HC Deb 09 October 1939 vol 352 cc77-97

Order for Second Reading read.

5.22 p.m.

The Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Captain McEwen)

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

The provisions of this Bill are in substance the same as those of the corresponding Measure for England and Wales, which has just been given a Second Reading. The object is to postpone, to a date to be appointed by the Secretary of State, the operation of Part I of the Education (Scotland) Act, 1936, which raised the school-leaving age to 15 as from 1st September this year. A separate Bill is required for Scotland— a fact which, I think, will not be disputed by my hon. colleagues from Scotland— because the existing Acts relating to education are in a different form from those applicable to England and Wales. A great deal was said in the preceding Debate about the circumstances which make this necessary. There is the question of the evacuation of large numbers of school children from vulnerable areas, the question of the impossibility of providing for children between 14 and 15 the kind of education which should be provided if the extra year at school is to be profitable, and the question of the inability of education authorities to provide the extra accommodation which would be needed, together with the shortage of building labour and, more important still at the present time, of building material. There is also the question of the exemptions, for under existing conditions, exemptions would be bound to be granted very freely, and thereby a bad precedent would be set for normal times.

I should like to make clear one point which has already been emphasised by my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Education. That is that this Bill is very far from being a repeal Measure merely masquerading in the guise of a postponement. It is the Government's firm intention to proceed with the raising of the school-leaving age at the first opportunity. There is nothing in this Bill to prevent a child remaining at school after the age of 14, just as he can at present should his parents so desire. It was urged this afternoon by the right hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Lees-Smith) that, instead of suspending the raising of the age indefinitely until an appointed day, it would be better to suspend it for one year only, in order that the situation might then be reviewed. The answer is that if the Bill were amended in that way it would place education authorities in a very difficult position. They might, for example, feel bound to prepare for the raising of the age on 1st September, 1940, without the least certainty that the date would not again be postponed, and there would be a serious risk of waste of effort and of money.

I do not think it is necessary for me to go through the Bill Clause by Clause and make a detailed explanation, but I should like to mention two points. An important and relevant point arises on Clause 1, Sub-section (2). Education authorities have prepared for the raising of the school age and, in some cases at any rate, have incurred liabilities in consequence. As the Act of 1936 is to be deemed not to have come into operation there might be a doubt as to whether such expenditure was allowable or coverable. The Bill provides that such liabilities shall be deemed to have been lawfully incurred if they would have been incurred but for the postponement of the Bill. In Clause 2, which is the specifically Scottish Clause of the Bill, Sub-section (1) deals with Section 17 of the Education (Scotland) Act, 1918, which, as amended by the Act of 1936, prohibits the employment in factories, workshops, mines or quarries of a child or young person under 15 years of age unless he is over 14 and has been granted an employment certificate. The Bill proposes that Section 17 shall not come into operation until the appointed day already referred to. Sub-section (2) deals with by-laws made by education authorities under Section 28 of the Children and Young Persons (Scotland) Act, 1937, for the purpose of regulating the employment of children. This Bill proposes that the by-laws relating to a school-leaving age of 15 shall be deemed not to have been made, and that the bylaws in operation immediately before 1st September, 1939, shall continue in force, but without prejudice to the power of the authority to make new by-laws.

In submitting the Bill for Second Reading, I would again emphasise that this educational step, which has been looked forward to by so many as a Measure long desired and greatly to be welcomed, is postponed only temporarily, and postponed owing to the exigencies of the time, which are only too apparent to us all. The principle of raising the school age has been already accepted, both by Parliament and the country. To that principle, due effect will be given as soon as circumstances permit.

5.29 p.m.

Mr. Pethick-Lawrence

It is customary when a Member makes his first speech in the House for the Member who follows him to congratulate him upon his lucidity and to say that the House hopes to hear him on many future occasions. I believe I am right in saying that this is the first speech the hon. Gentleman has made as a Minister, and I offer my congratulations on his lucidity. I will not say that I hope we shall hear him often, but that I hope that we shall hear him again soon on the repeal of this Measure. In the course of our Budget Debate an hon. Member speaking from one of the back benches opposite said that he did not approve of the Budget, but he accepted it with deep resignation. I think that that has been the attitude of my colleagues who sit for English constituencies in regard to the sister Bill which we have carried through its Second Reading for England. I do not think that the Scottish constituencies would wish me to go even as far as that. They certainly do not approve of the Bill, but they recognise that force majeure compels them to allow it to pass.

Scottish people have always believed in education even more zealously than the people across the Border, and it was the hope and belief and intention of most of the Scottish education authorities to do their best to make the somewhat halfhearted Education Act of 1936 a real op- portunity for progress in the matter of education. I will not go as far as to say that they intended to make use of it more liberally than the English education authorities, but I am sure they did intend as far as possible to enable the bulk of the children of the country to stay at school until they were 15. These authorities and large numbers of people in Scotland are profoundly shocked that it is thought necessary to apply the Guillotine to the school-leaving age and bring it down once more definitely to 14. They feel that during the war it is very unfortunate that the children of Scotland should not have the opportunity of obtaining experience and knowledge, and of widening their life in a way that a further year at school would have given.

Still more, looking into the future, to the years when the war is over, the younger generation in our countries are hoping for a brave new world. Some of us who can hardly call ourselves any longer the younger generation share that enthusiasm in spite of the illusions of the past and of the setbacks that previous wars have brought about. We look forward to this brave new world of the young, and we want the children who will then be men and women to be able to take a part that will be of benefit and encouragement to themselves and of strength, help and encouragement to the country as a whole. Every child whose education is curtailed loses to some extent the possibility of making the contribution that he or she could otherwise make. That is a matter of very great regret. It was said by an hon. Member in the Debate on the English Bill how much better it would have been if the clear-cut proposals which were brought in by the Labour Government in the years 1930 and 1931 to raise the school-leaving age had been carried. In these days—and it applies equally to Scotland as to England—if the proposal which the Government introduced in 1936 had been a simpler Bill we might not now have been postponing the subject for a time.

There are only two things more I would say in conclusion. The decision of the Government to-day may be a regrettable necessity, but I hope that so far as children under 14 are concerned in spite of all the difficulties that there are at the present time—and I know full well there are difficulties in the evacuated areas where the Government are loth to open schools with danger still in existence— something more may be done. I hope that the Government are recognising the fact. In Edinburgh there are a very large number of people who think the dangers to children being allowed to run about the streets may be greater even than possibly the danger of being brought back to school. I know also, of course, the difficulties in the reception areas, where there are two shifts in the schools, a morning shift and an afternoon shift, and it is difficult to carry out the whole school curriculum, but I hope that the Secretary of State for Scotland will do everything in his power to prevent these years being wasted years as far as the children are concerned. I hope that even if it involves considerable sacrifice and expenditure of time and money, the education of these little ones who are now within the school age will not be scamped because of the emergency of the time, for if that were done it would be a grave disaster to the country.

My final point is that I trust that these years that would have seen the working out of the early stages of the Government's Measure will also not be wasted in another sense. We had perforce to accept the limited Measure of 1936, believing that at the end of a few years at any rate it would have become the full-blooded up-to-15 retention of the children at school. I recognise that that might have taken at least two or three years to carry through. I hope that the war and the postponement of the operation of the half-hearted Act of 1936 will not mean the postponement of the full-blooded school age of 15. Lost as these years are as a half-way stage, I hope that the whole way up to 15 at any rate will come into effect not later than it would otherwise have done. The Government have given us promises to-day, but I hope that the new Parliament elected at the end of the war will be unlike the Parliament elected in December 1918 and will not be controlled by the type of men who were prepared to cut down the educational life of the nation in order to serve some of their own personal interests. If that be so, then, in spite of the step which many of us feel is regretted to-day, the final result may not be as bad as we might otherwise expect.

5.40 p.m.

Mr. G. A. Morrison

No one interested in Scottish education could have heard without the most profound regret the decision of His Majesty's Government to suspend the provisions of the 1936 Act, which secured an extended educational life for at least some part of the adolescent school population. One would like to know whether the decision of the Government was taken solely on consideration of English conditions, or whether Scotland was consulted, particularly the Scottish Education Department. All that we have heard from the Under-Secretary, and what has been said in the Debate on the English Bill, leaves me still marvelling and regretting that in the interests of a vitally important group of the population some policy of greater boldness and wider vision has not commended itself to our rulers. I say this in full consciousness of the national difficulties.

Those of us who for many years advocated the raising of the school-leaving age did so for many reasons, educational, moral and social. One reason particularly pertinent just now was that the extra year of education, valuable in itself, would be specially valuable in enabling more complete and effective post-qualifying courses to be planned and set up. This would also have provided a better and surer basis for the further education which must follow when school days are over. I shall refer later to the question of day continuation schools, already a generation overdue. The question is social as well as educational. The two things cannot be separated. Adolescents have suffered recently from the inevitable dislocation in business and industry. We hear that some of the junior instruction centres are to be closed down, and no new ones may be started by the local education authorities with grants from the Minister of Labour. Young people are faced with the collapse of the social institutions, statutory and voluntary, which would have been particularly valuable at this time.

One hears—we heard it in the English Debate—of the reappearance of disquieting symptoms in conduct, such as marred the later years of the last war. There is, in many quarters, the prospect of large numbers of young people being employed without any kind of provision for leisure activities. It is because of this that one welcomes the announcement that a welfare committee or, as it has been described, a National Youth Committee, is being set up. One assumes that money will be available owing to the closing down of the National Fitness Council. I should like to ask whether the Scottish Members on the Committee are to have independent status as regards Scotland. Is it not an error that no one definitely representing the Scottish education authorities is included in the committee? Again, one welcomes the news of a special department at the Board of Education to deal with organisation and development and with administration of grant. I should like to ask whether a similar arrangement is in contemplation for Scotland. Are the proposed recreational classes to come after a full working day? Might not time be given during the day, and might it not be made a condition of employment of young people that a certain amount of time for recreation should be allowed during the hours of daylight?

Again, is the voluntary method adequate? What proportion is it expected to reach of the young workers? Is nothing definitely educational to be done for boys already 14 years of age or who will become 14 in war-time? In speaking in this House and elsewhere on the raising of the school age I have generally linked up that question with the question of further education, particularly of day continuation schools. This was referred to in an admirable little speech by the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook (Mr. Amery). I should, however, like to go further than the right hon. Gentleman, and to put a question to my right hon. Friend. Suppose an education authority cared to set up day continuation classes in educational subjects, would it get a grant? If that is impossible as things stand now, might not power be taken to secure it? There should be no great difficulty in allowing young workers off for short periods each week. That has been proved. The value of such classes would be, in the first place, in what would be taught. I have a firm conviction that some kind of regular intellectual discipline would have a very salutary effect in steadying adolescents, both mentally and morally. I refer, for instance, to practice in expression, oral and written, to practice of arts and crafts, and systematic physical education. In the second place, once the nucleus consisting of day education has been provided, it would be easier to organise recreational activities around these units.

I should like to quote the suggestion of, I think, the "New Statesman," that a strong educational advisory committee representing all branches and stages of education—for all are vitally concerned— should be set up to use every effort to prevent deterioration in the national system of education during war. I am concerned about what is to be put in the place of the provision now being suspended, for if we are merely to see something on which for nearly 25 years we have founded high hopes wiped out without anything really effective being put in its place, then I fear grave injury will have been done to young people, without any particular good to the nation.

5.47 p.m.

Mr. Foot

I rise to associate myself with what was said by the right hon. Member for East Edinburgh (Mr. Pethick-Lawrence) when he congratulated the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland on his first appearance in charge of a Government Bill. We can only regret that the occasion is not more fortunate. I should like to say for those sitting in this part of the House that we very much welcome the emphasis which the Under-Secretary laid on the announcement that the Government are not abandoning in any way the intention to raise the school-leaving age, but that they intend to proceed with the 1936 Act at the first opportunity. That assurance will give some gratification to those of us who thought that the 1936 Act came a great deal short of what it might have been.

I do not intend to go over what has been said by other speakers in this Debate or in the English debate as to the need for organising educational facilities in evacuation and reception areas; but in dealing with this Bill there is one question which I wish to put. The Under-Secretary referred to Clause 2 (2), that the by-laws made under the Children and Young Persons (Scotland) Act, 1937, which came into operation on the 1st September, before the date of the operation of this Act. That particular Section does not deal particularly with educational matters but it governs the conditions of employment of young persons. In par- ticular, it provides that the education authorities may make by-laws in respect of the employment of children. They may prohibit absolutely the employment of children in any specified occupation. They may prescribe the age below which the children are not to be employed, the number of hours each day or each week on which they may be employed, the intervals to be allowed for meals, rest and so forth.

It is difficult to see why the conditions which prevail at the present time make it necessary to abrogate by-laws laying down conditions of this kind. I should have thought that those conditions for safeguarding the health and well-being of children employed in industry are as necessary now as ever they were. It may well be that no by-laws governing these particular matters have been made in the period of time referred to in the Bill. Quite obviously, it was not the intention of those who drafted the Bill to strike at by-laws of this kind, but if I am right in that assumption it is a little difficult to see why the Sub-section should be made quite as sweeping as this, and I think it would be useful to have an assurance from whichever Minister is going to reply that the operation of Clause 2 in its present form is not going to strike out useful and necessary by-laws of the kind I have mentioned.

5.51 p.m.

Mr. Robert Gibson

I would like to associate myself with the congratulatory remarks which have been passed on the able way in which the Secretary of State has presented this rather mournful subject. In approaching this Bill, one is struck with the wide discrepancy between the Title of the Bill and the contents of the Clauses. The Title is simple in its statement but is very comprehensive in its ambit, dealing as it does with the emergency in education in Scotland arising out of the war. As my right hon. Friend the Member for East Edinburgh (Mr. Pethick-Lawrence) intimated, education has always been a very important matter in Scotland. One might say with truth that education has always been one of the chief items of the stock-in-trade in Scotland and it has provided a large measure of the valuable exports from Scotland.

In meeting the emergency that has arisen from the war in education in Scotland, one is entitled to pay a tribute to all concerned in the way that that emergency in its wide sense has been met. Local authorities, officials and teaching staffs have carried themselves valiantly and effectively in meeting that emergency. Private schools have done their part. By transferring teaching staffs and pupils to country houses an example has been set of which advantage may well be taken some time in the future by pupils and scholars who are less comfortably circumstanced. It is interesting to find how in a war emergency in our country certain schools have provided very materially from their former pupils towards our Government. In the War Cabinet in 1918 there were six former pupils of one of the Merchant Companies Schools in Edinburgh, George Watson's College. At present there are three Ministers who are former pupils of that school—the Home Secretary, the Minister of Agriculture and the Lord Advocate.

Speaking of the indebtedness of our country to the Merchant Companies Schools in Scotland, one may be pardoned for referring to a difficulty that has arisen at this time in connection with these schools. They have a great tradition and the scholastic foundations of the success and eminence of many of our Ministers from time to time are directly traceable to that source. The staffs of these schools have rendered, for that among other reasons, very great services. These schools have a tradition that has been and is being widely maintained, but it would appear that the Merchant Companies Education Committee is meeting serious difficulties, and I would suggest to the Secretary of State that in dealing with the emergency he might have these in mind, keeping also in view the real debt which the Government of this country owes to these schools. I understand that members of the staff of the Merchant Companies School are, in certain cases, losing their posts. That is most unfortunate, particularly in the case of women of middle age. They have the difficulty of finding other employment and there is also the difficulty that failure to get a teaching post within a year means that pension rights will be lost.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir Dennis Herbert)

That matter is outside the question which we are discussing.

Mr. Gibson

I do not desire to transgress your Ruling, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, but I thought I was following the hon. Member for the Scottish Universities (Mr. Morrison) in dealing with difficulties, arising from the emergency, which were not exactly confined to the raising of the school age. I would point out that while the Under-Secretary of State narrated the causes which induced the Government to bring in this Bill postponing the raising of the school age, he mentioned evacuation, the question of accommodation and the shortage of building labour and material, but he did not suggest that there was any shortage of teaching staff.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

I should have thought the hon. and learned Gentleman would have appreciated the latitude I allowed him in permitting him to proceed as far as he did. This is not a question which can be dealt with in considering this Bill.

Mr. Gibson

I do not desire to pursue the particular matter of the Merchant Companies School, but I submit it would be unfortunate if the war emergency in education in Scotland is aggravated by dismissals of teachers; that would not be a matter that would tend to assist the position in Scotland. Without pressing the matter any further, I wish to say that redundancy of teachers is never a proper ground for dismissing teaching staffs, and as a constructive method towards meeting that general question might I suggest that the Secretary of State should consider whether it would not be possible for teachers from one quarter to be loaned to local authorities in another area where there has been an addition to the number of pupils, so that either assistance would be given without there being any loss either to the individual or to the community by an unfortunate and avoidable increase of unemployment among teachers?

5.59 p.m.

Mr. Henderson Stewart

I will detain the House for only a few moment's in order to emphasise one or two important matters raised by my hon. Friend the Member for the Scottish Universities (Mr. G. A. Morrison). My hon. Friend speaks upon educational matters with authority which, I think, is recognised and respected in all parts of the House, and I hope that the Secretary of State will be able to answer the various pertinent ques- tions which my hon. Friend has put to him. There are two questions in particular on which I think he ought to give a full answer, not only for the satisfaction of the House but for the satisfaction of Scotland. One of them concerns the results of evacuation. In evacuated areas the children are now running loose, there is little or no control of them and they are a source of considerable trouble and anxiety to their parents. I merely ask that my right hon. Friend will indicate to us that steps are now being taken to bring these children under the control of some kind of continous education and mental discipline. That seems to me most necessary and most urgent. In reception areas one knows case after case of overloaded schools and overloaded teachers. The position at present is anything but satisfactory in many rural areas. I would beg my right hon. Friend to give as full a reply as is possible, for great anxiety is being caused to teachers, parents and people interested in education in the rural areas.

We have entered upon what may be the greatest and the most terrible war in the history of the world. The young people of 14 and 15 and over who are affected by the Bill will for the next two or three years be growing up in awful conditions. They will be reading nothing in the Press but of wars and of fighting and of deaths and of wounds. The conversation of their parents at home will be concerned with these self-same terrible continuous subjects. There will be perhaps throughout all these years of war constant darkness during the winter, with curtailment of recreation and entertainment during the evenings. What is going to be the psychological effect upon those growing young people of these terrifying conditions? Those of us who have been through two wars now can understand something of that reaction. I was at school when the last war broke out. This time the pressure of conditions is going to be more terrible than ever before. In those circumstances I fel that those responsible for education must take special measures to counteract that deteriorating effect which is bound to result in all parts of the country and in all groups of society.

My hon. Friend has asked for day continuation schools. That may be one way and there may be others, but I feel that my right hon. Friend would be failing in his duty to the rising generation if he was not able soon to indicate that special educational measures are being planned, and will quickly be carried out, to gather in this new generation, which in 10 or 20 years may be controlling the destinies of the land. The responsibility for the upbringing of that generation is a very heavy responsibility. My right hon. Friend, I am sure, would desire to satisfy all of us that our young brothers, may be our sons, will not be allowed to go to rot under the degrading conditions which this war is bound to bring about, but that their mental, physical and moral upbringing will be looked after with the greatest possible sympathy and attention by the State. That is my most earnest appeal. I know that my right hon. Friend is sympathetic but I ask him to assure the House on a matter which is giving great concern.

6.6 p.m.

Mr. Barr

I should like to refer to some of the corollaries and consequences which will follow on this Measure. I should like first to allude to the large waiting list of teachers who have never yet had permanent employment and have been looking forward to the day when the raising of the school age to 15 would call for their employment. On 1st August I put a question to the Secretary of State as to the numbers in Lanarkshire alone who had not yet secured permanent employment. The number was no less than 384. Of these some 59 were getting some kind of employment under other education authorities, not employment to which they could consider they had settled down because their desire was still for settlement with their own county. It was true also, the right hon. Gentleman told us, that some of the remainder had temporary employment; but there was that number in Lanarkshire alone on the waiting list who had not yet received permanent employment as teachers. If I trouble the House with the period of waiting of these intending teachers, I think it will be recognised as very serious indeed. Four completed their training in 1933; 10 in 1934; and 21 in 1935. When we come to 1936 we find that no fewer than 77 are still on the list; of those who completed in 1938, 92; and in 1939, 83. Those who completed within the last four years, even those who completed four years ago, are virtually untouched, and are still on the waiting list.

I consider that these are tragic figures. I do not know if you can meet them under the new conditions at all. There is still the question of the size of classes, which I hope in an administrative way will be taken into full consideration by the Department of Education, but I am not always sure that the Scottish Office regards as seriously as it should this large volume of unemployed teachers. I once put it to a former Secretary of State whether he did not think it rather serious that there should be all these waiting for for two, three or four years, and all the answer I got was that it was a matter of opinion. I am sure the present Secretary of State will not put me off with a reply of that kind.

I wish to emphasise the importance of the State doing something for these unemployed teachers. The State is responsible for those it trains for this high profession, and it has a responsibility for those who are spending all this time on the waiting list. I do not need to remind the Secretary of State that some of them are very highly qualified. Some of those who have been tarrying so long on the educational market have high distinctions, B.Sc. and honours degrees. And they are the sons and daughters, in most cases, of working people who have stinted themselves so that their sons and daughters might qualify for positions in this profession. We have always been proud of the sacrifices which Scottish parents are prepared to make so that their sons and daughters might have a university education, and qualify for one of the great professions. We have counted it as one of our true glories of our country, and as one of the finest pages in the annals of the poor. It is said that "hope deferred maketh the heart sick," but this is hope broken for many of them, which makes the heart despair.

I should like next to call attention to the difference between the standards in Scotland and in England. As a token of the advancement of Scotland in education I would point out that already in the 1918 Act the age was virtually raised, although it has unfortunately not come into operation, to 15. Section 14 of that Act asserts that it is a continuous obligation of every parent to provide efficient education for his children until they respectively attain the age of 15. Unfortunately there was a later Section in that Act, Section 33, which gave power to the Department of Education to name the day when any particular part of the Act would come into operation. I know that it reflects adversely on what I have said, it is not to the credit of Scotland, it does not bear out what I have said about education in Scotland, that through all the years up to 1936 the Act in this regard had never been put into operation.

May I say a word or two in regard to what fell from the Under-Secretary in his very clear exposition of Sub-section (1) of Section 2? The original Section 17 of the Act of 1918 was very definite: No child or any person under the age of 15 years who is not exempted under the Education (Scotland) Act, 1901, from the obligation of attending school shall be employed in any factory or workshop to which the Factories and Workshops Act, 1901, applies. And it was so in regard to mining, and to metalliferous mines. The Bill now provides that notwithstanding that this Section of the Act of 1918 may have been put into operation, it is to be brushed aside so that young people between the ages of 14 and 15 can now undertake work in factories and mines and metalliferous mines, contrary to the intention of the Act of 1918. That, I think, is a very serious thing.

Let me say a word in regard to what the hon. Member for the Scottish Universities (Mr. G. A. Morrison) said regarding the possibility of what may be called day education and continuation classes. When the Act of 1918 was passed I was a member of the School board of Glasgow, and we had great hopes of the continuation schools. Our hopes have been greatly disappointed. For one reason or another full advantage has not been taken by any means of these continuation classes. I prize what was said by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Education when he was speaking on the English Bill, that the ages of 14 to 18 were quite as important as those from 11 to 14. He hinted that advantage would be taken in England of voluntary organisations and juvenile organisations, and I trust that something similar will be done in Scotland. I approve what has been said by the hon. Member for the Scottish Universities that in day schools a great deal may be done for these young people.

One thing more in regard to administration. The Act of 1936 brought some valuable changes in co-ordination. It co-ordinated what had been known as the Advance Division Schools with the secondary schools. Although that Act is not now to be in operation, I trust that in administration and other ways the Secretary of State for Scotland and the Scottish Education Department will not tarry in putting into force some of the plans they have had for reaching that better coordination and understanding. The last thing I want to say is this. It was foreshadowed by the right hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Lees-Smith), that there might be some modification of this postponement, and I rather think the right hon. Member for East Edinburgh (Mr. Pethick-Lawrence) endorsed what was said. It was that we might go from year to year in this matter; and that if circumstances allow after a year, we might bring it into force earlier than what would appear from the Measure now before us. I trust that if anything of that kind is proposed, or any modification made for England, we in Scotland may have the earliest opportunity of putting the Act into full operation.

In education we cannot be stationary. We cannot think that we are merely going to postpone the operation of the Act and find that we are exactly where we were. If we are not gaining ground in education, we are losing. As my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Mr. Creech Jones) said, "We may never be able to recreate the old circumstances." I feel that when we are not going forward in education, in many ways we are going back. I remember reading, in an account of one of the early explorers of his attempts to get to the North Pole, how those who were with him, in an excursion across the ice, toiled painfully and walked four miles one day; but, when they took their bearings at night, they found that they were further South than they had been when they began. While they were walking northwards, the currents were bearing them southwards. I impress upon the Minister and the Scottish Education Department that they should be alert in this matter in order to counteract those currents that will drive us back when we are not able to go forward. I think the whole teaching world will agree that when you get the evacuees together, you will not find that they are exactly where they were when the schools were closed. You will find that there is a great deal of ground that has to be recovered. You will find that they have been going backwards because of the circumstances. There are currents that will carry us backwards if we do not make strong efforts, even under the adverse conditions that have obtained and will obtain, now that we cannot put into operation the raising of the school-leaving age; and I trust that the Minister and the Department will, in every possible way, seek to prevent us from losing more ground than is absolutely necessary.

6.24 p.m.

The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Colville)

As always when we discuss educational matters relating to Scotland, we have had an interesting Debate, a pleasant feature of which has been the congratulations and good wishes extended to my hon. and gallant Friend the Under-Secretary of State, who moved the Second Reading of this Bill. I also would like to extend my congratulations to him. In doing so, I recall that one of the first duties I had as Under-Secretary of State for Scotland three years ago was to wind up the Debate on the Second Reading of the Bill, the provisions of which we are now postponing. I remember that we had 13 days of discussion on the Bill, before it became an Act, in the Scottish Grand Committee. Therefore, it is with very great regret that, together with my hon. and gallant Friend, I have to ask the House to accept the Measure now before us. However, I think that the House generally, with one or two exceptions, recognises the real necessity which has driven us to introduce this Bill. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for East Edinburgh (Mr. Pethick-Lawrence) described it as a regrettable necessity brought about by force majeure. We can regard it only in that light. We would never have brought it before the House if we had thought such a course avoidable.

My hon. Friend the Member for the Scottish Universities (Mr. G. A. Morrison), who asked me a number of questions—some of which I can answer now, but some of which I shall have to leave until later—said that in Scotland we are merely following England in this matter, and that because England de- cided this Measure was necessary, we also took that decision, without consideration. That is not the case. The Scottish Education Department have had the matter under most careful consideration and have had discussions with representative bodies in Scotland. The teachers' organisations were consulted, but they did not think the step was necessary; frankly, they thought the postponement was not necessary. The cities were consulted and their views varied; some of them thought that the age could still be maintained as it is in the present Act, but all of them agreed that it would be difficult, if not impossible, to work the exemptions certificate machinery properly under war conditions. The counties, which are the reception areas to which a great number of children have gone, unanimously felt that it would not be possible to operate the provisions of the 1936 Act under such conditions. In these circumstances, apart from anything which our friends South of the Border have decided to do, I take full responsibility for this Bill. I do not think that we could do other than we are doing in making a postponement. Equally I give the firmest assurances that it is intended to be a postponement and not a cancellation, and that as soon as it is possible to restore the full provisions of the Act, I would wish, and the Government would wish, that they should be restored. Some hon. Members have expressed the hope that there will be not merely a restoration, but an improvement of the 1936 Act. That will be for the Government of the day to say at the time. No doubt we all grow wiser as we grow older. I am speaking of the Act which we are now postponing, and I say it is my desire that, as soon as possible, its provisions should again become operative.

Several hon. Members have expressed anxiety about the present state of affairs, and I hope I may be allowed for a few moments to develop what we are doing in that regard. If the school-leaving age is not to be raised, it makes it all the more urgent that we should be able to state that we are doing something valuable for the children who are at school and, through the National Youth Committee, for those who have passed school age. The conditions of war make school life very difficult and raise many problems for the education authorities. In the reception areas, almost all—I will not say all, because there may be exceptions —almost all the schools are now open. In many of those areas, it is necessary for them to work in two shifts in order to get the children into the schools, but I am advised that in all the reception areas full schooling is now provided for the children. The second wave of evacuation is in progress. In Scotland, a further number of some 10,000 unaccompanied children have registered for evacuation— I do not think they will all go—and when that second wave is complete, I am going to have an inspection in the reception areas by His Majesty's inspectors of schools. I shall obtain from them a full report of what is being done and see whether any improvements in the work can be effected. In the neutral areas, the position is that the schools are reopening as they are able to provide the shelters which the air-raid precautions authorities consider necessary. There has been some difficulty owing to lack of materials but everything possible is being done to hasten on the opening of schools in the neutral areas.

In the evacuation areas schools providing a five-year secondary course may reopen, on condition that the locality in which the school is situated has no feature which makes it specially vulnerable and that any protection which the A.R.P. authorities think necessary is provided. It is also a condition that the parents are told that the attendance of the pupils is entirely within their discretion. Technical colleges and evening classes may reopen under similar conditions in the sending areas. As regards the smaller children, the teachers have made efforts to gather them into groups and to give them such education as is possible in the circumstances. We have made arrangements for the registration of these children either by attendance at the schools or by other methods. When this register of smaller children has been completed, I shall consider proposals with regard to their education. I recognise the urgency of the problem and will do my best to have it dealt with effectively. There are two opposite dangers against which we have to guard. One is the obvious danger of the concentration of large numbers of small children, in view of the possibility of air attack. The other is the danger to the future of the children themselves if they are allowed to run about without having anything to do. As I say, when registration has been completed and when the details are before me, I hope to be able to make a further advance in the direction of securing schooling for smaller children.

The hon. Member for the Scottish Universities spoke of the National Youth Committee and asked about the formation of a United Kingdom body, rather than of separate English and Scottish bodies. This is a matter to which I have given close personal consideration. I think it wiser, under war conditions, to have a United Kingdom body, so that we can follow matters of policy closely through-out the United Kingdom. I say that that is the case under war conditions rather than under peace conditions but that is not to say that there will not be differences in the methods to be adopted. The Scottish members of the National Youth Committee are my hon. and gallant Friend the Under-Secretary, Mr. Wedder-burn, and Mr. Upton—now Lord Temple-town—and they will have direct access to me and can discuss with me any matter of particular importance to Scotland. Equally, they will be part of the United Kingdom body and will be able to keep an eye on United Kingdom policy. I considered the advisability of having a separate Scottish committee but decided that, at present, we would be wiser to form a part of the national committee, with as I say direct access by the Scottish members of that committee to myself and to the Scottish Departments. The hon. Member also asked why there was no representative of the Scottish Education authorities on the committee. In point of fact, Lord Templetown as a county councillor and a member of an education committee has had experience in this field and Mr. Wedderburn is widely known for his connection with the Scottish Council of Juvenile Organisations.

The hon. Member further asked a question about continuation classes. I am anxious that the work of these classes should be carried on and I hope that it will go on and will rank for grant. He mentioned some other points which I should like to follow up if I had more time, such as the provision of opportunities for recreation during daylight. I shall try to see what can be done in the direction of giving proper facilities for recreation under the present rather difficult conditions and I will communicate with the hon. Member on that matter. The hon. Member for Dundee (Mr. Foot) raised the question of the by-laws which are mentioned in Clause 2 of the Bill. The position is that the by-laws which have been made with reference to a school-leaving age of 15 have to be cancelled, because the authorities will have no power under the Bill to regulate employment betwen the ages of 14 and 15. But the Bill revives all the by-laws which were in force before 31st August last and those by-laws contain all the valuable provisions to which the hon. Member referred, for regulating the employment of children under 14.

The hon. Member for Coatbridge (Mr. Barr) raised the question of Section 11 of the 1936 Act which made the advance divisions schools into the junior secondary departments. That Section remains in operation and will not be affected by the Bill. The hon. Member expressed anxiety about unemployment among teachers. I think the general position in that respect is not as bad in Scotland as a whole as he seemed to fear. Lanarkshire is the outstanding instance of a county with a number of unemployed teachers, but the advice I have is that, on the whole, the output from the training centres is just about sufficient to meet the demand. I intend, however, to keep an eye on the position, and I will do my best to alleviate any difficulty. Various other points have been raised but I would prefer to read the speeches of hon. Members in the OFFICIAL REPORT and to reply to any other questions which call for a reply. Let me, in conclusion, say formally and clearly that the Bill is only a postponement brought about by circumstances of which we are all well aware and it is a postponement that I shall be very happy indeed to bring to an end if I have the opportunity, on the first possible occasion.

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.—[Lieut.-Colonel Kerr.]