HL Deb 10 February 1949 vol 160 cc687-95

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.

2.35 p.m.


My Lords, your Lordships will recollect that a Bill similar to the present Bill passed your Lordships' House and was sent to another place during the 1947–48 Session of Parliament. May I remind your Lordships of the course of legislation relating to education in Scotland since the war, and also of the circumstances in which last year's Bill was introduced, and of the course which it took in this House and in another place? The first Act was the Education (Scotland) Act, 1945, a long Act which applied to Scotland the general educational policy of the Coalition Government and prepared the way for consolidation of all the Scottish Education Acts. The Bill for that Act had received its Second Reading in another place, and was in the Scottish Grand Committee when the decision was taken to end the Coalition Government. That Government was replaced by what Mr. Churchill called "the Caretaker Government," in which the noble Earl, Lord Rosebery, was Secretary of State for Scotland. When that happened, one day had been spent on the Bill in the Scottish Grand Committee and, since it was expected that a General Election would take place in a few weeks, the Caretaker Government had to come to a decision as to whether the Bill should be dropped altogether or an effort should be made to put it on the Statute Book. As there was a widespread desire in all Parties that the Bill should be put on the Statute Book before the General Election took place, an agreement was come to, and the Bill was passed with the minimum of discussion.

Those were the circumstances in which the Bill became an Act of Parliament. It cleared the way, among other things, for consolidation, and a Consolidation Act, the Education (Scotland) Act, 1946, was passed in the first Session of the present Parliament. As I explained to your Lordships, 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, of course, it was not possible to put things right in the consolidation measure of the following year, which could only re-enact the existing law without making changes in it. The purpose of last year's Bill, therefore, was to remedy the defects which had come to light during the two and a half years of experience which we had had since the passing of the 1945 Act.

When last year's Bill was introduced, it was thought that it would prove to be non-controversial, and it was not until the Committee and Report stages were reached in your Lordships' House that it was realised that one of the clauses, which dealt with the delegation of functions by the education authority to the education committee, was controversial. Some of your Lordships may remember that at the Report stage the noble Earl, Lord Elgin, moved that that clause should be left out of the Bill. At that time, I reminded your Lordships that the Bill had originated in this House, and that it had still to go through all its stages and discussions in Committee in another place. I also informed your Lordships that negotiations were proceeding between the education authorities and the Secretary of State, and in the circumstances the noble Earl, Lord Elgin, with your Lordships' permission, withdrew his Amendment. The negotiations to which I have referred proved abortive, and after careful consideration of all the circumstances the Government decided not to proceed further with last year's Bill.

We are, therefore, in this position: that a further year's experience of the working of the provisions of the Education (Scotland) Act, 1945, now incorporated in the Consolidation Act of 1946, has been obtained, and the reasons which made the introduction of last year's Bill necessary apply with even greater force to the present Bill. When your Lordships have examined the present Bill, I think you will agree that it is an improvement upon last year's Bill. The controversial clause has been omitted, and a number of changes have been made in order to meet further difficulties which have come to light during the past year.

Clause 1 of the Bill is in the same terms as Clause 1 of last year's Bill. The clause postpones the date for commencing compulsory attendance at junior colleges from April 1, 1950, to a day to be appointed by the Secretary of State, being as early a day as he considers practicable. I am sure that your Lordships will regret the necessity for this postponement. The fact, however, is that the building situation is such that it would be quite impossible to provide the necessary accommodation in junior colleges by April 1, 1950, for all young people between the ages of fifteen and eighteen. This does not, however, mean that nothing is being done. The Government are anxious to institute compulsory part-time education for young people at the earliest possible date. The Secretary of State has made an Order bringing into operation those sections of the Education (Scotland) Act, 1946, which enable education authorities to plan the provision of junior colleges, to acquire and earmark sites and to erect buildings, and in a circular issued in September of last year he called upon all education authorities to submit by the end of 1949 for his approval comprehensive schemes for the provision of further education throughout their areas. These schemes will include the authorities' plans for junior colleges. In the meantime, the Secretary of State is doing all that he can to promote the voluntary day release of young workers for the kind of education that will eventually be given in junior colleges. Much valuable experience is being gained in this new educational venture which will be of great use when it is possible to bring all young people between the ages of fifteen and eighteen into part-time education in junior colleges.

Clause 2 amends Section 24 of the Act of 1946 which prescribes the rules to be applied in determining which of two education authorities is liable to pay for the education of a pupil who has connections with both areas. The clause enables the Secretary of State to make regulations determining which authority must pay for the primary and secondary education of particular classes of pupils. The case about which difficulty has arisen is that of children who are boarded out by local authorities in country areas. The present law is that the country area has to pay for the education of these children without any contribution from the local authority which boarded them out. The country authorities concerned feel a sense of grievance, and think that the local authority who boarded the children out should be liable. The point has been put to the local authority associations. The country authorities have the support of the County Councils' Association, but the Association of Counties of Cities feel that it would be premature to make them liable until the effects of the new financial arrangements under the Local Government Act, 1948, can be better appreciated. The clause has been devised in its present form in order that the matter may be considered in more detail before a definite decision is reached. In the case of children to whom the regulations do not apply, the authority of the area where the parent has his ordinary residence will be liable to pay for primary and secondary education. The authority of the area where the pupil himself is ordinarily resident will be liable to pay for further education.

Clause 3 amends the arrangements in Section 33 of the Act of 1946 as to dates for commencing and terminating attendance at school. For commencing school attendance there are to be at least two fixed dates. When the fifth birthday falls on a fixed date, the child will begin to attend school upon that date, and in other cases he will begin to attend on the fixed date next following his fifth birthday. For terminating school attendance there will be at least three fixed dates. The effect of the clause will be that if a pupil's fifteenth birthday falls on a fixed date he can leave school on that date. If it falls in the holidays he need not go back to school after the holidays. In other cases he has to stay at school until the next fixed date or the beginning of the next holidays, whichever comes first.

These arrangements have been devised to fit in with the new arrangements for insurance and the commencement of employment. Under the National Insurance Act, 1946, a young person cannot be insured until his parent has ceased to be under obligation to provide efficient education for him. Unless he is insured, employers will not take him into their employment. At present, parents do not cease to be under obligation to provide efficient education until the fixed date next following the child's fifteenth birthday. The result often is that the child has to do nothing during the whole of the summer holidays, although a job is waiting for him: he wants to take up the employment, his parents want him to do so, and the employer is anxious to get him. The new clause will put this matter right.

Clause 4 extends Section 43 of the Act of 1946, which prescribes the rules for determining which of two education authorities shall be responsible for providing a bursary for a person who has connections with both areas. For school bursaries the education authority of the area where the parent has his ordinary residence will be responsible. For further education bursaries, the authority of the area where the pupil has his ordinary residence will usually be responsible. Two exceptional cases are provided for. Where a student moves into an education area wholly or mainly for the purpose of attending a university or a central institution, or another establishment of that kind, the authority of the area from which he came will continue to be responsible for his bursary. The other exceptional case is where a pupil moves from an education area into another area while he is holding a bursary. The education authority which awarded the bursary is to continue to be responsible for paying the bursary until the end of the period for which it was awarded. Under the present bursary regulations, this means until the end of the current session.

The Schedule contains many minor amendments of the Act of 1946, and of other enactments. These amendments are designed to effect improvements, the desirability of which has come to light since the Act of 1945 was passed. I do not think it necessary to trouble your Lordships with a detailed explanation of these amendments at the present stage, but if any of your Lordships desires an explanation of any amendment, I shall be glad to give it when we are considering the Bill in Committee. In view of the experience I had with last year's Bill, I hesitate to say that the present Bill is non-controversial. I should mention, however, that the Bill on this occasion has passed through all its stages in another place without a Division. I am satisfied that it is a useful and important Bill, and that it will help to make the administration of education in Scotland smoother and easier than it is at present. I therefore commend it to your Lordships, and beg to move that it be now read a second time.

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

2.59 p.m.


My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Morrison, has described this as a useful and important Bill. It certainly has an important name—Education (Scotland) Bill. But I think he may feel that he ought to be attired in a white sheet to-day, for seldom in the annals of this House has any Bill bearing the name Education (Scotland) Bill showed so little promise. What in fact does this Bill do? Frankly, its main purpose, in Clause 1, is to postpone for an indefinite period the progressive educational development conceived by a Coalition Government and placed on the Statute Book by a Conservative Government. For what reason?—because the present Government are unready for this reform. But having made that statement, I would now ask your Lordships to appreciate the difficulties with which the Secretary of State is faced.

If we admit those difficulties, we shall agree that, in fact, it is an honest thing to come before Parliament and to ask for postponement, which is the main object of this Bill. But it is with regret that we concede it. The noble Lord, Lord Morrison, mentioned that the Bill passed through all its stages in another place without a Division being taken. I think he would hardly claim that the measure had an enthusiastic reception. It swam in very tepid waters. It is clear that the junior colleges cannot be established by April 1, 1950, unless priority is given to this project over all others, including the housing of the people and, in the field of education, the essential provision for primary and secondary schools. So the Secretary of State was faced with the choice of placing a higher priority on the provision of these colleges or of bringing such a measure before Parliament to postpone the date.

I think your Lordships will agree that it was necessary for him to bring forward this Bill. But having admitted that, I would say that I feel somewhat unhappy, as I think may many other noble Lords, that the postponement should be indefinite. It leaves matters very much in the air. Would it not be better to fix a date for the establishment of junior colleges? That is for consideration. I hesitate to suggest the date, because I am not in possession of all the facts regarding the difficulties with which the Secretary of State is faced. But would not a statutory time act as a stimulus, if such is wanted, to the Scottish Education Department? As the matter is left at present, it is to be "as early a date as the Secretary of State considers practicable."

The noble Lord, Lord Morrison, may say that that gives the opportunity to bring it in earlier than by the provision of a target date. This is a matter of opinion. No doubt, the Secretary of State would genuinely wish to make this provision as early as possible. But human nature is frail and at times Departments are, perhaps, even frailer. I, therefore, put it to the noble Lord for consideration whether at a later stage it might be well to develop that suggestion. Is it advisable to let the Bill pass in its present form, leaving the matter undetermined? There was some talk during the Committee stage in another place of the desirability of giving priority to raising the school age to sixteen as an alternative to the early provision of the junior colleges. I express a personal view only when I say that to raise the school age to sixteen would confront local authorities with an even more difficult problem than that of proceeding with the junior colleges. I think it wiser, therefore, to do as the Bill has done—that is, to con centrate on the provision as early as possible of the junior colleges.

I have little to say on the other clauses of the Bill. I think that in the main they contain many desirable provisions—regarding boarded-out children, for example, and also steps to prevent the inconvenience suffered through the accident of the date of children's birthdays. Both these provisions are helpful. I notice among minor amendments to the principal Act made by the Schedule that Clause 20 enables the Secretary of State to make regulations varying the standard of building regulations. I agree that this may be necessary in certain cases, but I hope that the power will be used sparingly, and only when necessity really calls for it.

This Education (Scotland) Bill, however, does little for education in Scotland, and it comes at a time when many with experience are professing themselves concerned that education in Scotland is losing its pride of place. I have heard it said that it is even dropping behind England! That it had pride of place of world-wide renown is well known. I recollect that during my time in India, when I mentioned that at one time I was the Minister responsible for education in Scotland it greatly raised by prestige in educational circles there, and my scholastic attainments were not too closely inquired into. That pride of place, as I say, undoubtedly has world-wide renown, but there are to-day disquieting features. One of them is disclosed in the Report of the Education Department for 1947, which states: At the primary stage proficiency in written composition, in arithmetic and in power to comprehend what is read is not yet up to prewar standards. That is an observation which causes us some misgiving, and one which we hope can speedily be followed by a more hopeful report. We are marching on, and we hope that we shall soon have better news from the Minister. I agree that this very observation in the Report emphasises the desirability of concentrating on the essential provision of the facilities for primary education—a point made by the noble Lord in moving the Second Reading.

Turning again to the question of day release education, it is gratifying to note that there is an improvement in some districts, and I hope that that improvement will extend. There is a serious gap now between the school leaving age and the age of employment, and it is a cause for anxiety that so few, comparatively, of the young people of that age are attending any night school. I believe it is estimated that the proportion is only about 25 per cent. That is to say that about 75 per cent. of the young people in that age group are not in touch with any school during that period. Again, I make only a personal suggestion and although it may seem to some of your Lordships to be somewhat revolutionary, I think it may find some support. It is that attendance at one night school a week might be made compulsory. It might well be considered, I suggest, whether it is possible to make some measure of attendance at night school compulsory.

We direct our young men into the Army for training, and we direct people into industry. Would it not be administratively possible, and would it not be an educationally sound idea, to direct young people into night school? Your Lordships may say that this is not in the Bill, but my complaint is that the Bill contains so little which is really for the advancement of Scottish education. The point is one which I can hardly expect the noble Lord to answer across the Table to-day as having been fully considered, but none the less, I hope that it will be considered. Your Lordships will observe that this Bill is an improvement on the 1947 Bill, because it does not contain the contentious clause which caused that Bill to be dropped. With these observations, I would advise my noble friends on this side of the House to give a Second Reading to this rather melancholy though necessary little measure.


My Lords, may I, as a member of an education committee in Scotland, extend a welcome to the Bill from the administrative point of view. It removes some absurd difficulties in administration, and, therefore, I think we ought to welcome it.

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