(1) There shall be a Standing Advisory Council on awards and grants to students and it shall be the duty of the Council to advise the Minister upon such matters connected with such awards and grants as they think fit and upon any questions (including questions affecting applications for awards and grants) referred to them by him.
(3) Without prejudice to the foregoing provisions, where the Minister proposes to make any regulations under this Act he (unless it appears to him to be inexpedient to do so having regard to the urgency of the matter) shall refer the proposals in the form of draft regulations to the Council for their consideration and advice.—[Mr. Willey.]
I beg to move, That the Clause be read a Second time.
We know that there is already, in anticipation of the Bill becoming an Act, Sir Francis Hill's Committee, which deals with questions affecting grants under the Bill, but we feel that that Committee ought to be recognised in the Bill itself and it is for that purpose that we move the new Clause.
When we raised this matter in Standing Committee we proposed that there should be provision for membership of the Committee, and the Parliamentary Secretary will remember that he thought that this would place an undesirable restriction on his right hon. Friend. In the new Clause, therefore, we do not make any proposal about people sitting on the Committee in a representative capacity. On the other hand, we bring into the Clause a provision which we did not suggest in a new Clause in Standing Commitee and it is one of considerable importance.
This is the requirement that appeal machinery should provide for representations being made to the advisory council. We were assured during earlier discussions that through bringing into effect for the purposes of the Bill the provisions of the Education Act, 1944, the Minister himself would be able to provide for hearing representations from applicants who for one reason or another feel aggrieved about the awards made. We feel that it would be much better for everyone concerned if such appeals could be referred to this council. On reflection, I think that the right hon. Gentleman would accept that this would be a better way of dealing with representations from applicants for awards.
The other matter of some importance is that we provide that the duty should be imposed on the Minister to refer regulations in draft to the council. This, again, is a useful provision and it is useful to recognise this in the Statute itself. We realise that Sir Francis Hill's Committee is, in effect, doing this. It is receiving representations and, no doubt, will advise the Minister about regulations which, eventually, he will bring before us for consideration. But, as has been done in similar cases in previous legislation, we feel that it would be advisable to make provision statutorily for reference in draft form of such regulations to such a council as this.
These are the two considerations which have lead us to propose the inclusion of the council in the Statute itself and that it should not be left merely to the good offices of the Minister to provide for the constitution of such a council, as he has done. When we discussed this in Committee the Parliamentary Secretary's reply was that there were two categories of committees. We bear no critical ill-will towards the Department. We realise that a Department largely relies on the advice of statutorily formed and ad hoc committees. This is not a Department that has any allergy towards committees. The Parliamentary Secretary distinguishes the two categories of committees, and one deals with long-term matters of high educational policies. Those are the committees which should be statutorily recognised and should depend upon Statutes for their creation.
The hon. Gentleman said that there are also lesser and more administrative types of problems which are dealt with by ad hoc committees set up by the Minister. If we have special committees for these two categories, it is important to recognise that the Hill Committee falls into the first category. It is being asked to advise about matters which go wider than the lesser and administrative types of problem.
The Minister will recognise, in the light of discussion on this Bill, that some difficult and broad problems may arise. It would be as well not only to have them referred to an advisory council, but for that council itself to feel that it had been created by Statute. I hope that, on reconsidering the matter, the right hon. Gentleman will agree that it would be better to make such provision in the Bill, and that he will, therefore, accept the new Clause.
The House will accept that I am mainly concerned with the Clause which would establish an advisory council for Scotland. Before I start, however, perhaps I should draw your attention, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, to the fact that among the names of the hon. Members listed as sponsoring the Clause dealing with an advisory council for Scotland there is that of "Mr. Walter Hannan". I know of no such hon. Member. I presume that that is myself and that I shall still be in order in referring to the Clause.
If there is such a national advisory council, with separate sub-committees, some of us doubt whether that arrangement will be efficient and in the best interests of Scottish education. If there is one Scottish service which is different from that of England and Wales, it is education. That is one of the reasons why my hon. Friends and I put down the new Clause calling for a separate advisory council for Scotland.
Paragraph 7 of the Anderson Report gives added weight to the call for a separate council for Scotland by saying:
There are marked differences between the two educational systems. Perhaps the crucial difference, from our point of view, is that in England and Wales the G.C.E. 'A' level examination is normally taken at about 18, whereas the Scottish Leaving Certificate examination is normally taken at about 17:
Later still it says, after referring to Scottish universities:
This is quite unlike England and Wales, where the two ancient universities of Oxford and Cambridge still have a greater attraction for many students than the modern universities. Again, higher education outside the universities has developed differently.
These are all reasons for having a separate council for Scotland. The Anderson Report points out the distinctions between Scotland and England and Wales in education. We do not dissent from our hon. Friends on the principle and necessity for an advisory council, but there are aspects which are worthy of consideration by a separate standing advisory council for Scotland, especially in view of the fact that, following our earlier discussions, I am still in doubt as to the alteration effected in Clause 6, which referred, in turn, to
Paragraph (10) of section seventy of the Scottish Act of 1946…
The hon. Member for Glasgow, Maryhill (Mr. Hannan) quoted from paragraph 277 of the Anderson Report. In that paragraph, we were recommended to have one advisory council for England and Wales and Scotland. I know, as he said, that there have been differences, and some quite important differences, between the two systems in higher education, but I thought that it was the general view of the House that these differences in regard to grants ought to cease, and that it would be to the advantage of the students of the United Kingdom that the basis on which grants are paid should be the same for the whole country.
Therefore, the recommendation in the Anderson Report that we should have one advisory council seemed to us very sensible and likely to be very much welcomed by the student body of the country. There may be some particular circumstances in connection with Scottish universities which are different from English and Welsh universities. If so, it would be easy for the advisory council to have a special sub-committee to deal with them.
I put it to the House that the most important thing is that our young men and women going to universities anywhere in the United Kingdom should have grants on the same basis. Therefore, we have put a strong representation from Scotland on the advisory council. I believe that that is the best arrangement for the students themselves.
The Minister for Science also has an interest. He has put his nominees on the Hill Committee because the awards given through the D.S.I.R. for postgraduate studentships should be looked at in relation to awards given by Ministers of Education.
Two questions are raised by the new Clauses. The first is whether this council ought to be statutory. The hon. Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey) told us that the Parliamentary Secretary had held that there were two kinds of advisory council, one statutory and the other not. He said that this body ought to fall into the first category, but I doubt that.
In my own Ministry we have a statutory council, the Central Advisory Council for Education for England, and a similar body for Wales. These councils are meant to deal with long-term fundamental issues of education policy. They produced the Crowther Report and are now studying the education of children between the ages of 13 and 16. That is a long-term survey and we reckon that it will be two years before we get the Report, which will be of great value in the formation of education policy.
On the other hand, we have a number-of advisory committees which are not statutory, for instance, the Committee on the Training and Supply of Teachers which does a great deal of work. Then there is the Committee on Education for Industry and Commerce, on which I rely for a great deal of advice on those subjects. There is also the Youth Service Development Council. None of these is a statutory body and it appears to us that the new Advisory Council for Grants is on all fours with them.
As the Anderson Report advised in paragraph 277:
…we recommend that a Standing Advisory Committee be appointed to consider all details of policy which come under review and to advise the Ministers on the decisions to be taken on them.
There are many details of policy and it is for just those that we want an ordinary committee. It is not long-term policy which we are asking from this Council, but advice on how to carry out the objects of the Bill.
The second proposal in the new Clauses is that the Minister should be bound to refer his proposed regulations to the council except in cases of great emergency. The Minister does not have that obligation with the other advisory councils which help the Education Departments. But, of course, we show draft circulars and Regulations and so on not only to the advisory councils, but to all the bodies concerned. That is a matter of courteous behaviour, but it is not a duty. The system has worked well in other parts of the education service and I do not think that it would be at all wise to make it obligatory on the Minister.
Perhaps I can explain why I think that. Subsection (3) of the new Clause says:
…where the Minister proposes to make any regulations under this Act he (unless it appears to him to be inexpedient to do so having regard to the urgency of the matter) shall refer the proposals in the form of draft regulations to the Council for their consideration and advice.
But a great part of the Regulations under the Bill will have nothing to do with the council, and nor will many of the Regulations made by the Secretary of State in relation to education in Scotland. For example, under Clause 1 the Minister will have to make Regulations resting on decisions of general
policy—for instance, what is to be the qualification for an automatic award. This has nothing to do with the council although it is a big question. Whether it shall be two A levels or not is a matter on which the Minister himself must decide in the light of what he considers to be the best qualifications for the time being.
There are also Regulations which will provide for the exclusion of certain classes of students, perhaps those who have already taken a degree course and those coming from abroad solely in order to obtain higher education. These are matters of policy on which the Minister must decide and they cannot be handed over to an advisory council. Then there is the series of Regulations under Clause 3 which will lay down the general rules of eligibility to compete for mature State scholarships and State studentships.
These are all things which must be reserved to the Department and I am sure that we should get on better if we treated this council as we treat all the other advisory councils, that is to say, from time to time Education Ministers will refer to it matters on which we should like advice. We shall build up excellent relations with the council, as we have with the others, but it would not be wise for us to have to take the council's advice on all matters arising under the Bill for which Regulations are needed.
I hope that the House will agree that it is a good thing that the conditions for Scottish grants should be the same as those for the English and Welsh and, therefore, that it is a good thing to have one council, but with sub-committees to deal with anything peculiar to one side of the Border. I very much hope that hon. Members will not ask for the council to be statutory as that would be out of line with the other councils which we now have, one lot statutory and the other not. It would not be wise, even if the council were statutory, to put before it every Regulation which it is necessary for my right hon Friend the Secretary of State or myself to make
I have listened carefully to the right hon. Gentleman and I now begin to wonder precisely what the duties of this council, whether it is statutory or otherwise, will be. The very subjects which the Minister has enumerated are exactly those which I would have thought would be matters of immediate concern to an advisory body. The difficulties are precisely the delineation between the individual who applies for an award for one course which is conceded and the individual who is refused an award for another course. This body with expert representatives from the D.S.I.R. and similar organisations is exactly the body to make such decisions.
The Minister referred to the existing Advisory Councils on Education for Scotland and England and Wales and correctly drew a clear distinction between the duties of those bodies and those which would fall upon that suggested. One has to deal with long-term policy unfolding in the years ahead—if there ever are any changes, for we still have a provision in the 1944 Act whose implementation would give an entirely new look to education.
This new body would have to deal with rapidly changing financial circumstances. It ought to be able to suggest new figures for grants in the light of increases in the cost of living and other changing conditions. It would have to make regulations speedily and would not in any way be dealing with long-term policy. It therefore ought to be a body with a distinct standing, which it would have were it elevated to the status of a statutory council.
The Minister has created a great deal of disarray in my mind. He says that even if this body is not a statutory one he cannot possibly agree to it being in the privileged position of receiving advance notice of any draft regulations which he may propose to introduce. This is just the kind of body to which draft regulations ought to be submitted, except possibly on occasions when, because of the urgency of the situation, it is not possible to do so.
If draft regulations were submitted to such a body, they could be carefully scrutinised, and the council could then decide whether the Minister's proposals were educationally wise or unwise; whether financial sums involved were adequate or not. Such a council could make recommendations in the hundred and one difficult cases that are bound to arise.
Let me give one example. There is a college of piping in Glasgow. One student applied for a grant to enable him to study at this college. As it is essential that piping should not become something of a lost art in Scotland, he was awarded a grant. Applications of that type can be multiplied a hundred, or a thousand times, and apparently it is to be left to the Minister to decide whether this type of application should qualify for a grant. I submit that this is just the type of problem which the proposed council should consider.
The Minister talked about deciding whether two A levels, or four "Highers" as it would be in Scotland, would be a prerequisite for even entertaining an application for a grant for further education. I submit that matters such as this ought to be within the province of this advisory council. It should be staffed by experts, and it should be left to the council to decide whether a person's qualification were such as to justify recommending an award to enable him to pursue a higher course of study. I do not think that the Minister should take this power unto himself. He should, on every occasion, seek the advice of this council.
I hope that, on reflection, the Minister will come to the conclusion that in respect of the matters on which he proposes to be the final arbiter this council ought to be his mentor and say whether grants should be awarded to certain individuals, and, if so, the amount of grant that should be awarded.
I have had experience of dealing with applications from people who have asked to be allowed to pursue all sorts of ideas. The ideas put forward for further study were legion. Some were more fanciful than others, but, in any case, the decision whether an award should be made should be left to the council and not to the Minister of Education or the Secretary of State for Scotland. I hope that the Minister will accept the new Clause,
I find it surprising that the Minister should have taken up this attitude. I gathered from what we have heard today that he was in a mood amenable to reason. I thought that he would have jumped at this opportunity of giving pleasure to my hon. Friends and of earning their gratitude in respect of the suggestions which they have made and the interest which they have shown in this important Bill.
That is where we start—it is an important Bill. We are more or less making a new start in many respects. When we have a suggestion from the Anderson Committee that we should have a statutory council, I do not think it is good enough for the right hon. Gentleman to say, in effect, "I cannot agree to this because I have to make decisions. That is a matter for the Minister and not for the Council."
I shall not deal at the moment with the suggestion for separate councils because, in view of the attitude which the Minister has taken up, that pales into insignificance compared with the main point. Should we have a statutory council? Are the Minister's reasons valid? I sort of leap away every time someone mentions advisory councils. I have been a member of too many advisory councils. The Parliamentary Secretary will appreciate that I am still a member of the Post Office Advisory Council.
I have a working knowledge of another advisory council which, to my mind, the House has found invaluable and which the Minister himself, I am sure, would not be without. That is the Ministry of Pensions Advisory Council. It is a statutory body to which the Minister has to refer just the kind of things that the Minister of Education says we cannot send to this proposed council because they are matters of policy, and he has to make decisions about them.
On the question of the earnings rule as applied to widows' pensions, before the Minister lays a regulation to make any change he has to submit it to the Advisory Council. In fact, he has found that that Advisory Council is so important that without the need of any regulations at all he has gone to it when he has been pressed in the House to do something about widows' pensions. He has said, "I will submit this to the Advisory Council." Armed with the report and the objective consideration of a problem by people who are not tied up in the hurly-burly of politics, he has been able much more easily to satisfy the House of Commons on what he has decided to do.
Let us remember that we do not say in the new Clause that the Minister has to take the advice of the proposed council. The power of decision can never be taken away from a Minister; it is still his. But surely it is right that with a council of this status and standing, which, to my mind, it can get only by being written into the Statute, and given duties and powers—and not a council that can be fobbed off as in the case of the Post Office Advisory Council—he would be able to get the right kind of person, the right kind of advice and still be left with the power of decision. I wonder how often the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance has welcomed the assistance of his Ministry's Advisory Council and how much parliamentary time it has saved.
I hope that the Minister of Education will think again. He made one slight mistake about this. He started by saying that we could not have two separate committees because this is all one problem, but, whether he likes it or not, there are two Ministers, so the power of decision is not wholly his. The power of decision is both his and that of the Secretary of State for Scotland. In such a situation there may well be a further argument for having only one council to consider the way in which the question affects both countries and both systems. In that case, it would tend to prevent disputes arising between the two Ministers. If the right hon. Gentleman is determined to have one council, I suggest that it is important that it should be made a statutory body, and should be able to deal with such matters as regulations.
All hon. Members must realise that the Bill makes a fundamental change in the system of awards and grants to students. Some awards are obligatory upon local authorities and others are permissive, and we must take into consideration not only the general grant but also the obligatory awards. In that respect I can foresee difficulties for local authorities, and I consider it essential that an advisory council should be set up to work in conjunction with local authorities and to have consultations with the Minister—not with a view to taking away his power and authority but to advise him on the question of awards, both obligatory and permissive.
Our opinion is that, with the new structure to be created under the general grant system, the setting up of an advisory council is the best way to get some semblance of the uniformity which local authorities have tried to bring about in the past, in consultation with the Minister. Some authorities have been over-generous and some have been less generous than they should have been, and the Minister has been trying to maintain an average level. An advisory council would be able to keep in close contact with the various local education authorities and would be able to advise the Minister in cases where it felt that he should urge a local authority to come up to the national average.
Many advisory committees have been set up in the past, but they have dealt with various subjects. Many years ago I had the pleasure of being a member of a committee concerned with industry and commerce. That committee advised the Minister. The proposed council would deal with the specific problem of the various social and economic aspects of education as they affect young people.
It is in the interests of the Minister that such an advisory council should be established, and we plead with him to give our suggestion further consideration. It would not take away any of his powers, but it would help in the administration of our educational service.
The main arguments on our proposals have been put very eloquently by my hon. Friends who have spoken in this debate. I ask the Minister to think again about this and to cast his mind back to the experience he has had in other Departments. He has been putting forward what happens to be the practice in his present Department.
The point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross) should be closely considered. The members of these committees act in a voluntary capacity. They are asked to give public service. If they are treated—I would not say as of no account—as of only limited account and are not given specific duties and obligations by Statute, such committees can easily wither away. They start off with a great burst of energy such as that shown by Sir Francis Hill's Committee at the moment. For the first year or two they are keen and interested, but then the Department gets tired of them. Realising that it is under no obligation, it asks why it should refer matters to a committee. Then fewer and fewer things are referred to the committee, and no one of any substance, except possibly the chairman who has some position of authority, wishes to serve on such a committee.
I ask the Minister to think about this matter more carefully. If he has certain obligations to refer matters to the council—not for final decision; we all appreciate that the final decision must of course be his—and the council is under an obligation to consider those matters, that will keep the council healthy and alive. I have had experience, as many hon. Members have had, on different types of advisory committee. I have recently refused to serve on one connected with the Ministry of Labour. I did so because I felt that it was a "fifth wheel of the coach". Its advice is not heeded and it does nothing worth while. Simply to go there for an interesting conversation and a cup of tea every few months did not seem worth doing. There was no obligation on the Minister in regard to that committee and the civil servants had to scratch around to find something to put to it.
On the other hand, there is another body with which the Minister is familiar because of an earlier position he held, the Cinematograph Films Council of the Board of Trade. I have served on that for a number of years. The Minister concerned is under an obligation to refer to that body. It does a considerable amount of very detailed work which saves the Department a great deal of difficulty. It is in the hands of experienced people whose advice carries great weight. That is the type of council we ought to have for this matter of students grants.
If we do not have this kind of relationship, I cannot help feeling that in due course things will be far less satisfactory than they may appear to be at the outset. I have been on the other side in this matter. I was once a civil servant and I know exactly how one can manipulate an advisory committee. I wish to ask the Minister several questions. If he does not propose to accept our suggestion as to what the nature of the advisory council is to be, what means are we to have of knowing what it has recommended? What means are the universities or student bodies to have of knowing what the recommendations of the council are? Is it to publish reports? Is it to be free to publish reports or will it be at the discretion of the Minister whether any information is divulged?
It has been suggested that at present there is a great deal of confusion about where the Ministry ends and the Committee begins. We suggest that the council should act in effect as an appeal tribunal. I understand that at the moment individual cases are referred to the committee by the Ministry, but not all those cases. If application is made to the Minister suggesting that an award should have been granted or that a better award should have been granted, details may or may not be referred to the committee. No one knows what gets through the sieve. There is no right of direct access to the committee. All this goes on through the Department which, in its wisdom, decides what should be referred to the committee and what should not be referred. Our suggestion is that the Minister should have a statutory duty to ask the council for advice. Whether he takes that advice or not is his responsibility if he is to lay Regulations.
It should also be considered as an appeal tribunal. We have two different arrangements between England and Scotland as to the responsibility of the central authority to make awards. Nevertheless, there are bound to be cases in both countries in which some kind of appeal may be considered desirable. At present, as I understand it, the Minister relies on his general powers to suggest to local authorities what they should do if he thinks that they are acting unreasonably in any particular case. It seems to us that it would be more satisfactory if greater power were given to this council to investigate and advise the Minister, because he would then be making use of the experience of the people who sit on the council.
We have all been thoroughly depressed by what the Minister said about the matters which he does not propose to refer to his committee. It seems to us that precisely the matters which he mentioned—qualifications for automatic awards, the exclusion of certain classes of students and mature scholars—are exactly the sort of things on which the advice of such a body should be sought. If all that they are to be asked to deal with are such questions as whether they should allow an extra half-crown in calculating students' grants because laundry charges have gone up, I do not think that busy people will continue to serve on a body of that kind, if all the matters of substance are to be kept from it, and it is expected to do a kind of domestic arithmetic on behalf of the Minister.
The Minister's reply was most disappointing. I still hope that he will think a little more broadly about this matter. We have all had experience, one way or another, of advisory committees in Ministries, and we think that there is real value in laying down specific duties to be referred to such a committee, if it is to continue in a healthy and helpful frame of mind.
With the permission of the House, I should like to say one or two things in reply to the debate. The hon. Member for Glasgow, Maryhill (Mr. Hannan) asked what the Committee is to do. Its first job is to look at the level of grants, and it is now doing that. It is having a very great deal of advice from all kinds of bodies and going into all the arguments for and against the present level of grants for the different sections of the grants and different kinds of students. There is a big job to be done in defining comparable courses, because that will govern the kind of grant to be given to a student taking a particular course. It will do that. I would not at all rule out asking the Committee's advice on a general change in qualifications. I think that would come within its competence, but I should not think it right to ask the Committee questions such as the exclusion of particular categories of students from automatic awards. I think that is something better settled in the Ministry.
Not one of my hon. Friends has asked that the advisory council should settle anything. On the very last point which the Minister has made, surely the advisory council might be able to consider it better than the Minister? Ail that we are asking is that it should give the Minister advice, but leave the settling of the details in the hands of the Minister.
There are certain things on which the advisory council would not be able to give better advice. These are very eminent, academic gentlemen—and three women—on the Committee, and they are going to have a great deal of work to do giving me advice on the large issue of comparable courses and grants. It is necessary that they should do first things first. As we go on there may be other matters which I and my right hon. Friend may wish to refer to them. The hon. Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross) made a mistake when he said that the Anderson Committee recommended a statutory council. In fact, it recommended a standing advisory council.
he hon. Lady the Member for Flint, East (Mrs. White) asked whether we should publish the Committee's reports. The Chairman of the Committee has asked me to talk to him about the question of publishing his reports, and I am just about to do so.
Should the Committee be an appeal tribunal? Where a would-be student or a student writes and says that the local authority has been very unreasonable in not making him a grant, this is looked into in the Department, and it may be that we can settle that case at once. It may be that the local authority is willing to change its mind or that we can adduce new evidence, in which case it is not worth putting the question to these very busy people who have so much to do. But there may be borderline cases which involve a certain amount of principle, and in those cases, I think, it is useful to refer them to the Committee. What the student wants is a quick decision, and it is our business to get a quick decision on these appeals in the best way that we can.
I am at one with those who said that it is important to have an advisory committee and that it should be one which we trust and to Whose work we should keep giving momentum. The advisory councils inside the ambit of the Ministry of Education are very lively bodies. I see none of them which is failing because the Minister does not want to have them troubling him.
Whether a Minister acts on their advice appears to me to have nothing to do with Whether the Committee is statutory. The Crowther Committee was statutory, and it gave me some advice on which, I regret to say, I have not been able to act. I do not think that the Minister's assent is affected by considerations of the nature of the Committee.
I give the House an undertaking that we shall consult the Hill Committtee on every possible occasion. We very much look forward to the result of the work which it is doing, which is to bring uniformity into the awards throughout the length and breadth of the United Kingdom.