Orders of the Day — Education (Scotland) Bill.

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons on 2nd July 1936.

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Photo of Mr Thomas Cooper Mr Thomas Cooper , Edinburgh West

I was emphasising the distinction which exists between exemptions for beneficial employment and the type of exemptions under Clause 4. We are concerned here with the abolition of exemptions under the 1901 Act, unless they are granted under two conditions, first, for the purpose of enabling a child to give assistance at home and, second, if by reason of the circumstances existing at home it would cause exceptional hardship to require a child to attend school. These are the conditions, and not one word of criticism was raised in Committee of the application of these conditions to the case of the little mother. The right hon. Member will no doubt assent that where the mother is dying it is right and proper that a girl of 14 should be released from the obligation to attend school in order to discharge the far more important obligation of assisting in the home in such circumstances. May I then put it to him that if it is regarded as right and proper that a girl should be released from the obligation to attend school in domestic circumstances of that kind, a boy of a similar age and capacity should not be denied the opportunity of doing his duty and undertaking his responsibilities if his father is dying or is dead.

I feel that a great deal we have been hearing from hon. Members to-night has been paying lip service to the idea that it is more important that a boy and girl should attend school than that they should accept in a time of domestic crisis a far more important obligation, more important for the development of character than any amount of schooling—namely, the acceptance of responsibility in relation to the home. That is what the Amendment is designed to effect. It is in no sense associated with the Amendment which we rejected, and to which we are still heartily opposed, in relation to beneficial employment and seasonal occupation. That is in another category altogether, and we are still opposed to it.

The sole reason for the Amendment is to meet the difficulty that, as the Clause was drafted, it was appropriate to the case of the "little mother," but it was very doubtful whether it was appropriate to the case of what I do not hesitate to call the "little father," the comparable services of the lad to those of the little mother. It is in no sense a reflection upon the Government that they have brought forward the Amendment. On the contrary, it is entirely in accord with what has been done in Committee that we should now recognise the difficulties and make this alteration in order to avoid hardships which would otherwise occur. I feel that hon. Members who speak with much knowledge and experience of the conditions of the poor in Scotland are not qualified to speak with the same authority as the hon. and gallant Member for Orkney and Shetland of the conditions which prevail in the sparsely populated areas in many of the Highland counties.