HL Deb 02 March 1976 vol 368 cc970-89

6.10 p.m.


My Lords, I beg, to move that this Bill be now read a second time. The Bill which it is my duty and pleasure to introduce to your Lordships today is not a very long nor, I would hope, a controversial one. The contents are rather a mixed bag, since the Government have naturally seized the opportunity to make a number of amendments to the Education (Scotland) Acts which seem to us for one reason or another to be desirable. We are the more anxious to make these amendments now because a consolidation of the Scottish Education Acts is in prospect. The initial, and longest, clauses are those bearing on school commencement and school-leaving dates. There has, as your Lordships will probably be aware, been a good deal of interest recently in the question as to whether children should be compelled to stay on at school against their will, as some unhappily are towards the end of their school career. It was in the light of this very difficult question that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Scotland decided to carry out a comprehensive review last year of the fixed school-leaving dates system. The provisions dealing with leaving dates are the fruit of that review. The provisions dealing with commencement dates are however much more of a rationalisation of existing arrangements, as I shall now proceed to explain in greater detail.

The first two clauses of the Bill concern school commencement and school leaving dates. At present the dates on which children start and leave school are both fixed by the education authority, subject to the approval of my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Scotland. The proposal in the Bill is that school-leaving arrangements should be determined on a national, as opposed to a regional, basis, while commencement dates are to continue to be decided locally. This necessitates dividing the present provisions into two separate sections of the Education (Scotland) Act 1962 (the main Statute governing educational matters in Scotland). Clause 1 of the Bill substitutes a revised Section 33 dealing only with school commencement; Clause 2 contains a new section 33A setting out the proposed revision of school-leaving arrangements.

Clause 1 basically rewrites the existing school commencement provisions. We have, however, taken the opportunity to clarify and simplify the drafting where possible. There is little new in subsections (1) to (3). These simply re-enact the present provisions under which the education authority submit, for the Secretary of State's approval, proposals for one or more school commencement dates for their area. It is possible for different dates to be fixed for different schools—perhaps to take account of different transport arrangements in rural and urban areas, or to allow for local or religious holidays and the differences which can flow therefrom. In the event of disagreement, the Secretary of State is empowered, after due consultation, to direct the authority to fix a date or dates other than proposed by the education authority. The only new feature is that the wording now recognises that the commencement dates may not be fixed calendar dates (for example 1st September or 1st April) but may be slightly variable each year; the most common practice is for authorities to propose as their date or dates the first day of a particular school term or terms. Subsection (3) preserves the position that a child does not become of statutory school age until the commencement date following or coinciding with his fifth birthday. At that point the duty on the parent to see that his child is educated begins, and the education authority is required to admit the child to primary school, if the parent has not made other arrangements for the child's education.

My Lords, I should explain that in Scotland the position is that an education authority, in operating a commencement date, determines an age range of children who will be admitted to school on that date. Precise arrangements vary widely, depending on whether the authority are operating one, two or three commencement dates a year,but the commonest practice is for places to be offered on a commencement date both to children who will become of statutory school age on that date and to those who will be five within a specified period after it. For example, where the commencement dates are the first day after the summer and Easter holidays, children who reach the age of five between 1st July and 31st December may start school in August and those who reach the age of five between 1st January and 30th June may start in April. Where a single commencement date in August is operated—and this is becoming increasingly popular among the new regional and islands education authorities—we expect children whose fifth birthdays fall any time up to the end of the following February to be admitted to school at the beginning of the session.

The new subsections (4) to (6) recognise in Statute this practice of determining age ranges on intake. What we propose is that in future any education authority wishing to fix a commencement date will submit in addition, for the approval of the Secretary of State, proposals for a latest date by which children would have to attain five in order to qualify for admission to primary school on that commencement date. This is basically what happens already, particularly in relation to a single annual commencement date. Successive Secretaries of State for Scotland have indicated that approval of a single commencement date would only be granted if it did not raise significantly the top age limit of pupils entering the first year of primary education. In the past authorities who wished to operate a single commencement date have therefore been asked to give voluntary undertakings as to the age range of infants who would be admitted to school on that commencement date. Under the new provisions, instead of resting on a voluntary undertaking, the age range of the intake will be approved statutorily in the same way as the commencement date itself.

Our aim is of course to continue to reach agreement with authorities on commencement arrangements which are both appropriate to the particular circumstances of their areas and acceptable on educational merits to the Secretary of State. But if, unhappily, there was a failure to reach initial agreement or to continue to operate arrangements once agreed, the approved age ranges as well as the commencement dates themselves would in future be legally enforceable. At present if an education authority has received approval to a single commencement date, and subsequently fails to admit at that date the agreed age range, with the result that the entry of some children into primary education is delayed until they are, in the Secretary of State's view, rather too old, the Secretary of State's only sanction is to require the authority to return to several commencement dates a year. This seems to be a somewhat negative way of proceeding.

My right honourable friend the Secretary of State takes the view, however, that as commencement dates, in the same way as school-leaving dates, effectively determine the length of a child's compulsory school education it is reasonable that there should continue to be an ultimate national control by the Secretary of State. And if the commencement dates are to continue to be subject to his approval, then it is logical that an authority's proposals for the age range of children to be admitted at each date should also be subject to approval, since the age range is as essential a part of the commencement arrangements as the commencement dates themselves. I should perhaps stress that there is nothing in the new provisions which lays down what the age range must be. It will still be up to each education authority to decide, in the light of local circumstances, what commencement dates and age ranges they wish to propose.

One final point on Clause 1: as I have already said, the point at which a child becomes of statutory school age is not altered. The position remains that a parent's duty to see that his child is educated does not begin until the commencement date after the child's fifth birthday. The age range approved by the Secretary of State will usually provide for the authority to offer a place in primary school to children under school age at each commencement date, but the parent does not have to accept that place.

I turn now to Clause 2 of the Bill, which deals with the upper limit of compulsory school education. The new Section 33A of the 1962 Act, set out in Clause 2, reflects the outcome of a comprehensive review of the fixed school-leaving dates system undertaken in 1975. The review was initiated by the Secretary of State in view of the large number of representations about the present school-leaving date system which he had received following the raising of the school-leaving age in 1972.

Those who responded to the invitation to submit their views on what changes, if any, were required in present leaving arrangements, were virtually unanimous that the present system was unsatisfactory. They proposed a variety of alternatives, all of which were carefully considered before the present proposals were formulated. The most common suggestion put forward during the review was that pupils should be allowed to leave school on reaching their 16th birthday. We have, however, rejected this as being potentially too disruptive for schools and pupils. I venture to suggest that those advocating sporadic leaving were merely grasping at the most obvious expedient to rid the school of some unwilling pupils and that the potentially damaging effects had not been fully considered. One can imagine the difficulties for a teacher trying to organise a coherent course for pupils in the 15 to 16 age group if pupils were disappearing individually throughout the year. At least as important was the consideration that sporadic leaving could well diminish the likelihood of pupils entering further education or jobs with planned training, both of which are geared to intakes at specific times of the year.

Another suggestion which was considered was linking school leaving to the completion of a specific stage of secondary education; in Scotland this would logically have been the fourth year of secondary education, the shorthand for which is S4 (corresponding to the fifth year in England and Wales). However, the age at which pupils complete S4 varies widely. Some pupils make exceptionally rapid progress and complete the stage at an age which we would think unacceptably early to leave school. Others are, for one reason or another, delayed in their school career and might not complete S4 until they were 17 or older. Any attempt to combine upper and lower age limits with some sort of link with the completion of S4 would produce a very complicated provision indeed.

In contrast, the proposals set out in Clause 2 have, we hope, the advantage of being readily understood. In essence, children whose 16th birthdays fall between 1st March and 30th September will be able to leave school on 31st May, at ages ranging from 15 years 8 months to 16 years 3 months. Children whose 16th birthdays fall between 1st October and the end of February will be able to leave at the beginning of their school's Christmas holidays, at ages ranging from 15 years 10 months to 16 years 3 months.

The main change in comparison with the present system is the introduction of nationally, as opposed to regionally, determined leaving dates. The regional variations in leaving arrangements, which have in the past resulted in a child becoming entitled to leave school up to six months earlier than his exact contemporary in another education authority area, will thus be largely avoided. Minor variations will still be possible at Christmas, depending on term dates, but these will be a matter of days rather than months.

The other main features of the proposals are the advancement of the summer leaving date to 31st May and the earlier leaving entitlement of children whose 16th birthdays fall between the beginning of the autumn term in August and 30th September, and between the beginning of the spring term and the end of February. These arrangements will allow the summer school-leavers to go as soon as the examination period is over, leaving schools free to begin work with those intending to stay on at school for a further period. The main advantage of the extended age range of those eligible to leave in the summer is that it will give all those with birthdays up to 30th September the opportunity of entering autumn apprenticeships or other employment with structured training, or further education courses. This will help to remove some of the resentment felt by children with autumn birthdays, who previously have been compelled to stay on at school for one term of S5 after most of their contemporaries have left in the summer.

I turn now to Clause 3. This short clause repeals part of Section 2 of the Education (Milk) Act 1971. The point here is that Section 2 of the Milk Act lays an obligation on education authorities to recover the full cost of providing milk in schools except in the case of certain categories of pupils, for whom it must be provided free. These categories are pupils up to the end of the school year in which they reach the age of 7; pupils in special schools, that is to say schools for handicapped children; and pupils holding a medical certificate stating that their health requires them to be provided with milk at school. Under the Milk Act as it stands at present the expense of providing any milk for pupils not in these categories must be defrayed either by the pupils or their parents.

This means that milk costs more in schools than it does in shops or delivered to the front door, because the education authority must charge not merely the retail price but in addition a factor representing the cost of supplying the milk. We have lately received a report by a Working Party on catering in Scottish schools which recommends that milk should be sold at a subsidised price. We accept that recommendation and, in accordance with my Party's Election Manifesto, we now propose to repeal this very restrictive requirement in the Milk Act.

The repeal in itself leaves open the question of what arrangements should be put in place of the present ones. We have already consulted the Scottish local authorities in general terms. They have indicated that they desire to be given discretion to subsidise the price of milk and it is intended to provide for that in new regulations, the making of which will, of course, be preceded by consultations with the local authorities as to the precise extent and nature of the discretion they wish to have over charging. We shall be initiating discussions with the Scottish local authorities in due course. I have now covered, I think, the main provisions of the Bill. The rest are of a relatively minor character, and I do not propose to detain your Lordships much longer in describing them.

Clause 4 is no more than an adjustment of machinery. The bodies mentioned in it—independent schools tribunals—have in fact never had to be constituted in Scotland. A tribunal would be called into existence only if the Secretary of State had served a notice of complaint on an independent school and the school had appealed against it. Fortunately, a situation of that sort has never arisen so far and one hopes that it never will arise. It is better if control over schools can be exercised by negotiation and guidance, and so far that is what has happened.

It is necessary, nevertheless, to keep in existence the machinery for setting up a tribunal, including provision for the remuneration of the members who would serve on it. This requires regular up-dating of statutory instruments made by the Lord President of the Court of Session with the concurrence of the Secretary of State. This procedure consumes time and energy in many quarters which could be better saved or spent in other ways. Clause 4, therefore, does away with the need for statutory instruments by substituting an administrative power to pay allowances. The intention is that the allowances that would be paid would be in line with normal Civil Service rates, as is already the case with a very large number of other tribunals.

Clause 5 is designed to simplify the task of modernising the wording of educational endowment schemes. The Secretary of State has power under Part VI of the Education (Scotland) Act 1962 to prepare schemes for educational endowments for such purposes as up-dating obsolete provisions and amalgamating the funds of smaller endowments for more economical administrations. Legislation passed in recent years has made some of the terms used in certain endowment schemes obsolete or inappropriate, but nothing has been done to effect the necessary consequential changes in the schemes themselves. The purpose of this clause is simply to effect these consequential changes. The alternative method of proceeding would be for the Secretary of State to prepare a separate amending scheme in every case in which one of the obsolete terms occurs. This would be a substantial administrative task and a very cumbersome way in which to carry out these small formal changes. There is nothing in Clauses 6 and 7 on which I need remark, except perhaps to point out that subsection (2) of Clause 7 gives the Secretary of State considerable flexibility in the way in which he brings this Bill into operation. The Royal Assent will bring into force only the power to make the necessary orders, which themselves will bring the various provisions into operation. Nor need I dwell at length upon the Schedules. Schedule 1 contains a number of minor and consequential amendments all necessary or valuable in themselves, but about which I do not think it necessary to weary your Lordships by going through them one by one. This is a small but, in its own way, important Bill and I commend it to your Lordships. My Lords, I beg to move that it he now read a second time.

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

6.31 p.m.


My Lords, we are grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Kirkhill, for introducing and describing this Bill which seeks to make certain miscellaneous changes in existing legislation. He described it as a mixed bag, and I should just like to make some comments and ask some questions. First, on Clause 1, it appears to be the intention of the Government to rationalise and co-ordinate children's starting dates at primary schools, so here we are considering the fives and under-fives. I am aware that in various areas of Scotland there has been anguish among parents, because their small children's birthday dates have been just before or just after some key date, which meant either that they had to go to school or could not go to school at a certain time, against the parents' wishes. So that, in principle, subsection (4), in producing a standard leeway period to be agreed beforehand, with the option that the parent does not necessarily have to take up an offer until the child is aged five, seems to be a way of trying to improve the situation, and I am grateful to the noble Lord for the time and trouble he took in explaining this aspect. But it appears that after agreement has been reached, or even if agreement has not been reached, between the Secretary of State and the local authority concerned, a leeway period can then be legally enforceable and the local authority will in future have to operate under Statute a system of offering places to pupils whose birthdays fall within a certain period.

I turn now to subsection (2). While the Government were about it, I wonder why they did not decide to standardise commencement dates more uniformly. Still it seems that one authority may fix different school commencement dates for primary schools in its own area. That is the situation in Scotland today. But is it necessary to continue it? So I would ask the noble Lord—if not in reply to this debate, at a later stage—whether he can say why further standardisation could not have been achieved at this stage.

On Clause 2 and the school-leaving age, as the noble Lord has explained, the Bill appears to go for a national rather than a regional system. That would certainly remove anomalies that now exist in the treatment of children of the same age, as regards leaving or staying on compulsorily, when one child is compelled to stay on at school while another, in exactly the same situation but in a different area, is leaving. There is also advantage in arranging for the same leaving date at the end of May, because it means that they go directly after the examination period. We have been expecting adjustments and, clearly, this Bill is the vehicle to carry them out. After the raising of the school leaving age three or four years ago, we indicated when we were in Government that we thought it best to see how the system worked out, and then consult those concerned and bring forward adjustments. So we feel sure that what the Government are now doing is the right way to proceed, and we shall at later stages examine the details to see whether there are any improvements to be made in the system which they are proposing.

I understand that the Education Institute of Scotland, which is the largest teachers' association in Scotland, would still prefer pupils to leave on their 16th birthdays—what the noble Lord described as the sporadic system. That would mean a spread of school-leavers over the year. Against that, there are arguments for the contrary view, as the noble Lord pointed out. It would be much more difficult to arrange courses if children were leaving schools sporadically, and the provision to extend the age of those leaving in the summer will give to all who have birthdays up to the end of September the opportunity to enter apprenticeships and other special training courses. So I think that the Government are right to proceed in this way, rather than go for the sporadic system, even though the largest teachers' association appears still to advocate the latter.

There are problems with school-leaving at a time of very high unemployment which, unfortunately, we are observing at present. From the published figures, it seems that nearly 3,000 of last summer's school-leavers in Scotland were still without jobs last December, and I should like to ask the noble Lord about National Insurance provisions. Normally, entry to National Insurance is at the age of 16, but there will be employment of 15-year-olds and this will presumably be legal under the school-leaving arrangements in this Bill. What will be the position of such 15-year-olds? Will their employers be contributing to National Insurance for them? Will they be eligible for any benefits during that period, and, in particular, what will be their position regarding industrial injury benefits if they are employed before their 16th birthdays?

Clause 3 deals with the completely different subject of milk. The present position is that it is not issued free to 7-yearolds and over, unless they are receiving special education or a medical officer considers that a child requires it for health reasons. The background to this—and I speak from memory here—is that it was a Labour Government which removed free milk from secondary schools between 1964 and 1970; but I should like the noble Lord to answer a question on this later. Then, in 1971, a Conservative Government extended this to primary schools subject to the conditions, including the medical officer's advice, which I have mentioned.

I should like to ask the noble Lord, because it was not clear from what he said, whether the reversal which he is now proposing in the Bill is for primary schools only, because he did not give any upper age limit. My recollection is that this was done separately by two Governments of different persuasions, one for secondary schools and the other for primary schools. The noble Lord spoke only about the 7-year-olds and over, and I assume that, because it refers to the 1971 Act. Clause 3 simply means that local authorities will again be able to give free milk in primary schools. But I should like the Government to say whether they are proceeding in due course, even if not now, to restore it to secondary schools also.

I recognise that this is a subject which was blown up into a political issue in 1971 and 1972, and the Government no doubt feel obliged—indeed, impelled; and the noble Lord referred to a Manifesto—to reverse the position and to restore free milk to those not covered by medical and other considerations. But I must point out that, since the Bill was published, a White Paper on Public Expenditure has also been published, under which there are to be substantial reductions in subsidising school meals. So we must put this in perspective. On page 87 of that White Paper on Public Expenditure, it is stated that the, charge for school dinners will be increased progressively, with an increase from 15p to 20p in September 1976"; that is, in about six months' time. Therefore the Government appear to be giving with one hand and taking away with the other.

Again, if one could consider the figures involved, on page 85 of the White Paper on Public Expenditure it is estimated, at constant prices, that the additional expenditure on milk—presumably as a result of this Bill and its equivalent for England and Wales, because we are now talking about the United Kingdom—will be a little over £1 million. But the school meal subsidy will be reduced by £67 million—from£315 million to£248 million. When one is talking about free food and milk I think it has to be brought out that this is a very small drop in relation to the reduction which the Government themselves are proposing in the subsidy for school meals. It hardly seems worth providing this£1 million extra for free milk when one is taking away so much— £67 million—in terms of school meals as a whole. However, I recognise that the Government are carrying out a political obligation to which no doubt they feel committed, although in today's conditions it is inconsistent with the rest of the White Paper on Public Expenditure, in particular in relation to school meals.

I have one point to raise on the Schedules. In Schedule 1, paragraph 11(a), there is an extension proposed of the powers of the Secretary of State to intervene in academic matters. I will read the passage involved: In subsection (1) after paragraph (v) there shall be added the following paragraph: (vi) provide that the governing body of such a college shall comply with any direction given by the Secretary of State, after consultation with them, as to the discontinuance of any course of instruction provided in the college or the number of students of different categories to be admitted to the college in any period". In general, the Secretary of State for Scotland, as Minister of Education, among other things, in Scotland, does not intervene in questions of courses and curricula. Normally, this is left to colleges and schools. Therefore I ask why the Government have felt it necessary, in what otherwise appear to be very straightforward and harmless changes in the Schedules, to introduce what looks like an extension of the powers of the Secretary of State to intervene. Although I gave the noble Lord notice that I was going to raise this point, I shall understand if he wishes to consider it and to reply at a later stage. However, I thought that the sooner I mentioned it the better, in order to give the Minister more notice.

6.42 p.m.


My Lords, having spent a good part of my life as chairman of an education committee, I want to make one or two comments about this Bill. I agree with my noble friend who has just spoken that it is a useful Bill. One of the difficulties is the dates at which schools begin and end their terms. I hope that when dates are suggested it will be remembered that in certain parts of the country there are well-known traditional holidays. I read the debate in another place when one of the Members for Lancashire drew attention to the fact that Wakes Weeks do not always coincide with school dates. In the area in which I live—that is, the Borders—we have a considerable number of local festivities which are known as the Common Ridings. They have different names in different places, but these festivities are sacrosanct from the point of view of the population. Any school has to allow its pupils to have their holidays when the Common Ridings are being held. I am sure the noble Lord knows all about that and, therefore, that the Government will ensure that such very old, traditional holidays are allowed for in any arrangements that are made for the dates of either the commencement or ending of terms.

I agree with my noble friend Lord Campbell of Croy that the question of the leaving date is difficult. One does not wish children to leave school earlier than they need. In fact, I have always encouraged them to stay at school and go on to further education. However, we know that a certain number of children are only too anxious to leave and that very often they have jobs waiting for them. At this moment it is more difficult for them to find jobs, but in the part of the country in which I live there is not quite the shortage of employment that there is in other areas. While I agree that it is a good plan for children not to leave school until the end of a term, I hope it may be possible for exceptions occasionally to be made if the matter is very urgent and the child can easily go into either training or employment.

On the subject of school milk, I have a very soft spot for it since it was my husband, way back in 1926, who first introduced the milk in schools scheme. It was introduced on the basis that they paid a penny for a third of a pint. Afterwards, as we know, it was supplied free throughout the whole of the school system. I feel that it is extremely valuable for the health of children that they should receive milk, and I am glad that some of the arrangements are being restored. I did not agree with my Party when they abolished the milk in schools scheme, and I said so. I am glad that school milk has been restored—anyway, to some extent. As my noble friend Lord Campbell of Croy has said, both political Parties are involved and on both occasions I thought that abolition was a mistake. However, I agree that it is much more important for younger children to be given milk than it is for the older age group. In fact, I believe that some of them never even bothered to drink it. However, I support the reintroduction of school milk for the younger age group, provided, of course, that it does not mean cutting down on other things because of the financial crisis through which we are going.

I believe that the Bill will be welcomed in Scotland. It simplifies some of the problems which arise from organising education in different areas. I know that I should have been grateful for some of the provisions in the Bill during the many years that I was chairman of the education committee. It was always difficult to please everybody and sometimes you pleased nobody. Therefore it makes it easier to have a more stable plan such as there is in the Bill and I support the noble Lord's introduction of it.

6.48 p.m.


My Lords, first let me say how much I appreciate what I judge to be the reasonably warm welcome that has been given by your Lordships to this Government measure. May I make the Government's position clear on the several points which have been raised? I will deal first with the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, who asked me why commencement dates are not to be uniform throughout Scotland. Before replying in some depth to the point, perhaps I should say that so far as the initial part of his question is concerned, it is unquestionably true that age ranges will be legally enforceable upon the authority. Therefore, as the noble Lord very rightly pointed out, the authority would have to take children within the approved age range, and I confirm the accuracy of his remark at that point.

I think that the more general question that was put to me by the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, is a very reasonable one to put to the Government Minister concerned. I have been emphasising the virtues of uniform leaving dates. The situation is, however, rather different in relation to commencement dates. Education authorities still operate a variety of arrangements, and have moved less far towards uniformity than they have in relation to uniformity of leaving dates. This is a point that the Government must take into account. Indeed, education authorities have shown a preference for moving towards a single commencement date in the year, but before these authorities can operate such a system successfully they must be sure their accommodation and staffing are sufficient to cater for an intake of a whole year group at a time. Most important, they must ensure that their teachers are trained in the methods necessary to meet the individual needs of the children.

Further, I would suggest that authorities may yet wish to operate different arrangements for good reason in different types of area. For example, it may be reasonable to have a single intake in an urban area, but not in a rural area where it would mean children as young as 4 years 6 months having to travel in some cases, long distances to school. Education authorities themselves, therefore, have asked that the Bill should give as much flexibility as possible in relation to commencement dates. I think this is a reasonable request, and indeed Government have taken this on board. If at any time in the future, however, the Secretary of State decided that the time had come for uniform arrangements throughout Scotland—and I must stress that he would not normally do this without prior agreement with the authorities—Clause 1 enables him to issue directions to authorities to secure this

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, mentioned that the EIS have taken a particular view, essentially as regards the question of uniform leaving date. But as I said in my opening remarks, Government have consulted widely and are of the view that the present emphasis is just about correct, and is in the right balance at this time. The noble Lord also raised a question on the position of the under-16s within the National Insurance field. I accept that there may be seen to be a deficiency in our proposals on this point. However, this is a matter for my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Social Services. It is not one in which it would be right for the Government to tackle the difficulty in relation to Scotland alone in this Bill. The entry point for the National Insurance scheme has been the 16th birthday, or the point at which a young person ceases to be of school age, whichever is the later, since the raising of the school-leaving age. Up to now it has not been possible for a pupil in Scotland to reach school-leaving age before his 16th birthday. Clause 2 will now enable some to leave in the summer from the age of 15 years 8 months, and some to leave at Christmas from the age of 15 years 10 months. It would be fair to say that the period before these young people will be eligible to enter the National Insurance scheme will, of course, be a short one.

I can also reassure the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, on one point. Young people in employment under the age of 16 are covered by industrial injuries legislation. Family allowances are also payable until at least the age of 16, and for a longer period if the child stays on at school. I should make the point to the noble Lord that these young people under the age of 16 are not entitled to supplementary benefit in their own right. Here I respond to a point touched on by the noble Lord in his remarks. Of course, employers will not contribute while the employee is under the age of 16.

As regards Clause 3 and the desire of the Government to repeal that section of the Education (Milk) Act, I stand very clearly behind the Government Election Manifesto commitment. I confirm to the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, that at an earlier period those who were secondary pupils found that this provision for them had been discontinued, but I am not today in a position to say whether or not this will be the position in future. This is something which the Government are continuing to discuss with the local authorities concerned, and I therefore specifically made no mention of the upper age range. My remarks were conspicuous by their absence on that point.

If I may touch on another point made by the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, which related to the rise in the cost of school meals and the Government restriction on public expenditure, on the one hand, and, on the other, to an apparent relaxation of certain public costs as regards the provision of school milk. I must point out to the noble Lord that the constantly rising price of school meals is now of such enormity that an increased price of between 15p and 20p per meal is necessary to contain the rise. It is not really possible to make an analogy between the cost of meals, on the one hand, and of milk provision, on the other. I take the view that the milk provision is at a more constant price.


My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Lord the Minister for what he has said, but he has misunderstood me. I was not speaking of the increase in the cost of meals to produce part of our apparent rising prices, but of the public expenditure White Paper stating that the £300 million-odd being paid now will be reduced in 2 or 3 years' time to £200-million odd that is, a reduction of £67 million in the Government subsidy.


My Lords, if I have misunderstood the noble Lord, then, of course, I must apologise. I certainly understood him to be making a comparison between the price in total government expenditure of meals as against milk. If I have misunderstood the noble Lord, I will not pursue the matter at this stage. I should like now to turn to the other point made by the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, when he made the suggestion that the power of direction in paragraph 11 of Schedule I would constitute an infringement of academic freedom. I do not myself think that there is anything new in this proposal. Section 81 of the Education (Scotland) Act 1962 empowers the Secretary of State to make regulations prescribing the courses taken and training to be provided in grant-aided colleges, which includes colleges of education.

This power was duly exercised, for example, in Regulation 13 of the Teachers (Colleges of Education) (Scotland) Regulations 1967, which provided that courses should be approved by the Secretary of State, or could be directed by him. Neither the local authorities nor the colleges have ever objected to this power. The need for its restatement in this Bill arises from the fact that Section 81 was amended in the Education (Scotland) Act 1969 in a way that might cast doubt on the existence of this power, although that was not the intention at the time. I think that explains the point the noble Lord raises.


My Lords, I can say straight away that the noble Lord has answered the point. I am grateful to him. As he put it, it is a reenactment of something for clarity, whereas my question was why it should be needed when it appeared as if it was a new power being sought.


My Lords, may I just mention my appreciation of the remarks which the noble Baroness, Lady Elliot, made in her general welcome of the Bill, and perhaps I could just explain to her, as far as the question of local holidays is concerned, that these will not really be affected by the proposals for leaving dates. It would not matter if 31st May fell within an existing holiday, and the Christmas date would in any case be fixed by reference to a holiday. The authority's proposals for commencement dates can take account of local holidays, so I think she can have an assurance that considerable flexibility at this point is quite possible.


My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord, as a mere Welshman, having listened with interest to his explanation of the Bill all about laws and regulations, how much flexibility is left to a country schoolmistress in a little Scots village? We used to have it in the Welsh ones, because I toddled to school across fields at four years of age. Can a Scots mistress in a primary school take in a child under the statutory age, at four, if the parents would like it to go and there is room for it, without a lot of brou-ha-ha with the county education authority?


My Lords, I think I would need notice of that question. I rather think there would be a lot of brou-ha-ha, but she would probably take in the child. If she was an intelligent teacher in a small remote Scottish village, I am certain she might.


I thank the noble Lord.


My Lords, one other point which the noble Baroness, Lady Elliot, mentioned, was the question of perhaps an early leaving arrangement in specially urgent circumstances. I can give her an assurance that there is again flexibility at that point. My Lords, I think that covers the Government position as it relates to the Bill at this stage.

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