HL Deb 14 July 1936 vol 101 cc759-69

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, in moving the Second Reading of this Bill I think it would be for the convenience of your Lordships if at the beginning I give a broad outline of its provisions. It falls into two parts. The first deals with the raising of the school age, and the second contains a number of minor changes designed to improve the general fabric of Scottish education and to pave the way for a useful consolidation of the long series of Scottish Education Acts dating from 1872 up to the present day. As to the raising of the school age, I think your Lordships will be familiar with what is proposed since the provisions of the Bill are on the same general lines as those recently discussed when the English Bill was before your Lordships' House.

The age is to be raised to fifteen, but there are to be exemptions for beneficial employment between fourteen and fifteen, and the date when the change comes into operation is to be September 1, 1939. There are numerous provisions designed to secure that the employment for which exemption is granted is really beneficial to the child. The decision as to whether a particular employment is beneficial for a particular child rests with the local education authority, who are required to consult the juvenile employment committee of the area wherever that body exists. In addition, the education authority are directed by Clause 2 of the Bill to have regard to certain things before they come to a decision: first, the nature and probable duration of the employment, the wages to be paid, and the hours of work; secondly, the opportunities to be afforded to the child for further education; and thirdly, the time available to the child for recreation.

If the education authority conclude that the employment which the parent desires for his child is beneficial within the meaning of the Act, then the parent has a right to the exemption. The date of commencement of the exemption certificate must normally be one of the dates fixed by the education authority for beginning and ending school attendance, although in exceptional circumstances an intermediate date may be allowed. It is important also to notice that under Clause 2 (1) of the Bill the education authority must consider with the advice of their medical officer the health and physical condition of the child in relation to the particular employment. This is a very valuable element in the consideration of what is beneficial. There are various machinery provisions to ensure that the employer fulfils the undertakings he may be required to give, and to safeguard the position of the child so far as unemployment insurance is concerned.

Now I should like to mention in broad outline the progressive features in Part I of the Bill. Under present conditions children in Scotland between fourteen and fifteen are under no educational compulsion whatever, and although they may be guided into and advised as to employment by the committees set up by the Ministry of Labour and by their teachers, there is no great regulation of that employment. Under the provisions of the Bill the block of children between fourteen and fifteen will fall into three classes. First, there are those who would in any case attend voluntarily beyond the age of fourteen. On past experience this in Scotland is a substantial proportion: about 33 per cent. of the age block fourteen to fifteen. Secondly, those who do not secure beneficial employment, who would not attend voluntarily, and who under present conditions would be idle or in non-beneficial employment, are compelled to remain on at school. The third class consists of those who do secure beneficial employment at some point between the age of fourteen and fifteen and will in that employment be working under satisfactory conditions. Under these last two heads there is obviously a great advance, and, so far as parents desire to keep clever children at school or college even though beneficial employment be available, the aids from rates and endowments provided under the Education Acts are very substantial. In Scotland the assistance so given to clever children and students runs to £184,000 a year from the rates. In addition, as your Lordships are aware, there are the numerous endowments, and many students are helped by the Carnegie Trusts. On the educational side it may also be noted that, as a condition of the grant of the employment certificate, the education authority may require the child to attend suitable part-time instruction, thus linking employment and education together in a beneficial way.

In addition to the exemptions for beneficial employment there is a special class of exemption to which I will now refer. Under the present Acts an education authority may exempt any child between the ages of twelve and fourteen for all sorts of purposes. The number is not large—about 5,000, or 2½ per cent. of the twelve-fourteen age block. In the Bill, however, all this will be swept away and no exemptions under fourteen for any cause may be allowed. Between fourteen and fifteen an authority may under Clause 4 of the Bill exempt a child for the specific reason that he is required to give assistance at home. The education authority, before granting such exemption, must be satisfied that by reason of circumstances existing at his home it would cause exceptional hardship to require the child to attend school. This, as will be seen, is a very great restriction on the present system of exemptions, apart from the category of beneficial employment, and it will, I think, be admitted that where such exceptional hardship exists at home, discretion may safely be granted to the education authorities. They have used their discretion wisely in the past and there is no reason to think that they will not do so in the future.

Those are the main provisions of Part I of the Bill. In Part II, under Clauses 6, 7 and 9 there are valuable improvements in the arrangements for the education of the deaf, the blind, the physically defective and the mentally defective. We must all agree that if anything can be done for these unfortunate classes of children it should be done, even though it imposes a larger duty on the authorities. Physical education, recreation and out-of-school activities will receive a useful stimulus under Clause 8 of the Bill, which enables authorities to provide vacation schools, vacation classes, play centres, and holiday or school camps. The teachers are given an additional protection against arbitrary dismissal under Clause 14. Hitherto that protection has only been applicable to teachers in the service of the local education authorities. Now it is to be extended to schools under governing bodies and to demonstration schools under the authority for the training of teachers. There are a few other matters of minor importance which are dealt with in the rest of Part II and the Schedule. I shall not deal with them now, but if noble Lords care to raise any points on them, I will do my best to give them an answer. For the moment, I think I have given a general outline of the aims of the Bill, and I commend it to your Lordships for a Second Reading.

Moved. That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Lord Strathcona and Mount Royal.)


My Lords, I rise merely to give the point of view of the Opposition on this Bill and to say that our objections to the Bill are similar to the objections which we raised to the Education Bill for this country. This Bill, however, is somewhat worse, because, as I understand the position, under the Education (Scotland) Act, 1918, it is possible for the school-leaving age to be raised at any time in Scotland by the Secretary of State and by the Minister. He has merely to declare the date. It is a deplorable thing that during all the years since that Act was passed, and with education in Scotland—I do not think any one would disagree with me when I say this—at a deplorably low level—


No! no!


I am very glad there is sufficient patriotism in Scottish Peers for them to stand up for their country, although in this regard I do not think there is justification for their patriotism—I wish there were. It is broadly the fact that education in Scotland, which used to be the admiration of the world, and was declared to be the admiration of the world by the Secretary of State in another place a few weeks ago, is no longer the admiration of the world. Instead of progressing equally with English education it has got behind. I think that would be the view of the majority of your Lordships. Of course I admit that United Kingdom Peers are in a majority in this House, and so perhaps it is not a fair vote, but none the less I think it is a pity that the powers contained in the 1918 Act were not used. These powers are taken away, so that at least under this Bill it is impossible to raise the school-leaving age for three years, and we are so much worse off than we were. For those reasons we are all the more opposed to this Bill than to the Bill dealing with the rest of Great Britain.


My Lords, with your Lordships' permission I would like, if I may—with becoming brevity, I hope—to offer a very warm welcome to this measure. My title to do so, if any, rests upon the fact that I chanced to be the Minister in charge of the Education (Scotland) Bill of 1918, to which reference has been made. If anyone had told us then that we should have to wait for twenty years before the reform contemplated by Parliament was brought about we should have been very much surprised. The Act of 1918 not only envisaged the raising of the school age to fifteen years, but definitely provided that it should be done. We have had a long time then to wait for that reform, but, for reasons which I am going to state, I make no complaint on that score. During the interval we have had in office Secretaries of State for Scotland of various political complexions, and each of them has found himself, in consequence of the financial stringency of the times and by reason of other complications, prevented from bringing forward the reform to which the noble Lord has just made reference. Although it has been delayed, I do congratulate the Government of to-day upon its courage in taking at this time the step which it was contemplated might have been taken long ago. For myself, I do not propose to look a gift horse in the mouth merely because of the circumstance that the gift is rather tardily made.

The Bill, as my noble friend below me has said, has as its central and pivotal proposal the raising of the school age to fifteen years. I imagine that in no quarter of the House will it be a matter of controversy or dispute that that is an educational advance of no mean value. The objections which are taken, as I understand them, and one of which has already been voiced from the opposite side of the House, are three in number. I should like, if I may, to deal with them. The first, which has found expression from the noble Lord on the Front Bench opposite, is that there will be a delay of three years in bringing into active operation the reform which the Bill contains. One has to remember that, as a matter of common sense, the arrangements that have to be made not only in the way of extension and erection of school buildings in order to accommodate the new class of children to be brought in under this measure, and also the arrangement and adjustment of the educational courses which they are to follow when they are brought in, obviously must take time. And when I am assured, as I am, that the minimum time during which the buildings can be completed and the educational courses arranged for, is three years, I am ready to acquiesce in a delay which prima facie may seem unjustified. There are economic reasons also for the delay, but I will not delay the House by going into them.

The second objection, stated in broad terms, is that the Bill contains exemptions for beneficial employment. The argument against it, in its broadest form as I understand, is that there should be no such exemptions. It seems to me that that contention is difficult to uphold. It seems difficult to maintain that a boy of fourteen to fifteen, who shows no aptitude for educational advance, but a distinct aptitude for industrial employment under well-arranged conditions, should be remitted to the first alternative, and debarred from the second. It seems to me to be not in accordance with practical politics that you should have an unconditional raising of the school age.

The third objection I will deal with in only a few sentences, for it has already been dealt with by my noble friend in moving the Second Reading of the Bill. Are the safeguards which the Bill contains in regard to beneficial employment adequate or not? It seems to me, having read and considered the Bill with some care, that the safeguards are not only an unimpeachable but a watertight code. Will the House observe for a moment what is provided? It is provided that the question of beneficial employment shall be remitted to the local education authority. That is a neutral and well informed body, and a body which by the experience of nearly twenty years has justified the confidence reposed in it for the discharge of discretionary duties. In the second place, the education authority, before it discharges that duty, is enjoined to have regard to the various relevant and important facts which my noble friend below me has enumerated. The education authority must further consult with the medical officer and the juvenile employment committee before reaching a decision. There is, moreover, a network of machinery which has been designed, and effectively designed, I think, to ensure that the employer of a boy exempted from school attendance shall properly play his part in the bargain. It is not too much to say, having regard to these considerations, that the worker, his work, and the employer of his work will be properly supervised and directed.

There is one other exemption to which reference has been made. If the assistance of a boy or girl between fourteen and fifteen should be urgently required at home, and it would be a grievous hardship that that boy or girl should be required to attend school, then exemption from school attendance may be granted. One need only consider the case of a girl whose mother has died, and whose assistance is urgently required at home to look after the domestic life there, or the case of the son of a crofter in the Highlands, whose father is laid up during the busiest time of the year, in order to appreciate not only the reasonableness but the humanity of that exemption.

One other word about Part I of the Bill and I have done. One ought to remember, as my noble friend below me reminded the House, that, if there are new exemptions in the Bill, an old exemption of an important character has been abolished. Under present conditions it is possible for an education authority to exempt for various reasons boys and girls under fourteen from school attendance. All that is swept away by this measure, and in the future no boy or girl under fourteen can under any circumstances, as I understand the Bill, be exempted from school attendance. I venture to think that that marks a stride in advance of great educational value, and for that reason also I welcome this Bill.

Of Part II I will only say this. It appears to me to be largely non-contentious, and if it be the case that one of the views which was borne in mind in introducing Part II was to render more feasible the possibility of consolidating our Scottish Education Acts from 1872 down to date, then again I think that a great advance has been made.

I will only say one word more, and that is that I was amazed to hear the noble Lord opposite refer to Scotland as lagging behind in the matter of educational reform. That, to any Scottish Peer, or to any Scottish commoner, if I may say so, is not only news, but a complete misjudgment of the situation. Scotland, so far as I understand it—and I have had a little to do with its educational history—has always been the pioneer, and still is, of educational reform, and, although it is a small country, nevertheless it is not too much to say—and I hope the noble Lord opposite will not resent it—that the cultural reactions of Scotland have been simply world-wide. Solitude and sacrifice and struggle have been the three ingredients which have built up the sturdy independence of the Scottish scholar, and it is because I am firmly convinced that those traditions are not only continued but will be developed under this Bill that I cordially support it. I do not envy the responsibility of any member of this House who by his speech or by his vote would do anything to thwart or to frustrate the progress of what I regard as a wholly beneficial measure.


My Lords, the noble Lord who has just spoken has so fully amplified the careful survey of the Bill given by the noble Lord who introduced it that there is very little left to say, at any rate very little left for any one who feels, life myself, that this Bill does mark a distinct advance in the educational machinery of Scotland. As the noble Lord who sits on the Front Opposition Bench pointed out, there was given to Scotland the opportunity to raise the school age under the 1918 Act, and I cannot help feeling that Scotland was ready, and is ready, for a Bill which perhaps might be characterised as more courageous and more comprehensive than the present measure. Be that as it may, the Bill does mark an advance, and as the noble Lord, Lord Alness, has pointed out, it would be extremely difficult for local authorities to make arrangements for the raising of the school age in a lesser period than three years. Still I do think that local authorities might have faced the difficulty, might even have welcomed the opportunity of providing those facilities in a measure less hedged round about with these restrictions.

However, in view particularly of the caution given by Lord Alness in his concluding sentence, I do not wish to give the idea that I desire to make any proposal in this House for the amendment of the Bill. The Bill in itself bears the mark of a very careful consideration and scrutiny in another place. It bears the mark of concessions which have been made and adjustments reached, and for that reason I think it would be extremely imprudent for any noble Lord in this House to suggest Amendments. While saying that and while acknowledging, as I do, the advance in educational machinery, I feel bound to give expression to one note of keen disappointment that opportunity was not taken of this measure to get rid of a certain inequality which exists between England and Wales and Scotland in a particular matter of education. The particular matter to which I refer is the granting of medical treatment to those young persons who attend approved courses or instruction centres. Under the Acts at present in operation in England and Wales it is possible to give medical treatment as well as medical inspection to those young people, but under the Acts as they exist in Scotland it is not possible to give medical treatment.

I am fully aware it may be argued that a Bill dealing merely with education, and primarily with the subject of raising the school age, is not a Bill in which should be introduced an Amendment to allow of the granting of medical treatment to persons above school age. But inasmuch as the granting of this benefit to young people in England and Wales is based on an English Education Act, I had hoped—and I believe that the hope was shared by the Minister of Labour—that opportunity might be taken of this Bill to bring in an amendment of the existing practice, to end this inequality, and to give equal treatment to the young people in Scotland with that which is enjoyed by the young people in England and Wales. I have made some preliminary inquiry both of the Scottish Office and of the Ministry of Labour, and I gather that this is a subject which they feel cannot now be introduced in this Bill. But I thought it proper to mention it, and I wish to press upon the Government that it is an important matter and one that ought to be dealt with speedily.


My Lords, I think that after what the noble Earl, Lord Elgin, has just said I ought to offer some reply to your Lordships on the point of the medical services. As to the other matters raised, I think your Lordships will agree with me that this Bill has had a very fair reception. The hostility displayed by the noble Lord who represents the Opposition Front Bench was not of an extremely violent nature, and I think he received an adequate answer from the noble Lord, Lord Alness, on all the points he raised. Lord Elgin has raised this question of medical services, and I wish to point out to him and to other noble Lords that to have put any provision of this sort into an Education Bill would have been quite incorrect. It is really a question of health services, not of education. Perhaps I may inform your Lordships that the Ministry of Labour has recently invited the National Advisory Council for Juvenile Employment to review the operation of the scheme of authorised courses, and he is informed by the Council of the steps taken to develop medical services for unemployed juveniles.


That instruction has been received by the Council for Scotland of which I happen to be Chairman. It has been dealt with by them, and a resolution has been sent to the Minister of Labour.


I was aware that the noble Earl was head of the Scottish Advisory Council, and I thought he would like to have that information given on the floor of this House. As he is aware, the Minister of Labour has recently stated that he would be disposed to take the first convenient opportunity to alter the legal position so as to render possible, in junior instruction centres in Scotland, the provision of medical services of the same nature and extent as those that can now be provided in England and Wales.

On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.