HC Deb 06 August 1924 vol 176 cc2937-9

I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to empower local education authorities to make provision for continued school attendance and for purposes connected therewith. This is a problem which has been with us for a long while, and it is a problem which claims the attention of every earnest Member of the House. I believe this House will regret it if there is not some positive attempt made to deal with one aspect of the problem of juvenile unemployment, which was before us some ten weeks ago, but which then reached no solution. Ten weeks ago the House was considering the question of our unemployed boys and girls between the ages of 14 and 16 years. It was the general feeling of the House then that it was a great mistake that we should regard these boys and girls just as units in the labour market. It was felt that rather we should make every effort to put them under the care of the education authority, and that we should encourage the Government to devote the money, which it was then prepared to give in unemployment grants in connection with the unemployment scheme, to the provision of bursaries in order to encourage these children to continue at school. The Bill which I ask the leave of the House to introduce now is a Bill to empower local education authorities to make provision for continued school attendance and for purposes connected therewith. In very simple language it empowers such local education authorities as choose to take advantage of it—it is not a mandatory Bill—to continue compulsory school attendance of children between the ages of 14 and 16 years provided that they have not got employment, or offers of employment, or are not occupied at home. At the same time it places the duty on the local education authority to provide maintenance bursaries or scholarships for these children where, in the opinion of the authority, parents are not able to maintain them without assistance. At present we have large numbers of children leaving school in our urban centres and very often spending weeks and months without obtaining any regular employment. The tendency is for the parent to take the first job that comes along without regard to its future prospects for the child.

I believe that if the local authority received the powers that this Bill proposes to confer, the result would be that a great number of parents would keep their children longer at school, because they would be assisted to do so by the maintenance allowance, and they would then not withdraw the child until they were assured that the work the child was going to had a better prospect than a great deal of the employment which children now go to from school can ever hope to have. It is a pitiful thing to see a child between the ages of 14 and 16 drifting about from one casual job to another with intervals of unemployment in between. By the action of this House, we have withheld the particular form of assistance that the Government originally proposed for such children. I am sure the intention of the House was that we should do something better. This Bill proposes to give the local education authority, where it wishes, that power. One progressive local education authority—that of the city of Bath—has asked for these powers, or powers very like them, and I believe there are other progressive authorities who would be very glad to avail themselves of the power, and, at the same time, to accept the duty, which is imposed along with the power, of providing the necessary maintenance bursaries for a large number of children who come under the Act. I beg to move, and I hope this Bill may receive support in all quarters of the House.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Edmund Harvey, Viscountess Astor, Mr. Barclay, Mr. Percy Harris, Mr. Lansbury, Mr. Raffety, Mr. Royle, Mrs. Wintringham, and Mr. Graham White.