Skip to main content

Education (Exemptions) (Scotland) Bill Lords

Volume 440: debated on Tuesday 22 July 1947

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

Not amended (in the Standing Committee), considered.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read the Third time."—[ Mr. Westwood.]

10.2 p.m.

I should like to congratulate the Government on having had the courage to bring in this Measure. We on this side of the House must not be taken to be altogether consenting parties to it. We realise the dire necessities in which the Government find themselves in regard to agriculture and other matters, and that the Government, having made such sketchy plans for the uncovering of the potato crop of Scotland, are still left with a deficit of some 22,000 people. It is proposed, therefore, to raise by this Measure an additional 22,000, by permissive exemptions which this Bill envisages. So far so good, but I must say that while I offer my congratulations, I am amazed that this Bill, bringing in a modified measure of child labour, should have been introduced by this Government. I notice that the right hon. Gentleman shakes his head. I am supporting him, but I am entitled on Third Reading to criticise what is in the Bill, and to express my surprise that this should have been introduced by a Socialist Government, and in particular by the Secretary of State for Scotland, who speaks more or less for the extreme left wing of his party. When hon. Members opposite occupy the benches on which we now sit, I express the hope that they will show the realism in Opposition which they are now showing in regard to the carrying on of the business of Government. I well remember a former Member of this House—

The hon. Member knows that he has got right outside the scope of the Bill which is now having its Third Reading.

With great respect. I thought that I was well within the scope of the Bill.

I was merely saying that this is a Bill comprising three Clauses. The first Clause is the kernel of the whole Bill. It is permissive so far as the parents of these children in the various areas administered by these educational committees are concerned. I was proceeding to say that I well remember a former lady Member of this House alluding to the necessity of child labour in regard to the gathering of the raspberry harvest, saying that there were a lot of little things for little hands to do. She was held up to derision by, amongst others, the Secretary of State for Scotland.

I cannot allow that to pass. There is not an iota of truth in the suggestion made by the hon. Member.

I fail to see what relationship these remarks have to the Third Reading of this Bill.

I was merely endeavouring, by way of illustration in regard to a suggestion made in the past, to show what I feel in regard to the sponsoring of this Bill by the present Government. After all, we on this side have never objected to the principle of employing children in a healthy occupation. That is where we differed, in the old days, from the complete laissez faire which was extolled by the party opposite. While the Secretary of State and his colleagues feel somewhat apologetic, and no doubt Members behind the right hon. Gentleman condemn this policy root and branch, we say that within reasonable limits, provided it is not abused, this kind of healthy occupation, in the holiday months of the year may well be for the benefit of the children who are thus employed. Although this Measure is another glaring illustration of the Government's general incompetence in providing proper labour for industries, particularly agriculture, we certainly shall not oppose its Third Reading tonight.

10.7 p.m.

I know the impatience and desire on the part of the Government to get this Bill through, but it would be unreasonable if I sat here and willingly agreed to its passing. I gather that nobody is happy about it, but that everybody wishes to be silent so that it will pass quickly. There are certain weaknesses associated with this Bill which I must mention. One of the strongest points in the 1945 Education Act was the denial of the right of a local authority to grant exemption under any conditions. The present Government were responsible for passing that Act, and now they are the first to break it. As a matter of interest, I should like to know how many children will be employed in the potato fields of England and Wales during their educational hours this coming harvest? I do not know whether any will be employed.

The hon. Member for Galloway (Mr. McKie) has said that potato gathering is a healthy occupation. I should imagine that Members on the Labour benches are tired of statements that if working class children are taken into industry it will be good for their health. We are always being told that. There may be one or two young persons from comfortable homes in Scotland who will be engaged in the potato harvest, but the great percentage of those who will be employed will be from working class homes. The local authority have no power in the matter if a parent grants consent. That is a new approach to education. In the past, in the development of education, and because of the necessity for developing communal life and citizenship, parents were pushed on one side, or told that they must accept certain laws and regulations. In this matter, parents will give their consent, because it may give the child a holiday in the country. Secondly, the children will agree to it because there is a touch of adventure. People associated with the education of children know that it is not always wise, and rarely wise, to give children the right to walk out of school to do things which they enjoy because there is a touch of adventure about them. Employers, if they employed young boys even for two hours a day, would be punished. It would be breaking the Act, and, as I said in Committee, firms are regularly taken to court and punished because boys are working for two or three hours of the week either in the morning before school or after they leave school in the afternoon.

I note because of the great amount of talk in many quarters today of the direc- tion of labour—and I want this point appreciated—that the first time the Government have decided on the direction of labour is in connection with children. I know there is no compulsion, but the Secretary of State admitted in Committee that it was vital to get children for this work. We cannot get in the harvest without children. In passing this Bill it is important to note that the local authority is not consulted. Why? The local authority is not consulted because many local authorities regard this as a very serious encroachment on the education of the children. I speak of one authority—the Glasgow education authority—which is definitely opposed to the idea of any of the children being taken for potato lifting because they believe that it encroaches on their education, not because of a few weeks in the fields, but because it has a disturbing influence on the general education.

It is not a nice job. People say that it is a healthy job. I have tried it in a very small way, and it is a back-breaking job. The direction of labour is often talked about in this House. I hope that the Secretary of State for Scotland, in consultation with his Scottish Cabinet colleagues, will try to devise ways and means not of directing people already registered as insured workers or school children, but of getting hold of a whole lot of idle people in this country.

One of the things that I was trying to pride myself on was that I was escaping any irregularities. I bow to your Ruling, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. I was saying that if we are accepting the principle of direction of labour, we should not start with the school children. I am a lone hand—a party by myself—and I am not suggesting that the House should be divided on an issue of this kind. I simply record my regret—I do not put it stronger than that—that this Government has found it necessary to exempt children so that they may engage in a particular harvest in Scotland this year.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time, and passed, without Amendment.