§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ MR. W. T. WILSON (Lancashire, Westhoughton)
said he did not think anyone in the House would doubt that a very large number of children went to school without food, or underfed, and the object of the Bill was to provide that meals should be given to such children. Of course, differences of opinion might arise in the House as to who should be responsible for the feeding of the children. Some hon. Members might say that it was the duty of parents to see that their children were fed, but when they considered the amount of wages that some parents earned they must be satisfied that it was an absolute impossibility for them to properly feed and clothe their families. There were hundreds of thousands of families in this country whose weekly income did not exceed 18s., and he thought the House would agree that if the children in these families averaged more than three, it was almost impossible 1391 for them to be fed as they ought to be. Taking 18s. as the average rate of wages of a very large number of unskilled workers in this country—and he was sorry to say that during the last three years many skilled workers had not earned more than 18s. a week—and taking the average family as consisting of three children, taking the rent at 4s. 6d. a week, and allowing three meals per head per day at 1½ per head per meal, it would be seen that the whole of the wages were gone, and nothing was left for clothing, fire, and the hundred and one things required in a household. Therefore, children whose parents were in that position should at least be fed. It was not the fault of the children that they were there, and if the parents through force of circumstances were unable to feed them properly the State should see that they were fed. The State recognised that it was to its best interests that the children should be educated, and it was only right that the children should be in a fit condition to receive instruction. Better results would then accrue from education. The education authority was the proper authority to deal with the question. He went further and said that even in cases where the parents of children were earning sufficient to provide them with food, that if the education authority thought it would be to the best interests of the State that those children should be fed they should have the power to feed them, and to make a charge upon the parents afterwards. In many of the industrial centres both fathers and mothers were working during the day, and if the children had the opportunity of having meals supplied by the authority they would be quite willing to pay for such meals. Even if the parents were unable to pay they should not be pauperised by accepting such assistance. He asked the House to look at the matter from a strictly business standpoint. Everyone must have noticed the very large number of what he might term human weeds among the children who attended the schools of the State. The present system which permitted children to attend school in an underfed condition was the means of, he was almost going to say, manufacturing undesirables; but undoubtedly it was to a great extent responsible for physical deterioration. 1392 If that deterioration could be arrested by providing children with food they would have done something which would be beneficial to the nation in the future. No one would deny, that if a child went to school with a full stomach it was in a better condition to receive instruction, and would be more fitted to take its place in life. The fact that children attended school underfed was also responsible for mental deterioration. He was convinced that the presence of a large number of inmates of lunatic asylums and epileptic homes could be traced to the fact that in their early days they were underfed. No one would deny, too, that underfeeding had a tendency to create disease. He was sure that their being underfed was a direct incentive to crime on the part of children. In the opinion of some who were opposed to the State feeding of children reliance ought to be placed upon charity. They had relied upon charity too long as it was. He knew of many instances in which children of working people had gone to school fed by the charity of people very often not much better off than the parents of the children that were fed. Looking at this question from the standpoint of low wages the House would agree that something should be done. It was quite impossible for the hundreds of thousands of fathers out of work at the present time to provide for their children as they ought, and the State ought to see that these future citizens were fed. It had been said that the children of a nation were its best assets. That being so, let those assets be made as valuable as possible. Charity was not a reliable source from which to provide meals for children, and therefore he asked the Government to accept the Bill to provide underfed school children with at least one good meal a day. If this was done he felt sure the nation would appreciate it. From a business point of view the money would be well invested, because not only would the children be better equipped for fighting the battle of life, but it would be found in the near future that the expenditure on prisons, workhouses, and asylums was considerably reduced, and therefore the money invested would be returned with interest. He moved the Second Reading 1393 of the Bill, because he believed it would be to the best interests and the welfare of the nation, and he asked the House in the name of humanity and Christianity to adopt the Bill.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Mr. W. T. Wilson.)
§ MR. PAUL (Northampton)
said he rose for the purpose of explaining in a few words why he gave a cordial welcome to the early appearance of this Bill. There were in his constituency a great many Socialists who, in the exercise of their honest convictions, had voted against him, and if he was spared they would do so again. He had had no quarrel with them, and had no quarrel with them now, and if he could do anything, however slight, without sacrifice of his own opinions, to advance any objects which were dear to them, and for which they had toiled, it would give him sincere pleasure and satisfaction. One of the Socialist candidates for Northampton, Mr. Williams, who, he believed, was well known to the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydvil and the gentlemen who acted with him, as soon as he knew of his return, asked him with great courtesy to take up this question, which he said was the most urgent of all social reforms. Without committing himself to that estimate of the question, it gave him sincere pleasure to comply with his request. He supported this Bill for three reasons. The first was expressed in the eloquent words of Mr. Disraeli—The youth of a nation are the trustees of posterity.The second reason was that, as they compelled parents to send their children to school, to teach a starving child was torture. He remembered a pious, orthodox clergyman, Dean Burgon, who had been accused of giving too much money to the poor—not an accusation, however, that he thought a Christian man at the close of his life would look back upon with much regret and shame—said to him—How can I talk to a poor woman about her soul when she has got no sole to her boots?1394 And it was impossible to fill the mind of a child, or what was far more important, to train the reasoning faculties of a child, when that child was suffering from the pangs of hunger. His third and last reason was that when Parliament had imposed on the local authority an arduous, responsible, and important duty, it should also clothe that authority with the fullest possible discretion as to the manner in which that duty should be carried out. For these reasons, and believing that free meals, if judiciously and cautiously given, would be no more demoralising than free education, he gave his cordial support to the Second Reading of this Bill.
§ MR. ARTHUR HENDERSON (Durham, Barnard Castle)
said that in supporting his hon. friend who moved the adoption of the Bill he would like to point out to the House that the question with which the Bill proposed to deal was not a new one so far as Parliament was concerned. In the last Parliament this subject engaged the attention of the House on several occasions, and as recently as the 18th April last a Resolution was passed by a considerable majority, which was almost in identical terms with the main clause of the Bill now before the House. The Resolution he referred to was as follows—That in the opinion of this House local education authorities should be empowered, as unanimously recommended by the Inter-Departmental Committee on Physical Deterioration, 1904, to make provision under such regulations and conditions as they may decide for ensuring that all the children of any public elementary school in their area shall receive proper nourishment before being subjected to mental or physical instruction, and for recovering the cost where expedient from the parents or guardians.That Motion, he rejoiced to know, was supported from all sections of the House. He hoped this would influence the course the Government would adopt. The late Government last session took a most important step so far as this question was concerned. After that Motion had been passed orders were issued by the Board of Education and the Local Government Board suggesting a way in which this great evil might be dealt with throughout the country. Those with whom he had the honour of acting and 1395 himself did not altogether approve of the policy outlined in the orders to which he had referred. But this, at any rate, was gained that the late Government recognised that there was an evil and a public responsibility for finding a remedy for that evil. Therefore they made a considerable step in advance, so far as this question was concerned. There could be no doubt that this subject had been forced into the region of Party† politics, because of the statements contained in the Report of the Royal Commission on Physical Training in Scotland and the Report of the Commission on Physical Deterioration. The former of these two Reports said—We consider that the question of the proper and sufficient feeding of children is one which has the closest public connection with any scheme which may be adopted for their physical equally with their mental work. It is evident among the causes which affect the physical welfare of the population that the lack of proper nourishment is amongst the most serious.The Report went on to say—A large number of important witnesses, members of the medical profession, inspectors of schools, teachers and others, were unanimously of opinion that it was most desirable that increased attention should be paid to the feeding of the children attending State-aided schools.If they turned to the Report of the Physical Deterioration Committee they would find an abundance of similarly conclusive statements. On page 66 he found the following statement—It was nevertheless acknowledged that the evils arising from under-feeding were so wide-spread, and in certain localities so pressing, that some authoritative intervention was called for at the earliest possible moment to secure that the education of the children who are obliged by law to attend school shall not be hampered and retarded by the physical condition thereby engendered.One of the most important expert witnesses that appeared before that Commission, Dr. Eichholz, stated that in his opinion 122,000 of the elementary school population of London, or about 16 per cent., were underfed, and referring to the Johanna Street board school in Lambeth he declared that 90 per cent, of the children there were unable, by reason of their physical condition, to attend to their work. Dr. Mackenzie, the Medical† See Column 1400.1396 Officer to the Local Government Board for Scotland, said—In the slums of Edinburgh a large proportion of the children were half-starved, and he agreed that to subject the half-starved child to the routine of a school would be the height of cruelty, and that the educational result would be poor.That was an authoritative statement of an officer of the Local Government Board for Scotland. Many hon. Members might have read, during the last few days, a speech delivered by a gentleman who only recently was a most respected Member of this House—he referred to Mr. Samuel Smith. He had had a very extensive experience—he thought all who knew him would admit—of social work in the great city of Liverpool. In that speech he made the following statement—We now have got the whole children of the nation to school until they are about fourteen years of age, and five or six millions of them were in our primary schools. We could shape their lives very much by the training we gave them. For the most part that training was excellent and the schools were a most civilising, in fact, he might say a Christianising agency. But we had cared too little for the health and physical well-being of the children. It would not be doubted that at least 5 to 10 per cent, of our town children were badly fed, and very much underfed, and also poorly clothed, and wretchedly housed.That statement appeared to him to prove in the most conclusive manner that we had, so far as the child life of this country was concerned, a great and serious evil in our midst. He was bound to admit that with regard to the remedy for this evil there was room for some difference of opinion. What he would ask was, Were the means suggested in the Bill introduced by his hon. friend practical? The promoters of this Bill suggested that power should be given to the educational authorities, wherever they found a number of children in their schools insufficiently or badly fed, to take the matter at once in hand and arrange to give them certain meals daily. It was also suggested that power should be given to the education authority in certain cases to recover the cost of the meals from the parents or guardians. The promoters laid it clearly down that it ought to be proved that the parents were in a position to fulfil their obligation to the children, and absolutely failed to do so. The manner and means of the relief were left 1397 absolutely to the discretion of the local education authorities. The promoters of the Bill suggested this course first of all as being in their judgment the most practical, and, secondly, because it was most in harmony with the recommendations of the two Reports to which he had already referred. He would like to emphasise that whilst they left it to the discretion of the education authorities as to the manner and means, they were desirous that they should be placed under some obligation to act at once; that immediately they found out that the evil existed in their area they should be compelled, and it should not be a matter of discretion, to take some action—whatever action their own judgment might lead them to decide upon. But the question might very properly be raised as to the cost involved either to the State or to the local education authorities by this new undertaking. He thought that all Members, especially those who had been associated with municipal life, would be ready to recognise that the rates were already more than many of the local authorities could bear. [OPPOSITION cries of "Hear, hear!"] He thought that that sentiment would have a warm reception in one part of the House at least. Yes, but they did not ask that more money should be spent; that was not their object; what they did say was that the money already devoted to education should be spent more effectively than it had been up to the present time. Personally, he hoped that the day was not far distant when the whole charge for a great national system of education would be in itself a national charge, but in the meantime, in dealing with this question, he again wished to repeat that their desire was that the money spent on education should be efficiently spent, and not be, as he was afraid it was to-day in some centres, to a great extent wasted. Certain objections would doubtless be urged to the policy laid down in the Bill. He knew that they would be told, as they had been told in previous discussions, that to adopt the course suggested would be interfering with parental responsibility, and that they would also be placing a premium on thriftlessness. He did not believe in either of those objections. He would be the last to suggest that they should in any way interfere, in 1398 the sense that had been suggested, with parental responsibility. What he was anxious to do was to bring home, as it had never been brought home before, that this object could not be attained by charitable means. Experience had proved that charity instead of bringing home parental responsibility was one of the most serious and insidious influences in sapping and destroying parental responsibility. Therefore, they were anxious, as his hon. friend in moving the Second Reading of the Bill had pointed out, to go the length of suggesting that if parents were in a position to provide for their children and they failed to do so, the law should step in and deal with the parents, even to the extent of recovering the cost, and in bad cases they would go so far as not only to scarify them, but further punish the parent for neglecting his obligations to his child. The class that they were asking the House to provide for might very naturally be divided into three sections. In the first place there were the destitute children, whose parents were in extreme poverty for reasons that were preventable. Secondly, there were those whose parents were in temporary poverty because of enforced idleness. And thirdly, and he thought they were the most important of all, there were those whose fathers' economic condition when they were in work was of such a nature as almost to exclude any possibility of making that provision for their children which they might so much desire. He would urge upon the House that whatever was the condition of the parent in this matter, their immediate and foremost concern, as the guardians of this great nation, ought to be not with the father, but with the child. As his hon. friend had said, the children of this nation were one of its most valuable assets, so valuable that this House at any rate should be the guardians of the nation's interests, and see that one of its most valuable assets was not destroyed. It was most important that the House should notice that the Bill made provision for dealing with the whole of the classes to which he had referred. Where the parent failed to meet the necessities of the child if he was able to do so the Bill would step in and recover the cost. 1399 Where help was given it was to be given because help was needed and deserved. The last point in the Bill was that its promoters considered, he thought rightly so, that they should run no risk, by getting this principle put into operation, of disfranchising the deserving poor. He thought the House in recent years had been gradually led to recognise that the ease with which honest, upright and deserving working men were robbed of their rights of citizenship ought for ever to end. In introducing to the House any new legislation if they were going to err at all they ought to err on the side of protecting the well-deserving, even if by so doing they included a small percentage of the thriftless, and, he might almost say, the worthless in the retention of citizenship. This was a very simple Bill. The principle had been admitted in past sessions of Parliament by all sections of the House. He would therefore appeal to the Government to accept the principle of the measure. There might be room for differences of opinion on points of detail, but these were matters for consideration in Committee. He believed he was right in saying that the Government had decided to leave this an open question with their followers. He suggested that the Bill should be sent to a Select Committee of the House where matters of detail could be discussed. He hoped the Bill would soon become law, and that this first session of a new Parliament would have done something to alleviate the suffering of the children, and to assist in bringing up a better manhood and womanhood in the country.
§ SIR HENRY CRAIK (Glasgow and Aberdeen Universities)
said this was a question which had occupied the whole of his life, in which he was deeply interested, and on which he had formed the deepest convictions. He therefore felt compelled to ask the indulgence of the House, and hon. Members below the gangway would perhaps not consider it presumption on his part to say that he fully sympathised with their objects, that he felt the seriousness of the difficulties surrounding the question, and that he longed as earnestly as they did to find a remedy. He trusted that those hon. Members would give him credit for 1400 feeling deeply the need of a remedy, and for seeking a remedy with an earnestness equal to their own. He protested against the idea that the interest in these children, and the insistence upon doing something for them, and for sweeping away what was a stain on our civilisation was the prerogative and the monopoly of any one Party in the country. He had only to look to the remarks of the hon. Member for Northampton who found a motto for his speech in the words of the great Leader of the Conservative Party. The hon. Member for the Barnard Castle Division had said that this question had been forced into the arena of Party politics. What evidence did he adduce for that statement?
§ MR. ARTHUR HENDERSON
I am reminded that I made a slip. I did not intend to say "Party politics." I should have said practical politics.
§ SIR HENRY CRAIK
said that the hon. Member had referred to the Report of the Royal Commission on Physical Training. That Commission was formed by a Conservative Government, and many Members on both sides of the House sat upon it. Their Report was unanimously signed. He represented a constituency which in regard to the number of electors compared favourably with the constituencies even in the great centres of population, though, as regarded wealth, it was, perhaps, one of the poorest of all the constituencies, and probably one half of it knew from personal experience the difficulties of the poor, and the struggles against grinding poverty. They knew also the stifling effects which those conditions had upon the efforts of the people who were working in the cause of education. The hon. Member for the Barnard Castle Division thought that the great money cost of carrying out the proposals of this Bill might be a difficulty for them, but, looking to the magnitude of the evil, great as the money burden might be, it was the duty of the nation, cost what it would, to remove this stain. He himself estimated that it might cost, if the full provisions possible under this Bill were adopted, between £12,000,000 and £15,000,000 a year to carry oat the work. [Cries of "No."] He thought they would 1401 find on a careful calculation that it could hardly be done at a less cost than 1s. a week or about 40s. a year per child, allowing for School holidays. That might make it difficult for the Government to carry out all their promises of retrenchment, but he trusted at least that it would not stand in their way. He objected to the principles of the Bill itself. They were principles which those who had spoken had too easily passed over. He would endeavour to show what he objected to in those principles and how they constituted the very kernel of the question. In the first place, the Bill was called an Education Bill. Hon. Members who were promoting the measure would forgive him for saying that this was a misnomer of the worst kind, and that it proceeded on a fallacy in regard to the more scientific theories of education. What was education? If, it was said, the children were to be compelled to take advantage of the education provided they must be nourished to be able to take it. Did hon. Members think that the idea we had of education at the present day was that it was a certain amount of scholastic instruction, a certain amount of facts, statistics, or information, which was to be pressed into the brain of a child? Surely we had come to some different idea of education from that. If the school did its duty it was to train the child with tender care and not to press information into the mind of a boy, but to train carefully and tenderly the nascent faculties. The duty of the school and the schoolmaster was not to see how much fact and information they could press into a certain number of boys, but to see how tenderly, carefully, and cautiously the children could be trained without over-pressure and over - straining. The Bill was assumed to be for the benefit of the children. He presumed that those who spoke in favour of it would not deny that description. But was it true that it was really for the benefit of the children? He ventured to say that it touched only the merest fringe of the question. Were they only to look after what they thought the healthy and growing generation? Were they only to look after the children who were within the walls of the schools? Were they to begin only at five years of age and 1402 end at fourteen? Was there no further duty resting upon them? Was it in the healthy surroundings of the school, under good care, under proper attendance, cow-fortably warmed and housed, that the children suffered chiefly from want of nourishment? Had they not now recognised that the duty of the State to those of the young generation was from the time they came into the world, and that it was a work which could not be bounded by the walls of a school? Would not any medical authority tell them that the greatest injury to the health of the young generation occurred long before they entered the doors of a school? Was it not the case that those who did not come within the schools suffered even more? Was not the strain far greater on the street arab wandering about in unwholesome surroundings? Did not he suffer much more than those children who came within the school doors and who were more or less attended to? What of housing, what of clothing, what of ignorance of the very primary principles of sanitation? He regretted the great difficulties of this case, but the proposals in this Bill bore only on a small part of the great evils they had to deal with and further, they were the part which could be most successfully dealt with by voluntary effort. Statistics proved that they had been largely so dealt with. There was a different way of dealing with what might be called the residuum of the population—the children who were drawn from the bad stock and criminal strata of society and were educated in reformatories. He knew how well they were looked after and how admirable was their condition, and how comparatively hard was the lot of the poor but independent parent earnestly and eagerly struggling to rear his child! He had studied the inner life of reformatories. He knew how much admirable work was done and how miraculous was the benefit they did, and how surprising the transformation which they effected on the very worst material in the course of a few years. But, was there not in these reformatories the absence of one sacred principle? As one moved among the benches, one felt that there was something wanting in the eyes of the pupils, how much they missed who did not 1403 know the tenderness and the care of a mother. One or two incidents that had happened in the course of his experience of these reformatories he might relate. The saddest thing that ever was said to him was by one who had done hard and successful work in one of these reformatories. That gentleman, after showing him the admirable and successful work he had done, as he was leaving said that the one thing above others he desired for all the inmates of the reformatory was that before their time had expired their parents would be dead; for, if not, his work would be undone! He remembered having a long conversation with the head of one of the great reformatories in Glasgow. She was a lady who had done most admirable work as the head of that institution. She told him that precisely the same difficulties had arisen in her case; and she gave him an instance of one girl who was compelled by her parents to refuse a situation and to remain at home. This lady heard afterwards that the kit which had been supplied to the girl when she left the reformatory had been pawned by her parents, and that nothing but the worst possible prospect was thereafter open to her. The lady forcibly entered the house of the parents, rescued the girl and shipped her off to Canada. Her action was not strictly legal, but he was sure the House would sympathise and agree with him that she was right. This Bill took away the distinction between the parents who did their duty and the parents who did not. The hon. Member who moved the Second Reading of the Bill had slurred over what was the vital principle of it; viz., that the local education authority was to be at liberty not only to feed the children who wanted food from the inability of their parents to provide it, but any other children in the school. That was the evil, and that was the principle of the Bill to which he objected. It was not because of its cost, not because he did not sympathise with the sufferings of these children; but because, in the interests of the children themselves, he felt that the doing away with that distinction was nothing else than a calamity. If they did not defend society against thriftless, selfish, reckless parents, 1404 if they did not defend such parents against themselves, at least, let Parliament defend the children against such parents. This distinction was not to be slurred over by simply saying that it might o[...] might not be done by the local authority. They had heard much of devolution of authority by the Imperial Parliament, but there were certain principles which the Imperial Parliament was not permitted to delegate; and one of these was what should be the bed-rock of our social economy. That was not to be left to be decided in various ways by different local authorities. It must be a matter settled, and settled once for all, by the Imperial Parliament, as the great Senate of the nation. Hon. Members below the gangway who supported what he thought was a dangerous principle might entertain different views from himself. They might think that the redistribution of wealth was necessary; that social inequalities had to be redressed; and perhaps they were prepared to pass what they deemed just measures for that end. He could not agree to that, believing, as he did, that the great economic laws would work their inexorable will and would undo what they attempted to do, by forces too strong for them. But let them bring forward those measures for discussion on a fair, open, and unambiguous footing. Let them not find the arena for such a struggle in the path of the school manager and the school teacher. That path was a dull, dreary and prosaic one. It was one which required infinite patience, infinite care, and endless experiment, and on which, at the best, progress was slow. He beseeched them not to throw a glare on that quiet, obscure and unobtrusive path by lighting it up with the fantastic fireworks of socialism.
SIR W.J.COLLINS (St. Pancras, W.)
said he apprehended that every Member who took part in the discussion would follow the hon. Member who had just sat down in expressing sympathy with the hon. Member for the Westhoughton division in the objects he had in view in introducing this Bill. He hoped the majority of the House would be able to go much further in finding some practical solution to the 1405 difficulties surrounding this question, which were numerous, than the hon. Member for Glasgow University had done. As a medical man, and as Chairman of the Education Committee of the London County Council, he ventured to say that the proposition did not admit of contradiction, that to ask our teachers to instil knowledge into the ill-nourished brains of underfed children was to ask them to perform, at best, a stupid miracle. Those acquainted with the subject knew that the first faculty of a child to fail under such conditions was the power of fixing and concentrating attention. And, when that power failed, the result was to have recourse to repetition. This became a more laborious and monotonous task both to the teacher and the taught. He agreed that there might be differences of opinion as to the machinery which should be adopted for accomplishing the object of the promoters of the Bill. For his part he should be disposed to say that opportunity should be given for considerable alterations in Clause 2. The Bill proposed to lay down that, if in any elementary school administered by the education authority there were any children who by reason of lack of food were unable to take full advantage of the education provided for them, the local education authority should take such steps as they thought fit to provide food for such children, and, if the local education authority thought fit, for any other children in their schools, under such regulations and conditions as the local authority might prescribe, and, if they so resolved, to make a charge to recover the cost from the parent or guardian, provided that no provision of food under the Act should be deemed to be parochial relief. He ventured to point out that the view might be held that the Bill went too far in one direction and that it did not go far enough in another. It certainly went farther than any Report of any official inquiry on the subject had yet recommended. The Bill was frankly socialistic in its tendency. He did not say that it was necessarily bad in consequence. It was quite arguable that as the State had made education free and compulsory, it should follow that up by seeing that the child was in a 1406 fit condition to take full advantage of the education provided. But there were many other conditions which unfortunately reacted on child-life, and which equally prevented the children obtaining full advantage of their education. Notably was this the case in regard to the condition of the housing of the working classes, and of children coming from the fœtid air of overcrowded dwellings. He rejoiced to think that the London County Council was sweeping away the slum areas. By so doing they had reduced the death rate of these slum areas from 40 per 1,000 to 10 or 12 per 1,000 in the mode dwellings. Without charity rents and by self-supporting housing schemes they had been able to do something to improve the conditions of child-life, and to enable these children to take advantage of the educational facilities provided for them. There were other directions in which it might be held that this scheme did not go far enough. He was perfectly aware that the condition of the clothing of the children who attended the schools was not all that could be desired. The Education Committee had urged the appointment of relief committees and had circularised the schoolmanagers in regard to this very question of clothing, and especially of boots in the winter time, in addition to providing for the underfed. He ventured to think that due justice had not been given to those voluntary charitable agencies which in the past had endeavoured to help with these difficult cases. He would also add that in regard to the summer holidays for the children, the committee which collected money for that most estimable purpose had obtained £17,000; and he would be sorry to reflect on what would be the effect on child-life if such an agency were brought suddenly to an end. While he fully recognised the value of charitable agencies he thought that if they were unaccompanied by inquiry they were sometimes calculated to increase the evils which it was sought by these means to remedy. The late School Board, having rejected proposals for rate-aided relief, appointed a committee to whom was committed the task of endeavouring to co-ordinate the various charitable funds which existed 1407 in London. The London County Council had continued this committee but had gone further and had embarked upon experiments. They had reflected upon the fact that in London there were some 200 cookery centres for the purpose of providing instruction to children. It was suggested to the London County Council and carried, that the experiment should be made that the means of production at their disposal at these centres should be utilised for distribution purposes. They had accordingly provided meals for children at l½d. or 2d., and in a large percentage of cases the cost of the meals had been recovered from the parents. They believed that the experiment was appreciated and would be successful. In future there would be fifteen of these cookery centres, where meals would be supplied and where, when it was possible, the cost would be recovered from the parents, and when that was not possible it would be obtained from charitable agencies. Members of the committee had visited these centres, and he himself had inspected them and had been greatly impressed with the value of their work. Not only did this system prove an incentive to the production of more practical cookery but it had an educational value by giving some instruction to the children as to their behaviour at the dinner table. The officers of the London County Council had reported that so far as they could learn, the experiments had been successful. Personally he thought that the charitable source of income alone was likely to produce evil. He was not prepared to say that under no circumstances should rate or State aid be brought in to deal with cases of this sort, which he believed would be found to be a small minority, and he believed a decreasing minority. So far as they had been able to go with these cookery centres it appeared that they could not be made adequate to deal with all London. He noticed with satisfaction in the Report of the Departmental Committee on Physical Deterioration the passage—Circumstances, however, do arise which call for more immediate aid, and in which the school authority, taking into account the difficulty in the way of home provision of suitable food, and the number of children who attend school habitually underfed, are willing to provide regular and sufficient meals, and in 1408 such cases the Committee agree with the opinion of the Royal Commissioners on Physical Training (Scotland) that 'the preparation and cooking of these meals, where it is found necessary to provide them, ought to be regarded as one of the charges incident to the school management.'He entirely endorsed that statement, and personally he should be glad to see it embodied in a statute. If they had that power they would be able to ask their managers to take a greater interest in their delegated duties which dealt with the clothing and feeding of the children. But they had no powers at the present time, and they were unable to devolve this duty upon the managers. He could not speak too highly of the way that teachers in the schools had endeavoured to meet the case sometimes out of their own resources: one could not speak too highly of the zeal which they had shown in this matter. If he had spoken in any way critically of the Bill, it was not from want of sympathy with the object which the promoters had in view. He regretted to hear the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydvil declare in that House on the Address that three sides of the House were diametrically opposed to the interests of the working classes. He represented a constituency which was largely composed of working men. He was not a capitalist, nor a landlord, nor even an employer of labour. He was a member of a profession which was scantily represented in the House. He had had something to do with the work of London hospitals and had in this way been brought into contact with the workers and knew of their struggles. He believed that the workers were divided into two classes, those who worked in their black coats and those who worked in their shirt sleeves. As a hospital surgeon he rejoiced to reflect that he worked in his shirt sleeves. Knowing something of the struggles of the working classes, he could not, he thought, be accused of want of sympathy with them and the hardships they endured. He hoped the Bill would not be discussed with anything like scorn or contumely, but that the House would set themselves to find a practical solution of this great evil. He hoped, however, the Bill would be 1409 amended in Committee in some directions, and that by that means a practical solution would be obtained for what was now a scandal and a disgrace.
§ MR. JOWETT (Bradford, W.)
said that upon the question of charitable contributions he had come to the conclusion that, if they wished to keep these agencies doing the work which they had done hitherto, they must provide some means of dealing with the school-meals question quite apart from charity. His experience had shown him that charity had almost reached the limit of adaptability to the various needs of the poor. There seemed to be the possibility of getting only a certain sum of money, and if it was got for one purpose it was not got for another. When subscriptions had been started in districts for meals for necessitous children, other charities had suffered seriously in proportion to the support forthcoming. To his mind there was no possibility of having that amount of continuity of charitable efforts which was needed for a purpose such as this. It was only at times of exceptional stress that the charity of the rich could be tapped, and when the emergency had passed the subcriptions ceased. This was, however, a permanent and not a temporary difficulty. There must therefore be some permanent means of dealing with it. The Committee upon Physical Deterioration found that—It was a subject of general agreement that as a rule no purely voluntary association could successfully cope with the whole extent of the evil.With those words he heartily agreed. Much was often said about sapping the independence of the people, but he knew of nothing which so much sapped that independence as the wild charity which created so much trouble by indiscriminate giving without having the power to see what was done with the gift. It seemed to him that, underlying some remarks made during the discussion by previous speakers, there was an dea that if they were to do something to relieve the material necessity under which people had to struggle, the desire to struggle would cease, and that, therefore, a greater mistake could not be made. But what 1410 was civilisation if it was not directed to freeing the people from material necessities; and if they could do that, surely the result would be that the struggle would be transferred to a higher plane, and the people would have the opportunity to fight for better things. Any Member of the House who had come to close quarters with the question would bear him out when he said that those portions of the community which were most subject to material uncertainty were the least responsive to any message coming from any man or woman who cared for the uplifting of humanity. It was only by setting the people free from material necessities that they were able to keep their attention on those matters which really concerned them more than material necessities. Therefore, he asserted that if this Bill could free human beings from some part of the material struggle, that struggle would still go on, but it would be a better and a nobler struggle than before. The question whether or not this step should be taken was a plain and simple one, and any Member of the House representing an industrial constituency who asked himself how many of the families in the constituency which he represented were in the enjoyment of an income sufficient to enable them to feed and clothe themselves would feel bound to give an answer to the question in the affirmative. He was able to speak for Bradford, and he anticipated that London was in an even worse position. But what were the facts so far as Bradford were concerned? Whole industries and trades were there carried on permanently under such conditions that the wage-earner could not maintain himself, his wife, and his bairns in comfort. He might take the case of the wool-combers; in this industry there were some 4,000 persons employed on the night turns, and he would like to ask what opportunity had they to maintain their families? Their wages, when fully employed, ranged from 18s. to 21s. per week, so far as a large majority of them were concerned. But there was no such thing as continuity of employment in their case. It was poor, casual labour involving waiting at the mill gates to see if it suited anybody to put it on for the night. Probably if he said that there was 1411 an average of four nights per week he would be overdrawing the picture, and certainly he was not exaggerating when he declared that, from year's end to year's end, slack time and busy time included, the wage did not exceed an average of 16s. per week.
§ MR. JOWETT
said the masters were organised, and the workmen also had an organisation, but the latter had proved utterly powerless to deal with a syndicate which weighed upon them like a night-mare. He was prepared to prove that a family of five persons could not possibly be fed, clothed, and housed, without provision of a single luxury, and without wasting a single penny at less than 25s. per week. But what was the condition of the children under these circumstances? What could be done for them? In his opinion there was one thing could be done, and that was to say to the parents, "You are not responsible for the system of society under which you live; the economic conditions have not been created by you; your children must be looked after, and they must be fed, if we are to lift our heads among the nations of the earth, and if we desire to keep our place in the civilised world." He heartily supported this Bill, believing it would do much good. There was only one other point he wished to touch upon. The hon. Member for the Glasgow University had stated that it would cost £12,000,000 to give effect to the provisions of the Bill. The hon. Member surely could not understand what the Bill proposed or he would never have made such a statement. After all it only proposed to provide for the feeding of necessitous school children—
§ MR. JOWETT
said that that interruption was entirely unnecessary. As a matter of fact, the Bill only provided for the 1412 free feeding of necessitous school children. It no doubt contained, and properly so, provisions dealing with other children, on whose behalf payment could be made, but the free feeding was confined to the necessitous class. Now he had gone very carefully into the matter, and in the course of his experience he had arrived at the conclusion that to provide one meal per day for necessitous children in a town such as Bradford, with its population approaching nearly 300,000 inhabitants, the cost would not exceed £5,000 a year. If that were so then a simple multiplication would show that the figures suggested by the hon. Member were ridiculous and were based on a complete misconception of the Bill itself. He trusted that not only would the Bill be carried, but that the system would be extended, because it was well known that there was nothing better than meal times for educating children in those little habits and details which were apt to polish and which made all the difference between some Members of the House of Commons and some others. Let them therefore adopt that means of teaching the children. It had been his lot to see two kinds of school feeding. He had seen children fed under the precious Order issued by the late Government, and he would ask what were the conditions which obtained under it? The children trooped into a room and took their stand in front of a bare table, whereas in the secondary schools the tables on which the children's meals were served were covered with tablecloths and were supplied with the proper utensils, while the teacher stood by ready to correct any little fault which he might notice, and the correction of which was in the interest of the children themselves. He did appeal to all sections of the House to unite in passing the Bill through Parliament.
§ MR. HAROLD COX (Preston)
said he should like to move the following Amendment,—That it is undesirable to proceed further with a measure which would diminish the responsibility of the parents for the maintenance of their children, and would tend to lower the wages of the poorer classes.His reason for objecting to this Bill was that it dealt only with a symptom instead 1413 of with the disease itself. People saw that a certain number of children going to school were badly fed. They were horrified at the fact, and they proceeded at once to expostulate, but the remedy they suggested was merely to feed these particular children. But, surely, when a child was sent to a school improperly fed it meant that there must be something wrong in the home of the child. Obviously, then, the first thing to do was to ascertain what was wrong with the homes—in other words, before they dealt with the problem of the school children they must make inquiry at the homes as to what was the cause of the underfeeding of the children. This Bill provided no machinery for such an inquiry. Yet experience proved conclusively that where inquiry did take place then those symptoms which appeared to be so serious at first sight turned out to be comparatively unimportant in relation to other and graver diseases. He would take the case of Johanna Street School. The hon. Member for North Camberwell and other investigators about twelve months ago visited that school, and complained that a number of children were underfed. That complaint was dealt with by the Board of Guardians, who instructed their superintending relieving officer to inquire into the actual homes of the children and ascertain the causes of the under-feeding. What did he find? In the first place, the parents in all the houses whence underfed children came were instructed to apply to the relieving officer if they wanted food. Only in one case was any application made. That alone seemed to dispose of the fact that it was impossible for the parents to feed their children. That was not all. They found in many cases that the incomes of the families ranged from 20s. up to as much as 72s. a week.
§ MR. HAROLD COX
said at any rate they had them on the authority of the Lambeth Board of Guardians. But what was more important still was that in many houses where parents were asked why children were sent to school without a proper meal the answer was something to this effect, "Oh, we heard that other 1414 children were getting meals for nothing and we thought ours might do the same." He would take another case—one concerning the children at a school in Chelsea. A number of inquiries were made, and he would mention a case as showing the kind of evidence that was furnished. A girl, aged eleven, was sent to school without proper meals. What was the report on her case? She was an only child. Her boots were quite unfit for school. Her father was a painter, addicted to drink. What happened? After a visit from the committee the father himself bought the boots which the child wanted. In another case, there were two children, aged eleven and nine, whose father was dead, and whose mother earned 10s. a week by mangling. That did not seem a large income out of which to provide meals for the children. But what the mother wanted for her children was not food but a country holiday, and so far had the woman proved her ability to provide food that she had paid 3s. 6d. for each child to the holiday fund, but they were unable to go away through want of boots and clothes. The Committee gave a grant, and thus the children had a fortnight in the country. He might go on multiplying these illustrations, but the point he wanted to make was that the feeding question was only one question, and often the least important. Boots were probably in nine cases out of ten far more important, as the children had more often good food than good boots; the clothing was important, and, above all, the housing was important. What was the conclusion? They would have to begin not with the child, but with the family. They had to ask what was wrong in the family. Two things might be wrong in the family. Either the family might be honest but poor through adverse circumstances, or it might be drunken and dishonest. In the first event it was their duty to relieve the family as a whole, and not to pick out one child. In the second event, it might, in extreme cases of drunkenness or other serious vice, be necessary to remove the children from the family altogether. In the majority of cases, however, it would be sufficient to screw up the parents to a realisation of the duty that they owed to their children. The simplest way of accomplishing 1415 that object, and certainly the least expensive, would be to placard the doors of the houses of parents who wilfully sent their children to school underfed with the simple announcement—These people send their children to school without feeding them.
§ MR. HAROLD COX
said he could quite understand hon. Gentlemen on the other side objecting to his proposal, for he gathered from some of their speeches this afternoon that their object was to relieve parents of all their responsibilities.
§ MR. HAROLD COX
said there was a provision in the Bill for allowing the local authorities, if they chose, to recover the money. Supposing they chose, how were they to do it? They knew perfectly well how extremely difficult it was to recover money from poor people. If parents' feelings of affection were appealed to they would provide food for their children, but once that food had been provided they would take good care not to pay the local authorities. They would consider that the money had been rained down from Heaven, and that there was no legal or moral obligation upon them to repay it. What a cumbrous officialism would be created! The point he was urging was that they should impose upon the parent the primary responsibility of feeding the child. What the supporters of the Bill proposed was first to appoint a certain number of officials to feed the child, and then to appoint more officials to collect money from the parents. When that had been done they would come to this House and object to any attempt to force parents to pay. Only two days ago the hon. Member for West Bradford asked the Home Secretary whether his attention had been called to a recent trial in the Bradford County Court, where Judge Bompas gave judgment against forty-nine parents for repayment of costs for meals supplied by the guardians. The object of that 1416 question was to protest against any pressure being put upon these parents.
§ MR. KEIR HARDIE
said he desired to correct the statement of the hon. Gentleman. The object of the question was to protest against a judgment decided in forty-nine cases, in not one of which was evidence heard as to the means of the parents.
§ MR. HAROLD COX
said he was not prepared to go into the details of the question, nor did he think the House of Commons was a proper body to review judicial decisions. His point was that whenever pressure was put upon parents there would be some hon. Members who would do their utmost to resist it, in the name of Socialism. He had a further objection. He objected to the whole principle of taking one child out of a family and feeding it, while the rest of the family was starving. Many hon. Members opposite, he believed, were what was known as Collectivists, but there was already throughout the civilised world the closest form of Collectivism it was possible to create—the collectivity of the family bound together by the ties of service and affection. He laid stress on the word "service," for service led to affection. It was the little services that the mother tendered to the child that created and strengthened the bond of parental affection. They were proposing to put a stop to those services. [Cries of "No."] But it was a fact. They were proposing, when a family was poor, to take one child or two children if they liked, out of a family and say, "We will make you comfortable, but your brothers and sisters, your father and mother—they may go on in their hovel." [Cries of "No."] But that was what was proposed. They only proposed to feed the children in the schools, and not to deal with the poverty in the family. If there were real poverty in the family it should be relieved at the home. This scheme would lead to providing many children, whose parents were not really poor, not merely with meals, but with boots and clothing. What would be the effect on other families who had been doing their duty to their children? They would say, "There is Mrs. Smith; she gets her 1417 children kept for nothing, and why should I be bothered to find money for my children?" He knew there were a great many people who would resist such a temptation as that, but there were a great many others who were easily led astray. After all, human nature was a plastic thing, and could be easily moulded by environment. If the conditions were such as to conduce to a forsaking of duty, then in a great many cases duty would be forsaken. But this Bill did not even wait for the temptation to be given. It provided the temptation itself in the form of the offer of meals to everybody, whether necessitous or not, on the chance of getting back the money.
§ MR. HAROLD COX
agreed that it would be just as bad a speculation. The inevitable effect of the Bill would be to lower wages, and in nine cases out of ten to increase rents. He would take the much less striking case of free education. In some cases the effect of the paying of the school fees by the Government had been to raise the rent by the amount of expenditure saved to the parent. But far more serious was the effect on wages. It was a commonplace that when a man had a pension he would work for a lower rate of wage than a man without a pension. In this case they were relieving the parents from what had been a heavy expenditure, and thereby reducing the necessity for high wages, and the parent would consequently be willing to accept lower wages. A faw days ago the House passed a strong Resolution in favour of the extension of the Truck Act, but to-day they were actually proposing a new form of truck. They were proposing to give the employee food for his children in lieu of wages. The laws of competition being what they were, they would not be able to resist the tendency to lower wages. He was one of those antiquated people [An HON. MEMBER: You need not tell us that] so antiquated as still to believe in trade unions. He did not know whether the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydvil believed in trade unionism, but many of the suggestions 1418 made by him would have the inevitable effect of destroying trades unionism. Trade unions depended on those members of the working classes who were strong enough not only to stand alone but to help their fellows. But the effect of this Bill would be to create a body of working men who, instead of helping their fellows and standing alone, would be sponging upon their fellow workers. What would be the effect on the child? [An HON. MEMBER: It would be better fed.] If they took the child away from the home they would in the first place lower the standard of the home. ["No, no."] That might seem a striking statement to make, but it was borne out by the experience of people who spent their lives in working among the poorer classes. The duty of providing for a child was one of the greatest bonds in keeping up the standard of a home. A woman was ashamed to be drunk in the presence of her child. Take away the child and that motive for self-restraint was gone. He had been told of the case of a poor woman with an illegitimate child, who was working honourably to maintain it. Some charitable people thought it was very hard upon her to have to keep a child out of her scanty wages, and so they relieved her of her burden, and took the child away. What was the result? That poor woman, with no longer any stimulus to exertion or motive for maintaining a higher standard, dropped gradually down to the lowest depths of degradation.
§ MR. J. WARD (Stoke-on-Trent)
on a point of order said there was no suggestion of taking the children away from the parents.
§ MR. HAROLD COX
said he was sorry he was not making his argument clear to his hon. friend, but he was pointing out that if they were to give meals they must also give boots and clothing. Then they must begin to ask under what conditions the child lived, what kind of rooms it slept in, was it washed before it was put to bed, and did it 1419 sleep in a decent cot at night. ["Hear, hear," from the LABOUR Benches, and cries of "Why not?"]
§ MR. HAROLD COX
Then the hon. Member's colleague had been a little slow in taking his point. When they had asked themselves these questions they were driven to say, "We must take this child away. We must house it somewhere else, where it can get better air, etc." They would house it in a beautiful building, with sanitary walls and provide, neat little beds arranged in rows all exactly alike. They would feed it well at long tables with others and clothe it well, but there would be no holidays for that child. It would always live in this great barrack. ["Why?"] If the home was unfit for it in school time it was unfit for it in holiday time, and it would be a crime to send it back to the home from which they had rescued it. It would always live in this barrack with never a holiday and never a sight of the ordinary human relationships that mankind enjoyed.
§ MR. HAROLD COX
It is a consequence of the Bill. They had got, he said, to think in all these social problems of where they were drifting. His hon. friend the Member for Merthyr Tydvil was far sighted enough to see where he was going, but there were a great many Members on both sides of the House who did not see where they were going ["Oh, oh"], and where this Bill would lead to. When they had got these children fed and clothed, did they imagine they had made the children happy? Was there not something else which every child wanted—something that could not be provided by any Act of Parliament? Was there not love of home and parents? It was that love they were going to destroy, and when they had destroyed it they would put nothing in its place. They could not. Did they think they would have solved the problem of poverty? They would have 1420 only made more people willing to accept dependence upon others. It was not by such methods as these that they would raise the mass of the people to a better condition. In the long run they could only raise people by teaching them to raise themselves, but the effect of this Bill would be to encourage people to degrade themselves. He begged to move.
§ The Amendment was not seconded.
§ DR. MACNAMARA (Camberwell, N.)
said he was in the most cordial disagreement with almost everything which the hon. Member for Preston had said upon this question. His views to him seemed fantastic and hard-mouthed. Whether they were more fantastic than hard-[...] outhed he did not know. The hon. Member for Preston would allow a child to starve because he was anxious not to undermine parental responsibility, just in those cases where he knew it did not exist. He was entirely against the hon. Member. He considered it a most happy circumstance that the first private Members' Friday should be taken up with a proposal to give local education authorities the power to make provision for the feeding of hungry children. It was an equally happy circumstance that the proposition should come from the Labour benches, and that the first education debate was a real education debate dealing with a real, live, urgent problem. All too soon they would drift on to those empty dry theological discussions which had blocked educational progress in this House. For nearly thirty years he had been in daily touch with this problem. He commenced as a pupil teacher, then became an assistant master and subsequently a head master, and he for many years had been a member of the school board for London. He would give the House his views in regard to suffering from malnutrition. He was a master in a Bristol board school from the year 1884 to the year 1892 and there he had 250 boys in his charge. He watched them day by day and found that of the 250 every day, and especially in winter, at least fifty of the poorest boys were daily ill-fed and suffering from malnutrition, and twenty-five of them were absolutely hungry. From twenty to thirty boys always spent all the dinner 1421 hour in the playground. He asked a number of them—and the poor were always very reticent to expose their condition—whether they had been home, and some of them would say "Yes." Then he found that they had not been home for the reason that there was nothing to go home for. At mid-winter, when the hoar frost on the school playground was too severe to be penetrated by the [...]ays of the sun, he once found two brothers sitting with their backs to the wall in the playground making a mid-day meal of a cold turnip, and he saw others making a meal off a crust and a raw onion. Although he admitted that things of this kind had been very much mitigated by charitable agencies, that state of things existed not more than fifteen years ago. Any morning, when the first bite of winter came along, they could see in the school children faint and vomit,not because their food disagreed with them, but because their stomachs were empty. That was a common experience of the board school teacher. Soon after he came to London there was a special Committee appointed to consider this question, and he could assure the House that this subject was far more serious than the matters they were accustomed to squabble over. A Committee sat in 1889 and it was found that 43,888 children, or 12 per cent, of the children on the roll of the London School Board, came ill-fed to school, and that voluntary agencies were not sufficient to meet the needs of half of them. It was therefore found that 6 per cent, of them came and went home hungry. In 1894 the Committee sat again and they had a very much better organisation of voluntary effort. In 1898, under the chairmanship of the late Mr. Costelloe, the Committee sat again and they concluded, after examining the facts, that in their opinion voluntary effort could not adequately cope with this difficulty, and they laid down three extremely important conclusions—
That was the position taken up by the hon. Member for Barnard Castle, and the hon. Member who had submitted this Bill to the House. He admitted that it was a fact that those findings were not accepted by the London School Board, because by twenty-seven votes to twelve they were defeated. While they were at work considering this question another independent body came to the same conclusion—he alluded to the Royal Commission of 1903 on Physical Training in Scotland. This was a most remarkable thing, for it was a Commission which had nothing to do with hungry children or the feeding of children. As the hon. Member for the Glasgow University knew very well, it was appointed to consider the methods employed in giving physical training, and the moment they got face to face with the hard facts they concluded that they could do nothing until those children were properly fed, and they added that an obligation should be put upon the public authorities to see that they were fed. That was a very remarkable finding from a body of persons who were generally supposed to be individualists to a greater extent than the other people of the United Kingdom. Then they had the most important finding of the Physical Deterioration Committee which had been quoted by the seconder of the Second Reading of this Bill to the effect that public authorities should be empowered to make provision for these children. That was what the Physical Deterioration Committee concluded. Having stated those short historical facts, he wished now to show how far they had been able to come to an agreement. All Parties agreed that there were a number of children, especially in the winter time, when the building and allied trades were out, in the slums of great towns, who came to school hungry and badly fed. He thought everybody must agree that bread 1423 was more necessary than the three R's to a poor child. They also agreed that it was torture to attempt to teach a child on an empty stomach, and they agreed that if they did make that endeavour they were wasting the rates and taxes just at the point where they ought to have the most fruitful influence, because of the physically unfit condition of the child. He thought they would all agree that they must do nothing to undermine parental responsibility, but on the contrary all their efforts should be directed to the maintenance of parental responsibility. They were all agreed that under that general system it would be economical, save money and time, and give cheap and good food to the children; and where the parent was in a position to pay he must be called upon to do so. Those who thought that the parent would not pay had little knowledge of the great sacrifices which the bulk of the poorer classes were making. They also agreed that if the parent could not make this provision as a result of illness, or economic conditions of the day, then the meal must be provided for the child without either pauperising the child or the parent. Further, he hoped it was agreed that if a parent could make provision for his child and would not do so because he was drunken or negligent, then he should be pursued with the utmost rigour of the law. There was only one point of difference. It might be asked, why could they not leave this thing to the hand of charity? That appeared to him to be the position taken up by the hon. Member for the Glasgow University, who asked if charity would not meet this case. He himself used to think that the proper way to deal with this question was by charitable organisations, but he had been driven from that conclusion by the hard facts of the case. Charity fluctuated, it was never certain, and they could not appeal except in mid-winter effectively to charity, and they all knew that there were cases even in summer where a meal was needed. There was a signal instanc given of this in this circular. The Physical Deterioration Committee reported in the sense they had heard, that the Local Education Authorities should be empowered to do this thing. He remembered that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Oxford University was pretty 1424 well frightened out of his wits by that recommendation, and it so startled him that he appointed another Committee to explain the finding away and to consider the question of the feeding of children, restricting the reference to voluntary agencies, and this Committee reported in that sense. They were asked to examine how far voluntary agencies could do this thing, and what was the result? They got returns from seventy-one county boroughs and they found that in sixteen of them there was no provision of any kind whatever by voluntary agencies for the feeding of the children. The statement that voluntary agencies met the case was refuted by the fact that in the following county boroughs no agencies of the kind existed:—Barrow-in-Furness, Blackpool, Bournemouth, Burnley, Bury, Canterbury, Coventry, Exeter, Great Yarmouth, Huddersfield, Ipswich, Newport, Oxford, Southampton, Warrington, and Wigan. In a total of 137 boroughs no provision of any kind was made in ninety-nine for feeding the children through voluntary charitable agencies. In fifty-five urban districts no voluntary provision was made in thirty-three. He need not go any further than the Blue Book to show that voluntary effort was entirely inadequate to meet the case. Charity fluctuated, and it could never cover the ground. The charitable system was that which emasculated parental responsibility, because the parent was not followed up. The scheme of those who favoured the provisions of this Bill was to feed the child and then to pursue the parent. Personally he would take all the poorer areas of great towns and schedule them, linking the schools in those areas by half-dozens. He would then provide a central dining-hall for each group of six schools, and give the parents notice that they could go to the offices of the local authorities and buy a book of dinner coupons. They should pay for them if possible; if they were unable to pay they should receive them gratuitously to give them to their children to procure one square meal instead of permitting them to slouch about the streets picking up the garbage in the gutters. The teachers and attendance officers should also have coupons to give to the children; and when they had provided all this machinery, then they should pursue the 1425 worthless parent for all that they were worth. If the parent was a drunken, worthless person, who starved his child to indulge his own vices, then whip him at the cart tail. In citing the case of the Cantine Scolaire system in Paris, he showed that 8,000,000 meals were provided for children at a cost of £75,000. Of this sum, £15,000 were collected by voluntary subscriptions. They made a collection for these poor children's funds at all the public weddings. He thought that might be adopted in this country, for the right time to take people was when they were in the melting mood. The voluntary subscriptions amounted to £15,000, the parents themselves paid £20,000 for coupons, and the rates and taxes were mulct to the extent of £40,000. In London such a scheme would cost the rates a farthing in the pound. The rate was now 1s. 2d. in the pound, and they knew that at present a great deal of that money was wasted just where it ought to be most beneficently applied, because of the poverty of the people. By making the rate 1s. 2¼d. they would be sure of a thoroughly wise and fruitful application of every farthing of the money. He appealed to the House to give the Bill a Second Reading in the best and truest interest of the highest Imperialism—the Imperialism which began at home. He remembered reading with great interest a speech delivered at a city banquet by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham on 24th October, 1900. In that speech the right hon. Gentleman said—
- "(i.) It should be deemed to be part of the duty of any authority by law responsible for the compulsory attendance of children at school to ascertain what children, if any, come to school in a state unfit to get normal profit by the school work—whether by reason of underfeeding, physical disability, or otherwise—and that there should be the necessary inspection for that purpose.
- "(ii.) That where it is ascertained that children are sent to school 'underfed' it should be part of the duty of the authority to see that
1422 they are provided, under proper conditions, with the necessary food, subject to the provision contained in Clause (vi.)
- "(vi.) That where the Board's officers report that the underfed condition of any child is due to the culpable neglect of a parent (whether by reason of drunkenness or other gross misconduct), the Board should have the power and the duty to prosecute the parent for cruelty, and that, in case the offence is persisted in, there should be power to deal with the child under the Industrial Schools Acts."Think of it, gentlemen—Empire such as the world has never seen! Think of its area, covering a great portion of the globe! Think of its population, embracing 400,000,000 of the people of almost every race under the sun! Think of the diversity of its products! There is nothing that is necessary or useful or grateful to man which is not produced under the Union Jack.That was an invitation to think Imperially, and they did. It was a very expensive job. They were thinking Imperially now when they thought of the poor little scraps of humanity on whose ricketty shoulders the burden of empire would in future rest. They were thinking of the future heritors and stewards of Britain's greatness when they thought of the Imperial citizens who were foraging 1426 in the gutters of the New Cut for the garbage that fell from the coster's barrow, hungry, barefooted, tattered and torn. They must not only sing "Rule, Britannia," but they must weave the chorus into every clause of our social statutes for the betterment of the people; and, while they did not forget the Arabs of Kordofan, they must remember also the little Arabs of the New Cut, Lambeth. They were discussing the Navy Estimates yesterday, and they would discuss them again next week, but he hoped they would remember, as they perfected their far-flung navies and ships of war, that it was not out of the mouth of knitted gun nor the smoothed rifle, but out of the mouths of babes and sucklings that the strength is ordained that would still the Enemy and the Avenger.
§ MR. J. W. TAYLOR (Durham, Chester le-Street)
said the speech to which they had just listened contrasted strikingly with the pessimistic reflections of the hon. Member for Preston. Notwithstanding all the difficulties which had been enumerated, the question of the feeding of school children had taken a very deep hold upon the country. The question was now interesting all classes, and it was evident that the time had come when serious consideration must be given to it. There was an old truth that the wealth of a nation depended not so much on the weight of its bullion or its financial resources as upon the value and the quality of the blood and bone and sinew of its toilers. The report of the Commission of 1904 had been referred to by previous speakers, and if the statements which it contained were true it was high time that serious regard was paid to this particular question. They had the statement that a large number of children were unable, by reason of their physical condition, to do their work in a proper way. An important question which was engaging the attention of the country was how they could best develop and improve the physical condition of the people. From inquiries made from time to time, both by the Government and by charitable institutions, they found that there were conditions prevailing in this country which were certainly not creditable to a civilised community. Something needed 1427 to be done in order that the poorer portion of the population, many of whom were handicapped in the race of life, should be saved from a state of semi-starvation. Speaking at a meeting of the National League for Physical Education and Improvement held on 28th June, 1905, Sir James Crichton Browne said—At thirteen years of age the children in elementary schools—those drawn from poor homes and the labouring classes—the boys are, on the average, two inches shorter and six pounds lighter than the boys in the secondary schools, who come from well-to-do homes; while, at the same age, the girls, on the average, are three inches shorter and thirteen pounds lighter.Our educational system in the past had been largely devoted to the cultivation of the mental qualities of the children rather than their physical. This neglect had been inimical to the best interests of the nation. Body and mind were interdependent, and more interest must in future be shown in the question of physical development. At the meeting to which he had already referred, the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for War made a speech in which he said—There are those who care for their country. The future of the country rests with the future of the race, and the race rests with the future of the children. You cannot have the highest education, you cannot have any education, unless you make those who are to receive it fit to receive it. You cannot save the soul unless you attend to the body. That applies in a great many fields of work, and it is not to be wondered at that the State should this Session have been taking up the attention of Parliament with the question of feeding the children in the schools. Whatever difficulties there may be in these propositions, what people are coming to recognise is that education is a far bigger thing than mere learning, that it means attention to the physical conditions of life as well as the conditions which surround the mind, and unless the one is dealt with the other will fail.This was really the humane aspect of the question, and that was one of the grounds on which the Party to which he belonged urged that a child should not be compelled to attend school unless they were satisfied that it was fit to undergo the strain required. There was also the commercial aspect of the question, and he thought that strong arguments could be found in favour of that aspect of the Bill. Every stunted child was a charge on the nation's resources; every well-developed child was a valuable addition to the nation's assets. 1428 Whatever might be the true definition of parental responsibility he and his friends said that every child born into the nation imposed on the nation a responsibility, and that that responsibility should be duly regarded. A good deal had been said about charity, and he admitted that benevolent men and women in the country had done much to soften the hard circumstances under which these half-fed children had lived, but there was conclusive proof that the method of dealing with the feeding of school children by charitable organisations was almost absolutely unsatisfactory. What the promoters of this Bill asked was that the power should be given to see that every child who was neglected should be cared for in such a way as would provide the best chances of its education being thoroughly attended to. The proposals in the Bill were in the first instance humane, and in the second place they were on economic grounds such as would promote the best interests of the nation.
§ MR. ALDEN (Middlesex, Tottenham)
said that he was not altogether in accord with the Bill before the House, but he did not wish to say very much in the way of criticism. All these questions, like those of physical deterioration, housing, casual labour, and unemployment, hung together. They were inter-linked, and for the moment the House was working in a vicious circle, trying to find its way out. This was only one small point in the programme which they hoped would one day take them out of this vicious circle. At the present time the effort to get these children up the ladder of learning was a Sisyphean task. The moment they had mounted the ladder a little they left school, and many of them deteriorated physically and morally and joined the ranks of the unemployable and the inefficient. What the hon. Member for Preston had not noticed was that we were creating this problem day by day. We were manufacturing these classes and putting a burden on the rates and taxes just because we did not consider sufficiently the lives and the interests of the children. All our law and tradition put the man first, the woman second, and the child last of all. He did not contend that we ought 1429 to put the child first, but all these three ought equally to be regarded. The whole child problem needed more careful inquiry and study. If they could only solve the child problem he was convinced that they should have made, at any rate, some advance in dealing with the problem of casual labour and unemployment. The facts in connection with this question which struck him as being most impressive were those supplied by Dr. Hall, of Leeds, who for thirty years had made a close study of it, and who had himself engaged in the work of feeding school children. Dr. Hall found out almost accidentally that Jewish children were healthier, bigger, and taller than Gentile children, and this led him to go into the question more thoroughly by conducting a series of experiments in the feeding of children. He planned a scientific and wholesome diet for the children, and for many years he fed the children in the poorer class schools daily. As the result of his investigation he found that the children who were regularly fed with the right kind of diet were not to be compared with the children who came to school improperly fed, and so he urged that the whole child problem need more careful inquiry and study. He (Mr. Alden) did not think the present Bill would do very much; it was only one small measure, and he would like to see it supplemented in many ways. Any Bill which was to solve the problem must impose on local education authorities the duty of medically examining and inspecting every child at regular intervals. There should be doctors and nurses employed by every educational authority, whose duty it would be to go into the schools, especially those attended by the children of the poorer classes, and examine the children with the view of ascertaining what were the facts, so that they might have an authority which could not be impeached. What were the facts? He trusted that the right hon. Gentleman, the President of the Board of Education would see that these facts were ascertained in every town and in every country district. It had been pointed out that if children were fed without investigation into the circumstances of the parents they were likely to do more harm than good. If that was so, let 1430 them have investigation—searching investigation if they liked. If they chose to take the trouble they could find out the children who were living under such conditions that the parent could not possibly give them the necessary food. They had at hand the method which had been employed by Mr. Seebohm Rowntree in his investigations at York. Mr. Rowntree's investigations proved that about 10 per cent.—9–91 per cent. to be quite accurate—of the population of York lived in what he called a state of primary poverty, and that the children of those people came to school ill-fed and ill-nourished. By primary poverty he meant a condition in which the total earnings of a family were not sufficient to provide the mere necessaries of life. The children must, therefore, necessarily suffer. They might make a beginning with the children of parents who were in a state of primary poverty. Could anybody dispute the fact that those children ought to be fed? If the parents did not wast a single penny on drink, holidays, recreation, or amusement, and if still the children could not be properly fed, hon. Members must be agreed that in such cases the children ought to be fed, not at the expense of the parents, because they could not afford it, but at the expense of some authority. Personally he should prefer that it should be the Imperial authority and that the money should be provided out of the Imperial Exchequer. He did not approve of putting an additional burden on localities which were already overburdened. Supposing they wanted to go beyond that stage, would it be impossible to make such an investigation by house to house visitation as would justify them in taking more definite action? He thought that what was wanted more than anything else was a knowledge of all the facts. If they could start with the schools and ascer-certain the facts about child-life in the schools, he was quite convinced that many of the problems which vexed us to-day could be solved. Having had twelve years experience in the East end of London in the district of South-West Ham, he could state that he had seen children of the poor growing up utterly incapable of earning their living and gradually joining the ranks of the unemployed. He knew the case of a man who was sent 1431 to the United States. He was a teetotaler, a member of his trade union, a member of a sick benefit society, and a thrifty man. He did everything he could for his wife and children, but his wages as a casual docker averaged 12s. a week, and he paid 4s. 6d. a week for his two rooms. How was it possible for such a man adequately to feed his children, and how could the children be expected to learn when sent to school? Something ought to be done for the children in cases where it could be proved that the parents were not responsible in any degree for their poverty. He would leave it to the good sense of the House to say whether it was not time at any rate to make a beginning. He did not believe in compelling parents to contribute in the way suggested in the Bill. He did not believe that, because his own personal experience taught him that it was not practical. There were thousands of cases of families in which no amount of inquiry could bring home the fact whether the parents were or were not wholly responsible for the condition of the children. It was society that was responsible for manufacturing the conditions that made it so hard for parents to do what many Members claimed they ought to do. He pressed that point on the Minister of Education, and he asked him, in the interests of the children and the country to see that something was done, whether by this Bill, or by some clause in the new Education Bill, to give power to the local authorities to assist the children of parents who were poverty-stricken through no fault of their own. If that step were taken it would be first in the solution of the problem of unemployment.
§ MR. BOWLES (Lambeth, Norwood)
said he hoped the House would forgive him, if at this very early stage of his Parliamentary career, he ventured to intervene in a debate of this character and importance. He did so with all the awe which this Assembly inspired in a new Member—
§ MR. BOWLES (continuing)
And with all that diffidence and modesty 1432 which he might say was natural to him, and which indeed he had perhaps to some extent inherited. He also did so, if the House would allow him to say it, because he confessed, as the humblest member of the Conservative Party, that he was outraged by the extraordinary proposals in the Bill now before the House. He had listened with the greatest possible attention to the debate, and he confessed that the speeches of hon. Gentlemen below the gangway had given him a very new conception of the character and fibre of the working classes of this country. If the case for this Bill was made out, they were bound to believe that there existed in this country a large number of men and women who had sunk into such a state of indifference and of sullen apathy a to be unmoved not by their own sufferings but the sufferings and starvation of their own children. [MINISTERIAL cries of "Oh, oh!"] It seemed to him unless that were so, it could hardly be necessary to make such provision as was contemplated by this measure. If there were such a class as that—he believed it was a small class—they ought to be dealt with by more forcible provisions than those contained in the Bill. It was claimed that the clauses of the Bill had reference to that much larger class of working men and women which undoubtedly existed, who were by no means indifferent to the sufferings of their own children, but who were unable to support them, and see that they were properly fed. It was suggested that those persons were unable through insufficient wages to support their own children. That might be so, but it seemed to him that if there was one thing which the men and the women of this country took care to do, under whatever conditions they were forced to live, it was to secure that their children should not be deprived of sufficient nourishment. His contention was that it was unlikely, in spite of all the expert evidence they have heard, that there was a large number of children who habitually, day in and day out, attended school without sufficient food. But suppose it to be true that a great number of children attend school in that condition, then, in his humble opinion, a Bill such as this would be a most mischievous measure in the interests of the whole country, and particularly in the 1433 interests of the working classes whom it was intended to benefit. What did this Bill propose to do? It proposed that the local education authority in any district might resolve that any of the children in attendance at any public elementary school under their control were insufficiently fed, and that then they might take certain steps. How was the local authority to resolve and how often to decide that a particular child was underfed? He supposed that if the education authority were to resolve they would have to make inquiry. In what form was it proposed to conduct that inquiry? Were they going to add to the already formidable, dangerous and weakening hierarchy of officials throughout the length and breadth of the land, whose business it would be to pry into the private lives of the people in order to ascertain whether on a particular day a certain child could be described as underfed? It seemed to him that if they were to carry out the proposals in the Bill they would inevitably set up a system of inquisition which, if he had any knowledge of the working classes in this country or in any other country, they would much resent and deplore. [Ironical laughter from the LABOUR Benches.] He hoped that hon. Members below the gangway did not think he had any want of respect for them when he said that he believed that they had not sufficiently considered the enormously far-reaching character of the proposals in the Bill. It had been more than once suggested in the debate that it was untrue to say that if this measure were carried it would be applicable to any child whether underfed or not. That suggestion could not for one moment be entertained. The Bill gave power to the local education authority to provide meals at the public expense for any children whatever, and under any circumstances where they might resolve that they would like to give such meals, altogether irrespective of whether the children were insufficiently fed or not. That provision to which he took exception had no place in the Bill of last year. It now read—The local education authority shall take such steps as they think fit to provide food for such children 'as were unable by reason of lack of food to take full advantage of the education provided for them,' and, if the local education authority think fit, for any other children in their schools.1434 He maintained that if this Bill became law they would be putting into the hands of every educational authority in the country a power to charge the people of the district with the feeding of absolutely every child that came within its jurisdiction. That was a most tremendous power and would involve a great and increasing burden on the rates and on the people of this country. It seemed to him to be a very serious principle for this House to agree to, that the children of any parents were to receive the very substantial relief of food at the public expense, and yet not to be considered in any way pauperised. He contended that to give out of public funds—rates or taxes—food to the children of any district—they might call it relief or any other term they chose to give it—was to pauperise the recipients. For all these reasons, insufficient though they were, he was very hopeful that the House would consider well before passing the Second Reading of this measure. The fundamental objection to the Bill was its absolutely socialistic character from beginning to end. He thought that nobody would deny that. He held that all the well-known dangers which were known to adhere to all forms of socialism applied in a particularly virulent form to this measure. It might be said that he did not know much about the working classes—[Ironical "Hear, hear" from the LABOUR Benches]—but he knew a good deal about the working men of Norwood, and he could tell the House that they did not desire in the least—on the contrary, they very much disliked—this continual increase of county council inspection on every hand; and that they did not ask for a moment that their plain duties, which they were perfectly willing to carry out as citizens, should be fobbed off on the community as a whole, and I that they realised and were ready to discharge their responsibilities in regard to their children and their families. He earnestly hoped, in the interests of the working classes, who, he believed, were the last people in the world who desired to live at other people's expense, and in the interests of those men and women who, with great self-sacrifice and unceasing endeavour, managed to keep their homes 1435 together and to pay their way as reasonable and independent folk, that the Government would advise that this measure should not pass into law as it stood.
§ MR. LEHMANN (Leicestershire, Market Harborough)
said the hon. Member for Norwood had based his opposition to the Bill on the interests of the working classes. He thought the working classes were the best judges themselves as to what they wanted. There could be no doubt from the speeches they had heard to-day and from their own experience that the working classes did take a great interest in this question, and that, on the whole, they were heartily in favour of the Bill. The hon. Member for Preston had put his opposition to the Bill on a peculiarly and ground of individualistic dogmatism. He seemed to be terrified by the Socialistic bogey. He (the Speaker) refused to be deterred by any such bogey from supporting a measure which was in itself good and calculated to do good. If Socialistic measures were good, then in God's name let Parliament pass them. Another reason for opposition had been put forward by the hon. Member for Glasgow University, whose vaticinations, in respect of their gloom, had not been equalled since the Prophet Jeremiah lamented over Jerusalem. That hon. Member had told them that there were other questions besides this with which the House ought to deal. No doubt there were other questions such as housing, landlordism, temperance, etc., with which they hoped to have some opportunity of dealing effectively; but if they were to be deterred from dealing with a question because there were other questions to be settled, they would never deal with any of them at all. He should like to say that for more than thirty years he had been engaged in devotion to the physical exercise of rowing; and he found from observation and experience of generation after generation of young men who took part in that exercise that the generations recently come to manhood and now reaching manhood were infinitely better equipped in health, endurance, and strength, than the generation of about thirty years ago. He was convinced that that was so chiefly because in the schools from which 1436 they came they had had better food. The hon. Members for Norwood and Preston might say that they or their parents had paid for that food themselves. True, but when these young men aferwards represented their boat club in any important event their living expenses were paid by their club, and he had never yet heard that that had had a pauperising influence upon them. In the Bill before the House they had to deal with children whose parents could not provide them with food at all. If it was important that we should equip for the race of life the rising generation it was necessary that we should feed them if they could not feed themselves, and it was for that reason that he so heartily supported the Bill.
§ SIR WILLIAM ANSON (Oxford University)
said there had been a great variety of speeches, but, he believed, substantial agreement on one point—that there were a considerable number of children who attended elementary schools insufficiently fed and were unable to get the full benefit of the teaching given in the schools. It must not be supposed, however, that this state of things was universal. There were considerable areas and large towns in which the trouble did not exist. The hon. Member for North Camberwell represented that there were many county boroughs where there was no agency for the supply of food to children; he could say that in such cases there was no necessity for it there. He had taken the trouble to make inquiry in the county borough of Oxford, and he was assured that there were no children coming to school in that county borough who, to the knowledge of the teachers, were inefficiently fed. He believed we had the materials before us for dealing with the question, and he hoped it would be dealt with. He had heard with pleasure opinions expressed by various Members in favour of wise, cautious, and judicious administration of the supply of food to children. The question was, What were to be the conditions tinder which these meals were to be given, and who was to pay for them? He thought they were all agreed that the parent who could feed his children and did not, should be made to feed them by the most drastic measures. Then there were cases in which the parents 1437 were perfectly willing to feed their children, but were not able to be at home for the purpose. Surely those were cases in which some arrangements might be made under which the local authorities might supply the meals and the parents pay for them. Then there were the far more difficult cases of distress. He thought the hon. Member for Preston was right in calling attention to the unfavourable effect which the giving of either rate or charitable aid might in some circumstances have on wages. [Several LABOUR MEMBERS: What about the poor widows?] There were cases of temporary distress in which, no doubt, relief might be given. Where was relief to come from? There were three alternatives—rate-aid, State-aid, or voluntary contributions. He could not see the objection to money being accepted from people who were willing to give it, and so coming into hands through which it might be properly controlled and administered for a useful end. He entirely agreed with an hon. Member who had suggested that charitable effort needed local control and that the local authorities should endeavour to organise the relief and to apply it to the best possible purposes; but he hoped they would not set aside a source of income which was ready to their hands in order to take money from the ratepayer, who was already so heavily burdened, or from the education rate, which was already heavily charged for education purposes, or go to the State. But there was another difficulty, and that was in the selection of the children who were to receive this relief. He understood from the earliest advocates of the Bill that the meals were not to be universal, but that the children who were to have them were to be those who would not otherwise get meals. By what agency other than voluntary agency could they ascertain what children should receive these meals? The mere statement of the children could not be trusted. He did not mean to [...]ay that the children were unprincipled, but when those who had had no breakfast were asked to hold up their hands, they were inclined to do as those near them did, and most of the children in a crowd would hold up their hands though they never meant to ask for anything to which they were not en- 1438 titled. The teacher ought not to be asked to take upon himself the whole responsibility of the process of selection. From his experience at the Board of Education he could not speak too highly of the attitude of the teachers. They did all they could to help the children and their families and to exercise a humanising influence over the home. But they could not be expected to know all the circumstances of every family, and ought not to have this burden thrown upon them, and therefore he thought they must fall back upon the voluntary agencies such as the Guilds of Help at Bradford or those relief committees which existed in London and Sheffield and other large towns. This process of selection was an undoubted difficulty; and he feared that if the local authorities were given the large powers this Bill would confer on them they might be found to say that it was beneath the dignity of a great local authority to ask for charity or to use voluntary agencies and might take a short cut by taking advantage of the powers the Bill conferred and say that meals should be given to all those who could not afford them. It was said the Bill only gave power to the local authorities to deal with really necessitous cases; but if that was so, some of the provisions of the Bill seemed to him to be unnecessary. It was like the case of the man who made a large hole in his door for his cat and a smaller hole for his kitten. The provisions seemed to enable a large number of children to come in under one condition, and there was another condition under which any number of children could come in. In no case was the receipt of food under the Bill to be treated as parochial relief; and one result of the measure might be that a man who could, but would not, feed his children might get them fed at the cost of the ratepayer and yet incur no penalty or disability. It was suggested that the powers conferred by the Bill would be used in a most cautious and judicious spirit by the local authorities, but, in his opinion, they were dangerous powers to give to local authorities and would throw great temptations in their way and would be liable to great abuse. But would the evil really be 1439 remedied by the exercise of such powers? Would the supply of meals go to the root of the trouble? The poor and backward condition of the children in many schools did not arise only from the want of food. It arose also from the late hours to which they were kept up, from the impure atmosphere in which they slept, from the unwholesome food they were very often allowed to eat at home, and from the wretched state of their clothing and boots. Would all this be remedied by taking from the parent the duty of providing a breakfast and mid-day meal for his child? He contended that this provision of free meals should be administered with the utmost caution, because, if administered on a large scale, it would tend in some measure to increase rather than diminish parental carelessness, to which he must largely attribute the poor physical condition of many of the children in our schools. Would this be remedied by relieving the parent of the duty to provide a meal for the child before it went to school? Will they improve the home by taking away one of the principal features of home life, the duty of providing meals at settled periods of the day? He said that the power to provide free meals should be exercised with the utmost caution, for if they were administered on a large scale it would go far to diminish carefulness in the bringing up of children. The Board of Education and the local authorities had been doing all they could to encourage the teaching what was called housecraft, the arts by which the home was made wholesome and comfortable, and if there were to be free meals on a large scale, what was all that teaching to come to? The whole thing would bcome a matter of indifference to the parents, and, so far from advancing the condition of the poor, this Bill, if fully put into effect, would throw it back. He wanted to see this question settled on the lines which were set out in a Bill produced, but not discussed, in the last session of the last Parliament, which would have enabled local authorities to provide meals subject to payment and boards of guardians to deal with necessitous cases as they arose. He would like to see the Government take the matter up and deal with it on some such lines as these, and not 1440 in a way which, although it might get rid of the difficulty for a time, might create further troubles in the future and might retard the advance in the life of the working classes. They now had the materials before them, and he would very much rather see this matter taken up afresh than trust to making a workable Bill out of the Bill now before the House. It was quite plain from the speeches that had been made that the supporters of the Bill did not intend it to be worked upon the lines which the wording of the Bill now indicated. He despaired for that reason of making a good Bill out of the present Bill, but he would like to see the matter dealt with in a generous spirit, but judiciously and cautiously; and while taking every care for the interests of the children in regard to proper nourishment at school, this should be done so as not to sacrifice or damage the life of the home.
§ THE PRESIDENT OF THE BOARD OF EDUCATION (Mr. BIRRELL, Bristol, N.
) said they had had an interesting and profitable discussion, and many speeches had been made by new Members, who had shown an almost alarming capacity for taking an active part in the debates. It was a subject which touched all of them, this of hungry children in schools. Most Members of the House, he suspected, were fathers, all of them had been children, and some of them had been teachers, and in all these capacities they knew that to attempt to teach a hungry child, faint and weak, the elements of learning, either divine or human, was an act of cruelty. They also knew that to attempt anything of the kind at the expense of either the taxpayer or the ratepayer was a waste of public money. This was, therefore, in the first place an educational question. He protested in the name of the teachers against so odious a duty being imposed upon them as the attempt to teach hungry children. He knew quite well how generously teachers had approached the task, how kindly they had attempted to discharge it, and what a heavy tax it too often was upon their slender resources to try and mitigate the evils and the hardships that came under their attention. There was the hungry child; they must either feed 1441 it or turn it away; and as the Minister for Education he could not be responsible for the latter alternative. As everybody was agreed that the child could not be taught before it was fed, then fed it had to be. The next question was, By what agency was the feeding to be done? It appeared to him that the proper agency, in the first instance, to see that this primary step was taken was the education authority itself. As to whether or not local education authorities should have the power, if so disposed, to try the experiment of providing food for a considerable number of the children who might avail themselves of it, endeavouring to be repaid the cost of the meals, he reminded the House that that course had been adopted for many years in Paris, in connection with the cantines scolaires, and had worked exceedingly well. There was one advantage of teaching poor children what a good dinner was, that it raised their own standard very much, and created in their youthful stomachs a divine dissatisfaction with their lot. He could conceive no greater service to posterity than to raise the standard of living in the children of the present day. Therefore he should be sorry to forbid by law a local authority trying the experiment of feeding children upon a larger scale than would be necessary if it Were to be confined to necessitous children. In Paris, in 1904, 10,500,000 meals were given; of those it was difficult to ascertain what proportion were given gratuitously, but it was certain that a very large proportion were given in exchange for payment. He thought that what Paris could do London ought to be able to do, especially after the visit of the County Councillors to the French capital. There it was found possible to combine a good system of feeding the children, which should be gratuitous to those whose parents stood in need of it without in any way interfering with payment by those who could afford to pay. That was the only reason why he should be rather sorry were the local authority to be prohibited from attempting to do [...]omething of the same sort as was done in Paris. That being so, the question became one rather of detail. What means were to be employed to see that they were not imposed upon? Of course, parental responsibility was a great ideal, but how it could really be destroyed either by free 1442 meals being given to very poor children or by meals being given to children for which they paid he was at a loss to conceive. He was not one of those who loved the phrase "the children of the State." It was a phrase which grated upon his ear. The State could not have any children. The mace on the table might as well beguile its ample leisure by the hope of a child. Man was born of a woman, and not of the Local Government Board, and anything which in any way interfered with the family as the unit of our civilisation was greatly to be deplored. On what rate was the burden to fall? Was it more convenient it should fall on the education rate or on the poor rate? Whether the education rate or the Poor Law rate was the better fund to bear the burden when they failed to recover the cost was a question which might fairly be considered by the Committee to which he hoped the Bill would be referred. He hoped the Committee would take into consideration the whole question as to how local authorities might work the powers conferred by this Bill. Charity was not to be sneezed at, but it required to be steady and well-organised, otherwise it was apt to be sporadic, fanciful, and fitful. He hoped, too, that local education authorities would fully consider whether they could not properly utilise voluntary agencies and organise and receive contributions from them in aid of the rate or any other relief they might think it necessary to establish. He did not suppose for a moment that any popularly-elected body, with ratepayers behind it, would be anxious to increase the burden of the rates, or that they would desire to discourage the assistance of charitable persons in the community. He thought it was not much use saying that this question was part of a far greater question—everything was part of a greater question. Everything was part and parcel of education. From the teacher's point of view, boots were not so important as that the child should be fed. This was a practical problem which presented itself every day in almost every school in the great towns, and we had to deal with the problem. He was quite content to leave posterity to deal with a great many other problems which might arise. He thought the best course would be, if the House ageeed, that the Bill should be read a second time, and 1443 then referred to a Select Committee. Its wording had, not unnaturally, given rise to suspicion from hon. Gentlemen opposite; there was a parenthesis that was a little difficult to understand, though the meaning which they attached to it had been very clearly explained by the supporters of the Bill. All that was needed was to make that meaning plain to the duller comprehension of His Majesty's Judges and others who might have hereafter to interpret it. When that had been done, and when the whole question of the relations of the local authority either with the Poor Law Guardians or with their own rate, and also their relations with the voluntary agencies which might exist in their midst, had been considered, he thought the Bill would come back to the House in a state which would enable it to pass with great satisfaction to all.
§ MR. FENWICK (Northumberland, Wansbeck)
expressed his profound regret that it should be proposed to send the Bill to a Select Committee. He agreed with the opinion expressed in the House some years ago by the right hon. Member for West Birmingham, that to send a Bill to a Select Committee was a specious device on the part of those who did not wish to legislate. Having regard to the unanimity of opinion expressed in the course of the debate he sincerely regretted that the Minister for Education should have made this proposal, because it would mean in this case that they would not hear of the Bill again in the present Session, as by the time the Select Committee had concluded its work it would be practically impossible to make further progress with the measure. There had been practically no opposition either to the Second Reading of the Bill or to the main principles on which the measure was based. They had had one or two criticisms from hon. Members on both sides of the House who were apparently alarmed at the term "Socialism." Well, he did not think the junior Member for Merthyr Tydvil would suspect him of being a Socialist. But although he disclaimed being in any sense a Socialist he had never been afraid of the term. He was one of those who believed that what was right, proper and just in any "ism" would live, while that 1444 which was unjust and improper would die out. He therefore had never been terrified by the use of the word. He hoped that the Minister for Education would reconsider his decision and allow the Bill to go to a Grand Committee, where it could be just as effectively dealt with as by a Select Committee.
§ SIR HOWARD VINCENT (Sheffield, Central)
said it was impossible for any one connected with any one of our large cities not to feel much sympathy towards this Bill. Those who heard the very admirable speech of the hon. Member who moved the Second Reading must have had their confidence shaken in the statement as to the great prosperity of the working classes of this country in the King's gracious Speech. The hon. Member spoke in the presence of many of the right hon. Gentlemen who were responsible for the King's Speech, and when they heard from him that there were hundreds of thousands of workers, not excluding the skilled ones, whose aggregate wages did not exceed 18s. a week, they must have felt some doubt as to the truth of the paragraph in question. The hon. Member instanced a case within his own knowledge of a dock labourer, a teetotaller and a trade unionist, who was unable to earn a higher wage than 12s. a week and whom he assisted to emigrate to the United States. But why did he not tell the House what wages that individual was now earning under the entirely different conditions which obtained across the Atlantic? One of the speakers had quoted a statement by a former member of the House—Mr. Samuel Smith—to the effect that 10 per cent, of the children of this country were underfed, badly clothed and badly housed. Surely that was a matter for serious reflection which should be taken to heart by right hon. Gentlemen opposite. He would like to be allowed to read one sentence. [An HON. MEMBER: "Time."] Were hon. Gentlemen afraid to hear it? [An HON. MEMBER: Reserve it till next Thursday.] No, he would give it again then. The sentence was from a report of the Birmingham Brass Workers' Committee, who declared that while in Germany they were greatly impressed with the cleanliness and tidiness of the children playing in the streets. In Berlin they saw not one who 1445 was not clean, neat and tidy. Again, he wished they had been told what the people in the United States did in this matter. He noticed that the hon. Member for Burnley had made a report in which he said that American workers were better fed than our own.
§ SIR HOWARD VINCENT
apologised for the error, but said he had no doubt that the hon. Member concurred in the opinion of his namesake. He certainly regretted that the Minister for Education had not told them what America and Germany were doing in this matter.
§ MR. ARTHUR HENDERSON
I rise to a point of order. I have listened to the hon. Member for Sheffield for ten minutes, and he has not said a word either for or against the Bill.
§ SIR HOWARD VINCENT
said the hon. Member was mistaken. He certainly had not been speaking nearly so long as ten minutes, and in his opening sentences he declared that no one could view this Bill with feelings other than those of much sympathy. But he only wished to add a few words on the point of the recovery of cost. It had been shown that the number of cases was exceedingly small in which re-imbursements of expenses could be got in regard to children at reformatory and industrial schools, and he believed that to get re-imbursements under this Bill would be equally difficult. If adequate provision were taken to prevent any abuse of the Bill, and any excess of burden on the already heavily burdened taxpayer or ratepayer, he thought the Bill would be beneficial, and that it would do a great deal for the child life of this country. He should therefore most cordially support its Second Reading.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ THE PRESIDENT OF THE LOCAL GOVERNMENT BOARD (Mr. JOHN BURNS,) Battersea
asked the House to adopt the suggestion of the Minister of Education and refer the Bill to a Select Committee. The hon. Member for the Wansbeck Division had quoted a statement by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham to the effect that reference to a Select Committee was a specious device on the part of those who did not want to legislate. That certainly could not be said either of the Minister for Education or of the Government in regard to this matter. Their intention was to respect the unanimity of feeling which the House had given expression to in that matter. He believed the desire of the House was that the Bill should be placed on the Statute-book this session, and in their opinion its reference to a Select Committee would facilitate rather than retard the fulfilment of that desire.
§ MR. JOHN REDMOND (Waterford)
asked whether that meant that, after the Select Committee had reported, the Government would put the Bill down in Government time? Otherwise the promise would amount to nothing.
§ MR. JOHN BURNS
replied that, if there was any doubt about the Bill getting through this session, the Government were disposed to and would give Government time for the purpose. There were other reasons for sending the measure to a Select Committee. It must not be forgotten that there was an enormous number of well-disposed, charitable people who would want to know, and who had a right to know, how the voluntary efforts in which they had been so worthily engaged in supplying meals to necessitous children in various parts of the country would be affected by the passing of the Bill. They would want to know would it be possible for their efforts to be discontinued. The general tendency was, when a thing that had been done by voluntary charitable eftort—whether good or bad, regularly or spasmodically—was being transferred from the domain of voluntary 1447 effort to state or municipal action, for the voluntary contributions to diminish, and it became necessary to make some provision for the interval between the two stages. It was necessary, too, that they should have some information as to how the Bill could be most easily worked and how the objects of all those who supported it could be most effectually carried out. Both these purposes could, he believed, be better achieved by sending the Bill to a Select Committee where the evidence of Government officials, representatives of various charitable agencies, and others could be taken, rather than by referring it to a Standing Committee. If was with no dilatory object that he moved, therefore, that the Bill be referred to a Select Committee, and he repeated that the Government would do their best to place it on the Statute Book this session.
To leave out the words 'the Standing Committee on Law, &c.,' and insert the words 'a Select Committee.'"—(Mr. John Burns).
§ Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ MR. KEIR HARDIE (Merthyr Tydvil)
said that he and his friends accepted the suggestion of the right hon. Gentleman, on the understanding that when the Bill returned to the House from the Select Committee Government time would be given for passing it through its remaining stages.
§ MR. FENWICK
said that so long as they had a positive guarantee from the Government that they would do their best to get the Bill carried through this session it was immaterial to him to what Committee it was sent, but he did hope that there would be no attempt to overload the Committee with evidence, so as to prevent the Bill coming back to the House before the latter end of the session. The President of the Local Government Board had in his speech indicated that there were a great many people who would desire to be heard before the Committee, and he therefore earnestly hoped that care would be taken to hasten its consideration.
§ MR. CROOKS
said he knew of one society which was bitterly opposed to them and who would talk for three years against the Bill if allowed to do so. He hoped that neither the Charity Organisation Society nor any other body would be allowed to delay this reform, and he suggested that the Government should promise that the Committee report within three months.
§ Question put, and negatived. Words inserted
§ Main Question, as amended, put, and agreed to.
§ Bill committed to a Select Committee.