Speeches, Interviews & Other Statements

Complete list of 8,000+ Thatcher statements & texts of many of them

1970 May 14 Th
Margaret Thatcher

HC Standing Committee [Education (re-committed) Bill]

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Document kind: House of Commons Committee
Venue: House of Commons
Source: Hansard HC Standing Committee A [245-292]
Journalist: -
Editorial comments: 1030-1300. Sixth Sitting reproduced in its entirety. MT spoke at cc.260, 274, and 289.
Importance ranking: Minor
Word count: 17211
Themes: -
[column 245]




Thursday, 14th May, 1970

[Sir Myer Galpern in the Chair]

Clause 2

Plans for organisation of secondary education

Amendment No. 2 proposed [12th May], in page 2, line 20, after the word “measures” to insert the words “and the estimated capital and revenue cost thereof” —[Mrs. Thatcher.]

10.30 a.m.

Question again proposed.

Mr. David Lane

Before I resume my argument, may I express the hope that we shall have some contributions from hon. Members opposite this morning if they are really concerned about the problem of costs? Judging from the irrelevant and subversive literature that we have seen circulating, that may not be the case. I hope to hear something before the Minister replies.

The Minister of State, Department of Education and Science (Miss Alice Bacon)

What does the hon. Gentleman mean by “subversive” ?

Mr. Lane

I saw a document circulating—I do not want to dwell further on this point because I may be out of order—that seemed to me, at a distance, to be irrelevant and possibly subversive. Perhaps we shall hear more about it during our discussion.

At our last sitting I asked the Minister of State—and I repeat the invitation—to give us an estimate of the total cost of comprehensive schemes introduced or to be introduced since the production of Circular 10/65. My hon. Friend the Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher) spoke mainly about the problem of capital costs, and it is the problem of costs that has led us to put down this Amendment.

My hon. Friend mentioned science [column 246]laboratories, computer departments and language laboratories. I want to add another item on the capital side—audio-visual aids. They will become more and more important in teaching at all stages, and they are particularly relevant to the problems of the adaptation of schools that will be involved in plans for going comprehensive. Audio-visual aids represent an exceedingly important development in education, but it is also bound to be a costly one.

The question of recurrent expenditure, was also in our minds in putting down the Amendment. Some people fear that the problem may be even more serious in this category of expenditure. At our last sitting my hon. Friend the Member for Rutland and Stamford (Mr. Kenneth Lewis) touched on the matter of books, when speaking on another Amendment. I have been rather concerned at a recent report of which I have seen summaries—a report about schoolbook expenditure, published by the Educational Publishers' Council. It shows that since 1959–60, when recommended standards of expenditure on books were drawn up by the Association of Education Committees and the National Book League, there has been a deterioration in the level of spending by authorities on books. I believe that it is also true that this decline in spending upon books has been somewhat steeper in secondary than in primary schools.

I understand that in 1967–68 no county borough reached the so-called “good” standard of expenditure laid down in the recommended standards of a decade ago. Only seven county boroughs were in the category described as “reasonable” , and no fewer than 81 were spending less than 70 per cent. of the figure described as “reasonable” .

International comparisons provide no reason for satisfaction about the figures concerning expenditure on books. I understand that in 1967–68 United Kingdom expenditure on books represented 0.83 per cent. of the total educational expenditure and that that compared with a book percentage of 4 per cent. for West Germany, just over 2 per cent. for the U.S.A. and approximately 2 per cent for Norway. The situation cannot have improved very much in the two years that have passed since 1967–68, and it may well have got worse.

The relevance of both capital and current expenditure problems to the [column 247]comprehensive change-over is very clear. The Secretary of State said that reorganisation would make it possible.

“for every child to follow a course which is tailor-made for his ability.” —[Official Report, Standing Committee A, 28th April, 1970; c. 49.]

Those are fine words, but fine words without adequate resources to back them will not produce the good comprehensive schools that we all want. That was a typical sort of high-flown phrase of the Secretary of State. We hope that courses in comprehensive schools can be tailor-made for all the children attending them, but it is bound to mean much greater expenditure, not only in respect of teachers but for text-books, for libraries generally, and for other equipment. We must also remember the general developments that are taking place in the curriculum, such as decimalisation and metrication, and all the future developments that are bound to lead to more expense.

The problems of schools have been considerably aggravated by the Government's successive increases in purchase tax. I should be out of order if I went into detail, but I stress this fact because it represents a significant hidden deduction from the real value of education expenditure, the rise in which we all welcome but for which the Government have been claiming far too much credit, bearing in mind these increases in tax.

Lastly, I turn to the local authorities. That is the area where the pressure will be focused. My hon. Friend the Member for Finchley touched on this point last time. Over the next two years great difficulties lie ahead of local authorities in respect of their general financial planning—not only for education. We gather from the White Paper that for the financial year 1971–72 local authority spending, including that on education, is to be 4 per cent. up, in real terms, on

“the total accepted for 1970–71 under the 1968 rate support grant settlement.”

However, we all know that that settlement affecting the figures for 1970–71 was really a bogus base figure, because the authorities were not able to get down to the figure for which the Government were pressing. I suggest that the real increase in spending in 1971–72 will be significantly less than the theoretical figure of 4 per cent. I echo what my hon. Friend the Member for Finchley said: in their failure [column 248]to consult the Government have treated local authorities in a cavalier fashion over these general forecasts, and have made a travesty of the sort of partnership that we all want, especially in education.

I have dwelt at some length on the realities of the financial position because we cannot shirk them as we consider the change-over. It is essential that a much clearer searchlight should be played on the cost of going comprehensive. There can be no question of doing this on the cheap. We must face the cost squarely. In any case many plans will include cost figures, but we strongly believe that this ought to be clearly written into the Bill.

Miss Bacon

This is a practical problem. This is not a political issue. It will be difficult, in practice, to do what I have been asked to do by the Opposition. We cannot disentangle the cost of Secondary reorganisation from that of the ordinary school-building programme, as I said when we discussed the school-building programme earlier.

We must also remember that money is needed for secondary schools, whether or not there is comprehensive reorganisation. The hon. Lady talked about laboratories, as did the hon. Gentleman. Surely we do not need laboratories just because we have comprehensive schools? The same children are being educated, whether in separate secondary modern and grammar schools or in comprehensive schools. If it is necessary for them to have good laboratories in comprehensive schools it is an admission that even under the present system more provision ought to be made for some children. We cannot say that the mere fact of comprehensive reorganisation means that all expenditure is necessarily incurred as a result of that reorganisation.

The point is that local education authorities are allocated money for secondary building. In the last few years—from 1965 to 1972—local authorities have been allocated over £500 million for secondary school building. The hon. Member for Cambridge talked about a £16 million special allocation to help some local authorities out of the difficulties in which they found themselves after we had had to withdraw some of the money for the raising of the school leaving age. To say that that £16 million was all that was available for secondary reorganisation is completely untrue, because those local [column 249]authorities that have produced reorganisation schemes or have one in the pipeline obviously use their part of the £500 million to further comprehensive reorganisation.

Mr. Lane

I am sorry. The right hon. Lady has put words into my mouth. I did not say, or imply, that only £16 million was available; I merely used that figure as an illustration. In respect of her point about using allocations for reorganisation it so happens that I learned only this morning that a great deal of concern exists in my area about further delay in obtaining allocations for vital changes and expansion in Cambridgeshire High School. That is just one example of the difficulties that exist.

Miss Bacon

There will be some difficulties about school buildings, whether we have reorganisation or not, but the Government have been able to allocate a great deal of money for school building. As I say, since 1965 over £500 million has been allocated to local authorities solely for secondary school building. Those authorities that have either produced a comprehensive reorganisation scheme or have one in the pipeline—a plan that has not yet been put fully into operation—have been using this money to further secondary reorganisation.

The Government have allocated £105 million, spread over three years, to cover the cost of the raising of the school leaving age, and a further £20 million to help with voluntary staying on—a total of £125 million. Again, those local authorities that have a secondary reorganisation scheme in the pipeline will use that money to further comprehensive reorganisation. It is very difficult to disentangle the allocations and say, “This is for ordinary school building programmes, and that is for comprehensive reorganisation” .

One of the chief objects of the Bill is to ensure that resources are used wisely. It is not so much a question of how much money is available; it is a question of the way in which what is available is used. The Bill ensures that in the future the very big allocations that we are making for secondary schools will be used for schools of the future—the comprehensive schools—and not for schools of the past, the separate secondary modern and grammar schools. That is the whole purpose of the Bill. [column 250]

As I say, in practice it is not possible to distinguish effectively between the cost of implementing schemes of secondary reorganisation and the normal costs attributable to the annual school building programme, but from time to time we say to local authorities, “Look, this is probably going to cost more than your annual allocations” .

10.45 a.m.

I remember one local authority putting forward a scheme for big all-through, 11 to 18 comprehensive schools. It proposed to discontinue many of its existing schools, and it had not taken into account the probable allocation. It was clear to me that it would take that authority years to bring about a secondary reorganisation of that kind. We sometimes tell local authorities, “You must be a bit realistic” .

Local authorities cannot be given money simply to build brand new schools and scrap all the others that they have. They have to use existing buildings. Where they need new, purpose-built schools, or need to enlarge existing schools or turn grammar schools into comprehensive schools, they use their ordinary building allocations.

The Amendment provides that for every single scheme local authorities will have to submit estimated capital and revenue costs. I am not opposed to that in principle, or for political reasons. The Amendment is asking for something that local authorities would find impossible. Some schemes come into operation very quickly and others take a long time. Some authorities submit their schemes in various parts. The cost of reorganisation is, in effect, the extra capital investment needed to bring schemes into operation by a specified date—and it is the date that is important—over and above the amount needed to keep pace with the increase in pupil numbers.

In practice, the cost is virtually impossible to calculate. Local authorities would have to subtract from the total cost the cost that would arise in any case in respect of the secondary schools. Many authorities have produced interim schemes to suit existing buildings and long-term proposals for purpose-built comprehensives. It is impossible to do more than guess the cost of the final plan, when the size of the purpose-built schools is as yet unknown. Some areas produce schemes and then have to [column 251]modify them because big new housing estates are created. It is unrealistic to expect local authorities to be able to estimate, far in advance, precisely what the cost will be.

I assure the hon. Gentleman that when the schemes are submitted we look at them, and then sometimes say to local authorities, “This is unrealistic, because you are assuming that over the next few years you will get several million pounds, which we can see from the estimates of increased numbers in that area, that it will be impossible to provide” . The fact that we have been able to allocate so much for secondary schools means that local authorities who want to go ahead with comprehensive reorganisation can do so out of the allocations that they are allowed.

It would be foolish to deny that if an extra £500 million were suddenly allocated some local authorities could not go ahead quicker than they are able to do at the moment, but the Amendment would impose upon local authorities an absolutely impossible task. It would be impossible for them to calculate precisely what the cost of comprehensive reorganisation would be, over and above the normal cost of secondary schools.

It may be argued that the new comprehensive schools will need better equipment. That may be so, but that shows that in the past many youngsters have not had the use of the special equipment that they should have had. Such equipment would be needed even if we had a separate system, so we cannot say that that extra cost arises just because of comprehensive reorganisation.

I must ask the Committee to reject the Amendment, because it would impose an impossible task upon local authorities in submitting their plans.

Mr. Angus Maude

The right hon. Lady's remarks have a certain superficial reasonableness, but I did not find them entirely convincing. Some plans obviously take a long time to mature and may have to be modified during the course of their development. This is true of any plans for capital development. It is true of sewage schemes, which often have to be altered, expanded or changed as a result of new housing developments in the area after the original contract is let. But nobody says, [column 252]for that reason, that it is either impossible or unnecessary to produce preliminary estimates of the cost of the original scheme, and this is always done.

Again, I cannot follow the argument that it is impossible to estimate the cost of a plan because some provisions for secondary education have been made anyway. That must be so. It is quite unrealistic to suggest that any local authority produces a development plan for education of any kind without making an estimate of the cost. If these authorities were not to reorganise, undoubtedly they would estimate the cost of the new places to be provided, of the schools to be improved, or the new schools to be built during the ensuing financial year. If they did intend to submit a reorganisation plan, it is incredible to me that, if not the education committee, then at least the treasurer and the finance committee would want to know what would be the cost of the different secondary education programme that was to be put forward.

The right hon. Lady shakes her head. Is she really trying to tell us that county or county boroughs submit secondary education schemes without any attempt to cost it? That would be totally unrealistic. Of course they attempt to cost the scheme. If they forward a scheme that does not involve reorganisation, they will submit estimated costs for that. If they put forward one that does involve reorganisation, they will give estimated costs for that. One can then tell the difference between one and the other. It is not only that the county itself would want to know the difference before deciding which plan to put forward: presumably the Department will want to know. The right hon. Lady herself said that sometimes the Department looks at these things and says that they are unrealistic and too expensive. How does she do that if she does not know the cost compared with the cost of some alternative scheme?

The ratepayers who elect these councillors are entitled to know the costs of the plans being submitted to the Department on their behalf. I do not see that the right hon. Lady has made a case here, and I hope we shall press this Amendment.

Mr. Kenneth Lewis

I think that the right hon. Lady does not want to know the cost, and that that is why she does not want to accept the Amendment. The [column 253]Department knows that it ought to know the cost—maybe it will be given over the telephone. What it does not want is to have it in writing. The Department would then be involved in saying, “This is too expensive” . Or it would say to the authority, “You will have to be careful about what you are spending on this, since it might affect allocations under other headings” .

I believe that the Minister does not wish, deliberately, to have the cost provided to her Department. I have some grounds for this statement. Despite what the right hon. Lady said about that £500 million, which was for the years 1965 to 1972, I wonder how much of it has been spent? I wonder how much of it goes from 1970 to 1972? Governments—and this Government in particular—have a habit, when they come to elections, of spinning forward allocations on the basis, “We can spin it back again if we get in, and if the other side get in, they are stuck with the exaggerated figure” . Hon. Members opposite know this perfectly well. The right hon. Lady gave that figure, but I should like to know how much of it has not yet been spent.

I have had some experience of the Ministry saying to a council, “You have had quite a lot of money: you cannot have any more” . It has happened in the Rutland end of my constituency, and in Lincolnshire, where certain school reorganisations have taken place. In another area of the education system, the Minister has written and said, “I am sorry. You cannot complain, really. You have had so much and you have done very well, and that is the end of the amount that is available to you” .

In any case, one cannot look at comprehensive education separately from the rest of the educational programme. In my view, there is a great need for much more money to be spent on primary education. The right hon. Lady gets pressure from her own side to spend money on nursery education. Some of the primary schools are in very old buildings; the classes are too large; and the facilities are deficient. If too much is spent on reorganisation schemes it must be at the expense of something—it might be at the expense of the primary school sector or slum schools. Certainly, the possibility of nursery schools must become remote.

I am not concerned about the nursery [column 254]school aspect of it, but I am concerned about the primary school aspect. There is a lot of closing down of village schools in the countryside. Those of us who represent constituencies there know that schools are closed down in the villages, children are transferred to the town, the local education officer comes to the right hon. Lady or her right hon. Friend to ask for money to expand and extend the schools in the town in order to take in the village children. Suddenly there is a block on the amount of finance available.

The right hon. Lady must take the global figure into account. She has to consider all the claims of education. That is why it seems to me to be absolutely fundamental that she should be given the figures by the local education authorities on what they are proposing to spend in any given circumstance. In reply to them, she can then say, “You had better be careful. If you spend this amount of money, the plus that you want on your primary education will not be available to you. You will be limited on the amount you can spend in this sector” .

The Minister said, and I noted what she said, that it was the aim of the Minister to see that resources were used wisely. How can she see that they are used wisely if she is not given the figures? If she accepts this Amendment, at least she will have something to go on. What she is really doing is passing the buck to the local education authorities.

I now have a copy of “Inside Comprehensive Schools” , by Mr. Tyrrell Burgess, which I mentioned at our last sitting. I want to read something I have just spotted this morning when I looked through it to see if there was anything apposite to this debate. On page 174 it says:

“The Secretary of State has four junior Ministers in his Department, and one of them, a Minister of State, has a special responsibility for schools, including reorganisation. This Minister sees all the plans at an early stage” —

Apparently sees the plans, but does not want to know anything about the money:

“and will make a recommendation on what should be done. But Ministers differ in the extent to which they get involved. Some are content to satisfy themselves that the process of approval is running smoothly. Others take an interest in the smallest details of each scheme. Similarly, Secretaries of State can differ in the interest they devote to reorganisation: they have, after all, the whole of the rest of the education service to think about.”

[column 255]11.0 a.m.

Will the right hon. Lady take notice of this? It is from a book that has the stamp of the Department of Education and Science. I had to read the two or three sentences running up to this, but the important thing it says is:

“They (the Ministers) have … the whole of the rest of the education service to think about. For one Secretary of State reorganisation may have the highest priority for his attention: another might treat it as one, no doubt important, issue among many. In other words, the approval of Ministers is no empty formality.”

It is no empty formality—they do not want to know about the money:

“They can set their stamp upon the speed and quality of administrative change” —

And this I like very much:

“by being anything from an inspiration to a nuisance, like the heads of any other large organisation.”

Coming from the right hon. Lady's own Department, that is, perhaps, something of a confession. Seriously, the Minister of State must recognise that the question of finance cannot be set aside as something of no importance. It is vital to the whole of what she wants to do, and what we will have to do. Any Conservative Secretary of State would certainly act in the spirit of this Amendment, even if the hon. Lady does not accept it.

Mr. W. R. van Straubenzee

I just have one general comment to make at the start. I do not think, in the ten years that I have been privileged to serve in this House, that I have ever been on a Committee where the Minister principally in charge so demonstrably is uninterested in his own Bill. This is not in any way discourteous to the right hon. Lady who has replied, but I must confess that it seems to me very curious indeed that the Secretary of State is so rarely with us. I suspect that both in relation to this Amendment and to the Bill he has lost heart over the purport. I believe that that is one of the reasons why no hon. Member opposite is taking any part whatever in our discussions.

Mr. William Price

I may say on behalf of my right hon. Friend that there is a Cabinet meeting this morning.

Mr. van Straubenzee

Yes, we all know where he is. He is trying to put some courage into the Prime Minister. We all [column 256]know what he is doing. I must get back to the Amendment, of course, Sir Myer. I am just saying that the Secretary of State has not been here the whole of this week.

The wording of the Amendment exemplifies an interesting gulf of viewpoint between the two sides. Let me first of all, meet, as I believe I can, the right hon. Lady's anxiety that it would be impossible to separate expenditure specifically related to comprehensive reorganisation as distinct from ordinary development. I hope that she will notice that she is being asked to insert in the Bill not some detailed costing, but simply her estimated costs, and she is simply being asked to do so in relation to the plans which the Secretary of State has asked the L. E. A.s to submit to him for the purpose of securing, if necessary by successive stages, the objects of Clause 1. That is all she is being asked to do.

I, therefore, would like to put the following point to her. In fact, I suggest that the Department has already acted. If she turns her mind back to Circular 10/65 she will recall that it had a substantial section dealing with the preparation and submission of plans over a three-year period. There were extensive provisions for the submission to the Department of detailed statements of authorities' proposals, whether or not they had already been discussed with the Department, covering a period of three years, starting not later than September, 1967.

Further on in the instructions to L.E.A.s there are these words:

“This three-year instalment of the plan” ——

which I have just described:

“should include a statement of estimates of costs of all major and minor building programme proposals which will be involved in carrying it out.”

I think that the right hon. Lady is in this impossible difficulty. She has sought to argue to the Committee this morning that she cannot do that very thing which her Department's own Circular 10/65 required. The fact that she is remaining seated, I think, shows that this must be so.

Miss Bacon

No, I will reply.

Mr. van Straubenzee

With great respect, it would be helpful to the Committee. The difficulty she is in is that she recognises that this has been done in the past, and could perfectly well be done in the future. Once again, I make it clear that if the actual wording of the Amendment [column 257]is not acceptable in its every detail, this is not a stand which this side of the Committee will make. It is to get the principle established as we sought in the previous Amendment that we require to make the point.

It is unrealistic, in this Clause, to require the submission of successive plans, if she does not address her mind and require L.E.A.'s to address their mind, to the subject of costs. Otherwise, it is simply to work in a vacuum, and it is necessary, when these reorganisation plans are submitted, for the full consequences of the matter to be before the Secretary of State and before the public.

There are a variety of circumstances, and we all know that there are, in which these plans will be submitted. Some areas are like mine—I now have 110,000 electors. My constituents feel deeply, passionately, strongly, that because of the gerrymandering of the boundaries I am asked to represent far too many people, and that my constituency should be returning two Conservative Members at the forthcoming General Election.

I do not pursue that topic. I simply make the point that mine is a fast-growing area, and therefore has major educational problems. But it would not be at all beyond the compass and intelligence of the very able local authority to be able to give estimated costs of the sort of expansion programme relative to comprehensive reorganisation for which we are here asking; a comprehensive reorganisation, which a Conservative local authority was initiating under a Conservative Government.

In the new town of Bracknell, which is one of the most successful social experiments of its kind, under successive Governments, we are in the very greatest difficulty in one particular comprehensive school, in terms of expansion, and the money for expansion, and the future planning for the people pouring into that town. If the right hon. Lady thinks that she can be complacent in any way, I assure her that those having to do the job on the ground most assuredly are not.

There are many people who feel that to divorce any question of expenditure from the submission of plans is to be totally unrealistic. I quote, as an example which many hon. Members will have seen, in The Times Educational Supplement of 24th April, 1970, a speech by Mr. Ron Cocking, Vice-President of the N.A.S., [column 258]who, referring to this very Bill, said:

“Mr. Short 's Bill to enforce secondary reorganisation would no doubt become law in time.”

I do not think he quite knew how prophetic he was when he said “in time” . In fact, it will not become law at any time.

He also said:

“The result of legislation of this nature, without the proper financial provision to do the things we ask, will be a disaster to the education service and a severe blow to those of us who believe that a comprehensive system has much to offer.”

Here he is asking how are we to make a proper judgment if there is not attached to the submission of plans the estimated costs that we now ask for.

I found the right hon. Lady well below her usual standard of persuasiveness this morning. For the reasons that I have given we shall have to press the Amendment to a division unless the right hon. Lady can show that she is persuaded by what we have said and will accept at least the spirit of the Amendment.

Miss Bacon

I rise again because some of the things that have been said need a reply. First, I do not believe that any hon. Members opposite understand how the school building programme works. The only person on that side of the Committee who understands the school building programme is the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Handsworth (Sir E. Boyle) who is not with us this morning. Neither the hon. Lady nor anyone else who has spoken this morning really understands it. I admit that it is very difficult to understand, unless one has dealt with it from day to day in the Department. The hon. Lady certainly does not understand the school building programme, and it is one of the things that she will not find in any of her legal books.

The hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Maude) said that it is like building a sewerage system where one knows what the cost will be. Believe me, it is entirely different from that.

Mr. Maude

I am very sorry; clearly the hon. Lady was not listening. I did not say that at all. She argued that we could not cost an education scheme because the population figures might change, and the scheme would have to be altered and expanded. I said that that applied in just the same way to a sewerage scheme, [column 259]where, if the population changed, the scheme might have to be altered and developed. There is nothing peculiar about education in that respect.

Miss Bacon

That was an unhappy simile for the hon. Gentleman to use. He went on to say that if a local authority knew the amount of secondary building that it was going to have over a period, and what it would have with comprehensive reorganisation, it would be a simple matter to subtract one from the other. I wish it were as simple as that. It is not.

The hon. Gentleman went on to say that taxpayers ought to know what the cost was. Any local authority knows the number of schools that the Government give them permission to build over the years. But local authorities always want to build more than they can possibly have, whatever Government is in power. It is not a matter of calculating so that the local people would know they were not spending more than they ought to spend; the demand has always been in the other direction—not only from local authorities but from parents—for more and more to be spent and for more allocation to be made.

The hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. van Straubenzee) referred to Circular 10/65. I was well aware of what he read out, but it is not relevant to the Amendment. The Amendment affects the whole future of the reorganisation scheme. What he read out referred to the three initial years, and there was a specific reason for including that reference in Circular 10/65. The reason was that local authorities' school building programmes for some of the years from 1965 had already been announced by the previous Government. We wanted to know what changes local authorities thought they would be likely to ask for in that initial three-year period. But the Amendment is not concerned with the years that have gone by; it is about the whole future of comprehensive reorganisation.

11.15 a.m.

Mr. van Straubenzee

Surely the gravamen of the right hon. Lady's argument was that she could not separate that expenditure which referred to ordinary development and that which referred to comprehensive reorganisation. That was the kernel of her argument. I realised that [column 260]the Circular referred to certain years; indeed, I made that point myself. But the right hon. Lady will surely concede that the Circular requests L.E.A.s to do exactly what the Amendment requests.

Miss Bacon

Yes—but that is in the short-term. The Amendment deals not only in the short-term but the long-term. Some large counties have taken years to complete their secondary reorganisation, and it would be impossible for them to calculate forward into the years ahead.

The hon. Member for Rutland and Stamford (Mr. Kenneth Lewis) implied that what was being spent on secondary reorganisation would be taken away from the primary schools. He should have no fear about that. From 1960–64, 474,000 new primary places were provided; from 1965–1969 the figure rose to 980,000. The hon. Gentleman need not have any fears that under a Labour Government the number of primary places provided will fall.

The Amendment has been put down because it was thought that it would somehow put the Government on the spot in respect of costs and the school building programme. If I were an hon. Member opposite I should keep quiet about school building programmes, because from 1963–64 school building expenditure was £84 million; in 1970–71 it was £178 million, and in 1971–72 it will be £193 million. We are providing the money for school building. The essential thing is that the money will be available for local authorities to carry out their comprehensive reorganisation. I cannot accept the Amendment, because it would impose an impossible task upon the local authorities.

Mrs. Margaret Thatcher

I have three quick points to make. First, the Alice Baconright hon. Lady's entire speech was diatribe against the impossibility of planning economically for more than three years ahead. Everything she said knocked the National Plan for six—although it had been knocked for six a long time before. Her entire argument was that we cannot cost or put up any estimate for more than three years ahead—although many firms have to do just that against a background of varying international trades that have even more difficulties and uncertainties than the change of population within the next five or ten years. [column 261-262]

Secondly, I thought that the right hon. Lady's Department, as well as having a temporary reconciliation with Mr. Tyrrell Burgess, had recently put out a document on programme budgeting. This is a comparatively new method. We have learned a good deal from the United States in the matter of budgeting by objective and putting costs to the attainment of those objectives. I am not sure that the right hon. Lady is even up to date with what her own Department can do—but it has produced a document that has been extremely well reviewed. I have not managed to go through it entirely.

Thirdly, the right hon. Lady said that the money will be available for going comprehensive. I can only tell her that in my own local authority of Barnet the money is not available for going comprehensive. We wanted £16 million for an improvement programme. We hoped to get some of it, but we did not. The money is vital if a comprehensive scheme is to go ahead, and many of my Councillors have put down motions asking that parts of the scheme be delayed until the proper buildings are available. On those three points we cannot accept the right hon. Lady's arguments.

There is one more minor point. I thank the right hon. Lady for her complimentary words about my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Handsworth (Sir E. Boyle), who is not here. We have noticed that none of us on this side has been included in the six effigies shown in the national Press. We are feeling rather deprived; only 2 or 3 per cent. of the most gifted will be publicised by the Labour Party—at no expense to us. We assume that none of us has been effigised because the Labour Government think that my right hon. Friend's education record was so brilliant that they could find nothing wrong with it.

Miss Bacon

As Chairman of the Labour Party Publicity Committee I must see what I can do about that.

Question put, That the Amendment be made:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 6, Noes 9.

Division No. 9.]


Eyre , Mr. Reginald

Lane , Mr. David

Lewis , Mr. Kenneth

Maude , Mr. Angus

Thatcher, Mrs. Margaret

van Straubenzee , Mr.


Armstrong , Mr. Ernest

Bacon , Miss Alice

Evans , Mr. Fred

Newens , Mr. Stan

Oakes , Mr. Gordon

Price , Mr. Christopher

Price , Mr. William Wellbeloved , Mr. James Woof , Mr. Robert

Mr. Maude

I beg to move Amendment No. 3, in page 2, line 21, leave out from “result” to end of line 23.

The Chairman

With this Amendment we can take Amendment No. 4, in page 2, line 24, leave out “that” and insert “the preceding” .

Mr. Maude

Amendment No. 4 is purely consequential. Amendment No. 3 is a drafting Amendment, and I do not propose to detain the Committee for any length of time. I am proceeding on the assumption that the Bill will complete its Committee stage in this Committee and be reported to the House, because I cannot believe the Prime Minister will nerve himself to face the electorate in the very near future. I only wish he would. It would be a great pity if the Bill were to be reported to the House with this form of words in it.

I am pursuing my one over-riding desire to help the Government improve the Bill. No other motive has at any time moved me, and I am proceeding with my crusade. The lines that I seek to strike out are at best clumsy and inelegant, and at worst gibberish. I do not insist upon the precise acceptance of the Amendments, but I suggest that the Minister and the Parliamentary draftsmen look at the subsection again and see whether they can make it a little better. When I first read it I found it quite impossible to understand. If one reads it aloud one appreciates that it is a pretty clumsy construction.

The subsection provides that

“The Secretary of State may require any local education authority to prepare and submit to him one or more plans, in such form as the Secretary of State may direct, showing the successive measures which the authority propose should be taken for the purpose of securing the result which, in accordance with the preceding section, the authority are to have regard to the need for securing in fulfilling the duties and [column 263]exercising the powers mentioned in subsection (1) of that section.”

That is a horrible piece of drafting, and I hope that it will be possible to change it. The words

“… which, in accordance with the preceding section, the authority are to have regard to the need for securing in fulfilling the duties and exercising the powers …”

are quite unnecessary; the subsection would make perfect sense if those words were simply deleted and the words “the preceding section” were substituted. It would then read:—

“… the Secretary of State may direct, showing the successive measures which the authority propose should be taken for the purpose of securing the result mentioned in subsection (1) of the preceding section …”

I submit that that is plain and simple, and three lines shorter, and that it improves the Clause. If the right hon. Lady tells me that her draftsmen and legal advisers—who have been advising her tirelessly during the course of this Committee stage—say that those three lines are essential to avoid any misunderstanding as to the result that everybody must take notice of, I say that if she will give any sort of an undertaking to consider the point and try to improve it on Report or in another place, I shall be happy to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment. But I find the wording an affront.

Miss Bacon

I was not quite clear about the intention of the Amendment until the hon. Gentleman spoke. His new words would not be very precise, because the result referred to is not mentioned in Clause 1(1). Nevertheless, I agree that the subsection is a little clumsy, and I undertake to examine it, without any commitment, before Report.

Mr. Maude

In view of this unprecedented attack of co-operation and conviviality by the right hon. Lady it would be utterly ungenerous and ungallant of me not to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment at once. This is the first time that we have had the slightest sign of any interest or co-operation, and I am delighted to have been the trail blazer in securing it.

I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Mr. Lane

I beg to move Amendment [column 264]No. 5, in page 2, line 32, after “time” , insert:

“not being less than eighteen months.”

The Chairman

With this Amendment we can take Amendment No. 20, in page 3, line 28, after “time” , insert:

“not being less than twelve months.”

11.30 a.m.

Mr. Lane

I am glad that you have suggested that we also take Amendment No. 20, Sir Myer, because the two have been conceived together.

The effect of the Amendments is to insert in Clause 2(1) the words

“not being less than eighteen months.”

so that if a time limit is imposed by the Government in their requirement to local authorities, the limit for the submission of a plan will not be less than a year and a half. Similarly, in subsection (4), where a new or amended plan is called for we suggest that the time limit should be a minimum of twelve months. We propose these time limits in each case because it is important to avoid unreasonable and damaging haste in the preparation of plans.

There is some unreality about our discussion this morning because, rather contrary to my hon. Friend the Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Maude), I have a feeling in my bones that on June 18th we shall see the Prime Minister meeting his electoral Waterloo, so that this Bill will certainly not reach the Statute Book in anything like this form.

From another point of view, however, it is anything but an unreal discussion even——

Miss Bacon

July 18th?

Mr. Lane


The Chairman

Order. I doubt whether to have an opinion poll of the members of this Committee would really be helpful.

Mr. Lane

I am grateful for your help, Sir Myer. Let me put it this way. I remain confident that before long local education authorities will have a different and a better Government to deal with. But, whatever may be the case, schemes will go on being submitted, whether or not this Bill makes any further progress. It is very [column 265]important that we have this opportunity this morning to consider what is involved in the presentation and submission of those schemes.

These things start with those administering the educational system in the different areas. I should like to pay tribute again, although we have done so at various stages to the immense hard work and care that so many officers of local authorities and others have taken already in trying to work out schemes, and indeed will go on taking under either Government. Far too few people outside have any conception of what is involved in sheer detailed hard work.

It is not only a matter of the differing areas involved, the different make-up of town and country parts, but constitutionally there are the cases with which I am very familiar, where the local authority itself, the county council, is not the sole authority. Within Cambridgeshire, the Cambridge City Council has important delegated powers. There we have the meshing together of two authorities, their members and their officers, in working out the scheme, so that the business has got to start there.

Then we have to bring in the teachers. We have mentioned before—and I say it again—the varying views of the teachers on this problem, which all of us I think in this Committee have experienced in our discussions. It is vitally important, particularly in the next few years with the problems that are acknowledged on both sides of the Committee to be involved, in going comprehensive, that the teachers be carried through with us.

After that we have the question of involving the parents, which is, again, more and more important. It is not only a matter of the present parents of the children in the schools which are liable to be affected in the next two or three years. I suggest that proper consultation with parents should involve, although I know that this is difficult, parents of children at present in primary schools who, before long, will be moving on to the secondary stage. The involvement of the administrators, the teachers and the parents is obvious enough, but a new element, which is highly relevant to both Amendments, is the possibility of reorganisation of local government itself. This will be a very pressing problem over the next two or three years to any local authority which is trying to [column 266]work out a scheme, whether under the present voluntary arrangement or under the compulsory system which the Bill envisages.

I have mentioned before the particular example with which we are familiar in my part of East Anglia, where we already have a scheme, drawn up with great care and now in course of discussion with the Department, which covers the present Cambridgeshire and Isle of Ely area. At the stage where the scheme had been put to the Department, and and had been referred back to the local authority for further consideration of certain points on which the Department had doubts, the Maud proposals came into the arena.

It was soon obvious that to prepare a really sound scheme in the interests of the children, which must be the primary consideration, it was necessary to look, not only at the present area but at what might be the best pattern of schools in certain fringe areas round the present local authority boundaries, which would be absorbed into our new local authority if anything like the Maud proposals were carried through. We discovered that there are already in being provisional schemes for some of these fringe areas, at present outside ours, involving different sizes and types of schools, and in some cases different ages of transfer as well. It seems only commonsense that the alternative possibilities in the wider area should be looked at before the revised version of the plan is submitted. I just mention this as an illustration of another very important factor that has to be taken into account as plans are prepared.

Our object in these two Amendments is to guard against haste. Other dangers may occur to other hon. Members, but I mention three obvious dangers of undue haste in preparing plans.

First, consultation must be adequate. Later Amendments deal in particular with consultation. All I say now is that it is more than ever important to carry public opinion with us. I need not dwell long on the Cambridge situation. We are fortunate there in having a public opinion which is particularly interested in educational matters, and, on the whole, expert in them.

My experience, a very heartening experience, has been that most parents, teachers or others who follow education are taking a very practical view about the [column 267]comprehensive problem. They are not at either of the doctrinaire extremes. They are considering the possible educational effects, the possible advantages in such and such a scheme, the possible disadvantages. If the consultation with all these people concerned is not really carried out, there is a great risk that any plan prepared will leave the area and be submitted to the Department leaving in its wake some genuine disquiet among many interested local people.

This risk has been brought home only in the last week or so. Last Saturday, our county council agreed to go forward with a scheme. This is an instance of the right hon. Lady's two-part or three-part plans, which I know are the case in my own area. This scheme affected the reorganisation of some schools in the Ely-Soham area of Cambridgeshire and the Isle of Ely about which parents had had real anxiety. I am not satisfied that sufficient notice has been taken of that anxiety. That is the first danger—the danger of inadequate consultation.

Secondly, there is the danger that without due care and time we may find going forward plans which are unsuitable in terms of buildings and costs generally. One must stress again, in considering these Amendments, how vital it is that plans should fit the pattern of buildings which are likely to be available.

I quote one other example, not in my personal knowledge, but which I understand has occurred in the Borough of Hillingdon. The right hon. Lady may be more directly familiar with it than I am. I understand that the local authority, somewhat over-enthusiastic to go comprehensive, rushed through a scheme which evidently, on further consideration, was not workable. It was regarded by the Department as too expensive, and it was sent back for further study. A new attempt had to be made at drawing up the plans.

The right hon. Lady, only a few minutes ago, said how difficult, if not impossible, it is to estimate costs far ahead. The Hillingdon case is another warning to us that ample time must be allowed so that authorities can make the best judgment possible of what is likely to be there, in terms of building for two, three or four years ahead during the period covered by this measure.

Thirdly, the danger of too much haste is the risk of ill co-ordinated plans being [column 268]put forward in certain areas. There may be situations, for example, where the local authority, the county council or the local borough is drawing up a plan while there may be a separate plan being considered by some of the voluntary school authorities. If there is too much haste, there is a risk that we will lose the kind of co-ordination and the chance of really getting sounder answers which we would have if the whole operation could be done more as a single operation, even if it took a little longer to carry through.

Those are three dangers that I see, Sir Myer. But there is a further argument—as it were, the other side to this coin—and I hope that we can have some reassurance from the right hon. Lady about it. The cause of a very real feeling of dissatisfaction in some cases is the length of time it sometimes takes to get approval from the Department once a plan has been submitted. As we know, Circular 10/65 asks for the submission of plans within one year, but for many authorities, including my own, this has not proved possible, and it has been necessary to take somewhat longer—and, in some cases, quite a bit longer—than one year to produce a reasonably satisfactory plan.

I understand that the Hertfordshire County Council managed to meet the deadline of 12 months and submit its plans for the Hertfordshire area, but then found that it took, not 12 months but something between 12 and 18 months to get a final reaction and decision out of the Department. This kind of thing, where there is an enormous pressure in the area and then a long wait—and we would say an excessively long wait—in getting a reaction from London, causes needless friction and ill-feeling just at the time when we need the closest co-operation and mutual confidence between the local authorities and the department.

Another good result of our Amendment would be to reassure local authorities that nothing in the direction of excessive haste and pressure will be imposed on them in the future.

The arguments apply both to the submission of an original plan and to its resubmission and review under Clause 2(4). We gave a good deal of thought to the right periods to seek to write into the Bill. Our thought at first was that we might well have been justified in putting in considerably longer periods in the light of the [column 269]experience of a number of authorities which certainly have not been dragging their feet but merely trying to do a thorough job during the last three years or so. But, in the end, we felt we would not try and be, as it were, greedy or unreasonable. I suggest that 18 months in the case of an original plan as a minimum, and 12 months for a re-submitted plan, is entirely reasonable, and a very modest proposal from the point of view we have in mind.

We are putting these Amendments forward in a reasonable spirit and we hope the Government will respond, as they did on the last Amendment, in an equally reasonable spirit. Both sides agree that the process of reorganisation will be gradual. Both sides agree that we want to avoid plans that are merely paper plans or which in any respect at all can be said to be botched up. We agree, too, that we want to encourage authorities to put forward sound plans, which are thoroughly worked out and, not least important, which carry widespread public support.

11.45 a.m.

Mr. Christopher Price

Seeing the Minister of State in consultation, I felt that it might probably be to her convenience as well as for that of everybody else if I spoke briefly on the Amendment, not about those local authorities which have been co-operative in trying to prepare plans, but about those which, because of their political control, have not been co-operative. I agree that these are two quite distinct categories, and one would not wish to discriminate against the one in introducing legislation to get the other type to co-operate.

The only point that I want to make is that the hon. Member for Cambridge (Mr. Lane) spoke of the Bill in isolation, whereas it must be seen in context with Circular 10/65, which asked local authorities to consult teachers and parents. To talk about laying down a time limit of 12 or 18 months is quite unreasonable.

The Ministry has a very good reputation for giving local authorities extra time to prepare plans. The West Midlands local authorities, which were reorganised, were deliberately given extra time to prepare plans under the Circular. I hope that the Minister will not accept the Amendment because in cities like Birmingham the chief education officers have a whole deskful of [column 270]plans ready to submit to the Ministry, consultations having taken place on the level of officials, rather than between politicians, for the past five years.

Discussions have gone on with Roman Catholics, and teachers' organisations. The teachers' organisations are pressing for something to be done because of the pall of uncertainty which hangs over every secondary school teacher in Birmingham—he has not known what his job is going to be over the last five years, and the Birmingham Conservatives have made the uncertainty worse.

I would like to see a degree of flexibility in the Bill. That means not writing in the inflexible time limits that the hon. Member for Cambridge suggested we should write in. The Minister should be allowed a great deal of flexibility. I am sure that the record of the Department in giving time to local authorities that have gone through reorganisation and are in genuine difficulties is a very good one, but the Bill needs to be tough to difficult local authorities. I appreciate the desire of teachers in Birmingham to rid themselves of the uncertainty with which they have been living for the past five years, and which the teachers' organisations have referred to in motions at annual conferences, asking for this Bill. I very much hope that the Minister of State will resist the Amendment and give herself the sort of flexibility that the Bill needs if it is to be operated properly.

Miss Bacon

It is true that Circular 10/65 asked local authorities to submit plans within 12 months. As time has gone on we have realised that it might have been a little unrealistic; indeed, it has never been operated. Where we knew that the local authorities were genuinely preparing a plan we have never pressed them to submit the plan quicker than they intended to.

I have been dealing with these plans for nearly three years, and I can honestly say that neither I nor my Department has at any time pressed a local authority to hurry. From time to time I have pressed local authorities who have not even made a start. I am always meeting some chief education officers, and I always ask when they are going to make a start. But we have never pressed a local authority to hurry where it is genuinely preparing a plan.

Mr. Fergus Montgomery

Can the right [column 271]hon. Lady tell us exactly how many of these recalcitrant local education authorities there are? I was under the impression that there were eight, but when she was speaking at a conference yesterday the right hon. Lady is reported in my local paper to have said that there was a hard core of 20 to 30 local authorities.

Miss Bacon

I do not have the figures with me now. Some local authorities have definitely said they will not produce a plan. Others have not sent in a plan. I think that eight have said that they will not produce a plan—although I might have the figures wrong; I am speaking out of my head now—five have not said that they have a plan, and a further nine have sent in a plan but have had it rejected because it was regarded as not being a suitable comprehensive plan. They have not dispensed with selection, and they have not re-submitted a plan. That adds up to about 20. I think that eight have refused to submit a plan, but there are others from whom we have not received plans, and the total is about 20.

The hon. Gentleman—as usual when I am making a speech—introduced something quite irrelevant. I shall return to the speech that I was making. The effect of the Amendment would be to ensure that local authorities shall be given a minimum of 18 months. Some local authorities take longer than 18 months, and that is probably reasonable. But the period of 18 months as proposed in the Amendment would apply to all plans, whether they were in respect of only one school, a small part of a county area, involving a few secondary schools, or the complete area of a local education authority.

A big county beginning from scratch might have to take more than 18 months, but some local authorities need take no more than a month or two. I live in an area like that—the small mining town of Normanton, in the West Riding of Yorkshire. Normanton has two big secondary schools. One is a grammar school, where I was educated, and the other a well-equipped secondary modern school. As yet they are not reorganised. A plan was recently put forward by the officials in the department of the West Riding County Council to amalgamate the two schools into one comprehensive school. For reasons that were quite irrelevant that plan was defeated by [column 272]one vote. So keenly did Sir Alec Clegg feel about it that he asked that his opposition to the committee's decision be recorded in the education minutes. That is most unusual.

If that council decided to reverse its decision it could put the plan into operation within the duration of one committee meeting. It does not need any new building, or anything else. To wait 18 months for every plan or part of a plan would be very restrictive, and I certainly could not accept it.

The Amendment takes no account of the wide variety of local circumstances involved in the preparation of different plans. The timetable must be a realistic one, but every case should be looked at on its merits. A blanket minimum timetable will not fit all circumstances.

The hon. Member for Cambridge (Mr. Lane) referred to the doubts of parents. We shall be discussing that point later. We want parents to discuss with local authorities the forms of secondary reorganisation for their areas.

There is another flaw in the Amendment. The Member for Cambridge instanced some local authorities taking a shorter time, and not having time for consultations. The Amendment proposes that 18 months should be allowed before the plans are submitted. If a local education authority wished not to consult it could take a short time preparing the plan and then submit it at the end of 18 months.

I take the hon. Member's point that some local authorities have submitted plans which we have taken rather a long time to approve. I emphasise that it is not just a matter of taking a plan from a file, looking at it and marking it “Approved” or “Not approved” . We always send our officials to see what is happening on the ground, and to discuss matters with the local authority.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned the case of Hertfordshire. I came into the Department in the middle of the negotiations on Hertfordshire, and I know that that took a long time to approve. But in that case there was a good deal of local disagreement. Some new towns in the county council area did not like the scheme that the county councillors suggested. They asked to see me. They sent deputations, and then other deputations had to come. Parents asked to come, and so on.

We are not just being slow. We want [column 273]to take into account all the representations that are made to us. We never hurry local authorities in the preparation of plans if we know that they are genuinely trying to prepare a plan for submission. Because the Amendment would apply not only to the plan of a whole local authority but to quite small areas, and because my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, under Clause 3, would have power to ask for the re-submission of plans, I could not accept the Amendment, which would mean a minimum of 18 months for everyone.

Mr. Lane

There seems to be a genuine misunderstanding here—unless I have misunderstood her. The Amendment does not mean that an authority must take at least 18 months in one case, or 12 months in the other. We are providing that if a time limit is imposed it should not be less than 18 months or 12 months, respectively. That would not stop local authorities who had fairly simple problems from putting in schemes in a much shorter time. The right hon. Lady seems to have misunderstood the Amendment.

Miss Bacon

No. I understood that part, but I thought that in one point of the hon. Member's speech he instanced an area where the local authority had not consulted sufficiently. I was saying that the Amendment contained nothing that would make such an authority consult.

Mr. van Straubenzee

Something that the right hon. Lady said at an earlier stage caused me some anxiety. It is important to get it cleared up. If I understood her correctly, in answering my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Mr. Lane) she referred to the case of a local education authority that took its 18 months under the Amendment and went through the consultative process only right at the end of that 18 months' period.

Miss Bacon

indicated dissent.

Mr. van Straubenzee

I should be grateful if we could be clear about this. Surely, the word “consult” has an important, precise meaning. It is important for the voluntary aided schools that we should be quite clear about the word “consult” .

12 noon.

Miss Bacon

I am sorry. I have been [column 274]misunderstood. I understand the main purpose of the Amendment, but the hon. Member for Cambridge (Mr. Lane) gave the example of a local authority that had not consulted properly, and he seemed to imply that if the period was not less than 18 months it would have more time for consultation. I am merely saying that in such a case there is nothing to stop a local authority drawing up a plan within three months, without any consultation, and submitting it to us at a later date.

I was led away by the remarks of the hon. Gentleman. I recognise the main purpose of this Amendment, but the hon. Gentleman himself went off at one point to mention the question of consultations by local authorities.

Mrs. Thatcher

There is a little difference between us. The Alice Baconright hon. Lady says that her Department would not press the local education authority, since the Department is anxious to have properly considered plans after proper consultation with parents and teachers. We are just as anxious that that should be so, and therefore want a minimum period in the Bill itself.

The second part of the argument advanced by the right hon. Lady about her Department's taking time to approve the plan ought to apply to the drawing up of the plan. If it takes a long time to approve plans because they have to be considered properly, and time must be given to people to make representations, it would seem likely to take a long time to draw up the plans in the first place. There is considerable argument about what constitutes proper consultations. Many authorities will say they have had proper consultations although parents say that they have not been properly consulted.

Before the right hon. Lady spoke it seemed to me that we had been extremely moderate in suggesting a period of 18 months, bearing in mind that it is a mandatory direction and also the comparatively slow way in which these things work. If the direction were to come out in July or August the committee would not meet for some time, and then the Christmas period would come along—and the consultation period would follow. Inevitably, these things take a great deal of time.

The second Amendment provides for a shorter time, for the simple reason that [column 275-276]that local education authority would already have had to address its mind to the problems. Since this is a mandatory direction we feel that it should be apparent from the Measure itself that local education authorities will have adequate time to do the job properly. That will be even more necessary, since many of those who have already had plans approved may well have to resubmit new plans because they have acted under the two groups of cases in Circular 10/65 that are now excluded.

I understand some of the right hon. Lady's argument, but at this stage we feel that it would be better to lay down a period in the Bill. I do not want to detain the Committee, and I suggest that we go ahead and express our views on the Amendment.

Question put, That the Amendment be made:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 7, Noes 8.

Division No. 10.]


Eyre , Mr. Reginald

Lane , Mr. David

Lewis , Mr. Kenneth

Maude , Mr. Angus

Montgomery , Mr.

Thatcher, Mrs. Margaret

van Straubenzee , Mr.


Armstrong , Mr. Ernest

Bacon , Miss Alice

Evans , Mr. Fred

Newens , Mr. Stan

Oakes , Mr. Gordon

Price , Mr. Christopher

Wellbeloved , Mr. James

Woof , Mr. Robert

Mr. Maude

I beg to move Amendment No. 6, in page 2, line 34, leave out from beginning to end of line 40.

The Chairman

With this Amendment we can take Amendment No. 7, in page 2, line 34, leave out “(subject to section 3(4) of this Act)” .

Mr. Maude

That will be convenient, Sir Myer. Amendment No. 6 is clearly of some substance. It springs from the disquiet that some of us feel about the disruption that could be caused to local education authorities as a result of the chopping and changing of secondary school reorganisation plans. Not only do I find the provision in Clause 2(2) dangerous and unnecessary in itself; I believe that it is inconsistent, in spirit if not in letter, with the provisions in Clause 3(1), which we shall be discussing later.

I cannot discuss Clause 3 now, but it is necessary to make my point on this Amendment, and to indicate that Clause 3 says that the Secretary of State

“at any time after the end of the period of five years beginning with the date of such approval, may require the local education authority to prepare and submit to him, in such form as he may direct, a further plan, by way of variation of the plan so approved” .

Subsection (2) does not specify that this is to deal only with cases where an L.E.A. has submitted a plan that the Secretary of State does not approve. As I read lines 34 to 40 it would be possible for the Secretary of State to impose a requirement on an L.E.A. to submit a new plan even though he has already approved a plan. That is clearly inconsistent with the spirit of Clause 3, which imposes upon the Secretary of State, after he has approved a plan, a time limit of five years for changing his mind. This provision needs clearing up. I did not put down an Amendment to this effect because I wanted to hear what the Government had to say. If I am right in thinking that subsection (2) would permit the Secretary of State to demand—within a period of five years—a revised plan even though he had approved a plan, it might be desirable on Report to clarify the position by inserting a proviso that it should apply only to plans that have not been approved.

In any case, the wording in the Clause would seem to give the Secretary of State considerable powers and opportunities, if he is so minded, to disrupt the development plans of local educational authorities, even though, before the passing of the Bill, plans had been accepted by the Secretary of State and arrangements had been made by the L.E.A. to make a start with them.

Several local educational authorities have already got some way with redevelopment schemes that have been approved by the Secretary of State under Circular 10/65, but that have an element, however small, of selection in them. Some of these schemes are interim schemes; some have almost reached the stage of being replaced by final schemes. Local educational authorities who submitted plans to the [column 277]Secretary of State under the last Government, or under this Government, subsequent to Circular 10/65, and who have had interim and final schemes accepted, have a right to be left to work at least the interim schemes to the point of bringing in their final schemes, without going through the whole process of being required to submit revised plans, to go through all the process of discussion, to back-pedal on the plans that they have made and substitute others.

I appreciate that the Government will object to the Amendment on the ground that it might prevent their dealing with what the right hon. Lady calls “recalcitrant authorities” which have not yet submitted plans satisfactory to a Labour Secretary of State, but many local education authorities—whether Conservative-controlled or not—have co-operated to the best of their ability with the Department and the Secretary of State, have produced plans in response to Circular 10/65, have had them approved, and are now going ahead with them.

If, having approved these plans—and let us be clear that they would be approved not under the Bill but prior to the passing of this Bill—the Secretary of State will demand the submission of a new plan, simply on the ground that the interim or final plan previously approved is not wholly comprehensive, or involves an element of selection, it really will make life very difficult for the L.E.A.s; indeed, it will throw their development into chaos.

One of the examples that I have in mind is the scheme—perhaps an interim scheme—that contains an element of what is known as guided parental choice in the allocation of children to certain schools. Where this happens it could be argued that where the demand for places in a certain kind of school is very great there is an element of selection. Guided parental choice is all very well, provided there is not an overwhelming demand by parents and children for places in one school. But where schools are developing with a particular bias in one direction, or with specialisations—we discussed all this on a previous Amendment—there are bound to be cases where an element of selection by aptitude enters into the argument.

It is dangerous to give the Secretary of State power to vary a decision that has already been taken, and an approval that has already been given. In some cases [column 278]approval has been given to interim plans, with the proviso that the authority should review certain aspects of the plans after a given number of years and report to the Secretary of State about them. At least the authority knows that it has got three years, or whatever period has been specified, to test its plans out, see how they develop, and gain the experience necessary to see whether they are working, before it reports to the Secretary of State, and perhaps is requested to change its plans. These words would give the Secretary of State power to demand a new revised plan and to throw the whole thing into the melting pot again.

12.15 p.m.

It may be that I am unnecessarily apprehensive, but that is how I read the Bill. In view of the attitude that the Government have been taking throughout the passage of the Bill and in public speeches we have reason to be apprehensive. Their attitude of rigidity and their desire to compel local authorities to do things that they do not want to do make me pessimistic about their willingness to allow local education authorities to work out the schemes that they want, with a fair chance of success. I hope that the right hon. Lady will make quite clear exactly what she conceives the power of the Secretary of State under the Clause to be, in respect of interim or final plans which have been approved since Circular 10/65 and which are now being worked out.

Mr. Lewis

I can add very little to the technical arguments so well put by my hon. Friend, the hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Maude). I want to make only one point on the Amendment, and on the effect of the Clause as it stands. Apparently the Secretary of State can impose a plan, although the Department has already had a plan, which has been accepted. Now if the Clause goes through as it is, the L.E.A.s will be put in a sort of midstream situation. They come off one bank and are on the way to the other. They are stuck in the middle, and there is nothing they can do about it because the Secretary of State simply says, “The plan which I previously accepted, I am likely to say that I no longer accept.” Clearly, the Secretary of State has to let the L.E.A.s know very early where they are, [column 279]if and when the Bill goes through—if it is not stopped by other exigencies which may be imposed upon us in the next week or two.

The danger is, and a lot of L.E.A.s are probably affected, in that they themselves will anticipate something that the Minister may not in fact do, but which the Bill indicates that he can do. He may thereby hold them up completely on any advance in their own plan. They will then just stop their own movement in whatever direction they had agreed with the Minister. This will have an effect upon any future plan that the Minister himself may wish to impose upon them, which may be a variant or otherwise of the plan that has already been put forward.

It will have an effect on the teaching staff in these areas that one can expect will lead them to say, “Well, you know, we are in a sort of limbo here. We had better get out of it into some other L.E.A. where we know where we are going” . The whole question of promotion and the advance of the teaching profession within that area may be affected if a plan was held up because the L.E.A. had anticipated something in the Bill that may or may not happen. This, in turn, has its effect on the children. The teachers start going to other areas. The L.E.A. wants teachers, and has to reappoint in place of those who have left. But no teacher wants to take up a post in an area where the plan is being held up and where they do not know what their own future will be.

All this is not the least bit academic. This is the practical application of what can happen if a state of uncertainty is arrived at in any L.E.A. because of this provision. This state of uncertainty can not only affect the teaching profession. Obviously, if it affects the teaching profession it also affects the children and the parents.

Mr. Christopher Price

All of us in this Committee are anxious to remove any states of uncertainty which exist in the educational world with as reasonable dispatch as is possible, but education changes at such a pace that everybody in education must be prepared for some sort of uncertainty. It is not Labour local authorities which are creating the worst states of uncertainty. The worst states of uncertainty are being created by those authorities [column 280]which, for quite a long period now, about five years, have been flatly refusing to join in what is a national movement towards comprehensive education.

But I must get down to the Amendment, Sir Myer, and take up the argument of the hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Maude), who said that the effect of the Amendment would be to remove the possibility of the Minister going back to authorities whose plans he had already accepted and asking them for an extra plan on top of that. I am not sure whether this is, in fact, the effect of this Amendment, and I shall be very pleased to hear my right hon. Friend's interpretation.

Given that that is the effect, I should very much like the Minister to retain powers under the Bill to go back to local authorities even though, over the past years since Circular 10/65, their plans may have been accepted by the Department. As we have already said, the principles according to which secondary education should be established never stand still. Secondary education has been changing very fast, and some of the principles in Circular 10/65 were of a very transitory, interim nature. Schemes of the type that the hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon talked about, which involved guided parental choice, in my view were always fairly short-term interim methods of progressing from a completely segregated selected system with two quite different sorts of schools, to a genuinely non-selective system.

They were perfectly reasonable methods for the Secretary of State, in Circular 10/65, to suggest as ways of getting over this interim period. However, it is generally accepted that the only point of introducing legislation is to lay down hard and fast principles about the organisation of secondary education. We on this side believe that the development of secondary education has now reached the point where the principle of non-selection and the principle of comprehensive education is generally accepted in the country to the extent that it is proper to enshrine it in law.

Therefore, it is important that the Bill should not only apply to the recalcitrant authorities that we have talked about on previous Amendments, though they are the most important authorities to whom it should apply. They are a first priority [column 281]when the Bill comes into operation. But the Bill should apply also to those authorities which submitted schemes in the very early stages, just after Circular 10/65. The Doncaster scheme was one example of where opinions among educationalists in the country generally were very much more fluid than they are today on the principle of non-selection in secondary education.

The most common of these interim schemes, some of which have become stuck—and, unless the Bill goes through, will continue to be stuck—involved, as the hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon said, some element of guided parental choice. All the evidence about guided parental choice tends to show that the schools to which children go as a result of that choice—that is, as a result of consultations between parents and teachers about the appropriate secondary school where different sorts of secondary schools are retained—they might as well have been selected on ability.

There is very little difference, because the parents with very strong aspirations for their children, and I do not say that these are exclusively middle-class children—and I must not use that adjective or the hon. Lady the Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher) will jump down my throat, and tell me that I am obsessed about it, so let me say that it is generally known that the difficulty about providing a just and equal system of secondary education for all the children in the country is that some parents have far more well thought-out and decided aspirations for their children than others, and the danger of enshrining a system of guided parental choice within the law, as the Member for Stratford-on-Avon seems to want to allow—I put it no more than that—is that one perpetuates most, not all, of the evils of the sort of selective system we have at the moment.

Mr. Maude

The hon. Gentleman referred to interim schemes getting stuck, but he will be aware that there are cases where interim schemes have been approved, and final schemes to succeed them have also been approved, or are under discussion now and likely to be approved. Northampton is one example. He will recognise that it is possible to feel some apprehension about a case where an interim scheme is already under way, where agreement has been given to it, [column 282]making way for a final scheme but where the Secretary of State still has powers to require a revised final plan as well.

Mr. Christopher Price

I accept all the difficulties that the hon. Member put, and I accept that where a local authority has submitted a scheme and it has been approved, the Department ought to think very carefully before asking for a new scheme. All I am saying is that the principle of non-selection enshrined in the Bill is very important.

The Department should retain the right to call for new plans in cases where it is clear that a scheme of guided parental choice, or any other system which retains some form of selection, is clearly not working out as expected, or where new facts come to light which make it quite clear that it is not an appropriate scheme. That is why I very much hope we keep the Bill as it is.

Mr. van Straubenzee

These are a couple of very important Amendments. The first and most important thing that will come out of our discussion is whether or not the construction which we on this side have put upon the subsection in question is right, and it will be very helpful for us to get an authoritative guidance from the right hon. Lady. But certainly, up to this moment of time in our discussion, at any rate—and here I am following what the hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Christopher Price) has just been saying, we are entitled to assume that even where a plan has been submitted and has been approved by the Secretary of State himself, that same Secretary of State can require it back. I find fascinating the reasons in favour of this given by the hon. Member for Perry Barr. Hon. Members will remember broadly what these were, and I hope I do his arguments justice.

First, as we look back upon, for example, the terms of Circular 10/65 we realise that views, and so on, on comprehensive reorganisation have developed and changed. This is very right. One can think of at least one system in that sector which is now not in favour. One can think of substantial mistakes made in Inner London in earlier days. It is unquestionably true that we are living in a developing world.

12.30 p.m.

But there is a certain implication that the expertise in this matter is vested in the [column 283]centre. This is an argument which I do not accept. There is an immense amount of expertise vested not in the centre at all but in the circumference, and it is just as likely as years go on that this expertise, based on experience at the circumference, by which I mean the individual L.E.A.s, will itself contribute massively to changing ideas and thought as the whole process evolves. I frankly reject the concept that the expertise in this matter should be vested in the centre.

But then, secondly, what I find so startling is that if it be right that we are living in changing circumstances and cannot altogether foresee, and therefore that it is right to vest in the Secretary of State the ability to bring back a plan which he himself has approved, why in heaven's name do we find the party opposite voting us down consistently when we seek to get a certain leeway into the Bill if necessary for the future? Why—and I only make a passing reference to it—are we totally forbidden ever again to select the mathematics by ability and aptitude? We are, and we are given no leeway in any way. The hon. Member for Perry Barr is right when he says that we are in a changing circumstance, and for that reason it is most unwise for us to be in a rigid straightjacket.

I should have thought that the right way of approaching this matter was to have allowed a far greater flexibility in an earlier stage of our discussions—I cannot go back over these discussions now; I merely point to them by way of illustration—and then it would not have been so necessary for the hon. Member for Perry Barr to argue that circumstances might have changed and that the very Secretary of State who has approved the plan itself should be given a power to descend upon any education authority and require that plans be put in again.

I wonder sometimes whether hon. Members opposite, and even the right hon. Lady herself, with all her good heart, realise the enormous trouble that is caused in the discussion of these plans at any level. The right hon. Lady talked about how the twelve months' limit in the 1965 circular was not very realistic. This is a very important admission. I do not recall that this has ever been admitted in public before, and it is important for us to have this clearly upon the record from a very [column 284]senior Minister at the Department. That was undoubtedly a mistake.

The Minister then said—and I am sure she, personally, meant it—that she, personally, would never harry a local education authority and would certainly not, at that period of time, had she been concerned with the twelve-month period, have harried them to produce their plans within twelve months. But we are talking of law-abiding people. A circular from the Department of Education and Science is a very important document, and law-abiding local education authorities, who are in the vast majority, take a request from the Department very seriously indeed.

Miss Bacon

They have not done so, otherwise we would not need this Bill.

Mr. van Straubenzee

I must not allow the right hon. Lady to get a word in here. She herself gave figures, fortunately, earlier in our discussion this morning, prompted by my hon. Friend the Member for Brierley Hill (Mr. Montgomery), of the minuscule number which have refused to do anything at all. She expanded that number by bringing in those with whom she is in disagreement as to the form of reorganisation, but it really is a bit tough not to give some credit to local authorities for having views about the area which they themselves administer and, incidentally, the time scale, and the rest of it. I am simply saying that this is not a reasonable point to make against the twelve-month process. The L.E.A.s are law-abiding people, on the whole. A circular request of this kind is listened to, and it does cause immense dislocation.

Mr. Christopher Price

I only want to take up the hon. Member's remarks about a minuscule number of local education authorities. Looking at the whole list it is a small number, and I am glad that he is pleased it is a small number. But, in terms of the number of children at school involved, because some of those L.E.A.s—and, in particular, the City of Birmingham, with a million inhabitants—are defying the circulars which the hon. Member says that all local authorities take so seriously. I do not think that we can call it a minuscule problem with which the Bill is having to deal.

Mr. van Straubenzee

This is clearly a [column 285]matter of judgment. I am reminded that Donnison speaks of six L.E.A.s, and we know from discussions we have already had in this Committee that this number is being reduced. That being so, I am sure that this is indeed taking a sledgehammer to a nut. But worse, much worse, than that, it causes intense irritation and makes the whole comprehensive cause the more difficult in those places. That is the psychological ineptitude of the Bill, if I may say so.

Miss Bacon

Perhaps I might interrupt at this point to give the figures which I tried to give out of my head in answer to the hon. Gentleman the Member for Brierley Hill (Mr. Montgomery). The number of local authorities which have written and declined to submit a scheme is eight. The number which have produced no scheme, and presumably do not intend to do so, is five. The number which have submitted a scheme but had it rejected because it still contained elements of selection—it was not a real scheme—is 10. That leaves us with 23 local authorities from which, presumably, we shall have no real comprehensive reorganisation plan.

Mr. van Straubenzee

We have the essential point that a scheme has been introduced. In the last group, hon. Members will appreciate that there is in some cases, at any rate, a matter of genuine argument and dispute as to the timing and the method of introducing proposals for non-selection. I am not quite certain into which bracket some of these authorities fall—such as Norfolk. I am not sure into which of the first two sets of figures the hon. Lady is putting Norfolk. We know that in that case, where there have been some very real local difficulties of which we heard when we were lucky enough to have my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, South (Mr. J. E. B. Hill) with us—he is absent only on Parliamentary business, you understand, Sir Myer, otherwise he would, of course, be in his place—that a proposal is on its way from that authority.

I simply make the point that an enormous effort is required in an L.E.A. I speak with some knowledge, for example, of the time taken in Berkshire. There we have what was, a very few years ago, a rural county, now predominantly, in the eastern parts of it, a built-up area, with a legacy of the system upon which had to [column 286]be grafted a modern educational system. I have absolutely no doubt at all that in that county, where we are lucky to have an extremely good educational service, it is the primary sector that has suffered because of the pressures of time working on secondary reorganisation schemes, some of which to everybody concerned of all political persuasions, are totally unrealistic but were thought to be required within the time scale and throughout that very extensive county.

So I say that if, as it now appears to L.E.A.s, it is possible for a plan to be imposed upon it by the Department, and for plans which have been approved to be brought in again notwithstanding that approval, the Bill is an intolerable burden on them.

I should like to give another illustration. What about Inner London, on which I got into such fearful trouble and stick from the Secretary of State when he made one of his rare appearances in this Committee?

Mr. William Price

Oh, no.

Mr. van Straubenzee

It is no use the Parliamentary Secretary growling. He has just missed a Division. He had better be quiet.

What about Inner London, of which I know something? I got fearful stick there, because the position there is that by a very wide measure of agreement, and a constant flow of policy between both sides, plans have been agreed up to 1975.

I speak with some knowledge, being concerned in some small way with this problem. I have always believed that when the Secretary of State accepted that plan up to 1975, he was being realistic. It was a most realistic thing to do. Some of us who were faced with the problems of secondary reorganisation in certain parts of Inner London, with the finance that was available, and in particular in an area like that, with the building space available, always felt that he was wise to have accepted that suggestion. I should like to be very clear about what the right hon. Gentleman will now do if he receives a request for that plan to be revised?

I have just had the opportunity of talking this matter over. I got fearful stick for drawing attention to the problems of some of the voluntary aided schools in that plan. I was able to check what I said, and I found that it was entirely acceptable to [column 287]those about whom I am speaking. They do not at all take this view of the stick. Incidentally, if it is said that I was using threatening language, what about the hon. Gentleman the Member for Bootle (Mr. Simon Mahon)? The Minister should look at what he said in our proceedings on the 15th May. I am aware that he is absent on business and duty. I am sorry to speak in his absence. I am not being critical at all. If the right hon. Lady thinks that anything I have said amounts to waving a stick, let her look at cc. 118 and 119 of our proceedings of the 5th May. If ever a stick was being waved, it was being waved there.

The right hon. Lady must remember in the whole of this business the very large voluntary-aided sector. They are people who have demonstrated their wish to come in to meaningful discussions in the general secondary reorganisation schemes. She will press beyond response the good nature and the good will of these people if she brings into a Bill a power to take out from it plans which have already been agreed and completed. It has to be said, and said with some firmness, that the voluntary-aided sector to which we shall come later——

Miss Bacon

On a point of order, Sir Myer. I understand that Amendment No. 9 deals with this subject. The present Amendment has got nothing to do with it.

The Chairman

Yes. I think that the right hon. Lady has a point there, and I would urge the hon. Member to try to restrict himself to the terms of the Amendment.

Mr. van Straubenzee

Of course I bow to any ruling you give, Sir Myer. May I, however, respectfully say to you that I am not talking about consultation with the voluntary sector. I am talking about the position of those people in plans which have been approved by a Secretary of State, and which, according to the provisions which we are now probing, could be taken back having once been approved. I am simply pointing out their part in the whole reorganisation plan. The inheritance of our schooling is such that we have both the maintained and the voluntary sectors, and it is very unwise to overlook the voluntary-aided side in any dispensations one makes. But I leave the point. I [column 288]just record the fact that what I said before has a measure of authority behind it.

It really must be understood what dislocation and difficulty this provision can cause to busy administrators, busy managers and governors, and busy local elected representatives at L.E.A. level. They surely have this right when a plan has been approved, if necessary by stages, because the Bill gives ability to approve it by stages; if necessary by areas, because the Bill gives power to approve it by areas. It does not seem reasonable to impose upon them these additional burdens.

12.45 p.m.

Mr. Lane

The main points involved in Amendment No. 6 have already been admirably made, so I only want to add a few words, particularly on Amendment No. 7, which is in my name. It involves leaving out in line 34 the words in brackets:

“(subject to section 3(4) of this Act).”

That is a very confusing point, and I should like to explain what is in our minds before the right hon. Lady replies.

I hope that she will take this opportunity to tell us more about what is involved in the word “approved” ? What do the Government mean by “approved” , for example, in Clause 3(1)—

“approved by him … under section 2 of this Act” ?

Are they talking about general approval of broad principles? Are they talking about full approval in detail?

Our main object is to try to understand why the words:

“(subject to section 3(4) of this Act)”

have been put in in subsection (2). As I read it at first, it meant that the procedure under the Clause that we are now discussing covered the possible requirement by the Secretary of State to submit a further plan after a plan had been put forward but not yet approved. The Secretary of State might say that he wanted a further plan put forward instead of the original plan, put forward in consequence of Circular 10/65.

In contrast to that, Clause 3 apparently provides for the procedure of trying to revise plans that have already been approved by the Secretary of State—not merely submitted to him, but approved by him—under the Bill. That is one interpretation. If that be the case I see no reason [column 289]why the words

“(subject to section 3(4) of this Act)”

need to be in the Bill at all. If I have interpreted it right, there appears to be a distinction—Clause 2 applying to plans that have not yet been approved and Clause 3 to plans that have been approved.

There is an alternative interpretation, judging from the words in Clause 3(4), namely,

“by way of variation of a plan approved … under this Act.”

The procedure there is that no variation shall be called for in less than five years. That is distinct from the Clause 2 procedure. But is there a nuance of meaning? The words “under this Act” appear in line 22. Does that imply some distinction in procedure between schemes approved before the Measure comes in and schemes approved afterwards?

I am sorry if I have not made myself clear. If I have not, it is a mark of the confusion that we are in as we try to understand the words that we are seeking to leave out. We shall be grateful for any elucidation.

Mrs. Thatcher

Might I add my confusion to that of my David Lanehon. Friend? It looks to me as though Clause 3 applies only to plans approved under the Bill. That is to say, the Edward ShortSecretary of State is stopping anyone else—for a period of five years—from revising a plan that he approves after the Measure has been passed. If the Measure were passed and he approved plans under it I would have no power to revise them for a period of five years. Any importation of Clause 3 into Clause 2 applies only to plans approved under the Bill, and not to plans that have been approved up to now. Clause 3(4) refers to a

“variation of a plan approved … under this Act,”

so that the five-year period applies only to plans approved after the passing of the Measure. No one could revise those plans on that construction of the statute.

Clause 2(2) also seems to refer to plans approved before the passing of the Bill. It would therefore seem that the Secretary of State can demand, within a five-year period, a re-submission of plans approved up to now. He can send to any local education authority which has had a plan approved up to now a demand for a further plan, without a five-year period [column 290]operating. After the passage of the Bill the five-year period begins to operate. That is the problem.

Mr. Montgomery

I shall not take up much of the Committee's time. This is an important Amendment. As I understand it, it would force a local education authority to re-submit a plan even when previous plans had been accepted. The right hon. Lady is shaking her head. Is she saying that I have this entirely wrong?

Miss Bacon

I shall explain that later.

Mr. Montgomery

I am worried about what happens when a local education authority has begun to implement a plan that has already been approved by the Department of Education? I have drawn the Committee's attention to the West Midlands conurbation—an area that concerns me a great deal. I am far from happy about the answers that I have received on the issue. If the Maud proposals are implemented it is likely that in the West Midlands area many county boroughs, together with Birmingham, will form a large local education authority.

The existing county boroughs could have very different ideas on comprehensive reorganisation. We know that one county borough in the area has refused to submit plans for comprehensive education, but other local education authorities in the area have different ideas. Some could put forward schemes for all-through comprehensives, or middle schools, or sixth form colleges.

If the Maud Report is implemented the large local education authority covering the whole of the West Midlands would have a hotch-potch of different comprehensive schemes. That shows the stupidity of the Government in putting through the Bill before local government reorganisation has been decided. If the local education authorities in the West Midlands begin to implement their present schemes and then have to revise them it will be extremely costly for them, and it will cause a great deal of confusion and resentment. I hope that the right hon. Lady can give us some assurance when she replies.

Miss Bacon

Amendment No. 6 would omit the words in the last paragraph of subsection (2), which make it clear that the Secretary of State may require a [column 291]reorganisation plan to be submitted to him, notwithstanding that the authority had previously submitted plans to him, whether in pursuance of a requirement imposed under subsection (1) or in response to Circular 10/65.

There seems to have been some misunderstanding during the debate. I make no complaint about that, because it is rather an involved matter. It is true that the Bill gives the Secretary of State power to call for further plans in substitution for plans already approved, but that power is not contained in this Clause; it is included in Clause 3, where it makes it clear that the Secretary of State can call for further plans and gives the time as five years afterwards.

What we have been discussing today under a genuine misapprehension would have been better discussed on Clause 3. Hon. Members may ask what the words in this Clause mean. The words with which the Amendment is concerned are intended to make it clear that the Secretary of State may require the submission of a reorganisation plan in two classes of case—first, where the plan has been submitted, but not approved, and secondly, where the earlier plan covered only part of the authority's area, and the Secretary of State requires the submission of a plan covering the other parts of that area.

Mr. Maude

Does the right hon. Lady understand that the provisions in Clause 3 would prevent the Secretary of State from requiring a new plan under Clause 2 within five years from the passing of the Bill?

Miss Bacon

No. Clause 3 makes it clear that the Secretary of State can call for further plans after five years—plans already submitted under Circular 10/65 or under the Bill. The hon. Lady raised the same point. She may now agree that the point is covered by Clause 3(5). [column 292]

The Amendment does not deal with the further plans that we shall come to on Clause 3, but it gives the Secretary of State the power to call for plans where a plan exists for only part of the area, and where a plan has been submitted but not approved. If the Secretary of State has approved an interim scheme, it may be one of parental choice that had been approved in the past as an interim measure, on the clear understanding that we would have a proper non-selective scheme at a later date. He can then ask for a long-term fully comprehensive scheme, straight away. But if the Secretary of State has approved an interim scheme and a long-term scheme he must wait five years before he can call for a further scheme.

Mr. Maude

It is complicated.

Miss Bacon

I agree.

Mr. Maude

Does that mean that he could call for a new plan under this Clause—even though the long-term plan had been approved—without waiting for five years? It seems to me that there is still a contradiction between Clause 3 and Clause 2, because it does not here say that the plan must have been submitted before the passing of the Bill. If it said that in Clause 2, it would be quite clear, but it does not.

Miss Bacon

If the hon. Gentleman will read what I have just said, especially in conjunction with Clause 3(5), he will probably realise that he has got this wrong. If a long-term and a short-term plan have been approved, they come under Clause 3, and the Secretary of State must wait for five years—

It being One o'clock, The Chairman adjourned the Committee without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.

Committee adjourned till Tuesday, 2nd June, 1970, at half-past Ten o'clock.

The following Members attended the Committee

Galpern, Sir Myer (Chairman)

Armstrong, Mr.

Bacon, Miss

Evans, Mr. Fred

Eyre, Mr.

Lane, Mr.

Lewis, Mr. Kenneth

Maude, Mr.

Montgomery, Mr.

Newens, Mr.

Oakes, Mr.

Price, Mr. Christopher

Price, Mr. William

Thatcher, Mrs.

van Straubenzee, Mr.

Wellbeloved, Mr.

Woof, Mr.