HC Deb 13 March 1912 vol 35 cc1112-4

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

This is a very simple and a very short measure. It is a measure which is supported not merely by one section of the House of Commons, but by Members of all parties, as will be Keen when I read the list of names of Members who back the Bill. Last year, when I introduced an identical measure, formal objection was taken to it by some Members. I feel quite sure—and everyone I speak to is of the same opinion—that the opposition was confined to a very small area, and there was a general impression, so far as I can gather, that this measure should be added to the Statute Book. The report of Sir George Newman, chief medical officer of the Education Department, is in itself quite a sufficient reason for the passing of this small Bill. Sir George Newman, in that report, mentions various experiments that have been carried out by the local authorities which show the need for the feeding of school children being continued during the holidays. Amongst the experiments is one that was carried out by Dr. Ralph Crowley, of Bradford, whose experiments showed that during the time that the children were on holiday, instead of receiving benefit they became actually physically less fit because they were not having the school meals.

Dr. Crowley proceeded in his experiment by taking a number of school children who were on the school feeding list, and taking another number of children similarly circumstanced in other respects, but not needing the school meals because the parents were well enough off to provide them themselves, and he weighed these two sets of children. During the first week of the feeding of the children who were on the school meals list the doctor found that on an average the children gained 1¾ lbs. in weight. In the second week, after such a sudden increase of weight, there was no increase. In the third week there was an average increase per child of 5½ ozs. In the fourth week the average increase was 4½ ozs. per child. A week's holiday supervened, and the children lost on an average during that week's holiday 1 lb. of the weight they had gained during the period of their receiving school meals. From that time onwards after the children went back to school they began to put on weight again, but it took them a fortnight to make up for the loss which they had sustained during the week's holiday. Later on a month's holiday was given to the children, who again lost weight. Instead of benefiting by their holiday they were actually in a worse position physically because of that holiday. The class of children who did not need the school meals put on weight during the holidays. Each of these cases prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that the holidays, owing to the suspension of the feeding of the children, actually resulted in the deterioration of the children.

It shows the need for the school meals being given throughout the period. It cannot be said that the parents suddenly become wealthier or are in a better position to feed their children when a school holiday comes on. The parents are poor all the time. In the case of 1,800 children now being fed at Bradford by the education committee, the families represented are so poor that, with the exception of one or two instances, the income available for feeding and clothing after rent is paid only amounts to 3s. per head per week. In 55 per cent. of the cases the family, when the rent has been paid, has actually less than 2s. per head per week. It is absolutely impossible for a family to live on any such amount. Having regard to the extreme necessity of this good work being carried on throughout the holiday period, I trust that no Member of the House will take objection to the Bill, and that when the Second Reading comes to be moved that it will pass through without discussion. If, peradventure, there should be any Member who does take objection, then I hope—especially after the very kind remarks made by the Prime Minister last week—that the Government will give us the little time necessary to pass this measure, Which has only one single operative Clause, to empower the education authority to continue the school meals through the holidays and on Sundays, even if the school be closed.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Jowett, Mr. Ramsay Macdonald, Mr. George Roberts, Mr. Percy Alden, Mr. Aston, Mr. Charles Bathurst, Mr. William Redmond, Mr. Chiozza Money, Mr. Mark Sykes, and Sir James Yoxall; presented accordingly, and read the first time; to be read a second time upon Monday next, and to be printed. [Bill 82.]