HC Deb 20 July 1910 vol 19 cc1258-60

I ask leave to introduce a Bill "to amend the Education (Provision of Meals) Act, 1906."

The Bill does not necessarily alter the existing Act passed in 1906 providing for the provision of meals for children except in so far as that Act failed to cover the period of vacation when the children are not attending school. That Act provides that the local authorities may take such steps as they think fit for the provision of meals for children attending public elementary schools in their area. It was thought by the House of Commons that that not only covered the time the children were actually attending school, but also that it covered the period of the vacation. All parties in this House were agreed that it was necessary that meals should be provided for those children sent to school without sufficient food, and that in cases where it was found the parents were neglectful provision was made in the Act for making them pay for the food supplied to their children. Several local authorities in Halifax, which I have the honour to represent, have been surcharged by the district auditor because they provided meals for children during the period of vacation. In the case of the borough of Halifax the auditor says as follows: The sum of £28 7s. 0d. was expended during the year on the provision of meals to the children when the schools were closed during the Christmas holidays. Such expenditure is not authorised by the Education (Provision of Meals) Act, 1906, and, therefore, I surcharge the amount to three members of the Education Committee. I submit that if it be necessary that the children should be fed during the time they are attending the public elementary schools they should also be fed during the period of vacation. The Clause which gives effect to this and is embodied in my Bill is to the effect that the Education (Provision of Meals) Act, 1906, shall be extended so as to provide that where the local education authority is putting the Act into operation such operation may be continued although the attendance of the children at the school for education purposes may not be required, the school being closed for the vacation. It will be noticed that we do not attempt in this Bill, although some of us are in favour of it, to make the adoption of the Act compulsory. It is in the power of the local authorities to adopt the Act or not, and I simply suggest that the same shall apply in the case of this amending Bill. The Bill provides that when a local authority puts the Act of 1906 into force they shall have the power of feeding the children during the vacation period just as they do during the school period.


Do you propose to exceed the halfpenny rate?


No. I do not in any sense alter the limit, and it does not give the local authorities any increased power to levy rates. I trust, as the original Bill passed this House without a Division, and passed the other House so far as it applied to England and Scotland without any Amendment, the House will give this Bill not only a First Reading, but will be prepared later on to let it go through.


I rise to oppose this measure. I had no idea what this Bill contained until I had the pleasure of listening to the hon. Member's speech. Like hon. Members opposite, I claim that I wish to do all that I can to help those who are less well off, but when they push their doctrine in regard to taking away the responsibility of parents to the length to which the hon. Member proposes then I for one cannot follow them. I can quite conceive that very strong arguments can be founded on the fact that Parliament, in its wisdom, has decided that children must be educated and must spend long hours in class rooms, and if parents, owing to their poverty, are unable to supply proper food and nourishment for their children then the ratepayers, through the local education authority, should have the power, and perhaps should be compelled, to supply the children with food. All that I quite understand, and I am in sympathy with it to a large extent. The hon. Member, however, does not appear to grasp that what he is proposing is that during the time when no compulsion is put upon the parents to send their children to school at holiday times the local ratepayers may be called upon to pay for the food of their children.


The Clause does not suggest that at all. Where the parents can afford it, and where they have the money or the means to provide the food, the local authority have full power to get back the amount expended upon the children.


As a matter of practical policy very little money indeed has been recovered in this way, and the explanation made by the hon. Member does not remove my objection. What I object to is that the local ratepayers will be obliged to pay for food even though the parents can afford to pay for it themselves. Surely we are travelling a very long way when we lay down that when parents are not compelled to send their children to school the local authority will have to provide food for the children of necessitous parents.

Question, "That the Bill be now read the first time," put, and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. James Parker, Mr. Barnes, Mr. Clynes, Mr. George Roberts, Mr. Charles Duncan, Mr. Tyson Wilson, Mr. Shackleton, and Mr. William Thorne. Presented accordingly, and read the first time; to be read a second time upon Wednesday next.