HC Deb 23 July 1958 vol 592 cc488-91

Lords Amendment: After Amendment last inserted, insert new Clause "B": B. Subsection (1) of section seven of the Education (Scotland) Act, 1946 (which subsection requires certain functions of education authorities to be exercised in accordance with schemes approved by the Secretary of State) shall have effect as if, in paragraph (a) thereof, after the word "Act", there were inserted the words "other than such voluntary part-time or full-time courses of instruction for persons over school age as the Secretary of State may direct".

The Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Niall Macpherson)

I beg to move, That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said Amendment.

The purpose of this Clause is to amend subsection (1, a) of Section 7 of the Education (Scotland) Act, 1946, so as to require the education authority to obtain the approval of the Secretary of State to some but not all of the functions described in Section 1 (5, b) of the 1946 Act in accordance with schemes approved by the Secretary of State. This gives effect to the provision for technical education which has been pretty fully discussed and is connected with the provision in paragraph 3 (3, a) of Part II of the Third Schedule to the Bill.

Mr. Ross

I am not at all satisfied with that explanation, because this is not what we are doing at all. These words will have a familiar ring to the hon. Member for Fife, East (Sir J. Henderson-Stewart). When he was Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, he came to this House in 1956 and wiped out the necessity for what the Government are now asking us to approve in respect of voluntary part-time or full-time education. I should like an explanation of why this is found necessary. In 1956 we were debating a Clause which sought to remove the duty to prepare and submit to the Secretary of State schemes in respect of Section 1 (5, a, b and c) of the Act relating to further education. We were protesting that while the whole country was interested in the question of further technical education the Government did not seem to be paying much attention to it.

The hon. Member for Fife, East at that time said that it was impossible to get schemes. He said: I do not know why the hon. Member should deliberately get this thing muddled up. He was referring to myself It is as clear as can be. For this particular branch of education, for the reasons which I have given, it has not in practice been found possible either for the authorities or ourselves acting together with the authorities to draw up a normal, formal scheme, such as we have with the primary and secondary. … So we have removed from the authorities that formal duty…."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 23rd October, 1956; Vol. 558, c. 552.] Now in respect of certain unspecified parts in relation to sub-paragraph (3, b)—that is voluntary part-time and full-time education—he is reimposing the need for such schemes. He is now going to ask for something to be done which the hon. Member for Fife, East, when he was Joint Under-Secretary, said was impossible.

6.45 p.m.

I should like some explanation from the present Joint Under-Secretary on how this is going to be done. I should also like to hear from the Secretary of State. What they are doing is to say that we on these benches were right in 1956 when we opposed what they did then. We have to give careful attention to this complex new Clause to find out exactly what is proposed. I have an Amendment on the Paper, which I hope will be called later and will be accepted, to clear up the matter. The fact remains that Section 7 (1) of the Education (Scotland) Act, 1946, was amended two years ago in such a way as to remove the necessity for getting schemes in relation to this very thing, and we are now being asked to impose on the Secretary of State the responsibility to call for schemes on unspecified matters relating to part-time and full-time education, I want an explanation of why what was done in 1956 and was taken to a Division, hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite voting for it, is now being undone. Why are the Government retracing their steps today?

Mr. Rankin

The expression voluntary part-time or full-time courses of instruction is a very comprehensive one. The Joint Under-Secretary of State said that it referred merely to technical education, but he was understating the case. That expression covers a very wide group of subjects indeed which form part of further education. It might take in cookery, dressmaking, public speaking, history, politics, economics—a host of subjects which are presently provided by local authorities throughout Scotland in their further education schemes. We do not want to consume too much time on this, but I hope that the hon. Gentleman will make the case somewhat more clearly than he did in his brief explanation.

Mr. N. Macpherson

By leave of the House, I should be very glad to do that. Quite frankly, I thought that the earlier discussions we had had on other parts of the Bill would have enabled hon. and right hon. Gentlemen to dispense with a more detailed description of what the Amendment does.

Mr. Rankin

It was not covered by salmon fishing.

Mr. Macpherson

I should explain that the Section it is proposed to amend will, if the Amendment be accepted, read: The functions of an education authority under the foregoing provisions of this Act"— That is to say, Sections 1 to 6 of the Education (Scotland) Act, 1946shall be exercised in accordance with schemes prepared as hereinafter provided and approved by the Secretary of State under section sixty-five of this Act, except where such functions relate to— (a) further education as described in paragraphs (b) and (c) of subsection five of section one of this Act"— This is where the words come in— other than voluntary part-time or full-time courses of instruction for persons over school age as the Secretary of State may direct. … Of course, this is related, as I said in introducing the Amendment, to the provisions for pooling the expenditure in the Third Schedule. Since the 1956 Education (Scotland) Act, we have, of course, started on a large expansion in the provision of technical education in the future, and we have also this Bill before us which provides for the pooling arrangements. In the circumstances, it seems desirable to give the Secretary of State powers to co-ordinate the expenditure. As has been explained earlier, if we are to secure free exchange of pupils and facilities between education authorities, it is highly desirable to have some degree of co-ordination both over the provision and over the finance.

It is true that, on the face of it, this Amendment would go further than merely the provision of technical education, but I wish to point out that the Amendment is limited to such voluntary part-time or full time courses of instruction … as the Secretary of State may direct". In other words, unless the Secretary of State directs, they will still be exempted. All I was trying to indicate in the very brief introduction I gave to the Amendment was that the intention is, at the present time, that the Secretary of State should require schemes for certain selected types of courses to be submitted to him, and those types of courses will be primarily those concerned with day-time technical education. I hope that the House will agree that this is a reasonable proposition to make. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross) is right in saying that we now require powers which we did not think we should require in 1956. But, of course, the thing to do is to be right at the right time. This is the time when we require the powers, and we are now asking the House to give us powers which we did not require in 1956.

Mr. Ross

But will the hon. Gentleman admit that he had the powers and that what happened did not happen in early 1956 but in October? He took away the powers he had, despite advice from this side. He is now coming back and accepting the advice we gave him then.

Question put and agreed to.—[Special Entry.]