HL Deb 21 July 1936 vol 102 cc102-6

Order of the Day for the House to be put into Committee read.

Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.—(Lord Strathcona and Mount Royal.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly:

[The EARL OF ONSLOW in the Chair.]

Clauses 1 to 3 agreed to

Clause 4:

Limitation of power of exemption under Act of1901.

4.—(1) Notwithstanding anything in the Act of 1901, an education authority shall not, after the thirty-first day of August, nineteen hundred and thirty-nine, grant under that Act exemption to any child from the obligation to attend school unless the exemption is granted for the purpose of enabling the child to give assistance at home and the authority are satisfied that by reason of any circumstancess existing at his home it would cause exceptional hardship to require the child to attend school.

LORD SANDERSON moved, in subsection (1), to substitute "nineteen hundred and thirty-six "for" nineteen hundred and thirty nine". The noble Lord said: The object of this Amendment is to bring the law in the case of Scotland with regard to exemptions for home work into line with the English law as it is at the moment and as it will be until the Bill which your Lordships recently passed comes into force in 1939. Under Scottish law at present children can be legally exempted if they are over the age of twelve, not merely for home work, but for other kinds of work, including, especially, agriculture. They can be exempted temporarily or permanently. Under English law as it stands until 1939, as your Lordships know, no children can be legally exempted for home work under the ago of fourteen. Although they are exempted if over the age of thirteen now by custom, that is only in special cases with the consent of the local authorities. If this Amendment is passed, as I hope it will be, Scottish children will be in the same position from September, 1936, to September, 1939, as English children will be during that period.

The Scottish law was not brought into line with English law in 1918 and I think it is high time it was brought into line. Why should we go on allowing children in Scotland to be exempted for employment in agriculture if they are over the age of twelve? This Amendment was considered when the Bill was in Committee in another place, and the only objection raised by the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland was that there was no demand for this change on the part of the education authorities in Scotland. That may be so, but I do not think that is really the point. The point is, would there be any objection to it on the part of education authorities in Scotland? I think there would not, because the number of exemptions is small. Only 2,639 children between the ages of twelve and fourteen were exempted last year, and of those only 1,105 were exempted permanently. Therefore it is not a very serious matter from that standpoint. I do not think the question of accommodation realiy comes in, because there must be accommodation for all children in the schools, as nobody knows how many are going to be exempted, or even whether any children will be exempted.

There is another very important point which did not come before the Committee in another place which makes the Amendment more important even than I have shown it to be. There is an International Convention on the employment of children in agriculture fixing the minimum age for the employment of children. That Convention of 1921 lays down that children under the age of fourteen shall not be employed except out of school hours. It has been signed by nineteen countries, but not by Great Britain, and I understand the reason why Great Britain has not signed the Convention is the fact that under Scottish education law children can be exempted. It seems to me that the time has come when we ought to ratify that Convention and not let a small point like this stand in the way. We have ratified the Convention of 1919 fixing the minimum age for children in industry and also the Convention fixing the minimum age for children employed in the Mercantile Marine service. Why should we not go on and sign this 1921 Convention fixing the minimum age in agriculture? I do not think we ought to be prevented from ratifying this Convention merely because of an anomaly in Scottish education law. The Amendment would be good educationally, it would be beneficial to the children, it would hurt nobody, and it would enable us to ratify the Convention of 1921. I therefore very much hope that the Government will accept it.

Amendment moved— Page 5, line 11, leave out ("thirty-nine") and insert ("thirty-six").—(Lord Sanderson.)


I am not quite clear why the noble Lord has raised this point of exemption. I think he must have overlooked the fact that under the Bill all exemptions will be swept away and no exemptions under fourteen for any cause whatsoever will be allowed. The real reason for fixing the date at September, 1939, and not, as the noble Lord proposes, 1936, is that of the question of accommodation to which the noble Lord referred.

I think there are three very good reasons for keeping that date fixed at 1939. First of all it is necessary to give sufficient time for the building of the new schools and additional accommodation for the necessary practical work at existing schools. Those will be required when the age is raised, and perhaps your Lordships may not be aware of the fact that we have to allow two and a half years as the shortest time in which you can get the plans prepared for a new school and the building erected. Then we have to allow sufficient time also for the preparation of the teachers, and for suitable courses of instruction on modern lines for the new age block which is coming in under this Bill. The Advisory Council of the Department has been asked to report on the position of technical education in the day school system, and I think that your Lordships will agree that we ought to await this report.

Then there is the further point of the teachers themselves. We have to allow time for the training of additional teachers, more especially in the teaching of practical subjects and of physical training. These subjects will be of still greater importance when the school age is raised, and at the moment there is a definite shortage of teachers of physical training, while the number of teachers of practical subjects available is just about adequate for the existing age requirements. On the question which the noble Lord raised as to the Geneva Convention, I understand that the local authorities are very anxious to keep themselves as they are until this new Bill is in operation, so as to avoid various contingencies such as those I have suggested. I hope, therefore, that the noble Lord will not press his Amendment.


I am much obliged to the noble Lord for what he has said about my Amendment, but I am afraid I am not at all satisfied. I know there will be no exemptions under fourteen when the new Bill comes into force, but the point is that until then, for the next three years, children cannot be legally exempted under fourteen in England and in Scotland they can. I want the two things brought into line, and I cannot see any real difficulty about it. On the question of accommodation, I cannot understand how it can be necessary to engage a large number of new teachers and build new schools to accommodate 2,500 children who, for all the authorities know, might all be in the schools next year and might not want exemption. The schools must be arranged to allow for all the children who might be in them. Surely if there are to be 2,500 children always exempted, it must be easy to supply schools over the whole of Scotland to accommodate that small number. I do not know whether the noble Lord will consider this Amendment and possibly agree to a compromise—make this clause apply only in 1937, say, instead of 1936, which would allow more time. If he would agree to something like that I might be willing to bring the matter up on Report, but otherwise I should be obliged to take it to a Division.


I am afraid I cannot adopt the noble Lord's suggestion, because it would be very awkward for us in Scotland. Perhaps I may inform the noble Lord that all the education authorities in Scotland have been consulted on this question of date, and nearly all have agreed on the 1939 period. One or two authorities have asked for 1938, but the general consensus of opinion is in favour of 1939.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 4 agreed to.

Remaining clauses agreed to.

Schedule agreed to.

Bill reported without amendment.