HC Deb 09 October 1939 vol 352 cc49-77

Order for Second Reading read.

3.40 p.m.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Education (Mr. Kenneth Lindsay)

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

Three years ago this House gave assent to a Measure which provided for raising the school-leaving age from 14 to 15. That Measure came into operation on 1st September. The purpose of this small Bill is to suspend that provision. I little thought that it would fall to my lot to ask this House to suspend an Act which some of us have spent countless hours in helping to bring into force, and which had, with the good will of all parties, become known as the Education Act, 1936. We must, however, face the fact that in the evacuation areas and in most of the neutral areas schools are still closed, while in the reception areas, where schools are working a double-shift system or some other expedient, there is very great difficulty in providing the sort of education that was visualised between the ages of 11 and 15 when this Act was contemplated. Secondly, building programmes to meet the requirements of reorganisation are necessarily held up by the prior claims of the Service and Supply Departments for both labour and materials; and, thirdly, the procedure of giving exemptions, which at any time was a complicated procedure, could not possibly be worked at the present time. Representations have been made to us from many authorities, and I fear the exemptions would be given on a wholesale basis, thereby creating a very bad precedent for normal times. The Bill does not apply to those sections dealing with grants for voluntary schools. We feel that the best course is to review the whole position after the war. The Government will give sympathetic consideration to any legislation which may be necessary to meet cases which have failed to materialise owing to no fault either of the promoters, that is to say, the church authorities, or of the local authorities. I am glad to think that in another place the Archbishop agreed to this procedure.

I want to give one categorical assurance, that this Bill is a suspension and not a repeal of the Act. There can be no going back on that point. It is not easy to administer education to-day, but I should like the House to know that, in spite of these unprecedented times, there are in many parts of the country interesting experiments going on in the realm of health, in the realm of contact with the countryside and in the use of leisure time activities. We at the Board of Education are determined to profit by, indeed to exploit, that experience to the fullest extent. If compulsory schooling is to finish for the time being at the age of 14, we have done what we could to counteract what is, admittedly, a step back by setting up a new body called the National Youth Committee, whose declared object is to safeguard the interests, both educational and recreational, of our young workers between the ages of 14 and 18. That has been done immediately and, at any rate, it may help to remedy some of the conditions, particularly in the evacuation areas, during these days. I ask the House to pass the Bill because the hard facts demand it. If my speech is short, it is because there are no arguments beyond those hard facts which I could summon to my aid. For these reasons, I ask the House to pass the Bill unanimously.

3.45 p.m.

Mr. Lees-Smith

I and my hon. Friends very reluctantly agree not to oppose the Second Reading of the Bill. We accept the broad picture that the Parliamentary Secretary has painted. We recognise that our whole educational administration is disorganised and that the local education authorities have not the spare officials or the spare energy to work out the very troublesome Clauses as regards exemption for beneficial employment which make up the greater part of Sections 1 to 6 of the Act of 1936. While we accept the Second Reading, there are certain conditions which we wish to lay down in order to explain our action. In the first place, I attach great importance to certain sentences which the Parliamentary Secretary uttered, without which we should not have allowed the Second Reading to go unchallenged. Those words are important, because when one comes to deal with the question as to when the Act of 1936 is to be revived, the Bill is very general and indeterminate in its language. It merely says that the Act shall come into operation upon such date after the commencement of this Act as the Board of Education may by order determine. The language of the Bill itself would not, therefore, give us the assurance that we require. Therefore, I noted and I repeat the statement that the Parliamentary Secretary has made, that this Bill is a suspension and not a repeal of the Act, and that there can be no going back on that point. I couple with that statement the statement made in another place by the President of the Board of Education, that the Bill is a suspension and not a repeal of the Act, and that there can be no question whatever of going back on the Act or failing to put it into effect as soon as circumstances permit. We regard those two statements as very binding pledges, and it is on the strength of them that we allow the Second Reading of the Bill to go unchallenged.

I also note the pledge which the Minister has given to the voluntary schools, that in those cases where they cannot by September, 1940, fulfil their obligations under the Act of 1936, owing to present circumstances, legislation will be introduced sympathetically considering their claims and that they shall not as a result be penalised in any way. I think it would have been better to have limited the Act in the first instance to a period of one year, after which we could have considered the subject afresh. By the end of a year the redistribution of the population will be complete and the measure of the air menace will have been taken, and we shall be settled down to what one might call war normality. In those circumstances, we might consider renewing the Act. There would have been no difficulty had we refrained from the policy of stabilising for the whole of the war a solution arrived at in a period of maximum dislocation.

There is one further point I wish to make which is, perhaps, the most important of all. I doubt whether at the end of the war it will be possible, without certain changes, to renew the original Act which was passed almost three years ago. One of the changes which we certainly wish to bring forward is to give some compensation to the children who are now at school for the dislocation of their education, and one form which that compensation would take would be to clear away this clutter of exemptions for beneficial employment and make the Bill one for a clear-cut raising of the school age to 15. I venture to predict that at the end of this war, especially if it lasts more than a few months, this change will be made by more or less general assent. I predict that a war like this will greatly alter our perspective on the best way of teaching children of 14. This question of raising the school age is not one of detail but of perspective as to whether a child should remain at school or go into an industry.

Great changes are taking place. We know the result of the war must be the destruction of a proportion of our youth, and I do not believe there will be much opposition to the doctrine that under those conditions we should secure the maximum standard of quality for the youth that has to take its place. One can see this view growing as one looks at the Army now. Where should we be in the Army today without the quality we have produced by our present educational system? Look at it—a mass of mechanism. When I look at the boys from elementary schools who will in four months be completely trained as soldiers dealing with Bren guns, field guns, and tanks I ask what would our position be but for the standards of quality already produced even with the present school-leaving age? When the war is over there will be a general demand for a still higher quality, and we want an opportunity, when the time comes for the Bill to be renewed, of asking the House to consider these clauses for exemption from the point of view of post-war conditions.

We shall put down an Amendment, not for the purpose of deciding the question now, but to give ourselves a chance, at any rate, of discussing it when the Bill comes forward again. As the Bill is now framed there will be no chance of discussing it at all. The Board of Education will merely make an order and there will be an end to the matter; of course, the Order will repeat verbatim the Bill which was passed three years ago. I think the Parliamentary Secretary will agree that it is a reasonable proposal on our part that in allowing the passage of this Bill there should be an Amendment to give us the right to discuss that matter and get the decision of the House. I am fairly confident that when the time comes the House will agree that we must have the maximum potential capacity of the youth which remains, and that that can be obtained better in a school.

3.55 p.m.

Sir Percy Harris

I cannot pretend that this Bill comes to me as a great surprise. One of the tragedies of the war is that many of the things we hold dear and for which we have been working for so many years are now being held up. Incidentally, house building and slum clearance are victims of the war. However, this question of raising the school age has been talked about so long and has been so long delayed that I am afraid I have become rather cynical, I will not say about seeing it come into operation in my lifetime, but seeing an Act of Parliament come into operation for some time. Many years ago the Fisher Act anticipated reform of this kind. In 1926 the Consultative Committee, under Sir Henry Hadow, recommended this reform as urgent and vital for our educational system. We had to wait until 1936 before it was translated into an Act of Parliament, and when it came the Act of Parliament was not a complete scheme. It was a very halfhearted proposal and in London, at any rate, I do not think more than 50 per cent. of the children could have had its advantage. Therefore, although I am rather disappointed and disheartened, I am not surprised. This much I will say: we are very glad that the Parliamentary Secretary has referred to the matter. This is a long overdue reform. We have been given a definite pledge, and although that sounds very nice, I shall not be happy and will not have complete confidence that this reform is to be carried through until I see it in actual operation and see the children in the schools getting the advantage of it and having the benefit of the extra year of education.

Incidentally, one cannot help commenting on one or two important points. Vast sums of money have been spent in making preparations for this reform. One of the main excuses for the delay and the fact that it was postponed for three years—the Act was passed in 1936 and did not come into operation until September of this year—was that it was necessary to make ready the buildings to provide for the new school accommodation. Even before that time elaborate preparations were made for the new organisation so that there should be not only skilled teachers but the necessary appliances and equipment to justify this extra year. Consider the reorganisation in junior and senior schools for the introduction of secondary education; now, in October, 1939, we have a system of education whereby at the best in rural areas tens of thousands of children are going in only on half days, mostly in unsatisfactory buildings, and very often two or three classes are held in one room, and none of these great advantages, which we anticipated would come this year, are being obtained.

If education, as my right hon. Friend has said, is this good thing, if it is a national asset and is for the well-being of the nation, the losses of what is happening to-day must be immense, must be a big debit to the State's well-being and to the national wealth. I do think that the hon. Gentleman who so ably represents the Board of Education ought to give us some lead. One of the serious weaknesses of education to-day is that the partnership between the Board and the local authorities has largely broken down. The local authorities cannot be held responsible for education in a great part of this country in this year 1939. In the evacuated areas the authorities have available expensive buildings paid for by borrowed money which to-day is paying interest, they have an immense staff of teachers for which they are responsible, to which they are paying salaries and for which they provide superannuation funds. Of course, the Government are finding half the cost, but the bulk of those teachers are out of their control. In evacuated areas the teachers are scattered about the length and breadth of the land. I am not quite clear under whose control they are, whether or not they are still under the control of the authorities who are providing their salaries.

The same remark applies equally to the reception areas. They are not responsible for the education of the children in their areas. They are not getting the money from the rates to pay expenses; they are not even in control of the teachers. They are actually sacrificing valuable accommodation in their own areas, and country children have to make considerable sacrifices for the benefit of their town brothers and sisters who are swamping their districts. I want, if I may, to claim the attention of the Parliamentary Secretary when I say that the education of the vast majority of children is now directly the Board's responsibility —more than ever it was before. The local authorities who find their share of the money are no longer able to be in full control, and of course the authorities where the children are located have really no responsibility for their well-being.

I think it is a very serious obstacle that the President of the Board of Education is not a Member of this House. I have always paid tribute to my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary, but however able a Parliamentary Secretary he may be he is not a member of the Cabinet, he is not personally responsible, he is only a mouthpiece, although a very able mouthpiece. I think we are entitled to protest that at a critical time in the history of the country and of national education the President of the Board is not a Member of this House and has not to face the criticisms of representatives of the electors, who have to send their children to the nation's schools. I have nothing to say against the Noble Lord who presides over the Board. I have not the pleasure of his acquaintance, but I have no doubt he must be a very able and competent man or else he would not be a Member of the Government. I have, however, no reason to believe that he has any very special knowledge, except that acquired during the last two months, of the great system of elementary education that has been built up in this country. However the responsibility is his, and I do say that if we are to pass this Bill and hold up this reform, in the light of the critical position of the nation's education the Board should give a definite lead, a lead to local authorities, and make it clear that education is not to be paralysed at a time like this when it is so vital that the best training should be given to future generations, seeing that adults are risking their lives and that we have to look to the new generation to fill the gaps and to build up the State.

If it is bad for the children who are evacuated, it is three times worse for the children left behind, who to this day are running wild about the streets of our great towns. I think that the Parlia- mentary Secretary has visited some of our working-class districts during the last few days. To-day, when the children should have been at school under the control of their teachers in our expensive school buildings, they are running about in the gutter and receiving no education, and they have no immediate prospect of receiving any education. In England alone, if we add up the contributions both of the taxpayer and the ratepayer, the cost of our education system is something like £100,000,000—a terrific figure. Is it really suggested now by the responsible Minister that the nation is getting good value for the money? The answer must be "No." We are paying the teachers and we are providing the buildings, but the teachers are not discharging their duties. That is through no fault of theirs but is because of the circumstances of the war. The buildings are empty, accumulating dust; they are in charge of caretakers and are not being put to any useful purpose.

The Board have a great responsibility in this matter. They come to us and ask for this concession. They ask us to relieve them of the obligation to provide education for children after the age of 14. If we are to give them this Bill we have a right to demand that the children who are willing to remain at school up to the age of 14 should at least have some education. I recognise the difficulties, but we have had a year to think about them. I was a member of a committee on evacuation which reported 12 months ago last July. Evacuation was no surprise. But the Government have no scheme, have brought out nothing either to give proper full-time education to the children who are evacuated or to provide education for the children who are left behind. I do not want to be unfair. It is easy to criticise in war-time, and I know the problems that any Government Department has to face in these days. But the problems must be faced. One of the difficulties is that local authorities hesitate to concentrate children in school buildings that are situated in danger zones. One of the obvious rules in dealing with air raids is to prevent the concentration of crowds. But even that difficulty, in the fight of our knowledge, is not insuperable. All these schools have playgrounds. During the last month, when Herr Hitler has been good enough to give us time to think, we could have been building air-raid shelters under these playgrounds. I think it is true to say that in France something has been done to provide education. It is a grave charge against the Government if the only contribution they have to make to this difficult problem is to come here and ask the House to suspend an Act of Parliament which we passed so laboriously in recent years. If they have no proposals to bring before the House in the next few weeks we shall have some very harsh things to say about the Board of Education.

4.10 p.m.

Mr. R. Morgan

I am sure we shall all agree that it is a matter for extreme regret that we have to postpone the raising of the school age, but, at the same time, we agree that it is an essential thing to do. It is impossible for the Board of Education to go on with the proposal; there is no alternative. I hope I shall not be thought presumptuous, but the hon. Member for South-West Bethnal Green (Sir P. Harris), in criticising the Bill for postponing the raising of the school age, also indulged in the rather larger field of criticising some of the weaknesses of the evacuation scheme. I know a good deal about many of the problems which are concerned with that scheme, and I want to pay a tribute to the Board for the way in which they dealt with an extremely difficult problem. I think they must be congratulated on the success with which they carried it out. Of course there are difficulties and anomalies, which will right themselves in time. As to the Bill itself, I noticed the Noble Lord in another place said that it was a bad thing to throw on local authorities the invidious task of granting exemptions. On that point I fully agree with the right hon. Member who spoke for the Opposition. I hope that when the Act does come into operation the option of granting exemptions will have disappeared from it. I read in the "Times" on Friday, I think, that some local authorities in agricultural areas were granting exemptions at the age of 12. I do not know whether that is true, and perhaps the Parliamentary Secretary will be able to give me a reply on the matter. I have not been able to verify it myself, but I am sure that however many and varied are the grave issues we have to face in time of war there can be no excuse for calling upon juvenile labour in agriculture at the tender age of 12.

In his speech the Parliamentary Secretary referred to the National Youth Committee, a committee to look after those between the ages of 14 and 18. I understand that the Parliamentary Secretary is chairman on the committee and that he has taken several leading lights in the educational world to assist him. At the same time I do not see the names of any representatives of the teaching profession. I should have thought he would have welcomed the co-operation of one or more of the leading teachers' organisations, like the National Union of Teachers, representing as it does teachers in all types of schools, elementary, secondary and university. All those who are interested in this very vital question of education will regret that it has been necessary to introduce this Bill. At the same time, we see no alternative, and I shall support the Government in the matter.

4.14 p.m.

Mr. Amery

I think the whole House will agree with the right hon. Gentleman who spoke for the Opposition when he suggested that we ought to turn the regrettable necessity of the war into an opportunity for broadening and strengthening the whole system of our education when occasion offers. I remember that after the experience of the last war this House passed the greatest constructive educational Measure of the last generation, in the shape of the Fisher Act— perhaps I ought to say potentially the greatest constructive Measure, because, in fact, that Act has never been applied. It was a Measure to continue education up to the age of 18—an age to which all who can afford it would wish to give their children education—and it proposed to give that education in the spirit of an education, in part general, in part specialised and in part physical, to create the healthy, apt mind in a healthy body. We are all to be blamed for the fact that the Fisher Act has never been put into effect. Successive Governments have not given any strong impetus to apply it, and local authorities, to whom the matter was left, have not had the courage or the enterprise to attempt to face the initial difficulties involved in setting it to work, and I am afraid the industrialists of the country have not been far-sighted enough to realise the opportunities for co-operation between industry and education, which might mean so much for the future of the nation. I think there is only one big borough in the whole of England, Rugby, an honourable exception in the whole of the country, which has put the Fisher Act into full effect.

I urge most strongly on the Parliamentary Secretary that, during this period, when he has an opportunity of considering our post-war scheme of education, he will survey the whole horizon and not merely consider the question of how far the restoration of the whole-time period is essential; that he will consider the far more important question of making education continuous to the verge of manhood and womanhood. Indeed, I think he should go further than study the question. The hon. Member for South-West Bethnal Green (Sir P. Harris) suggested that during this interval, when local authorities will be largely at sixes and sevens, when some of them are without the children to which they have been accustimed and others with far more children than usual, a far more direct opportunity is given to the Board of Education and to the Government to give a positive direction to the educational system of the country. The hon. Member for Stourbridge (Mr. R. Morgan) spoke of the disaster it would be if children under the age of 14 failed to get education. I suggest that it would be more serious if the present generation who are now being taken into the Services, many of whom may never return, are to be succeeded by a generation of boys from 14 to 18 who have gone wild, and who have never had any real contact with what education can bring to them, whether as workers or as citizens. I hope that my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary will commend to his Noble Friend and to his Department the importance of treating this whole problem under the make-shift conditions, not in a make-shift spirit, but in a spirit of doing something that may, at any rate, be a valuable offset to what we may lose in the war.

4.21 p.m.

Mr. Creech Jones

I am certain that most hon. Members completely agree with the views expressed by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Sparkbrook (Mr. Amery). We all regret that circumstances have necessitated this Bill. It is not that we had any great enthusiasm for the 1936 Act, for we all recognised that there were difficulties in its administration and that certain of its Sections mitigated against a genuine advance; but we hoped that certain results would come of it and that it would mark a step forward in the raising of the school-leaving age until the principle was accepted for universal application. While, as I have said, I had not any great enthusiasm for the 1936 Act, I regret that we now have to take this backward step. It has always seemed to me that, as a people, we have never appreciated to the full the importance of education in our national life. When there is war and talk of economy, it is always education that has to be sacrificed; to many it seems to be something of a luxury which in times of stress our children can do without.

The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Sparkbrook has recalled the considerable hopes that were expressed at the end of the last war, when most of us anticipated that there would be a big forward move in education. To-day, we recognise how small the advance has really been, and how disappointing the results have been. I am afraid that under this Bill, again, it will be the workers children who will be called upon to make sacrifices, and this will be largely because of the pressure of certain of the reactionary authorities, as well as the necessity for the employment of child labour in the present emergency. I hope that there will be, at the earliest possible moment, a revaluation of educational principles and a recognition that, in spite of the war, we ought not to go backward but ought to go forward with the improvement of our educational system.

The tragedy of all this is that the children pass along this way only once, and what they lose now they lose for ever. Instead of our regarding education as the natural heritage of all children, we are apt to regard it as something which they can have only if circumstances and finance enable it to be provided; but because education is so priceless to every one, and because if lost once it can never be recovered, we ought to make it one of the most important and vital items of expenditure in our national budget. There is the danger that when we postpone we may not be able quite to recreate the circumstances as they exist at the time of the postponement. There are hopes expressed to-day that with the return of better times, we may be able to go forward again, but too often it happens that in the meantime we exhaust our resources, the circumstances are not sufficiently fortunate for the further advance to be made, and we continue to deprive those who ought to enjoy the advantages in question. Regrettable as this Bill is, I hope that it Is merely a temporary lapse, and that, as the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook said, we shall take a more comprehensive view of the needs of education in our country, and make our system more comprehensive; certainly the scandal of limiting our children in their right to education ought to be brought to an end at the earliest possible moment.

4.27 p.m.

Mr. Denman

Like the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Keighley (Mr. Lees-Smith) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Sparkbrook (Mr. Amery), I share memories of educational problems discussed in the House during the last war. My right hon. Friend the Member for Sparkbrook did well to remind us that, in the course of the last war, we made one of the greatest educational advances of our time. It is, indeed, an inspiring example for the present President of the Board of Education and the Parliamentary Secretary. We all agree with the right hon. Member for Keighley that the necessity for this Bill is regrettable, but I hope we also agree that in circumstances as they are, it would have been a grave misfortune not to have it introduced. I concur entirely with the Parliamentary Secretary in his statement that to have allowed the system of exemptions for beneficial employment to come into force in the present conditions of chaos, in circumstances in which they could not possibly have been administered with any efficiency, would have been a permanent injury to our educational system.

The right hon. Member for Keighley expressed the hope that at the end of the war we would not go back to any exemptions, and he reverted to the old policy of the Labour party with regard to the school-leaving age. Whatever be the; precise point at which we fix the school-leaving age, I trust we shall not wholly throw over some system of exemptions for beneficial employment. During the Debates in Committee on the 1936 Bill, hon. Members opposite said that the exemption safeguards would never be administered and would be a dead letter. Personally, I was never so pessimistic, and in fact the Act was proving in many districts to work out even better than I had hoped. The really progressive education authorities were, for the first time, getting some real control over the entry of juveniles into industry and commerce. They were setting up standards of juvenile labour such as many people had been working for without the least prospect of success until the education authorities were given these powers. There was every prospect of a real advance, both in the direction of beneficial employment and part-time education, and also in the positive control of the hours and conditions of juvenile employment. This was a gain not only to those exempted, but a gain covering the whole region of juvenile employment. I am extremely glad that the Act will not be started under circumstances which would have made it impossible to administer the exemptions in the proper way.

Having said that, I would emphasise the warning given by my hon. Friend the Member for Stourbridge (Mr. R. Morgan) to the Parliamentary Secretary about the dangers which will arise during the war, of the ineffective administration of the Education Acts as they are. My hon. Friend mentioned the case of a rural authority exempting children of the age of 12 from school in order that they might do agricultural work. I view that with concern. I suppose it is almost inevitable that, in regard to employment during war time, you cannot exact the same strict and rigid administration of the statutes as you can in peace time. During the last war we had something much worse than that. At the end of the war a Departmental Committee was set up, presided over by Sir Herbert Lewis. That committee reported that during the war there had been a substantial amount of exploitation of school-boys and schoolgirls in ways that had been injurious to the children. That is a danger against which the Board must continually be on their guard as the war proceeds and I hope the Parliamentary Secretary will keep in mind that warning from our previous experiences. I join in welcoming this Bill which will, I am sure, have the unanimous support of the House.

4.33 p.m.

Major Owen

I do not wish to follow those who have already spoken, further than to say that I am in full agreement with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Sparkbrook (Mr. Amery) regarding the Fisher Act of 1918. I have some cause to speak of that Act because the county which I have the honour to represent is one of the few whose education authority has adopted 15 as the school-leaving age. But here arises a difficulty as a result of the war. I have already drawn the attention of the Parliamentary Secretary to the fact that the Admiralty, the War Office, and the Air Ministry do not recognise 15 but 14 as the school-leaving age. The result is that men from my constituency and other places where the school-leaving age is 15, are not paid allowances in respect of any children between 14 and 15, although those children have to remain at school.

My experience of the local education authority which I know best, is that the number of exemptions is comparatively small. At any rate, I know of no exemptions of children under 14, and very few of those who have reached 14 years and three months or 14 years and six months or even 14 years and nine months have been exempted in my county. I appeal to the Parliamentary Secretary to give members of the Navy, the Army and the Air Force from constituencies such as mine, an assurance that they will not be placed in a worse position than the other members of the fighting forces who belong to areas where the school-leaving age is 14. It is not right or just that they should be placed in any worse position in the circumstances. My hon. Friend the Member for South-West Bethnal Green (Sir P. Harris) spoke of progressive education authorities. I assume he would regard London as a progressive authority yet, despite the fact that the Fisher Act gave them power to put into operation school-leaving at 15, that authority has not followed the good example of the county which I have the honour to represent.

4.36 p.m.

Sir Annesley Somerville

We must all regret the necessity for this Bill, but at the same time we have to recognise that necessity. It would be impossible to organise the schools and the teaching of boys and girls up to the age of 15 in the present circumstances. This pause in educational development will, I hope, afford an opportunity such as has been pleaded for by my right hon. Friend the Member for Sparkbrook (Mr. Amery), for taking a wide, comprehensive and intelligent view of our system. My right hon. Friend spoke of the small amount of recognition given to the Fisher Act, partly because employers did not see the opportunities which it afforded, and partly because the education authorities did not recognise those opportunities. But that Act did a great and good work, and in the continuation classes, so largely attended throughout the country, we see traces of its effects. The work of those classes is of the best kind. Those who attend them are boys and girls who are in earnest about getting educated and in that way they are getting the best kind of education.

After the Fisher Act we had the Hadow reforms. Those reforms have done a great deal. At the same time, they have left our general education too academic, and tending too much in the direction given by university requirements. The fact has not been recognised that not more than 10 or 12 per cent. of the pupils under our secondary system go to the universities. Then we had the Spens Report and if its main recommendations could have been carried out, in conjunction with the raising of the school-leaving age, we might have secured a. comprehensive and useful national system. That, however, has to wait. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Keighley (Mr. Lees-Smith) predicted that before long we should raise the school-leaving age with general consent. He pointed to the fact that, as regards recruiting, even as it is, those services in which a great deal of mechanical knowledge is required are receiving satisfactory recruits and he asked, in effect, if these results could be produced by the system now at our disposal for boys up to 14, what could we not hope for from a system which would train boys and girls up to the age of 15. It may be so, but not unless to a large extent the spirit of education is changed, not unless it pays more heed to practical necessities, connects our education more with realities, produces fewer black-coated youths, produces more boys and girls who would like to stay on the land, more boys and girls whose mechanical proclivities are developed. We want to develop all kinds—the black-coated ones and also the mechanically minded ones. That is the task for the future.

The hon. Member for South-West Bethnal Green (Sir P. Harris) spoke of a very important matter, and that is the lack of responsibility of the local authorities for the children in their districts at the present time. That is a big task before the Board of Education. We have now thousands of evacuated children in districts practically without control. I do not blame the teachers, but we see this kind of thing happening, that teachers who are responsible for their pupils—

Mr. Speaker

The point before us is the Bill rather than the whole range of education.

Sir A. Somerville

I bow to your Ruling, Mr. Speaker. I was just referring to what was said by the hon. Member for South-West Bethnal Green and drawing attention to the absence of control of the children who are evacuated. That is a matter for the closest cooperation between the Board of Education and the local education authorities. We regret the necessity for this Bill, but we hope that it may afford an opportunity for a wider consideration of our national system of education.

4.43 p.m.

Mr. Sexton

While I can understand the House agreeing with the postponement proposed by this Bill, we all hope that when the war is successfully won the reintroduction of a stronger Measure will ensure an extra year or two years for our elementary school children. The Fisher Act has been referred to in this Debate as an educational act of progress which was taken at the end of the last war. We to-day are not following the example of progress in education, but we are taking a retrograde step by passing this Measure. It has come from the other place to us. I wonder to how many children of the representatives of the other place, or of this place, this Act will apply. I remember reading during the Boer War about "Cook's son, duke's son, son of a belted earl." To how many cooks' sons will this postponement apply? Every one of them. To how many dukes' sons will it apply? Not one at all. We sometimes talk about equality of sacrifice, but this is just another example of inequality of sacri- fice, because the children in the humble walks of life will be penalised by this Bill. These children have sacrificed enough. They and their forbears have been sacrificing all along the line. Even now these children have been sent away from one district to another, and they are sacrificing their education, often on account of the accommodation not being available in the various parts of the country to which they have gone, and some of them are getting practically no education at all.

In the vulnerable areas, as has been reported by several hon. Members to-day, there seems to be an end of elementary education, and to all their other sacrifices must be added this further sacrifice at what I call the shrine of shrivelling opportunity. We are waging a war against aggression, but let us be careful that the pupils of this country are not made the Poles of this country and suffer aggression in their education. They may not be the victims of actual physical aggression, but there is something which is equally bad, and that is mental aggression, and that will arise from the shortened period of their education. The reason for this is, as has been stated in some quarters, that these young children of 14 to 15 years of age will be able to find employment in the factories. We have often heard of their nimble fingers, but I would like to point out that those nimble fingers are guided and controlled by nimble wits, and those nimble wits are stunted and starved if their education is stopped at 14 or anything like that age. We hear much in these days about priorities and about lines of defence, but surely the mental Maginot line of defence—education—against the attacks of ignorance and the attacks of mass hysteria ought to be considered and not neglected, even in war time.

Often there has been talk in the country about the expense of the added year of education, that it will cost the country a great deal more. People who have poured out pounds on the education of their own sons—and I am not blaming them for it—would withhold pence from the education of the poorer classes of children, and the question that we have to ask ourselves is whether the premium that we have paid by giving them an added year or two years at school is worth while. For the answer, look at the records of the response of youth to the country's call at this time. Go and see teeming multitudes of young people who have recognised their civic and national responsibilities in the workshops and in His Majesty's Forces. That is the answer to the critics of the expense of education. While agreeing to the postponement of this Measure, I repeat that we must insist that when the time comes a more comprehensive Measure shall be introduced which will allow the children to have that extended year or, better still, two years in the schools, on the physical side, on the technical side, and on the academic side. No longer must the children of the workers be kept in the vestibules of the temple of learning. No longer must they be allowed to grope about at the foot of Parnassus. They have the ability, but what they lack is the opportunity. While we on this side agree to this temporary postponement, we shall raise our voices time and again, when the opportunity comes, for a more comprehensive Measure even than that which was passed in 1936 to be put on the Statute Book.

4.49 p.m.

Mr. Loftus

I intervene for only a few moments to support the request made by the hon. and gallant Member for Carnarvonshire (Major Owen) in regard to children in those areas where there is the 15 years age limit, that that age, 14 to 15, should be recognised for family allowance by the authorities of the three Forces. That brings me to this question. I take it that if an area such as that of the education authority to which I belong is touched—where we raised the school-leaving age to 15 some 15 or 16 years ago, if my memory serves me, though, of course, we have had very many exemptions—we shall continue as we were in spite of the repeal of this Act. I hope that that is the case, because we have completed the reorganisation for 80 per cent. of the area and have practically all our senior schools ready and in use. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Keighley (Mr. Lees-Smith) truly said that the standard of educational work done has raised the intellectual ability of recruits in the highly technical Army of to-day. That is one aspect of improved education, I agree, but I would like to draw the attention of the right hon. Gentleman to another point.

We have heard much in this Debate about the results of evacuation. One occasionally hears of certain children, not mentally defective, who do not appear to have a proper grounding in such elementary things as reading, writing and arithmetic. One also hears rumours of recruiting officers receiving able-bodied young men who are not efficient in these subjects. I hope that my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary will use this period of lull to investigate into the question whether we are getting a thorough education up to the age of 14 in all areas. I suggest that he should take advantage of the evacuation of school children, and, by working in conjunction with the teachers in the reception areas. should get reports from those areas on the type and thoroughness of the education of the evacuated children. I hope that he will also get reports from the recruiting authorities on any educational defect which may appear. In this way we can utilise this regrettable lull to make sure that we get better results in the future than perhaps we have had in the past in some areas and in certain schools, so that we can make sure that, as we extend the age of education after the war, as all Members desire, the children will get a thorough grounding in the elements of education.

4.54 p.m.

Mr. Ede

My hon. Friends and I would like to join their views with those of the hon. Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Loftus) and the hon. and gallant Member for Carnarvonshire (Major Owen) with regard to those children who are compelled to remain at school until 15 but are not allowed by the Services to rank for allowances when their fathers are serving with the Forces. It is an anomaly that ought to be removed because, had these children gone to secondary schools, they would have been recognised for these allowances up to a far later age. If they are in the schools compulsorily there is no reason why the Forces should attempt to escape the responsibility which they recognise for children in secondary schools. This Debate was to a large extent epitomised in the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Sparkbrook (Mr. Amery), a speech which we on this side welcome for its obvious sincerity and breadth of outlook. Surely the lessons of the last war add point to the warning of the right hon. Gentleman. During the last war, when large numbers of men, far larger numbers than are yet with the Colours, were serving, there were troubles about discipline in the home and the street which we hope may be avoided on this occasion. We, therefore, welcome the appointment of the Committee to which the Parliamentary Secretary alluded, and we hope that it will do something to deal with that problem.

If this war is to be followed by what the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Sparkbrook rightly described as a generation run wild, it may very well be that the real cost and disasters of the war will be felt and suffered, not during the war, but for many years after in the lives of these young people. It is, therefore, regrettable that the opportunity was lost in 1930£31, when my hon. Friends and I, with, I believe, the assistance outside the House of the Parliamentary Secretary, endeavoured to persuade this House and another place to enact the raising of the school-leaving age. Had we then succeeded this scheme would have been in such good working order that no suggestion of its postponement or annulment at the present time would have been brought forward. He and we were defeated, and we share with him the disappointment at seeing our hopes again delayed. We cannot, however, overlook the fact that war time will bring before us the problem of the discipline of the youth who has just left school. In such parts of the speech of the hon. Member for Windsor (Sir A. Somerville) as he was able to deliver outside the text of the Bill, he got on to one subject which is linked up with this. At the moment all the evening institutes to which he alluded, with few exceptions, arc closed down, and there are not opportunities for those children who have just left school to carry on their education and to get the mental and intellectual discipline that we must all recognise as being of more importance than usual at this time.

We hope that this Bill does not of necessity mean a postponement of the Measure for the whole period of the war, because I can see certain developments, if the war is prolonged, which might make it highly desirable for the school-leaving age to be raised in certain parts of the country, if not in all. I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will not shut his mind to that possibility and that the Board will keep it under consideration. I thought that the speech of the hon. Member for South-West Bethnal Green (Sir P. Harris), who had a patent of nobility conferred upon him by two hon. Members, probably because they recognised the thoroughly reactionary nature of his views on this occasion, expressed a good many fears about the present situation which I could not help feeling were largely misplaced. As far as I know, there is no doubt in the minds of the local education authorities as to who is employing the teachers and as to who is responsible for the supervision of the work now going on in the schools. One of the advantages of the present situation, deplorable as it is, has been the way in which it has been possible for evacuating and receiving authorities to co-operate in doing the best they can for the children in the various districts.

Mr. Dingle Foot

The hon. Member has referred to my hon. Friend the Member for South-West Bethnal Green (Sir P. Harris), who is not at the moment in the House, and to the thoroughly reactionary nature of his views. The principal argument of my hon. Friend was that an arrangement should be made for the education of the children, particularly of those left in the evacuated areas, and that they should not be left running about with no education at all. I do not know whether the hon. Member regards that as a thoroughly reactionary view.

Mr. Ede

No, I do not, but I was alluding to that part of the speech during which we were deprived of the honour of the company of the junior Member for Dundee (Mr. Foot). He came in at a very late stage of the speech and, with his usual knowledge of what has gone on in his absence, has attempted to ride off on the part he did hear as an excuse for the part he did not hear. It seems to me that the part of the speech to which I was alluding was entirely mischief-making and that if it were not answered in this House it might lead to considerable difficulties between the receiving and the evacuating authorities.

Mr. Kingsley Griffith

The hon. Member has still not explained what was reactionary in the views of the hon. Baronet. I may say that I heard the whole of his speech.

Sir P. Harris

Of course there was nothing reactionary in it.

Mr. Foot

He would not have said so if you had been here.

Mr. Ede

That is a remark which the hon. Member for Dundee has no right to make. I am not in the habit of saying things in the absence of people that I do not say in their presence.

Sir P. Harris

Will you prove where it was reactionary?

Mr. Ede

I was referring to the part of the speech in which the hon. Baronet said nobody knew who was responsible for the teachers, that the evacuating authorities were not responsible for them and that the receiving authorities had no control over them. That could only lead to difficulties between the authorities.

Sir P. Harris

The hon. Member has made a charge against me. He knows that in educational matters I am not reactionary. Will he give me proof that I am reactionary? What is reactionary in my statement?

Mr. Ede

I say the whole of the statement to which I have alluded. The only practical effect of it must be to create difficulties between authorities who are now working under conditions of exceptional difficulties. It must lead to the triumph of just those forces in education which, I am sure, the hon. Baronet would not wish to see triumph. I believe that this evacuation of children will enable both groups of authorities to understand some of the difficulties with which the others have been faced.

With regard to the practical effects of this Measure, I should like the Parliamentary Secretary to tell me what will be the position of the schemes agreed between local authorities and the voluntary schools which will have to be brought to an end because there will not be either the money or the materials for carrying them through. The Church authorities will have incurred some expense for architects and in some cases, possibly, quantity surveyors. The local authorities have undertaken to provide not less than half nor more than three-quarters of the money so expended. Will they be allowed to pay their contributions towards these schemes, and if so will the Board recognise such payments for grant? The matter is really on a tripartite basis. The voluntary promoters pay a certain part and the education authority pay a part, and they expect to receive grants from the Board. A good many of these schemes will have to be postponed until later, and we should like to know whether we shall get grants towards the expenditure already incurred.

Everyone on this side of the House shares the hope expressed by my right hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (Mr. Lees-Smith) that when the Act is revised the raising of the school-leaving age will be accomplished without any exemptions at all. We do not share the view expressed by the hon. Member for Central Leeds (Mr. Denman). I think the time for the process he envisages comes in the year after the raising of the school-leaving age has been reached. I have always held that we should have the raising of the school-leaving age to 15 and exemptions in the year between 15 and 16 for those children who have secured employment in some occupation that could be recommended under some choice-of-employment or similar scheme, and that then would be brought into operation those Clauses of the Fisher Act to which the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook alluded. We want a clear-cut raising of the school-leaving age to 15, and in the circumstances which will immediately follow the war—if we are to regard the last war as any criterion— it should be easy, with a labour market which will have to absorb demobilised soldiers, to raise the school-leaving age to 15 without inflicting any hardship on the home, and beyond 15 the choice-of-employment scheme should then be brought into operation.

Mr. Denman

I believe the hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) and I are in entire agreement. My sole point was that after the moment when the school-leaving age sets a boy loose there should still be compulsory part-time education.

Mr. Ede

I do not think there is anything between us, except that I do not think the hon. Member quite envisaged as long a period as I have. I am glad to find that we are in agreement and that past associations have done the hon. Member some good. We on this side regret this Measure, but if in the long run it enables us to live up to the ideas that have been expressed so vocally this afternoon, curiously by two hon. Members on the other side, it may be that we shall not regret the period of delay we may have to endure.

5.8 p.m.

Mr. Lindsay

This has been an interesting Debate, because it has produced one or two speeches which, while not absolutely related to the postponement of the school-leaving age, have raised the general outlook for education itself. I made my speech extremely short, because nobody could be more depressed than I am over this Measure. I spent three years of my life, 14 years ago, in writing a book trying to stir people to a realisation of the importance of raising the school-leaving age, and, therefore, it is not a very pleasant thing to stand here to-day and ask for its suspension, but, still there are compensations. I should like to make one or two very small points relating to the speeches of the right hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Lees-Smith) and the hon. Member for Shipley (Mr. Creech Jones)—and rather more so to that of the hon. Member for Shipley—and to a certain extent that of the right hon. Baronet the Member for South-West Bethnal Green (Sir P. Harris). I want to make it perfectly clear that this Measure has nothing to do with finance or reactionary authorities; in fact, in many cases the most progressive authorities have come and asked for it; nor has the Board any more control than it has ever had. This Measure has been asked for by all parties and by the authorities, but I do not think we need go into that.

With regard to the point put forward by the hon. Member for Stourbridge (Mr. R. Morgan) and the hon. Member for Central Leeds (Mr. Denman), I think I know to what they are referring. It relates to certain conditions in the Isle of Ely and Bedfordshire. Personally I agree with them. With regard to what was said by the hon. and gallant Member for Carnarvonshire (Major Owen) and my hon. Friend the Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Loftus), reinforced by the hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede), relating to places where the school-leaving age is raised to 15 and the incidence of the allowances in reference to the Army, Navy and Air Force, I have already discussed this matter and it is in process of negotiation in the office. I will let hon. Members know the result as soon as possible.

This raises a further point to which reference has also been made. We were asked whether we would use this time to make the most of education up to 14 years of age. In my opening remarks I gave the House a hint that that is already being done. I could, if this were the time to do so, tell the House, not of the number of children whom we have helped, but of some fascinating experiments which are already in being in different parts of the countryside where it would seem the children are not only happy but have no desire at all to return, and of experiments conducted by teachers in the schools. One of these came to my notice this morning where the whole dietary of a group of children in Surrey is being planned; fruit and vegetables on a scale never seen before locally are going to the people billeted in a house in Surrey. There are many other experiments. We propose to exploit the situation to the full and to make the most of this period. In regard to the point made in the opening speech of the right hon. Member who spoke for the Opposition, we would like to have any Amendment which hon. Gentlemen care to bring forward to this Bill.

I would like to finish on the point raised in the very interesting speech made by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Sparkbrook (Mr. Amery), and followed by other speakers. It gives me an opportunity to make a brief statement in reply to the right hon. Gentleman. Realising what happened in the last war we got busy quickly. We brought together a small group of people. I think this was properly done through the Board of Education, where the responsibility should be. We were backed by Sir Percival Sharp and Mr. Charles Robertson, Chairman of the London County Council Education Committee, by the juvenile organisations, through the chairman and vice-chairman of their joint committee, and by others like Sir Wyndham Deedes and Lord Aberdare, lately Chairman of the National Fitness Council, and the hon. Member for Aberdare (Mr. G. Hall), whose knowledge of these problems, both in Wales and other areas, reinforces the committee. There were one or two advisers on medical and industrial questions, such as Lord Dawson of Penn and Sir David Milne-Watson. I think that this constitutes the entire committee.

The committee took the view that, if we have to close down at 14 years of age, we want to see that the partnership between education authorities and the excellent juvenile organisation throughout the country is made much more efficient and given a little more central drive and guidance. We believe that this can come best from the place where education resides. It is not generally known that a vast amount of work is going on, particularly in London, in the evening institutes and elsewhere, of an entirely recreational kind and not in the old form of class work. It is hoped that the committee may be the forerunner of something much bigger and much nearer what the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Sparkbrook mentioned. I wish we could have had it years ago in the continuation schools of this country, but I see the germ of it in the work which we hope to do on this committee. It is no use sending round circulars; we have to go to the authorities themselves and make them realise that the ages from 14 to 18 are just as important as from 11 to 14.

Unless a more romantic and challenging view is given to the young people in this country, and more chances during those years, then we shall have a recurrence of delinquency and all the problems which have been referred to by hon. Members much older than I am. I was in the war and not here, but I know that those things happened. The committee reports of that time are eloquent of what happened. At any rate, we have started in the first month of the war and not after two years, and I hope that, as we have to postpone raising the school-leaving age, we can, at any rate, take steps to keep open the evening institutes and the clubs, and perhaps build up a new partnership, which has hitherto not existed, between the local education authorities and the juvenile organisations in order to look after the education and recreation of our young people.

5.17 p.m.

Mr. MacLaren

Whatever is done as the result of the Debate to-day I hope it will not intensify the desire of some of those in the educational circles of this country to enforce what is called discipline. If there is anything which I hate and detest it is young people being got hold of and disciplined, with the result that they grow up more headstrong than if they had been left entirely alone without any of that kind of education at all. Freedom and liberty to develop the personality are crushed when discipline is administered with an iron hand. There is apparently a certain amount of adversity in relation to the evacuation of the children, but there is also a glorious opportunity of divorcing them from the horrible circumstances in which they have lived. I was delighted to hear the Minister say that some of the children will not go back to the areas from which they came—[Interruption]—well, he said they did not want to go back, and that is the same thing. That happens when they get into the country areas.

There is another thing of which I hope the Minister and those with him will do their best to take advantage. If there is anything which is notorious it is the failure of modern so-called education. We are producing masses of people who are utterly incapable of reason. The speeches in this House are an example. In the countryside to which these children have now been taken they will come up against the practical work of country life. I hope that the schools will not be deemed to have fulfilled their function only during the few hours when the children are before the school teachers and that they will encourage practical experience of the everyday life of the country. I know of no better sphere in which you can teach children to reason from A to B. I hope that discipline will be subordinated, and that the other side of children's lives will be allowed to build itself up.

I was appalled to hear some of the sentiments expressed here to-day about discipline and making children more efficient for the Army when they grow up. They were not the views which were held in the early days of this movement. There is an opportunity to-day to give to many of the children a wider scope in the use of their hands and brains in the countryside, instead of their being, as too often heretofore, tied in the schools with books and crabbed-minded teachers; so that when they come out into the world, crammed with details that nobody wants, you find that, in spite of knowing all these details they cannot reason; from an ordinary premise which they themselves make they cannot make a deduction. I hope that the schoolteachers will take note of this Debate. It is the reasoning man that counts, not the learned man. I heard an old Catholic priest once say this, after listening to a Disputant "The more I listen to that fellow, the more I think that if his premises are the smallpox, his deductions will catch the contagion."

Question, "That the Bill be now read a Second time," put, and agreed to. Bill read a Second time.

Bill committed to a Committee of the Whole House for To-morrow.—[Captain Waterhouse.]