§ Mr. McElhone
I beg to move Amendment No. 1, in page 1, line 7, after '(1)', insert Subject to subsection (7) below,'.
Mr. Deputy Speaker
I understand that it will be convenient to discuss at the same time the following amendments:
§ Government Amendment No. 2.
§ Amendment No. 3, in page 1, line 7, leave out 'may' and insert 'shall'.1114
§ Amendment No. 4, in page 1, line 8, leave out from the beginning to 'a' in line 10 and insert 'fix'.
§ Government Amendments Nos. 5 and 6.
§ Amendment No. 7, in page 1, line 14, leave out subsection (2).
§ Government Amendment No. 9.
§ Amendment No. 10, in page 2, line 15, leave out from 'shall' to 'the' in line 18 and insert 'fix'.
§ Government Amendments Nos. 11 and 12.
§ Amendment No. 13, in page 2, line 32, leave out subsection (5).1115
§ Government Amendments Nos. 14, 15 and 16.
§ Mr. McElhone
This is a complex group of amendments. The Opposition said in Committee that they would like five years and six months as the age for commencing school written into the Bill. We had a long debate on this at our first sitting. In response to many pleas, particularly from the hon. Member for North Angus and Mearns (Mr. Buchanan-Smith), I undertook to write into the Bill that a child should not be over the age of five years and six months when commencing school. In the interest of progress and in view of the lateness of the hour, I will conclude.
§ Mr. Buchanan-Smith
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for the way he moved the amendment, but he owes us rather more of an explanation. [Interruption.] It is unfortunate that many hon. Members opposite were not members of the Standing Committee on the Bill. We had a big debate on this matter, when the Government gave certain assurances. I am sure that the Prime Minister would like to go to bed, but Scottish education is important to us and we and the Scottish people wish to see these matters debated.
Whilst I welcome one assurance that the hon. Gentleman gave about the age at which a child should be starting school, he has overlooked an important and wider range of discussion in Committee. He said then that he would discuss with the Scottish local authorities the question of the authority of the Secretary of State over local education authorities on schemes they might have for the dates of commencement at school. The amendments under discussion raise the whole principle of the wider relationship between the Secretary of State and the education authorities.
The Bill means that local education authorities, in deciding any schemes for commencement dates, may be required by the Secretary of State to submit them to him for his approval, for representations, and so on. We were concerned that this might take away some of the autonomy given to local authorities under the Local Government Act 1973, and we were not satisfied that such power was necessary. We thought the matter might 1116 be better left to the local education authorities.
In view of the hon. Gentleman's assurance in Committee, we withdrew our amendments on the understanding that he would get the views of the local education authorities on the subject, but he has not told us tonight what discussions he has had. He has simply spoken on one rather narrow point, for which I thank him, but we would like to know the views of the local education authorities on the wider issue of their relationship with the Secretary of State on the question of school commencement dates. We reserve our position on our own amendments until we have had an answer on this point.
§ 1.15 a.m.
§ Mr. McElhone
I will try to meet the hon. Gentleman's request. We had a long debate on this subject in Committee, when it was impressed upon me that if the latest starting age for school was five years and six months it should be written into the Bill. I agreed to reconsider the point, and this amendment is the result. I agree that the drafting is complex, but I could not make it any simpler.
We have now accepted that discretion should be with the local authorities. A transitional period of three years has been accepted—it particularly affects Tayside—and that has been welcomed by the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities. The three-year transitional period allows time for those authorities which have difficulties with a single starting date. I hope the House will accept my explanation.
§ Mr. Buchanan-Smith
With the leave of the House I say that it is unfortunate that the Minister did not give that explanation before because these are important issues. We would make faster progress if the Minister spoke to the amendments.
§ Amendment agreed to.
§ Amendments made: No. 2 in page 1, line 7, leave out from 'authority' to 'a' in line 10 and insert 'shall fixe'.
No. 5, in page 1, line 13, at end insert:
'; and any such date may be either a calendar date or fixed by reference to the occurence of a particular annual event'.
No. 6, in page 1, line 14, leave out subsection (2) and insert:
'(2) Subject to subsection (7) below, an education authority may, under subsection (1) above—
No. 9, in page 2, line 15, leave out from beginning to first 'date' in line 18 and insert:
'(4) Subject to subsection (7) below, an education authority shall, in respect of each school commencement date fixed by them under subsection (1) above and applicable to a public primary school, fix the latest following'.
No. 11, in page 2, line 22, leave out from 'whom' to end of line 31 and insert
'the authority consider of sufficient age to commence attendance at a public primary school at that school commencement date'.
No. 12, in page 2, line 32, leave out subsection (5) and insert—
'(5) Subject to subsection (7) below, an education authority may, under subsection (4) above—
§ No. 14, in page 3, line 7, leave out 'or (5)'.
No. 15, in page 3, line 11, at end insert—
'(7) The period between an appropriate latest date applicable to a school and the next following school commencement date applicable to that school (whether or not the school commencement date is that in respect of which the appropriate latest date is fixed) shall not, except with the approval of the Secretary of State on an application to him by the education authority, exceed six months by more than seven days:
Provided that no such application shall be made, nor approval given, in respect of any such period which commences after 31st December 1979'.
No. 16, in page 3, leave out lines 12 and 13 and insert—
'(8) In relation to any child, "school commencement date "—'.—[Mr. McElhone.]