time support higher education awards as operating something of a double standard.

The last major section of the Bill deals with legislation following from the Oakes report, designed principally to implement two of the main recommendations of the report of the working group on the management of higher education in the maintained sector, chaired by my hon. Friend the Minister of State for Education and Science. This was published as Cmnd. 7130 in March 1978, and there has been widespread consultation since then to enable the Government to take into account the views of interested bodies on the report.

Let me remind the House why this review was necessary and why we are now taking steps to implement the report. We on the Government Benches believe that the local education authorities who have done so much to build up higher education in their establishments of further education should continue to have a major responsibility for higher education outside the universities; but under the present system for pooling the cost of higher education, financial responsibilities are insufficiently defined and there is no central focus for planning the maintained system of higher education. We want to preserve local responsibility but combine it with better accountability and with more effective arrangements for financial control and forward planning. In this we are supported by a great majority of those who have commented on the report since its publication.

I shall mention one or two other matters of interest to the House arising on particular clauses, though I do not wish to detain the House for more than a few moments. I trust that in doing so I shall be helpful to the House in what is necessarily quite a complicated Bill. With regard to the Taylor report and the changes proposed in school government, Clause 1 allows all future governors and managers alike to be called"governors ", and indicates that there should be a governing body for each school, subject to agreement by the Secretary of State if there is a desire to group schools together.

Clause 2 concerns the composition of governing bodies. Perhaps it is worth saying a word on voluntary aided schools. As the House will know, those schools have foundation governors whose job is to safeguard the character of the school and the way in which they are appointed. All types of foundation governors will continue to be appointed for the types of school to which they are appointed at present, but in respect of voluntary schools we have now agreed with representatives of the Churches that they will relinquish their present entitlement to a two-thirds majority and, instead, will wish for a clear majority, amounting to a majority of two, in governing bodies under 18 in number. I am glad to say that the Churches have agreed that within the governing foundation group they will include at least one representative of parents, which is helpful in carrying out the spirit of the Taylor report in the voluntary schools as well as in the maintained schools.

Mr. Stanley Newens (Harlow)

My right hon. Friend will be aware that many hon. Members feel that there ought to be opportunities for pupils in secondary schools to serve on boards with governors. In a number of respects the Bill falls short of what many of us would wish it to achieve. Although there may be opportunities for some hon. Members to seek to push this matter further, will my right hon. Friend say a word or two about this? Surely it is desirable that all local authorities should recognise the desirability of advancing in this direction by making places available for pupils.

Mrs. Williams

I am aware of that point. I was about to come to the Taylor report and the changes in governing bodies.

The Bill makes it quite clear that local authorities may appoint governors between the ages of 16 and 18. It is a permissive clause and is not mandatory, because one cannot force local authorities to take this course. My view is that local authorities will be able to look at the schools which undertake this proposal. I think that they will learn that many of the perils that they fear are beside the point and that pupil governors can often make a substantial contribution to governing bodies. This is an area in which we need to make haste little by little in the light of experience rather than to force local authorities to accept pupil governors whether or not they wish to do so.

I wish to deal with individual cases in regard to choice of school. This matter can give rise to great difficulties and disputes. Clause 8 requires local education authorities and school governors to provide, as many do already—this does not apply to all—for a local review of decisions, which can be a review on procedural grounds or on the merits of an individual case.

The important thing about such a local review procedure is that it should be no more formal than is necessary to ensure that it is fair, and that it should operate speedily to prevent parents and children being subjected to long and damaging periods of delay and uncertainty. However, there are a small number of cases in which decisions are not taken on the basis of published criteria or where the admission procedures laid down by the authority are not followed. Where cases of this kind cannot be resolved locally, clause 9 provides for a right of appeal to the Secretary of State.

The House should know that sections 76 and 99 of the Education Act 1944 are not repealed by the Bill. Both provisions allow for appeals to the Secretary of State in certain circumstances. Therefore, some of the comments on the Bill, seeking to suggest that it supervenes all other methods of appeal, are wrong, because these provisions remain. They add an additional provision, which will allow appeals if admission procedures are not properly followed.

Clause 10 requires local education authorities and school governors to publish their school admission arrangements and policies, details of school admissions limits and their arrangements for the expression of parental preferences and local review of decisions. The clause also contains the additional requirements relating to the publication of information about schools.

Mr. Mike Noble (Rossendale)

I wish to ask my right hon. Friend about clause 10, subsection (1)(b) of which mentions information concerning schools not maintained by local education authorities. Does this mean that the Department accepts the Manchester situation, where rate money is being used to provide places for a small selected group of pupils in independent schools?

Mrs. Williams

I assure my hon. Friend that this provision has nothing to do with that aspect. The Greater Manchester Council operates under the Local Government Act, and no part of this Bill or of earlier education legislation bites upon local government legislation. That matter is quite separate from this Bill.

Mr. Michael Stewart (Fulham)

I followed my right hon. Friend's earlier comments about clause 7(5), but will she explain why she considers clause 11(2) to be necessary? Does that not remove a right which parents and children in Greater London have had since 1963?

Mrs. Williams

Clause 11(2) deals with a purely transitional phase following the reorganisation of local government. Under clause 23 additional and more generous provisions are made in respect of extra district provision for children from outside the district. Because there have been legal doubts about clauses 7(5) and 11(2), in respect of their effect on voluntary schools, the assurance that I gave to the hon. Member for Richmond, Surrey on this matter also covers the position on clause 11(2). They are intended for quite different purposes, but the Churches have brought to our attention the fear that they may be misused. We intend to protect the position so that those provisions cannot be misused.

Mr. Norman Atkinson (Tottenham)


Mrs. Williams

I cannot give way further on this point. My hon. Friend the Minister of State will be replying, and will take note of the various points raised during the debate. I suggest that I leave such detailed matters to my hon. Friend. I do not want to cut into the time of Back Benchers.

Sir Anthony Royle

Will the right hon. Lady give way?

Mr. Speaker

Order. The right hon. Lady has just said that she did not intend to give way.

Sir A. Royle

Then will the right hon. Lady reconsider her decision?

Mrs. Williams

I am afraid not. I must get on. It is 4.15 p.m., and many hon. Members wish to take part in the debate.

Mr. Atkinson

Will my right hon. Friend leave subsection (2) out of the Bill?

Mrs. Williams

My hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr. Atkinson) will have an opportunity to deal with these matters. I have already said that the Minister of State will reply to the debate. I suggest that it is foolish to press a position on which I have already said that we are willing to legislate, and to ask me for an assurance that goes beyond an opportunity to consult those affected. Such an assurance is beside the point.

I turn to clauses 12 and 13, which contain detailed amendments to the school attendance procedure—amendments that are necessary to give effect to the general principle that the parent who is to be the subject of a school attendance order should have exactly the same rights to express a preference for the school that he wishes his child to attend as any other parent, and exactly the same rights of appeal and objection.

It is provided that if at the time at which notice of intention to serve an attendance order is given the parent is not content to accept a place at a school offered by the authority, he may apply for a place at other schools under the normal school admission arrangements made in clauses 6 to 8 and published under clause 10. The maintaining authority or the governors will be under the same duty to try to meet that preference and the parent will have the same rights of objection and appeal.

I believe that this will be accepted as a fair and reasonable way of organising these procedures. Some amendment to the law on school attendance arrangements is urgently necessary if some of the unfortunate cases that were publicised last year are not to be repeated.

In recent years a small number of parents have kept their children out of school for long and disruptive periods, in breach of their statutory duty to secure their education, in order to pursue their claim for a place at the school of their choice. We are talking here about no more than several hundred or a thousand out of the 600,000 or 700,000 children who each year transfer from primary to secondary school. When 60 or 70 parents have been disappointed in their hopes for a place at a particular school, it is not fair that one or two who are prepared to keep their children out of school for long periods and who take the serious step of putting themselves in breach of the law should be able to gain admission for their children where so many others cannot.

Clause 12(8) provides for an interim amendment to the school attendance procedures that will ensure that in considering cases that arise in the period in which consultation is taking place local education authorities and the Secretary of State can consider the more general matters that have to be taken into account in determining which school is to be named in attendance orders.

I wish to mention briefly a few of the clauses dealing with other matters. Clause 14, relating to day nurseries, enables the DHSS and the Department of Education to press forward more urgently the present co-ordination of services for children under 5 years of age. As part of the strategy, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services and I propose to encourage the development of day nurseries and nursery schools and classes as resource centres for the under-fives serving in the localities in which they are situated. I am making an additional £3.3 million available for nursery education projects over the next three years, and I shall shortly be announcing expanded 1979–80 nursery education building programme allocations. Clause 14 is an enabling power to permit local education authorities to provide education in local authority day nurseries and day centres for those children who are among the most disadvantaged in our society and who can benefit most from it. I commend the clause to the House.

I turn next to clause 15. This allows mandatory awards to be extended to additional courses in higher education. Under the relevant provision of the Education Act 1962, as amended, local education authorities have a duty to make awards to students on first degree and comparable courses. Clause 15 of the Bill would extend this range of courses in two respects. It would enable the Secretary of State to designate for mandatory awards advanced professional and vocational courses, and certain courses provided by a United Kingdom establishment in conjunction with an education institution overseas. The clause would also consolidate existing legislation governing awards to students. I am sure that my hon. Friends will welcome this new enabling power, which will extend mandatory awards into professional and vocational higher education courses.

I turn now to the last clauses of the Bill. Clause 17 authorises Government expenditure on industrial scholarships intended to encourage more of our able young people to take courses relevant to careers in industry, and would extend to the whole of the United Kingdom. My hon. Friend the Minister of State will be saying something more about this matter in winding up the debate. However, it is perhaps worth telling the House—I believe this to be important—that in the last four years, after a long period of stagnation, the number of young people applying for degree level courses in engineering and technology has increased by no less than 57 per cent. I believe that that reflects favourably on the policies that we have followed in trying to bring education and industry closer together.

Clause 18 allows the Secretary of State for Wales to pay specific grants towards the teaching of Welsh and of subjects in Welsh. If he catches your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Wales will say something about that later in the debate.

Finally, I turn to Clauses 23 to 30. Clause 23 makes one change of substance in the provisions of section 6 of the 1948 Act. In cases where one authority provides primary or secondary education for a child from the area of another authority, the providing authority is entitled to recoup the cost from the home authority unless the Secretary of State directs otherwise. The clause allows authorities to determine whether or not they will be able to recover the cost of making provision for a child from another area before the child has been admitted to the school. It is hoped that this change will help to remove the difficulties that have arisen over the question of extra-district admissions. I hope that these proposals will ease the difficulties. The operation of these provisions should assist parents in making a choice of school.

This is a substantial Education Bill, which will, I believe, be welcome to those concerned with the welfare of our children, teachers and schools. It will give parents a much more significant role in the governing and management of schools. It will provide new opportunities for young people. It will also reform the management of the public sector of higher education. I commend the Bill with confidence to the House.

4.22 p.m.

Mr. Mark Carlisle (Runcorn)

I thank the Secretary of State for the remarks which she made about me at the beginning of her speech. In the somewhat hectic two weeks since my appointment, one thing has certainly been brought home to me very firmly: that, wherever one goes, to many people education is indeed a burning issue of concern. I have no doubt that I shall find this subject extremely interesting. I hope that, as the right hon. Lady said, I may be able to make a constructive contribution to the debate.

The right hon. Lady also mentioned my hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford (Mr. St. John-Stevas). I cannot think of a person whom I would rather follow in this post than my hon. Friend. Certainly I propose to try to follow in general the line that he has taken.

Having said that, I think that I must sympathise with all Members who regularly attend education debates. I am terribly conscious of the fact that the wit and erudition which normally comes from the Opposition Front Bench on this subject will be sadly missing in coming debates. I thought it appropriate that my hon. Friend's last contribution as Opposition spokesman on education should he on Second Reading of the Public Lending Right Bill, to which he made such an important contribution.

For the purpose of preparing myself for this debate, I felt it right to read my hon. Friend's speech on that occasion. Referring to the right hon. Lady, he used these words: She knows that I am devoted to her ".—[Official Report, 10th November 1978; Vol. 957, c. 1369] I felt that, in view of my married status and the fact that I come from a profession which is known to be somewhat cautious in its use of language, I should not be so extravagant towards the right hon. Lady. However, I very much hope that, as long as I have anything to do with these matters, where we disagree, as undoubtedly we shall on certain aspects of education policy, and where we differ, as we shall in some respects substantially on certain aspects of the Bill, we shall be able to maintain the debates in the argument of genuine disagreements on policy rather than involve in debates on personalities.

We now have this Government's second Education Bill. Looking at the press cuttings, I think it is right to say that it has had a good degree of pre-publicity.

Mr. Deputy Speaker(Sir Myer Galpern)

Order. I hope that the differences of opinion which the hon. and learned Gentleman forecasts have not led to the casualties I see among Labour Members.

Mr. Carlisle

Until the other hon. Gentleman came in, I had always imagined education to be a quiet and polite area of politics. Now that I look round and see, almost before my arrival, two Members with identical arms in slings, I feel somewhat concerned about the future of the Bill.

As I said, the Bill has had a great deal of pre-publicity. The right hon. Lady put it forward as a substantial Bill. I am not sure whether it is all that substantial. There are parts of the Bill which we support and welcome, but there are other parts to which we are clearly opposed. Its aim, as the right hon. Lady put it, of widening parental choice is indeed one which we strongly support. But our concern is that, as the Bill is written, it could in practice lead to a total disregard of the choices of parents on the altar of bureaucratic convenience.

We do not propose to oppose Second Reading of the Bill today, but we shall look at it searchingly and critically in Committee. We shall hope to persuade the Minister of State of the value of amendments which we shall put forward to ensure that the Bill achieves the aim described by the Secretary of State.

As this is my first opportunity to speak on education, I hope that the House will forgive me if, before turning to the details of the Bill, I make certain remarks about the Opposition's general approach to education and the context in which we shall tackle the Bill.

I suppose that the fundamental of a good education is that it should be based on a partnership between the home and the school and the parent and the teacher. Therefore, it follows that we believe that parents should be encouraged to take as great an involvement as they can in the education of their children and should be given the widest possible choice which is reasonably practicable concerning the school which their children attend. I accept, as the right hon. Lady said, that absolute choice is unobtainable, but the fact that absolute choice is unobtainable does not mean that we should not strive to provide the widest choice that is available.

As I said, education is not about bureaucratic convenience or political dogma but is about children and their parents. For concerned parents, the most important matter is the standard of education being provided in the types of school at which their children are being educated. I am aware that more than 80 per cent. of children of secondary school age are being educated in comprehensive schools.

We have made clear in the past, and I repeat today, that we are totally opposed to those clauses of the 1976 Act which impose compulsion on local education authorities. We have made it clear that we will repeal them. We believe that education is a national service locally provided and that the local education authority should have the right to choose the type of education system it considers most suitable to its area. I repeat what my hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford has said on many occasions. We would look at any schemes put up for reorganisation on the basis of educational merit rather than political dogma.

Mr. Christopher Price (Lewisham, West)

Since the hon. Gentleman has given a statement of his fundamental philosophy for the first time on this subject, does he believe that in any one area it is possible for a comprehensive school and a grammar school to exist side by side?

Mr. Carlisle

I think it is. Perhaps I might complete this point. I believe that we should try to encourage the widest variety in types of education. It is because the dogmatic approach of the Government has deprived many children, especially from less affluent homes, of the opportunity of benefiting from the type of education most suited to their ability and has driven many schools totally into the independent sector that we believe that an assisted places scheme can give to children of ability whose parents cannot afford to pay the fees the opportunity to benefit from the education provided at those schools.

We must see whether the education system is meeting the needs of society or is adequately answering the social ills that exist. I admit that I am alarmed and concerned that at a time of high unemployment we still seem, as a society, to be desperately short of many necessary skills. I am equally alarmed and concerned at the clear connection that can be shown to exist between truancy and vandalism and juvenile crime.

I accept that 80 per cent. of children in secondary education are attending comprehensive schools. I also accept that what is needed most of all in many areas of the country is a period of stability. Our aim will be to devise policies aimed at providing the highest standard of education in the schools that exist.

Having made certain general remarks, may I now turn to the Bill? I start by welcoming the clauses which we can support practically without reservation. I record particularly the implementation of the proposals of the Taylor report in the early part of the Bill. Ever since the drawing up of our"parents' charter"in 1974, we have, as a party, pressed for parents to be represented on governing bodies and for those governors to be elected by all parents with children at the school. We made such a commitment in our October 1974 manifesto. We are delighted, therefore, that those principles should now be recognised in law, as they are in the Bill. I notice that the right hon. Lady has said that she proposes to deal with the composition by means of regulations. I was glad to hear that she proposes to give the Committee an opportunity to discuss what those regulations should contain and to indicate before we reach that part of the Bill what she has in mind.

I hear rumours that some of the Government business managers may wish to attempt to get the Bill into Committee next week, before Christmas. Since it is the early part of the Bill that deals with the regulations, a good argument for leaving it until after Christmas is to give the Department sufficient time to enable us to have the information on which to base a case. I suspect that if we met next week for either one or two sittings, little progress would be made.

We welcome the inclusion of teachers on the governing boards of schools. We also welcome the recommendation on community representatives. We believe that teachers should serve on the boards because education is a partnership between school and home. It is a fundamental ingredient of a good education. To have representatives of the community on the governing board provides a link between school and the working life of the area and facilitates the exchange of ideas between those studying and teaching in the school and those living and working nearby. This is not all new. Many local education authorities already co-opt such members on to their governing boards, but I am glad that this is now getting statutory recognition.

I was glad to hear the Secretary of State's remarks about clause 3. I understand that she goes along with the spirit of the Taylor report—namely, that every school should have a separate governing body—although we accept that cases will exist in which, with the permission of the Secretary of State, twinning may be required.

I have read the Taylor report with care, and I thought it important in the emphasis that it gave to the role of the governor in the school and in wanting to involve the individual parent with the school. I notice that, at the beginning of the report in its guiding philosophy it says: Within the framework of national and local policies…the special character of the individual school is precious to most people and should be protected. The Taylor report recommended that one of the duties of the governors should be to protect and promote the special characteristics of the individual school. I welcome that. If we can ensure that the individual child feels a close connection and a pride in the school, we shall go a considerable distance in dealing with some of the social ills that exist among teenagers.

While I welcome the changes in the composition of the governing bodies, I am concerned about the new powers that the Secretary of State proposes to take in clause 4 to amend the articles of government without reference back to the local education authority. I should like to know from the Minister of State what is the purpose of this. What are the motives? On the face of it, it seems like an arbitrary extension of Government power without any apparent justification.

I should now like to turn to clause 14, which deals with nursery education. We welcome that clause. We have always attached the greatest importance to nursery education. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition, when Secretary of State for Education and Science, made great strides in this area. We believe that it is a decisive factor in a child's future educational development, so we welcome the small improvement involved. Every report on under-fives in the last few years has emphasised the difficulty caused by the fragmentation of provision. Allowing nursery teachers to teach in different nursery schools will help to draw together two of those strands and will greatly benefit those children who often are among the most socially and educationally deprived of their generation.

We support the extension of mandatory awards in clause 15. The sharp cuts in local authority spending over the last few years have hit all local education authorities hard and have meant that the provision of discretionary awards has been among the first areas to suffer. This has led to substantial discrepancies in the approach to this matter in different parts of the country. As a result, many highly qualified young people have been unable to pursue their professional training because the local education authority cannot find the funds to support a discretionary award.

We have in the past urged that some of those awards should be made mandatory. I am glad that the Bill does this, and I hope that the awards will be used to fund courses which include such subjects as accountancy, law, nursing and social training.

I also welcome the clause which deals with industrial scholarships. That seems to be an extension of the national engineering scholarship scheme which was launched last year and which went off with more of a whisper than a bang. We hope that the new scheme will be better managed and publicised and that these scholarships will become an effective way of encouraging talented and highly motivated young people to take courses directly relevant to the revival of British industry.

I turn now to clause 16, which would provide grants to those over 16 in full-time education. We believe that the scheme proposed by the right hon. Lady is a totally wrong use of scarce resources. I ask rhetorically, what now is the purpose behind these proposals? Is the scheme intended as a means of increasing the staying-on rate at school? If so, we support her aim, but we do not believe that a means-tested payment, to a maximum, I believe, of £7.50 to every child in school in a particular LEA area, is the right way to achieve it. So far as it may encourage those to stay on who have no real desire to do so, there is a danger that those pupils will become a disruptive element to the education of the other children.

Or is the scheme no longer aimed at providing a wider take-up in education? Has it become, as we suspect, merely a means of masking the true figures of youth unemployment in the run-up to a General Election? So far as the pilot scheme in areas of high unemployment was limited to individual geographical areas, it would be unfair and divisive.

Of course, I accept much that the right hon. Lady said about the need to help those parents of children aged between 16 and 18 who find it difficult to allow their children to stay on in education from which they have the ability to benefit. There may be a case for considering the work of the scheme for educational maintenance allowance as it now exists.

The right hon. Lady was critical of the press for describing these payments as payments to children rather than to parents. Drafted as it is, the clause certainly gave me the impression that the payment was intended to be made to the child. I should like the Minister of State to consider this. The wording of clause 16(1) seems to me as a lawyer to say specifically that.

We want to make sure that any help is given to those parents who need it, and we believe that any spare resources that the right hon. Lady has would be better used in discretionary awards in this way than in blanket payments to all children over 16 merely because they happen to be in a particular area. Equally, we believe that there is a case for the rationalisation of all the provisions for the payment of grants to those aged between 16 and 19 in different forms of full-time education. But I repeat that we find no case for supporting that part of the scheme for blanket payments which the right hon. Lady appears to have managed to salvage from its substantial savaging in the Cabinet.

One clause gets rid of the power to make grants for the removal of air raid shelters at schools. I welcome the departure of that last relic of the war, but I would add that in an area like mine, with an expanding new town, the pressure on existing schools, even those built recently, is such that if any had an air raid shelter it would quickly be used for educational purposes.

I turn now to the heart of the Bill, the clauses dealing with choice and school admission. At the risk of repetition, I want to make it totally clear where the Opposition stand on parental choice. We have never said, and never would say, that parental choice can be absolute. Popular schools cannot be expected to grow elastic walls to acccommodate an ever-increasing number of pupils. In the nature of things, some parents are always bound to be disappointed. But the fact that something cannot be absolute does not invalidate the aim of making it as great as possible. In parts of her speech, the Secretary of State implied that it did.

We want parents to be given as much choice as is reasonably practical. That is a fundamental element of our educational policy, which places the interests of parents and children before those of the bureaucrat. We believe that the falling rolls over the next few years give us an opportunity to make a practicality of that choice. It is on those lines that we shall consider those parts of the Bill, and it is to meet those aims that we shall seek to amend it.

If parents are to have choice, two things must happen. First, they must have the widest possible information about the schools concerned so that they may make an informed choice. Second, there must be a proper system of local review where their choice has not been met. We welcome the proposals which will oblige all local education authorities to publish their admission arrangements and which impose the duty on local authorities or governors to try to comply with parents' wishes. That is a substantial change in the burden of requirement on the LEA from section 76 of the 1944 Act.

However, we are by no means happy with the wording of some of the ifs and buts which hedge around that principle. We fear that the proposed planned admission limits in clause 6, which appear to be very much more restrictive than the recommendation of occupancy limits put out in the consultative paper, will simply undo all the potential good in the other clauses and allow some local authorities to show a cynical disregard for parents' wishes. We fear that, after all the talk and publicity about parental choice, parents' rights are still in danger of being sacrificed for administrative convenience. If that were so, the Bill would be a sham and a charade and it would be recognised as such. Our approach to the Third Reading will depend on the constructive reaction of the Minister of State in Committee.

Our main criticism of the proposed planned admission limits with the provision for annual review and change is that they will enable schools to turn pupils away even when there are empty places, in order to keep other less popular schools open. We believe that this would be a tragic infringement of freedom at a time when school rolls are falling and thus providing greater opportunities for choice than ever before.

I shall quote from a letter in The Daily Telegraph on 17th November written by the headmaster of a well-known and successful comprehensive school. He said: With falling rolls in schools, over-subscription will become increasingly less of a problem. We must ensure at this moment when parental choice can operate more freely, that full ' means the inability of a school to admit pupils without overcrowding, not the exceeding of an arbitrary number laid down by a local authority to guarantee equality of distribution among popular and unpopular schools. That is absurd, hypocritical and uneconomic. If a school can admit pupils and parents want their children to go there, it must be allowed to take them. There is no other honest or humane policy. That sums up far more succinctly and far better than I could the view that we take about this part of the Bill. While the availability of a vacancy must be a major criterion in school admission, any limit set under the Bill must be real and not artificial. We aim to amend the Bill in this way.

I was interested to hear what the Secretary of State said about clause 13. It appeared to go some way towards meeting our concern. Clause 13 allows for any substantial change in the character of the school and has been understood to mean also any extension of more than 10 per cent. in the size of the school. As drafted at the moment it does not deal with any reduction in the size of the school. The very least that we shall ask is that if by planned admission limits there is to be a sizeable reduction in the size of a school, it must be subject to clause 13 procedure so that parents can be heard on this issue.

Another disturbing feature is the erosion of the powers of voluntary school governors. I listened carefully to the Secretary of State and I am grateful to her for her undertakings on certain clauses. Traditionally voluntary schools have enrolled their own admissions, and now it seems that they are to be made to toe the line. If the local education authority does not agree with the limit set by the governors, it will be able to call on the Secretary of State to override the figure and set a new one. The earlier clauses also reduce the position of the foundation governors on governing boards. It is no wonder that the Secretary of State was recently heaping praise on denominational schools. Probably it was to make sure that they did not have too many ruffled feathers when they read some of the provisions of the Bill.

My hon. Friend the Member for Brent, North (Dr. Boyson) will deal with clause 7(5) and clause 11(2) when he winds up the debate. I make it clear to the Secretary of State that, as we understand it at present, these provisions of the Bill, and particularly the abolition of the section of the London Government Act, could be a grave attack on the existing rights of parents to choose schools outside the boundaries of their own authorities. Indeed, if it did that, it would be rigid zoning with a vengeance.

A full local appeals procedure with an independent element is an indispensable feature of any system of parental choice. Parents who are dissatisfied with the official allocation of schools must be able to make their complaints heard. Considered in this light, the provisions of clause 8 of the Bill are quite inadequate. They merely oblige local education authorities to enable parents to submit objections in writing. Put in plain language, they seem to mean that an education officer can be asked to review that which he has already decided.

It is absolutely essential that there should be a small local appeal panel to make an independent judgment of the case at local level. The elected county councillors or the elected councillors of the authority responsible for education have an important role to play at that level. Nobody disputes that the present section 37 procedure is anomalous. It is hard to condone a system which entails keeping a child away from school while the parents and the authority argue about the best place for the child to be educated. However, it is at present the only effective appeals procedure left. If it is to go, it is a necessary prerequisite that it should be replaced by a proper local appeals procedure. The reference in clause 9 to appeals to the Secretary of State appears to relate to appeals against procedure and not to appeals on merit.

My last point on this part of the Bill concerns the provision of information about schools. Clause 10 as drafted makes only a grudging reference to providing such information about schools as the governors or the education authority think fit. We consider that once again an opportunity has been missed to make some major advances in this area. We want to see a requirement on all schools to publish a full prospectus giving details not only of admission arrangements but also of a school's academic record, its character, its specialities and its objectives.

I turn to the part of the Bill that deals with the implementation of the Oakes report. I have known the Minister of State for many years. We have neighbouring constituencies and I have always thought that we were friends. Having read the Oakes report, I must say that I regret that it is not as readable as the Taylor report, and at times I found my feelings of friendship towards the hon. Gentleman somewhat strained as I tried to stagger through the complexities of the problem.

We welcome the fact that local education authorities should continue to retain an interest in polytechnics and other colleges in their areas. We accept that the present financing arrangements are inadequate as an open-ended commitment and that there is insufficient control. There may well be a case for a national body to guide the development and financing of polytechnics. At the end of the day, however, the scheme proposed in the report seemed extremely bureaucratic and complicated. I am anxious to listen to the views of other hon. Members on what I concede is not an easy area.

Because the Bill has some good aspects and because there are some matters in it which we support, clearly we shall not vote against it tonight. However, we will look for significant amendments in Committee before agreeing to support it at any later stage.

I hope that the right hon. Lady, the Minister of State and the Under-Secretary of State will be able to take a constructive and amenable approach in Committee. I hope they will listen to the case for the amendments moved by my right hon. and hon. Friends on their merits. If they do, I have no doubt that we shall achieve our aim of seeing wider parental choice. If they do not. I fear that parents will feel that they have been sadly let down by the Bill.

5.0 p.m.

Mr. Ifor Davies (Gower)

I congratulate the hon. and learned Member for Runcorn (Mr. Carlisle) on his maiden speech as the Opposition spokesman on education. In accordance with the tradition of the House, I express the hope that we shall often hear him speaking, but from the Opposition Benches.

The hon. and learned Gentleman has started well. He has announced that the Opposition do not propose to oppose the Bill's Second Reading. He has spoken of many aspects of the Bill, including essential features concerning the management of higher education and grants. I take up his remarks on those matters with particular reference to Wales.

Clause 20 provides that for advanced further education there shall be established separate councils for Wales and England. I am sure that the two national councils will need and will wish to keep in close touch with each other, There is a general recognition that it would not be in the best interests of students, institutions and authorities of either country if the arrangements for the provision of higher education in one or the other diverged to the point where the great advantages represented by the present free flow of students and the interchangeability of courses and qualifications were put at risk.

The arrangements in Wales, although separate, should be similar to those applying in England. On the other hand, there are elements of the Welsh situation that create special problems and call for a special solution. I refer especially to the existence of the Welsh Joint Education Committee, which was established by an order made under the Education Act 1944. Among its other functions it already acts as the regional advisory council for further education in the Principality. In view of the success of that body, I am convinced that in any new structure it would be essential for the WJEC to play a key role. It is of the greatest importance to avoid any wasteful duplication of effort and resources, and any new organisation must reflect the special needs, interests and circumstances of the Principality in this important area.

I warmly welcome clause 18. It will enable the Secretary of State to make special grants towards the teaching of the Welsh langauge and the teaching in Welsh of other subjects. The clause is the realisation of the hopes of many people in Wales, not least, I am sure, my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Wales.

Mr. Wyn Roberts (Conway)

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will acknowledge that, apart from the matters that he has mentioned, there is little in the Bill about education in Wales. That in itself suggests satisfaction on the part of the Government with the standard of education in Wales. Is the hon. Gentleman satisfied with the general standard of education in Wales, bearing in mind the comparison between the levels of achievement as regards CSEs and O-levels in England and Wales? Is he satisfied that we have an adequate number of teachers who are capable of teaching all the subjects required in the Welsh language?

Mr. Davies

I say"Yes to the last part of the intervention of the hon. Member for Conway (Mr. Roberts). My answer to the first part of his intervention is that we should never be satisfied. We should always be aiming for perfection. I am not suggesting that in the Bill the Government are expressing satisfaction, but the Bill goes a long way to encourage the teaching of Welsh.

In the past, the Government and local authorities have made great efforts to enable Welsh to be taught as a subject and used as a medium of teaching and learning in the schools. I pay an especial tribute to the efforts of the Glamorgan county council, which, among others, has a proud record in the establishment of Welsh schools. Despite that encouragement, the task has been heavy and the attainments sometimes disappointing. The fault does not lie with the local authorities or the schools. They are fully aware of the problems but they have been faced with many different pressures upon their limited resources.

There can be no doubt that the operation of a bilingual system involves additional costs, especially for local authorities. For example, there is the training of teachers, the need to purchase books and teaching aids and in some instances the transportation of children over long distances, especially in rural areas. All those factors add to the costs in varying degrees that authorities have had to meet. The provision of teaching material is expensive because comparatively low demand means that per copy they cost more to produce than those produced in English. However, cost apart, existing reference material in Welsh compares unfavourably with that in English.

It is fair to acknowledge not only the clause but the announcement earlier this year that my right hon. Friend was injecting substantial additional sums into research designed to produce materials for teaching through the medium of Welsh in secondary schools.

I welcome the words in the clause that indicate that not only local authorities may benefit from the specific grants but that my right hon. Friend will be empowered to aid other persons acting in that area. It may be that initially the resources available for the specific grants will be on a fairly modest scale. I urge my right hon. Friend to consider increasing the grants as soon as possible.

It is significant—I am sure that it will be greatly appreciated—that resources have been found in addition to the rate support grant. That is of special importance to local authorities because it means that assistance towards the cost of Welsh language teaching will be provided without other resources suffering. That is essential.

The principle involved is also of great importance. No matter how much a Government may want to assist, a start has to be made by putting on to the statute book the necessary power to enable that assistance to be given. It was my privilege to serve as a Minister in the Welsh Office when the Welsh Language Act 1967 became law. The principles embodied in that Act represented a milestone in the efforts made in recent years to preserve the Welsh langauge. I feel that in the years to come the proposals now before the House will be regarded as every bit as significant.

Equality in law is important, but I am convinced that the survival of the language will depend as much upon the encouragement of its use among all our people. It is, therefore, a matter of education. Also called for is a spirit of understanding, co-operation and toleration. Toleration is especially needed. Any attempt to drive a wedge between Welsh-speaking Welshmen and non-Welsh-speaking Welshmen is a disservice to the language itself.

The clause will make a valuable and effective contribution towards safeguarding the future of the language. It will be far more effective and will do far more good than the destructive methods being employed by some in Wales. The great majority of Welshmen object to the destructive actions and deplore the irresponsible statements that are made by a few people in high positions in Wales who seek to support such actions. In contrast, I warmly welcome clause 18 and I congratulate my right hon. Friends on their realistic and practical efforts in helping to foster education in the Welsh language.

Great stress has been laid by my right hon. Friend and the hon. and learned Member for Runcorn on the emphasis being placed on industrial scholarships in clause 17. I am glad to hear what my right hon. Friend has said. But in view of the importance that we attach to industrial strategy in dealing with our economic problems, I stress the important part that education has to play in industrial training. The essential part that industrial scholarships can play cannot be over-emphasised. The technological challenge confronting industry demands the highest and the best training. I hope that the widest publicity will be given to the provision of these scholarships. There is still a great potential of untapped skill in the country, and I hope that these scholarships will lead to a new and a glorious chapter in our proud tradition of industrial and engineering skills.

I am very glad to support the Second Reading of the Bill.

5.11 p.m.

Mr. Alan Haselhurst (Saffron Walden)

I am particularly grateful, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for the opportunity to speak in the debate and to speak in it so early. I hope that the House will acquit me of any discourtesy if I am not able to stay throughout the debate, but it is for urgent family reasons that I want to be away: my wife is in hospital, due to produce our first child in the not very distant future.

The Minister of State, Department of Education and Science (Mr. Gordon Oakes)

Does the hon. Gentleman realise that he has announced to the House that his wife is performing the greatest service to education that we have at present?

Mr. Haselhurst

I was about to say that I was therefore, God willing, coming to the debate with a new form of interest about to be born in it. But I have to arrive at the hospital within the planned times for visiting.

The Minister of State, in the education debate on the Queen's Speech, referred to the forthcoming Bill as being one of the longest, most comprehensive and wide-ranging Education Bills since 1944. He went on to say that it would cover the whole spectrum of education."—[Official Report, 3rd November 1978; Vol. 957, c. 458.] I wonder, on reflection, whether he would stick to that judgment when we look at this Bill. I am not sure that he would necessarily want it as his epitaph that he was the Minister of State to the Secretary of State who introduced the Education Bill of 1978. I should have thought that the extravagant description he used might have been better reserved for a Bill that I suspect may have to be introduced before too many years have passed, which would include provisions regarding better educational preparation of young people for the more complex working life that we are likely to see in the latter part of this century. It would need to include a coherent strategy for the 16 to 19-year-olds, and a better deal for the least qualified 40 per cent. of the school population.

I do not say that all hon. Members would take the same view as to the particular provisions, but such a Bill might also have to deal with community education, continuing education throughout adult life, social education and political education. But certainly a Bill embracing those serious questions would have been better deserving of the description that the Minister of State saw fit to give to the Bill on 3rd November. I suspect that there will be no blue plaque fastened to a house in Widnes stating that"The Minister of State concerned with the Education Act 1978 lived here ".

In dealing with the Bill, I shall confine my remarks principally to the admissions policy which is enshrined within it. I question the need, the intent, the suitability, and the results which are likely to flow in particular from the planned admission limits of clause 6. Why bother to resort to law to establish this concept? Surely it is replacing common sense by bureaucracy.

It has always been reasonable to consider that a board of governors of a school is likely to take a view as to what the optimum size of that school should be. There will no doubt be discussion between the board of governors and the local education authority about the optimum size. If we are to be discussing in the Bill the position of the governing body of the school, we ought not to make remarks which decry the importance of the role that it plays. Surely the governors are entitled to their view of the school that they are there to govern and what its size should be.

There is a great danger of bureaucratic rigidity coming into this area. We are often told by Labour Members that it is wrong to bring the law into various areas because it interferes, and creates rigidity. I do not understand how having the force of law behind this approach will help matters in any degree whatever. I do not believe that parents will be any more understanding of what happens, or any more respectful for the law, when they are disappointed that their child has not got into the school of their first choice. They will not be mollified by being told that the law says that the limit is such-and-such in terms of numbers.

The provisions in clauses 6 to 10 are concerned far more with regulating numbers than with genuinely widening parental choice. If the Secretary of State's concern in this part of the Bill is to widen parental choice, let us see the ways in which it can genuinely be done. It may be that we shall conclude that not all of these ways are practical, and that certainly not all of them are immediately practical, but let us at least discuss the question on the basis of how we may genuinely widen parental choice.

There are several different circumstances with which we have to cope. There are some areas within the country which, despite the fact that, nationally speaking, there is a fall in the number of people who will be entering secondary education, will nevertheless be experiencing an increase.

The Under-Secretary of State was not able to answer my parliamentary Question on this, simply pointing out that the information will be available at a later date. I hope it will be, because it helps our understanding of the problem to realise that we are not dealing with uniform circumstances throughout the country. It is particlularly difficult where the population is still on the increase. There are also difficulties in rural areas. In rural areas, it is not a matter of parents trying to choose between one school which is one mile to the east of them and another school which is one mile to the west of them. If children are not admitted to a particular school, the distance for them to travel in rural areas may be very considerably greater, whether they are taken to school by the parents or transported by the local authority. When we talk of choice, therefore, in an urban area we can mean one thing, whereas in a country area the position is quite different.

Within urban areas, where the schools are thicker on the ground, it would be possible, if we were talking genuinely of extending choice, to have certain schools beginning to specialise in particular subjects, so that instead of their being chosen merely on their geographical convenience or the supposed quality of their teaching staff at that time, parents might also take into account that a school specialised in mechanical engineering, or whatever it might be.

There are particular factors that we have to look at in trying to extend choice. No mention has been made of zoning. This creates particular difficulty in regard to the implementation of choice. Two villages in my constituency have just been told, with very little notice, that they are to be zoned out of the catchment area for the Saffron Walden county high school. If there is a more brusque way of dashing the cup of parental choice from the lips, I should like to be told what it is. If we are talking of choice, we have to take into account what the powers are, and how extensive they should be, for the zoning of neighbourhoods.

Then there are transport costs. I do not suggest that there is an open cheque to be signed for increasing the costs of transport, but undoubtedly transport is a factor in determining the exact breadth of choice that parents can have. If they want to choose between two schools and the two schools are 10 or 20 miles apart, transport very much comes into it. If we are to widen choice in particular circumstances, we shall need more schools built. I do not say that very lightly. It is a question of massive resources being required. In some areas there is absolutely no opportunity for parents to exercise an option at the present time for single-sex education, because another school would have to be built if a different type of school was wanted from the straightforward comprehensive school.

Of course, under a different dispensation we may have a wider variety. In certain cases it may be that new schools will have to be constructed, particularly in rural areas. But to pursue a policy which suggests that the accent is on closing schools hardly gives one confidence that one is moving in the direction of widening parental choice.

As to getting over particular problems, we must try to find ways of helping parents to have better schools from which they may choose. I am not sure that this can in any way be assisted by a policy which suggests that children will be corraled into schools very much against the wishes of their parents. I share the view of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Runcorn (Mr. Carlisle) that it will not help matters if the instruments proposed in clauses 6 to 10 are to be used to push children into schools which their parents do not want them to go to.

But, equally, I do not think that one can simply expect the less favoured schools to wither away because parents will insist on sending their children to other schools. There must be some means of trying to improve those schools without just saying"Let the better schools survive and let the poor schools waste away ". In that context, I welcome the provisions in the Bill regarding the increase in information. I certainly share the view of my hon. and learned Friend that information should be more extensive than is at present proposed.

I also welcome the fact that there is to be increased parental strength on the boards of governors. This is where parents can really exercise more influence on the improvement of the school. I do not think that it can be done simply by the parent as a consumer. I think that we should welcome the development of parents having more say on the boards.

Some difficult situations exist in relation to the improvement of a school. A school may have a reputation which is, alas, not good—not necessarily a justified reputation—which causes parents to move heaven and earth to keep their children from going to it. In such a situation a change of head teacher or in staff may be necessary so that a new attempt can be made to project the school in a better way. At present it is not easy to bring a board of governors, as presently constituted, to an understanding that such a step may be necessary. There is a tendency to close ranks behind the headmaster. I believe that the injection of more parental influence on the board of governors will be helpful to this extent.

Therefore, in clauses 6 to 10—the major portion of the Bill—there are proposals which are inappropriate and on the whole unhelpful. The introduction of legal admission limits will serve only to increase the fury of disappointed parents and will neither protect nor widen genuine parental choice. This innovation of legal limits purports to be something more than it is, but in practice it may turn out to be the opposite of what it claims. Looking at the Bill as a whole, I really believe that that judgment may well apply to it.

5.24 p.m.

Mr. Mike Noble (Rossendale)

I am pleased to give a welcome to the Second Reading of the Bill. However, I should like at the outset to express some disappointment that it does not go far enough with regard to the provision of mandatory payments to post-16 students in all authorities.

I associate myself with the remarks of my hon. Friends about the hon. and learned Member for Runcorn (Mr. Carlisle). I think that he displayed all the hallmarks of his craft—the barrister's gift of summing up a case very quickly and putting it forward in an eloquent and clear manner. But the hon. and learned Gentleman should be warned that he is surrounded by lean and hungry men, and he should beware the Brutus of Ripon and the Casca of Brent, North.

I am afraid that he also fell into the trap in which his party fell with regard to its attitude to parental choice. I shall return to this in a moment, because I wish to confine my remarks to two elements in the Bill—the part which deals with parental choice, and the question of the provisions relating to governing bodies. I am quite sure that all hon. Members would welcome there being absolute freedom of choice for parents. But the hon. and learned Member for Runcorn himself acknowledged that this would never be feasible.

The hon. and learned Gentleman made the point that in some circumstances his party wished to retain grammar schools alongside comprehensive schools as a means of enabling parents to exercise choice. However, he should look at what the Conservative Party's guru of education—the hon. Member for Brent, North (Dr. Boyson)—wrote about education in the black paper of 1969. He said that one cannot have grammar schools alongside comprehensive schools or the latter would be nothing but misnamed secondary modern schools. That is absolutely true, and it takes us back to the situation where there is freedom of choice for a small minority of the population, perhaps 20 per cent., but no freedom of choice for the rest. In fact, at the Conservative Party conference in 1977 the hon. Member for Chelmsford (Mr. St. John-Stevas) said: Let us hear no more about Tories wanting to go back to the 11-plus ". He added: We are the best friends of the comprehensives ". But on 12th April this year the hon. Gentleman said: If a council wanted to open a new grammar school we would look favourably on the idea ". On 5th May 1976 the hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine) said: We want freedom of choice for parents between schools in the State system and between grammar and comprehensive schools. But, as I understand it, one can get into a grammar school only through some form of selective intake, and the very nature of selection means that one selects some of those who want to go and rejects others who want to go. That in itself is a diminution of choice. I honestly do not know how the Conservative Party can get round that issue.

Of course, the ultimate in choice is the voucher scheme which has been expounded at great length by the hon. Member for Brent, North. Apart from the cost, which I understand has been estimated at £350 million for the economy as a whole—goodness knows what that would do to the Conservative Party's public expenditure ideas—one simply cannot bring the logic of the market economy into the secondary education sector. If one introduced a voucher system, presumably one would have exactly the same situation as that in which people were issued with coupons for buying soap or something else. People would buy the most attractive kind of soap, but what happens when that has gone? The same applies to schools. The logic of a voucher system is that schools will be filled to and beyond capacity. I am afraid that the logic underlies the whole of the Conservative Party's approach to the question of parental choice.

One will get parental choice in a realistic way only when the quality of education as seen by parents is equal in all schools. They will then be able to make rational judgments, judgments based on choice between one school and another, because the quality of education in both schools will be equal, although the content may differ.

There is then the point made by the hon. Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. Haselhurst). The hon. Gentleman s alarm clock in his pocket has not yet gone off and I am pleased to say that he is still with us. One will get freedom of choice only when parents are able to exercise their choice free of economic pressure.

Many parents come to my surgeries and complain about the cost of sending children to school. The fact is that we have gone back 50 years in this respect. When one considers the cost of school meals—we know that the Conservative Opposition want to increase that charge, and some want to do away with school meals altogether—and when one takes into account the cost of bus fares for those living just inside the three-mile limit, it means that some very hard-pressed working families in my constituency and other are paying as much as £10 a week to send a couple of children to school. That cannot be tolerated. I hope that the Department will press more urgently to remove this barrier to parental choice—the simple cost of sending children to school.

The approach in the Bill to parental choice is probably the best that can be achieved in a difficult situation. Imposing limits on schools, giving parents the right to state a preference and giving information about schools, are no substitutes for pouring an ever-increasing proportion of national resources into education. Only in that way can we raise the standards, particularly in inner city schools, reduce class sizes, have a higher capital allowance and employ more teachers.

Clause 10(1)(b) seems to accept the appalling situation in Manchester where the local authority is using a device under the Local Government Act to spend ratepayers' money on providing selective education for a minority of children in independent schools. If the Bill does not deal with that situation, it should. It should stop that practice. If the Bill cannot do that, the Secretary of State for the Environment should he persuaded to introduce a Bill which will stop it.

I turn to the arrangements for governing bodies. I welcome the proposal to broaden governing bodies to include teachers, representatives of the local community and parents. But I agree with much that was said by the hon. Member for Saffron Walden. To suggest that broadening the intake of the governing bodies will make the schools, the staff, head teachers and the governing body itself more accountable to the community begs the question. It is disturbing that nowhere in the Bill is there a reference to how these representative bodies are to be fully accountable to the community.

I can understand local authority representatives being accountable to the local authority. I can understand teachers being accountable to their colleagues and unions. I accept that representatives of chambers of commerce or local trades councils will be accountable to those organisations. The key issue involves the parents on governing bodies. How do we make parents accountable to other parents? I raised the matter with the Secretary of State, but I was not satisfied with her answer.

At present parents are elected by an unrepresentative body, a parent-teacher association, the meetings of which are attended by only between 5 per cent. and 15 per cent. of the parents. Those parents do not necessarily represent the other parents. It is easy for them to represent the headmaster or the ethos of the school.

I urge my right hon. Friend to give serious thought to how parent representatives can be elected so that they represent the majority of parents and have facilities to report back. Perhaps there should be a statutory duty to hold an annual general meeting of parents. We should give thought to that. If we do not, the parents will become a cosmetic on the governing body with no impact or effect.

I turn to the question of the functions of the governing bodies. It is not enough to talk about who should be members of those bodies or for my right hon. Friend to say that the right people will do the right job. We want to know more about how the governing bodies will function. We should have an in-depth discussion in Committee on that matter.

Apart from those reservations, I welcome the Bill. It can go some way towards dealing with many problems such as that of admission. It can also help to ease the difficulties that are faced by education authorities, particularly in inner city areas where there are falling rolls. The most important part of the Bill is that which deals with parental choice. I believe that it is the best that can be done in the present difficult situation, which applies particularly to the inner city areas.

5.35 p.m.

Mr. A. J. Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed)

I congratulate the hon. and learned Member for Runcorn (Mr. Carlisle), who is the new Shadow spokesman on education. I hope that he will bring to this task the objectivity and humanity which have characterised his earlier work and that results will flow from that. Many of us feel that that element could usefully be injected into his party's policies on this subject. I hope that he will not be content to take what he receives but that he will add to and develop policies in valuable directions.

When the hon. and learned Gentleman attends the Committee on the Bill he may be surprised at the extent to which old battles are fought and re-fought. With the hon. Member for Widnes (Mr. Oakes), he might find himself holding the coats of the hon. Members for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Flannery) and Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton) as they fight over old battles yet again.

I shall first deal with the principles of the Bill. The Bill is disappointing. Its scope is enormous but its content is limited. Some of what is there appears to be of dubious value. The most important positive contribution in the Bill is the reform of the system for school governors. I welcome the Secretary of State's acceptance of the principle that the system needs reforming. Such reform is long overdue.

The Secretary of State may find the proposal controversial—not in the House where the proposition is widely accepted, but in some of the local authorities whose present policies will have to be changed. The Bill will strike at the practices of those local authorities which regard the governing bodies of schools as places where political muscles must be flexed, and where they must demonstrate that they have an overall majority. Such local authorities are determined to use whatever system is devised to preserve that overall majority. Such local authorities are under the control of both major political parties. I am glad to see that in the House there is a clear view that that is not the way in which schools should be run and that we want to change it.

We did not agree with all of the Taylor committee recommendations, although we welcomed the positive initiative which it gave to the concept of reforming school government. I am dubious about proposals for community representatives as defined in the Taylor report, which find a place in the Bill. I fear that they might prove to be simply an extension of local authority representatives. The proper representatives of the community on school governing bodies are the local education authority representatives. They are from the democratically elected local authority and represent the interests of the whole community. If we can also bring in parents and teachers and make some provision for pupil government, that is the balance that we should strike.

I am unhappy to see such ample provision to enable shared governing bodies to continue at the discretion of the Secretary of State. I believe that each school should have its own governing body. The pattern in which a line of headmasters sits in a waiting room waiting for the same group of people who govern a string of different schools should not be allowed to continue. This Bill is the right vehicle to prevent that.

The biggest defect in this part of the Bill is that it is an enabling Bill. It depends upon the Secretary of State introducing an order to give effect to it. Whether the Bill has an effect depends on an order. We do not doubt the Secretary of State's intentions in that respect, but the basic composition of the governing bodies depends on an order. We all know what would result from that. Sooner or later we shall have a"take it or leave it"order. Whatever consultations have taken place, we shall be presented with something which we cannot amend. We shall have to decide whether we want to implement the Education Act, as it will then be, and have reform of school government in the form decided by the Secretary of State, or we shall have to be prepared to sacrifice that reform because we dislike it in some major respects. I do not think that that is satisfactory, but I do believe that the broad principles of the reform of school government must be in the Bill and it is the job of the Committee to set out the lines on which that can be done. By Report I do not see why we should not have a proper basis for it.

I turn to the question of parental choice. Increasing parental choice is obviously an attractive proposition to hon. Members on both sides of the House, but as soon as one looks at the Bill one sees two ways in which this will be restricted and very few ways in which it will be advanced. The most obvious way in which such a choice would be restricted would be by operating limits and by a decision on numbers—a decision very much at the whim of the local education authority. Such a decision at the beginning of the year would thus effectively implement whatever policy on restrictions the authority wished.

I do not see what is wrong with existing provisions which are restated in the Bill—indeed they are slightly extended in the Bill—to give local authorities other grounds to refuse parental choice in cer- tain circumstances, where, for example, it would prejudice efficient education in the preferred school. That is a broad provision, but it allows the local education authority to say that it cannot increase the size of a school significantly because it is already full to bursting point and is incapable of taking further pupils because of temporary classrooms and enormous accommodation difficulties. The means already exist for local authorities to restrict parental choice in circumstances where they need to, and we all recognise that sometimes they much. I do not see the case for introducing this new limit. At least we must recognise that, whether a case is made out or not, it represents a restriction on choice.

Mr. William Shelton

I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman realises that the intention, as far as I understand it, in operating limits is not only to stop overcrowded schools taking more pupils than they can adequately teach, but to reduce the roll.

Mr. Beith

I thank the hon. Gentleman, because the Secretary of State made it clear in her remarks that the background to this was the problem of falling school rolls. I think that parental choice, given free rein, can contribute a great deal to resolving the problems of falling school rolls. In some instances, the deliberate decision of parents to withdraw their children from a particular school is rightly reflected in the declining size of that school and must necessarily be followed by a decision to close the school. In some circumstances, it is right that parents should vote with their feet—I have come across them myself in Liverpool, for example—and I think we must recognise that parental choice must be one of the guiding factors, not one of the things against which we build dams when considering the problems presented by falling school rolls.

The second area in which parental choice would be restricted is by modifying the section 37 loophole, which we all agree in practice is a very unsatisfactory way of exercising parental choice—keeping children out of school for a long period. When one adds those two together one has restricted parental choice in two ways.

What does the parent get for this deal? What is the other side of the bargain? He gets a slight change of wording. He gets in the Bill the wording endeavour to comply with any preference of parents instead of the existing have regard to…the wishes of…parents". There is a change in wording which looks a little better and on which the parent may be able to rest further should a dispute take place. Secondly, he gets what I suppose could be called an"objection and review system"on which there are some limitations which have already been referred to.

I do not think this is much of a bargain for the parents, and unless there is substantial change I cannot see that we can pretend that in bringing these provisions into effect we shall have substantially extended the area of parental choice.

There may be other things that the Secretary of State will insist that she must do by means of this provision, but let us be honest about what it is if that is what it is. Let us not pretend that we are advancing parental choice significantly if the end balance does not do so. Obviously we shall look at this matter closely in Committee, and the provisions may be modified and the balance tipped a bit more one way or the other. However, on analysis, it does not look to me as if parental choice is significantly advanced by the Bill as it stands.

On the question of maintenance grants, it is very welcome that in higher education there is some extension of mandatory awards. We all agree they ought to exist, but there is still concern about the operation of the discretionary awards system. We may get opportunities to discuss the system in Committee. The big disappointment in the grant and award system is on educational maintenance awards, for there are those of us who feel that this is one way in which we can sort out the present confusion and chaos in the 16-to-19 age group. It is all very well to talk about rationalising and sorting out the chaos in that age group, but one cannot do that without making some provision for those who stay at school until they are 19. One of the problems is that we are bribing children not to stay at school—bribing them to go into the job creation scheme or on to social security, rather than stay at school.

Part of this chaos is caused by the absence of any proper assistance for those who stay on. All that the Bill provides is the opportunity for some authorities to pursue this course. Some of them will be doing it already. Some local authorities operate educational maintenance awards. In many areas of the country, however, including many rural areas whose need for help in this respect is great, that need will not be adequately met by the Bill. We are talking about an area in which at least some of the money concerned is an accounting transaction, because we are speaking of young people who would otherwise go on to social security or be taken up in the job creation programme.

One feature of the Bill to which I give a warm welcome, especially on behalf of my hon. Friends in Wales, relates to the provisions about Welsh language education which I strongly support. It will be necessary during the passage of the Bill to look at the parental choice aspect of this provision as well. A recent controversy has brought to light the difficulties that parents on both sides of the language argument sometimes face in ensuring the kind of education which they want for their children, whether it be through the medium of Welsh or English.

Mention of Wales reminds me that Scotland is not getting a Bill of this kind at the moment and the Scottish Ministers have remained very quiet about the issue. There is great need for reform of school government in that area and also a need for provision for the Gaelic language as well.

Mr. Wyn Roberts

The hon. Gentleman has referred to Wales and to the Welsh language issue which has been quite thoroughly dealt with in an article in The Guardian today, but would he tell us what is the Liberal Party's solution to this language issue as it concerns education?

Mr. Beith

I have not read that article, but the Liberal Party wants children in Wales to have the opportunity of bilingual education and believes that access to the Welsh language should be provided for all children in Wales. This represents a commitment in resources which I am glad the Government have recognised. I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman is seeking to criticise, which, as a Welsh speaker, he should not, the making available of additional resources for this purpose. I welcome it as a step on the way to an ideal which I thought we had previously shared.

I want to deal with the question of the polytechnics and that section of the Bill which seeks to implement parts of the Oakes report. As in the area of parental choice, we have to ask ourselves what is the benefit, the net result, at the end of the day. The problems that people are most conscious of in the government of polytechnics are those of strict local authority financial arrangements—which often seem more appropriate to a treasurer's department or the direct works department of a local authority than they to a polytechnic—and the lack of freedom to plan academic decisions. The universities enjoy this freedom under the University Grants Committee system, which is a qinquennial system.

Many people in polytechnics are saying that they do not see in the Oakes report proposals any real improvement on the system because many of the polytechnics already draw over 90 per cent. of their funds through the pooling system, and the local authority contribution in many of them is smaller than the contribution that is proposed under the Bill. To many people in polytechnics it looks like another layer of administration which does not make any fundamental change in the relationship which they have with the local authorities or in their academic freedom to plan courses and to plan their futures.

I have heard the Oakes report described, rather unkindly, as a"hoax-report ". That was unfair to the Minister of State because he did not, I believe, try to hoodwink the polytechnics. He presided over a committee which arrived at a compromise. A long discussion resulted from that difficult compromise, but now that we have had the report for some time we are bound to ask whether we would be any better off with this compromise than with the present system. If I felt that the Oakes report proposal would lead to a UGC type system which gave the polytechnics that kind of freedom I think it would be a step worth taking. It would be a bridge. But there is little evidence that it would be. I fear it will be another layer of administration which would make no change in the problems that they face.

It is always easy to criticise Bills for the wider features they do not include, but there had been hints that the Bill would be a major enterprise in the 1944 tradition. If it were, there would be major educational issues to which we should address ourselves, such as the extent of the obligation to provide nursery teaching. The Bill helps by making the teaching provision and arrangements more flexible, but it does not advance the requirement upon local authorities in this area.

If we were trying to make a major contribution to education law, we would need to look t the provisions dealing with the limited number of teachers, including head teachers, who are clearly in the wrong job and ought no longer to be in charge of the demanding responsibilities of a large school. The present legal arrangements do not make adequate provision for that and need to be reconsidered.

We would also need to look at the whole Burnham system for negotiating teachers' salaries. It keeps out some bodies that are representative of teachers and leaves others with the frustration of only a single channel of representation between the teachers' side and the employers' side.

There are many issues that I should like to see considered in the Bill and we may get the opportunity to consider some in Committee, but our main task in Committee will be to give more substance to what is worth while in the Bill and to take out anything that will do no good.

5.51 p.m.

Mr. Martin Flannery (Sheffield, Hillsborough)

I start by paying an oblique tribute to the hon. and learned Member for Runcorn (Mr. Carlisle), who ably made the best of a poor case when he opened for the Opposition. He said that he wants schools, parents and teachers to be involved in this subject. It is good to know that this conversion has taken place in the Conservative Party, because I remember a time, not so long ago, when the Conservative Party did not react to the demands of parents to be involved. Previously, Conservatives have wanted only some parents involved.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield)

Absolute rubbish.

Mr. Flannery

It is no good the hon. Gentleman protesting. I have spelt out the reality. I have taught for most of my life and I know, as does the hon. Member for Brent, North (Dr. Boyson), that Conservatives wanted only the parents of the richest or cleverest selected children to be involved. They are now reacting to the demands of all parents to be involved.

The hon. and learned Member for Runcorn said that, if we get into Committee, little progress will be made before Christmas. I do not know why he said only before Christmas. I served on the Committee that considered the 1976 Bill on comprehensive education and I know that if it had been left to the Tories we would still have made no progress by now, let alone before Christmas. We had to fight tooth and nail for the further democratisation of education against every conceivable backwoods argument that could be trotted out by the hon. Member for Brent, North and his hon. Friends.

The Bill does not go as far as many of my hon. Friends would like, but it should be given a general welcome, not only from the Government Benches, but from the Conservative Benches—although Conservative Members will not support it.

I have never heard such hypocrisy as the Conservatives' talk about parental choice. What choice was there for more than 80 per cent. of parents until we abolished the 11-plus in most of the country? Are not Conservatives fighting a last ditch battle to keep the 11-plus in those areas where it still exists? Would they not try to get rid of the comprehensive schools where 83 per cent. of our children are educated? Tory Members continually complain about the spending of ratepayers' and taxpayers' money, but what have they said about the use of public money by the Greater Manchester council, which has been trying to set an example to other Tory councils by using public money for private education?

The Conservative Party is always threatening to repeal the 1976 Act. That was the main burden of the education debate at the Conservative Party conference where the hon. Member for Brent, North was kept quiet. When people such as myself argue for comprehensive edu- cation, the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith), with typical Liberal myopia, calls it an old battle. I have a great regard for the hon. Gentleman's knowledge of education and his fluency in speaking about it and I know that he is trying to fight an old battle in trying to resurrect a phoenix from the death of the Liberal Party. He should know about old battles, but the fight for comprehensive education is far from being an old battle.

All the panoply of a powerful party which wants vested interests in education, as in everything else, is dedicated to the de-democratisation of the education system which we have fought so hard to democratise. That is the inevitable Tory dilemma. Conservatives have to pretend to support comprehensive education because they suspect that the battle is won and that most Tory parents, as well as Labour parents, believe in comprehensive education. At the same time, the Tories cannot resist saying that, given the chance, they will repeal the 1976 Act. They are still dedicated to selection wherever they can have it.

I welcome the part of the Bill dealing with governors and the provisions relating to governors in primary schools. That is a tremendous advance and nearly brings us up to the position that has existed in Sheffield for nine years. It is a long-awaited proposal.

I believe that there should be governors for each school. There are places where there are. One of my hon. Friends has asked what would happen in small schools in rural areas. There is no reason for such schools, even if they have only one or two teachers, not having a proper governing body. There are enthusiastic people wanting to join boards of governors in rural areas. The Minister may be able to adduce some arguments against my case, but I can see nothing to prevent governors from being appointed for every school.

I hope that the reference in clause 3 to teachers being appointed to governing bodies means that teachers will elect their representatives who will be appointed by the governing body. That is important. Teachers' representatives are already elected in many areas.

In Sheffield, we have provided for the past nine years that boards of governors should include one member of the non-teaching staff. The first such representative in my school was the dinner lady. On another occasion it was the caretaker and at one time we had a cleaning woman on the board. Those people felt integrated as part of the school, and a similar provision would be a useful addition to the Bill.

The provisions relating to admission to schools and planned admission limits are a welcome innovation. There is a large surplus of available teachers, many of whom are doing jobs other than teaching, and some of whom are unemployed. The latter number between 5,000 and 6,000, and the former about 30.000. Teachers, in the interests of education, are no longer prepared to teach excessively large classes when teachers are available to run smaller classes. Any practising teacher or ex-teacher would confirm that the fewer the pupils in a class, the better can they be taught.

It is a tragic fact that up to now classrooms have always been built with the figure of 40 pupils in mind. To think in terms of classes of 40 pupils when the teachers are available to operate classes of 30 or below is a nonsense. In the interests of education we want planned limits on schools for that and for other reasons.

There cannot be full parental choice. That is what the Conservatives want, but only in selected areas. They have seized upon demagogic slogans about parental choice and a parents' charter, but they are only seeking to fool the people. The people, however, will not be fooled. They know that behind Tory Party thinking on education is the principle of selection. They know that the Tories want parental choice for a distinct minority.

I believe that the Bill should contain a provision giving preference to children who live nearest to a particular school. All parents would see that to be a fair and sensible approach to the problem.

Clause 7(6) represents an attempt to cater for those areas where selection still operates. For example, if there were eight schools in an area of which two were grammar schools and six were for those—and I dread to use this term about young children—who had failed, in other words, the secondary modern schools so dear to the heart of the Conservative Party, we would want all the children to have access to a higher form of education by making all eight schools comprehensive. The Conservatives, however, would want the situation to remain as it was. That would mean selection for the two grammar schools, with the children not selected for those being sent to the remaining six schools. It means that the parents of the children destined for the remaining six schools would have no choice. I want them to have the choice of opting for any of the eight schools. If we left this matter to the Tories, hardly any of the children would have a choice.

I turn now to the question of nurseries and day nurseries. The day nurseries come under the DHSS, and they are staffed by nurses as opposed to teachers. We should therefore welcome teachers opting to work in day nurseries. We should, however, make it absolutely clear that those teachers should be additional to, not instead of, the existing nursing staff. We do not want the existing staff to be displaced.

The National Union of Teachers has taken up the matter with the Department because the Department has not dealt with it in the Bill. A letter to the general secretary of the NUT specifically stated that in order to make this possible we propose to introduce into the Bill a clause enabling local education authorities to appoint to the staffs of their nursery schools and units additional teachers specifically to work with children in day nurseries and centres maintained by local authorities ". One of the welcome aspects of this matter is that trained teachers will be teaching the young children, and that represents a new element of additional education, and is not simply child minding. I make that final comment with all due respect to those who work in that way. Training will therefore be intensified for those engaged in teaching rather than just looking after small children.

That development represents a real addition to education. Playgroups were often an excuse for not training nursery teachers, but the expansion of nursery education is hardly written into the Bill, and what is in the Bill is no substitute for the move that we wish to be made.

I am deeply sorry that mandatory grants are not provided for in the Bill, although I accept the Minister's explanation that the money is not currently available. At the moment children are being induced to leave school at 16, often to be unemployed. They are not all working class children. There is an inducement for middle and upper-class people to take their children away from school to earn money, but at great risk of remaining unemployed. That is an indefensible action. We must induce our children to stay on at school. Last week an editorial in The Guardian dealt with this aspect and referred to the Prime Minister's comment in the interview in The Observer that he would have liked to go to university but had not had the opportunity because he had had to leave school at 15.

According to that editorial, there are currently fewer than one in five working class children at university. That, to a large extent, is because there is no bridge between the statutory school-leaving age and entrance to university. These children are being induced to leave school, not to study and get into higher education. Mandatory grants would provide the necessary bridge. Therefore, we should develop such grants as soon as possible. My right hon. Friend's promise leads me to suspect that they will not be long in coming. I do not, however, regard the piecemeal approach of the Bill as satisfactory.

In spite of all the chastening lessons that Conservatives should have learned, all their talk about good schools, poor schools and bad schools seems endemic. In spite of all that is said about the primary schools in the latest report, they seem to want to denigrate the education system, portraying it as being full of people who do not do an honourable job of work and as turning out children who are illiterate and unread.

Those are the comments that the Conservatives are hurling at our education system, but it is becoming more and more democratic all the time. The education given to our children is better than it has ever been. A wider group than ever is having the opportunity of higher education. Although the Bill does not go as far as we would like, it is another democratic step on the way to making our children and our community better educated. I hope that the Conservatives will help us to get it through instead of opposing it root and branch, as I am sure they will.

6.10 p.m.

Mr. William van Straubenzee (Wokingham)

Each time I listen to a speech or an intervention by the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Flannery) I think what an extraordinarily outstanding socal duty we perform in the House by keeping him here. What a terrible thought it would be if he lost his seat and returned to the teaching profession. I must administer a gentle rebuke to him. He must not be such a snob. Fancy telling us that in his school he had dinner ladies and cleaning women. I must plead with him to bring up to date this ancient approach. That is no way to talk to these gallant ladies who keep our schools clean.

I also welcome, as others have done, my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Runcorn (Mr. Carlisle) to the Front Bench. It was a joy to all of us to hear so admirable an exposition of his case which he made with great moderation and warmth of heart. We look forward, as always, to hearing him on many future occasions.

When the Minister of State replies, will he spell out a little whether his Secretary of State has any thoughts about the relative numbers of the governors as they are now to be called? The Taylor committee recommended that there should be four equal groups on a board. I am not arguing a particular case and I know that the Secretary of State will be producing regulations, but it would help us if in outline we could have a little more of the nuts and bolts.

If voluntary schools, as I believe they are willing to, conform broadly to what the maintained schools do, I think I am correct in saying that they will have to have new instruments of government. In my time at the Department years ago I went through the trauma of new instruments in further education, for different reasons. It is no criticism of very able officials to say that the process is necessarily lengthy. The controlled schools and the fully maintained schools may well be able to change and conform quickly to the new arrangements for representative government, whereas for purely technical reasons the voluntary schools may not. I know that that is not intended, but it could be so. If the Minister would watch that point, it would be appreciated by the voluntary schools.

Will the Minister also consider adding one further provision to the Bill, the conferring of corporate status on the governing bodies of voluntary schools? The legal position is that individual governors are personally liable, for their governing body does not have corporate status. Again, I do not suppose that it was intended, but this might be a good opportunity to put this right.

It is inevitable that the voluntary schools will follow carefully our discussions in Committee upon the effect of clause 6 on the planned operating capacity. Any reasonable person accepts that, faced with the sharp downturn in the overall number of children in school, which the Secretary of State fairly put to the House, there is a real difficulty. I regret to say this in the absence of the Secretary of State—she has been with us almost throughout the debate—but there was something a little too antiseptic about this section of her speech. I hope that she will be flexible. She is asking for considerable additional powers and if, as I believe we all agree, voluntary schools are an important part of our general overall educational provision, a great inroad in the powers of their governors is of obvious importance. For that reason I was delighted to hear my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Runcorn refer to the provisions for appeal. We shall have to examine closely exactly how clause 13 ties in here. I confess that I did not find it easy to follow verbally. I make no apology for that because it is a labyrinth and I hope that we shall be able to explore it much more fully.

Would the Minister be able to tell us a little more about the items which he thinks the prospectus in clause 10 will include? Here again, we are talking about regulations. I am not asking him to go into detail and I am aware that he will make proposals available to us before Committee stage, but it might be helpful for informed debate to have at least some idea of his thinking.

I warmly welcome the clause 15 extensions to further education and higher education courses eligible for mandatory grants. I have always argued, and con- tinue to argue, that over a wide range of student support there is great advantage in having a substantial discretionary sector. I have known of imaginative student support, particularly in the arts, which would not have been possible had it been subject to centralised regulations. Sometimes I ask whether attention has been given to the mammoth set of regulations which must be necessary country wide for a system of all-mandatory awards. The line as it now is makes a lot of sense and I unwillingly accept that present economic considerations have made severe inroads into the case of those who have always sought a substantial measure of discretion by local authorities.

I understand that it is an incalculably difficult problem that faces the Minister. On the one hand he is giving discretion and, on the other, as he has said, he is deeply concerned about the cut in the discretionary awards. He has this difficult road to follow. Perhaps, again, this can be explored.

I add to the severe criticisms that have been made of the clause 16 grants and the selective grants to the 16 to 19-yearolds. I am sad and disappointed on behalf of the Secretary of State. I am sure that she battled like a tigress in Cabinet—it is an open secret. We are able to read the open secrets of this Cabinet almost daily. It is perfectly clear that there has been a major battle and she has lost it.

I speak only for myself. I have no idea whether any of my hon. Friends agree, but I have been an empire builder on behalf of the Department of Education, and I think that altogether too much support is now going to young people from sources sponsored by the Department of Employment. I believe that education and training, which go very closely together, would be far better administered and run from the Department of Education and Science than from the Department of Employment. That is a purely personal view and I do not necessarily expect those interested in employment to share it.

Regarding the grant to Wales, I have to say something, but only something, for it is well known that I have been very critical, certainly of the compulsory teaching of Welsh in certain schools. I must just say to my hon. Friends and others who are concerned that I have never had such a big fan mail of support as when I ventured to express doubt. I am deeply concerned on behalf of Welsh children—about whom I am still allowed to be concerned, though whether I shall be later next year we shall have to see. But I am still, at the moment—as I am for Scottish children—deeply concerned about the substantially worse public performance, as measured by examination, of Welsh children.

I do not believe that it has anything to do with any innate inadequacy of the Welsh child. I simply will not accept that. It may be something to do with a variety of different social factors. I do not know.

Mr. D. E. Thomas (Merioneth)

Has the hon. Gentleman thought of the bearing of the timing of examinations on the results?

Mr. van Straubenzee

I must confess that I have not. We shall await an informed contribution on the subject. If the hon. Gentleman is implying that the timing of examinations is important, with great respect, I find that a little difficult to follow. But I shall listen with respect to anything that is put to me in that way.

I think that at least an English Member is entitled to ask this question in a perfectly friendly way. Is it possible that the time spent in the learning of the great and beautiful Welsh language, at least by some who would not wish to do so as opposed to those whose parents make the free choice, is a contribution? I do not think that that is an unreasonable question for an English Member to ask, making it plain, as he does so, how deeply he feels and believes in the cultural, musical, poetic and other glories of the Welsh culture.

Mr. D. E. Thomas

But not linguistic.

Mr. van Straubenzee

That, I hope, is putting it as courteously and appropriately as I can.

Lastly, I comment briefly on what has been called the Oakes report. My one and only quarrel with my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Runcorn is with regard to his comments—not, I think, meant over-seriously—on that report. Having had something to do, years before, with trying to produce something of a solution, I have a lot of sympathy with the Minister of State in what he tried to do. I feel, from what I saw, that he was lucky enough to have advice from some of the ablest, younger minds in the Department—and that is saying a very great deal. I have more time for that report and its presentation than my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Runcorn has. I hope that when the Minister replies he will give us a clue—and this is the key to the whole thing—as to what will be his definition of advanced further education. He has said that he will do it by regulation. How far down the pyramid will he come?

We must not go into detail now, but let me put the problem as I see it to the Minister of State. Let us be perfectly clear about this. In a non-party political matter of this kind, there is disagreement in the Conservative Party as there is in the Labour Party. Of course, it can be argued that one should take, for example, the polytechnics out of the local government sphere. My answer, in the space of a sentence or two, is twofold. First, for Heaven's sake let us remember and learn the lesson of the Colleges of Advanced Technology. I deeply believe that, if one were to ask the heads of those colleges, most of them would say that they regret having moved into the university sector.

I know that hon. Members on both sides of the House will say that there are great differences; and, of course, there are. I cannot argue the case in detail, nor would it be appropriate, but the colleges of advanced technology were brought away from a local government involvement into an independent university sector where, on the whole, they found themselves at the bottom of the pile and they now regret having had their links with local government cut.

Secondly, should we not learn the other lesson of the universities, which we now look back on, namely, that we established the new generation of universities too fast. I speak, frankly, as one who, of course from the Back Benches, enthusiastically supported the expansion of the universities 20 and more years ago. We should have been wiser to go at a more gentle pace. On the whole, with the new generation of universities we made a mistake in several cases by making them physically remote from the communities around them. That is a generalisation. By comparison, it always seemed to me that we learned that lesson with the polytechnics. Almost overwhelmingly, with the one exception of Bristol, we have them on non-green field sites in the middle of thriving communities. Wolver-hampton polytechnic is in the middle of Wolverhampton. We have heard much about Teesside polytechnic. I speak about its problems with great sympathy. That polytechnic is in the middle of the great conurbation of Teesside.

The fact is that the polytechnics play a major part in the lives of people who live near them, and if they are to do that effectively, then, for example, planning decisions are of enormous importance to their expansion. Unless the local authority has a deep sense of personal commitment to the institution, one will not get the expansion and the life of the institution that one ought to have.

Finally, depending very much on what answer the Minister of State gives to us about how far down the pyramid he intends to take his definition of advanced further education, is it not true that one of the great qualities of further education generally, although less so of the very advanced further education, is that it is immensely responsive to the requirements of industry and commerce nearby and around it and, for example, to unemployment problems and the rest? What worries me is that my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Runcorn is right in saying that the Oakes report, with whatever good intentions, will superimpose upon this structure another yet further structure which will blanket local government involvement and blunt the very responsiveness to which I have drawn attention. That is my anxiety. I think that we need to look at it with the very greatest care in Committee.

That being said, like other Opposition Members, I believe that there is far more in this Bill that is good than is bad. That is why I am grateful for the guidance that we have been given not to vote against it on Second Reading.

6.28 p.m.

Mr. Arnold Shaw (Ilford, South)

There has been a certain expression of disappointment in different parts of the House regarding the inadequacy of the Bill as a major education Bill, which we have been led to believe that it is. I am very disappointed, in that the Bill does little to change the present divisive system in education which gives so much privilege to a section of the community. One must understand the situation in which we are at present, and I cannot imagine that we shall have a majority for such a Bill at this time.

Therefore, taking into consideration the many aspects of improvement and reform in the public sector which are contained in the Bill, one must welcome it as it stands with, of course, certain provisos and certain amendments which might be made in Committee.

One of the most important sections of the Bill is that which deals with school government. I welcome the proposals of the Bill in so far as it makes school government much more meaningful than it is at present. Here it activates that section of the Taylor report which concerns representation of different sectors on school managing bodies. For the first time, it makes it a legal requirement to have parents and teachers as members of such bodies.

My hon. Friend the Member for Rossendale (Mr. Noble) pointed out the situation that exists in many different areas in which local education authorities have parents and teachers on their governing bodies. However, in the main, this repretation tends to be patchy. Parent representation is usually based on a very narrow foundation—generally the representatives of parent-teacher associations, who are a very small proportion of the parents of the various schools—and sometimes the parent representative is simply a nominee of the headmaster of a school.

What I am worried about in the Bill is how the Secretary of State envisages the election of the parent representatives. This is a very important matter. I have a feeling that my right hon. Friend has this very much in mind. I fervently hope that she will ensure that, when the parent representative is elected, he or she is elected on a very wide basis.

There is another aspect of the present system of governing bodies as they pertain in most areas—this was mentioned by the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith)—namely, the use of political parties. I blame all political parties. The hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed has the greatest anxiety about this because his party does not control many local authorities. Nevertheless, the fact remains that the governing bodies are chosen largely not so much for their interest in education as for their political affiliations. In my own borough, Red-bridge, that is so. The worst aspect of this is that representatives on school governing and managing bodies are actually drafted in from other areas in order to maintain the political majority of the party which is currently ruling in the town hall, so we lose out by not having people on the managing and governing bodies who have a direct interest in a particular school.

It is very important, as I shall point out later, that schools should be very much a focal point for the community which they serve. The Bill does not specify—perhaps it will be spelt out in time—the proportions of the various representatives proposed. It is hoped that there will be a reasonable balance of all interests and that the representation should certainly not be dominated by council nominees. I emphasise that point.

I also welcome the proposition that on the governing bodies of county secondary schools there should be members of the community served by those schools. I understand that this refers largely to representatives of both sides of industry, as well as other representatives. Mention has been made of the delightful ladies who provide the school meals, and so on. Different people have different nomenclatures for these representatives, but what has not been understood by many hon. Members is that the most important person in any school is the school caretaker. I sincerely hope that his valuable advice will always be sought by the governors of any school.

I return to my previous point. If we had a sufficiently widely based representation of all interests in a neighbourhood, that could only mean that the school would benefit from it. That brings me to the question whether there should be representatives of pupils on secondary school managing boards. I am very much in favour of there being representatives from among the pupils. I believe that that has to be so for the same reason that I want wider representation. When all is said and done, surely one of the most important elements in any school is the children who attend it. I am convinced that representation from pupils of a school can be only of value.

Finally, on this question, there is discretion in the Bill for a single governing body for two or more schools. I am sorry about that. As my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Flannery) has said, this can, in a way, detract from the interest shown by the community in a particular school. I keep repeating that I want to see a situation in which the school—" the"school, not a group of schools—attracts the undivided loyalty and interest of every section of the community. I feel that if there is any division, schools as a whole will suffer.

I come now to the proposition on parental choice. This is something that we have bandied about backwards and forwards, not merely today but in other debates. We face a dilemma. How are we to match the choice of the parent with the available facilities which can be provided by the Government and local authorities? As has been said, those who think that there is the possibility of absolute right of parental choice—I have not heard anyone suggest that in this debate—are simply living in cloud-cuckoo-land. It has been pointed out that absolute parental choice has been afforded to only a small privileged sector. I am hoping that at some time that privileged sector will disappear. The Bill will help to marry the two propositions of parental choice and the facilities which can be provided to parents.

There is in the Bill, for the first time, the proposition that another factor might be taken into account—namely, the rights and the interests of the child. We have been talking a great deal about the choice of parents, which is very important, but the interests of the child, too, are important. The change in the method by which a parent can pursue the choice will tend to prevent him from keeping a child away from school virtually as blackmail to force a local authority to give the parent a choice of school. I do not say that parents do that lightly. A number of parents have come to me with the agonising choice of keeping their children away from a school but knowing that that can act only to the detriment of the children's educational future, or of getting their absolute choice of school. In these circumstances the proposition that there should be local appeal and finally, if necessary, appeal to the Secretary of State will perhaps help to relieve the parents of what I would describe as the agonising choice which is before them.

I have one query on the question of planned operating capacity. What happens in areas such as my own in Red-bridge which unfortunately still has the selective schools in its area? We will assume that there are eight comprehensive schools and two selective schools. During the course of the rundown of school population, which is obviously going to take place, a local authority wishing to advance the grammar school sector as against the comprehensive school sector may tend to raise the planned operating capacity in the grammar schools and lower that, which would naturally follow, in the comprehensive. Would not that act to the detriment of education in that area generally? I hope that in the course of the reply some attention might be given to that point.

There is the question of educational maintenance allowances for the 16 to 19.year-olds. A tremendous amount of anxiety has been expressed in a number of speeches to the effect that the original principle of universal grants has been reduced. We know the reasons for that and we hope that in operating this pilot scheme its value will soon be so apparent that the Government will take it up and make it universal; and I hope that that does not take very long, because one thing about education is that we cannot buy back the lost years. I hope, therefore, that when the money is available—and I hope that it will be available in a very short space of time—we shall have a universal system.

Finally, I welcome the intention to allow the appointment of teachers to staffs of day nurseries. I should like to echo the hope of my hon. Friend the Member for Hillsborough that this will not mean that the teacher will necessarily take the place of the people already running the day nurseries but will be an extension of the system, which will tend to spread and increase the number of children who are having, and are to be allowed to have, some form of nursery education.

Mr. Flannery

Does my hon. Friend agree with me that the fact that a teacher leaves a school should not result in the school being denuded of a teacher but rather that an additional teacher should go into the school which that teacher has left?

Mr. Shaw

I would certainly agree with my hon. Friend. I was looking upon that as one way of increasing the number of teachers in the schools, and attacking the sad unemployment which is to be found among teachers at the present time.

In conclusion, may I say to the hon. and learned Member for Runcorn (Mr. Carlisle), whom I am very pleased to see in his place—and I hope and feel sure that he will have a very happy time with education matters—that when he spoke, as he did, of his party recognising the importance of nursery education, he could have fooled me. He should look at the number of Tory authorities which have categorically refused to take up nursery allocations up to this time, among which I have to include my own authority.

Dr. Hampson

Is it not time that we nailed this myth? Did the hon. Gentleman see a letter in one of the newspapers from the Somerset education authority which pointed out that the authority's share of rate support grant had fallen under this Government from 61 per cent. to 54 per cent.? This Government even stopped the authority from spending its own money on these various services.

Mr. A. Shaw

I can only tell the hon. Gentleman that throughout the country there are Tory councils which are not taking up and spending this money.

Dr. Hampson

They cannot afford to do so.

Mr. Shaw

It is money which has been given to them in the rate support grant. I can only quote my own authority. It was given a miserly allocation of £29,000 which is peanuts in terms of a penny rate and yet the authority refused to take it up. I welcome the Bill and I hope that it has a very swift passage.

6.45 p.m.

Mr. Timothy Raison (Aylesbury)

I was about to be rather complimentary about the hon. Member for Ilford, South (Mr. Shaw) until his last sentence or two, when he clearly showed that he has understood neither the plight of Conservative local authorities in the country which have been starved of rate support grant nor how the system works. This really spoiled his speech. I was going to contrast him with his hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Flannery) whose style is so different. Listening to the hon. Member for Hillsborough, I sometimes think that he aspires to a place in the museum of Labour history. I understand that there is such a place. His words seem calculated to ensure that he should be ranked among the great masters of the Socialist Party of 40 or 50 years ago. He is certainly wholly uninterested in anything that happens today.

I wish to speak mainly on the subject which the hon. Gentleman covered earlier in his speech, the government of schools. Before doing so, perhaps I can make just two points. First, I belong to the school that believes that the Bill is, on the whole, quite reasonable but certainly pretty modest. I do not believe anybody could say that its effects on education are likely to be substantial. One thing I rather like about it, however, is its long title: A Bill to amend the law relating to education. I know that we have the money resolution to face, but looking at the money resolution and the long title together it seems to me that it should be possible with assiduous work from our side of the Committee, but not entirely from our side of the Committee, to turn this modest Bill into something more substantial. If I am fortunate enough to be selected to serve on the Standing Committee I shall certainly hope to make a contribution to trying to strengthen the Bill, so that perhaps at the end of the Committee stage the Secretary of State will be able to boast, after all, that her Bill is quite important.

Secondly, I wish to raise the question of out-county provision, particularly as far as it relates to London. It was raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Surrey (Sir A. Royle) I am not a London Member, but two of my children have benefited through the out-county provision arrangements in London. They were educated in authorities other than that in which they were brought up. I thought it was good and encouraging of the Secretary of State to concede straight away that there was a possibility that she had got it wrong in the Bill, but she seemed to see it really in terms of the religious, denominational aspect, and perhaps to under-rate that it is also rather a good arrangement for people who are not seeking denominational education. This happened with my children. It is a rather humane and liberal thing to enable people to have that little bit of choice which the London provisions have given in the past; and it would be a pity, if for apparently no very good reason, this were to disappear. I hope that the Secretary of State, in reconsidering this point, will go wider than the denominational issue.

The main points I wish to mention concern the subject of governing bodies, and essentially clause 2. The difficulty is that we do not know whether the Bill is designed to implement the Taylor report. The Bill does not cover all the recommendations of the report. If the Bill is passed, we know that there will need to be serving on governing bodies LEA governors, teacher governors, parent governors and, in the case of primary schools governors from the minor authorities, and in the case of secondary schools the so-called community governors. There is also the possibility that in secondary schools there will be over 16 pupil governors. However, the Bill does not state either the balance among the governors on the governing body or their powers.

The crucial questions about composition, tenure and proceedings are all to be decided by regulation, while the subject of the articles of government is to be decided by the Secretary of State, who is to have the power to change the proposed articles without reference back. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Runcorn (Mr. Carlisle) commented on this matter in his excellent speech.

It is wrong that the major questions relating to the power and balance in governing bodies are not tackled in the Bill. I know that the Minister of State in reply will ask the House to consider what happened in the past. I accept that these matters were not tackled in the Education Act 1944, and that the precedent points to regulations, and indeed that a White Paper was the decisive document then. I am very much against White Papers being decisive documents, particularly on incomes policy. Nevertheless, the fact that something has been done in the past is not an over-riding reason why it should be done in the present.

I seriously suggest to the right hon. Lady that it would be very much better to define by statute in the Bill the essential questions of the balance of power among the governors and their power vis-à-vis local education authorities and headmasters.

The one point on which I slightly diverge from the view of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Runcorn relates to the Taylor formulation. That formulation provided in secondary schools for four equal parties on the governing bodies—namely, from the LEA, teachers, parents and the so-called community. One cannot overlook the fact that the local education authority is responsible for the schools. It is its job to provide the schools and to make sure that they are decent and well run. To give governors power without responsibility or accountability is fundamentally a wrong decision. Therefore, I firmly believe that in the governing bodies the LEAs, and/or their nominees, should be in the majority.

I know that it has been argued that sometimes the LEAs put on governing bodies people who are not particularly interested in education, who do not always turn up, and who are rather more interested in party politics than they are in schooling. I do not deny that all these criticisms may sometimes be valid, but the right answer is to try to press or shame LEAs into mending their ways rather than trying to create something which in a minor way is a democratic monstrosity.

It is interesting to note that in regard to voluntary schools the Bill provides for a majority of foundation governors. That appears to be saying that in the case of voluntary schools the people who in a sense own the schools, and who are the essence of the provision of the schools, should be in a majority. If that is so in the case of voluntary schools, the logic should be exactly the same with county schools—namely, that it should be the local authority which is in a position to dominate these bodies. By using the word"dominate ", I do not mean that they should behave in an assertive or aggressive manner, but they have the responsibility. Therefore, the notion of dividing that responsibility, of carving it up and splitting it in the way suggested by the Taylor report, is fallacious. I do not think that Taylor argued the point through carefully.

I favour the statutory requirement to have teachers and elected parent representatives—a desirable aim, which I very much welcome. I do not believe that the concern expressed by Labour Members about how one obtains these parent representatives is valid. The answer is that they should be elected by all parents. I know that parents may not turn up at meetings, but that is one of the characteristics of the democratic process in whatever sphere.

Mr. Bryan Davies (Enfield, North)

The trade unions.

Mr. Raison

Even trade unionists sometimes do not turn up in great numbers at their meetings, as the hon. Member for Enfield, North (Mr. Davies) seems to be implying. We must face the fact that we can give parents the right to elect other parents, and it is a pity if they will not exercise that right. One could make sensible arrangements to try to make it easier. For example, one could hold meetings at times in the day when the majority of parents are likely to turn up, or one could have postal elections. These are practical points which have to be faced. However, it is wide of the mark to say that there is a major worry about how one should elect parents. It belongs to the category of worries that are created. There are so many real problems in the world we surely do not have to go out of our way to invent new ones.

I am sceptical about one aspect of these provisions, and that is the one dealing with pupil governors. In this respect I differ from the hon. Member for Ilford, South. We shall be able to examine that matter in detail in Committee.

I am also a little sceptical about the notion of community governors. One Labour Member said that community governors should be appointed by the educational authority and that it was the job of such authorities to represent the community. I agree with that point of view because it would restore the balance of power to local education authorities.

I am not impressed by the idea that there has to be a trade unionist and an industrialist on every governing body in the land. I am bored stiff with the idea that throughout our lives we must have the statutory trade unionist and the statutory industrialist on every body that anybody can dream up. I prefer the 1944 approach. If people represent outside interests on governing bodies, they should know a good deal about education. That is just as good a qualification as saying that they should know how to conduct the affairs of trade unions, and so on.

If local authorities want to put industrialists or trade unionists on such bodies, I am not suggesting that they should be prevented from doing so. There may be good reasons for taking such action provided that they are the right people for the job. But it is a nonsense to make a shibboleth of the matter. It is one more manifestation in a very small way of a corporate State towards which the Government are so happily dragging us.

Let me deal with the question of governors' powers. I suppose it is inherent in the scheme—although one cannot tell from the Bill—that governors are meant to be more powerful than they have been up to now. It was the view of Taylor, if perhaps in a muddled way, that governors should be more powerful than they have been up to the present. The oddity of the situation is that under the White Paper and the regulations the governors were always supposed to be powerful. They were to have the general direction of the conduct and curriculum of schools. That was a power which, in theory, they have always had. It is interesting that they have not exercised it.

Is it the Government's intention to give some kind of additional power to the new governing bodies? Why was the original intention that they were to have this general control over the conduct and curriculum of schools never implemented? The answer is that it probably was not a very good or practical idea. I suspect that even if the Taylor recommendations were implemented by statute or in any other form, exactly the same sort of consideration would arise. In other words, the job of determining the curriculum would lie very much more with the professional teaching force than with the lay governing body.

When the Taylor committee speaks of the direct line of formal responsibility of LEA governors and heads—a kind of chain of command—it is talking in illusory terms. We cannot have that kind of direct line of responsibility. The Taylor report rather backtracks by saying that in many instances the head will deal directly with the local education authority. How could it be otherwise? To have this formalistic or mechanistic structure may be fine in theory, but it will not work in practice.

The Taylor approach will no doubt work well if everybody wants it to do so. All schemes—even devolution for Scotland and Wales—will work well if everybody wants them to work well. But when constructing these schemes we must consider what will happen if things go badly and people are not keen to make everything work well and pull and tug in different directions. I do not think that the Taylor set-up will survive if there are different tugs and pulls.

Although the Bill brings teachers on to governing bodies—I think that is quite right—I cannot help feeling that somehow or other the professions are likely to be downgraded by the new structure if the Taylor pattern is followed. It is difficult to explain why I have that feeling, except that putting them on a parity with community representatives and other blocks means that they lose something of their individual status.

Parents are tremendously important and it is right that we should bring them into the educational scene, as we have done in the past few years, but they are not all-important. I think that our greatest need in education is to develop and to increase the professional qualifications, the professional standing, the professional everything of the teaching profession—to turn it into a genuine profession, which it is not at present for many reasons. If teachers become uneasy as a result of the Bill—there have been genuine signs that they are worried about where all this change leaves the standing of head and other teachers—the Bill and the movement behind it could prove to have done considerable damage.

I hope that the points on which I have touched will be recognised as being serious points and that in Committee we shall think very hard about them all before giving a final blessing to the Bill.

7.4 p.m.

Mr. Andrew F. Bennett (Stockport, North)

I welcome the Bill, but I must express some disappointment that in many areas it does not go far enough.

I turn, first, to educational maintenance allowances. For a long time as a practising teacher I was saddened by the number of able pupils I taught in the fifth year who, because of financial pressures, did not stay on in the sixth form but left and often went into rather disappointing jobs. Indeed, they often came back and expressed their boredom to me.

Since becoming a Member of Parliament, I have been on several deputations to Ministers about educational maintenance allowances. I have also raised the matter on an Adjournment debate. I am only too well aware that within local authorities the system of educational maintenance allowances is absolutely farcical. One can really say that there is no help at all for 16- to 18-year-olds to stay on at school. I am disappointed that we are to have this pilot scheme, not a major national scheme.

We should be particularly concerned about the bright boy or girl who stays on in the fifth form, as he or she now must, who takes O-levels, who probably gets good results but who, because of financial pressure at home, never thinks about going into the sixth form. Such children often have no difficulty in getting jobs, but those jobs do not exert any real demands on them. Therefore, they end up bored, they do not put in a great deal of effort and employers are rather disappointed with them. Yet, if those children could have been persuaded to stay on at school, they would have had a greater challenge and would probably have gone into jobs or careers which would have been both exciting and stimulating to them. The problem is that those youngsters take jobs which others less qualified could probably have done to their own and their employers' satisfaction. Indeed, such other persons may be unemployed. Clearly there is a relationship between encouraging the able, who for financial reasons do not stay on at school, and the unemployed, although the two are not quite the same.

There is the question of those who leave school with disappointing results, who do not get jobs and who, having searched round, drift into further education, often on a part-time basis, draw supplementary benefit, possibly get a job for a short time and then go back into further education. Such youngsters often spend two or three years in that kind of situation. They fail to achieve O and A-levels in further education because, with supplementary benefit support, they attend only half a week instead of a full week or they try part-time with a job and studies. Of course they do badly. If they had proper financial support, they might just obtain presentable results. But, because of the economic strain of trying to achieve results with a job or on supplementary benefit, they fall by the wayside. In the event, the teaching resources, supplementary benefit, and so on, are wasted. If they could have been persuaded to stay on at school or to take a full-time course in further education, they might have obtained good results which would have opened up new horizons for them.

The lack of facilities for sixth-formers lowers their horizons. In many schools pupils in their third and fourth years think to themselves"I should like to stay on in the sixth form, but it will be financially impossible." Therefore, they lose interest. Their effort in school falls away because they have no goal or ambition of getting good O-levels and the possibility of staying on in the sixth form.

I suggest that the lack of encouragement and finance for pupils to stay on in the sixth form has an unfortunate effect. The situation is more acute in the northern part of England where the number of pupils staying on at school is far below the number who stay on in the more affluent southern part of England.

The situation presents a dilemma for head teachers. They find that the pupils they would like to stay on at school cannot be encouraged to stay, whereas those who would probably benefit least by staying on in the sixth form stay on because their parents have fairly high incomes and are happy to indulge their children by allowing them to stay on at school. Such children often miss the opportunities and prospects of apprenticeships by not leaving at the right time.

I very much wish that we were to have a national, not a pilot, scheme. I am aware of many difficulties in the Greater Manchester area regarding non-mandatory awards for people in further education. There are many instances of students from different local authorities sitting at desks next to each other and getting different levels of grant, and in some cases no grant at all. It will be appalling if we extend this system to the pilot scheme. I can imagine students in Manchester qualifying for the pilot scheme, whereas just across the boundary in Stockport, North others will not qualify. There will be a great deal of bitterness about that kind of anomaly.

If we cannot go ahead with a national scheme—I hope that even now there will be second thoughts—would it not be fairer to base the scheme either on a means test or on O-level results and to state firmly"We would have liked to introduce this scheme for all who stay on in the sixth form, but, because we cannot, we shall make it available for all those who get seven O-levels "? That would provide encouragement for students to strive for the grant. That would be fairer than saying"If you are lucky enough to live in an area which we have designated and stay on in the sixth form and your parents have below a certain income, you will get a grant, but, if you live across the border in a different authority, you will not."

What is to be the qualifying date? I should like to know, because, if any of my constituents find that they cannot qualify in Stockport whereas they can if they live in Manchester, they can make arrangements to move or possibly to go and stay with granny for the appropriate time.

I should also like to question the means test. Many pupils at this hardship level rely for pocket money on a Saturday job or a paper round. I hope that when this means test is worked out, there will be fairly generous disregards on any earnings that a pupil might make. There should be some limit on the number of hours pupils can work. If they work too many hours it may mean that their academic studies will suffer. It would be tragic, however, if, in the way in which the means test was established, the amount earned by a pupil doing a Saturday job simply came off the grant. I hope that the Minister will be able soon to introduce a national scheme and also to get rid of the means test.

If this scheme is introduced with a means test, there will be friction between pupils and their parents about the amount of money. There will also be friction if the money is paid to the parent rather than to the student. I hope that the Minister will examine these issues.

I should like the Secretary of State to recall her announcement in the summer that there would be a national scheme from 1979. I understood that she said"hoped ". Most people who study parliamentary procedure carefully will remember the word"hoped"in relation to the scheme. Many pupils wondering whether to enter the sixth form last summer believed that she had announced a scheme for September 1979. Many took decisions to return to school this year realising that there would be no help this year but expecting that there would be some help from 1979. It is unfortunate that they were misled in this way. I hope that the Secretary of State will consider the matter carefully and that even at this late stage there can be some prospect of a national scheme from September 1979.

I should like to turn to the powers of governors set out in the Bill. Like the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Raison), I am concerned that the Bill is only an enabling measure and does not spell out in detail what will happen. Before entering the House, I was a member of Oldham borough council for 10 years and during that time, being on the education committee, I served on a number of governing bodies. My experience led me to realise that many people were reluctant to give the governors genuine powers.

The Secretary of State suggested that if the right people were put on the governing body they would demand and somehow take for themselves the necessary powers. I do not believe that that will automatically happen. It is much better if we spell out the powers of the governors. I am especially concerned about the relationship between the governors and education officials. The hon. Member for Aylesbury suggested that the clash might be between the governors and the education authority.

My experience as a governor was that often there was a fairly cosy relationship between the head teacher and officials at the education offices. They fixed matters between themselves. They preferred to leave out the governors and, if possible, the education committee. It was difficult for the governors to assert themselves and to demand powers. In those areas where a head teacher had delegated responsibility, he was reluctant to give it up to the governors. In those cases where the education officials had retained responsibility they were happy to be responsible to the Committee but they were not happy to give up their powers to the governors. I hope that in the regulations the relationship among the governors, the officials and the education committee can be set out more clearly than in the Bill.

I am also concerned about the powers of governors over appointments. Often the person appointed as head of a school makes or breaks that school. Thinking back to some of the people I helped to appoint. I can recall at least one occasion when all the governors were convinced that they had made a first-class appointment. Yet, five years later, there was not one governor who did not bitterly regret the appointment that had been made. I am sure that we appointed someone who had every good intention to carry out the promises that he made to those governors. He simply turned out to be someone who was incapable of carrying out those promises.

On another occasion, fortunately at a smaller school, the person being interviewed was eventually shown to have told us lies about his plans for the school if appointed. None of the plans he mentioned did he actually attempt to carry out.

People who have been governors for some time and have made several appointments may learn a great deal about interviewing people. If we are not careful, some governing bodies will rarely make appointments. When they do make one, it will be crucial. It may decide whether the school is successful for the next five or six years, or goes downhill. More thought should be given to the training of governors in the art of interviewing. I am not convinced that the right decision will be made every time. It may be time to consider the length of time for which a head teacher is appointed. In considering the powers of governors, I hope that these questions will be carefully examined.

As for the optimum operating size of the school, I welcome these provisions, but I am afraid that the Minister has not grasped one of the difficult nettles. At present, the salary of head teachers and the number of graded posts in the school is linked to the size of the school. It is fair to argue that if the size of the school is reduced so is the head's group, and his salary is reduced, but there will be protection for the individual holder of that post. It means, however, that the school gradually loses some of its status. If that person goes, it is unable to attract someone of the same calibre. If posts of responsibility in the school are reduced, they cannot replace that person. In a primary school with 10 or 12 staff, if one office holder who is protected leaves, that member of staff cannot be replaced. The lively members of staff tend to leave and those who have least excitement to contribute to the school remain.

In looking at this question of planning the operating size of the school the Minister should consider allowing those schools which have a falling roll and a falling reputation in their locality to have extra staff. If they can have extra staff it will probably mean that the school can be made more lively and exciting and improve its image in the community. It will also become more attractive as a school to which parents want to send their children. I hope that arrangements can be considered to enable a school which loses status as a result of reduction in size to have some extra staff as compensation.

I am concerned about the way in which some schools are coping with falling numbers through the introduction of mixed age group teaching. In my area of Stockport, several schools have been forced to put two classes together—say, 7-year-olds with 8-year-olds. As an ex-teacher, I can see many advantages in putting different age groups in the same class, but it depends on the attitude of the individual teacher whether they are enthusiastic for that sort of teaching method. I am worried about a teacher being forced to go in for that kind of experiment when he can see no benefit in teaching 7 and 8-year-olds together. In my experience, the worst education experiments are those in which the teachers have no enthusiasm. I hope that a lot of thought will be given to the way in which vertical streaming can be made to operate with the co-operation of teachers, rather than being forced upon teachers when they do not like it.

I welcome the proposals to put in a prospectus for a school so that the parents can find out what it offers. However, I am a little worried about this. I have heard head teachers on many occasions go on at great length to parents about what the school offered and what it would like to offer. But the prospectus is not an actual contract. A lot of local authorities with children in their first, second and third years are talking about changing their sixth-form provision.

A prospectus should commit the school in some way. If a child starts at 11 plus, one assumes that the parents want him to enjoy that sort of education for the next eight years. I hope it is spelt out clearly that, if a prospectus is put out, while it is not necessarily legally binding, there should be some duty on the local authority and the school to continue with that form of education right through from the point at which the children opted for the school until they leave. The education authority should not be allowed to say half way through that it intends to change things and introduce a sixth-form college or make some other alteration to the prospectus. That would mean that what was set out originally in the prospectus was no longer valid.

We have always boasted since 1884 that we have a free State education system in this country. But the reality is very different. Most children who go to school incur considerable educational costs for their parents. There are bus fares, school meals, distinctive school uniforms and all the things that the school asks—material for cookery classes and craft lessons, contributions to school funds, school visits, sponsored charities and photographs. Then there are all the things that are now being touted around in schools—special sports bags, swimming badges, French magazines to help with French lessons and all sorts of things like that. All kinds of pressures are put on children to ask their parents to provide these things.

One of the things which should go into the prospectus is a list of all the requirements and requests that the school is likely to make of parents. This is not because I want to put the parents off, but very often individual teachers do not collectively consider how many requests the school makes for parents to provide things for their children. For some parents—those in financial difficulty—these requests cause considerable embarrassment.

I am particularly disappointed that in the Bill the Minister has not dealt with the question of the uniform grant which has become just as much a scandal as the educational maintenance allowances. Neither has the question of school travel and the cost of buses been included. On the whole, I welcome the measure and I hope that in Committee it can be improved. Perhaps the Cabinet itself will have another look at the educational maintenance allowances.

7.24 p.m.

Dr. Keith Hampson (Ripon)

I do not think that there is anything in the Bill which changes my view, expressed in the debate on the Gracious Speech, that, in view of the publicity it has had as the"new parents' charter ", this measure is no more than a charade. It is a lot of window dressing. Time and time again rights are being taken away without adequate provision of new rights. I said at the time of the Gracious Speech—and it is still appropriate—that this is a cheating charter, not a parents' charter.

My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Runcorn (Mr. Carlisle), in his excellent speech, used Lord Taylor's words about the special characteristics of and individual school being really important. Of course, comprehensive schools themselves have special characteristics. It is no good the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Flannery) moaning on like a worn-out gramophone record that the Conservatives want to return to the 11-plus. We accept that 80 per cent. of the secondary school population go to comprehensive schools, but each of those schools is different and each has different strengths. We are arguing that it is possible to offer choice to parents within a comprehensive system. One can go to the United States and see it working there.

Hon. Members went through all this on the Committee stage of the Education Act 1976. I remember using the American example at the time. I pointed out that one could build up the strengths of individual comprehensive schools so that they specialised in mathematics, music or languages. Such schools could become ethnic schools, as were some that I visited in Boston.

We should aim at extending choice of that kind. It is not just choice for parents; it also involves choice for pupils —for students of 14, or at the sixth form level. So many young people of this age who, under our formulation, would be able to select the specialised schools are now opting out of school as quickly as possible. If they decide to stay in education, they go to further education colleges which have the courses they want.

The Secretary of State knows full well that today she distorted my argument which I have put forward repeatedly in this House and also in a letter to The Guardian. My letter stated the position of the Conservative Party throughout. We have consistently favoured grants for further education courses.

If young people are encouraged to stay on at school—and there is some question whether the size of grant is really an incentive—some may be A-level candidates. But the Secretary of State is mainly concerned about whether she can hide or park out of sight youngsters who would otherwise end up on the dole. This is part of the strategy of the series of measures introduced by the Government, such as the youth opportunities programme. It simply camouflages youth unemployment.

The place for those young people is not in the sixth form of schools. Sixth forms are, by definition, nearly always geared to academic work. Are these young people to retake their O-levels or CSE examinations? Is that the dead-end prospect that the Secretary of State is offering? Is she really saying that resources will be pumped into sixth forms to cope with these young people when the facilities already exist in further education?

Mr. Gerry Fowler (The Wrekin)

I can never resist intervening in the hon. Member's speeches. Is he really saying that there are no young people of 16 of high academic ability who come from families so poor that it is a hardship for those children to remain at school so they leave? If he is saying that, he is deceiving the House.

Dr. Hampson

Of course I am not arguing that. Of course there are such people; but that is a long-standing problem. I am asking whether it is the best use of £65 million to put it into that area.

The Secretary of State referred to the educational maintenance allowances. How can these have suddenly become a hallowed, sacrosanct, worthwhile creation? I remember replying for the Opposition to a debate on a Select Committee report on EMAs. That Select Committee sat longer than any other set up by the Government. The Committee said that this was an ineffective operation, and one of its recommendations was that EMAs should be extended so that young people could use them in further education. Now we have an even more confused and crazy position. We have so many sorts of grant, but, far from the Secretary of State trying to clear up the mess of the plethora of schemes, she is adding further confusion to it.

Even at a time of acute unemployment there are firms in the North-West crying out for people with skills ranging from those of the humblest fitter to those of chemical engineers. Obviously something is wrong and the education system is not doing its job. The further education system is where those courses lie.

We now find that local authorities do not have the money to offer good incentives through the discretionary award scheme, but that is where the money should be put as a first priority. If we have plenty of money in future, it can be put into other areas. At present we are tinkering. There is no strategy on the whole vocational front.

The Secretary of State referred to my letter in The Guardian. She ridiculed the notion that young people in school get bored. However, according to Sue Reid's piece in the Evening Standard today 14 out of every 100 pupils in London were absent last year on the given day of the check, and, of those over 15 years of age, one in four was absent.

With respect to the right hon. Lady, it is not merely a matter of cash incentives. Attitudes and motivation are vital. Until we can convince young people that their school courses are relevant and they can perceive them as relevant to the work that they will do when they leave school, there will still be a problem. I suspect that the right hon. Lady's scheme would worsen the problem. It is all a matter of priorities.

The right hon. Lady is misjudging the psychology of young people. I believe that many young people want to get out of the confines of the school. They want to be in the adult world. They want to be earning and doing things that they see that their schools are not offering. We should be aiming—my right hon. and hon. Friends have tried repeatedly through the life of the Government to do this—to make the last year at school more flexible and to make it possible for young people to be released from the confines of the classroom to sample different types of job—anything from being a fitter to a car mechanic, from being in a hospital to being in an accountant's office. That is the type of exciting scheme that we see in many parts of the United States.

Instead of doing that, the right hon. Lady has refused, as have her predecessors, to make the last year more flexible. More than that, she and her colleagues are allowing to continue the confusion that currently exists between payments from the Department of Employment through the training services division and the youth opportunities programme and those from the Department of Health and Social Security.

There is a lesson to be learned at Ilkley grammar school in my constituency. Sir Alex Clegg could teach us a lot. He was not unaware of the importance of image. He called comprehensive schools grammar schools when that suited the local population. At Ilkley grammar school, which is fully comprehensive, there has been an attempt to run a scheme to enable those who will not be doing anything worth while and not taking A-levels or CSE courses to be released into local firms.

The scheme started with some funding through the youth opportunities pro- gramme. The money was suddenly stopped in the summer. Those running the scheme were told that it was illegal. There have been other schemes. The hon. Member for The Wrekin (Mr. Fowler) drew attention to that in a recent edition of The Times Educational Supplement. There are other examples where there is total chaos in the way in which the local offices of the Department of Health and Social Security operate the 21-hour a week rule.

It is true that a great deal of money is involved. It is only sensible that young people who are taking courses should be entitled to the money. However, some local offices do all sorts of crazy things. Schools and further education colleges are told that they cannot have money for offering courses leading to the very marketable qualifications at which young people should be aiming.

Those are the areas on which the Secretary of State should be concentrating instead of chasing the hare of EMAs, the glib nostrum of the day that for some reason everybody seems to be espousing.

What about the top end of the vocational education system? In the Bill there is the proposal to transfer certain advanced courses from the discretionary area to the mandatory area. As in so much of the Bill, we need to know what courses will be involved. In reply to a Question that I tabled, the Secretary of State said that she did not know how many courses were of an advanced standard but not designated as mandatory. It is thought that about 15,000 people of all ages are affected. There cannot be such open-endedness when in answer to my Question the right hon. Lady said that such powers would enable particular categories to he designated as the need arose. We need to know what sort of professional vocational qualifications are involved. The cost of all this is only £7 million.

The Under-Secretary of State for Education (Miss Margaret Jackson): Is the hon. Gentleman aware that he has gone direct from arguing that we should not be giving money to EMAs, discretionary awards in FE, to arguing that we are leaving it too wide open to give money to discretionary awards in FE and that we are making them mandatory?

Dr. Hampson

The Under-Secretary of State is strengthening my argument. It was argued that we should spend £65 million on the tiny EMAs—they were supposedly to have had a dramatic effect —when to change all the professional advanced level courses to mandatory courses from discretionary courses would cost only £7 million. As I have said, it is a matter of priorities. We must be straight about what is important. It seems that vocational professional qualifications are extremely important.

I turn to the Oakes report and the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (Mr. van Straubenzee), a colleague I have always admired, who was in many senses in the early years my mentor. My hon. Friend talked about the CATs. I hope that he does not add weight to the rather Pavlovian response of local authorities to the CATs. The CATs obviously feel that in the UGC system their problems are not fully recognised. That is not to say that they miss being under local authority control. I do not believe that any of them would argue that they should go back to local authority control. However, the CATs are different from the rest of the universities. By implication, my hon. Friend said that.

There is no reason why an alternative system of advanced further education under a body such as the UGC, but a different body with different functions, different criteria laid down by which it should operate and target its money, should not end up funding institutions that are different and distinct from the universities or from the rest of the system.

No one would deny that the polytechnics have special functions. They have to deal with the technician level. Those courses are vital to the country but they are slightly below degree level. There could be funding by a national body without all the paraphernalia of different layers involved in a local authority system.

My hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham talked about the importance of planning permission. Of course it is important. If a local authority is on the side of the institution, it might be well disposed towards granting planning permission. However, my hon. Friend knows as well as I what happens when there is not that relationship. We know about the Trent polytechnic and the terrible stresses and tensions that developed. There was almost a national scandal as a result of the bad feeling and the bad planning decisions. There was deliberate gerrymandering of the polytechnic's development by the Nottingham city education authority.

We need to reconsider these matters and to determine whether we can reconcile the distinctiveness of the polytechnics and their local responsiveness, which I consider to be crucial, without ending up with the cumbersome, bureaucratic and costly scheme that the Minister of State has proposed. Like all other attempts to square the circle, I believe it to be a failure.

There are great dangers in the polytechnics not being recognised as different from other types of advanced further education. There is a world of difference between institutions that are seen to be and were created as centres of excellence and the whole policy of consolidating top quality work in the vocational area into the polytechnics and twinning them with universities as a different sort of institution. That concept I believe in, and it seems that the polytechnics are part of a national system. They are costing about £270 million to £300 million a year. To leave to the imperatives and the political whim of local authorities their development and the courses that they offer seems to be a principle that should at least be questioned.

By ensuring that local authorities retain a stake in governing boards and possibly have a main stake on the national funding body so that the institutions are funded in a way that ensure their local responsiveness, I am sure that there are ways of enabling a reconciliation between the distinctiveness of the polytechnics and equivalent institutions as part of a national provision, as well as the requirements of the local community.

The local community is served in Scotland by centrally funded institutions. Voluntary colleges, such as the Ripon and St. John college in my constituency, partake with the local hospitals and other services of teacher in-service training with the local authority, even though they are not local authority controlled institutions.

It seems to me that it is possible to have direct-grant-funded institutions giving a direct and clear line of accountability, with institutions operating under cash limits and also having the discretion and freedom to create. After all, courses are conceived and developed by members of institutions and not really by local authority committees. We have models that we can work on and the problems that we face are not irreconcilable.

When we look at these proposals, why, I ask the Minister of State, do we need a separate body for Wales? As I recall his report, it does not suggest that. The cost of running these councils is put at £800,000. Given the insignificant proportion of advanced further education work in Wales, is half of this £800,000 to be spent on the Welsh Council? Are half of the staff of 60 to be used in Wales? I see very little cause for this, and a lot of confusion could result. The further education system that is proposed is costed at £800,000, but has any attempt been made to estimate the other incidental running costs falling on the local authorities? They will use their staff, committees and so on. They will be involved with the toing and froing of debate between the central body and the polytechnics, and then in turn with the Secretary of State.

From the schedule it appears that it is perfectly possible for the Secretary of State to negotiate with local authorities, and with any other bodies which may be thought to be desirable, in the process of determining how the overall global sum is to be spent. A lot of work and bureaucracy will be involved, and the cost of running the system will, I suggest, be far in excess of £800,000. It is a costly and a complex system. I believe that it will be productive of many more tensions than we have at the moment. These institutions have to be meshed into the local scene, but that is not a case for going ahead with the proposals of the Minister of State.

7.42 p.m.

Mrs. Renée Short (Wolverhampton, North-East)

Like other hon. Members who have spoken in the debate, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I enjoyed very much the felicitous entry into the education arena of the hon. and learned Member for Runcorn (Mr. Carlisle). I wish him many happy years in that post. I hope that he will be able to guide his junior into the calmer waters into which he appears to be leading the Opposition in the education debate.

I do not think that the Bill will set the Thames on fire. In many respects it is rather disappointing. As other hon. Members have said, it really dots the i's and crosses the t's of some of the ways in which the more progressive local education authorities are handling their governing and managing bodies. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, who represents a Hertfordshire seat, will know that in Hertfordshire for very many years we have had separate governing bodies for secondary schools. I say"we"because I was a member of the county council for a long time; I should now say"they"The governing bodies are allowed to group infant and junior schools which are on the same campus or very close to each other, and where the infant school feeds the junior school. It has taken on parent governors and managers, so that it will not be much of a revolution for that authority and for other progressive authorities.

I am very disappointed that the Bill makes no advance in the provision of nursery education. What is suggested in clause 14—which is not mandatory but only something that local education authorities may do—will not help us at all. Unless local education authorities have the resources to take on more nursery teachers and to provide the equipment that those teachers need, I am airaid that those who choose to cut back on nursery education will continue to do so and this will not advance the cause of the under-fives at all.

We have had a long list, published in Hansard? recently, of local education authorities which have chosen not to implement nursery education and not to take advantage of resources being provided by the Government. No doubt those local authorities under the control of the Conservative Party will continue to act in that way. However, that will be very good for Wolverhampton, because my authority is one of the most energetic and progressive in the field of nursery education. When other authorities decline to use resources for which they have originally asked and say"No thank you"to the Minister, Wolverhampton is there asking for additional resources. I hope that it will continue to do so.

I am also very concerned that, in spite of the fairly firm indication from the Secretary of State that maintenance allowances were to be introduced, the Bill does not do that. As my right hon. Friend said, the allowances will be introduced when resources allow. When will resources be adequate for that? We had no indication from my right hon. Friend as to when this will be done.

The Social Services and Employment Sub-Committee of the Expenditure Committee looked precisely at this area very recently, and reported to the House in the Summer. We took evidence during the months of February, March and April. I see that one of the redoubtable and energetic members of the Sub-Committee, the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton) is here, and I hope that he will shortly take Dart in the debate. It was clear that the Secretary of State had announced that the Government were ready to commit themselves to a statutory system of awards intended to encourage more 16-18 year olds to stay on in relevant full-time education in schools or further education. As the Sub-Committee reported, We welcome this move. It would bring closer together the arrangements for financial assistance to students in higher education which are mandatory at present, and those for young people in further education and schools, which are both discretionary and more modest in amount. This would remove an anomaly to which many of our witnesses referred. We thought that we were home and dry in regard to educational allowances and maintenance allowances, so that it is a disappointment to find that there is no firm commitment as to date, as to when the grants will be introduced, or as to the amounts likely to be provided, in the Bill.

During the course of our inquiry, we heard a number of professional bodies as witnesses in the House. We visited several parts of the country and took evidence from local authorities, from education authorities, from employers, from trade unions, from careers officers, and from everybody that we could think of involved in this whole area of providing training and education opportunities for young people. We were greatly encouraged to find, almost everywhere, overwhelming support for the idea of these allowances.

We had the support of the Association of County Councils, of the Association of Metropolitan Authorities, of the Inner London Education Authority, of the Institute of Careers Officers, of the National Association of Teachers in Higher and Further Education, of the National Association of Head Teachers, of the National Union of Teachers, of the Trades Union Congress and of the Manpower Services Commission.

When we went out into the further reaches of the country, away from the metropolis, we had the support of Clwyd county council. I am sure that all hon. Members know where Clwyd is. It is a very interesting and delightful area. We had the support also of South Glamorgan county council, of Liverpool city council, of Sandwell metropolitan council, of Sefton metropolitan council and of the West Midlands county council. Most important, we had the support of my right hon. Friend herself, and perhaps even more important, we had the support of her Department, because the Department of Education and Science sent along a group of formidable witnesses. They gave evidence to us that they supported us in this matter.

The memorandum submitted by the DES stated that: There is a widely held view, to which the Department subscribes, that on reaching school leaving age too many young people give up, or are denied the opportunity of continuing, any form of further education or training. Similarly there is widespread concern that the financial support available to those young people who continue in full-time education beyond school leaving age (educational maintenance allowances for those in schools and broadly comparable discretionary awards for those in further education) is limited in scope and level, and compares poorly with the financial attractions of other options open to young people. When my right hon. Friend herself appeared, she was asked whether the proposals had been costed. She replied: Yes, we have costed it because this is an area we regard as the highest priority when we can get sufficient resources. She added: Probably it will be on a means-tested basis ". She said that she would not want to rule this out because, after all, the whole of higher education awards in Britain are on a means-tested basis. She continued: Where we fall down in my view is between 16 and 19, where our participation rate is lower than that of almost all other European countries. At 18 it suddenly improves again, partly because of a generous system of student awards. I then pressed my right hon. Friend and asked whether she was really looking at the problem of the training for skills for young people to provide the skilled people that we need in industry, and to which many of our industrial witnesses had drawn attention. I asked whether she was thinking of this in the long term, because the present situation militates against those youngsters from staying on at school now and becoming skilled in the future. She replied: Madam Chairman, you are pushing at an open door ". We really thought that we were home and dry, especially when she said: I very much hope that the Committee will speak out very strongly on this issue, which I feel very strongly about as well ". We did speak strongly about it, as I quoted earlier from our report. It was a very serious disappointment when we read the Bill and found that we had got something which was rather wishy-washy and which will not reduce the considerable anomalies which exist at the present time. I do not believe that the Bill will help those young people who reach the age of 16 and who will have to leave because their parents cannot afford to keep them at school.

I do not know what the level of grant is likely to be. I do not know whether the Minister of State will be able to indicate how the Department is thinking about this. But I would point out that young people who leave school now and enter one of the Manpower Services Commission schemes—and there is no limit to the amount or to the number of people —will receive £19.50 per week. When we took our evidence, the level was £18 a week. That has now been increased to £19.50. If young people leave school and are unable to get on to an MSC job course, or into a further education course, they can claim £11.50 a week on social security.

If the figures that we have heard bandied about, starting at £3 and going to £5 or £7, are to be the likely level of the grant, I do not think that they will provide very much incentive for young people to stay on, particularly when they can get £4 a week more by simply leaving and going on social security and, of course, very much more if they can enter an MSC scheme which is for 12 months. It is not a permanent scheme.

Therefore, I believe that in Committee hon. Members will have to look very carefully at the options which are available and at the incentives which will be offered to young people, especially if we are to achieve the object of the exercise which is surely to encourage the more able young people who are in a position, because of their own ability and application, to obtain additional qualifications, instead of leaving school without any. That will provide them with the first opportunities of taking up a worthwhile career when they do leave school.

I hope that the Minister of State will be able to give us some enlightenment on this. I hope that this matter will be considered in Committee so that a worthwhile scheme will be introduced.

7.55 p.m.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield)

I am very pleased to have caught your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to enable me to make a brief contribution to this important debate. Having served for a number of years in local government as a county councillor, I became deeply involved in education matters and have continued this interest ever since I entered this House. Having served on an education committee, and having been a chairman of governors of a secondary school and on the board of governors of a grammar school, as well as being chairman of managers of a number of infant and primary schools, I have listened with great interest to the contributions which have been made so far.

Perhaps I may be permitted to refer to the kind of comments made about me by the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, North-East (Mrs. Short). She is a very forceful Chairman of the Social Services and Employment Sub-Committee of the Expenditure Committee. Indeed, we looked into the problems of youth unemployment very deeply and met a lot of people, and many representations were made to us. The hon. Lady made a very good case for the educational maintenance allowance.

However, I am sure that she would not want to mislead the House at all in this matter. I should therefore like to put the record absolutely straight. While we were all for ensuring that as many young people as possible stayed on at school to get a qualification, there was division within the Sub-Committee as to whether this should be done within the school or within a college. Having put that point straight, I would pay tribute to the driving force of the hon. Lady in trying to persuade the Government that something needs to be done in this very special area.

Perhaps for a change, I found myself in much sympathy with the views expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (Mr. van Straubenzee) when he talked about polytechnics. I myself had the privilege of serving on a joint committee of the Lanchester polytechnic in Coventry. I believe that these institutions should be the responsibility of local authorities and should be oriented in the courses which they put on to the area in which they are located. That is the best way of getting value out of these institutions, which must not set themselves up as another form of university. They have a very special and important job to do, but it is not to set themselves up in competition to the universities.

Again, I found myself absolutely in tune with the sentiments of my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Raison) about governing bodies. I believe that the local education authority must have a majority of places on a governing body, because it pays for education locally and it is its responsibility to provide the schools. Therefore, inevitably it must play a very important part through its elected members and other co-opted or appointed members on the governing bodies of all secondary schools in particular.

I believe that there is a great divide between the Conservative Party and people such as the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Flannery), with regard to education.

Before I make my brief comments, I should like to pay tribute to the excellent speech of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Runcorn (Mr. Carlisle). He presented an excellent case today. Not only that, but he showed great humanity, which is one of the attributes for which he is well known. I believe that he will do great service to education in the position which he holds.

However technical and minor the Bill might be, it is a device to further a Socialist policy of educational destruct- tion. The introduction of the Bill is an admission that the Government's attempt to impose a universal system of education upon an unwilling nation has failed.

I and many others believe that our education system was once the envy of the world to the extent that parents had no need to involve themselves closely in the day-to-day running of our schools. Variety of choice ensured that the parents' main role could be complementary to that of the school. How that situation has changed.

I welcome the general principle of parental involvement on all governing boards as the only way of ensuring that schools are operated according to the wishes of most parents. The acceptance of that principle might indicate a failure of some State schools to live up to their expectations. A general decline in standards has caused much anxiety among many parents throughout the country. That is why I believe that they are right to look to a future Conservative Government to provide a parents' charter.

The Government are jumping on the parental involvement bandwagon. Opposition Members were the subject of many disparaging remarks from Labour Members, but we were the first in the House to launch a parents' charter. That was over four years ago. Some of those clothes have been taken by the present Government.

So long as there is a comprehensive system with little opportunity for parental choice in education, Opposition Members have a duty to press for statutory representation for parents on governing bodies. I was privileged to sit on a number of governing bodies. As a county councillor I was able to make recommendations about those who sat on such governing and managing bodies. On all such occasions I ensured that at least one parent from that school was my nominee.

Mr. Noble

The hon. Member has said that he always nominated a parent. How effective was that governor as a parent representative? How accountable was he to the other parents in the school?

Mr. Winterton

I believe that such nominees are effective. I have had good attendance records at all meetings and parents played a full part. They made it their duty and responsibility to become involved with the parent-teachers association, which also had the opportunity of appointing a governor to the school to ensure that there was good liaison between the school, the governing body and the parents of all pupils.

I welcome the proposals to include both parents and teachers on governing bodies. It is a positive method of attempting to make schools accountable to parents and, through the parents, to the community.

I turn to clauses 6 to 13, which are extremely sinister. They reflect the present Government's dangerous intentions for the future of education in this country. Planned admission limits are a method of enforcing parents to send their children to a school which might not have a good reputation. I welcome the proposals to oblige local education authorities to publish their admission arrangements and to endeavour to comply"with parents' wishes ". But these proposals appear to be in direct conflict with the clauses connected with planned admission limits.

The Bill is a contradiction. On the one hand, certain clauses pay lip service to parents' rights. On the other hand, other clauses effectively make redundant the right of a parent to send his child to a school of his choice.

Sadly and unfortunately, I foresee that certain local education authorities will use the statutory power which the Bill gives them to reduce the intake of a popular school in order to keep open an unpopular school.

It was interesting that the hon. Member for Ilford, South (Mr. Shaw) produced a different example which went the other way. He indicated that some education authorities, perhaps his in Redbridge, might enlarge one of the existing grammar schools—which I am pleased to say still survives in that area—in order to run down one of the other secondary schools. I believe that it is more likely to be the other way. I believe that a grammar school will be phased out under the law of the land and that a good comprehensive school, perhaps run on grammar school lines with grammar school discipline, could have its capacity limited for political, social engineering purposes. I foresee that a dangerous loophole will be created deliberately for the evil, Socialist purpose of social engineering.

Planned admission limits inevitably will result in an increase in the power of local bureaucrats who will be able to refuse places to parents even when places are available. The Bill goes that far. It is right that the House should know how far the Bill goes.

The greatest dangers to our free society come more from the Socialist assault on our system of education than from any other Socialist harebrained schemes—whether they involve nationalisation or high taxation. If the minds of future generations can be moulded by the State, there is no danger to the Socialist system.

The Bill is designed to be slipped on to the statute book with pleasant sounding phrases about parental involvement on school boards, in the hope that everyone in the country, and perhaps in the House, will ignore the dangerous provisions to take away the remnants of choice which might still exist for parents in a State education system.

Let us consider what power parents have on a school hoard. They will be overwhelmed by the bureaucrats who, by definition, inevitably will be committed to the Socialist view of education. I am sure that we shall hear more about that in the debate. Sadly that has been a trend in recent years. Parent representatives will be but a voice which is listened to with deaf ears by the State. I want a positive Bill.

If parents are to play an important role on a board of governors, they must have the power. They must not be allowed to be overruled by the bureaucrats. A former Secretary of State for Education and Science, now Lord Glenamara, once said that Whitehall knows best. We learned quickly that Whitehall does not know best.

The Bill is designed to sedate the nation into a slumber so that the pursuit of Socialist dogma in education can continue without being noticed. The Bill is a typical product of the present Department of Education and Science, which is presided over by the Secretary of State whose seemingly pleasant, moderate image enables her to act as the motherly midwife of Socialism. [Laughter.] I am pleased that I am getting some reaction from Labour Members, particularly from those below the Gangway where a great deal of danger lies for the education system. Government Members will contribute as much to the advance of the totalitarian State as any hon. Member sitting below the Gangway.

I have severely criticised the Bill for its dangers. The House is the place where one should promote views which are expressed in a democratic way. We heard much about democracy from the hon. Member for Hillsborough and about the democratisation of education. I believe in democracy. This House is where one should spell out the dangers to education in the Bill. Whether or not Members below the Gangway like it I shall express my views, which are widely shared by parents.

I hope that some of my arguments will be taken up by my good colleague, my hon. Friend the Member for Brent, North (Dr. Boyson). Whether or not Members below the Gangway like what he says, he reflects views that are held deeply by hundreds of thousands of parents. He has done a great service to education.

A number of provisions in the Bill are helpful to education. Clauses 15 and 17, which relate to the extension of mandatory awards in higher education for professional, vocational and commercial courses are helpful. I want to get away from the present position of so many of our further education institutions arranging courses in humanities, arts, social sciences, sociology and the rest. These courses are diabolically dangerous and so divorced from reality that I would take a sharp pair of pruning shears and cut out 50 per cent. of them. The money saved could be directed perhaps towards providing the sort of educational maintenance grants that the hon. Lady the Member for Wolverhampton, North-East would like to see for people who want to undertake vocational, professional and commercial courses, and courses in medicine. Those are the areas in which we are short of skill. Much more of our higher education should be geared to the needs of our country and not to people who produce problems where none existed before they become involved. Sadly, that is the history of many of those who study sociology and allied courses at our centres of further education.

The Opposition will not divide against the Second Reading. The real argument will take place in Committee. Many amendments will be tabled and fiercely debated and if we do not get fairly dramatic amendments made to the Bill, I hope that the Opposition will vote against the Third Reading.

We have had a useful debate. I have learned much and I hope that Labour Members below the Gangway are prepared to admit that there are views on education, other than their own, that are worth listening to.

8.12 p.m.

Mr. Bryan Davies (Enfield, North)

The hon. and learned Member for Runcorn (Mr. Carlisle) purports to bring the voice of sweet reason from the Opposition to our debates, but he has some fairly formidable opposition on his own Benches to contend with, in light of the speech of the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton) and the contribution we can expect from the hon. Member for Brent, North (Dr. Boyson).

The hon. and learned Member for Runcorn said that he thought that comprehensive schools could co-exist with grammar schools, but the hon. Member for Brent, North is on the record as saying that that is not possible. The hon. and learned Member for Runcorn said that he did not think that schools could have elastic sides and expand and contract according to parental demand, but that is precisely the view of the hon. Member for Brent, North when he advocates the voucher system. We see many divisions in the Opposition on education philosophy.

I wish to concentrate not on the detail of the Bill, but on which we are promised a fairly long sojourn in Committee, but on issues of principle. Let us seek to educate the Opposition on one fundamental point. The concept of parental choice is possible in the State system only on the basis of comprehensive education.

Selection at the age of 11, which supported the grammar school structure, was a denial of parental choice. There, indeed, was the power of the bureaucrat. He implemented his IQ tests on some spurious notion of being able to identify children of ability for the future. There, indeed, was the power of the bureaucrat to tell parents which schools their children should go to and there was the reality of the parents of more than 80 per cent. of children having no say in the future development of their education.

The development of comprehensive education, which redounds to the glory of the Government side of the House, put the issue of parental choice on the agenda. It is important that we now define how we can best achieve a range of important principles that should underpin our education system. No one wishes to deny the extremely important role that a parent ought to play in the development of the education of his children, but it is equally clear that we also have other responsibilities.

It is not just the committed parent or the interested, appreciative and informed parent to whom we owe a responsibility. We also have a responsibility to the children of parents who may have none of those qualities. We have an obligation to ensure that the best education is available even to the children of parents who cannot make the informed choices or have never had the opportunity to do so.

It is a dreadful condemnation of the Conservative Party that it puts such a high priority upon fulfilling parental choice when, in doing that, it has condemned large numbers of children to have the misfortunes of their parental position visited upon them. Of course, we must seek to create informed opinion among parents. That is why we should welcome the clauses that refer to increased information about schools. Of course, we must have greater parental involvement in governing bodies because participation is the best education, but we must also recognise that the education system cannot be defined solely in terms of parental choice. We have a responsibility to provide education for all children.

I ask Conservative Members to bear in mind that arguing for the contraction of schools and the rapid closure of schools that may have a reputation of being less successful than others in a locality may be a most drastic solution. The reputation of schools can often be based on the flimsiest evidence. Many of us know that the schools that become unpopular with parents are those that have had an element of disturbance at that crucial point in the year—around February or March —when the local authority sends out the forms on which parents are asked to indicate their choices. Within 18 months or two years, the difficulty may have ebbed away from the public mind and the school is judged on rather more significant criteria.

In such circumstances, we must recognise that the suggestion that schools should be run down rapidly is a massive disservice to a local community. A school is important to a community and a substantial number of parents will always value most highly the school nearest their home. So they should. Why should their children have to waste time on journeys to school? Why should the local school not be an important part of the local community?

The responsibility of education authorities is clear. They should not write off schools and close them, but should recognise that there must be balanced provision throughout the authority's area and that it must meet its obligations to the parents of children who are already in the threatened schools. Nothing could be more demoralising for children in such schools than for them to find that the pressure from the local authority is for the rapid closure of the school and that the explanation and information procedures of the authority are directed towards guiding parents away from that school. That would be a disservice to the large numbers of children being educated there.

The most important role that parents can play in their children's education is to take an interest in their development and to recognise that the choice of school at the age of 11 is important, but that much more important is the opportunity to participate in the development of the education of their children at school.

Real educational choice does not start or stop at the age of 11. It must be within the programmes offered by schools. Children develop beyond the age of 11 in a whole range of specialisations, interests and aptitudes. The school that offers a true educational choice for parents and children is the one that offers a broad programme. I hope that my hon. Friends will recognise that the Bill represents an accurate balance between the proper requirement of parents to have a greater participatory role in the development of education in their area and proper rights for parents to be able to identify their first preference for their children at the age of 11. But, much more important, the Bill provides the oportunity for the development of educational choice within the school programmes for those above the age of 11.

I believe that in this context if we are to identify a wider range of people from whom governors are to be drawn we should look very seriously at the question of pupil governors. We ought to recognise that with the increasing maturity of young people and with their growing social awareness—and most of us would be hard pressed to deny those factors—it is only right that we should recognise that those who are on the receiving end of the educational system should have a small say at least about the development of education.

There is therefore a strong case for local authorities seriously to consider that the more mature pupils in schools should be able to elect their representatives to the governing bodies.

I am sure that my hon. Friend the Minister of State recognises that many Labour Members feel a sense of grievous disappointment and dismay at the limited initiative in the Bill on educational maintenance allowances. The moment that we cast this proposition within the discretionary sphere there will be a limited take-up and participation such as we have seen with other discretionary awards for which local authorities are responsible.

We must recognise not just the problem of the very low percentage of our youngsters who stay in full-time education beyond 16, but the very low level of provision for girls beyond 16 throughout education. That is something which can be corrected only by giving greater support. We should recognise that the greatest loss to our education system comes at the crucial point of 16 years of age when so many youngsters leave school because their parents regard keeping them at school as an undue burden.

The detail of the clauses relating to the new body, proposed as a result of the Oakes committee proposals, will need to be discussed and refined in Committee. My hon. Friends and I should, however, give a genuine welcome to a proposition which gives some opportunity for a national planning mechanism for advanced and further education. We have to strike a balance between that and the proposition that a section of higher education certainly needs to be under local authority control and responsive to local authority impulses. This is the only sentence in my speech which can be regarded as concurring with the thoughts of the hon. Member for Macclesfield. I agree that a section of higher education should be under local authority control, but equally we need a national body which plans and rationalises courses more intelligently.

I believe that the House will give the Bill a warm welcome. It signifies a marked advance for the comprehensive principle, and we ought not to fear the Opposition diehards who have never understood comprehensive education and are scarcely now in a position to debate the intricacies of our new developments.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Deputy Speaker(Mr. Bryant Godman Irvine)

Order. The Front Bench speeches will start at about 9 p.m. Eight hon. Members are still waiting to be called. That means that anyone exceeding five minutes will be cutting out someone else.

8.24 p.m.

Mr. William Shelton (Streatham)

I shall take note of your comment, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

I was interested in what the hon. Member for Enfield, North (Mr. Davies) said about choice. The theory that one can help the weak by hindering the strong has always seemed to me to be a doubtful one.

A good many hon. Members have expressed disappointment about one aspect or another of the Bill. I think that a great opportunity has been missed. I am profoundly disappointed with the Bill. The time is right for a new education Bill, and until I saw this Bill I thought that that was what we would get. If I had had the time, I should have given a list of the many items which have been wrongly omitted.

I wish to concentrate on the question of choice because one or two hon. Members have been kind enough to mention the parents' charter. I had the good fortune to introduce a Private Member's Bill on that subject in November 1974. It fell on Second Reading through lack of Labour Government support. I am pleased that certain parts of it have been written into this Bill.

That is why I cannot disagree with the whole of the Bill. My purpose in drawing up the parents' charter was to increase parental involvement and choice. In that Bill, which ran to seven or eight clauses, I dealt in much more detail with the question of parental involvement than is achieved by this Bill. My Bill dealt with the governing bodies of schools and with the fact that parents and teachers should be members of them. I went in more detail into the question of prospectuses. I also dealt with parent-teacher associations, which is the subject of another omission from the Government's Bill.

The second purpose of my Bill was to increase parental choice. I am at least glad that the Secretary of State said that in the past there had not been enough parental choice and that she would like to see more in future. That was the area of greatest disappointment for me in this Bill.

The Government have no doubt seen the opinion polls showing that parents want to choose their children's schools. There is a minority of hon. Members who would probably find it an impertinence. Equally, there are certain bureaucrats—again, I hope a minority—who would probably find it extraordinarily irritating. I am sure that this Bill has been introduced, at least in part, with a view to showing the public that the Government, as well as the Tories, favour parental choice, and it is there that the Bill is a sham—whether intentionally or unintentionally I cannot say. I hope that in Committee we can show that it is a sham and do something about it.

In the parents' charter I proposed to amend section 76 of the Education Act to tilt the balance towards the parents. The Secretary of State said, as though it were important, that that section remains unaffected by the new legislation. I was never able to discover any parent who had won a case based on section 76 of the Education Act. I suggested that parents' wishes should be respected unless they were unreasonable on grounds of cost, involving disproportionately high public expenditure.

The Bill does not improve section 76 of the Educaion Act, and it cancels section 37, which is an unsatisfactory procedure, but when a parent is desperate—parents do become desperate about the education of their children—they at least had this door which they could open and pass through. That door has been slammed, and in exchange we have the provision that local education authorities must endeavour to comply with the parent's preference for a school, which is good. But then another door is slammed: not if it prejudices the provision of efficient education, and not if it prejudices the efficient use of financial resources. Those provisos will have the same effect as section 76 of the Education Act—no effect at all. They kill that preference point.

I do not believe that any parent will win a case against a local education authority when the Bill contains the words would prejudice the provision of efficient education ". Who is to say? The local education authority. How can the parent plead on that point? He or she can appeal to the Secretary of State, but the appeal, so far as I understand it, will be on procedural matters only. It does not seem to be a matter of right or wrong, good or bad. The appeal is on procedural matters, and that is what we must look at.

But wait, one might say, there is an appeals procedure whereby the parent can submit objections in writing To whom? To the local education authority, the people who made the decision in the first place. Surely that must be nonsense, as the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) said. It is no more than a review procedure; it is not an appeals procedure.

Even more sinister, as my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton) said—I like his word because it implies conspiracy—is the business of the planned admission limits. With falling school rolls, what could be more sensible than to allow local education authorities to fix limits on schools so that they can adjust between one school and another to get a sensible and satisfactory administrative pattern? Of course I accept that in most cases this is how the limits would be used.

But in other cases they would be used in a completely different way which might well mean that administrative convenience must take precedence over parental choice.

If parents want to send their children to a school that is not full and a limit is put on that school of 75 per cent. of capacity, that limit over-rides the other 25 per cent. of the children who could have gone to the school. I do not see how the House can possibly accept such a limitation. There are other ways of doing it. Indeed, the present system does not work too badly. The prospect of arbitrarily fixing limits which will impede parental choice cannot be acceptable to parents.

Let me sum up my three arguments. First, by the ending of section 37, a door is slammed in the face of desperate parents. In exchange they get an unenforceable obligation by the local education authority to give preference to parents. It is unenforceable because it is vitiated by the provisos made to it.

Secondly, we are creating an appeals system in which the appeal is to the authority which first passed judgment, with a further appeal to the Secretary of State on a point of procedure.

Thirdly, through planned admission limits we shall strengthen the powers of local education authorities to deny parents the choice of schools for whatever reason may seem good to the local education authority. The Bill pretends to enlarge choice, but I believe it restricts it. It pretends to tilt the balance towards parents, but I believe it does the reverse. It is no gift to parents on the aspect of choice. It is a Trojan horse for more bureacracy and dictatorship.

8.34 p.m.

Mr. David Young (Bolton, East)

The Bill extends the scope of governors. Most of us had experience of members of governing bodies changing when the political control of the authority changes. I welcome the Bill as providing stability. I also welcome what the Secretary of State said about one governing body being allocated to each school. I also welcome the addition of parents, teachers and members of the community to the governing body, because the school is part of the community and too often in the past the education system has been divorced from the community of which it is an inherent part.

However, one would like clarified precisely how these people will be elected. I assume that teachers would be elected by secret ballot by the members of the staff, because it would be unfortunate if the situation was such that a teacher could be considered to be a head's appointee.

With parents the matter becomes a little more difficult, because too often the PTA, while quite an excellent organisation in itself, forms a ready-made pressure group. Therefore, it will be very difficult for that body, or its nominee, to represent the vast majority of parents, particularly in a very large school. Excellent as PTAs are, too often they represent not the generality of parents but sometimes the more articulate and perhaps even the more interested. This is a problem that we face.

Having been a member of an authority which co-opted pupils, who themselves were elected, I recognise that the idea of pupil governors is at an early stage, but it is something that we in the House should welcome. Quite obviously, if education is about anything, it is about the assumption of responsibility. If we are not prepared to devolve responsibility, after the age of 16, I believe that we are losing a very great opportunity.

In spite of the comings and goings and different views on each side of the Chamber, I do not think that any party is really opposed to parental choice. The difference between the two sides of the House is over to whom the parental choice is given. Under the selective system of education, parental choice exists only in respect of those children who achieve a place where a grammar school place has been built. Under the selective system, in the areas of too many authorities there were children who could have benefited from a grammar school place but did not get one because there were not sufficient places built. Over the country as a whole we can talk about 20 per cent. of parents having some choice.

Quite obviously, no system will give absolute parental choice. But I should like to ask the Minister to keep a very careful eye—while certainly encouraging, where possible, parental choice—on seeing that parental choice is not used as a means of depriving inner city schools of a cross-section of intake, where parents are moving so that their children can attend schools which are more desirable, not because of better teaching but because of better environment and better facilities and because they are in newer buildings.

If the social problems were added to the environmental problems of schools in inner city areas, this would create a great and deep difficulty. The solution lies not only with local authorities but with the Government, because what is needed in many inner city schools is positive discrimination in terms of additional resources, additional teachers and additional facilities. I hope that the Government will take note of that, and will raise the matter in discussions with the local authorities, because I have no desire to see central schools in areas such as Bolton becoming ghetto schools because of the position that I have described.

I am extremely sorry that, through no fault of her own, the Minister was unable to declare that the scheme of educational maintenance allowances would apply to the whole country. As several hon. Members have said, that will cause a great deal of concern in adjoining authorities. I would argue for and support the view that before someone goes into the sixth form obviously he should benefit from that; but I would not measure that in terms of O-levels or A-levels, because education is about a little more than that. It is preparation for life and preparation for a job, and not necessarily for a university, because if we are to survive we have to persuade more and more people to go into industry, and not just into the academic disciplines, as we have done in the past. That means additional education and additional qualifications. It means sixth forms gearing themselves to the techniques of industry, not to the academic disciplines, as many have done under the selective system.

Finally, I abhor the suggestion that this proposal is being put forward simply to reduce the dole queues. In terms of the economic situation, the difference between the money available on a Manpower Services scheme and the limited amount that would be available under this scheme would certainly not do so. This scheme seeks only to make it possible to say to a poorer family whose child could have benefited from additional education"The child does not need to leave school. There is now a chance of its going on ". If this small amount of help can persuade a child to gain an additional year of qualification which will benefit not only the child but the nation as a whole, I am fully behind such a scheme.

8.43 p.m.

Mr. D. E. Thomas (Merioneth)

I want to endorse what other hon. Members have said about the limitations of this Bill, particularly as it applies to educational maintenance allowances. In view of the time available I will refer only to clauses 18 and 20, which refer specifically to the provision of bilingual education. The Bill reflects a change of attitude on the part of Government and the public generally with regard to the positive benefits of bilingualism.

The general attitude that prevailed and, as we heard earlier, still prevails in certain sections of this House, was that bilingual teaching was a disadvantage to a child. Recent studies which have been published, and particularly the study published by McGill University last year, have indicated that bilingual children are at a positive advantage in their process of education. To summarise the findings of the McGill study, it is suggested that bilingualism favourably affects the structure and flexibility of thought of young children and, as a result of bilingual teaching, there is a greater"skill at auditory reorganisation"of verbal material, more flexible manipulation of the linguistic code and more advanced performance on tests of"concrete operational thinking ".

In addition, it has been shown that the fact that the bilingual child's given concept may be associated with two different university discourses and languages may create in him a deeper understanding of that concept. It might be suggested that some hon. Members who have spoken this afternoon from this side of the House might have benefited educationally had they had their concepts conveyed to them in two languages rather than one. I am concerned that the provision which is now to be made available under clause 18 and which recognised the positive advantages of bilingualism and biculturalism will not be suflicient. By"bilingual education"one means two things. One implies that there should be a grounding of the child through the medium of his first language. That means that there must be an expansion of primary provision, in addition to the 35,000 in Wales who are already educated through the medium of Welsh at primary level. There should also be an expansion in secondary provision in addition to the 6,000 already educated through the medium of Welsh at secondary level. However, as part of the bilingual programme, it also means the introduction of a second language.

In the case of the introduction of English, this does not present a major educational problem, as this is introduced informally through other means—in particular, through the mass media. It is significant that the major linguistic conflict and the major attempt to extend the domain of Welsh is taking place through the mass media of television and broadcasting which are responsible for concurrent dissemination of culture, and through education which is responsible for the historic transfer of culture from one generation to the next. Therefore, effective bilingual education means a grounding in the first language and rapid and early introduction of the second language. It also means that the education has to be bi-cultural in that the child educated through the medium of one language is also introduced to the cultural heritage of the other language.

Advances made in education in Wales in this sphere show that we have developed an expertise in bilingual and bicultural education. This has been acknowledged in other areas which have similar opportunities—in particular, in North America, Canada and especially in Quebec. I am anxious that this development towards greater bilingual development should be properly funded. For this reason, I am unhappy about the way in which clause 18 is worded and about the relationship between what we are being offered in that clause and what we are being offered in rate support grant.

We have been told that what appears in clause 18 is in addition to resources being made available in RSG. Yet bilingualism is being specifically excluded as a calculable factor in RSG resources. I refer to the second report of the joint working party on a Welsh rate support grant system. We are told in paragraphs 6.14 and 6.15—I shall not quote the document in detail—that the working party recognised the impact of bilingual- ism on education, but was not able, or not willing, to ensure that bilingual education became an indicator, or that bilingualism generally as a total factor became an indicator in the calculation of rate support grant.

I wish to emphasise to the Under-Secretary of State for Wales, who is responsible for these matters, that it is more important for local authorities in Wales to be funded through RSG for the oncosts of bilingualism than it is to have additional specific grants. Welcome as they are in clause 18 as additional specific grants, I believe that they should not take the place of normal central funding to local government through RSG.

I ask the Minister to request his working party to re-examine the implications of paragraphs 6.14, 6.15 and 6.16 of the second report to ensure that counties throughout Wales which have effective bilingual policies in primary and secondary education, particularly those counties which are seeking to extend the domain of Welsh as an official language, should be grant-aided in the normal way through RSG.

It is essential that the additional money which is being made available through clause 18 by way of specific grants should not be seen to be an attempt by the Government to avoid the issue of recognising bilingualism as a factor for funding in the normal way.

I am glad that clause 18 extends its scope beyond funding to local government. If we are to pursue the effective extension of both the teaching of Welsh as a second language and of Welsh medium teaching at secondary level, we shall require a coherent programme. There should be resources available of the kind which already exist at primary level through the Schools Council and which are now increasingly being made available through the Schools Council at secondary level.

It is important that some of this funding should go directly, not to local education authorities, but to a resource centre —I shall not split the argument between Y Coleg normal, the Minister's old college, and University college, Aberystwyth, and which has the major expertise in its education department in bilingual education—located in either or both of those institutions where it will be possible to prepare material and to monitor the progress of extending the use of Welsh as a medium of instruction in secondary education.

I turn now to higher education. We cannot avoid mentioning higher education in the debate, because there is a sit-in at University college, Lampeter, where there is a demand for the extension of Welsh medium teaching within the university.

Perhaps I should declare a passing interest as a former Welsh medium lecturer in the department of English at University college, Bangor.

The position regarding all post-16 education in Wales in the medium of Welsh needs coherent planning. That is where the Advanced Further Education Council for Wales has a specific function. It was questioned from the Conservative Benches whether there was a need for a body for Wales. This is one area where obviously there must be coherent planning for the development of post-16 Welsh medium education. The campaign for the extension of the domain of Welsh in secondary education is parallel to what is happening in the mass media.

We need to cater for the 6,000 products of the Welsh medium secondary schools who are coming to higher education with little or no provision for them through the medium of Welsh. The provision made by the University of Wales is derisory. I can only hope that through coherent planning of the post-16 sector, which can happen with the Advanced Further Education Council, it will be possible to make provision in the public sector in Wales which the university has neglected to provide.

8.53 p.m.

Mr. Nigel Forman (Carshalton)

For the sake of brevity, I shall not follow the hon. Member for Merioneth (Mr. Thomas) down the red dragon route into clause 18.

I shall concentrate my remarks on supporting and reinforcing the felicitous speech from the Opposition Front Bench by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Runcorn (Mr. Carlisle). As he rightly pointed out, this is a ragbag of a Bill which may turn out to be a considerable disappointment for parents unless some important changes are made at the instigation of the Opposition.

The Secretary of State, who I regret is not present, has consistently promised more than she has delivered for as long as she has been in her job. The fact that she is so nice should not be allowed to conceal the transparent weakness of the Bill in several vital respects. I hope that in Committee we shall be able to strengthen the Bill so that the legitimate rights of parents can be met and reinforced. If the House as a whole can do that, it will have done something worth while with what is at present a mouse of a Bill.

I shall concentrate my brief remarks on the clauses dealing with admission to schools and parental choice, because that appears to be the most important part of the Bill. These clauses, as drafted, should cause concern to all who genuinely have parental rights at heart. The clauses, as several of my hon. Friends said, appear to give local education authorities almost limitless powers to regulate not only the numbers in particular schools, but the balance between different schools within their jurisdiction.

Looking back to what was promised in the consultative document put out by the Department of Education and Science in October 1977 and contrasting that with the slow march backwards, as it were, via the Secretary of State's speech on 26th January 1978, to the Bill, we see just how badly the Secretary of State has been defeated in Cabinet and elsewhere and by the Labour Party committees in her wish to uphold and strengthen parental rights. The result is that the clauses, as drafted, are likely to restrict rather than extend effective parental choice. This is largely because of the pernicious influence of some of the ideologues who sit behind the right hon. Lady.

Looking at specific details, we find that clause 7(2), as drafted, is only a weak and indefinable injunction on local education authorities to endeavour to comply with parental wishes. Subsection (3)(a) and (b) so circumscribe even that weak injunction that many local education authorities will be able to do virtually what they like in defiance of parental wishes.

Small schools, especially but not exclusively in rural areas, could be run down and closed against the strong wishes of parents and the local community. In the urban and suburban areas, such as my own, there could be the temptation, which some of my hon. Friends have already underlined, for LEAs, especially those which are Labour-controlled, to run some good schools with numbers well below their maximum capacity simply in order to redistribute some of the more able children to the less successful or less popular schools.

If that happened, it would be a true case of social engineering for ulterior motives masquerading behind administrative convenience. Neither of these concerns should be allowed to dominate education. Together, they would be pernicious in their effects. If we allow these clauses to go through unamended, we shall be failing in our duty to the parents of this country.

While it must be right I am glad that my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Runcorn made this point to deal with the anomaly of section 37 in the manner proposed in clauses 12 and 13, it should be a quid pro quo to extend and not restrict parental choice for the great majority who observe the normal procedures and often accept something less than their optimum choice for their children. If effective choice cannot become a reality for the great majority of parents, this is something from which we shall suffer as a community and as a society.

The only way that we can make choice an effective reality is by ensuring that parents are provided with the maximum of substantial information about individual schools. I would lay stress not only on educational objectives, values and types of discipline within the school, but on examination results, from which we should not shy away.

Another condition for effective choice must be a genuinely independent appeals procedure at local level with a substantial independent element built into it. If those two criteria could be met, we should have gone a long way to strengthening the Bill. This has to be the minimum requirement if dissatisfied parents are not to feel that LEAs are acting as judge and jury in their own case, as could well happen under the clauses as drafted. This is especially true when one looks at clause 9. It would have to be a very careless LEA to fall foul of that clause as drafted. The system proposed should be turned into an open, fair and comprehensible system, susceptible to genuinely independent appeal and redress.

I believe that we should pass this legislation in this area only if it is so drafted as to give parents sufficient confidence in the system proposed. That is vital. If it does not achieve that, it is the children who will suffer from the turmoil and dislocation that will follow. If it does, we shall have gone a long way to establishing at least some of the conditions necessary for the higher standards in education for all our children that all in the House want to see.

8.59 p.m.

Mr. Allen McKay (Penistone)

I had not intended to speak until I heard some of the speeches. I welcome the Bill as a step in the right direction. I was puzzled at first about why some parts of it were necessary, because my authority over the last four or five years has been doing much of what it provides for.

I should like governing bodies to be more broadly based than the Bill provides. I should like to see something along the lines of what happens in my authority, where the trades council and the chamber of commerce are involved and the universities are linked with the senior schools. We have benefited from the ideas created by this arrangement.

I believe that schools should not be institutions which open at 9 a.m. and close at 4 p.m. In many places, schools are the largest single capital investment of the community. They should be open for the community after the educational function is over. The senior schools provide a focal point for the area and many facilities which have not been provided before. There is no sense in having two gymnasia in a school if they will be used for only four or five hours a day. With a broadly based governing body, the whole community could share the resources. I served on governing bodies before we had this broad system, so I know the benefits of it.

We need legislation about admissions. I appreciate the dangers, but I think that some are reading into the Bill dangers that do not exist. Numbers for each school should be publicised. Often, a local education authority or a head can say that a school is full when using the national number rather than the actual number. If both figures were publicised parents could know exactly when a school was full.

I challenge the allegation about the Secretary of State's policy on admissions. In the past few weeks, at my request, she has intervened on behalf of 17 parents of 19 children who wish to go to the school of their choice. She did so against the LEA's wishes but in accordance with parents' wishes. The parents and I are grateful for that.

I believe in the benefits of nursery education, which does not go far enough. An excellent education system depends on starting at the age of three. In any junior school, one can pick out those who started at three and those who started at five. I hope that nursery education can be extended.

The maintenance allowance for those aged 16 to 19 is a necessity. Some hon. Members say that this is a State handout for children which will make them stay on when they should not do so. I disagree. If someone wishes to leave school, he will leave, whatever the money available. Those interested in technical education will go to technical college. Those who are not interested in education at all will leave anyway. Those who stay will be those who can get the greatest benefit from education.

I have come across families who have taken children away from school simply because they could not afford to keep them there. The provisions in the Bill will simply encourage those to stay on who wish to do so. It will not encourage those who do not want to stay.

I have seen the benefit of pupil governors because some of the ideas that the pupils bring forward are good. I know of one case in which the children suggested that the governing body was taking the best room which would be more useful for sixth-form study. They turned the governors out into another room and got the benefit of the better room.

Those people who have looked at this Bill and seen all sorts of fears need not worry. In practical terms, we have already done much of what is provided for in the Bill, and we have found that it works.

9.5 p.m.

Dr. Rhodes Boyson (Brent, North)

We all enjoyed the speech of the hon. Member for Penistone (Mr. McKay), and we agree with many of the ideas that he put forward. I hope that we can get involved with them in Committee.

We can divide this Bill into three parts —the part with which we agree, the part about which we have doubts and the part which will have to be changed in Committee if it is to have our support on Third Reading.

We agree with the extension of mandatory grants. There is a lot of difference among local authorities in the way that they interpret discretionary grants in the professional courses which are essential to this country. Because of the rate support grant, many of the rural Conservative authorities find it difficult to give these grants. This is unfair to young people, because in certain areas they can get the grants and in other areas they cannot. Since we need the products of these grants, particularly in, for example, speech therapy and physiotherapy, it is important that there should be an extension.

We support industrial scholarships. My hon. Friend the Member for Ripon (Dr. Hampson) has been pushing this concept regularly in the House throughout the year. We should like to see them extended because we think that they are a good idea. Our only regret is the slowness with which they have been taken up.

One of the areas about which we have doubts relates to the 16 to 18-year-olds and the educational maintenance allowances. We believe that, in view of the cost of that scheme, the money could be better used elsewhere in that age group. There is among the 16 to 19-year-olds the great problem of the non-advanced further education courses which a lot of young people are taking. We feel that the Government should look at the position of grants for this age group and we hope that something will be done in Committee.

We were given great hopes by Ministers about a large extension of EMAs, but when it came it was so small that it really is a case of a mountain that has produced a mouse.

Another question of doubt concerns the arrangements for the higher education maintained sector, which we shall obviously deal with in Committee. We realise that there is wasteful expenditure at present and that it runs away in certain ways because of the pooling arrangements. We also realise that there has been a running away of academic drift on the type of courses that have been set up.

We are not happy about the advanced further education council, as it is being constituted, and we fear that it may be a new bureaucracy. There must be the continuation of a local authority element at the same time as there is some form of national planning. The balance of that is difficult, and it is something that we must consider in Committee.

We welcome the way in which the decision has been made to bring teachers and parents together on all governing bodies. That is the way in which legislation should come. Most authorities are doing this already. Ninety per cent. of them have parents and teachers on their governing bodies, thus establishing something that has become almost a national system.

We also welcome a separate governing body for each school. Again, this is common ground between the two sides of the House. We have some doubts about the question of pupil governors, but since this proposal is permissive and not mandatory it is an issue that can be discussed in Committee. Doubts have been voiced by many of the teacher unions on this aspect.

I noted the speech of the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Flannery). I always enjoy his speeches. Sometimes they enliven a darkened scene. I do not say that I ever agree with him, but at least he indicates a different view. He talked about the dinner ladies and others serving on the governing bodies of schools. I would always welcome dinner ladies and caretakers on governing bodies because they represent the biggest force for law and order in every school. Basically, it was the dinner ladies who brought the William Tyndale affair to light. If we want to drive the neo-progressives into the ground, the main way is to get a lot of dinner ladies on every governing body in our society. I am not committing my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Runcorn (Mr. Carlisle), whose speech was so definitive, but in this instance I am not afraid of the threats of the hon. Member for Hillsborough.

Mention has been made by my hon. Friends and by the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) of community governors and the source from which they are being drawn. There has been talk about the setting up of governing bodies with local education authorities that will have their powers and responsibilities separated. The local education authorities will provide the money.

There is the risk in some instances of the governing body becoming a talking shop. That could occur if it knew that basically it was not responsible for the levying of rates or, in the ultimate, for the running of the school. We may have to consider, certainly at district council level where it is suggested already that district councillors should have representation at primary school level, whether district councillors, as community representatives, should have representation at secondary school level.

It would be a peculiar arrangement if councillors elected from an area, the real community representatives, were in many cases not members of the local education authority and were not on the governing body. That is an issue that we shall wish to discuss in Committee.

By putting parents on the governing body we are not bringing about a tremendous transformation. There have always been some parents on the governing bodies. I was a head teacher in Lancashire up to 1961 and I always had parents on the governing body. They were selected by the political parties. We had the best of both worlds. We had parents who had committed their children to the school and parents with political influence on both sides of the council chamber in Rawtenstall, in the constituency of the hon. Member for Rossendale (Mr. Noble). The idea that we are witnessing a revelation is not true.

Reference has been made on both sides of the House to the low polls for the election of parent governors. Normally there is only a 5 per cent. turn-out. It will be strange if we have to have postal ballots to get a larger parental vote.

Where does responsibility lie? What is the position of the head? What I am about to say will not merely be the remarks of an ex-head. It may be that the hon. Member for Hillsborough will rally to my support in this instance. I am sorry that he missed that remark. The hon. Gentleman was reading. I suppose that I can have a quiet word with him afterwards.

As I said earlier in the Session, the H.M.I. report called"10 Good Schools"found out that they did not necessarily have 10 good governing bodies. It was discovered that they had 10 good heads who brought about staff involvement. It is important that nothing is done by the new governing bodies that undermines the position of the head who feels that he is the man at whom the buck stops.

Arnold Jennings, the president of the Headmasters' Association, a most distinguished comprehensive school head and a member of the National Union of Teachers, said this year that if we give power to somebody we take it away from somebody else. We do not want to find that we are spreading power so widely that nobody knows where the responsibility lies. We welcome the idea of parent governors and the teacher governors, but we must be careful.

There is the right in clause 5 for the Secretary of State to change the articles of government that are being sent up"with or without modification ". The local education authorities and governors may think that they have done a good job and they will not like to reconsider their position because they will find the articles modified by the Secretary of State. I have a feeling that the local authorities will not like that clause.

The main point of disagreement lies in the effectiveness or otherwise of parental choice. The hon. Member for Bolton, East (Mr. Young) said that we all believe in parental choice. We do; but what do we do to get parental choice? We all oppose sin, but some of us still sin. In most instances parents are more concerned to have a choice of school than to have the chance to sit on the governing body. That is the attitude of the majority of parents. Peter Wilby wrote recently in The Sunday Times—it was in the days when we were still privileged to be able to read that newspaper—an article on schools about Graham Bond, a distinguished primary school head. The article stated: ' Parents say ' is a relatively low priority: the parents want to be treated as consumers, not bosses. Conservative Members believe that the maximum parental choice we can give should be given. It is something that I have had for my children, and most of us have had it, including Labour Members. It should be considered as a good thing in itself, unless there are strong factors which outweigh it in the other direction.

It is important for three reasons. The first is that parents will back schools only if they agree with the way in which the schools are run. I commend to Labour Members a remarkable speech, reported in the press yesterday, which apparently is not due to be delivered until Saturday, by Lord Young of Dartington—that is a good progressive name. He has pointed out that parents want more choice, and that they will only back schools that they have chosen for their children to attend, otherwise they will vote with their feet, if they do not like the way the schools are run.

Secondly, there is a form of accountability involved. The hon. Member for Rossendale said that some schools are better than others. We accept that some schools are better than others. It might be said that some Members of Parliament are better than others, but that may be an excessive view. This sort of thing has happened ever since the Garden of Eden. Parental accountability is one way of pulling up the standards of schools. As long as some schools are guaranteed a conscript audience of children every year, they have no need to worry whether they they are meeting public demand. One of the best ways to improve schools is for schools to know that if they do not gain the confidence of the parent body they will be in danger of running down. It is a means of securing improvement.

Thirdly, parental choice is part of the free society in which Conservatives believe. Indeed, we should like to think that Labour Members believe in it as well. If we want a mature democracy—and the hon. Member for Hillsborough is always talking about democratisation —one way to get it is to have mature people. But we shall never have mature people unless they make real decisions. The making of decisions as to where their children should go to school is part of the development of a mature society.

There are, of course, differences inside schools. There are differences on the question of primary school methods. There are differences among comprehensive schools. Again I refer Labour Members to the remarks of Lord Young of Dartington. He talks of the differences between schools. We have in this country a comprehensive system of vastly different comprehensive schools. Labour Members are still fighting the battles of the 1950s and 1960s, but Lord Young has broken through by indicating what some of us have been saying in different ways. He has said it probably in a more gentle way. The point is that we have a comprehensive system of vastly different comprehensive schools, and what we are to do about that in terms of specialisation and parents' choice arises from that fact.

My hon. Friends have referred to the response of schools to the parental body. This is bound up with the question of accountability. It is not simply a matter of the age of a school. Time and time again it is made to appear that people do not want their children to go to old schools. I am not defending old schools to the point of saying that we should not build new schools, but I should be very surprised if some of the oldest London schools are not the most popular. What matters is what we do with the new schools to make them more popular. It is not a question of phasing out schools just because they are the oldest and have some of the oldest equipment.

There are two sets of people who do not like parental choice. There are the people who do not believe that parents are wise enough to choose. I am sorry that the hon. Member for Enfield, North (Mr. Davies) is not present. He very courteously passed me a note to say that he was not running away because I was winding up but was leaving because he had to go to Europe on a delegation. Perhaps he will see whether there is any parental choice there. He spoke about parents making wrong decisions. He referred to the unjustified reputations of schools. It is fascinating that he believes in democracy to the extent of accepting the ability of the people to elect him as the hon. Member for Brent, North. [HON. MEMBERS:"Oh! "] That really was a slip. There would certainly be rejoicing on the Labour Benches if that were the case. If they are able and mature enough to read party manifestos, it is hard to believe that parents will be taken in by some pure gimmick in choosing between two schools at each end of the street. If one believed that, it would make the flat earthers the most rational of mankind. In both ways, this is a question of people making wise choices in the context of what they know and in the context of local circumstances.

The second group of people is those who do not believe in parental choice, who do not like parents, and who believe that the schools would be run better without them. This group I would describe as those who believe in"bureaucratic and administrative convenience"and who want tidiness. In County Hall it is nice to have tidiness, with the right number of children in every school. But, although tidiness has from time to time something to do with finance, it has nothing to do with freedom. Sometimes a little untidiness on the fringes is a defence of the continuance of freedom.

I come to the two parts of the Bill about which we are concerned. We hope that the clauses in question were inserted in error and that they were cuckoos in the nest. I hope that we shall be able to rescue you from your own folly—not you, Mr. Speaker. I apologise. Far be it from me to point you, Mr. Speaker, as a fellow Methodist, any nearer the promised land. But in reality the Bill will reduce choice. This was referred to by my hon. Friends the Members for Saffron Walden (Mr. Haselhurst) and Carshalton (Mr. Forman) as well as by the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed and my hon. Friend the Member for Streatham (Mr. Shelton).

Parental choice will be reduced by these planned admission limits. It is all very well believing that everything will be carried out in a civilised manner. But that is not necessarily the case. If an area has 2,000 children aged 11 in September, and adjusts its intake that year so that the figure of places is exactly 2,000, it will have effectively zoned the whole area. In particular, if the children nearest the school have priority, there will be no choice whatever unless one person wants to opt out of the catchment area. I never believed that such a proposal would be in the Bill—the power to change the intake of all schools every year according to the number of children. This will not happen over a period. The Bill specifically states that it will take place every year.

This is a power which local authorities have never had before. It means that they can undertake"social engineering ", if one wants to use that phrase, keep unpopular schools open and run down popular schools. They can do exactly what they want with the agreement of the Secretary of State and the people in the area will be able to do nothing about it. To me this is very dangerous.

I realise that, when running down the number of children in schools, something has to be done about admission limits over a number of years. We accept that fact and we are not blind to it. The Secretary of State referred to this, but it is not in the Bill, and that is what we must discuss this evening, because that is what we are being threatened by. The Secretary of State may say that it will not work this way, but she will not be the education officer in each authority or the chairman of the local authority in every place.

If schools are to be run down, why cannot section 13 notices be used? We know that they have not been so used before. But why cannot the Bill so provide that this will be done properly over a number of years? In that way, the notices can be put up and people locally can say whether they like or dislike what is happening. That is the way to deal with this matter. We realise that there has to be a rundown, but the way it is proposed in the Bill means that a local authority can run down a school entirely against the wishes of the parents of that area. That we do not want. In Brent, there is already a likelihood of this happening as a result of a declining population.

Secondly, the wording of what was originally the intention of avoiding"unreasonable expense"seems to be much more complicated in the Bill. It now means that an authority cannot prove its case if it would prejudice the provision of efficient education in the school, or in the area of the authority, or the efficient use of financial resources available to the authority. It is more difficult to prove parental choice using those words than it was using the words in the measure which this provision replaces.

My hon. Friends have referred to the appeal procedure. In fact, it is not an appeal procedure but a review procedure. The person who appeals writes a letter and his appeal is refused the following day. If that is democracy as described by the hon. Member for Hillsborough, I am not surprised that he is a Yorkshire-man and I am a Lancashireman. As my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Runcorn said, the appeal to the Minister is based on this method. It is a question not of whether natural justice is involved but whether conditions already laid down by the local authority have been applied.

I turn to the question of prospectuses. Dr. Martin Shipman, the director of the Inner London Education Authority records and statistics group, said recently —and this is worth considering in Committee—that, instead of prospectuses, each school should have an annual balance sheet, as do companies. I should also like each school to hold an annual meeting at which it considers what has been achieved in the previous year. Speech days are not suitable occasions. On those days one blows a bugle from the platform there are floral arrangements and the governors are present, but one does not learn anything about achievement. The Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, the hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Marks) was a headmaster and he knows that that is so. There must be a published report on what is achieved in a school. A meeting of parents should consider that report and elect members to the governing body. Parents should also be able to question the staff about what has been achieved. I am sure that all Opposition Members approve of genuine accountability.

The London question is of particular importance. Whoever drafted the clauses did not realise what he was doing. In the London Government Act 1963, section 31(8) stipulates specifically that children can move between inner and outer London boroughs for education. They can move between outer London and the home counties and between the outer boroughs under that Act. There is automatic payment from the authority in which the child resides to the authority which provides the education. That provision formed part of the agreement that was made when the new boroughs were established.

In Middlesex and other areas schools were in catchment areas which the new boundaries split apart. Since 1963 we have also built schools assuming that children would still move across boundaries. We have inherited that system.

Today I have received some letters. I did not ask anybody to write to me. If I had, I should have received more. The letters were from Catholic priests and others connected with schools in my constituency. I calculate that only about one-third of the children in Brent, North attend schools in Brent when they require denominational education. St. George's middle school is in Harrow, 50 yards outside my local authority area. But many of the pupils at that school are from Brent. The other nearest Roman Catholic school is five or six miles away. Roman Catholic schools in particular are affected. Brent also does not have a Church of England school. A Brent Church of England child who wants to go to a Church of England school must go elsewhere.

In that situation we should not have to ask for permission. Local education authorities become cartels over this. They do not like children leaving their areas. If a parent appeals to me, all I have to do is to telephone the education office and say three words—" London Government Act "—and permission is granted immediately. If that provision goes, there will be chaos in London and great indignation amongst parents. I do not think that anybody realises what this provision means to London.

Not only denominational schools are affected. Some schools have few pupils in county schools from their own borough because of the change in boundaries. For example, children leave Brent to go to sixth-form colleges in Harrow because Brent does not have such colleges. There is a movement of children between the two areas. Similarly in the county schools there is movement across boundaries.

There are a number of points about the denominational issue. The planned admissions to the denominational schools can also be laid down by the local authority. Governors can appeal and if they lose the Secretary of State can agree with the local authority. So we have the Secretary of State hand in glove with a local authority and governors of voluntary schools have no control over admissions.

But there are other factors, including clause 7(5), which has strange wording to the effect that children cannot be taken from another authority if there is a child in the accepting authority who wishes to attend the same school—even though that child might be five miles away and the child in the other authority is 30 yards over the boundary. That is what clause 7(5) means, and it will have to go.

Secondly, clause 11(2) upsets the settlement of the London Government Act. If we were to go back to the pre-1964 local authorities, it might be popular in certain places, though I do not think that that was the intention of the Government. This was part of the agreement that brought in the new London boroughs and counties.

Thirdly, clause 23 may be of advantage to the rest of the country, and I appreciate its being in the Bill, but is of no advantage to London because there is immediate recoupment between authorities within the London Government Act. Since the London system has worked so well, and since we have a falling child population in most parts of the country, instead of taking away the right of movement across the London borough boundaries, which are often artificial, a similar right of movement should be given to other areas with similar boundaries. We should not lose our privileges in London. We should like other areas with the same problems to have our privileges extended to them by the Bill.

We have seen in Brent this year the way in which authorities work. On the parents' choice form, for the first time this year, no out-borough Roman Catholic, Anglican or Jewish school has been mentioned. It is as if we were moving already to the situation where children have to stay inside the boundary. In every other year they have been mentioned. The children of a great number of my Jewish constituents go to the Jewish Free School, the Solomon Wolfson School and other schools. There has not been the slightest difficulty of movement until now.

Our attitude to this Bill is that we dislike parts of it intensely, and we want something done about that in Committee. We agree with industrial scholarships and the question of governors. We have doubts about the Oakes report, but we can deal with them in Committee. I have no doubts about the personality concerned. Some of the Northern goodness of the hon. Member for Widnes (Mr. Oakes) must rub off all the time. Our doubts are principally concerned with the question of parental choice and the matter of denominational schools.

The provision relating to section 37 of the 1944 Act will have to go. There is no question but that it is wrong that people who keep their children away from school for six months gain advantage when law-abiding parents do not. But if one takes a small bone away from a dog, it expects at least a big bone back. Section 37 is a small bone, but it has a lot of meat on it, and if it is to be taken away and we are left with rubber bones which produce nothing when people bite on them, it will be said that such a situation is not only dangerous but a sham.

This Bill does not increase parental choice; it diminishes it. If the Bill were called the Parental Choice Bill, it would come under the purview of the Trade Descriptions Act and we should want the Minister responsible for consumer affairs to be present during our discussion of it. It will be a pity if we have to battle too hard over this in Committee. The Opposition have put their points reasonably enough today.

The Education Act 1944, a substantial measure as we all know, was successful because at the time there was agreement between the two parties. We should consider in Committee what agreement we can find, because if the Government believe in parental choice there will be no difference between us. We shall be helping them towards their ideal and their hope and we shall enjoy doing so.

Therefore, although we shall not vote against Second Reading because we believe that solutions can be found in Committee, we must stress that if we do not find solutions, not just for ourselves or even for the Labour Party, but for the parents of this country, we shall have to consider seriously our attitude on Third Reading.

9.35 p.m.

The Minister of State, Department of Education and Science (Mr. Gordon Oakes)

I join the many other hon. Members who have welcomed the hon. and learned Member for Runcorn (Mr. Carlisle) to his new post. I do so for personal reasons because the hon. and learned Gentleman is my next door neighbour and, despite our party differences, he is a good neighbour. We in the North-West are always good neighbours, as the hon. Member for Brent, North (Dr. Boyson) will agree.

The hon. and learned Member for Runcorn and I have had similar and parallel careers. We are members of the same profession, although we practise in different branches, and, after circuitous routes through difficult seats, we arrived in the House on the same day. I am delighted that he is on the Opposition Front Bench. His calibre has been shown by the nature of our debate.

It has been an interesting debate with cogent and sometimes forceful speeches from hon. Members on both sides of the House, but all the contributions have been relevant to the Bill and directed particularly towards parental choice and the rights of parents and teachers to serve on governing bodies.

I can assure hon. Members that the Government will be flexible in Committee. Where it seems that amendments may improve aspects of the Bill, we shall listen to them carefully. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State referred earlier to clauses 11(2) and 7(5). Provisions in a Bill can have unexpected side effects and those are the sorts of matter that I hope we shall be able to deal with in Committee.

I was amazed to hear the hon. and learned Member for Runcorn say that he feared that my report might have dented our friendship. I could understand his saying that it might have dulled our friendship, but I cannot believe that my report has dented anything. Its edges are not that sharp.

I should be wasting the time of the House if I dealt with the aspects on which there is general agreement. I wish to concentrate on the major matters that have been raised, especially those on which disagreement has been expressed either by Conservative Members or by my hon. Friends. I hope that hon. Members will forgive me if I do not deal with the minor topics that can be dealt with more satisfactorily in Committee. I intend to deal with the major themes. I hope to expand more fully on some of the aspects of higher education, which is my special responsibility, particularly the question of educational maintenance allowances and the report of the Committee that I had the honour to chair.

The question of operational limits has been raised by a number of hon. Members, particularly Conservative Members. I am sorry that the hon. Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. Haslehurst) has not returned to the House. I had hoped that I would be able to congratulate him because he has rendered a singular service to education by trying to raise the birth rate and go against the trend of reduced numbers. The hon. Gentleman's personal commitment is obviously very great.

The hon. and learned Member for Runcorn said that he wanted the widest choice reasonably possible. That was a very fair statement. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I share that objective. The hon. Member for Brent, North unwittingly said only"the greatest posible choice ". It is important for us to deal with the words"reasonably possible"because the hon. and learned Member went on to use them. It was a good debating point, but perhaps not useful in dealing with the kind of problem we face. He did not want parental choice disregarded on what he called the"altar of bureaucratic convenience ". The word"bureaucratic"was on the lips of nearly all the Conservative Members who spoke in the debate.

What, then, are we talking about? We are not talking about civil servants when we talk about bureaucrats, because education is administered not by my Department, by civil servants or by Whitehall, but by local education authorities. So the bureaucratic decisions to which hon. Members referred are either decisions made by members of councils or by the officers serving them and answerable to them.

Education administrators have a difficult job. Their main concern, of course, is the welfare and education of children, but they have to work within limits. They are public servants, and servants of their councils. Their councils will direct policy, and they are the servants of the resources. [HON. MEMBERS:"Bureaucrats."] The word"bureaucrats"comes in with an undertone of disfavour. These are people with a difficult job to do. Like any administrators, whether in private or public industry, they have to work within the resources available to them.

As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said, an absolutely uncontrolled disregard for those resources purely, to use the hon. and learned Member's words on the altar of pseudo-parental rights, would cause enormous waste to taxpayers, ratepayers, and ultimately would not do a great deal to assist parents themselves if they were given complete and unfettered freedom. It would mean that, if they made a choice, and that choice was not immediately observed, they could talk about their children being sacrificed on the altar of bureaucratic convenience. I do not like such words being used in the debate.

The hon. and learned Member for Runcorn has the difficult job of running a choir. I want to refer to some of the discordant voices in the back row that he will have to deal with pretty quickly. I refer to the Conservative-controlled Council of Local Education Authorities. Let me quote from a letter sent to my Department on 17th July 1978 from the principal administrative assistant, Mr. Widdison. The letter, while dealing with matters not relating to planned operation limits, also said: CLEA, like indeed the Secretary of State herself, sees the solution to this problem in an amendment to legislation to introduce the concept of planned operating capacity ', to be determined by the LEA which will enable them, in the broad interests of parents generally and of economy, to control entry, even into schools which, on the standards of a few years ago, are not full. CLEA and the Associations have urged the Secretary of State to introduce the necesary legislation as soon as ever parliamentary time permits ". That emanated from a report issued from the conference in Sunderland of the Conservative-controlled local education authorities. It went on As an addendum to the CLEA annual report, and as an approach to the Secretary of State for action to be taken, those words and sentiments were approved with enthusiasm by the conference.". One of two things has to happen. I shall listen to the Conservatives in Committee. They will urge me to delete this provision. I promise to listen to them carefully and to be flexible. But if I take it out they must go to the Conservative-controlled local authorities and tell them to withdraw the circular. They cannot have it both ways. That is the difficulty that I and my right hon. Friend face. We are confronted with an unprecedented drop in the birth rate as it relates to the number of children at school. My right hon. Friend gave the figures—a drop of nearly 25 per cent. over 10 years in the number of children who will be in school. We can either plan sensibly to use the resources to the full and to the best advantage of the children or we can have a free-for-all with parental rights totally uncontrolled and with a great deal of dissatisfaction naturally resulting because it is impossible for all to get all they want all the time purely on their own application.

The question of governing bodies merited a great deal of discussion in the House. I am very pleased that the Opposition agreed to our proposals for governing bodies. As my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Flannery) said, the parents' charter came out in October 1974, six months after we had been in government. When the problem was first raised in 1970, nothing was done but we set up a committe under Lord Taylor and we have investigated his report thoroughly and properly. The Bill is the result of that, and I hope it will receive considerable support from the Opposition.

Mr. Raison


Mr. Oakes

I want to deal with the questions raised by the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Raison), but I have so little time as both Front Benches agreed to allow extra speeches. I hope he does not think I am being discourteous in not giving way.

The hon. Member for Aylesbury referred to clause 5 and the Secretary of State's power to modify. That is not completely new; it is not an intervention by the Secretary of State. I refer the Opposition to section 17(3)(b) of the 1944 Act, under which the Secretary of State has power totally to reject, without giving reasons. This provision is a way in which the matter can be speeded up, so that the articles and instruments of Government can be amended much more speedily in comparison with a total rejection by the Secretary of State when everything has to be started again. I assure the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton) that there is nothing sinister in it. Inevitably there will be discussions between officials of my Department and officials of the local authority concerned before any modification is made.

My hon. Friend the Member for Ros-sendale (Mr. Noble) asked who would elect the parents and to whom they would be responsible. The clause specifically states that they shall be elected so that, like us, they will be responsible to their electorate. They will come up for election in subsequent years. If they have not done their job efficiently presumably they will not be re-elected by the parents generally.

My hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough queries the word"appointment"which occurs in relation to teachers in clause 3. I refer him to clause 2(2) which specifically states"elected by teachers ".

The question of non-teaching staff was raised by the hon. Member for Brent, North. We hope that the regulations will be flexible. It might be desirable for the caretaker to be on the board of governors; he can be an influential binding force in the school. If the authority chose to have such an election, the rules would be sufficiently flexible for that to be done.

We are interested in the whole question of balance and I shall listen carefully to the views put forward by the hon. Member for Aylesbury and his hon. Friends in Committee. As my right hon. Friend said, we hope that the consultative document will be out before the Committee meets. I am not authorised to allay the fears expressed by the hon. and learned Member for Runcorn about the timing of the Committee. I do not think that we need to worry too much about it. I wish him a happy Christmas and he can wish me one, too.

As to the point raised by the hon. Member for Aylesbury, we shall listen to that because we want to get the balance right.

I come now to the question of voluntary schools and London, which has figured somewhat prominently in the debate. I have taken very careful note of the concern that has been expressed by a number of hon. Members on both sides of the House on the proposed repeal of section 31(8) of the London Government Act in its application to county and voluntary schools, as provided in clause 11(2).

I must make it quite clear that it is not our intention in any way to reduce the existing rights of parents in the area to which the London Government Act applies to seek education for their children in a school maintained by another authority. Indeed, as has been pointed out, under clause 23, elsewhere we are trying to improve those powers. If errors have been made in that clause and clause 7(5) which will have side effects which we did not expect, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said clearly to the House, we were thinking in terms of clause 7(5), particularly with regard to the county's own schools and not voluntary schools. Certainly we shall look at the matter. I am grateful to hon. Gentlemen who have raised it and to the Catholic Education Council, which has raised it with us, at a somewhat late stage. I certainly give that undertaking to the House. It is not our intention in any way to deprive any parent of religious choice in regard to the denominational nature of the school.

I shall now deal briefly with section 13 of the Act, which has figured in the debate. I have noted the concern that has been expressed about the way in which section 13 would operate in relation to reduction in the size of schools. My right hon. Friend made clear in opening the debate that a reduction in the size of a school would attract the section 13 procedure only if it resulted in a"significant change of character."

It may be helpful to the House if I point out that section 67(4) of the 1944 Act provides that any question whether a change in the character of the school would be a significant change shall be determined by the Minister. I assure the House that we shall consider how best guidance can be given to local authorities on the operation of section 13 in these circumstances.

Mr. Carlisle

With regard to extensions, I understand that it has always been accepted that if a change is greater than 10 per cent. it is deemed to be a significant change. May I take it from what the Minister said that he is considering the same sort of proportion in relation to any reduction?

Mr. Oakes

I do not know. It depends on the period of time. I cannot give that underaking to the House. But we certainly shall be looking at it and I shall keep the hon. and learned Gentleman aware of our views on that matter.

I briefly mention Wales. My hon. Friend the Member for Gower (Mr. Davies) and the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) welcomed our provision under clause 18 and, indeed, clause 20. I was a little surprised by the hon. Member for Merioneth (Mr. Thomas), who took us to task because this was not part of the rate support grant. Indeed, I think it is a significant provision that this is a specific grant for Welsh education, and specific grants have got to be fought for very forcibly in Government, and the Welsh authorities were in agreement that there should be a specific grant.

Therefore, I hope that it significantly improves bilingual education in Wales, which certainly my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State, my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Wales—the hon. Member for Flint, East (Mr. Jones)—and the Labour Party in Wales have wanted for some time. I think that this is agreed on nearly all sides of the House.

I deal now with the question of educational maintenance allowances. My right hon. Friend has said that she is disappointed—I am disappointed and many others are disappointed—with the fact that we could not implement this all in one go. Before dealing with the point raised, perhaps I may say that I found bizarre the arguments raised by the hon. Member for Ripon (Dr. Hampson), which were echoed from the Front Bench by his hon. Friend the Member for Brent, North, that in some way or another these EMAs should be confined to colleges of further education for practical and vocational courses.

I am second to none in the belief that in this country we have put far too much emphasis on academic education, and not nearly enough emphasis on those who can do things with their hands, who can make things—a field in which we are second to none. The hon. Member for Ripon argued that an analysis would show that a person would receive an educational maintenance allowance to come away from academic education no matter how good he was, and would be penalised only if he were to stay on.

Surely, that is not what the hon. Gentleman or others opposite want. The main concern of my hon. Friend, was that the amount is not enough. I can tell my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, North-East (Mrs. Short) that the kind of figure we have in mind is £7.50 per week and the authorities concerned would tend to be those authorities, some of them in inner city area authorities, where there is a low participation rate in higher education and a high unemployment rate. Those are the authorities we have in mind.

The Bill has been described as half a loaf. Perhaps the House will forgive me if I describe the difference more congenially to me. It is the eternal difference between the optimist and pessimist. If there is a half-full glass of beer on the counter a pessimist will look at it and say"That is a half empty glass ", while the optimist will look at it and say"That is a half full glass ". I remind my hon. Friends that until this Bill came along there was no glass at all. Now we have a glass and we intend to top it up, to fill it, when resources allow. So let us be thankful for small mercies. It is something for which my hon. Friends and my party have fought over many years. Now, at last, a start has been made. I hope the time will soon come when the resources will be available.

I believe that my hon. Friend the Member for Stockport, North (Mr. Bennett) confused the statement by my right hon. Friend the Minister with an Answer which I gave to the House. In reply to his Question about the increased educational maintenance allowances I said on 16th May of this year, when he was pressing for this to be introduced in September last: I would point out that no new statutory system of awards which might result from my right hon. Friend's discussion with local autho- rities could possibly be introduced as early as the academic year 1978-79."—[Official Report, 16th May 1978; Vol. 950, c. 227.] Possibly, my hon. Friend interpreted that Answer as meaning that the allowance would be introduced the next year, but I did not say that, nor did my right hon. Friend. Of course, it would be desirable but it is a question of whether it is possible. We shall have to see the progress of the Bill in Committee. I hope that it is, but we do not know.

Finally, on the report of my committee, to which many hon. Members have referred, I am particularly grateful to the hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. van Straubenzee) who has occupied the position which I occupy at present. He knows the difficulties of reconciling the very conflicting interests that exist in higher education and also recognises that this is an acute problem which has been with us for some time and needed to be tackled. There is a certain element of compromise here. To some extent the whole of government in this country is an element of compromise. I hope that it is a good compromise and one that will work well; but the hon. Member for Ripon is completely at variance with local authorities in this country, as is the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed, in talking of setting up this kind of body more or less out of the control of local authorities. I find myself strangely but delightfully in total agreement with the hon. Member for Macclesfield on this point. He has some experience on a board of governors, but I am fortified by the fact that my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, North (Mr. Davies) is also with me, so I have good company in the views which my committee has expressed.

The Bill deals only with those aspects of the working group's report for which legislation is immediately required. There are many others where legislation is not required and on which discussions have already started, or will shortly start, with the local authorities association. I have had long discussions with the association. It has had acute problems on this but we have now reached a view on this, and my right hon. Friend has made clear that she may well consider from her third of the membership the possibility of one or two people from local government being included.

This is a good Bill, it is the longest Education Bill since the 1944 Act, and I hope that the House will give it speedy progress following an unopposed Second Reading.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time.

Bill committed to a Standing Committee pursuant to Standing Order No. 40 (Committal of Bills).