HC Deb 07 June 1976 vol 912 cc1118-55
Mr. Buchanan-Smith

I beg to move Amendment No. 17, in page 3, line 29, leave out from beginning to end of line 37 on page 4 and insert— '33A. A person on attaining his sixteenth birthday shall be entitled to leave school at the end of the term in which his birthday occurs, except in the case of the autumn term when he may leave at mid-term provided his birthday falls in the first half of the term'. We now turn to a major provision which gave rise to much discussion in the Committee and has been much discussed in Scotland. In Committee the Minister based his case on the support which the Bill had in education circles—as it did. He claimed that our arguments for a more flexible policy for leaving dates did not command support and that the Opposition were holding up the progress of the Bill. The Minister said that we were out of touch with opinion, but I must remind him of what was said in the Westminster Report of the Scottish Educational Journal of 7th May. It spoke of: Mr. McElhone, who did not carry the day by the force of his argument but by the skill of the Labour Whip, Mr. James Hamilton,". I have always admired the skill of the Labour Whips, not least the hon. Member for Bothwell (Mr. Hamilton), but that demonstrates that for educational opinion what matters is not the skill or otherwise of Labour Whips but the arguments about better education in Scotland. It is clearly recognised by the journal of the largest teachers' union in Scotland that the arguments on this matter were not on the Government's side. It is generally recognised that what we need is a much more flexible system for school leaving dates than the Government proposed.

So that the Minister does not try to confuse the issue, as he did in Committee, I say straight away that I welcome the lengths to which the Government are going as an improvement on the present situation. But they should have gone further. In Committee we suggested that a person should be able to leave school at the end of the week in which he has his sixteenth birthday. Here we have tried to find a compromise between that and the Government's proposal to have two school leaving dates. The Minister argued that our proposal would be disruptive. I questioned some of his arguments, because at least our proposal would be planned, and nothing could be more disruptive than to have the decision about leaving school put into the hands of the young person. That ends up in truancy and so on. But I have gone some way to try to meet the hon. Gentleman's argument.

Our amendment has certain advantages in two broad areas. First, it meets the major argument in favour of more flexibility advanced by the main teachers' organisations, the main local authority organisations, most of the local authorities—particularly before the reorganisation of local government—and the associations of social workers, which are important because they are concerned with young people when they leave school. Having four school leaving dates rather than two would introduce into the system a much more desirable degree of flexibility than the Government propose.

I do not think that it would be disruptive. Young people could leave at the end of the winter, summer or autumn terms in which they reached the age of 16, and would have the option of leaving at mid-term in the autumn. That is the longest term, and nowadays it is common to have a holiday then. Such a system would be welcomed not only by educational opinion generally but by parents and young people. It would be completely voluntary, with no compulsion.

Secondly, one of the worries expressed in Committee was that under the Government's proposals a young person could leave school at the age of 15 years and nine months. That would present certain problems connected with national insurance and entitlement to benefit until he reached 16. Under our proposals the school leaving age would be 16 and the national insurance problem would not arise. At an earlier stage of the Bill it was said that the Government would discuss the national insurance provision with the Department of Health and Social Security. I hope that the Minister will be able to say what discussions he has had with that Department on the Bill, and whether he has been able to find some way of overcoming the difficulty of making provision for young people who leave school before their sixteenth birthday.

We believe that our amendment would overcome this problem. We seek to bring about greater flexibility in the system. Our proposal aims at striking a compromise between the two sides. I hope that in that same spirit of compromise the Government will accept our amendment.

Mr. Younger

I hope that the Minister will take seriously what has been said by my hon. Friend the Member for North Angus and Mearns (Mr. Buchanan-Smith) —namely, that this amendment is being put forward in a spirit of compromise. We argued this point strongly in Committee, and we still feel strongly about it. The Government are missing a great opportunity to make these new arrangements more acceptable to pupils.

We were anxious that a child on reaching the age of 16 should be able to leave on the birth date. Against a great deal of evidence to the contrary, particularly from the teaching profession, the Government argued that it would be too disruptive for a boy or girl to be enabled to leave school on the day on which he or she reached the age of 16, because the rest of the class would see what was happening and discontent might result. In Committee we argued that this was contrary to the views of the main teaching organisations. We also argued that if there had been any difficulty, the teachers would have complained and made their views well known. The teaching organisations, particularly the EIS, have stuck to the view that they would prefer it if pupils were allowed to leave school on their sixteenth birthday.

I hope that the Minister will recognise that we have deliberately tried to strike a compromise in the amendment. Therefore, I hope that he will not reject our proposal. This is a compromise because, although it will not allow a person who reaches the age of 16 to leave on his birthday, it will, at least, allow him to leave on the first convenient date afterwards, either at the end of the term or, in the case of the autumn term, at the mid-term point.

1.30 a.m.

I do not believe that the argument about disruption of classes, which is already weak and not supported by teachers, applies to this amendment. Even if a large number of pupils left at the end of a particular term, I cannot see any validity in that argument. I hope that the Minister will be prepared to say that he accepts the amendment and the spirit of compromise in which it is moved.

The Minister wrote to me and to other of my hon. Friends after the proceedings in Committee. He took great trouble to deal with the points that he could not answer in Committee. In his comments he returned to the argument that employers' organisations were all of the opinion that it would be better for people to leave school at one time rather than sporadically throughout the term. The Minister must appreciate that in coming down on this side of the argument he has taken the advice of those in industry—those outside the schools, who receive school-leavers into employment—in preference to that of those most in touch with the schools—namely, the people concerned with education.

Neither the teaching organisations nor the local authority organisations take this view. I can see why those on the employment side take this view. From their point of view it is much more convenient to have a large batch of people coming into employment so that they have a wider choice. The Minister should give more weight to the views of teachers and those involved in the management of local authority schools. Although I would still like to insist on our original amendment concerning the date of the birthday, I support this compromise.

While I am grateful to the Minister for clarifying by letter the national insurance situation, I am unhappy about the result in that those who leave school before the age of 16—which will certainly be three months and possibly six months before they reach that age—will be covered only for injury and so on in their initial months of employment and will not be able to enter the National Insurance Scheme. The Minister has explained this and said that his discussions with the Department of Employment confirm this. When we have altered the leaving dates we ought to make corresponding alterations to take account of the national insurance situation. I would have thought that it was easy enough to arrange. We ought to change the rules and regulations to ensure that those leaving school in such circumstances receive the same treatment, irrespective of the time that they leave.

I hope that the Minister will consult his colleagues and try to make arrangements so that when people leave school, at whatever age, they can go into employment and into the national insurance system straight away. That way it would be much easier for people to understand. I see no reason why it should not be done. The only reason it has not been done up to now is apparently that the regulations do not permit it. I hope that the Minister will take this seriously, and that if he cannot answer tonight because he is required to consult colleagues in other Departments he will at least assure us that he will do so. This amendment is something with which the Minister could agree, and if he does he will give some reward for the long work we put in during the Committee stage, with very little result. Our arguments are extremely well supported by a lot of opinion outside this House, and not a single person has written to me to disagree with the points we put forward in Committee. This amendment is a compromise which, if accepted, will make all those long hours of work worth while.

Mrs. Bain

Very briefly, I shall ask the Minister to accept the amendment in the spirit in which it has been moved. This is a compromise between the official line which the Government adopted in Committee and the amendments moved by the hon. Member for North Angus and Mearns (Mr. Buchanan-Smith) and myself, which were rejected by the Committee. Even though one or two hon. Members opposite—the hon. Member for West Stirlingshire (Mr. Canavan) was one—supported us in debate, they did not do so on the vote. Since we had that debate in Committee, in all the correspondence I have received, both as a constituency Member and as official spokesman for my party on education, only one letter supported the official line of the Government. All the other letters—and they ran into three figures— supported the line taken by myself and the official Opposition.

This is very much a compromise amendment on the basis that it allow people in education circles who are concerned that there would be difficulty in arranging courses in schools to allow for several school leaving dates for the children involved, and it would allow training colleges the right to gear their courses to those leaving dates. This is a very important aspect. I urge the Minister to accept that. If he will not, I urge the Opposition to press this matter to a vote for a change.

Mr. McElhone

I will respond as briefly as possible, while giving a full explanation. This issue was raised by many hon. Members in Committee, and there has been great depth of feeling about it.

This amendment would effectively result in there being four school leaving dates—in October, November, April and June. Pupils would be able to leave school at the end of the term in which their sixteenth birthday fell at ages ranging from 16 to perhaps 16 years four months. This is another permutation of getting youngsters to leave on their sixteenth birthday, which hon. Members opposite readily accepted was the aim they were pushing very hard in Committee. We had many contributions to the debate in which hon. Members said that young people should be able to leave on their sixteenth birthday. I provided information from the STUC, the Glasgow Trades Council and the Employment Executive saying that they did not wish young people to leave on their sixteenth birthday.

The Bill's proposals as they stand provide for two leaving dates, 31st May and the first day of the Christmas holidays. Children attaining 16 before 1st October will cease to be of school age on 31st May, and those who are 16 before 1st March at Christmas but because of the time factor we cannot operate these provisions this year. No child will remain of school age beyond the age of 16 years three months, and some will be eligible to leave as young as 15 years eight months. It is difficult to see what help the amendments could be to the young people concerned. I made the point several times in Committee that the Government were opposed to pupils leaving on the 16th birthday. We heard the views of the teachers, the unions and industry, but those bodies put forward their views on the basis of the present system rather than that contained in the Bill.

Hon. Members have referred to the numbers of letters they have received. I could make a similar point. Since we announced leaving dates which provide that a pupil can leave on 31st May if he is 16 between 1st March and 30th September, and on the first day of the Christmas holidays if his birthday is between 1st October and the end of February, we too have received representations.

The CBI put forward in its submission that it has two intakes for craft apprentices, one in August and one at Christmas, and it felt that this was the best arrangement for it. I accept that it is concerned only with industry, but the careers officers and the Employment Executive, as well as other bodies like the STUC and the Glasgow district trades council, supported our view.

Mr. Younger

Surely the Minister is making too much of this. The CBI said quite properly that it has two entry dates. There is nothing to prevent that continuing. Boys who are going in for such apprenticeships can wait on at school and leave at the appropriate time. The CBI has expressed an opinion. I am delighted that the Government seem to be taking notice of it. It must be the first time in two years that they have done so. How can the Minister weigh that opinion against the opinion of the teachers who are more likely to know what is best for their pupils?

Mr. McElhone

The EIS, which is the largest teaching union in Scotland, said that the Government's proposals were a positive step forward and that they had educational advantage. That point was lost in Committee. Many hon. Members argued their case on the ground of the consultative document and against the background of the existing teaching system. The representations did not take account of the new proposals because those proposals were not known at that time. Those proposals were not put forward until after the consultations were held.

The amendment would deny pupils who attained the age of 16 in late August and September the opportunity to compete for autumn employment.

The hon. Member for Ayr (Mr. Younger) raised the point about social security. That is a matter for the Secretary of State for Social Services. I gave no undertaking in Committee that I would consider the provision of social security. I said, and I repeat it tonight, that I would put forward the views expressed by hon. Members and would indicate the depth of feeling about the topic.

Mr. Canavan

It would appear strange and unjust if a pupil could leave at the age of 15 years and eight months, take employment but not be entitled to national insurance cover until he had reached the age of 16. Are consultations taking place between the Scottish Office, the Department of Education and the Department of Health and Social Security on this point? This should be dealt with urgently. The DHSS should introduce amending legislation to make the qualifying date for full national insurance cover the same as the school leaving date.

1.45 a.m.

Mr. McElhone

My hon. Friend took a close and helpful interest in the Bill in Committee. I must point out to him that this point was raised on the English Bill and was resisted.

If we are to amend social security legislation, it must apply to the whole of the United Kingdom. That is the only way to tackle it.

I accept that it seems anomalous that there is cover for injury benefit, but perhaps not for sickness benefit. I shall draw the attention of the appropriate Minister in the DHSS to the points raised in this debate and indicate the depth of feeling on this matter.

There have been a number of comments about COSLA—the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities. It has a committee of education authorities, and we have received a letter from the convenor, Mr. George Foulkes, welcoming the co-operation which existed between the Scottish Office and COSLA and expressing thanks for the way we con- suited the Convention during the passage of the Bill.

The proposals in the Bill are the best for the pupils, the teaching profession, industry, commerce and any professions that these young people may wish to pursue. I urge the House to resist the amendment.

Mr. Monro

That was an astonishing reply from the Minister. The Bill has been in the Scottish Office for perhaps 12 months and has been going through the House since Christmas, yet the Minister has not got the simple answer about children who leave school at the age of 15 years and eight months.

It is not good enough to say that the Scottish Office is having consultations with the DHSS. We may be giving the Bill a Third Reading later this morning and we should have the information before then. Why cannot the Minister contact the DHSS now? Surely there is a Minister in the House who knows something about this matter.

We should have a reply about the position of a pupil who leaves school at the age of 15 years and eight months, legitimately takes up employment and is injured at work or requires social security help. The Minister does not know what the position will be. No Government should try to force through a Bill concerned with such a crucial issue as the employment of young people. This is something about which the House has been very careful in the past.

The Minister has been slipshod and has not found out the answers. Why does he not go away now and find them out?

Mr. Teddy Taylor

We must protest bitterly at the inadequacy of the Minister's reply.

One simple point was raised in Committee time and again—the position of pupils who left school at the age of 15 years and eight or nine months and whether they could claim sickness benefits. Surely it is the sort of question to which there should be a straight and simple answer. The Minister said "I shall try to find out". Does he treat the questions that are raised in Committee as so insignificant that he thinks he can say on Report that he will try to find out? As my hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries (Mr. Monro) rightly said, this is not good enough.

Further, it is only fair to tell hon. Members representing English constituencies that they have not been told the true facts about representations on the choice of leaving dates. The Minister gave the impression that everyone supported what the Government have been saying, but that is not the case. One of the bodies that he has quoted is the Institute of Careers Officers in Scotland. He said on 29th April that officers in industrial conurbations thought one or two fixed dates most suitable, but that those in the rural areas favoured three or four. In other words, they were about equally divided. Certainly they were not all of the Government's view.

The Association of County Councils in Scotland, a rather important body, was in favour of four fixed dates, as we suggest. The Edinburgh Federation of Parent and Parent Teacher Associations is in favour of four fixed leaving dates. The Leith Chamber of Commerce favours three fixed leaving dates, while the Glasgow Chamber of Commerce favour four fixed leaving dates. The Scottish Association of Voluntary Child Care Organisations is in favour of something almost identical.

There is a large number of organisations which support what my hon. Friends and I have been putting forward. It is wrong for the Minister to quote those organisations which are against a leaving age of 16 as being against the amendment, an amendment which was put forward as a compromise.

The Minister will not help himself in getting Bills through the House at a reasonable hour, or in getting co-operation from the Opposition, when he chooses not to answer the points that we make on the Floor of the House, and not even to answer the simple questions that we raised in Committee.

Why should the House support the clause? I am glad to welcome the support of the SNP for our amendment. We were grateful for its support previously and we are grateful now. It is not surprising that it wishes to support one of our many amendments. Unfortunately—no doubt through pressure of work—it has not managed to table any amendments itself.

I suggest that there are four basic reasons for supporting the amendment. First, it offers a little more flexibility. Instead of having two leaving dates we would have four. There is no question of disruption. As Labour Members who are ex-teachers will know, the school session is broken up into four terms, each separated by a holiday. That makes our proposal quite logical, notwithstanding the metric system which the Minister and his right hon. and hon. Friends want to force down the throats of the British people.

Secondly, under our proposal no child would leave school before 16. That is a matter of considerable importance that has not been given sufficient attention. Many of us remember the great battle that was fought to get the school leaving age of 16 accepted. It was not a popular thing to do. It is not generally appreciated that under the Government's proposals pupils in Scotland will be able to leave school at 15 years and eight months instead of the present 16 and a bit. The present system operates so that the leaving age is sometimes 16½ and sometimes 16¼, but the amendment retains the essential element that no pupil leaves school before the age of 16. Under the Government's scheme they will be leaving at 15 years and eight months.

I turn to the third advantage of our proposals. The Government have suggested that one of the fixed leaving dates should be 31st May. I cannot think of any good reason for that date, unless it is argued that it falls after the exams and before the summer break, when not a great deal happens in the schools. However, it is worth while for the pupils who are thinking of leaving school at that stage to consider staying on. They might be tempted to stay on. That period between May and the end of June can be valuable in trying to encourage them to stay on a little later. The House would be wrong to vote against our amendment until the Minister gives us a simple answer to the simple question about national insurance.

I am grateful to the English Members who have waited up and have shown their interest in Scottish education. Their interest is greatly appreciated because they are now aware of some of the serious problems in Scotland, and they will be aware that one of the main reasons why we are keeping them up is that we now have a Scottish education Minister who not only is not prepared to answer questions but is not prepared to take the trouble to find out the facts or even to appreciate that when a case is put forward it should be answered clearly and with facts.

It is for that reason that, despite the lateness of the hour, I strongly recommend my hon. Friends and any fair-minded hon. Members on the Government Benches to vote for the amendment, in the interests of Scottish education.

Mr. Adam Hunter (Dunfermline)

I appeal to my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State to deal with one point. I had always understood that the Bill would become an Act in time to allow children to benefit from its provisions this year. Unfortunately, from the statement made by my hon. Friend it is clear that this will not be so. I find that very disappointing, because already I have sent him a letter from a parent who saw me about her boy, who was 16 on 10th May and who has been offered a job as a gardener's apprentice. He hoped that he would be able to take this job on 31st May—the new school leaving date under the Bill. Unfortunately, if the Bill is not implemented he will have to go on his summer holidays on 2nd July.

Another young lady telephoned me from a village in my constituency. She will be 16 on 22nd August. Under the Bill she would have left school on 31st May, but if the Bill is not implemented, as I would like, she will have to stay at school until February next year.

I think that that is utterly disgraceful, and I sincerely hope that if my hon. Friend can make this measure retrospective in any way he will do so.

Mr. Fairgrieve

Before we vote on the amendment, will the Minister tell us what will be done about people who leave school and are working before their sixteenth birthday in terms of their national insurance cards? May we have an answer?

Mr. McElhone

I have said that the decision on social security benefits is not a question for me; it is a question for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services. I undertook to make the point to him. I also pointed out that there is some difficulty in this case, in that the point was resisted in the English Bill.

As for the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Dunfermline (Mr. Hunter), if progress had been made in Committee we would have had a situation in which a young person who reached the age of 16 between 1st March and the end of September would have been able to leave school on 31st May this year. That is the situation that will exist after this year, but because of what happened in Committee and the fact that we did not get the Bill through Committee—[Interruption.] I am not going to go into the question of blame now. I am saying that the Bill did not come out of Committee in time to allow my hon. Friend's constituents to leave at the time they hoped.

As for the points raised by the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Taylor), I have long since learned to disregard his type of argument, because it is always the same one for every Bill, and it does not merit an answer.

2.0 a.m.

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

The Minister has been less than fair to the House about the matter of national insurance. In bringing forward proposals for legislation, as they have done with this Bill, the Government must surely take some account of the consequences of their actions. One of the consequences of the Bill will be that young people will be leaving school and entering employment at the age of 15 years and eight months, and that raises problems. Why is the Minister not prepared to tell the House how the Government intend to meet those problems? I see that one of the Ministers of the Department of Health and Social Security is present. I am sure that he could give the answer. The Minister has not thought to give the answer, but perhaps if we wait for a few minutes his colleague will be able to provide it.

The Minister cannot continue in this fashion. There must have been consultations. I hope that there have been consultations with the STUC. Has the Minister talked to the STUC about this matter? Has he talked to the CBI and the education authorities? He must tell the House before we finish with this debate, otherwise further progress on the Bill will be very difficult. I hope that he will answer the point.

Hon. Members


Division No, 164 AYES 2.03 a.m.
Bain, Mrs Margaret Gray, Hamish Stewart, Donald (Western Isles)
Benyon, W. Hampson, Dr Keith Stradling, Thomas J.
Biggs-Davison, John Henderson, Douglas Taylor, Teddy (Cathcart)
Body, Richard Johnston, Russell (Inverness) Thompson, George
Buchanan-Smith, Alick Le Marchant, Spencer Vaughan, Dr Gerard
Corrie, John Lester, Jim (Beeston) Weatherill, Bernard
Crawford, Douglas MacCormick, Iain Welsh, Andrew
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James Mather, Carol Wilson, Gordon (Dundee E)
Ewing, Mrs Winifred (Moray) Monro, Hector Younger, Hon George
Fairgrieve, Russell Penhaligon, David TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Fletcher, Alex (Edinburgh N) Reid, George Mr. Fred Silvester and Mr. Michael Roberts
Gilmour, Sir John (East Fife) Rifkind, Malcolm
Goodhart, Philip Sproat, Iain
Allaun, Frank Douglas-Mann, Bruce Kerr, Russell
Anderson, Donald Duffy, A. E. P. Kilroy-Silk, Robert
Archer, Peter Dunn, James A. Kinnock, Neil
Armstrong, Ernest Dunnett, Jack Lambie, David
Ashton, Joe Eadie, Alex Lamborn, Harry
Atkins, Ronald (Preston N) Edge, Geoff Lamond, James
Atkinson, Norman Ellis, John (Brigg & Scun) Latham, Arthur (Paddington)
Bagier, Gordon A. T. Ellis, Tom (Wrexham) Lestor, Miss Joan (Eton & Slough)
Barnett, Guy (Greenwich) Ennals, David Lewis, Arthur (Newham N)
Barnett, Rt Hon Joel (Heywood) Evans, Fred (Caerphilly) Lewis, Ron (Carlisle)
Bates, Alf Evans, Ioan (Aberdare) Litterick, Tom
Bean, R. E. Evans John (Newton) Lomas, Kenneth
Benn, Rt Hon Anthony Wedgwood Ewing, Harry (Stirling) Loyden, Eddie
Bidwell, Sydney Fernyhough, Rt Hon E. Luard, Evan
Bishop, E. S. Fitch, Alan (Wigan) Lyons, Edward (Bradford W)
Blenkinsop, Arthur Flannery, Martin Mabon, Dr. J. Dickson
Booth, Rt Hon Albert Fletcher, Raymond (Ilkeston) McCartney, Hugh
Boyden, James (Bish Auck) Fletcher, Ted (Darlington) McElhone, Frank
Bray, Dr Jeremy Foot, Rt Hon Michael MacFarquhar, Roderick
Brown, Hugh D. (Provan) Ford, Ben McGuire, Michael (Ince)
Brown, Robert C. (Newcastle W) Forrester, John Mackenzie, Gregor
Brown, Ronald (Hackney S) Fowler, Gerald (The Wrekin) Maclennan, Robert
Buchan, Norman Fraser, John (Lambeth, N'w'd) McMillan, Tom (Glasgow C)
Buchanan, Richard Freeson, Reginald McNamara, Kevin
Butler, Mrs Joyce (Wood Green) George, Bruce Madden, Max
Callaghan, Jim (Middleton & P) Gilbert, Dr John Magee, Bryan
Campbell, Ian Golding, John Mahon, Simon
Cant, R. B. Gould, Bryan Mal1alieu, J. P. W.
Carmichael, Neil Gourlay, Harry Marks, Kenneth
Cartwright, John Grant, George (Morpeth) Marshall, Dr. Edmund (Goole)
Castle, Rt Hon Barbara Grant, John (Islington C) Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)
Clemitson, Ivor Grocott, Bruce Mason, Rt Hon Roy
Cocks, Michael (Bristol S) Hamilton, James (Bothwell) Maynard, Miss Joan
Cohen, Stanley Hardy, Peter Meacher, Michael
Coleman, Donald Harper, Joseph Mendelson, John
Colquhoun, Ms Maureen Harrison, Walter (Wakefield) Mikardo, Ian
Concannon, J. D. Hart, Rt Hon Judith Millan, Bruce
Conlan, Bernard Keller, Eric S. Miller, Dr M. S. (E Kilbride)
Cook, Robin F. (Edin C) Hooley, Frank Mitchell, R. C. (Soton, Itchen)
Corbett, Robin Howell, Rt Hon Denis Molloy, William
Cox, Thomas (Tooting) Hoyle, Doug (Nelson) Morris, Alfred (Wythenshawe)
Craigen, J. M. (Maryhill) Huckfield, Les Morris, Charles R. (Openshaw)
Cryer, Bob Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N) Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon)
Cunningham, G. (Islington S) Hunter, Adam Moyle, Roland
Cunningham, Dr J. (Whiteh) Irving, Rt Hon S. (Dartford) Mulley, Rt Hon Frederick
Dalyell, Tam Jackson, Colin (Brighouse) Murray, Rt Hon Ronald King
Davidson, Arthur Jay, Rt Hon Douglas Newens, Stanley
Davies, Bryan (Enfield N) Jenkins, Rt Hon Roy (Stechford) Noble, Mike
Davis, Clinton (Hackney C) John, Brynmor Ogden, Eric
Deakins, Eric Johnson, James (Hull West) Orme, Rt Hon Stanley
Dean, Joseph (Leeds West) Johnson, Walter (Derby S) Ovenden, John
de Freitas, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey Jones, Barry (East Flint) Palmer, Arthur
Dell, Rt Hon Edmund Jones, Dan (Burnley) Park, George
Dempsey, James Judd, Frank Parry, Robert
Doig, Peter Kaufman, Gerald Pavitt, Laurie
Dormand, J. D. Kelley, Richard Peart, Rt Hon Fred

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The House divided: Ayes 35, Noes 233.

Perry, Ernest Silkin, Rt Hon John (Deptford) Ward, Michael
Prescott, John Silkin, Rt Hon S. C. (Dulwich) Watkins, David
Price, C. (Lewisham W) Skinner, Dennis Watkinson, John
Price, William (Rugby) Small, William Weetch, Ken
Radice, Giles Smith, John (N Lanarkshire) Wellbeloved, James
Rees, Rt Hon Merlyn (Leeds S) Snape, Peter White, Frank R. (Bury)
Richardson, Miss Jo Spearing, Nigel White, James (Pollok)
Roberts, Albert (Normanton) Stallard, A. W. Whitehead, Phillip
Roberts, Gwilym (Cannock) Stewart, Rt Hon M. (Fulham) Whitlock, William
Robinson, Geoffrey Stoddart, David Williams, Alan (Swansea W)
Roderick, Caerwyn Stott, Roger Williams, Alan Lee (Hornch'ch)
Rodgers, George (Chorley) Strang, Gavin Williams, Rt Hon Shirley (Hertford)
Rodgers, William (Stockton) Summerskill, Hon Dr Shirley Wilson, Alexander (Hamilton)
Rooker, J. W. Swain, Thomas Wilson, William (Coventry SE)
Roper, John Taylor, Mrs Ann (Bolton W) Wise, Mrs Audrey
Ross, Rt Hon W. (Kilmarnock) Thomas, Ron (Bristol NW) Woodall, Alec
Rowlands, Ted Tinn, James Woof, Robert
Sedgemore, Brian Tomlinson, John Wrigglesworth, Ian
Selby, Harry Urwin, T. W. Young, David (Bolton E)
Shaw, Arnold (Ilford South) Varley, Rt Hon Eric G.
Sheldon, Robert (Ashton-u-Lyne) Wainwright, Edwin (Dearne V) TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Shore, Rt Hon Peter Walker, Harold (Doncaster) Mr. Tom Pendrey and Mr. Ted Graham.
Short, Rt Hon E. (Newcastle C) Walker, Terry (Kingswood)

Question accordingly negatived.

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

I beg to move Amendment No. 19, in page 4, line 37, at end add— '(5) Notwithstanding the above, the education authority may allow a person to leave school on his sixteenth birthday with the agreement of his head teacher and his parents, where it is shown that he has opportunity immediately to undertake further education, or to enter an approved trade apprenticeship and in any exceptional circumstances.' I only wish that the Minister could show as much seriousness in his reply as his hon. Friends did in trying to support him. During the Committee stage we debated a similar amendment and, after a long debate, the Minister showed the same stubbornness he has shown tonight, in dealing with the amendment which was put forward constructively. It was more because of a threatened revolt by certain hon. Members on his own side of the Committee that the Minister said at the last minute: I am prepared to look at this. I cannot give a categorical commitment, but I am prepared to look at it and discuss it with bodies, and my advisers, and come hack on Report, in the interests of the arguments of my hon. Friends."— [Official Report, First Scottish Standing Committee, 4th May, 1976, c. 197]. The hon. Gentleman said he was prepared to come back to this matter at Report. I am sorry he has not been prepared to do so and that it has been left to the Conservative Opposition again, in the interests of education in Scotland, to come back to this matter. I really thought that this was one matter on which the Minister himself would have taken some initiative and dealt with it.

I shall not deploy all the arguments we had in Committee at this late hour although obviously, with so much interest and attendance from English constituencies, it would be good if we could perhaps deploy the arguments which took up something like 30 columns on 4th May.

This amendment, and the amendment we proposed in Committee, would not have been so necessary if we did not believe in getting a more flexible attitude from the Government over the actual leaving dates themselves. The Government have shown themselves stubborn again tonight.

2.15 a.m.

There is little discretion under the Education Act to permit a young person to leave school before his sixteenth birthday. The only exceptions are difficulties in the home. The first safeguard in the amendment is the restriction to the sixteenth birthday; the second is the obtaining of the agreement of the head teacher and parents. These safeguards will ensure that the provision is not misused.

There are then three grounds on which a pupil will be allowed to leave on his sixteenth birthday: first, to undertake further education; second—I wish that the hon. Member for Glasgow, Spring-burn (Mr. Buchanan) were here, because he was strong on this point in Committee —to enter an approved trade or apprenticeship; third, any exceptional circumstances, which would cover the home circumstances where discretion is already allowed.

The amendment introduces, with suitable safeguards, the flexibility which is lacking in the Government's attitude. If the Minister would accept it immediately, that would expedite our proceedings.

Mr. Gordon Wilson (Dundee, East)

I support the amendment. An officer who is a member of a training organisation told me at my surgery on Saturday that because of the present inflexibility in the Act pupils had been held back for six months or so and had consequently lost apprenticeships. The amendment would give flexibility; local education authorities should have this discretion where it is to the pupil's advantage. No one will believe that it will be abused or ill-used. The amendment would deal with the many difficult cases which have arisen in the past. In these days, when boys and girls are leaving school their lives can be made or broken on whether they can accept the chance of an apprenticeship. I hope that the Government will acept the amendment.

The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Bruce Millan)

The hon. Member for North Angus and Mearns (Mr. Buchanan-Smith) says that the Government have not been willing to move on the Bill, but it is certainly true that the Opposition are willing to move. Most of them seem to have moved home in the last half-hour. This matter was discussed at considerable length in Committee and it is perhaps unnecessary for me to go over the whole argument again at this late hour.

My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State said in Committee that he would have further consultations with the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities. The reason why we have not put down an amendment similar in terms to this one is quite simply that it is the strong view of COSLA that it would be undesirable for such a provision to be written into the Bill because there would be insuperable operational difficulties in it.

The amendment deals with three sets of circumstances but with only one genuinely new circumstance. There is already provision in existing legislation to allow early leaving even before the sixteenth birthday to enter a full-time course of further education. Again, if there are exceptional home circumstances, there is provision for leaving from the age of 14 onwards. But we are dealing here with the question of entering approved trade apprenticeships.

It could be argued that under existing legislation an element of flexibility was missing, but the new leaving dates in the Bill provide that in certain circumstances children will be able to leave school before their sixteenth birthday. It will depend on when the birthday falls. The 31st May leaving date will take care of children whose sixteenth birthday falls between 1st March and 30th September, and the Christmas leaving date will take care of those whose sixteenth birthday falls between 1st October and 28th February.

In each case, children will be leaving before the sixteenth birthday, and therefore the provisions of the Bill introduce a loosening of the present situation. This was generally welcomed in Committee, although there were arguments as to other arrangements which might have been introduced.

It seems to me, therefore, that there is no case for writing further qualifications into the Bill which could only apply even theoretically to certain pupils—not all, because some children will be able to leave before the sixteenth birthday in any case—and to particular times of the year. It seems rather unlikely that in practice under the amendment full-time apprenticeship would be available to be taken up because, as the leaving dates will operate, the amendment would only operate at particular periods of the year which are not normally the start of full-time apprenticeships.

To place such an obligation on local authorities would mean that they would have to make invidious choices between one pupil and another. They would have to decide whether one type of employment was desirable. The authorities do not want to do that. They would have to make invidious choices between pupils. The more able pupils would be most likely to obtain advantage. They would be more likely to take up full-time apprenticeships. But the pupils who cause most anxiety in schools are those who are over 16 who resent being kept on at school. Because on average they are less able, they find it more difficult to obtain apprenticeships. Therefore, there would be discrimination between pupils who are less resentful at remaining at school and those who are resentful. For those good reasons, the clause is better left as it is. To introduce a further complication would be a mistake. I hope that after that explanation the amendment, however well-intentioned, will be withdrawn.

Mr. Monro

The amendment should not be withdrawn. The Secretary of State has said that the education authorities are not prepared to accept responsibility for deciding. He said that it might be invidious to do that, but any head teacher, in conjunction with a director of education and other advisers, should be able to decide which cases are special. That is the main issue.

The provision particularly affects the situation where a father or mother running a small business falls ill and their 16-year-old child is unable to leave school to help with the business or farm. Section 34 of the 1962 Act allows authorities to grant an exemption from the obligation to attend school for a child who needs to assist at home. But home has always been narrowly interpreted to mean a domestic situation. The exemption cannot apply to a small business situation even if the family lives over the shop, for instance.

Flexibility is important. Absolute rigidity causes hardship. I would be surprised if every hon. Member had not experienced a case of genuine hardship because a pupil is not able to leave school to help in a family crisis. To introduce flexibility will not put an enormous or onerous burden upon education authorities. It is not something that they will have to implement weekly or even monthly. It may come up just a few times in the year, and then it could be used to alleviate immense hardship for a particular family. Education authorities need not be afraid of having the power to give this exemption or to take the responsibility of creating precedents. Now that we have set up the regional education authority system, in which we hope there will be a degree of uniformity —there are so few directors of education that they must be able to have a high degree of uniformity—there should be no great difficulty in implementing the special case satisfactorily for all concerned.

2.30 a.m.

That is why I support my hon. Friend most strongly and hope that the amendment is taken to a Division. [Interrup- tion.] There is a long time to go, unless the Leader of the House returns and moves to adjourn. It is no use Labour Members getting excited about wanting to go home. If the hon. Member for Feltham and Heston (Mr. Kerr) has not had an example of hardship involving a pupil who requires to leave school, his constituency must be unique.

I hope that the Secretary of State will take the matter seriously and think again before the end of the debate.

Mr. Robert Hughes

I oppose the amendment for a number of reasons. First, I believe that the proposals to change the leaving date represent a weakening of our commitment to raise the school leaving age. I know that that view is not shared by the majority of hon. Members, because they believe that the pressure from outside to allow children to leave school earlier has been impossible to resist, and, therefore, we have the Bill.

But then we come to the amendment. As my right hon. Friend has explained, leaving the normal school to go on to further education is taken care of under present legislation. The question of exceptional home circumstances is also already covered.

There are two points about the amendment. One is the question of apprenticeships. We have all had problems raised by parents who have said "if only my boy could leave school next week he would get an apprenticeship. If he has to wait until the normal leaving date he will not." The possibility of that happening is much reduced by the Bill. The difficulty is that there will always be some children on the wrong side of the line for an apprenticeship. People will say "if only he were 16 now instead of in five months' time." Therefore, the pressure is to allow them to leave between 15 and 16 to obtain an apprenticeship. But to some extent that argument is not reasonable. Often an employer says "I need an apprentice to begin now". But an apprenticeship should be a training. Therefore, for the first two or three years there should not be any economic advantage to a firm in taking on an apprentice. Employers should think of taking on apprentices not as extra pairs of hands to undertake extra work, but as people to be trained. Reasonable employers should gear their apprenticeship schemes to fit in with the school leaving dates and with the various schemes in their areas.

The amendment uses the phrase "in any exceptional circumstances". It does not define whether they are circumstances relating to the home, small businesses, farming or whatever it may be. The phrase could embrace the situation of a youngster who is unhappy at school—a youngster with no prospects of a job, but somebody who does not like being at school. Such a pupil has already been described as a resentful pupil.

Almost any exceptional circumstance can be argued by parents if they wish a child to leave school. I believe that the phrase in the amendment is far too open. It is unnecessary to widen the provision further. Every hon. Member knows the ingenuity of certain parents when they want a particular set of circumstances to apply to their child. I believe that as soon as one child is able to leave school ahead of time, there will be pressure for other children also to leave school early. This could bring to education authorities and schools more difficulties than at first sight one might imagine. I am opposed to any further weakening of the situation in regard to the school leaving age.

Having decided to raise the school leaving age, I believe that we should be prepared to stick by it. There are considerable educational advantages in children remaining in school for a consistent period that can be measured. Therefore, the education system should be geared towards some consistent system rather than that there should be a system under which children drop out throughout the year. I believe that the proposals in the amendment will have the opposite effect—namely, that they will bring pressure for children to leave school as quickly as possible. That is a bad effect, and I hope that the House will oppose this amendment.

Mr. Younger

We are grateful to the Secretary of State for Scotland for having explained the situation and certainly for the trouble he has taken since the Committee stage to hold consultations. However, does he not think that he has got the matter a little out of proportion? Does he not think that the argument is rather bureaucratic?

The amendment seeks to deal with a tiny number of hard cases. It gives discretion to headmasters, head teachers and education authorities to enable a small proportion of hard cases that come on the wrong side of the line to be dealt with. The Secretary of State is right to say that people with difficult home circumstances are covered. But the point of the amendment is that there are a small number of cases which are not covered and, indeed, cannot be covered because they are statute-barred. That is the whole object of the amendment. I hope that the Secretary of State will think again about it because of that. It is no use saying, as the hon. Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes) said, that this is a negligible matter because so few people are involved. That is the whole point of the amendment.

I had a case a year or two ago which has a direct bearing on this. The circumstances in which my constituent was wanting to leave school were not the same. Nevertheless the same situation can still be found. This was a pupil just under the appropriate leaving date age who wished to undertake a specialised course of instruction to fit her for her future career. The course did not come within the definition of further education. Everyone—parents, teachers, local authority—agreed that it was desirable that the girl should leave school and attend this course which began in the October. If she did not begin it then she would have to wait another year. The girl could not be released because she was statute-barred. She had not completed four years of secondary education. Every other condition was met but because she was three weeks on the wrong side of the date barrier she could not leave.

I hope that the Secretary of State will accept this as a genuine point. The amendment may not be word perfect. It is difficult to produce amendments which are word perfect. All that we are trying to do is to give some discretion to the parents, the teachers and local authorities to allow this to happen in these cases. That is not much to ask. If the parents, the teachers or the local officials do not agree—any one of these groups—our amendment would not apply. I would consider that to be fair. There would be a difference of opinion which would make it a marginal case and the child probably should remain at school.

We ought not to adopt the argument that because so few people will be involved, and because we have the thing so nearly right, we should not write in a provision of this sort. That is too bureaucratic for words. Can we not stretch a point to allow discretion to responsible professional people who know the case and the person?

The other argument, to which we should not stick, is that it will be too difficult to make the choice. I appreciate the efforts of the Secretary of State in producing his arguments. But does he think that they are good arguments? Are we really to say that headmasters who know their pupils will say. "I would like to make a choice with regard to a pupil but it is too difficult, too embarrassing. I cannot do it in case others object." We are not in the business of being such jellies. I do not think that our head teachers are either.

In the sort of case I am thinking of these people would know perfectly well what ought to be done without this amendment. I know that a number of hon. Members will, within the next five years, have painful cases brought to them. Parents will come to them and say "If only there was this discretion. Why will the Government not give the discretion?" Nothing will be lost if the Secretary of State would stretch a point to allow this discretionary power. It will not put anyone in the wrong. It will not force anyone to leave school a day earlier than his teachers, parents and education officials want. Can we please have a little more flexibility from the Secretary of State? This amendment has support from more than one side of the House.

2.45 a.m.

Mr. Harry Gourlay (Kirkcaldy)

I am somewhat attracted to the arguments adduced by the hon. Member for Ayr (Mr. Younger). Earlier in the debate great stress was laid on the word "flexibility". This Bill increases flexibility. All we are asking about now is a small period of three months. That is all that is involved here—16 years three months is the latest age that one can be kept at school under the terms of the Bill. There must be a very small number of pupils involved in any given school in any part of Scotland at any given time. I cannot accept that it is an invidious choice the headmaster has to make.

Perhaps we should have agreed at the start to make the age of 16 the date when a person was entitled to leave school. Literally, as this Bill is going to work in the long term, and if we accepted the amendment, that is what it would mean. There will be a large number of pupils who can leave school four months before their sixteenth birthday anyway, and when they come to 16, if this amendment were put into effect, they could leave school provided they had an approved trade apprenticeship to go to.

This problem occurred in my constituency with a lad who wanted to become a jockey, and was offered an apprenticeship on 1st June this year. Because of the delay in passing the legislation, he has lost the opportunity until the autumn. That lad may well become a Lester Piggott, but I cannot accept that because he has to stay in school from 31st May until the end of June he will be a better or worse jockey. If this amendment were accepted it would have been the case that this boy would have been able to leave school had he been caught in the three-month period. Had it been law, he would have been caught as he was actually 16 in February.

I listened to my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes) and I now understand why it took so long to get this Bill before the House of Commons. When he was a Minister we asked him to review the legislation and come up with a better system of school leaving dates. But, having heard him tonight, I understand why we had to wait for a new Minister. I appeal to the Minister to give credibility to the arguments adduced by the Opposition and myself. It would not help if I went into the Division Lobby with the Opposition tonight because there are so many of them missing that my vote would not make any difference whatever.

Mr. Fairgrieve

I have had the same experience as the hon. Member for Kirkcaldy (Mr. Gourlay), my hon. Friend the Member for Ayr (Mr. Younger) and my hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries (Mr. Monro) of constituents writing to me with these problems—of young people wanting to go into a small business or an apprenticeship being delayed and not allowed to do so for purely bureaucratic reasons.

There is a small family painting business in my constituency in which a father wanted his son to start an apprenticeship but found he could not do so. I wrote to the education authorities, the school and other authorities, but all to no avail. I want to explain the importance of painting in my constituency. It is a very large one—2,000 square miles—and there are many houses which require painting, and in some cases there are lamp posts which need painting. There are the same problems of painting no doubt in North Aberdeen, South Aberdeen and East Aberdeenshire—we all have such problems. Because of these bureaucratic decisions a young lad cannot leave school to join a painting business, and we in our Scottish constituencies suffer from a shortage of painters.

Since the Government Benches are quieter and are behaving themselves, I will not develop my arguments to the fullest extent, but I warn hon. Members that if they misbehave I shall be only too happy to elaborate on the problems and importance of painters or some other trade.

Mr. Teddy Taylor

The hon. Member for Kirkcaldy (Mr. Gourlay) said that this was a flexible Bill. He is wrong. It is a rigid Bill because it provides for only two leaving dates in the year. We are trying to make it flexible so that anyone who is just caught by the Bill but is in a special situation—the highest priority is someone with a trade apprenticeship to go to—may leave. The Secretary of State said that not many would be affected by the amendment. That is the whole point. That small number will be aged between 16 years and 16 years and three months. Further education is already covered by the 1962 Act, but in a different way. Exceptional circumstances are covered by that Act as well, again in a different way.

Only two points of real substance were put forward by the Secretary of State. He said, first, that if we allowed this group to leave it would cause resentment among those left at school. Surely he accepts that the employment situation now is very different from what it was when his Government came to power. It is a nightmare for the average family.

Mr. Buchan

If boy A is allowed to leave to take a job, that job is not available to boy B. That makes no difference in employment terms. It affects only the individual who gets the job, not the numbers involved.

Mr. Taylor

I never thought that I would hear the hon. Member for Renfrewshire, West (Mr. Buchan) take that sort of attitude. He seems to forget that unemployment is a serious problem. His attitude to unemployment today is different from his attitude to unemployment in the days of the Conservative Government when the figures were much better.

Surely there is a considerable difference between the youngster who has a trade apprenticeship to go to tomorrow and the lad who has only the possibility of a job when he leaves school. The Secretary of State referred to resentment. There would be very great resentment by a youngster who had a trade apprenticeship and a career to go to but was unable to take it up because of this rigid rule.

Mr. Robert Hughes

Surely this argument applies to a youngster at the age of 15 or 14. Does the hon. Member not agree that there must be an arbitrary limit on the age at which pupils should be allowed to leave?

Mr. Taylor

If the school leaving age is to be 16 a pupil should be allowed to leave at that age if he has an apprenticeship to go to. Another factor is that 16 is the normal age for starting an apprenticeship in the main trades—welders, shipwrights and the rest.

The hon. Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes) suggested that the amendment weakened the principle of a school leaving age of 16. On the contrary, the Bill undermines that principle by allowing youngsters aged 15 years and eight months to leave school. If anything, the amendment strengthens the principle. If there was a reason for this amendment at any time, there is surely an even stronger reason now—the serious worsening of the unemployment situation.

Hon. Members who have visited schools will know that some youngsters are getting desperate about employment prospects. If we say that pupils who have reached the magical age of 16—which most people identify as the school leaving age—have to stay on for another two or three months when there is a trade apprenticeship available for them, we shall create great resentment and unnecessary distress and hardship.

Only a small number will be affected. They will all be kept back for a maximum of three months. If the amendment is rejected, a small number of pupils will be kept back for up to three months and prevented from taking a trade apprenticeship.

If the Government have any flexibility and reasonableness, they will accept the amendment and there will be no need for a vote. Otherwise, we shall divide and I hope all reasonable hon. Members opposite will support us.

Mr. Harry Selby (Glasgow, Govan)

An hon. Member from the SNP has referred to my contribution in Committee when I said I supported the Opposition. I explained at that time that the reason I gave that support was the apparent

Bain, Mrs Margaret Gray, Hamish Stradling, Thomas J.
Benyon, W. Henderson, Douglas Taylor, Teddy (Cathcart)
Body, Richard Lester, Jim (Beeston) Thompson, George
Buchanan-Smith, Alick MacCormick, Iain Weatherill, Bernard
Corrie, John Monro, Hector Welsh, Andrew
Crawford, Douglas Penhaligon, David Wilson, Gordon (Dundee E)
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James Rifkind, Malcolm Younger, Hon George
Ewing, Mrs Winifred (Moray) Roberts, Michael (Cardiff NW)
Fairgrieve, Russell Silvester, Fred TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Fletcher, Alex (Edinburgh N) Sproat, Iain Mr. Spencer Le Marchant and Mr. Carol Mather.
Gilmour, Sir John (East Fife) Stewart, Donald (Western Isles)
Allaun, Frank Campbell, Ian Dell, Rt Hon Edmund
Anderson, Donald Cant, R. B. Dempsey, James
Archer, Peter Carmichael, Neil Doig, Peter
Armstrong, Ernest Cartwright, John Dormand, J. D.
Ashton, Joe Castle, Rt Hon Barbara Douglas-Mann, Bruce
Atkins, Ronald (Preston N) Clemitson, Ivor Duffy, A. E. P.
Atkinson, Norman Cocks, Michael (Bristol S) Dunn, James A.
Bagier, Gordon A. T. Cohen, Stanley Dunnett, Jack
Barnett, Guy (Greenwich) Coleman, Donald Eadie, Alex
Barnett, Rt Hon Joel (Heywood) Colquhoun, Ms Maureen Edge, Geoff
Bean, R. E. Concannon, J. D. Ellis, John (Brigg & Scun)
Benn, Rt Hon Anthony Wedgwood Cook, Robin F. (Edin C) Ellis, Tom (Wrexham)
Bidwell, Sydney Corbett, Robin Ennals, David
Bishop, E. S Cox, Thomas (Tooting) Evans, Fred (Caerphilly)
Blenkinsop, Arthur Craigen, J. M. (Maryhlll) Evans, Ioan (Aberdare)
Booth, Rt Hon Albert Cryer, Bob Evans John (Newton)
Bray, Dr Jeremy Cunningham, G. (Islington S) Ewing, Harry (Stirling)
Brown, Hugh D. (Provan) Cunningham, Dr J. (Whiteh) Fernyhough, Rt Hon E.
Brown, Robert C. (Newcastle W) Dalyell, Tam Fitch, Alan (Wigan)
Brown, Ronald (Hackney S) Davidson, Arthur Flannery, Martin
Buchan, Norman Davies, Bryan (Enfield N) Fletcher, Raymond (Ilkeston)
Buchanan, Richard Davis, Clinton (Hackney C) Fletcher, Ted (Darlington)
Butler, Mrs Joyce (Wood Green) Deakins, Eric Foot, Rt Hon Michael
Callaghan, Jim (Middleton & P) de Freitas, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey Ford, Ben

rigidity of the Bill. I also said that I regretted that the Bill contained no extension of the school leaving age so that every working-class child could take GCE A-levels and not be forced to leave before then.

I find now that a certain amount of that rigidity has been relaxed. I urge hon. Members to treat this amendment with the same overwhelming contempt as they treated the last and to give it an even bigger whacking. The niggling Opposition are searching for brickbats to throw at the Government. We need further education, not less. I do not see why the children of Conservative Members, for example, should be able to get their A-levels and a place at university without question while working-class children have to go cap in hand and beg.

We have a crisis—this is by way of an aside—in the teaching profession. If we included in the Bill an extension up to the age of 17, I believe that we should overcome the present crisis.

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The House divided: Ayes 29, Noes 216.

Forrester, John Maclennan, Robert Rowlands, Ted
Fowler, Gerald (The Wrekin) McMillan, Tom (Glasgow C) Sedgemore, Brian
Fraser, John (Lambeth, N'w'd) McNamara, Kevin Selby, Harry
Freeson, Reginald Madden, Max Shaw, Arnold (Ilford South)
George, Bruce Magee, Bryan Sheldon, Robert (Ashton-u-Lyne)
Gilbert, Dr John Mahon, Simon Shore, Rt Hon Peter
Golding, John Mallalieu, J. P. W. Short, Rt Hon E. (Newcastle C)
Gould, Bryan Marks, Kenneth Silkin, Rt Hon John (Deptford)
Graham, Ted Marshall, Dr. Edmund (Goole) Silkin, Rt Hon S. C. (Dulwich)
Grant, John (Islington C) Marshall, Jim (Leicester S) Skinner, Dennis
Grocott, Bruce Maynard, Miss Joan Small, William
Hamilton, James (Bothwell) Meacher, Michael Smith, John (N Lanarkshire)
Hardy, Peter Mendelson, John Snape, Peter
Harrison, Walter (Wakefield) Mikardo, Ian Spearing, Nigel
Hart, Rt Hon Judith Millan, Bruce Stallard, A. W.
Heffer, Eric S. Miller, Dr M. S. (E Kilbride) Stewart, Rt Hon M. (Fulham)
Hooley, Frank Mitchell, R. C. (Soton, Itchen) Stoddart, David
Hoyle, Doug (Nelson) Molloy, William Stott, Roger
Huckfield, Les Morris, Alfred (Wythenshawe) Strang, Gavin
Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N) Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon) Taylor, Mrs Ann (Bolton W)
Hunter, Adam Moyle, Roland Thomas, Ron (Bristol NW)
Irving, Rt Hon S. (Dartford) Mulley, Rt Hon Frederick Tinn, James
Jackson, Colin (Brighouse) Murray, Rt Hon Ronald King Tomlinson, John
Jay, Rt Hon Douglas Newens, Stanley Urwin, T. W.
John, Brynmor Noble, Mike Varley, Rt Hon Eric G.
Johnson, James (Hull West) Ogden, Eric Wainwright, Edwin (Dearne V)
Johnson, Walter (Derby S) Orme, Rt Hon Stanley Walker, Harold (Doncaster)
Jones, Barry (East Flint) Ovenden, John Walker, Terry (Kingswood)
Judd, Frank Palmer, Arthur Ward, Michael
Kaufman, Gerald Park, George Walkins, David
Kelley, Richard Parry, Robert Watkinson, John
Kerr, Russell Pavitt, Laurie Weetch, Ken
Kilroy-Silk, Robert Peart, Rt Hon Fred Wellbeloved, James
Kinnock, Neil Pendry, Tom White, Frank R. (Bury)
Lambie, David Perry, Ernest White, James (Pollok)
Lamborn, Harry Prescott, John Whitehead, Phillip
Lamond, James Price, C. (Lewisham W) Whitlock, William
Latham, Arthur (Paddington) Price, William (Rugby) Williams, Alan (Swansea W)
Lestor, Miss Joan (Eton & Slough) Radice, Giles Williams, Rt Hon Shirley (Hertford)
Lewis, Ron (Carlisle) Rees, Rt Hon Merlyn (Leeds S) Wilson, Alexander (Hamilton)
Lomas, Kenneth Richardson, Miss Jo Wilson, William (Coventry SE)
Loyden, Eddie Roberts, Gwilym (Cannock) Wise, Mrs Audrey
Luard, Evan Robinson, Geoffrey Woodall, Alec
Mabon, Dr. J. Dickson Roderick, Caerwyn Woof, Robert
McCartney, Hugh Rodgers, George (Chorley) Wrigglesworth, Ian
McElhone, Frank Rodgers, William (Stockton) Young, David (Bolton E)
MacFarquhar, Roderick Rooker, J. W. TELLERS FOR THE NOES
McGuire, Michael (Ince) Roper, John Mr. Alf Bates and Mr. Joseph Harper.
Mackenzie, Gregor Ross, Rt Hon W. (Kilmarnock)

Amendment accordingly negatived.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

3.12 a.m.

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

On Third Reading of this important Bill we are disappointed that the Minister should simply rise to move the Third Reading formally. Many of us want to know exactly how the Bill will be applied. One of the great points that the Minister made at earlier stages concerned the necessity for the Bill to receive Royal Assent and pass into law by 31st May. He made some passing references tonight to the alleged difficulties of the Government in getting the Bill into effect. Therefore, the House is entitled to know precisely what change of policy the Government want in relation to the application of the Bill.

Many of us have been kept up to a late hour on the Bill. We are entitled to know precisely why we should be put in this situation by the Government. The Minister owes us an explanation.

The Bill contains a number of useful measures. It has been spoiled only by a very rigid and intransigent attitude on the part of the Government on many aspects. My main point relates to the application and the coming into force of the Bill. In Committee the Minister made a great song and dance about the need to have the Bill passed by 31st May in order that it should apply then so that young people would be able to leave school at that time.

The Opposition gave the Government every co-operation over the Bill. It came from the House of Lords on 18th March. It went into Committee on 13th April. We could have gone into Committee slightly earlier, as the Government were anxious to get the Bill in time. We gave the Bill to the Government out of Committee on 6th May after a relatively small number of Sittings considering the importance of the Bill.

We thought that giving the Government their programme would give them three weeks between the Committee stage and 31st May, taking into account the Whitsun Recess, which would have enabled the Bill to come into effect on 31st May. I agree that there should have been an interval of one week between the Committee stage and Report and Third Reading, but we could have had Report and Third Reading a fortnight before we rose for the Whitsun Recess.

I ask the Minister to explain what he meant when he said earlier that the Bill has been held up and that it had been impossible for it to come into effect by 31st May. There would have been ample time in the Government's programme for it to have been given Royal Assent by 31st May had the Government not been so determined to push through their various other measures of a Socialist nature in order to please the extreme sections of the Labour Party.

The Minister owes the House an explanation of why those other measures were put through in the light of his remarks at the first Sitting of the Committee as to the need to get Royal Assent by 31st May. We provided plenty of opportunity for the Bill to be dealt with two weeks before the Whitsun Recess. The Minister should now tell the House how he envisages the Bill's application and when it will come into effect to help young people in Scotland who have completed their exams and also had been hoping to leave school on 31st May.

3.16 a.m.

Mr. Younger

Now that we have the Bill in its final form and are being asked to give it a Third Reading, I have two questions for the Minister. I was rather disappointed that the Secretary of State did not answer the quite strong speeches made on the last amendment. That was unfortunate, because he could have added something to the debate.

I should like to know when the Minister expects the proposals to permit local authorities to extend the giving of free school milk to primary school children over seven to come into effect. How soon does he expect local authorities to be allowed to do this? Will the money they are allowed to spend on this be made available to them, or will the authorities have to take it out of their existing allocations, which are already very severely curtailed? Are local authorities to be given the facility to add to their expenditure in order to do this, or will something have to be curtailed in order to allow it?

Secondly, will the Minister tell us at what time the new provisions concerning school leaving dates, will be fully effective? Now that he has missed the date he was hoping to get, at what point will the measure be fully effective?

When the Bill began its progress, the Opposition were in no sense opposing its principles and were quite happy to give plenty of assistance in getting it through. The Bill could have gone through very much more quickly and would probably have ended up in a better form had there been a little flexibility and give and take.

The Opposition have been constructive and have tried throughout to be cooperative. If this is the speed at which a Bill to which we do not object in any way goes through, heaven help the Government if they produce a measure to which the Opposition fully object.

I supported the Bill on Second Reading. Now that the Third Reading is upon us, I hope that, in view of the way in which the Government have handled its progress, we shall think very carefully about whether the Third Reading should be given such an easy passage. I hope that the Minister will try to answer these very important points.

3.20 a.m.

Mrs. Bain

I was very surprised that the Minister only formally moved the Third Reading, because the Bill has been a compromise all the way through and a hotch-potch, papering over the cracks of the real problems in the Scottish education system.

I have a few comments to make to the Minister and I hope that he will reply a little more clearly this time. He has made great play of the fact that the EIS has accepted the Bill as a major step in the right direction. Whether we like it or not, the most controversial part of the Bill has been the school leaving dates and the EIS has been saying that the Bill is only a compromise. We in the SNP echo that view, because we do not feel that it comes to terms with the real problems faced by so many teachers in Scottish schools in terms of working with those children and helping them.

The Minister also made great play during Committee about the amount of consultation that he had with interested organisations. He certainly left me and other Opposition Members with the impression that he did not pay much attention to what was said. It would be nice to have a guarantee that all those interested in education are consulted and that attention is paid to their views.

There are four points I would make which go more deeply than that. First, why should we in this House, the elected representatives of people in our constituencies, have to wait for a Bill such as this to come from a non-elected body down the corridor? It is ridiculous that the Government cannot bring it forward in their own right in this House.

Secondly, why are we rushing through the Bill, with a threat all the time from the Minister that if we did not get the Bill through Committee by such and such a time, the teaching profession in Scotland would be up in arms?

Thirdly, why are we having the Report stage and Third Reading at such a late hour? Could we not have had this discussion at a sensible time?

Fourthly, no real answers have been given by the Minister to problems such as teacher unemployment and the need to develop and analyse our whole system and revamp the whole situation. A Scottish Assembly or a Scottish Parliament would not treat Scottish education in this mean and niggardly way.

3.22 a.m.

Mr. Monro

Before we come to a decision on Third Reading I want a much more detailed explanation from the Minister of some of the provisions in the Bill, particularly in relation to the time of night at which we are having to deal with this important measure. He knows perfectly well that the Leader of the House should not have arranged for measures like this to be discussed after midnight. There are two more Bills to be dealt with yet, perhaps more Divisions and lengthy debates until daylight before we get them through. This is not the way in which to treat important legislation.

I hope that the Minister will at least try to come clean on the important issue which stems directly from this legislation—the position of pupils who leave at 15 years and eight months. He has now put them in a void. They may even be worse off than if they had stayed at school. It is important that he gives a clear indication of their position.

He must not sweep this problem under the carpet by saying that it is not his responsibility. The Secretary of State introduced this legislation. I am surprised that the Secretary of State is not here to wind up the debate on a Third Reading of such importance. I cannot see the right hon. Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross) missing a chance like this.

Mr. William Ross (Kilmarnock)

If I had been winding up this debate, I should have nothing to say, for the simple reason that to my mind everything said so far has been out of order.

Mr. Monro

I am sure that you will not want me to comment on that remark. Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am surprised that you have not leaped to your own defence. We want an important announcement from the Minister before the motion is agreed.

3.26 a.m.

Mr. McElhone

The Lords consideration of the Commons amendments is scheduled for 10th June and we hope that Royal Assent will be given on the same day. The provisions which make it necessary for a commencement order to be made at once are those governing the school leaving arrangements. Clause 2 includes provision extending the age range of summer leavers to include leavers, with a sixteenth birthday in late August or early September, who were previously required to stay at school until Christmas. The proposed commencement order would bring the clause into effect on 30th June.

I do not want to answer all the accusations of the hon. Member for Dunbartonshire, East (Mrs. Bain). Hon. Members opposite say that this is a serious and important Bill, yet on the last Division the Conservatives, Liberals and SNP combined mustered 29 votes. That is the best indictment for the Scottish people of the Conservatives' interest in education.

If I have not answered all the statements of the hon. Member for Glasgow, (Mr. Taylor), it is because he comes up with the same old speech time after time. He is the ace of double standards in this House. He has principles, but if we do not like them, he will change them. It does not help the House to make the outrageous statements he regularly makes.

This is a good Bill, welcomed by many people. It does not meet all the aspirations of the teachers, but, although we have gone through a difficult financial period over the last two and a half years, this Government have provided the best pupil-teacher ratios in Scotland and teachers' salaries have increased on average by 67 per cent. Pupil-teacher ratios of 15:1 in secondary schools and 23:1 in primary schools are a considerable achievement. So I hope that the Opposition will accept that we have tried to help education in Scotland.

3.28 a.m.

Mr. Teddy Taylor

The Minister has ignored direct and practical questions and has given no information even on matters raised in Committee. He has ended with only one defence for the Bill—that the Government have improved pupil-teacher ratios. That improvement has nothing to do with the Minister: it is the direct result of the patient, plodding, hard work of my hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries (Mr. Monro), who put into the colleges the students who are now coming out and enabling Scottish standards of education to improve.

What worries us is that the Minister, who took his job from the hon. Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes) —who had the guts and sincerity to resign because he disapproved of Government policies—is masterminding a policy of deliberately creating teacher unemployment, cutting down on home helps for the elderly and cutting the numbers of school crossing attendants. That is a record to be ashamed of. He is a disgrace to Scottish politics and a disgrace to the Labour Party, which claims to stand for the underdog.

For example, we pointed out that the Bill would allow youngsters to go to work at 15 years and eight months, thus undermining the principle of the school leaving age of 16. We asked about the sickness and unemployment benefits position of such youngsters, but we have not been told.

The Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food has just come in. Perhaps he can answer that question since the Minister in charge of Scottish education is unable to do so. Indeed, we should be glad if any member of the Government could give us the answer. Perhaps the right hon. Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross) can give it as a former Secretary of State for Scotland.

Again, what will be the effect of the Bill on the demand for teachers if we allow younsters to leave school before the sixteenth birthday? The hon. Member for Glasgow, Govan (Mr. Selby) made an astonishing speech. He wanted more educational opportunties for children, but the Bill means that they will be able to leave school early, not at 17 or 18, as he would like. It represents a step backward, not forwards.

Mr. Selby

I said that as an aside—it was not my main argument. The hon. Gentleman should stick to the Bill and not go into extraneous matter, as the hon. Member for Dunbartonshire, East (Mrs. Bain) did.

Mr. Taylor

But the whole principle of the Bill is that children should be able to leave school early. The hon. Gentleman said that he did not want that to happen, but it is a fact.

What will be the effect on the employment of teachers? If many children leave school early, fewer teachers will be required. This is not an academic question. For a long time we desperately tried to build up teacher supply, but, as a direct consequence of the Government's policy, we have, for the first time, a Scottish Education Minister deliberately creating teacher unemployment. How much worse will the Bill make the situation? We have asked that question many times, but we have received no answer.

What is the reason for the rigidity of only two leaving dates? We suggested four dates as being sensible, since it would go further in preserving the principle of the school leaving age of 16. The Government are taking a major step with the Bill and the trouble is that we do not know what the consequences will be. We do not know what the effects on the children will be in relation to unemployment and sickness benefit; we do not know what the effects will be on teacher employment; we have had no assurance about the effects on education standards.

For these reasons, although we approach the Bill in a reasonable and fair way, accepting that it may have been well-intentioned, the unsatisfactory replies by the Government—indeed, in many cases there have been no replies at all—have made many of us have second thoughts about it. Yet it could have been a sensible and practical Bill.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed, with amendments.

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