HC Deb 23 March 1944 vol 398 cc1174-80
Mr. Denman (Leeds, Central)

I beg to move, in page 44, line 28, at the end, to add: (2) The powers of the Secretary of State under section twenty-seven of the Children and Young Persons Act, 1933, shall be transferred to and exercised by the Minister. The Amendment proposes a new Subsection, to transfer the powers of approving employment by-laws from the Home Office to the Board of Education. Those who are most interested in the problems of the employment of children regard this as a major Amendment and they ask for the support of the Committee. They have the special reason that where the proposal is the taking of powers from one Department and giving them to another, the Department from whom the powers are to be taken can never defend the transfer, because to do so would put them in an impossible position. Unless they have the authority of the Government, they are bound to resist. It is only if the Committee expresses its view clearly that the Minister can have a reasonable chance of accepting the desire of the Committee.

This demand for transfer to the Board of Education is very old. For at least 20 years we have been wanting to give the Board of Education the power of approving these by-laws, but it has never been the "appropriate moment" up till now. We suggest that the appropriate moment has arrived. There are several reasons. The first is that the local authorities who make the by-laws are being changed. These local authorities have, in the past, frequently been the Part III local education authorities. These are now going, and new authorities are going to be the local education authorities. Some of them will be new to the job, and when the new local education authorities are undertaking the responsibility of making the by-laws, we should have the Board of Education charged with the duty of approving them.

Moreover, throughout the last 20 years, there has been a steady growth of responsiblity in the Board of Education for all aspects of child life. The Board have ceased to be responsible chiefly for mere instruction. They are responsible for the leisure time of the child, for encouraging voluntary organisation and for all the problems of feeding and of health; and in every way the Board of Education have had their purview of child life enlarged. Now we have a position in which there is this rather small island of child activity, regarding the time spent in employment out of school, which is left to the Home Office to supervise, and which is kept out of the sphere of the Board of Education.

I really suggest that it is time that that was changed. Consider in the future how much the Board of Education will have to do with industry. The growth of technical schools obviously means that education authorities, both local and central, will have to know much more about industry than hitherto. The growth of the young people's colleges will mean the same thing. The education authorities and the Board will, again, have to take cognisance of industrial progress. It follows from that whole process that this little island of activity of youth should also come under their supervision. The issue is perfectly clear and I need not detain the Committee on it.

I cannot end without saying that I move this in no sort of hostility to the Home Office. The Committee on Wage-earning Children, which I represent, has 40 years' experience of the Home Office. They know how consistently the Home Office have had regard to the welfare of the children and how they have administered their powers, such powers as we have given them, in the interests of the children and their welfare. I have no criticism of the Home Office administration, and I should like the Under-Secretary to convey from me my appreciation of what they have done, and for the very pleasant recollections I have had of contacts with them. Having said that I do quite definitely aver that it is time that this was removed from their control and handed over to the Board of Education. I ask the Committee to support that view.

Mr. C. Davies

While I have every sympathy with the mover of the Amendment and those who are supporting him I ask whether this is the place in which to change another Act of Parliament which deals with all manner of things. I have just been looking at it now—prevention of cruelty and exposure to moral and physical danger, cruelty to persons under 16, causing and encouraging seduction, causing or allowing persons under 16 to be used for begging, giving intoxicating liquor and so on. Then comes Part II, which deals with the employment of young persons, street trading; and after that comes Clause 27 which is supplemental to all that has gone before.

Mr. Denman

Only in Part II.

Mr. Davies

The by-laws made under this Part.

Mr. Denman

That is Part II, not Part I to which the hon. and learned Member has referred.

Mr. Davies

Here is an Act dealing with children and young persons which was passed in 1933, a very general Act. I believe it also codified a number of earlier Statutes. It is one of the longest Statutes on the Statute Book, with any number of schedules and so on. What I do suggest is that if this change is desirable, it ought to be done by a separate piece of legislation and not pushed right into the middle of a Bill which deals with education. I do not know how you can, as part of an Education Act which puts on the Minister the duty of providing for education, put in something entirely new from a long Act dealing with all manner of things in relation to young persons. I think this ought not to be put in at this moment.

Mr. Lindsay

I do not wish to detain the Committee, as there is a very important Clause coming on in a few minutes. I would say that I never heard my hon. and learned Friend make a speech in which he had so little heart. He was obviously saying that this was a bad thing to do. If this is the wrong place to do it let us find the place to do it. For 20 years and more, as my hon. Friend has said, a number of people have been trying to get these powers where they think they should be, that is associated with the education authority. I am getting a little bit disappointed that my right hon. Friend, although he has won at least one victory with the Ministry of Agriculture, is not pressing forward a little more, especially with the Home Office, now on his left, to see that the responsibilities which should attach to his Department do so. We have no quarrel with the Home Office administration as such. It is merely to simplify the thing, to bring to the Board and the local education authority a much clearer responsibility for the child who is growing up. There are a number of Amendments down. My hon. Friend wishes to abolish this Clause altogether. Other hon. Members wish to abolish this kind of labour for five days a week. I wish to abolish it for the whole term, which is a compromise. How can we get a move on if we have constantly this cross-reference to legislation? I support the Amendment, and it should be interesting to hear the reply.

The Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Peake)

My hon. Friend the Member for Central Leeds (Mr. Denman) has moved the Amendment in very generous terms as regards the Home Office. I am much obliged to him for doing so. I know that Members in various parts of the Committee want to discuss the whole question of juvenile employment on a very wide footing. Whether that will prove to be possible within the Rulings of the Chair and the terms of the Bill I cannot say. I think one thing is clear, that this Amendment raises what is a very narrow point, because it presupposes the existence of the present set-up, the present arrangements. The Children and Young Persons Act, 1933, deals with juvenile employment, and by-laws are made under that Act by the local education authority. The functions at present exercised by the Home Secretary which my hon. Friend would like to see transferred to the President of the Board of Education are the functions of confirming the by-laws made by the local education authorities under that Act.

The point before the Committee is, I think, rather a narrow one. There are certain quasi-judicial functions of examining the by-laws submitted by the local education authorities, inquiring, possibly holding a local inquiry, seeing that the bylaws are in proper form and are not ultra vires and so on. These things are at present the duty of the Home Secretary. My hon. Friend suggests that these duties should be transferred to the President of the Board of Education. I will not trouble the Committee on this narrow point with a description of the present law relating to juvenile employment, or the scope which the by-laws may cover, but I think if a question arises of the transfer of administrative or judicial functions from one Department of State to another the onus of proof is on those who suggest that the change should be made.

Things have grown up, for different reasons, as they are at present. The Home Secretary is responsible in regard to the employment of young persons generally, not only of children, to whom the Acts apply and to whom my hon. Friend referred. The Home Secretary is responsible for the administration of the Shops Acts, the Young Persons (Employment) Act, 1938, certain Acts relating to street trading, and so forth. The Home Secretary, apart from certain specific duties which fall to other Ministers, such as the Ministry of Fuel and Power as regards employment in the mines, has the general field of the employment of young persons within the scope of his office. My hon. Friend suggests that one part of this wide field, in regard to the employment of young persons, should be transferred to the President of the Board of Education—that is, the law relating to the employment of children. Under the Bill, we are raising the minimum age for employment from 12 to 13, in accord with the raising of the school-leaving age; and when the school-leaving age becomes 16, the minimum age for employment will become 14, instead of 12 as at present. We are moving in step, so far as the employment of children is concerned, with the general scheme of this Education Bill.

I think that, when it comes to this question of a transfer of administrative functions, the onus is on my hon. Friend to show that the change would be good. He could do that either by showing that the administration of the Home Secretary has been bad in the past—and I understand that he discards that argument altogether—or by showing that things would be done better by the President of the Board of Education. That is, of course, a purely theoretical case. There are no signs, so far as I am aware, that my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Education is anxious to take over these duties. What, in fact, would happen would be that part of the law relating to the employment of young persons would then be administered by my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Education, and the remaining field would have to be supervised and looked after by the Home Secretary. I suggest that it is better to draw a boundary, when you are considering administrative arrangements, between education on the one hand and employment on the other, rather than to draw your boundary at the age of 14, 15, or 16, and say that up to that age all the activities of the child shall be looked after by one Government Department, and that after that age they shall be looked after by another Government Department. I think that the boundary between education and employment is a good one, from the administrative point of view. My hon. Friend said one thing to which I took a certain amount of exception. He said that my right hon. Friend was becoming responsible for all aspects of the child's life.

Mr. Denman

I did not mean for all aspects, but for an increasing number.

Mr. Peake

We must remember that these young people are not only the raw material of the education authorities, they are young citizens. They have rights, they have duties. Many of our doctrines in regard to the liberty of the subject apply with equal force to these young persons as to adults. My hon. Friend quoted some of the headings of the Children Act, 1933, which was intended to be a complete code of the law so far as it affects children, leaving out only the educational aspect. I suggest that this administration has worked well in the past. At any rate, at present, with Government Departments very much overworked, it would be highly inconvenient to transfer this function of the Home Secretary, which I think he has administered with considerable satisfaction to all concerned for nearly 40 years, and I, therefore, urge that the Amendment should not be pressed.

Sir P. Hannon

Surely, in this great scheme of education the co-ordination of educational activities must be brought under my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Education. How can my right hon. Friend the Under-Secretary suggest the education of one section of the community apart from a general scheme of education for which the President of the Board of Education is responsible?

Mr. Peake

I think my hon. Friend has misunderstood me, and that his mind is running on a different subject, possibly the Home Office schools, which we shall come to later. I think that on this question of the transfer of administrative functions there is an overwhelming case against the transfer.

Dr. Morgan (Rochdale)

I so seldom agree with the Home Office that I hope I may be allowed to say that on this occasion I thoroughly agree with the Under-Secretary. Acts relating to the employment of young persons and children should remain under the authority which deals with employment as a whole. The Under-Secretary has said, quite rightly, that children are not only workers but citizens. Take the case of a child who, under very exceptional circumstances arising from this war, may be in the pottery industry—a very dangerous industry, in which workers may be affected in health through silicosis dust, lead poisoning, and matters of that kind. The Home Office have been dealing with these matters, administratively, for years. These are highly technical problems, involving not only the immediate conditions of the worker, but possibly his future health, apart altogether from education. I contend that the Board of Education should be responsible for the child only during the educational period, and that matters relating to his employment—employment conditions, deleterious processes, industrial processes involving hazards and risks, and such matters—should be left to the Home Office. These matters should not be passed on to the Board of Education, which will have as much as it can do to attend to the aspects now covered by the Bill.

Mr. Denman

In justice to this Amendment, I must reply. The Amendment has no relation whatever to the Factory Acts or to any of those Acts which deal with the organised employment of children. What we are now concerned with are the employment by-laws, which regulate the amount of work that schoolchildren may do out of school hours. What I said about the Home Office—which I think was fair to the Home Office, and true—was that they had administered well what we had given them to administer, but that we had given them the wrong things. We ought to have given them an employment code relating to the employment of children of school age. That is what I seek to obtain.

Amendment negatived.

Clause ordered to stand part of the Bill.