HL Deb 28 April 1921 vol 45 cc103-8

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, this Bill may be described as a Bill to consolidate the enactments relating to education and certain enactments relating to the employment of children and young persons. The complexity of the law relating to education has long been familiar to administrators, and there are probably few branches of the law in regard to which it is so desirable that the law should be clear and explicit. For instance, in the question of school attendance, almost every parent in the country is affected, and the correspondence coming to the Board of Education shows not only that a large number of parents in this country are unable to interpret the Statutes relating to education, but that a great many of them are destitute even of that modicum of education which it is the aim of those Statutes to provide.

The law of education is scattered over twenty-five Statutes, dating from the year 1870, and it is not too much to say that it is impossible for anybody but a highly skilled lawyer to find out what the liability really is with regard to school attendance. If I may give one example of the difficulties of the subject, and of the difficulty of its being understood by hardworking parents, I may state that for some purposes of the law of school attendance a child who has passed his fourteenth birthday is still deemed to be of the age of thirteen, while for other purposes of the law the definition of a child is, substantially, a person who is under a liability to attend school. The need for consolidation has, of course, long been recognised, and a Bill for this purpose was prepared very soon after the passing of the Education Act of 1902, but for various reasons it could not then be dealt with. The Education Act of 1918 simplified in very many respects the law of education, and it was deliberately drafted with a view to the ultimate consolidation of those Acts. Its repeal Schedules did a great deal to remove from the existing Statutes sections which had ceased to have any practical importance.

Since then, of course, the necessity for consolidation has been pressed from many quarters upon the Board of Education.

I should state that this subject has been very carefully and fully examined not only by the civil servants whose professional duty it is to look into these matters, but by a number of members of public bodies and others who are engaged in education administration, and also by a number of individuals who have special familiarity with the subject. Very valuable suggestions have been made from these different quarters, and it may be stated with some confidence that the Bill reproduces exactly, and without alteration, the existing law. It cannot be claimed for this Consolidation Bill that it makes the law quite simple. A Bill of 173 sections and a number of schedules could never be simple, and perhaps the consolidator would be going outside his province if he tried to make simple what must necessarily be complex. It is of course in many cases necessary to follow almost rerbatim the words of the existing law, and there are many passages, I understand, in these Statutes which nobody can pretend to understand, but which everybody must agree must not be altered for fear of altering thereby the intentions of the Legislature.

What one may claim for this Consolidation Bill is that it puts into convenient form all the legislative provisions which are of practical importance to parent or magistrate, or educational administrator, and they can feel pretty sure that in this Bill will be contained all the law with regard to education. Another point in its favour is that it reduces legislation to order, and that legislation relating to different branches is put into its proper sequence. Of the 173 sections and seven schedules none is very long, and although it may appear strange that the education law should require a Bill of such formidable dimensions, I understand that it is not very long compared with other consolidating measures.

For instance, the Merchant Shipping Act of 1894 contains 748 sections and twenty-two schedules; the Companies Consolidation Act of 1908 contains 296 sections and six very long schedules; the Income Tax Act of 1918 contains 239 sections and seven schedules, which occupy sixty-seven pages in the Statute Book; and in the present session of Parliament an English Corporation has introduced a Bill to consolidate its municipal legislation, and the Bill contains 701 clauses and six schedules. So the work of compression lies gone very far in this particular Bill.

Now let me say one word shortly about the scope of the Bill. It is not very easy to describe with absolute precision, because the Statute Book does not treat education as an isolated subject, but associates it with other matters which belong to other spheres of legislation. Probably the most accurate description of the scope of the Bill would be that it covers, with very few exceptions, all branches of Statute Law which it is the business of the local education authority to administer. But it does not deal with industrial schools, which, though within the province of the local education authority, are treated for the purpose of the Statute Book as part of the general law relating to children, as contained in the Children Act, 1908. Nor would it be true to say that the Bill deals exclusively with all branches of law administered by the Board of Education, since the Bill incorporates the Employment of Children Act, 1903, and the Prevention of Cruelty to Children Act, 1904, which form part of the sphere of influence of the Home Office. It is also applicable to agricultural education, which is administered by the Ministry of Agriculture.

The main design of the Bill, of course, is to consolidate almost everything which the local education authority must administer. It is for this reason that the Employment of Children Act, 1903, and a great part of the Prevention of Cruelty to Children Act, 1904, were incorporated. The Legislature has shown an increasing recognition of the fact that the question of the employment of children is very closely allied to the question of their education. The provisions of the Education Act, 1918, with regard to the employment of children, are almost as important as the provisions relating to their attendance at school, and the whole subject has been placed under the administration of local education authorities.

There are, however, two exceptions to this principle. In the first place the employment of children in factories and workshops is not dealt with in this Bill. That is at present regulated by the Factory and Workshop Act, 1901, which contains a code of law of its own, and the omission for educational purposes is of no very great importance, because at a very early date the employment of children in factories and workshops will become illegal.

The Bill also omits the provisions relating to the employment of children contained in the Employment of Women, Young Persons and Children Act, which was passed at the end of last session. It will be remembered that this Act was passed to carry out certain International Conventions, and therefore it was thought better to keep it entirely separate.

I should mention that there are also certain branches of education which are not dealt with in the Bill. First of all, as I have mentioned, the Bill does not deal with industrial and reformatory schools nor with the law of educational charities, which is contained partly in the Charitable Trusts Acts, partly in the Endowed Schools Acts, and partly in the Schools Sites Acts. The first two of these series of Statutes are very closely connected, and the Charitable Trusts Acts deal not only with educational charities but with other charities. It should also be stated that the Endowed Schools Acts belong to the sphere of temporary legislation, renewed from year to year. Thirdly, the Bill does not deal with the law relating to Universities, with which neither the. Board of Education nor the local education authorities have any great concern, and it does not deal with Poor Law schools, or Army and Navy schools, which belong to legislation dealing with the Poor Law, the Army and the Navy respectively.

Such is a very brief sketch of the provisions of the Bill, and your Lordships will see that there is nothing in it of a controversial nature. Before I sit down I should like to make one further observation, and it is this. Your Lordships have very often criticised the draftsmen of Bills, and have not always, I think, paid a tribute of very great admiration to those responsible for dealing with these Bills, and therefore I feel sure that you will be all the more ready in this case to pay a very high tribute of admiration and gratitude to Sir Frederick Liddell—the draftsman of this Bill, to whose skill it will stand as a notable monument.


My Lords, I rise not to prolong the discussion on this Bill, which contains nothing new, but to say that I agree with the sentiments expressed by the noble Viscount that this is a very valuable and useful Bill. It takes a mass of provisions, which have grown up in various Statutes sporadically, and gives them an order in logic as distinguished from their order in time. That is a mere matter of form and does not alter a syllable of the law, but it makes all the difference to those who have to read the Statutes. I have looked through the Bill, and, without having studied it in such a way as I should have to do before making myself responsible for any assurance to your Lordships, I am satisfied that this is a genuine Consolidation Bill, and I think the noble Viscount was fully justified in the tribute which he paid to the skill of Sir Frederick Liddell in his arrangement of a very complicated subject.

I have only one other observation. This is a Consolidation Bill, and it has the great advantage that under proper conditions it will go quickly not only through your Lordships' House, in accordance with custom, but quickly through the other House. Consolidation Bills are of great value for that reason. They focus the subject and make a new starting point for reform and new legislation. Still, the condition which we have always made is that we should have the assurance of a suitable Committee that it is a Consolidation Bill, and I think that is a very valuable step and one that is necessary, because it secures the rapid passage of Bills through Parliament when the Report of that Committee is at their back. We have in this House a very valuable Committee of the sort, with which my noble friend, Lord Muir Mackenzie, is concerned. I think, however, that it has not been set up this session. I hope it will be at once set up and that this Bill will go to it, because that is the means of securing its most rapid and simple passage through Parliament. I do not know what decision the noble Viscount has come to about that, but I throw out the suggestion, one which might facilitate the progress of the measure, from one who is in favour of its rapid passage into law.


My Lords, I had intended to offer the suggestion to the noble Viscount that it might be desirable to set up what has not been set up this session—namely, the Joint Committee of both Houses to which are referred Consolidation Bills. There is no doubt that that Committee has done very great service in that connection in past years. I have looked through this Bill, and I venture to say that it is just the sort of Bill which should go to that Committee. If it would be any assistance to him, and if he approves of the suggestion, I should be very happy to move in the House the formal stages that would bring the Committee into existence, supposing that we get the concurrence, as I have no doubt we should, of the other House.


I am very much obliged for the suggestion which has been made by the noble Viscount and the noble Lord, and I hope that the noble Lord will proceed on the course that he has suggested.

On Question, Bill read 2ª.