HL Deb 11 November 1947 vol 152 cc569-76

3.39 p.m.

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, before I formally move the Second Reading of this Bill, perhaps your Lordships will be interested if I briefly recall the circumstances in which it is produced at this particular moment. The noble Lord, Lord Llewellin, has speculated this afternoon on the effect which the welcoming attitude of your Lordships this afternoon might have in another place. Whatever effect it has, I hope that the welcoming attitude may be continued towards the Education (Scotland) Bill. The Education (Scotland) Act, 1945, was a long Act which applied to Scotland the agreed educational policy of the National Government, and also prepared the way for the consolidation of the Statutes relating to education in Scotland, the earliest of which was more than a hundred years old. The Bill for this Act had received its Second Reading in another place and had gone into Grand Committee—I believe it occupied one day in Grand Committee—when the decision was taken to end the National Government, and at that time the Secretary of State for Scotland was Mr. Tom Johnston.

The National Government were replaced in a matter of a week or two by what Mr. Churchill called "The Caretaker Government," and the Secretary of State for Scotland was the noble Earl, Lord Rosebery. The Bill had at that time received its Second Reading in another place. About one day had been spent there in Committee on the Bill, and since it was expected that a General Election would take place in two or three weeks the Caretaker Government (if your Lordships will forgive me for using that phrase again) had to come to a decision as to whether this fairly long Bill should be dropped altogether or whether an effort should be made to put it on the Statute Book. As members of all Parties, in both Houses of Parliament, so far as I know, were rather keen that it should be put on the Statute Book before the General Election took place, the Caretaker Government, and I presume the noble Earl, Lord Rosebery, came to the decision that there should be a minimum of discussion and that it would be as well to put the Bill on the Statute Book. So it was hurriedly put through another place, after, as I have said, one day in Grand Committee there. Then it came to your Lordships, and in your Lordships' House the Second Reading debate occupied a matter of half an hour—principally taken up by an exposition by the noble Earl, Lord Rosebery, and a speech by the noble Lord, Lord Saltoun. During the Committee stage in your Lordships' House there was no discussion whatsoever and on the Third Reading, beyond a few words from the noble Lord, Lord Teyiot, and the noble Earl, Lord Rosebery, there was no detailed consideration of the Bill.

These were the circumstances in which the Bill became an Act of Parliament and it cleared the way, amongst other things, for consolidation and a Consolidation Act, the Education (Scotland) Act of 1946, which was passed in the first Session of the present Parliament. Your Lordships will not be surprised to learn that in such circumstances as I have described the inevitable has happened. A long and complex measure such as the Act of 1945, passed without the normal Parliamentary scrutiny and discussion, was almost bound to be imperfect; and to make matters worse, it was not possible to put things right in the Act of the following year, as this was a consolidation measure, which could only re-enact the existing law without making any changes in it. The purpose of the present Bill, therefore, is to remedy the defects which have come to light during the two and a half years of experience which we have had since the passing of the 1945 Act under the conditions which I have briefly describee.

Clause 1 of the Bill deals with the arrangements for bringing into operation the sections of the Act of 1946 relating to compulsory attendance at junior colleges. These colleges are the Scottish counterpart of the county colleges in England. The colleges are for the part-time education of young people between the ages, of fifteen and eighteen. When the Act of 1945 was passed it was hoped and ex- pected that it would be possible both in Scotland and in England for these colleges to be opened and ready by 1950 and to institute compulsory part-time attendance in that year. Unfortunately, it is now clear that this time-table cannot be fulfilled. The English Act is so drafted as to allow some latitude, but the Scottish Act is stricter in its terms. Clause 1 therefore provides for the postponement in Scotland of the date for the institution of compulsory attendance from 1950 to as early a date as the Secretary of State considers practicable. This will enable the Scottish time-table to be brought into line with that in England. I am sure noble Lords will appreciate the importance, if only from an industrial point of view, of instituting compulsory part-time education at the same time on both sides of the Border.

Clause 2 is designed to remedy administrative difficulties which have arisen where a pupil who belongs to the area of one education authority attends an educational establishment in another area. The Act of 1946 makes provision for payments by the one authority to the other towards the cost of the education and services provided for the pupil. Doubts often arise as to the area to which the pupil belongs and therefore as to whether an authority is liable to make a payment. The Bill lays down the test to be applied in deciding these questions. Where the pupil is undergoing primary or secondary education he is to be deemed to belong to the area in which his parent is ordinarily resident. In other cases he is to be deemed to belong to the area where he himself is ordinarily resident. The meaning of "ordinarily resident" has frequently been considered in the Courts and is now well established.

The other point dealt with in the Clause 1s the question of the payment of fees by the parent of a pupil who lives in one education area and attends a primary or secondary school conducted by the education authority of another area. Section 2 of the Act of 1946 enacts that primary and secondary education provided in schools under the management of education authorities is to be without payment of fees but that the authority may, if they think it expedient, charge fees in some or all of the classes in a limited number of primary and secondary schools. We have been advised that, although this section prevents the charging of fees in a free school to the parents of children residing in the education area in which they are educated, it does not prevent the charging of fees to parents of children who live in another education area. Clause 2 is designed to remove this anomaly. The problem dealt with in Clause 3 is similar to that covered by the first part of Clause 2. The purpose of the Clause 1s to prescribe the test to be applied in determining which education authority is to be responsible for the provision of bursaries where a student moves from one education area to another in the course of his education.

Clause 4 deals with an important point in the arrangements for the administration of the educational services by the county councils and the town councils of Aberdeen, Dundee, Edinburgh and Glasgow who are education authorities. From 1872 to 1930 education in Scotland was locally administered by specially elected local authorities. Until 1919 the local authorities responsible were the parish and burgh school boards. From 1919 to 1930 they were county education authorities and education authorities for the four large cities. Under the Local Government (Scotland) Act, 1929, the specially elected education authorities were abolished and their functions were transferred to the county councils and the town councils of the four cities.

Provision was made for each council to prepare and submit for the Secretary of State's approval a scheme for the constitution of a statutory committee to be known as the education committee, and this committee was to include not only members of the council itself but also persons of experience in education and persons acquainted with the needs of the various kinds of schools in the area, including representatives of churches or denominational bodies. The council were also required to prepare and submit for the Secretary of State's approval a scheme of administrative arrangements for discharging their functions relating to education. Except for the purpose of coordinating the educational services with the other services provided by the council, the scheme was to provide that all the functions of the council relating to education, other than the function of raising money by rate or loan, were to stand referred to the education committee, and that before exercising any function the council should receive and consider the report of the committee. Power was also given to delegate to the committee, with or without restrictions or conditions, any of the functions which stood referred to the committee.

By this means it was hoped to combine the advantages of the local administration of all local services by one authority with the advantages of the administration of the educational services by a body having on it persons with special knowledge and experience of, and interest in, education. I regret to say, however, that things did not work out as was expected in many education areas, and there was a distinct tendency to retain more and more functions in the hands of the council itself and to restrict and interfere with the day-today administration of educational affairs by the education committee. Accordingly, one of the most important provisions of the Act of 1945 dealt with the relations between the council and the education committee. The Act required new administrative schemes relating to education to be submitted. These schemes had to provide for the delegation to the education committee of all the functions of the council relating to education, except certain financial functions, including the approval of the education estimates, and certain other functions which were so closely allied to other functions of the council as to make it desirable that the council should retain them in its own hands. The Act of 1945 sought to make clear what was meant by delegation, by providing that where any function was delegated by one body to another, the other body should have power to exercise the function in like manner in all respects as the first-mentioned body could have exercised it had there been no delegation.

Recently, however, the opinion was given in the Court of Session that a common law rule enunciated over fifty years ago in the English courts with regard to the rights of a person who had delegated a power to another person applied to the delegation of powers by the council to the education committee under the Act of 1945, and that although a function had been delegated by the scheme made under the Act, the council could itself at any time and without any amendment of the scheme exercise the delegated function. The result of this opinion is that one of the principal purposes of the Act of 1945 has been frustrated. Clause 4 of the Bill is designed to restore the position to what it was intended to be. The clause provides that until a revised administrative scheme recalling a delegation comes into force, the delegated function shall be discharged by the education committee and not by the council, and that the council shall not be entitled to instruct the committee as to the manner in which the function shall be discharged.

I think it unnecessary to trouble your Lordships with the minor amendments contained in the Schedule to the Bill. The amendments are to correct drafting errors, to fill omissions, to resolve doubts or to remove administrative difficulties which have come to light since the Act of 1945 was passed. It only remains to add that, to the best of my knowledge, the Bill is entirely non-Party, and, I am informed, may be regarded in Scotland as non-contentious—at least, so far as any Scottish legislation can be non-contentious. I beg to move that the Bill be now read a second time.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Lord Morrison.)

3.55 p.m.


My Lords, I entirely agree with the noble Lord, Lord Morrison, that this Bill is absolutely non-contentious, but I would like to point out, very respectfully, that the text of the Bill was available at the Stationery Office in Edinburgh only on Saturday morning, precisely three days ago. Therefore there has been very little time in which to discover whether in fact this Bill may not contain certain defects, as did its predecessor. May I ask the noble Lord to try to convince his colleagues that a little longer time is needed between the publication of these Bills and their being taken in this House? I hope there will be adequate time before the Committee stage of the Bill is taken, so that we may discover whether, in fact, the measure is correct in detail.


My Lords, I am the last person to wish to disturb the harmony for which my noble friend opposite has begged, but there is one point he mentioned which, if I may, I will correct, as the noble Lord has so often rightly corrected me in this House on matters Scottish. The earliest Scottish Educa- tion Bill with which I am acquainted is dated 1496, which is a good deal more than a hundred years ago, and there may even have been earlier Bills. We took the lead in Britain in introducing Education Bills.


My Lords, may I briefly supplement what my noble friend, Lord Polwarth, has said about the inadequacy of the notice given? It is, under present conditions, not always easy for those of us in the North who are interested in a particular Bill or subject such as education—and I myself, having been a member of an education committee for six years, am deeply interested in the subject—to make arrangements to be present here at such short notice. While I think it is rightly said that the present Bill is entirely non-controversial, we would like to be assured that in future some longer notice will be given; otherwise something in a Bill of perhaps considerably greater importance to Scotland may well go through without proper discussion because of lack of adequate notice.


My Lords, before the noble Lord opposite answers these points, may I say that just now I willingly assented to the Committee stage of the Medical Practitioners and Pharamacists Bill (the measure with which we have just dealt) being taken next Tuesday. However, I think that that would be far too short a time for this particular Bill, in view of the circumstances which the noble Lords who have come from Scotland have narrated to us this afternoon.

3.58 p.m.


My Lords, may I deal with the last point first? It is really the only point raised., I understand that the Bill was available on November 5. In the circumstances, however, I am perfectly prepared to join with the noble Lord in seeing whether the next stage of the Bill cannot be deferred beyond next Tuesday, in order that noble Lords who are interested may have an opportunity not only of understanding the Bill clearly but perhaps of seeking advice from other sources upon the difficult points in it. Therefore, so far as I am concerned, I will do my best to see that the arrangement which has been made provisionally to take the Committee stage of the Bill next Tuesday shall not be carried out, but that a later date is fixed. I wish to thank your Lordships for the reception accorded to the Bill.

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