HC Deb 04 April 1973 vol 854 cc503-42


Mr. Arthur Davidson

I beg to move Amendment No. 2, in page 4, line 22, leave out from 'void' to end of line 25.

I think it would be convenient, subject to your agreement, Mr. Deputy Speaker, if with this amendment we took Amendments Nos. 3 and 5, which are consequential amendments:

Amendment No. 3, in page 4, line 26, leave out subsections (5) and (6).

Amendment No. 5, in page 5, line 13, leave out subsections (7) and (8).

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Mallalieu)

Yes, if that is the desire of the House.

Mr. Davidson

The purpose of these amendments is to ensure that there will be no contracting out of implied undertakings as to fitness as between business firms. The Bill ensures that as between business and the consumer it is not possible to contract out of liabilities, in particular the implied undertakings in the Bill. The Bill allows a measure of contracting out of implied undertakings between one business firm and another, subject to the courts having the right to say that it is reasonable or unreasonable to enforce the contracting-out. We discussed this at length in Committee, and the Under-Secretary of State was good enough to give a considerate and lengthy reply.

6.30 p.m.

Our purpose in suggesting that it is morally, if not legally, wrong to allow contracting out between business firms— whether between a manufacturer and retailer or between a retailer and another firm—is that in the long run the consumer suffers because he will receive goods which may be less perfect than they would be if the firms were not allowed to contract out of their implied legal undertakings. It is fundamentally right and just that the loss should fall upon the person who is responsible for the defective goods, in most cases upon the manufacturer who in the first place puts them on the market.

All too often manufacturers are in a stronger position than are small retailers. I accept the Minister's argument that all retailers are by no means weak creatures, that there are big chains of retailers with the advantage of expert advice and that often chains of retailers are more powerful than are small manufacturers, but in most cases the manufacturer is by far the more powerful party of the two. He is in a position to put pressure on the retailer and put him in the position of striking a bargain which is not in his interests and from which the consumer will ultimately suffer, while the manufacturer can contract out of his liabilities.

I have particularly in mind the manufacturer contracting out of his undertakings and the retailer being responsible. The retailer might go bankrupt so that when the consumer attempts to sue him for breach of implied undertakings he is carrying out a useless action in trying to get his money back or his goods repaired. The manufacturer will say "I contracted out of my undertakings. You cannot go for me either", and the consumer will be left in a defenceless position. He will have rights but will not be able to enforce them.

Contracting out is an encouragement to insurance companies to offer terms which make it more favourable for the firm which is insuring to slip in an exclusion clause. There is evidence that many insurance companies make it financially worth while for a manufacturer to slip in an exclusion clause by offering a cheaper premium. Insurance companies should be discouraged from indulging in that inducement, which is ultimately damaging to the consumer.

While I accept that the compromise produced by the Law Commission which is included in the Bill—namely, that the courts can overturn an agreement to contract out if they think it unreasonable— will assist in many ways and will be a discouragement to manufacturers or retailers unreasonably contracting out, I feel it would be to the long-term advantage to do away with the whole concept of contracting out of the legal obligations. It would certainly be to the advantage of the consumer and would also improve business ethics.

Mr. Alan Williams (Swansea, West)

It was not my intention to intervene at this stage, but I do not think it will cause a major difficulty. If my hon. Friend the Member for Accrington (Mr. Arthur Davidson), who did not know of the arrangement, caught your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, he might be able to obtain the permission of the House to speak last on the group of amendments.

Amendment No. 4, which relates to standards, was discussed in Committee. I was unable to be there because I was in the Committee dealing with the Fair Trading Bill. We return to the amendment because we are anxious for an assurance from the Minister—and I almost feel that we shall get it—that the safety aspect is adequately covered by the Bill.

We thought that this provision would automatically be included in the Fair Trading Bill, but we discovered that there were loopholes in that Bill that needed to be closed. Rather than allow any defect to slip through, which neither side of the House would wish, we thought—at the risk of wasting 10 minutes of the time of the Undersecretary of State—that it would be better to raise the issue now. We want to be sure that in terms of safety, neither the retailer nor the manufacturer can escape from his responsibility to the consumer.

There is a terrifying report in the current issue of Drive—the magazine of the Automobile Association—of a series of tests on childrens' car safety harnesses. It emerges from that report that the use of many thousands of these so-called safety harnesses could lead to death or serious maiming, although parents have reason to think that their children are being protected by them.

The law places the responsibility on the parent, which seems to be unfair. That is why the amendment refers to "any relevant British Standard". Under Regulation 17 of the Motor Vehicles (Construction and Use) Regulations 1973, it is an offence to drive a car which has a safety seat that is not approved by the British Standards Institution, and the penalty is a fine of up to £50. But manufacturers are putting on the market safety seats which in no way conform to the requisite British Standard. In passing, I may say that the British Standards Institution agrees that the current British Standard is not adequate and is about to publish a new Standard for childrens' car safety harness.

Despite the responsibilities that the law imposes upon parents, manufacturers are selling products that do not conform to legal requirements. Drive reports: One type of seat, made of tubular metal like a small high-chair served only to raise the child to exactly the right position for any sudden stop to cannon-ball it straight through the car's windscreen. That chair is being sold as a safety chair and is being installed by parents in the belief that it has BSI approval and is safe. The report goes on to say that these seats have been sold in great quantities. One firm has sold 70,000 in about five years. There could be 70,000 children at risk because parents have no way of knowing that the product on which they rely for their child's life and safety is defective and does not satisfy legal requirements.

Here, I draw the attention of the Minister to the difficulties parents have in establishing where responsibility lies. Several examples can be quoted from the report: The pram department of Selfridges, in London,"— and Selfridges, with all respect, makes every attempt to deal fairly and honestly with the public— claimed that the Amacourt and the Niki Jet 2000 Recliner were BSI approved. 'They must be or we wouldn't sell them.' In fact they are not. So anyone who is driving a motor car with belts of these types installed is technically in breach of the law. At another shop—the Arcadia Pram Centre, West London—the Niki Jet 2000 was described as "the best in the world". When asked if it was BSI approved the answer was: Well, yes, it's made in Germany and anything made there is strictly tested. At Youngsters, a nursery shop in Wembley, north west London, and The Tiny Set, Putney, south west London, the Tubemaster Mark I was claimed to be BSI approved. In fact this seat does not have BSI approval. Babyland, Wimbledon, south west London, claimed that both the Amacourt and the Tube-master Mark I were BSI approved. Many people are labouring under a misconception about the safety of the product and are utterly unaware that they are liable to be subjected to legal action for using it. The worst example is one of the most expensive. It is a German car seat—the Kettler Touring Hort. When the German Automobile Club tested this seat it failed, because it tore from its mounting. The company—and in the amendment we refer to companies' responsibilities— has subsequently been quoted … as having strengthened the mounting. … It has apparently failed to do so on its export models. The company is selling in this country models which do not meet German safety standards.

My point is that we ought to be absolutely sure that responsibility lies where it should, with those who sell and who, misleadingly, first put the product on the market. We want to be sure that the harnesses referred to in the report in Drive—the death trap harnesses—will be driven off the market at once. It is not a matter of waiting for discussions; these products must be taken off the market immediately.

For that reason, I submit to the Minister that local weights and measures inspectors should initiate immediate prosecutions, under the Trade Descriptions Act, in cases where stores continue to sell car seats which the report has shown to be defective. I also ask for urgent Government action to introduce the new British Standard in respect of future sales of car seats. The Standard is about to be published. It normally takes several months of consultations for a Standard to be legally implemented. We cannot afford to wait. The new Standard should be introduced at the earliest possible date.

Finally, in view of the serious injuries which a child could suffer in any of these seats, I urge the Minister to ensure that an immediate publicity campaign is instituted to warn parents who have them installed in their cars that they are killer harnesses and not safety harnesses. We have taken the opportunity of raising this matter today, and it may be that we have strained the orders of the House a little in doing so—you have very kindly allowed me to speak at this length on this matter, Mr. Deputy Speaker—but we have felt that we should start immediately alerting parents to the hazards which these faulty safety seats represent. That is why we have taken the opportunity of raising the matter on this amendment. We should be grateful if the Parliamentary Secretary would deal not only with that matter but with the three points that I have raised, which call for immediate action which I have raised.

6.45 p.m.

Mr. Barry Jones (Flint, West)

My very brief intervention relates to Amendment No. 4. I speak in support of the safety points raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, West (Mr. Alan Williams). I believe that the Automobile Association has done a public service in pointing out the dangers of failing to use BSI-approved safety seats for children in cars. When in its current publication, a conservative body like the AA says quite boldly that it is convinced that the wearing of seat belts should be made compulsory, we know that there is no doubt about it. It may be inconvenient, it may upset a family's budget, and travelling habits, but I am convinced that the fitting of BSI-approved safety seats for children in cars should be made compulsory.

I suppose we were all made unhappy on the subject of child safety in cars when we heard of a car crash in America in which a child was decapitated owing to a badly-sited dashboard ashtray. It seems that head and facial injuries are more frequent among child passengers than among adults. It is also clear that not sufficient is known about child injuries in cars. That does not help the authorities to seek the remedial action that may be necessary. On this matter I would like to see co-ordinated emergency action taken by the Department of Trade and Industry, the Department of the Environment, and the Home Office. This triple approach of the Minister for Trade and Consumer Affairs, the Minister for Transport Industries and the Home Secretary could prevent thousands of family injuries and tragedies which the present explosion in car buying and childbirth presages.

Chief constables should be given an immediate mandate to take effective action, because we all know that prevention, particularly in this case, is better than cure. It is one thing for an adult's brains to lie on a shattered windscreen or bonnet; it is near-criminal, perhaps criminal, to ignore the fact that thousands of minors risk a similar fate. I conclude by asking the Under-Secretary whether he will tell us what he proposes to do in this matter.

Mr. Anthony Grant

I will deal first with Amendment No. 2 moved by the hon. Member for Accrington (Mr. Arthur Davidson). This amendment touches upon one of the fundamental principles of the Bill itself. Therefore, it can be viewed only against the background of all that has gone on over the past 10 years or so in the way of inquiries and consultations on the problem of exclusion clauses in contracts for the sale of goods.

In this perspective it is fair to say it quickly becomes apparent that all the arguments we hear on this aspect have really been gone over many times before. As long ago as 1962 the Molony Committee on Consumer Protection touched upon this. It said that the arguments whether exclusion clauses should be permitted between business parties would merit further consideration. But, of course, it was outside its remit since it was concerned only with the consumer and consumer protection, and did not want to delay consumer protection on that account.

The further consideration to which the committee referred was given by the Law Commissions. I think it is generally agreed that they considered the matter with the utmost care. In fact, about one-fifth of the Law Commission's first report is devoted to the point.

The Law Commissions found that the Molony Committee's view that retailers were capable of looking after themselves was not universally shared. The evidence presented to them did not however lead the Law Commissions to consider that there might be a case for a complete ban on exclusion clauses across the board. None of the Law Commissioners saw any need to extend the ban on exclusion clauses in consumer sales to business sales as well. On the contrary, half the Law Commissioners recommended that there should be no restrictions of any kind on the use of exclusion clauses in the general run of business sales. They made it clear that, in their view, in relation to business sales generally there was insufficient evidence to justify interfering with the freedom of contract which is the fundamental principle of our commercial law.

The other half of the Law Commissioners accepted the representations made on behalf of retailers that they needed the safeguard of legal protection if exclusion clauses were to be barred in consumer sales. Paragraph 109 of the first report sets out what the retail organisations themselves described as the essence of their case. These commissioners also saw no reason for extending the ban on exclusion clauses to all business sales, and it was they who recommended the test of reasonableness as providing adequate protection for those in business who were not in a position to protect themselves. Even those Law Commissioners opposed to exemption clauses in business sales generally agreed that the test of reasonableness would provide the most satisfactory solution if it was decided, as a matter of policy, that exemption clauses in business sales should be subject to legal control.

Further consultations and discussions which have taken place on this matter, including discussions with the National Chamber of Trade, since the publication of the report have elicited no new facts which would justify going further than the Law Commissioners' recommendations. Indeed, they have, if anything, shown that the position of the retailer may be improved by these provisions of the Bill. Very few shopkeepers attempt to exclude their liability to their customers, so the relationship between the retailer and his customer will not be changed in the great majority of consumer sales. What will be changed will be the retailer's ability to pass on to his supplier liability for any defect in the goods supplied to him. He will no longer be forced to accept exclusion of liability by his suppliers, and where he feels aggrieved he will be able to challenge an exclusion clause in the courts.

During the consultations and discussions which we have had on this part of the Bill the pressure for change has not been confined to the retailers' proposals. Representations leading in the opposite direction have been made by those who believe that any change in the present freedom of contract will be a hindrance to commerce and industry, and it has been represented to us that freedom of contract should be allowed, particularly in the sale of capital goods.

We are not persuaded that an exception should be made there, but what we have done is to accept the Law Commissions' recommendations, which are to a large extent a compromise. One could say that Government Departments and other large buyers, some of whom may be retailers, prefer to retain freedom to negotiate terms under which the risk of defects falls upon them in circumstances where it is advantageous for them to bear the insurance risk themselves against such defects, and this can be of benefit to the man in the street, both as a consumer and as a taxpayer.

We accept that in this respect the provisions of the Bill are a compromise, but it has been reached after very careful consideration, and I hope, therefore, that I have convinced the House, and possibly the hon. Member for Accrington, that the compromise is fair. In the circumstances, I do not think that I can accept that amendment.

I now turn to the amendment which deals with another matter to which the hon. Member for Swansea, West (Mr. Alan Williams) and the hon. Member for Flint, East (Mr. Barry Jones) referred. The clause requires the court to decide whether it is reasonable to allow a seller to rely on an exclusion clause in the light of all the circumstances of the case. In addition, five guidelines are provided which are intended to bring the court's attention to those factors which are most likely to be important.

This is, of course, a matter of judgment—an infinite number of other factors could be added to these five—but the Government, like the Law Commissioners, have taken the view that the five now set out in the clause cover most of the issues likely to arise in most cases. I recognise that individual cases may turn on quite other issues, and in such cases the courts will be able to take these into account. But it is not possible to foresee what these issues will be and it would be undesirable, even if we could, to try to write them all into the Bill. Such a course would give the impression that such guidelines were exhaustive; that once the court had taken them into account nothing more need be considered. I must emphasise that that is not the case. The courts will decide these matters in the light of all the circumstances of the case.

In that context, the fact that certain goods failed to measure up to safety standards would mean that they were not reasonably fit for the purpose for which they were required. Clearly, the matter would come within the terms of the clause, and it would be for the courts to take into consideration all the circumstances of the case.

Both hon. Members have drawn attention to the disturbing reports in Drive on the subject of children's safety belts and seats. I think they will accept from me that the points raised both in the article and in their speeches range over very much wider legislation than is contained in the Bill and concern some of my colleagues in other Government Departments. I shall ensure that what both hon. Gentlemen have said is drawn to the attention of my colleagues who are concerned and have responsibility in this matter. They will no doubt look very carefully at what has been said, and in due course make their decisions.

The amendment refers to standards and suggests that a further guideline should be added. The question whether goods do or do not comply with British Standards or any other recognised code is something which would be considered by the courts if it were an issue, but I do not think that it is one which is likely to arise in most cases. This was the test by which we judged whether a guideline should be included in the Bill.

Not all goods are covered by British or other recognised standards. This is particularly true of newly developed articles. In some cases newly developed goods will be competing with conventional goods which are covered by a recognised standard. In some cases the newly developed goods may be better than the old ones, and once accepted might displace them altogether. If a case in which this was a factor were taken before the court it might, saddled with the proposed guideline, find that the goods did not conform to a recognised standard, and innovation and development could be set back for several years.

To sum up on this amendment, I am not persuaded that the factor covered by the amendment would arise as a matter of importance in most cases. In some cases where this arose it could have harmful effects possibly in raising the price of goods and conceivably retarding innovation.

I hope that I have said enough to show the House that this is a wide clause and that the words "in all the circumstances" mean what they say and probably will cover most of the anxieties which have been expressed. I ask the House to reject the amendment.

7.0 p.m.

Mr. Arthur Davidson

I hope that, with the leave of the House, I may briefly respond to the Minister. We are grateful to the Under-Secretary of State for the trouble he has taken. I fully accept that had he agreed to my amendment it would have completely altered the Bill. The amendment is substantial, and the House would have been a little surprised if he had said that he could accept it, because the Bill is based on firm recommendations made by the Law Commission.

Although we are all grateful for the work done by the Law Commission—I pay tribute to the Commission—I beg to differ modestly from its conclusions, because I still believe that it would be in the long-term interest of the consumer if nobody were allowed to contract out of a legal obligation.

With regard to the safety factor, I would point out that this is one of the criteria which a court should take into account in judging the reasonableness of an exclusion clause. It is less important that the safety factor should be written into the Bill than that the court should bear that factor in mind. I am sure that the court will view the subject of safety as an important factor and that the public will be adequately protected.

We did not expect the Minister to go much further in terms of possible Government action than he went today in the light of the alarming report which appeared in the magazine Drive. We must all be grateful to the Automobile Association for its report and to Dr. Mackay for compiling it. It is terrifying that such equipment should be on sale when, in fact, it provides no restraint at all. From a safety point of view the equipment is obviously a disaster. Dr. Mackay was dealing with practically all the safety harnesses which are advertised; far from providing safety for children, they do just the opposite.

This evidence adds weight to my argument that by encouraging people to contract out one possibly will encourage them to manufacture and put on the market less perfect goods than they might otherwise do. It is undoubtedly an alarming report in the light of the evidence that no fewer than six separate harnesses— all sold openly to the public and no doubt bought by thousands of parents—were tested and found to be potentially dangerous. I know that the Minister is concerned, as is everybody else, about safety factors, and I hope that some action will follow. In the light of the Minister's reply it would not be right to press the amendment.

Amendment negatived.

Motion made and Question proposed, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

7.6 p.m.

Mr. Alan Williams

We cannot allow the Bill to pass without recording yet again, as we did on Second Reading, our welcome to these provisions. I am sure that that sentiment is echoed in all parts of the House. This is an "all-party" Bill—except for the Liberal Party, whose Members have taken no part in the Second Reading, Committee and Report stages and are not in evidence on Third Reading. We are accustomed to the fact that Liberals are more concerned with Press headlines than with the practical and hard work of this House.

The Government and Opposition can rest content that we have jointly carried out a good job of work on the Bill. It must be said that the spade work was done during the period of office of the Labour Government since the report on which the Bill is based was commissioned by a Labour Government. Happily, the Conservative Government have readily accepted the recommendations in that report. Anybody who reads the proceedings on the Bill, both in this House and in another place, will agree that the measure has gone through in an atmosphere of constructive co-operation.

All hon. Members are sick and tired of phoney guarantees, with people being deliberately cheated of their rights by legal sleight of hand—deceived into thinking that they are being given security when, in fact, security is being taken away from them. The Bill, once enacted, will end the distortion of fair trading in terms of the supply of goods, but we must await another Bill to give some protection in terms of services.

The Bill exists because tour operators, household appliance manufacturers, and, above all, the car trade have had a spree of irresponsible deception at the expense of the public for many years. In this Bill Government and Opposition have united to put an end to the deliberate robbing of the public of their existing legal rights. There was no hope that the suppliers would do this for themselves.

On Second Reading I said: The Motor Agents Association standard so-called 'order form' is a moral disgrace. On the back of it, in the small print, there appear over 1,000 words in 10 clauses imposing the motor agents' own terms."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 13th February 1973; Vol. 850, c. 1164.] In other words, it took away the protection which members of the public would otherwise have. Within days of those remarks the head of the Motor Agents Association was speaking in Swansea, in my own constituency. He had the audacity to say that his association's order form was "OK" and legal, although this was only half the truth.

The advice I give the people of Swansea and people everywhere in this country is to refuse to sign any Motor Agents' Association order form until this Bill becomes an Act. Once the Bill is enacted the order form will not mean anything. Certainly at present it is a fraud, and the public should be made aware that it is a fraud. The head of the Motor Agents' Association and his trade have done more than any other association or trade to condition the public to expect shoddy treatment from suppliers.

The motorist and other consumers must be made to understand that Parliament has unanimously decreed that goods that are sold must be fit for the purpose for which they were intended. The onus is completely on the suppliers to put right any faults in the goods supplied. I say to the Automobile Association and to the Royal Automobile Club that we must watch the actions of the motor agents in the next few weeks and months to see whether there is any evidence of reluctance by the motor trade to accept the new duties imposed upon it by the Bill. I urge the AA and RAC to initiate an early test case to establish the sanctions which we are providing to the consumer to protect him from the motor trade and certain other suppliers. It is hardly surprising that the public are punch drunk as a result of the treatment that they have received.

In Committee on the Fair Trading Bill I quoted a case which was sent to me in February. Someone had bought a new Ford car from a Ford agent in London in August of last year. In October he took the car in for servicing under warranty. He was told that it would have to remain in the garage for four days. Four days having elapsed, he went back to the garage, where he was told that his car had disappeared. From that day to this he has not seen it. The traders do not deny that the car was on their premises. They say that it is not their responsibility if it disappears because it says on their servicing order form that they are not responsible for any loss or damage while customers' cars are on their premises.

The traders having lost the car in October, the owner wrote to me in February, when he was still without a car. The garage which had lost the car refused even to lend him a replacement while the insurance was settled. The solicitor for the garage told the owner of the car, who was an entirely innocent party, that he should claim through his own insurance even though that meant losing his no claims bonus, and that it was not the practice of the company to lend another car in such circumstances. It sounds as though the company has a lot of experience of it.

The owner also wrote to the massive, powerful Ford Motor Company. The company backed its agent, regardless of the fact that for months someone who had bought through an accredited dealer had been denied the use of his car because of the incompetence of the dealer in looking after property on his premises—

Mr. Patrick Cormack (Cannock)


Mr. Williams

The word "shame" describes it very well. It is an astonishing conspiracy between the solicitor, the garage and the Ford Motor Company which can deny a customer the protection that he should have.

That example demonstrates the magnitude of the retreat of the car trade from fair dealing with the public, and it explains why" this House has to think in terms of passing this measure and the subsequent one—because a case of the kind that I have described needs subsequent legislation to give the individual concerned the necessary protection. But at least we are doing half of what is needed pending the second report of the Law Commission, which I appreciate I am not allowed to refer to in the Third Reading debate on this Bill.

The Opposition have given the Bill their fullest backing throughout its various stages. We give it our fullest backing now, and we hope that it is successful. We work on the basis that half a Bill is better than no Bill. If consumers use the protection that this legislation offers them, they will get yet again the protection which the law originally intended them to have.

7.14 p.m.

Mr. Anthony Grant

I believe that this is a very much needed measure, and I join the hon. Member for Swansea, West (Mr. Allan Williams) in his description of the considerable degree of accord, the wide measure of agreement on, and the general welcome for its provisions. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman and to those of my hon. Friends who have enabled us to apply our minds a little more exactly to getting a better Bill, even though we have not been able to accept all their amendments.

The Sale of Goods Act is some 80 years old. To some extent it could be described as having been secondhand even then. Tremendous changes have taken place in our commercial activities since. In the last century it was possible to have an evenly struck bargain between people of equal power and opportunity. Mass production and the growth of development, quite apart from the complexity of our lives, have caused that balance to get out of true. Hence the need for a consumer protection measure of this nature which I believe will be to the great advantage of consumers.

This has been a widely researched Bill —first by the Malony Committee, then by departmental consultations with a wide range of interests, and finally by the Law Commissioners. I pay tribute to the work that they have done and the way in which they have helped this House in its legislative process. They are now hard at work on the need for protection to be afforded to consumers of services. The Bill has to be seen against a background of a programme of measures which will transform and revitalise this general area of the law.

This is a very important step forward in protecting the consumer. Make no mistake, he will now have a very powerful right of redress, which will be particularly important in ensuring that he gets goods of merchantable quality. No consumer should be misled by any exclusion clause in his contract of sale of goods. He will have an absolute right to the implied terms of Sections 12 to 15 of the Sale of Goods Act. These are very valuable rights. It was possible to rob him of them before this Bill. It will not be possible when it is enacted.

My right hon. Friend has made it clear, and I repeat now, that if the practice of including void exclusion clauses in consumer contracts of sale were to become widespread the Fair Trading Bill would provide powers for dealing with it. It will be open to the Director General to proceed under Part II of that Bill and propose that to mislead consumers in this way should be made a criminal offence. We shall watch the working of the Bill very closely to ensure that it is effective.

We believe that the Bill makes this very considerable addition to consumer protection in a way which is also fair to sellers. All those in weak bargaining positions will be strengthened but strong buyers and sellers may continue to deal with each other on whatever terms suit them. If buyers exercise their rights and sellers fulfil their obligations, as I am confident the great majority will, we can hope to see an improvement in the quality of goods supplied in this country. We shall move nearer the ideal in which the consumer has no need to complain or seek redress because he will be satisfied with the goods supplied.

7.18 p.m.

Mr. Arthur Davidson

I wish to put two questions to the Under-Secretary. I accept all that has been said about the need for the Bill and about the fact that it ought to do away with the appalling, disgraceful and discreditable practice of manufacturers setting out elaborate phrases in their contracts which they are happy to delude the public into thinking are generous terms when they are depriving people of rights that they have under the common law. I feel sure that this legislation will go a long way to do away with that discreditable practice. However, I am certain that there will still be manufacturers who will endeavour to get round it.

In Clause 3 there is a provision dealing with fitness for purpose. The implied condition as to fitness for purpose applies except where the circumstances show that the buyer does not rely, or it is unreasonable for him to rely, on the seller's skill and judgment. I do not want to put nasty thoughts in the minds of firms, manufacturers or anybody else. However, some firms have nasty minds and thoughts already and are no doubt seeking ways to get round the Bill through loopholes which may be found in it. I can imagine some of them putting in those delicate little phrases in small print which say "You should not rely on my skill and judgment" or "Beware, I have no skill and judgment", or words to that effect. In other words, they will be seeking underhanded ways of once again getting out of their obligations.

Mr. Cormack

In the way that certain people have tended to evade responsibilities under the Trade Descriptions Act by putting in auctioneers' catalogues "This is not to be taken as a statement of fact, but merely as a statement of opinion."

Mr. Davidson

The hon. Gentleman, who has displayed considerable interest and has done a great deal for consumer protection, is quite right.

I should like to give another example with which the Minister will be familiar. Under the Unsolicited Goods and Services Act one practice in which trade directory firms indulged was to put on an invoice in small print "This is not a demand for payment ", when clearly it was. The whole purpose of sending out invoices is to ask for payment. We should give a warning that the courts are unlikely to look kindly on firms which indulge in that practice. I hope that the courts will take what is traditionally called a robust view when interpreting whether a clause is an exclusion clause or not.

If the Bill, when enacted, is to work effectively it is important that the public should know the safeguards that it gives. In other words, they should know that it is the buyer who in the long run has the right to recover from the seller. I fear that so long as manufacturers continue to print guarantees—they can still do so; the Bill does not prevent them printing guarantees—in practice when a consumer goes to the shop from which he has bought goods and says "They are defective; I am not happy with them" the sales girl, in all her innocence, might say "You have got the guarantee. Have you written to the manufacturer?" The buyer might then write to the manufacturer, who will, because there is a clause in his guarantee which does not apply to the consumer, say "We will repair it, but there is this clause which provides that we can charge for labour", and so on. Therefore, unless the consumer is fully aware of his rights against the person from whom he has bought goods, the legislation may not be as effective as we want it to be.

I hope that the Minister for Trade and Consumer Affairs will produce a booklet or start a campaign to inform and educate the public about the buyer's rights under the Sale of Goods Act. The public should know that a buyer can go to the seller and say "It may not be your fault, but it is your responsibility and I hold you to your bargain". Perhaps the Minister will reply briefly to those points.

7.24 p.m.

Mr. Cormack

I should like to reinforce what has just been said by the hon. Member for Accrington (Mr. Arthur Davidson). This is a question of the public knowing their rights. It is all very well passing Acts, but if the public do not know their new rights our labour has to some extent been in vain.

I should like to see a plain man's guide to this difficult and complex problem. Perhaps my hon. Friend will give some thought to this proposal. Obviously, I do not expect an answer off the cuff tonight, because expenditure is involved. However, I suggest that citizens advice bureaux up and down the country and, indeed, Members of Parliament should be supplied with such a guide—one thinks of the supplementary benefits handbook as an example—so that people may know their rights. If something along those lines can be done I am sure that the legislation will become more effective because it will be respected by manufacturers and sellers throughout the country.

Mr. Anthony Grant

By leave of the House I will reply briefly to those points.

I entirely agree with the hon. Member for Accrington (Mr. Arthur Davidson) that certain people will always beaver away seeking to find cunning loopholes in the statutes passed by this House. If these people are considering such action they may find themselves in for a shock when they come before the courts. Indeed, there has been a substantial increase in consumer interest over recent years. The Bill is intended for the consumers' protection. I advise anybody who may seek to find ways to evade his responsibility under this legislation to hesitate and consider that it is probably in the best interests of business people not to evade responsibility to the consumer by means of some artificial loophole because it is upon the good will of the consumer that the success of business depends.

The hon. Gentleman and my hon. Friend the Member for Cannock (Mr. Cormack) raised an extremely good point about the need for publicity. My right hon. and learned Friend the Minister for Trade and Consumer Affairs is anxious that the provisions of this Bill, when enacted, should be known as widely as possible. He is considering ways in which he can secure this degree of publicity for it. Certainly the suggestions which have been made will be very carefully considered by him.

Question put and agreed to.

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


As amended (in the Standing Committee), considered.

Motion made, and Question, That the Bill be now read the Third time, put forthwith pursuant to Standing Order No. 56 (Third Reading), and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed, with Amendments.


Order for Second Reading read.

7.28 p.m.

The Secretary of State for Education and Science (Mrs. Margaret Thatcher)

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

The purpose of the Bill is to restore a state of affairs which existed before the school leaving age was raised from 15 to 16 last year and to enable local education authorities and schools to continue to make arrangements for a particular type of educational provision which would otherwise cease to be permitted and which it is generally felt is desirable.

First, it might be as well to explain what is meant by the term "work experience" and precisely why legislation has become necessary. The term is one which has grown up in the educational world to describe activities undertaken by senior pupils as part of the process of learning about the adult world. The part of this process with which the Bill is concerned is the broadening of the pupil's experience and understanding by introducing him at first-hand to the conditions and circumstances of adult work. Clearly, pupils may be taught about the outside world in a classroom, but this teaching needs some reinforcement by first-hand experience.

Some of the points made in the classroom can be illustrated by half-day or whole-day visits by school parties who undertake conducted tours of factories or other undertakings as observers. Such visits have their place in the programme, but a greater impact and deeper understanding can be achieved if the pupil can take part in the work. It is this actual participation which gives rise to the problem which the Bill seeks to resolve.

As the law stands, a pupil who participates in the work of an establishment is considered to be employed. If the pupil is below the upper limit of compulsory school age he is a "child" for the purposes of legislation which prohibits or regulates the employment of children. The effect of the law is that pupils of compulsory school age are prohibited from employment in industrial undertakings or in mines and quarries by legislation which extends back to the Employment of Women, Children and Young Persons Act 1920 and includes various provisions of the Factories Acts. Their employment elsewhere is subject to restrictions, mainly under the Children and Young Persons Act 1933 and the equivalent Scottish Act of 1937, which forbid in any form, the employment of children during school hours, or for more than two hours outside school hours, on any school day. The effect is that participation in work experience which involves taking a hand in the work of the undertaking is restricted to pupils who are above the school leaving age.

In fact, most of the schemes which have been in operation were designed for pupils aged between 15 and 16—that is, those who were in their first year after the school leaving age, until that age was raised in September 1972. Experience with these schemes showed that they were of very great value in the education of the pupils and were particularly relevant to the knowledge and needs of pupils of this age. Provided they are given proper support in the curriculum within the school, both in preparation for their visits to factories and in the follow-up afterwards, pupils of this age are well able to appreciate what is involved, to link with experience gained outside with their teaching in school, and to draw conclusions from it.

The difficulty caused by raising the school leaving age is that the date on which any individual pupil ceases to be of compulsory school age is postponed by one year, and therefore the upper age limit of a child, for the purposes of the statutes, is raised by one year. The effect is that the very group of pupils for whom most of the schemes have been devised would be excluded from those schemes until they reached the new upper limit of compulsory school age.

Hon. Members may well ask whether, in this situation, it would not be possible to devise different schemes, aimed at pupils between 16 and 17—the first year after the new school leaving age—and to rely upon those pupils who stay on voluntarily beyond that age. There are two objections to this suggestion. First, although we expect that raising the school leaving age will have some secondary effects on the number of pupils staying on voluntarily until the age of 17, we do not yet know precisely what these effects will be. Secondly, the experience gained has been mainly with the 15- to 16-year-old group and has demonstrated the value of these schemes for that group.

With these considerations in mind in 1971, I undertook consultations to discover the views of the various interests concerned on the general proposition that the law should be changed to enable pupils of 15-plus to continue to participate in the out-of-school part of work experience schemes after the school leaving age was raised, in the same way as they were able to do beforehand. Among the bodies consulted were the professional associations of teachers, the associations of the local authorities and the CBI and TUC, representing the employers and the organisations of the employees collectively. The response was almost unanimous. The teachers' associations, the local authorities and the employers in England and Wales were agreed that, on educational grounds, this change must be made. Their attitude was one not merely of agreement but of enthusiasm.

It is fair to say, however, that the TUC, both in England and in Scotland—where similar consultations were undertaken— had reservations on the ground that they did not consider work experience of this type to be a proper and relevant part of secondary education. The Educational Institute of Scotland also had reservations.

It is in the light of this response that the Government have decided to bring in this very short Bill, to make this small but important change in the law. I emphasise that support for this measure was expressed on educational grounds by the representatives of the authorities who are responsible for providing education in this country, and in an overwhelming majority by the teachers who are engaged in the daily business of putting theory into practice.

I think that we would all agree that it is necessary to protect the young against exploitation and ensure that they receive a proper education. It is also right that those who have doubts about the new proposals on the ground that they may be diminishing the protection which we have built up over a great many years in this country should express those doubts. But, with great respect to those who expressed those doubts, I think that they may have misunderstood the purpose and the nature of these schemes. They are not intended to produce any sort of vocational training. The schemes have been devised to fit in with the general education given within the schools, to reinforce that education with the help of illustrations from the real world outside, and to help in the transition from school to work.

For example, in one scheme the pupils were involved in some of the preliminary letter-writing necessary to make arrangements for their visits. They were required to write diaries and reports on their experiences as they went along, and to record descriptions and impressions of the work at the end of the course. This, I suppose, might be described as the use of English in a practical situation. In another scheme in which boys were visiting an engineering firm, a great deal of emphasis was given to the importance of safety in the work of the firm. Before the boys actually began the work they were given a training session on the subject and issued with a copy of the "Accident Prevention Code for Young Workers in the Engineering Industry". In a number of schemes the pupils are required to work out their travel arrangements in advance.

I have mentioned the need to protect young people and the emphasis given to safety in one scheme. Consultations in 1971 emphasised that any work experience scheme should be subject to proper safeguards and that if the law were to be changed the safeguards applying to the 15-year-olds should be maintained. It might be helpful to turn to the pro- visions of the Bill in order to show how we propose to do this.

Clause 1(1) removes the application of the enactment relating to the employment of children, subject to certain conditions. This subsection bites only on those enactments which are framed in terms of "children". It has no effect on the enactments designed for the protection of workers in general and expressed without any limitation of age. This will apply to pupils who are taking part in work experience schemes under the Bill. The conditions imposed by this subsection are, first, that the employment is within the pupil's last year of compulsory schooling; second, that it is part of arrangements made or approved by the local education authority as part of an educational programme; and, third that it conforms with the additional requirements set out in subsection (2).

These conditions set work experience firmly in the educational context and place on the local education authority the responsibility for making or approving the arrangements. The further requirements in Clause 1(2) impose the same safeguards relating to health, safety and welfare as previously applied to pupils of this age taking part in such schemes.

To take them in order, work experience as provided for under subsection (1) will not be permitted if it contravenes legislation framed in terms of specific ages and prohibiting or restricting the employment of persons under those ages. The next proviso takes acount of the particularly hazardous nature of employment on ships, and provides that work experience on ships—if anyone had it in mind to provide such experience—may be undertaken only within the very narrow range permitted by the Employment of Women, Young Persons and Children Act 1920 or those provisions of the Merchant Shipping Acts 1970 which will supersede the provisions of the 1920 Act when they are brought into force. Finally, no work experience arrangements are to be made which would entail work by a 15-year-old which would be illegal for young persons, that is to say, those between 16 and 18 years old.

The Bill is largely an enabling measure, which permits the authority to continue to make arrangements of the sort which it has been making in the past, subject only to a little more formal restriction. It is, however, the intention of the Government if the Bill is passed to issue guidance to education authorities and schools explaining the legal provisions and giving advice, based on the observation of good practice, about the organisation of work experience schemes, the need for proper preparation and consultation with those who will be asked to cooperate in carrying them out, and the safeguards and supervision which should be provided in order to protect the young people who are taking part. It is our intention to consult existing authorities about the content of this guidance and to give them a chance to comment before it is published. It is certainly my intention that these consultations should include, as before, not only the educational and local authority interests but those of employers and employees.

7.40 p.m.

Miss Joan Lestor (Eton and Slough)

The right hon. Lady has shown the importance which she attaches to the Bill by presenting it to the House herself. I thank her for a very lucid explanation of its contents. I want to make one or two observations and to enlarge upon some of the points implied in the Bill.

The necessity for the Bill arose from the raising of the school leaving age. With one or two exceptions or additions, it restores the state of affairs which existed previously.

It is right that one should stress the educational nature and content of the Bill because its intention is to enable children in their last year of compulsory schooling to obtain work experience as part of their education. That side of the Bill needs to be stressed, and the right hon. Lady did so.

Work experience is not always understood by many parents, and, indeed, by other people. The term describes a variety of activities undertaken by pupils as part of the process of learning about the adult world within the context of their general education. This is very suited to their last year at school. The value and the intention of work experience schemes should be—as it has been very largely—to try to introduce pupils to circumstances and conditions of adult work in a rather fuller way than by half a day or even a day of being taken to visit a factory or some other establishment. Although the visits which are undertaken from schools are exceedingly valuable, and one does not want to detract from them, the experience of work, of necessity, does much more than those short visits.

The right hon. Lady rightly said that, by and large, the only objections to the Bill which have been received have come from the TUC. The TUC was kind enough to send me a copy of its objections. The Opposition do not accept the TUC's reservations as being sufficient grounds for objection to the Bill, but one or two of the TUC reservations are worth mentioning. Perhaps later in the debate hon. Members may care to comment on some of them. The right hon. Lady has mentioned one of them.

The TUC has never been very happy about the whole programme and idea of work experience. The first of its two main objections is that there would be a tendency to limit young people involved in work experience to the most unskilled jobs with little or no educational value. I do not know upon what evidence that objection is based. But we can safeguard against such a tendency. If we are aware of that danger and so long as we make it clear to firms taking part in work experience schemes, this is not something that would merit objecting to the Bill. However, it is a valid reservation.

The other point made by the TUC is of interest, but again it can be dealt with. This was that there is still a limited number of places available for work experience, as not all employers are willing to participate, and some are not able to participate, for obvious reasons with which I need not deal.

The TUC's fear on this point was that there could be a tendency, because of the limitation of places, for work experience to be regarded as something appropriate only to what the TUC calls the less able child or the non-examination child. So long as we are aware and take it for granted that work experience should include a cross-section of young people and that no one should be excluded from it—and that no one should be pushed into it unwillingly—we can safeguard ourselves from the tendency to regard it as something likely to be used for the unskilled jobs. That is not an objection which would invalidate the Bill. In the main, it is not an objection which we support. However, the objections have to be borne in mind.

The Bill touches upon some practical questions, some of which the right hon. Lady mentioned, such as safety, insurance matters and health risks. These matters must be carefully considered. One or two experiences in the past have focused attention on these things.

There is also the over-riding point that because work experience has not been fully understood by all parents, parents should be acquainted with what it is all about and their full consent should be obtained for their children to participate in this very important experience.

Work experience has an enormous value. It could have a far greater value educationally. It is important to stress that it should not simply be regarded as something relevant only to factory work or to limited areas of future employment. In the future it should be seen not only as part of education but as a general part of a careers advisory service which would cater right across the board for young people of various abilities, intellects and interests. It should be seen as applying to various areas of employment, and not as being confined to certain narrow areas, as has been the tendency.

The right hon. Lady will correct me if I am wrong, but I think that for the first time the Bill enables handicapped pupils to be included in work experience. This is invaluable. I hope that we shall give every encouragement possible to firms to involve handicapped young people in work experience. This can only bring benefits to such people and to all who participate with them in this experience.

All of us on the Opposition side of the House regard work experience as a vital part of the final year at school. Therefore, we welcome the Bill as restoring the status quo to the situation. If the Bill is handled with imagination, skill and concern, it will prove of great value particularly to young people but also to the country.

7.47 p.m.

Mr. Patrick Cormack (Cannock)

It gives me great pleasure to speak immediately after the hon. Member for Eton and Slough (Miss Lestor) and my right hon. Friend, and to be able to say that I agree with every word they have said.

I want to take up one point that the hon. Lady mentioned. She said that work experience could and should be looked upon as part of a general careers advisory service. In a sense, this is my maiden speech. I was a schoolmaster for 10 years, but I have never dared to speak on this subject previously in the House. However, it has always seemed to me that the crying need in our secondary schools was for a comprehensive—I use that word advisedly—and a thorough careers advisory service. Far too often in our schools the work of the careers advisory master or mistress is delegated to some willing member of the staff—or even to an unwilling member—who has a full work load and timetable and knows very little about giving careers advice. Such a person also has little opportunity to acquire experience, to go into factories and offices, and so on.

I should hate to think that the Bill was in any way looked upon as a substitute for providing the sort of careers advice desperately needed by our schools. I know schools, as do other hon. Members, where the careers advice is first class. But it is a grave deficiency in our education service that in 1973 a very large number of schools do not provide proper careers advice.

I know not whether it would be appropriate to the Bill—I am not suggesting necessarily that it would be—but I should like my right hon. Friend to consider very carefully, through either the Bill or another measure in the near future, making it obligatory for all secondary schools to have a proper careers master or mistress. By that I mean someone who would have at most no more than a half-teaching timetable. I have done this job myself in a couple of schools. To do the job properly one needs time to meet employers, to go into factories and offices, and to study the sort of entrance requirements needed for various colleges and universities. One needs time to assess the pupil and his potential, to see parents and to give a prompt and constructive piece of advice. Very often children leave school with a chip on their shoulders because they have failed to measure up to their parents' expectations and because they have not been given proper advice in the schools.

I well remember the case of parents who came to me because they were desperately anxious that their son should be a vet simply because he liked animals. The boy was a delightful lad in every way, but his intelligence was certainly limited and his academic achievements never rose above four O levels. But the consequence of the parents ambition was that the boy felt something of a failure until we were able to get hold of them all and prove that there was a career for which he was ideally suited.

It is essential that all our schools should be able to give this service to pupils and parents. Valuable and important as the Bill is, and important as work experience can be in the curriculum in the final school year, it is to some extent negatived if it is not part of a wider and general careers advice.

I hope that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has taken the point and that something can be done in the Bill or later to make work experience part of an integrated and thorough careers advice which we should be able to offer to children in secondary schools.

7.54 p.m.

Mr. J. D. Dormand (Easington)

I welcome the Bill, which seems to be aimed at making the final year at school more meaningful, something which is long overdue. Boredom in the final year is not a new problem. Although the Bill will not get rid of it, it will make a significant contribution to easing that problem.

My only criticism of the Bill is that it is too general. I should like it to be more specific, particularly about how work experience should be conducted. I am not referring to the detailed arrangements of work experience. That is obviously a matter for the local education authority and the school. I am delighted that the Secretary of State has said that she wishes to issue a circular of advice. This is of fundamental importance if and when the Bill is enacted. It is essential to do this because, if I can presume to tell the right hon. Lady, although most schools are enthusiastic about work experience there is considerable timidity about undertaking it. They want to know whether unions in the area will accept it. The memorandum from the TUC has been mentioned, but there can be a great lack of communication between trade union headquarters and people in the area of the schools who have to work the scheme with schoolchildren.

This is a problem which I feel will be met. But the teachers will want to know about the responsibility for supervision, particularly as it relates to the difficulties involving handicapped children. They will obviously require special attention, but, more than anything else, they will want to know, and will need to be satisfied about, insurance arrangements in case of accidents. The Minister may think that this is a small point but I can assure her that it is not. As recently as five years ago there was a parallel scheme for work experience with teachers. It was a most laudable scheme but it failed. No more than about half a dozen LEA's in the country were able to implement the scheme. It failed simply because the insurance aspect was not clarified to the satisfaction of the teachers, and, in my view, they were right to take that view. In my area I had to deal with that problem. Teachers were enthusiastic about the scheme but it fell down after many hours of discussion because I could not get a definitive answer from the Department of Education, the LEA, or anyone concerned.

The position will be more difficult with schoolchildren. Obviously, there are likely to be more accidents than with adults. The position with teachers in conveying pupils to and from places of work will create difficulty and teachers may have to supervise children in the place of work. Perhaps most important of all, the attitude of the parents is fundamental. They will need to be completely satisfied about this aspect if they are to bring their enthusiasm to bear on the scheme. I am aware that the Government will have thought about the question of insurance, although when the Bill had its Second Reading in another place there was little indication about this important aspect.

My appeal to the Government is that the insurance provision be set out in a crystal-clear manner to the LEAs and the schools. The provisions should be placed on every head teacher's desk and spelt out in a manner that leaves no room for doubt. I do not say that the whole scheme will fail if this is not done, but it may not meet with the success that it deserves.

The insurance aspect was my main reason for intervening in the debate tonight. However, I hope that when the Bill is passed schools will not over-do work experience. It could become too easy for schools to send droves of pupils over every week for hours on end. The purpose of such work is to give them a test of adult working activity. It is not vocational experience as such. I am sufficiently old-fashioned to believe that the last year of school, even though children are there until the age of 16, should be generally educational and not vocational, although it is a tremendous challenge to teachers to ensure that the last year is as relevant as possible.

Work experience has been carried out in many countries for years, notably Sweden and the United States. From what I have learned of their experience it seems to me that we could learn the valuable lesson from those countries of not over-doing work experience schemes. Everyone concerned in this activity has a lot to learn about it. Experience of it should be documented as soon as possible. I appeal to the Secretary of State that after perhaps three or four years we should set up a working party to consider the experience that we shall undoubtedly have gained. I believe that course would be essential.

7.58 p.m.

Dame Joan Vickers (Plymouth, Devonport)

I thank my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for being present tonight, and also for producing what I think will be a valuable Bill. It will help to smooth progress from the sheltered life at school to the adult world. It is a great shock for many young people to go straight from school to work. I was interested in what my hon. Friend the Member for Cannock (Mr. Cormack) said about careers officers. I heard of the case of someone in America who was keen to be a vet but was told that his qualifications were not good enough. He is now training to be a dentist.

I agree with the hon. Member for Eton and Slough (Miss Lestor) about unskilled jobs with their limitations. One is entitled to ask whether hospital visits, for example, will be included, and whether children will be allowed to see how probation officers work, and how the social services and citizens' advice bureaux function. Will they also have an opportunity of going to children's homes and working in playgroups? Not everybody wants to go into a factory, store or mill.

How far will the Bill go in helping young people? It is essential for them to know what is going on in their area. To go through the different departments of their local authority and understand the work of local government in their area would be invaluable to them. They could also visit the disabled, and homes for spastic children, and thus obtain a good understanding of some of the problems of life.

I am delighted that the handicapped are covered by the Bill, as it is even more difficult for them than for other young people to obtain jobs when they leave school.

The Bill should also help with the drop-out rate—a cause of concern to many of us, as there is a great deal of truancy among older pupils. The Bill should provide them with something interesting, which is another reason why I am very keen on this Bill. If we can make wide enough the scope of the visits young people can make for work experience we may find something to suit practically everybody.

I hope that girls will not be shown what are usually considered to be girls' jobs. Girls have recently been admitted to naval dockyards. This innovation was not very successful in the beginning, because the girls did not want to take up the apprenticeships. But now they are entering in fairly large numbers and are being accepted by the young male apprentices. If they could have seen such work beforehand it would not have been so difficult to encourage them to enter.

I was interested to learn that Dame Muriel Stewart, ex-President of the National Union of Teachers, has stated that Experience for a week or weeks in a factory, mill or office is what these pupils need. Only in this way can they find out what it is like to work a full day …"— that appears to me to be the opposite of the TUC's views— and to carry out tasks for which they carry responsibility. I should like to make two suggestions. The first concerns agriculture. I realise that the industry is now highly mechanised and that it is not easy for young people to work on farms. But it is essential for children, and for urban children in particular, to know how farms are worked, how the food is produced, and how hard this work is.

We should also help young people who would like to enter the Services. Twenty per cent. of young people who would have gone into the forces would have done so on leaving school at the age of 15. Those who wish to join the Services should now be allowed to go to some of the forces' educational establishments, which are excellent and give a very good education. I think, for example, of HMS "Ganges", which has small classes where education is very well taught.

Young people who genuinely want to enter the Services should have an opportunity to learn what Service life is all about before they join up. If they already knew something about the Armed Forces it might be possible that less of them would want to opt out after entry My right hon. Friend has said that young people could go on ships, so there can be no reason why they should not go to sea in naval ships for a week, or have a few flights with the RAF. If this suggestion is not possible, pupils might be encouraged to join the local cadet force of the Service of their choice.

I hope that my right hon. Friend will consider my suggestion that young people who genuinely want to enter the Services should have the same opportunities to see that side of life as to see what goes on in a factory.

I thank my right hon. Friend for the trouble she has taken in coming here today, and I hope that when he replies to the debate my hon. Friend the Undersecretary will consider some of the points that I have raised.

8.5 p.m.

Mr. Barry Jones (Flint, East)

I am glad to follow the exploratory speech of the hon. Member for Plymouth, Devon-port (Dame Joan Vickers).

The Bill is highly significant. It deserves to be a great success, and it will be if the teachers, local education authorities, trade unions, and firms, large and small, work together.

Like other hon. Members, I welcome the Secretary of State's declaration that she will issue a guidance circular. It will require good will and sufficient financial and staff assistance if the Bill is to achieve the required social and educational standards.

We should not forget that starting a new job fresh from the classroom can be a frightening experience for hundreds of thousands of youths and girls. The Bill will help the more sensitive and timid school leavers.

I hope that the Bill will help to break down a damaging aspect of our society—the fact that various sectors operate in isolation from each other. The community as a whole will benefit from the Bill if it is a success. The schools will not suffer if young people see more of local industry, commerce and trade unionism. In passing the Bill we shall probably be ensuring a big breath of fresh air for the education service as a whole. The schools' curricula will change, but certain educational principles will need to be protected. There must be considerable preparation by the teacher and, say, the shop steward, before the pupil leaves school for his or her work experience.

The work experience should be participation and not simply observation, though there are problems of which my hon. Friend the Member for Eton and Slough (Miss Lestor) has spoken. For example, there will need to be careful thought about the place where the pupils will obtain their meals while at work, and what kind of cloakroom accommodation they will have.

I hope that on the shop floor the pupil will be given a thorough explanation of welfare and safety regulations, and will have pointed out to him that the success of the company's operation depends, at least partly, upon the solid day-to-day contribution of the trade unions.

I hope that the Bill will have two effects: first, to help improve trade unionism's undeserved image of restrictive and bloody-minded practice and, secondly, to give young people a better chance to make a success of their working lives. After all, in the years ahead there is the prospect of fewer jobs, us each technological breakthrough occurs.

8.8 p.m.

Mr. Jeffrey Archer (Louth)

I, too, thank my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for doing us the courtesy of introducing the Bill herself.

I am particularly interested in the Bill because my own Bill—the Employment of Children Bill—will have its Third Reading on Friday, if the hon. Member for Flint, East (Mr. Barry Jones) is kind enough to let it skate through the House. I think I can tell my right hon. Friend without any fear of being criticised by her that her Bill is younger than mine, because we shall be two or three weeks ahead of her.

I was worried by the raising of the school leaving age. Even now, I am not certain that the implications are fully understood by the House; I am not certain that, on balance, it was the right decision. Only time will show. I supported the change at the time, but it is one of those decisions that I shall judge having seen how it works out. It was not one about which I was certain when I made it. We hear from schools, and from children that some children want to leave at 15 and not 16. It is therefore of vital importance that their last year should be made interesting. Work experience is the best example for the sort of child who has immense physical energy but no desire to be stuck in a classroom the entire time. Such provisions are more than worth while.

I know that in Committee my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State will talk more fully on the TUC's view of safety, health and insurance. The hon. Member for Eton and Slough (Miss Lestor) made that point very well. The hon. Lady will find that we will listen carefully to her views in Committee, if we are allowed to be in Committee, and shall do what we can. Having had my Bill go through Committee, and having heard the hon. Member for Flint, East (Mr. Barry Jones) and the right hon. Member for Anglesey (Mr. Cledwyn Hughes) put their views on my Bill, I now have a fresher mind.

I welcome my right hon. Friend's comment on the advisory code. It is important that everyone should be well briefed on the significance of the Bill. I hope that my hon. Friend's words will not just be words said at the Dispatch Box. One of the great criticisms of the Government has been that when they have achieved something which the people were meant to know about, everybody in the House who has followed the subject has known about it, and those who read the papers in detail have found out, but the information has not percolated down to the people who mattered. We must act at departmental level, and ensure that everyone gets to know. We must ensure that it is not a case of words being said at the Dispatch Box.

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on bringing the Bill to the House. It is a pleasure to support her. I am delighted that the Opposition support her, and I hope that the measure will speedily become an Act.

8.12 p.m.

The Under-Secretary of State for Education and Science (Mr. Norman St. John-Stevas)

This is a small but a most important Bill. My right hon. Friend and I welcome the generally favourable reception which the Bill has had. I welcome, too, the constructive speech made by the hon. Member for Eton and Slough (Miss Lestor). We must bear in mind that the Bill is essentially one which restores the situation which existed before the school leaving age was raised. It enables local education authorities, if they wish to do so, to continue to arrange work experience for a limited range of pupils.

It is right that we should not lose sight of the need to make these schemes genuine educational schemes and to provide for the protection of pupils. The hon. Lady expressed concern about handicapped pupils. That was a point which was also referred to by the hon. Member for Easington (Mr. Dormand).

Special mention should be made of the position of handicapped pupils at special schools. Since 1945 handicapped pupils have been of compulsory school age until 16-plus, whereas other children have ceased to be of comparable school leaving age at 15-plus. Therefore, the former have not been able to take part in work experience schemes until they were of the age of 16. The school leaving age is now common to both groups. It seemed reasonable to bring handicapped pupils into line with the others.

It may well be that no schemes will be devised for handicapped pupils, but the Bill enables local authorities to produce such schemes if they decide that it is right and in the interests of handicapped pupils to do so as part of their education.

My right hon. Friend mentioned the forthcoming issue of guidance from the Department. The Department's advice will remind local education authorities of the need to pay attention to the educational value of the schemes and to provide for the safety of pupils participating in them. As my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dame Joan Vickers) made clear in her quotation, these courses are intended to be not vocational but educational. The guidance will also draw attention to the need for the fullest possible consultation from the early stages in working out any scheme.

In the debate on the Bill in another place my noble Friend Lord Belstead suggested that those who might be brought into consultation included the governors of schools, the inspectorate set up by the local authorities for the Children and Young Persons Act and that for the Offices, Shops and Railway Premises Act. Her Majesty's Inspectors of Factories, Her Majesty's Inspectors of Schools and local education authority careers officers would also be involved.

It is also right that the parents of the pupils should be kept informed of what is going on. The means of communication vary from one school to another. A number of schools in the past have not only given the parents information but have asked for their formal consent for their children to take part in the scheme. That was a point which was made by the hon. Member for Eton and Slough and the hon. Member for Easington.

It is best to leave the local authorities to judge in the light of the prevailing circumstances whether to obtain formal permission. The guidance will emphasise that special care should be taken to ensure that no pupil is employed in work which is unsuitable for him or her on physical or medical grounds.

Work experience schemes must be regarded as part of the general curriculum of a school—

Mr. Dormand

Will the hon. Gentleman say whether his right hon. Friend has in mind that there should be a special paragraph or paragraphs in the circular dealing with handicapped children? This is a matter which needs to be spelt out very clearly.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

We will certainly take into account the hon. Gentleman's suggestion. Work experience schemes should be regarded as part of the general curriculum of a school. It would be inappropriate for pupils to be paid for their participation in the work of a firm. That point will be covered in the guidance that the Department will circulate.

An important matter to which reference has been made is the amount of time that should be given to work experience. It is not possible to lay down any hard and fast rules about the amount of time to be taken up in activities outside school. In accordance with the underlying nature of the scheme, a pupil's participation should be long enough to give him or her a proper flavour of what is going on. On the other hand, it would clearly be wrong for the amount of time spent out of school to interfere seriously with a pupil's education. Some schemes have arranged for pupils to be out for half a day or a whole day a week for each week of one term in the final year. That does not seem to be excessive.

The possibilities range from comparatively short periods spread over a long time to a smaller number of longer attachments of one or two weeks. Much will depend on the employers and local circumstances. It is essentially a matter for local decision. Supervision is also of great importance. The arrangements should include proper provision for the supervision of the pupils both within the firm and by the school. Within the firm there should be a responsible employee or member of the staff who is acquainted with the aims of the scheme and will assume responsibility for the pupils' welfare while they are with the firm. The school should arrange to keep in touch with the pupils. There should be standing arrangements for teachers to visit the firms concerned and supervise the progress of the pupils.

The hon. Member for Easington raised the question of insurance. The first point to be made here is that the need for it should be kept to the minimum by paying attention to safety and supervision in the arrangements. Nevertheless, of course there may be occasions when accidents will happen. Someone will be injured or property will be damaged, and there will be a claim for compensation. Because there is no contract of employment, the pupils will not be eligible for industrial injuries benefit. It is, therefore, essential that the local education authorities should make sure, before pupils are sent out on work experience schemes, that there is adequate insurance cover, either under their own schemes or from the employers. The arrangements made by the local authorities to cover possible liability vary a great deal, and the Department does not, and cannot, give guidance of general application. The need for insurance, however, is a matter which will be taken into account in the advice it is proposed to issue. I hope that will reassure hon. Members on the point.

I want to refer to the position of girls in these schemes. Work experience is not a scheme for one sex only. I listened with great interest to my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Devonport relating the constructive experience of the girls in the naval dockyards of her constituency. A number of schemes already in operation provide opportunities for girls to participate, and I am sure that local education authorities will take note of the need to avoid discrimination against women in this as in other areas.

My hon. Friend the Member for Devonport also asked whether hospitals, playgroups and nurseries would qualify for work experience courses. These are matters which the local education authority itself should decide, but existing schemes include groups working in hospitals, nurseries and playgroups, in dentists' reception, in public libraries and in council offices. So work experience is not confined to industrial work as such. Some schemes are obviously non-vocational. For example, a boy doing a CSE project on computers went to a computer firm although he had no desire to make that his life's work.

My hon. Friend the Member for Devonport also referred to the educational establishments of Her Majesty's Forces, pointing out the difficulties which may arise because of the raising of the school leaving age. It is a most important point, and we shall inquire into it to see whether anything can be done. I join in her tribute to the work of HMS "Ganges" and other educational establishments of Her Majesty's Forces.

I turn now to the question of careers guidance, raised by the hon. Member for Eton and Slough and my hon. Friend the Member for Cannock (Mr. Cormack). Work experience is not primarily a part of the careers guidance provisions. Nevertheless, of course, it can be of great help in giving pupils information about the nature of particular jobs which will assist them in making career choices. Local authority careers services can help in formulating work experience schemes by suggesting, from their knowledge of local employers, which firms would be suitable and which form of project would be most likely to produce a co-operative response. Good liaison with the careers officer and with the careers teachers in the schools will be most helpful in producing work experience schemes.

Dame Joan Vickers

What about agriculture?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I am sure that there will be opportunities also for work experience in agriculture. I hope that answer satisfies my hon. Friend, whose interests range remarkably widely.

I repeat my pleasure that the Bill has not proved controversial and has received the welcome which it has from the Opposition. I hope that its passage through the Committee and its remaining stages in the House will be equally uncontentious.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second Time.

Bill committed to a Standing Committee pursuant to Standing Order No. 40 (Committal of Bills).

Back to