HC Deb 28 March 1904 vol 132 cc905-19


Order for Third Reading read.

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

SIR JOHN GORST (Cambridge University)

said he wished to direct attention to the physical condition of the children in the elementary schools. This matter had been frequently discussed in the House, and he wished to know how long it was to remain a subject of discussion and inquiry, and when the Board of Education would see its way to take some practical steps to ameliorate the condition of the children. The London School Board had had no less than three committees on the subject, and they had collected a great amount of information. The first committee was held as long ago as 1889, the second in 1895, and the third made its report in 1899. All the reports recognised the unfortunate condition of a large number of the children. The first committee reported that 12 per cent, of the total number of children attending the schools of the London School Board were suffering from insufficient nutrition. Although a voluntary association, called the London School Dinner Association, had done an enormous amount of good work in the Metropolis to thousands since that time, the report of the last committee recognised that, in spite of all the efforts that had been made by that association, there were still a considerable number of children in the schools so hungry that they were unable to do the work of the schools. The evidence brought before the School Board committee in regard to St. Bartholomew's School as to children suffering from want of food was only an example of what was happening in hundreds of other schools in London and other great cities in England and Scotland. He did not think there was such evidence forthcoming in the case of country schools, not because the children did not hunger, but because inquiry had not taken place in regard to them. When he was Vice-President of the Council he constantly brought this matter before the House, but he was sorry to say that he never was able to bring the House to a real appreciation of the gravity of the case. A Royal Commission in Scotland which inquired into physical training commented not only on that question but also on the physical condition of the children in the schools. That matter was discussed twice last session, once on the Scotch Estimates and once on the Education Vote. His hon. friend the Secretary to the Board of Education promised at that time that an inquiry should be made in regard to the children of the great towns of England analagous to that made regarding the children of Edinburgh and Aberdeen.

A Commission was appointed nearly a year ago at the instigation of the military authorities to inquire into the alleged deterioration of recruits. A Committee was appointed to draw up the ordinary reference, and to consider how the Commission was to be constituted. He was very glad to say that that Committee was not now to report upon the question of the institution of a Royal Commission, but to consider what were the causes of the deterioration of the health of the children in the schools, and what were the remedies. Now, these causes were perfectly patent, and had been known to the House of Commons for ten or twelve years; they were want of fresh air, want of proper food, want of proper treatment, and want of medical inspection. As to the remedies, of course, opinions might considerably differ. There was not anything like unanimity, but everybody was agreed that some remedy should be applied. It was the duty of Parliament either to prescribe remedies, or to give power to the local authorities which would enable them to prescribe remedies. He did not blame the Board of Education, or his hon. friend the Parliamentary Secretary. He thought they had always been willing to take this matter into consideration, and provide the necessary remedies. What was wanted was a little more pressure from public opinion, and the House of Commons, which would strengthen the hands of the Board of Education and enable them to grapple with this urgent and extremely important question. The mischief done by taking hungry children into schools, and attempting to make them do intellectual or physical work was quite incalculable. It taxed their brain and muscles, and did an injury to the children which no amount of good feeding or physic in after life could eradicate. He hoped his hon. friend would say that the Government and the Board of Education were entirely alive to the gravity of this matter, and that he would be able to give some account to the House as to when they might expect the Report of the Committee, and when practical effect would be given to that Report.

MR. CROOKS (Woolwich)

said he could not let that opportunity pass without trying to persuade the House to encourage the Education Department to follow the suggestions made by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Cambridge University. He feared that the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Education had but little notion, from reading the reports from various schoolmasters, of what took place in the schools. Only a few days ago a message came to him asking him to use his influence in an endeavour to get a child of under fourteen years of age released from school attendance. He asked why, and was told that she was wanted to nurse her father who was a chronic invalid, while the mother went out to work to get the necessaries of life for the family. That child when compelled to go to school had, through the kindness of the teacher—

to his everlasting credit—been allowed to sleep instead of trying to learn lessons. He knew that when it was suggested that these poor children should be fed, it was said that that would be to relieve parent of their responsibilty. He knew that there was a percentage of bad fathers and mothers; but then, by refusing to feed the children, we were punishing the children, and not the bad fathers and mothers. It was a remarkable thing that, in consequence of the action of the House and Government, certain diseases of children, such as ophthalmia and ringworm, had been stamped out of the Poor Law schools, but there was a perpetual recruiting ground for children with such ailments in the outside schools, where there were so many children without fresh air and good food. Why should that be? Simply because of the heroic efforts of mothers and fathers to remain out of the workhouse until they could stand it no longer. The only thing which cured these children was not so much medical attendance as fresh air and good feeding. It should be remembered it was from these children that recruits were drawn for the Army and Navy, and yet they were denied fresh air, good food, and sound sleep in the very years of their life when they most wanted them. If the guardians in one district tried to remedy the evil by means of outdoor relief, those in the next district might be against outdoor relief, in order to compel the people to go into the workhouse, and, to the everlasting credit of the British workman and his wife, they stayed out of the workhouse as long as they could. But then the children suffered. These poor people lived in a one-roomed house in a slum, not because they liked it, but because they could not afford anything else; and they starved in the slum until they could do so no longer. A Thackeray or a Dickens was needed to do justice to the heroism of some of the women who were looked down upon for their supposed neglect of the personal cleanliness of their children, when their energies were absorbed in the struggle to obtain food for the husband, who was out of work, and the little ones, and to pay the rent. Three women came to him the other day, not in their own interest, but asking him if he could not give the woman at the corner some few half-pence. That poor woman was trying to earn a living by casual work, and her neighbours had shared their loaves with her, but they could not afford to do more, and she was crying because she had nothing to give the children when they came out of school at twelve o'clock. What a Christian nation we were! Sometimes a woman who had got a day's work to scrub out a room, did not return until midnight, with perhaps eighteen pence, and the remnants of some employer's dinner, and when she got into her slum room, she would be greeted by the cry of the little children waking up from their sleep—"Is that mother? Have you got anything to eat?" She would feed them and they would fall asleep again on the floor; and it was in these circumstances that the mother was often abused for not cleansing her children properly. Thousands of such cases were known, and the House could not shirk its responsibility for those children. They must realise their responsibility, for none of these things ought to happen in a country governed like ours. They had no right to shut their eyes and say it was no business of theirs. He contended that it was their business. The money now spent on their education was wasted, as it would not be in the feeding of the children. The nation had to pay ten times over when the children and the parents broke down through living in a vitiated atmosphere and through bad feeding. The payment was only made from the rates instead of the taxes. It was the work of the nation; and it was fearfully hard that because the poor were segregated, the poor should be obliged to keep the poor, and that the rates should run up to 10s. in the £. It was surely time that the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the President of the Board of Education should look into these matters. It might be possible for Parliament to make mistakes in some things, and for the county councils to make some mistakes in spending the rates, these could be remedied; but when mistakes were made in regard to children, and the bringing up of children, they were mistakes which could not be easily remedied. Every day that passed thousands and thousands of children were badly fed, and insufficiently clothed, and every succeeding day made matters worse. There were many people, to their credit be it said, who insisted that it would be a good thing if the feeding of these children was part of their school curriculum. If that were done, what a fine race we should grow up, and it, would be found that England did not exist for a few, but for all. He did not ask the hon. Baronet to get up and give his sympathy only; he wanted his help, and he wanted him to remember that every day that went by made it still more difficult to overtake the evil.


said that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Cambridge University had opened a subject on which he had always felt very strongly. Anyone who had to do with the elementary education of this country must realise that this was the most heartbreaking aspect of the educational question. If they took two schools in London, one in a fairly well-to-do district, and another in a poor district, and compared the results of the teaching in each, they would find the attendance good in both, the teaching good, and the children well behaved, but simply for want of proper nutrition and home care the children in the one school were immeasurably inferior in the results of that teaching to the children in the other. The right hon. Gentleman had asked what was going to be done as regarded the Committee of Inquiry appointed last summer. That Committee started on somewhat different lines from those which it had ultimately followed. It was based on the number of recruits rejected, and it was appointed with a view to ascertaining whether a Royal Commission should not be appointed to inquire into the general question of physical deterioration. The Board of Education felt it was very largely interested in the matter, and it was represented on the Committee. The reference implied the duty of ascertaining what steps should be taken to furnish the Government with a periodical set of facts as to the physical condition of the people and to try to indicate the causes of the deterioration and to point out the means by which it might be improved. The Committee began to sit in the winter, and they found that the British Association had appointed a committee, of which Professor Cunningham was chairman, to inquire into the same subject. The Committee put itself in communication with the committee of the British Association, which met them in a most cordial spirit. Professor Cunningham gave evidence, and the scheme already outlined by the British Association committee was sent to the College of Physicians and the College of Surgeons. The College of Surgeons had sent back word that they cordially approved of the proposed scheme, that there should be a regular survey of the population of the United Kingdom—of the agricultural and working population and of the children in the schools, and that means should be taken to ascertain their physical condition at the school age. The College of Physicians were still considering the matter. It was hoped that by proper management it might be possible to cover the whole of the United Kingdom every ten years, so that there might be a complete survey of the United Kingdom in the course of every ten years. This Committee had gone into the question of the life of the child from infancy up to the school age, during the school age, and during the period of adolescence. It had gone very carefully into the question of the nutrition of the children, and on these points members of the medical profession had given most valuable evidence. He believed also that his right hon. friend the Member for Cambridge University and the hon. Gentleman the Member for North Camberwell would also give evidence. He hoped the Committee would report at no distant date, and then they would be in possession of the facts as to the physical condition of the children, and they would have what the Committee conceived to be the causes of the evil and their suggested remedy. He did not think that the House would expect him to say more on the subject at present, but he wished the House to understand that the inquiries being made were of a most practical character, and that the Committee were going into the actual causes of the physical ailments and physical shortcomings of the children at school and before they went to school.


said he desired to ask the Chief Secretary to the Lord-Lieutenant one or two Questions. Before doing so he desired to testify to the emotion with which the House heard the hon. Gentleman the Member for Woolwich, and how glad he was that the class for whom the hon. Gentleman spoke had at last found a spokesman in the House. The Chief Secretary would remember that he asked him a Question in the afternoon as to whether he had any information with reference to what occurred at a meeting held at the Ancient Concert Rooms in Dublin on Thursday evening last. The meeting turned out to be divided in opinion, and it was no part of his business to express any opinion as to the object for which the meeting was called. All he wished was to ask the Chief Secretary whether his attention had been called to the action of the police on the occasion. According to the newspaper reports, after the chairman had left the chair a body of police marched into the hall and proceeded to violently expel a number of ladies and gentlemen. He himself had received information that a great deal of unnecessary violence was used by the police; and he was given to understand that a number of ladies and several gentlemen of position in Dublin were roughly expelled from the hall. He asked to know by what authority the police acted in this way, and whether the police had any right to enter the hall at all and violently turn out a number of people when there was no turbulence beyond an ordinary difference of opinion which might occur at any meeting in England as well as in Ireland. Another curious circumstance was that the meeting was practically at an end when the police arrived, and their action was very calculated to lead to a serious disturbance. He himself was surprised that there was not retaliation on the occasion. He would ask the right hon. Gentleman by what authority the police entered the hall and violently expelled a number of ladies and gentlemen who were prepared to leave, the meeting being at an end, if not interfered with by the police. He observed in the newspapers that the Lord-Lieutenant had ordered an inquiry into the conduct of the police. What would be the nature of that inquiry and would it be open to the Press and the public? If it were not it would not be a satisfactory inquiry. This was a serious matter, affecting the right of public meeting in Ireland and an inquiry on oath should be held.


said that the hon. Member put a Question to him that afternoon, and a certain amount of information had since reached him on the subject by telegraph. The hon. Member, however, had raised points of law on which he should not now like to speak with confidence. He and others had read newspaper accounts of the proceedings which involved certain regrettable features, but they would see that the reports were conflicting. Information which had reached him went to show that the meeting became of a very disorderly character; and it was stated that the disorderly element was due to the action of representatives of the Gaelic League, but this was repudiated in the Press to-day. The proceedings were of a more disorderly character than the hon. Member seemed to suppose. It appeared that no motion could be put for a space of something like two and a half hours. He expressed his intention of replying to the specific Questions put by the hon. Member without giving any legal opinion. He understood that the chairman of the meeting, Sir James Murphy, who was chairman of the Dublin Chamber of Commerce, had hired the hall and was responsible for the furniture. Seeing that the excitement was growing, and forming the opinion that the furniture would very likely suffer and that he would be responsible for the damage, and forming the opinion also that a breach of the peace was likely to arise, and as the uproar continued and was likely to continue, he sent for the police and the proceedings came to an abrupt conclusion either just before or at the moment the police entered. The police having been sent for were bound to go; and the information which he had received from Sir Antony Macdonnell, Mr. MacNeill, and the inspector of police, seemed to show that no unnecessary force was used. He should not like without receiving and considering a written report in all its bearings to go further and lay down the law.

MR. JOHN REDMOND (Waterford)

said the right hon. Gentleman had informed them that at the time the police arrived the proceedings had come to an abrupt close, and this bore out the statement in the newspapers. At a certain period the chairman came to the conclusion that the proceedings could not go on, and he and his friends left the platform and the room, and the proceedings came to a sudden close just as the police came in. What did the police do? According to all reports the meeting having been practically closed and the disorder ended, the police proceeded to assault and drive out of the room a number of the people who still remained. There was no allegation that the disorder continued when the police came; the disorder came to an end when the chairman and his friends left the platform and the hall. The police came in and began to hustle, and, he was informed, assault the people and drive them out. The right hon. Gentleman had said nothing about an inquiry, though his hon. friend said he knew an inquiry had been ordered by the Lord-Lieutenant.


said that report was based on the fact that inquiries had been made.


said that this being so they were bound to press the right hon. Gentleman to undertake that there would be an inquiry. It was perfectly monstrous that the police should have been allowed to go in when the disorder was over, and to begin to lay about them and assault people of respectability in Dublin. The right hon. Gentleman's story was inconsistent with facts. The disorder was in the gallery and not in the body of the hall; apparently the police did not go to the gallery at all. They went into the body of the hall and proceeded to assault a number of ladies and gentlemen, some of whom he (Mr. Redmond) was personally acquainted with, and whom he knew to be respectable. One gentleman was the Secretary of the Gaelic League, and another gentleman, Alderman Cole, was a member of the corporation; and there were some ladies whose names he could mention, and who certainly were not engaged in creating any disturbance or disorder. An occurrence like this, he thought, justified them in asking the right hon. Gentleman to hold an inquiry into the matter, an open inquiry, and an inquiry upon oath, so that those persons might be able to come forward and give their version of the transaction. He thought, indeed, they were bound to press the right hon. Gentleman to give them an undertaking that this matter would he inquired into.


said he should not give that undertaking until he had had a written report. He had telegraphed for information and it did not bear out the view the hon. and learned Member had put forward. Until he had had an opportunity of seeing whether there had been any exaggeration, as he believed there had been, lie could not give any undertaking, but, if he found that a case had been made out for an inquiry, he would consider the matter further.

MR. FLYNN (Cork County, N.)

said that they were not going into the details of the question at all, but, primâ facie, there was no justification for the conduct of the police. From all the reports that he had read the facts were quite plain, and from the reports it appeared that the only thing which might be characterised as violence was that two of three gentlemen had spoken for an undue length. If that were so, then this House had frequently been violent and disorderly. There was absolutely no justification for a large body of police entering a public hall and proceeding forcibly to eject and assault people in this way, and Irish representatives were justified in demanding a full inquiry into the matter.

MR. BRYCE (Aberdeen. S.)

drew attention to the situation in the European provinces of Turkey. He said he was not going to bring any charges against the Government, nor to object to the general lines of their policy. The Civil officers appointed under the Austro-Russian scheme seemed to have very little influence on what was happening, and the Turkish Government had exercised the art of obstruction with considerable success in connection with the reorganisation of the gendarmerie under General de Giorgis. It was originally intended that General de Giorgis and his staff should be free to give orders to the Turkish officers, and also that they should have as many officers as they thought necessary for the purposes of their work. Considering that it covered a very large territory, it was clear that a large number of officers might be required. The Turks, however, said that they would not have more than twenty-five—a number which was quite useless for the purposes of the work. The Turkish Government also appeared to be unwilling to consider the proposal that General de Giorgis should be able to give orders to the Turks, but if General do Giorgis was to do any good at all he ought to have the power of dismissal as well as the giving of orders. It was, therefore, not too much to say that the proper practical working of the scheme of reform was in danger. Those who had followed the newspapers knew what the spirit of the Turkish Government in the matter really was. They were very much indebted in particular to The Times for the admirable and vigorous reports which it had given upon the situation. He would especially call attention to the obstruction which the Government at Constantinople had placed in the way of the work of the hospitals for the relief and succour of the refugees and the wounded, which had been established by the munificence and the charity of people in this country.

He confessed to feeling regret for two things which had been done by His Majesty's Government, although it was impossible to impeach their policy as a whole or to refuse a frank acknowledgment of the spirit in which Lord Lansdowne had approached the question. It seemed a little unfortunate that he should have left the initiative so largely to Austria and Russia and not have vindicated for Great Britain that place in the front rank of the negotiations and in the carrying out of reforms which historically belonged to her. He also regretted that Lord Lansdowne, no doubt with the best intentions, should have abandoned the alternative scheme of which he himself most approved—that of appointing a Christian Governor of these provinces—in favour of the scheme of supervision and control which it was now found so difficult to put into practical operation. His own original idea would have been more effective. He thought if Great Britain had claimed to have an important voice in this matter and had been seconded as she would have been, by France and Germany, much greater progress would have been made. As the House knew, there had been for the last three or four months very considerable danger that the insurrection would break out afresh. It had been suggested that the Turks thought they might escape from the unwelcome necessity of having to carry out the reforms if insurgent movements recommenced, and that they were protracting the present negotiations with the wish that such disturbances might again appear as a legitimate excuse for saying that they could not carry out the reforms while the country was in a state of insurrection. It would be very melancholy if that were true; but there were so many reasons for fearing the procrastinating policy adopted by the Turks that one could not readily say that the suggestion was untenable. This at least was certain. The sands were running out, and every week that passed brought nearer the time when the snow would have melted, when the roads would again be open, and when the insurgents, if they were going to make another rising, would rise. The time fixed as most dangerous was from the middle till the end of April, and therefore it became of the greatest importance that these pending questions should be settled, and that a substantial beginning of reforms should be made before April ended. He had no doubt that the Government felt that as strongly as he did, but he would like to ask them what they thought about the prospect generally.

MR. MOON (St. Pancras, N.)

agreed that this was no Party question. Both sides of the House wished to put a termination to the unhappy state of things prevailing in Macedonia. In particular, they wished to show to other nations that they observed with regret the protracted delays which had marked the negotiations and attempts at reform. The British public were under the impression that the reform scheme had been in operation for some months, but, as a fact, the contrary was the case. After the presentation of the scheme to the Porte, two or three months were allowed to elapse before the persons who were to carry out the scheme were appointed. He referred to the latest information about the attitude of the Porte as most disappointing and misleading. Surely it was the idea of every one that the gendarmerie officers should have the right to order the gendarmerie about to any scenes of disturbance. If they were merely to cause the men to be drilled and then allow the Turkish officers to have the effective command, it was hard to see what was the use of having European officers at all. With regard to the criticisms of the right hon. Gentleman, he held that it was a reasonable course for this Government, after their experience of the European Concert, to try the experiment of getting the work done by what might be called a sub-committee of the Concert, but he thought, at the same time, that Russia and Austria-Hungary would feel that the House of Commons considered they had acted with unfortunate want of energy, to put it in the mildest terms, while Turkey, in obstructing us, was doing itself a very ill service indeed, and was its own worst enemy.


called attention to the negotiations for a convention or treaty between this country and France for the settlement of a vast variety of questions which were now a subject of dispute between the two nations. Everybody would be glad to see those questions solved, but his complaint was that, whereas treaties and conventions made between two Continental nations were submitted to the representatives of those nations before they were ratified, in this country a treaty of the greatest possible importance might be entered into and the representatives of the people be in complete ignorance of its terms and conditions. He thought it an unfortunate thing that so great a power should rest in the hands of the Executive for the time being. Such a power was unconstitutional, and although in past times it might have been injurious to the country, there might have been good reason for such a power. In olden times it was possible to keep these matters secret but it was not possible now. In the present ease, while the Government had kept the Press of this country in tolerably complete ignorance, the French Press had obtained a great deal of information which ought to be before this country previous to any treaty being made. In the République Francaise and the Echo de Paris there had appeared full and apparently tolerably accurate, accounts of the proposals. He went on to comment on the details of these proposals as revealed in the French journals, and spoke of the British concessions regarding Newfoundland, and particularly the concession of the right of the French fishermen to take bait, as very important and an adequate offset for any concession which the French might make to us.

And, it being half-past Seven of the clock, the debate stood adjourned till this Evening's Sitting.