HC Deb 09 October 1946 vol 427 cc302-6

Order for Second Reading read.

9.28 p.m.

The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Westwood)

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

This is a consolidation Bill. I have always been interested in consolidation of Scottish law in the interests of administration and of the officials who have to look after that administration in Scotland. This is a case where I have been able to present to the House, and am presenting now, a consolidation Bill. At present the law relating to education in Scotland is contained in some 23 separate Statutes beginning with the Act of 1872 and ending with the Act passed last year. Consolidation is long overdue and will be a great boon to all concerned with the administration of the law. The Bill has been considered by the Joint Committee on Consolidation Bills whose report has been laid before this. House. The Committee proposed some Amendments to this Bill. Those Amendments were made in another place and are incorporated in the Bill to which I ask the House to give a Second Reading.

9.30 p.m.

Mr. J. S. C. Reid (Glasgow, Hillhead)

I agree entirely with the right hon. Gentleman that this is a good, workmanlike Measure. It reflects great credit on those who, in spite of overwork in the Department, have been able to bring it forward at this time It would be quite contrary to precedent, and I think thoroughly undesirable, to seek to amend this Bill in this House. It represents a compromise solution which was reached with the assent of all parties in the 1935 Act. That Act did not satisfy any of us wholly. There were points which the right hon. Gentleman did not like and points which I did not like. It would be a great pity, apart altogether from the fact that it is not usual to amend consolidation Bills, to accept that compromise before we see whether it will really work, and I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman takes that view.

When this Bill becomes an Act it will assist those who have to administer the educational system of Scotland. It will not, of course, hasten or assist in any way the building of schools or the training of teachers, and still less will it do anything to avert the menace of rapidly mounting local rates for education which may bring many schemes to a premature standstill but, so far as it goes, it is a good Bill. It will help the administration. And so long as we realise that by itself it will not do much, I think we ought to give it a Second reading.

9.32 p.m.

Major McCallum (Argyll)

It is true that this is a consolidation Bill and, as the Secretary of State for Scotland said just now, it consolidates Measures from 1872 to 1945. Consolidation of itself, however, does not seem able to provide education in certain parts of Scotland of which the Secretary of State is well aware and it has, in fact, resulted in the closing of schools. Clause 1 says: It shall be the duty of every education authority to secure that adequate and efficient provision is made throughout their area of all forms of primary, secondary and further education. … The Minister is well aware of the correspondence I have had with him for months past on certain schools which have been closed through the lack of teachers. The situation is such that the position in Argyllshire goes from bad to worse as regards providing education for our agricultural families' children. I wonder, therefore, if the Secretary of State can say whether this consolidation Bill will make any improvement in the present bad position in this respect?

9.33 p.m.

Mr. Rankin (Glasgow, Tradeston)

I think that my right hon. Friend is due our congratulations in this consolidation Measure, which is in itself an important step. However, I would like to refer to various matters that to me are more important than the mere consolidating Bill in itself. I welcome it as important, because it comes at a time when the relationship between teacher and pupil is in a happier state than it has ever been before. It comes at a time when there is a growing cooperation between the school and the home, and also when a more positive emphasis has been given to educational content than at any other previous period. The negative aspects of education are receding; the positive is today receiving the emphasis. Offences, such as lying, truanting, thieving, and sex offences, are no longer visited merely with punishment. Today we seek to try to find the why and wherefore of these offences. Scientific research through the doctor, the psychologist, and more highly equipped teaching staffs, has been brought to our aid so that misdemeanours which were once dismissed with the tawse or the belt are now the subject of deep, scientific study, and in so far as the Measure before us tonight promotes and encourages this new attitude in education, I think on both sides of the House we can give it a welcome.

For on the maltreatment of these offences rests a great deal of the morbid fears, the mental disorders, and neurasthenia and social delinquencies which afflict the country today. This is no small problem. The Tavistock Institute, which was founded in 1920, shows that today there are 3 million people who are suffering from these illnesses, and the cost to the country is running into the neighbourhood of £40 million. While under this Measure my right hon. Friend is only responsible for his appropriate fraction, he will agree with me that the amount of money concerned would be better invested in an education that prevents rather than merely seeks to cure these problems.

Mr. Speaker

I must remind the hon. Member that the purpose of this Bill is to consolidate educational Measures, and we cannot discuss the whole field of juvenile education within its terms.

Mr. Rankin

I am sorry, Mr. Speaker. I am venturing perhaps a little wide, but I thought that while the purpose was consolidation, in that consolidation there must be an intention. I wanted to direct attention to the fact that if the Measure, as consolidated, is to be a success, it has to fulfil the intention which is stated in the Measure itself. Clause 4 covers some of the points which I have been seeking to raise. I shall not prosecute that part of my argument any further, but I should like my right hon. Friend to give some indication as to how he proposes to fulfil certain demands that are placed on him under the operation of this Measure.

While the right hon. and learned Member for Hillhead (Mr. J. S. C. Reid) referred to the fact that we could not deal with staffing and accommodation, I think he will agree that tonight, five months from the date when the school leaving age comes into operation, it is important that we should have from my right hon. Friend some indication as to how he is equipped at the moment to deal with that problem in those two aspects. If the raising of the school age is to become a reality on 1st April, 1947, we must have staff. What is the inflow at the present moment into the training colleges? What is the reservoir upon which my right hon. Friend has to draw in order to meet the demands under the Act?

Mr. Speaker

It might be for the convenience of the House and other hon. Members if I reminded them that in a consolidation Bill the administration of the Act is not a matter for discussion.

Mr.. Rankin

I am not really wanting to interfere in any way with my right hon. Friend's prerogative to administer. I am merely a humble seeker after information. I thought that under this Measure, as consolidated, that information might be forthcoming tonight. It is of tremendous importance.

I have referred to the question of staff. Might I just put a point with regard to accommodation under this Measure? I am thinking chiefly of the town which I know best, the city of Glasgow. At the present time, if this Measure is to become a reality, 460 rooms are required in that city in order to accommodate the pupils who will come under the operation of this Measure. For 1st April, 150 rooms are needed. Building operations have not yet been commenced in any one of these instances. Nothing at all has been done, so that if they have to meet, as the Corporation of Glasgow must meet, that demand which my right hon. Friend is placing upon them, then room accommodation for these pupils is an absolute necessity. What is being done at the moment in order to meet the need for that accommodation?

Mr. Speaker

That would be perfectly in Order in Committee of Supply. I do not think it is in Order on 'the Second Reading of a consolidation Bill. It is purely a matter of administration.

Mr. Rankin

I will simply allow the matter, in legal terms, to rest, and hope that my right hon. Friend will be able, perhaps now or at an early date, to give some indication about the points with which I have tried to deal tonight.

Bill accordingly read a Second time.

Bill committed to a Committee of the Whole House for Monday next [Capt. Michael Stewart.]