HL Deb 22 January 1976 vol 367 cc656-60

3.52 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.

Moved, that the House do now resolve itself into Committee.—(Lord Crowther-Hunt)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.

[The Earl of Listowel in the Chair.]

Clause 1 agreed to.

Clause 2 [Family allowances and social security]:

On Question, Whether Clause 2 shall stand part of the Bill?


I crave your Lordships' indulgence. I am not yet sufficiently familiar with the Rules of the House to know whether I am in order. Unfortunately, I was unable to be present at the Second Reading debate on this Bill. When that took place, the noble Lord, Lord Hill of Luton, asked a question of the Minister who agreed to answer it when he wound up the debate. Unfortunately, he found himself unable to do so—no doubt, inadvertently—because of the many other questions addressed to him. I do not know whether I am in order but, if I have your Lordships' permission, I wish to comment on the Bill and to repeat the question in the hope that the Minister will be able to answer it.

I am gravely concerned not with what is in the Bill, but with what is not in it. The question which the noble Lord, Lord Hill of Luton, addressed to the noble Lord, Lord Crowther-Hunt, was: why is there not included in this Bill provision for the abolition of the Easter school-leaving date, making one school-leaving date in the year? This is a proposition which, to my certain knowledge, has been pressed on the Government for six years. On four separate occasions I have made representations to successive Secretaries of State. Until that is done, the intention of the 1944 Education Act that children in this country should receive five years of secondary education will not be fulfilled.

I think the noble Lord, Lord Crowther-Hunt, will agree that educational opinion is unanimous in its support of that provision. I understand that the reason for its not being included in the Bill is concerned with the Department of Employment, with industry and commerce and, to some extent, with those concerned with careers guidance who believe that this is not an appropriate time at which to -make such a change. I want to submit to your Lordships that there will never be a more appropriate time, for let us face what we shall be doing. At Easter, we shall be adding 80,000 children to the unemployed in this country; and there are already plenty of unemployed. The idea that that will help those concerned with careers guidance is manifest nonsense. Those concerned with careers guidance should be concerned with getting jobs for those who have already left school and do not have jobs. To add 80,000 to their work, load of those seeking jobs will not help them.

It is reasonable to assume that they could be unemployed for the two months with which I am concerned, at a cost of between £4 million and £5 million in unemployment benefit. The impact on the schools will be that when these 80,000 children leave, the equivalent, in manpower terms, of 2,000 teachers will be paid their salaries for teaching children who are not there, at a cost of another £1 million. I cannot understand why the decision could have been made not to take this opportunity, with the support of the whole body of educational opinion—teachers, local authorities and all those concerned with the education service—to incorporate in this Bill a clause abolishing the Easter leaving date and creating a single school-leaving date.

Your Lordships may ask me with reason: why not move an Amendment to give effect to what I am now putting to the Committee? The answer is simple. I am advised that the two major Parties in this House have already reached agreement that such a clause should not be included in this Bill, and I have never believed in hitting my head against a brick wall. But I profoundly hope that the Government will consider very seriously, if not in this Bill, taking the opportunity at the earliest possible date to achieve the purpose of the 1944 Education Act; that is, creating one school-leaving date and offering our children five years of secondary education.


With the leave of the Committee, may I quickly refer to the point which the noble Lord, Lord Alexander of Potterhill, has raised? If he looks at Hansard for the appropriate date, I think he will find that specifically referred to the point and answered the question of the noble Lord, Lord Hill of Luton. But I will repeat what I said—and I stress the word " repeat "—that, from the educational point of view, we would favour a single leaving date for all and would have regarded the abolition of the Easter date as giving fuller effect to the policy that all young people should have a full course of secondary education.

But other interests have to be taken into account, and the proposal to drop the Easter leaving date attracted heavy criticism from certain employment and training interests who felt strongly that better use could be made of careers guidance, job placement and induction training facilities if school-leaving dates were staggered, and that there were advantages to be gained by giving a head start in employment terms to the unqualified Easter leaver before he faces competition from the main group of qualified summer leavers. Therefore, we recognise that there is room for a different view on the question of the Easter leaving date. As I hope I explained to your Lordships, the Bill does not seek to resolve any conflict of interests; it deals only with the important and more urgent problem of the summer leaving date, and therefore the Easter leaving date will remain for the present at least.

Clause 2 agreed to.

Clause 3 agreed to.

In the Schedule [Repeals]:

3.59 p.m.

Lord CROWTHER-HUNT moved the following Amendment:

Page 3, column 3, leave out lines 39 to 42 and insert— In Schedule 5 the repeal in the Education Act 1962, the repeal of section 2(1) and (2) of the Family Allowances and National Insurance Act 1967 and the repeal of the definition of "School-leaving age "in Schedule 20 to the Social Security Act 1975.

The noble Lord said: This is a purely technical and drafting Amendment. It has its origins in the fact that the Child Benefit Act 1975 repeals certain other enactments as from the date when child benefit replaces family allowances in 1977. The Bill now before your Lordships' House itself repeals three of those enactments as from the date when it gets the Royal Assent, and thus the references to them in the Child Benefit Act will no longer be required. The Schedule to the Bill which is now before your Lordships' Committee repeals the reference to one of these three enactments and this Amendment adds the other two. I beg to move.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Schedule, as amended, agreed to.

House resumed: Bill reported with an Amendment.