HC Deb 27 March 1914 vol 60 cc715-83

Order for Second Reading read.


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

This Bill covers certain points which—[Interruption].


I would appeal to hon. Members to preserve order and to allow the hon. Member to proceed.


The Bill covers certain points which have been the subject of discussion before in this House. Its objects are, first, to legalise the provision of meals when the schools are in vacation; secondly, to remove the limit which applies under the Provision of Meals Act, restricting any education authority to whatever action they can take within the yield of an arbitrary rate in the pound; and, thirdly, to enable steps to be taken for feeding underfed children where an education authority has failed to apply the Provision of Meals Act to the purpose for which it was designed. I purpose to pass m review the three main objects of the Bill, taking them in the order that I have mentioned rather than in the order in which they appear in the Bill. The first object, I repeat, is to enable meals to be provided for underfed children during school vacations, and in regard to that it is hardly worth arguing that if food is necessary during the time the school is open for ordinary purposes it is equally necessary when the school is not open for those purposes and during the holidays. I am in a position to give what I submit is very valuable evidence of the necessity for this particular part of the Bill. In Bradford, for one of the Constituencies of which I have the honour to be the Member, this matter of the provision of school meals has been gone into with exceedingly great care and seriousness. The experience of Bradford is that, while the schools are in operation and meals are being given, the poor children who need the meals consistently improve in physique, and that when the schools are closed, if meals are not provided, they deteriorate in physique and lose part of the advantages which they had previously. The particulars I am now going to give will prove that.

A number of children were put aside by the school medical officer in order to watch the effect during holidays, when there were no meals. The first week during which school meals were given the average gain in weight for the whole of those children was 1 lb. 4 ozs. each. The next two weeks a smaller gain was registered, but still a substantial one, being 5½ ozs. in the first week and 4½ ozs. in the second week. Then there was the Whitsuntide holiday. That should be a time of joy for the children and not a time of extra privation and suffering, but mark what took place during that week of holiday. The loss per child on the average was no less than 1 lb. Then there were seven weeks school, and during those seven weeks there was an average gain of 1¾ lbs. Four weeks' holiday ensued, and, instead again of being improved in physique, as they ought to have been, the loss on the average was 1 lb. 2 ozs. each. Comparison with other children confirms the evidence that there is a serious deterioration during the times meals are not given, because the children who had never been on the school meal and who were fed regularly at home, improved consistently in weight during their holidays just as they did at other times. Could you have proof more conclusive of the absolute and imperative necessity for the welfare of the children that this object, which is sought to be fulfilled by my Bill, should be effected? I have here on a rather smaller scale than is possible to be seen across the floor of the House a diagram showing the weight increases of the children during the time the school is open and they are being fed, and the way they lose at other times, but I am prepared to hand it round to such as care to observe it.

The second object of the Bill is the abolition of the halfpenny limit. Surely, if it is necessary that the children should be fed, it should not depend upon the mere incident as to the precise amount that a halfpenny in the £ brings in. Moreover, this tells definitely against the children who need it, because it is precisely in those areas where the yield is often the least that there are most children requiring the meals. The poorer the district the smaller the yield. Thus children who need to be supported are penalised according to the poverty of the neighbourhood. Bradford, I think I may say, is not specially poor, because work on the average is as regular, and wages are as high as in other towns and cities of this country, and certainly there is nothing like the welter of poverty that is to be found here in the Metropolis, or in certain other large cities such as Liverpool and Glasgow; and yet, notwithstanding, that it was found to be quite impossible to do the work laid upon that community within the limits of a halfpenny rate. The consequence has been that, from year to year, the authorities have been faced with the necessity either of letting children they knew to be underfed continue to be underfed, or of overspending and taking the risks and consequences of so doing. This is the record for Bradford: In 1909, with a yield from the halfpenny rate of £2,885, £1,795 was overspent. In 1910, the halfpenny rate yielded £2,878, and £2,370 was overspent. In 1911, with a rate yield of £2,900, £1,163 was overspent. In 1912, when the rate yielded £2,912, £374 was overspent. In 1913, with a yield from the rate of £2,963, £1,176 was overspent; and in 1914, for this is still going on, and it will go on as long as the need exists, the overspending, on a yield of £3,060, was £793. All through these years the Bradford authorities had to risk the consequences of this overspending. The Local Government Board, however, ceased to press for the payment of these surcharges, although year after year there was continual controversy between the Bradford corporation education authority and the Local Government Board with regard to the surcharges. Individuals who had been rather hard put to it to pay, cheerfully faced the prospect of whatever the President of the Local Government Board might choose to do in consequence of their action.


Will the hon. Gentleman give us any explanation of the varying figures in the total expenditure of these years?


The variations were due to trade depression and other circumstances. In one year the coal strike caused a large amount of extra poverty and necessitated considerably more feeding. I need not, however, go into details. I will simply say that the variations are due to fluctuations of trade and the increasing or decreasing amount of poverty. How came it that this amount of money was paid? Probably the hon. Member opposite, who appears to be interested in this question, would like to know. It so happens that under the Municipal Corporations Act the Bradford Cor- poration is possessed of powers which make it possible for it to transfer funds from one department to another, and to utilise the profits—and we are happy to think there were profits available—of municipal enterprise in order to fill up the gap in the education accounts, and thus to take away the power of the Local Government Board to visit them with any serious consequences. There are 2,000 children now being fed in the city of Bradford by the education authority. It may be suggested that this is probably due to the fact that there is either laxity or over-generosity, and that there is no need for all this. But that is not the case, because, in only a very few instances indeed does the income of the families represented by these underfed children amount to 3s. per head per week, exclusive of rent, and in 57 per cent. of the cases it is less than 2s. per head per week. Those who have gone into this question are familiar with the Rowntree figures. Some thirteen years have elapsed since those figures were drawn up showing the absolutely necessary cost that a household is put to in order to maintain its inmates, and these figures prove that to maintain a family of five in food equal in quantity and quality to the food supplied in the workhouses of the country—and surely ordinary citizens are entitled to as good food as is provided in those institutions !—the food of that family of five on that standard would, thirteen years ago, have cost 12s. 9d. per week. Add to that 15 per cent., which is the very least which can be put as the additional cost of living since that period, and you have a figure of 14s. 8d. for food alone. Hon. Members must remember that there are other necessary things for a household, such sits clothing and fire and light, and when they bear that in mind they will be inevitably driven to the conclusion that, exclusive of rent altogether, the amount required for food, fire and light, and clothing and sundries for a household of five necessitates a wage of not less than 21s. per week. Rent would bring it up to 25s., 26s., or 27s., according to the town in which the family resides. On any less wage it would be impossible to maintain children and to feed them as they ought to be fed. Before the settlement of the railway dispute we were told on exceptional authority that there were over 100,000 railway men working on wages of not more than £1 per week. I admit that some little adjustment has since been made, but that adjustment, whatever it may be, is largely, if not entirely, nullified by the extra cost of living which has been added since the time of the settlement. Thus we are driven to the conclusion that if Bradford needs to spend more than a halfpenny rate—and I do not think anyone can deny the necessity for that—when it is merely giving meals to a household with an income of less than 3s. per head per week, exclusive of rent, then it must follow that in other districts, where nothing at all is being done, there is equal need.

That brings me to my third point. I have dealt with the first point, the power of giving meals during the vacation, and with the second point, which seeks to remove the halfpenny limit. My third point is directed to extending the system of school meals in the districts where the education authorities have hitherto refused to act. There are 317 local education authorities in this country. Only 134 of those authorities are doing anything to meet the necessities of the children in their districts. It cannot be argued that there is no need. It simply means that those authorities are not acting. That it is necessary to act there is evidence more than sufficient to convert the most sceptical person, if he will but try to consider the question without prejudice. The Medical Officer of the Board of Education himself, in his most recent Report, states—the President of the Board of Education will, I think, approve of the words I am going to read, which I have extracted from that Report— Upon the growth and maturity of the body of the child depend mental power, self-control, and ultimately character. If that is so, is it reasonable, even from the point of view of the State, and not thinking of the terrible and awful injustice and hardship on the individual child, that this vast area should be uncovered, and that the work should not be done by those authorities who are now refusing to do it? Therefore in the Bill it is proposed to allow certain action to be taken in those districts where the local education authority has hitherto done this, and the action suggested in the Bill is entirely in harmony with the suggestions contained in the most recent Medical Officer's Report issued by the Board of Education, as will be seen from this extract. The Medical Officer says:— In the Board's view no scheme can be regarded as wholly satisfactory unless the school medical Officer has the right to nominate for school feeding any children found at the routine medical inspection or on special examination to be suffering from malnutrition due to insufficiency or unsuitability of food. Secondly, the Bill provides that any child or children supposed to be underfed may be examined by the school medical officer, or other medical officer, on. the application of the education committee or the school managers, or the head teacher, while, in the interim between the application being made and the report of the medical officer being available, the Bill puts it within the power of the head teacher to provide meals, so that the hardship is not continued during that interim. Where an education authority will not act, although the evidence is clear, and it is shown that the need exists, the Bill provides that five of its members or twenty ratepayers may appeal to the Board of Education for an inquiry, and if the Board is satisfied that the authority is in default the Board may reduce its Grants or proceed by mandamus. Such are the proposals of the Bill. I will not go into them in greater detail, because that is more a matter for the Committee stage. In conclusion, let me say that the issue is a very simple one indeed. Who is there in this House, or outside of it, who, being a decent citizen of this country, will say that if children are unfed they ought not to be fed? If there be no such individual, then what is the conclusion to be drawn but that they should be fed? The Bill proposes to do it, and that is all. All the debating of small points and all the cross currents are beside the mark. The need is there, and it ought to be met. More than ever at this day, when not only is there so much poverty, but even the Chancellor of the Exchequer has taken up this cry at his meetings, is it necessary that we should act, and act speedily. I can say nothing better or more eloquent than the words used by the Chancellor of the Exchequer himself at Huddersfield last Saturday. He said:— Has another generation to pass away in wretchedness? Not if we can help it. Is England so poor that she cannot afford to feed, clothe and shelter her own sons and daughters; so mean that she will not spare her wealth to do it; so callous and hard-hearted that she is indifferent to the wretchedness in her own household? These are the questions which, above the din and clang of partisan and sectarian fury, I mean to continue to ask until the proud flag of Britain shall no longer be ashamed to ware over squalid homes and hungry children. I have also been knocking at the door for some years with this little Bill. In that period other questions have been taken up which cannot be said to have anything of the same importance as this one. You have dealt with gooseberry mildew, the Government has given great attention to improvement in the breed of horses, we are now passing a Plumage Bill, and the bee disease has received attention. Now, at long last, let us have a step taken in the direction indicated in the Chancellor of the Exchequer's speech. Let the British flag no longer fly over squalid homes and hungry children. If the Government are sincere they will welcome this Bill; they will see to it that it passes its Second Reading to-day, and they will afford it every facility, and it will be placed upon the Statute Book within a very few weeks' time.


I beg to second the Motion.

In the first place, I shall be voicing the common feeling of the House, a feeling shared on both sides, that the Mover has places his case before us in an eloquent manner. We cannot but admire the persistency with which he has pressed this Bill upon the attention of the House. It is a matter upon which the House ought to take action. It ought no longer to find that the exigencies of the Parliamentary situation are such that the children of the poor can receive no attention from this Imperial House of Commons. The case made out by my hon. friend is one of the strongest I have ever heard on behalf of poor children. The necessity exists. It is known to members of local education authorities. It is known to the Board of Education. It is known in particular to the teachers who come in daily contact with the children, and to the visiting officers. Everyone who comes in contact with the children in our elementary schools knows that this Bill is a necessity. It seems to me that the Board of Education should persuade the Cabinet that time must be found for this Bill, for I cannot conceive that it will be rejected on the Second Reading, and that it should be placed on the Statute Book this year.

Sir George Newman, one of the most competent men the Board of Education ever took into its employ, last year gave some details of the painful physical deficiencies of the children of the poor. He said that he was not entitled to express an opinion, but, if he had one, it would be that if this country desired to raise an Imperial race it would feed the children. On what evidence does Sir George Newman base that statement? On the reports which come to his hand from the bulk of the local areas where his officers are at work, and therefore he speaks as a man who has knowledge—not, perhaps, as some of us, who are accused of being sentimentalists. He speaks as a scientist dealing with the obvious facts of physical deterioration in this country. Therefore, dealing with it from that point of view, as a man dealing with the physique of the race, he tells us that if there is one thing. that requires doing in our elementary schools it is to feed the hungry children, who at present are ignored. Teachers could supplement what Sir George Newman has said. In my view it is little short of a crime that we should attempt to teach children who go to school with empty stomachs. That is what is being attempted in schools to-day. And when we deplore some of the results, let us not forget that the results could he much improved if we, first of all, gave an opportunity to the children to go to school decently fed before the attempt is made to teach them. I know the claim is made by some Gentlemen, very few I am happy to believe, in this House that to pass a Bill like this is to undermine that sacred thing known as parental responsibility. So far from undermining parental responsibility, the opposite is the result. There are parents who, rather than that it should be known that the names of their children are to appear on the feeding list, are stimulated to do their duty. Let me tell hon. Members who have opposed this Bill, so far as medical inspection is concerned, it was alleged against it that it would be an undermining of parental responsibility. Again, directly the opposite result has come about and parents have been encouraged—nay, more, stimulated—to do their duty to their children so far as cleanliness is concerned, and to make this Bill operative generally would, in my view, be but to duplicate the result of medical inspection, and also make those results much more effective by going to the root causes of the deterioration.

1.0 P.M.

The first point in the Bill to which I would draw the attention of the House is that the responsibility for determining whether a child is to be fed is taken out of the hands of members of education authorities and teachers—that is in my view a very wise proceeding—and it is thrown upon men who are in a detached position. The men who will now have to determine this will not be the hard-mouthed politicians, or those who are sometimes called the soft sentimentalists. It will be taken out of their hands altogether, and what a good thing it will be ! It will not be possible for the ratepayers to bring members of the authority into the discussion of this matter. It is going to be thrown upon the medical officer of the school to say whether in his view it is desirable in the interests of the child that the child shall be fed by the local education authorities. That is a very wise provision it seems to me. Next, medical inspection is to be general, and its results are to be published, which will bring medical inspection and, I hope, treatment generally throughout the whole country. The results will be sent to the Board, and are to be available to ratepayers—this is in my view a very wise provision—so that the facts may be known. When the facts are known, it appears to me there will be very few who will resist the application of the remedy proposed in the Bill. Then there is the provision made for appeal. The necessity for the abolition of the maximum rate is obvious. This Bill imposes it as a duty of the local education authority to undertake the feeding of necessitous children. If this is imposed as a duty, really we cannot at the same time impose a maximum rate at which the duty can be performed. Therefore, having thrown the duty on the local education authority as representing the ratepayer, you must at the same time give that local education authority an opportunity to fulfil its duties by removing an embargo which may make it impossible, and has made it impossible, for the local education authority adequately to perform the duties they are invited to undertake by this Bill. There is nothing, so far as I can see, to prevent the local education authority getting from parents who can afford it the cost of the meals given to the children, and I know of nothing in this Bill or in any other which says that the local education authority is not entitled to go to the parent, who is obviously neglecting his duty, and demanding from him the cost of the meals which have been given. I speak, I think, for the whole of my colleagues when I say that we will be no party to allowing any parent to contract himself out of his obvious obligations. Where a parent is not doing his duty to his child let us bring him to book, but let us not appoint ourselves as coadjutors with Pro- vidence to see that the sins of the fathers do descend upon the children. Feed the children and bring the parents to book. For these reasons I second the Bill.


I beg to move to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words, "upon this day six months."

The hon. Member (Mr. Jowett) said, as far as I could understand him, that the amount required for the food of a family of a certain size was 14s. 8d.—that is at the lowest standard—and in addition to that there were the natural sums which had to be put aside for clothing, rent, and fire, and I gather he said that anything under 21s. a week was not sufficient to provide the necessary sustenance and Maintenance for the family.


Exclusive of rent. That would make it 25s., 26s., or 27s., according to the rents in the town in which they resided.


It is a little higher than I thought. The point that would arise is this: As I understand it, the argument is that everybody who marries and has children, and who has an income of less than 25s. a week, has a right to demand that the State should provide for his children. That is what it comes to. I am glad that we are at one on that point, and I shall proceed to show what a very dangerous doctrine that is. Before I go any further I should like to put my attitude before the House. I must dissociate myself from any idea of being lacking in sympathy either with the children or with the parents, and I quite recognise that there are very many cases in this country where children do not get sufficient food. I should be the last man to do anything which would prevent attempts being made to remedy that evil, but the whole subject to my mind, turns on the question whether the attempts that are being made by hon. Gentlemen opposite are attempts which would lead to the remedy of the evil, and would not lead to something very much worse. That is really the whole point, and I would say, especially with regard to my hon. Friends behind me, whom I have heard cheering, that we in this House have not only to be guided by our hearts but also by our heads. If we see what is an undoubted and obvious evil, we must not rush to remedy it with the first remedy that comes to our mind, but we must think, and have the courage to say, that although an obvious remedy is proposed by the hon. Member, yet, if one goes to the root of the evil, there are other evils which possibly will not be remedied, and which may even be enhanced by the proposal of the hon. Member. The hon. Member who moved the Bill, or the hon. Member who seconded, said that the authorities are not acting.


We both said it.


There was in to-day's OFFICIAL REPORT, which I happened to see by chance, a statement to the effect that 110 education authorities in England and Wales have put the Act of 1906 into operation, and that out of these, five in England and eight in Wales have exceeded the halfpenny rate. Therefore, it would appear that out of a very large number which have put the Act into operation, only thirteen have exceeded the halfpenny rate. Therefore there is not a very strong demand for this Bill. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh !"] Well, these figures do not show it.


Might I say that we cannot exceed the halfpenny rate now, because we would be surcharged. It is not that we do not desire a higher rate.


I quite agree that it seems to be impossible that the education authorities could exceed the halfpenny rate, when there is that limit, but some of them appear to have done so, and I do not know in what way. I would like to deal with the argument as to the necessity of feeding the children. One knows perfectly well that children must be fed, and that if they are not fed, or not properly fed, their growth may be stopped and their stamina interfered with. The same thing applies to clothing, and even more so than to feeding. If children are insufficiently clothed they may get the germs of consumption and all sorts of diseases which they would not be able to throw off. Therefore, once you lay down the proposition that a child must have everything done for it in order to preserve its health at the expense of the ratepayers, it naturally follows that if the father or mother is not in a position to sufficiently and properly clothe the child, you must clothe it. See what that means. I think it was the hon. Member who seconded the Motion who said that the old reactionary doctrine of the responsibility of the parent would be brought forward and held up as an argument against this Bill, and he seemed to cast considerable doubt upon the efficiency of that argument. I am going to bring it forward, and I am going to point out to the House—


Will the hon. Baronet allow me to say I do not consider that parental responsibility is reactionary.


I thought that that was what the hon. Member said, but he rather qualified it afterwards by stating that the parent ought to be made to pay, if he could pay. I will deal with that argument. The fact remains that a Bill of this sort does take away parental responsibility. What will be the result? At the present moment the State and the ratepayers combine to educate a man's children for nothing. Now we are going to feed them for nothing, not only during the time the school is sitting—I do not know whether hon. Members quite realise this—but during the whole of the year, and everybody's child will be fed at the cost of the ratepayers.


If starving.


Oh, dear no ! There is nothing in the Bill about starving. I have read it carefully. The provision, Clause 3 of the Bill, says:—

The powers and duties of a local education authority under this Act or the Education (Provision of Meals) Act, 1906, or the Education (Administrative Provisions) Act, 1907, shall apply to every child of school age actually attending a public elementary school within their area, and whether such school is or is not in vacation. There is nothing whatever about starving.


May I say that it is simply a question as to how you define the word "starving"?


I cannot conceive that any man would define insufficient feeding as starving. If a medical inspector or head teacher were to see a child who was perhaps rather hungry I cannot conceive that he would refuse to bring the provisions of the Bill into operation on the ground that the child was not actually starving. The result of this Bill would be to provide all the year round every child who went to an elementary school with food at the expense of the rates. Then why need they go to an elementary school? Why not feed the child of everybody who says that he is unable to give sufficient food to his children? [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] That shows to what we are coming. The ratepayer will have to provide for the child of everybody who is not in a position to give that, child sufficient food. I do not know where the money is to come from, but that apparently never troubles hon. Members. We have not heard any estimate of the increased expenditure put on the ratepayers by this Bill, and I do not suppose that the Cabinet cares very much what money is spent. The hon. Member who seconded the Motion laid great stress on the fact that the people who under this Bill would be the chief agents in carrying out its provisions would be the doctor and the head teacher. They would be the very worst persons to select to carry out the provisions of the Bill.


They are to tell whether the child requires feeding.


That is one of the worst features of the Bill. Neither of them is under the control of the ratepayers.


Neither are the children's appetites.


And they are going to spend the money of people who have no control over them. That is the very worst principle that could possibly be introduced. When I was young it was always held that those who paid the piper called for the tune. Now the reverse is brought forward and anybody is to be able to spend other people's money without the authority of the people whose money they are spending. A more extravagant proposal, and a proposal more likely to lead to abuse, was never put before this House. I think that the teacher and the doctor are the very worst persons to select, for this reason: They are both intent, upon their two professions, and anything which will advance the cause of education and the cause of health will have their first consideration, without regard to other matters. The teacher alone, without the authority of the medical officer, can, under certain circumstances, order the child to be fed.


In an emergency.


There is nothing in the Bill to define how long that emergency may last. Apparently, as long as the school has no medical inspector for the purpose, the teacher would have the right to provide the child with food. The ordinary teacher would always do so, and I am not sure that I would not do it myself if I were a teacher. Parliament has enacted that the teacher should have that power. It is not any business of his to see whether the parents of the child are neglecting their duty, or whether the enormous expense of the ratepayers is so great that it cannot be increased. It is his duty to make his education as good as possible, and to make the school as popular as possible. Human nature being what it is, what do you suppose the head teacher would do with that power in his hands? Will he not give out the food without regard to any other circumstances? Come now to the doctor. He, after all, does not want to be unpopular with his neighbours. Suppose the school teacher has given the food to the children in school and the doctor comes in and says that he does not think these children are insufficiently fed, and will not sanction any further feeding, what is to happen to the money already spent? I do not know whether the head teacher will be surcharged or the ratepayers would still have to pay. The Bill is silent on that point, but perhaps the result will be that the ratepayers will have to pay, though the doctor says that the money should never have been spent. Then, look at the position of the doctor. He will be thoroughly unpopular with a large number of people who send their children to the school who are his patients, and who he does not wish to displease. Therefore, these particular people are the very worst people to whom you could give this power. The question of giving food to children and whether the means of parents will not allow them to feed. their children is a Poor Law question, and should be dealt with by art alteration of the Poor Law. This Bill provides for giving food to practically all the school children in the country under the age of thirteen, and if there is such distress in the country as to render that necessary, it should be done under the Poor Law, and not by the education authority.




Perhaps the hon. Member will say later on why he says no. I say yes, because it is the Poor Law authorities who understand the case, who are accustomed to administer this relief, and who know the faults and habits of the people. It is through them that relief should be given, and not through the education authorities, who have no experience whatever on the matter. That is my opinion. I know that the local education authority and the school manager can have little or no experience of the administration of the Poor Law. There is a provision in the Act of 1906 with regard to the recovery of the money from the parents. It was alluded to by the hon. Member who seconded the Motion, and he seemed to think that it was a provision which might have some effect. I myself think that it will not have much effect. I will read Clause 2 of the Act of 1906:— There shall be charged to the parent of every child in respect of every meal furnished for that child under this Act such an amount as may be determined by the local education authority. That, as I understand it, gives power to the local education authority to recover from the parent who is responsible, not the whole sum, but such an amount as may be determined by the local education authority.


In that case the charge was a supplementary one. It was not for food supplied, but in respect of expenses for cooking, and that sort of thing.


I must point out that there is nothing in the Bill itself about recovering the amount from the parent, and therefore the only power to recover from the parents is contained in this Section of the Act of 1906. Though I quite follow the meaning of the hon. Member for Woolwich, and though that may have been the original intention, and probably was the intention of the promoters of the Act of 1906, yet as I read the Section it would be in the power of the local education authority to recover from the parents only such an amount as that authority determined. That opens a very wide door. The Clause goes on:— In the event of the parent not making payment, it shall be the duty of the authority, unless they are satisfied that the parent is unable by reason of circumstances other than his own default to pay the amount, to require the payment of that amount from the parent, and any such amount may be recovered summarily. This is the only Clause which provides for the recovery of the money by the local education authority. We know that the hon. Member who introduced this Bill considers that wages below 25s. a week are insufficient to provide proper food for the children; but I think I have heard some hon. Members opposite put the sum at 30s. a week below which no one can bring up a family properly, in their opinion. Therefore, at once the local education authority will be met by the question as to what is the amount of wages which would make them entitled to recover, in part or in whole, the sum expended. Of course, at once everybody will have a different opinion. The hon. Member put the amount at 25s., and other people put it at 30s. I do not know whether at present it has gone above 30s. But the tendency is to increase, and what satisfies hon. Members to-day very likely may not satisfy them in three or four years' time. The local education authority will be in this difficult position: I will not say agitators, but people of progressive tendencies, will be exercising all their influence upon the local education authority—in this House and out of it—not to recover unless the wages are of very considerable extent. So that the result of this proposal will be that anybody who is receiving less than 30s. a week will have his child or children kept for nothing. That is a very serious position. I really do think that the House should pause before lending countenance to such a proposal. I think that hon. Members below the Gangway opposite are very sincere in this matter, but certainly there are some Members on the other side who have shown before in elections that they have been endeavouring to drive the poor little child to school that should have the courage, if they think the provisions of this Bill are wrong, to get up and say so. That is one of the reasons why I am so acting today. There is one word more which I should like to say, and that is upon Clause 5 of the Bill, which is as follows:— If it is represented to the Board of Education by five members of a local education authority, or on the petition of not less than twenty ratepayers within their area, that the local education authority are persistently failing in their duty under this Act, the Board of Education may cause inquiry to be made, and may call upon the local education authority to perform their duty under this Act, and, failing compliance, may withhold or reduce any Grant or make such order as they think necessary or proper for the purpose of compelling the local authority to fulfil their duty, and any such order may be enforced by mandamus. That is very strong. Surely hon. Members might have been content with having given the teacher and the doctor power without putting in this Clause. What is the meaning of this Clause, and why is it put in? I must say I fail to see its object. It seems to me that possibly it was put in for the reason that it would enable hon. Members in this House to exercise compulsion over right hon. Gentlemen to compel the local education authority to do some thing which, in the opinion of the local education authority, was unnecessary. That is a very wide power.


It is not new.


The hon. Member, I daresay, will agree that many things which are old are bad. This is an instance that what was done before was bad.


It was passed by your own side.


Yes. I have never taken up the attitude that everything done by the Conservative party is right. The Conservative party has done some very good things, but also done some bad things, and I am not at all sure, in fact I am certain, that they will do many foolish things in the future. The Conservative party are only human beings after all. I have never arrogated for them any position above that. They are honest I hope, and beyond that I do not claim for them. As to this Clause, suppose a local education authority, having been ordered by the doctor to provide everybody's child, in holidays and out of holidays, which means all the year round, with food, enforce payment by parents, and that it is in a country district where the wages are not 25s. per week, and that hon. Members opposite come down and say to the Education Minister, "We think you ought to compel the local education authority not to enforce that order," what will happen? Knowing the weakness of the right hon. Gentleman who sits in solitary glory on the Front Bench opposite, and if it was a question of being defeated in the Lobby by the Votes of thirty or forty Members, or of exerting some pressure on the local authority, then, although the right hon. Gentleman may growl at me, I believe that he would say that they might take it from him that it would be all right. That is what I am afraid is the object of this Clause, and therefore I am afraid the poor ratepayer would stand a very poor chance. He is going to get shot at by everybody, and where the money is to come from I do not know. I admit it is not an easy thing to get up and object to a Bill of this sort, and I further admit that in these days a Member is liable to a good deal of misrepresentation. I have done so because I feel it to be my duty to put before the House feelings which I honestly hold to be right feelings. I, myself, personally, believe that a Bill of this sort will do much more harm than good, and will tend to sap the responsibility of the parents; and—for one must speak plainly—it will encourage young people to marry when they are not in a sufficient position to do so, because they will say, "Our children, when we have them, will be fed at somebody else's expense," and, as certain as I am here, clothing will follow if this Bill become law. I beg to move.


I beg to second the Amendment.

Like the hon. Baronet, who has moved, I venture to face misconstruction which will be made, not by hon. Members here, but elsewhere, because I think it is necessary that those of us who feel strongly, as some of us do, on this point, should express ourselves fully before the Bill goes up for consideration of details to a Committee. Those general considerations are very difficult to bring home to a Committee which is engaged in considering details, and I think it necessary that someone should endeavour to bring them before the House as a whole. No one recognises more than I do that this Bill represents a perfectly earnest and sincere attempt to remove an admitted grievance and evil, and one which we all deplore, but I think it is one of those evils which one finds many examples of in a complicated social organisation, such as we have in this country of ours. We find many evils which we all want to remove, but there is great danger that in our earnest attempts to remove them we may be short-sighted and, in fact, produce greater evils in the long run than those which we try and possibly succeed in removing for the moment. I think this Bill and this evil is a case in point. The few words I have said are probably sufficient to satisfy the hon. Member for Sunderland (Mr. Goldstone), and those who with him ask for the Second Reading of this Bill that I am fully aware, and I think everyone must feel, the enormous importance not only to the individual but to the country as a whole that there should be sufficient and suitable food for the children who are attending school, and that in the absence of suitable and sufficient food education is probably wasted, and that much of the future depends largely upon the question as to whether the children are properly fed. I think myself that this attempt to grapple with this admitted evil is following the wrong channel altogether. To begin with, it must inevitably tend to pauperisation. It is not necessary for me to point out the evils to which pauperisation leads. Everyone admits them, and I am sure hon. Members opposite will admit them as much as anybody. It is clear that this Bill must tend in that direction, and although it has been suggested that our fears on the ground of removing parental responsibility are groundless, yet I would reiterate them.

I do believe this Bill will militate against parental responsibility. I believe, it will operate against the good parent who tries to do his or her duty, and in favour of the bad parent who tries to get some one else to do it for them. I do not think the analogy which the hon. Member brought out about medical inspection and cleanlineses is a true analogy. Medical inspection has led to greater care in sending the children to school clean. Everyone admits that, and everyone is pleased and hopes that that step in the right direction will go on. I do not think, however, it is a true analogy to this case. After all cleanliness only requires a little care. The cost in that case is so small that it may almost be ignored. I am not now speaking of clothing, but of personal cleanliness. The question of feeding, on the other hand, is largely a matter of cost, and where the difficulty arises of making a shilling do the work of a shilling and sixpence, and where it is a matter of the parents having to pinch themselves, in other terms, in order to provide food for their children, and where they can feel that under a Bill of this kind other people will provide for them. Then I think that brings it quite out of the comparison with the question of cleanliness, and I fear very greatly that the effect, will be this: First of all, many parents will from a sense of proper pride do their utmost not to take advantage of this Bill, but they will find that they are handicapped against their neighbours who do take advantage of this Bill. The tendency as time goes on must inevitably be to bring more and more parents, out of the category of those who try to maintain their parental responsibility, and to bring them into the category of those who take advantage of the provision which Parliament has made. If this is carried to its logical consequence it will mean that all children of school age will in time come under the operation of this provision, and be fed by the ratepayers. I know that that is an extreme picture but why should you stop at this point? Why not, as the hon. Baronet said, look to the ratepayer or the State for clothes, housing, and everything else which conduces to the health, comfort, and happiness of the rising generation?


made an observation which was inaudible in the Reporters Gallery.


That may be, but it is very easy to quote instances where one has gone a very long way towards the logical consequences, and a great deal of evil has been done. Although I do not suppose that in practice you will ever find every child of school age getting relief under a measure of this kind, still I think the tendency will be in that direction, and that a very large proportion of those who, at present have no real need for relief of this kind will take advantage of the Bill. I want now to examine in some detail the Bill itself, and in doing so I shall confine my remarks to the rural view—not because, I want to ignore the urban view, but because my experience is rural. I have no experience of the operation of medical inspection, feeding, canteen committees, or anything or that kind in industrial centres, but I have in the rural districts. I am a school manager, and in fact wholly maintain a school in my own district, and have teen something at first hand of this kind of work. I have no hesitation in saying that, honest and sincere though it is, this Bill is a thoroughly bad Bill. It is extremely badly drafted. It is legislation by reference of the very worst type, because the reference is inexact. Clause 1 states:—

"The powers and duties of a local education authority under Part III, of the Education Act, 1902, shall include the power and duty when so requested"—

under certain conditions—

"to provide for the medical inspection of children attending such school for the purpose of determining whether any child is suffering from insufficient feeding."

If one looks at Part III. of the Act of 1902 the only Section applicable to this particular point is Section 5, which places on the local education authority the powers and duties of the school boards and school attendance committees under the Elementary Education Acts, 1870–1900, makes them responsible for, and gives them control of all secular instruction in public elementary schools, and abolishes school boards and school attendance committees. There is absolutely nothing among the powers and duties conferred by that Section or any other Section of Part III. analogous in the slightest degree to the administrative provisions for medical inspection or feeding proposed to be enacted by this Bill. Further, Clause 1, in adding powers and duties to those conferred by an Act already on the Statute Book, does not say where those powers and duties are to come in. It does not, as I think it should if it were properly drawn, repeal any words and replace them by others. It simply says that the powers and duties in a certain part of the Act shall include certain other powers which have absolutely no bearing upon, connection with, or analogy to them whatever. The case is much worse when we turn to Clause 2, which states:—

"The Education (Provision of Meals) Act, 1906, shall be amended as follows:—

  1. (a) The powers of a local education authority under Part III. of the Education Act, 1902, to take such steps as they think fit for the provision of meals for children in attendance at any public elementary school within their area shall be extended to include the power and duty to take such steps as may be necessary to comply with the provisions of Section 1 of this Act.
  2. (b) A local education authority may, and, in cases where Section 1 of this Act is applicable, shall, spend out of the rates such sums as may be necessary to meet the provision of food under this Act and of Section 111 of the Education (Provision of Meals) Act, 1906."
On turning to the Act of 1906 one finds some difficulty in fitting in this Amendment at all. There is no repeal Clause or Schedule to the Bill, and yet it is quite impossible to bring these two paragraphs into the Act of 1906 without cutting something out. I imagine—I should like to know whether I am right or not—the intention to be that these two paragraphs should replace either paragraphs (a) and (b) of Section 1 of the Act of 1857 or the whole Section. If it applies only to paragraphs (a) and (b), there is the halfpenny limit. But I gathered from the hon. Member for Bradford (Mr. Jowett) that it is intended to do away with the halfpenny limit.


That is so.


Therefore, it must be intended to cut out the whole of Section 1 of the Act of 1906 and replace it by these words.


It is to be read in conjunction with the Act of 1906.


Then the halfpenny limit remains.


The Clause says:— The Education (Provision of Meals) Act, 1906, shall be amended as follows.


Those words show that the Bill is to be read in conjunction with the Act of 1906.


But it does not say what is to come out in order that these words may be put in. If you do not cut out the limit, and merely read these words in conjunction with the earlier Act, the limit remains. There is not a sentence in the Bill to suggest that the Clause imposing the halfpenny limit is to come out.


Does not the Bill say that such sums as may be necessary to provide for what is laid down in the Act may be spent?

2.0 P.M.


That is quite true, but it does not repeal the Section which Parliament has already placed in the Act of 1906 imposing a limit. I think it should be made perfectly clear how much of the Act of 1906 is to be cut away, in order that these paragraphs may take their place. Let me carry that a little further. Acting on that same argument the whole of Clause 1 of the Act of 1906 has got to go. There is nothing to suggest in this Bill, if you are removing the limit of the halfpenny rate which comes under Clause 3 of the Act of 1906, that you should not also remove Clause 2, which gives the education authority the right to determine the amount to be collected from the parent with the power to collect it. It is really not clear to anyone examining this Bill in conjunction with previous Acts to know which of its provisions are to remain and which are to be cut away. There is one other point in the Bill which I want to refer to—that is Clause 6, which has been already so admirably dealt with by my hon. Friend the Member for the City of London. Clause 6 deals with expenses. It says:—

"Any expenses incurred by a local education authority under this Act shall be deemed to be expenses incurred and payable under the Education Acts, 1870 to 1903, and the provisions of those Acts shall apply to expenses incurred under this Act."

A number of provisions dealing with expenses under these Acts are found in Section 18 of the Education Act of 1902. I have not the slightest doubt but that that Clause was in mind, though it does not say so, when this Bill was drafted. The effect of this will be that the whole of these expenses will finally be paid—in the case of the country out of the county funds, in the case of the borough out of the borough funds, and so on. There are certain provisos enabling the county council and other authorities to recover these expenses by charging them on the parish or parishes which in the opinion of the council are served by the school or college in connection with which the expenses have been incurred. That will have the effect of an admittedly unforeseeable charge, because we cannot tell in the least, as the hon. Member for Bradford admitted in his speech, what the necessities of the working-class population of any district may be in a given year or to what extent the children may have to take advantage of this Act. Therefore the charge upon the county fund, and if the county education authority so decide, upon the parish or parishes concerned, is absolutely an unknown quantity; and the ratepayers of the county, borough, parish or parishes, as the case may be, will have absolutely no check whatever upon this expenditure, or upon the appointment of the officers who have to decide this expenditure, which will primarily be done by the head teacher and the doctor. Everyone, I think, must admit that it is very undesirable that there should be an un- known charge placed upon any locality without the ratepayers of that locality having some voice in the expenditure, or at least in the appointment of those people who primarily will decide whether the expenditure is to be large or small. A further point involving not only difficulty but also cost arises which has not yet been mentioned in this Debate, and which, I think, is not probably foreseen in the rural districts. The right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Education well knows that a very considerable area is covered by one medical officer who inspects schools in a rural locality. He has to take a considerable number of schools to inspect and has great distances to cover. It is as much as the average doctor can do to carry out this inspection work in the areas that have been assigned to him in addition to the work of his ordinary practice. It is not suggested that the ordinary practice should be given up, because, if it was, there would be a greatly increased cost, in view of the fact that very much larger salaries would have to be paid. Thus, it will mean that the districts will have to be reduced, and you will have to have a far greater number of medical officers to operate and inspect large districts than the comparatively much smaller districts near to his own central business where he may be available, when required, to go and examine the children, and especially to see whether they do or do not need to be fed. I hope the right hon. Gentleman when he speaks upon this Bill will bear that point in mind. I think it is a real difficulty. The present medical staff who inspect the schools in the rural areas could not possibly undertake this additional duty over and above the duties already imposed upon them. I do not suggest they would not be willing to try, but I say the circumstances of the case and the number of hours per day they have to work now do not make it possible.

There are other points which I might dwell upon, but I have touched upon the three principles as they appear to me. In conclusion, I only want to ask the promoters of this Bill seriously to consider this rural question as it might be affected by this Bill. It would be placing a heavy additional burden on the rural districts—and the urban districts, I admit, too—but I am only talking about the rural districts for the moment. Hundreds of thousands of children are being educated now by the rural districts very largely at the expense of those districts, not for the benefit of their respective localities, but, for the benefit of the towns. There is a steady stream of children from the country into the towns when the children come of working age, and though there may be a certain exodus to compensate for that, it is nothing like so much. The gain to the towns is a very considerable one. It is an undoubted hardship upon these rural districts. It is one of those reasons which are operating against that rural regeneration which we all want to see, that agricultural revival, that "back to the land," as it is called, that we all desire; to see the country able to find work for and support a very much larger part of the population than it does at present. I am afraid, however, that the admittedly heavy burden that this Bill may impose upon the ratepayers will have a serious effect in that respect in making it harder for struggling rural industries to revive or to maintain a prosperous population in the country districts. I should like again to repeat that I believe this is a perfectly honest and sincere attempt to deal with this great evil. I do, however, suggest that much greater thought should be given by this House to the matter before a Bill like this is put upon the Statute Book, because I seriously think and honestly believe it will lead to much greater evils in the future than the one which it is intended to remove.

The PRESIDENT of the BOARD of EDUCATION (Mr. J. A. Pease)

The reason I rise at a somewhat early moment in this Debate is because of other official and ministerial duties. I do not wish to take any exceptions to the tone of the speeches of the hon. Members who moved the rejection of this Bill. My only complaint against them is that they are not taking what I call a sufficiently broad view of a question which deserves serious attention as a measure for real social reform and betterment of the people. I know what their sympathies are in connection with dumb animals, and I am quite sure their sympathies are just as keen, and probably much more keen, in regard to the suffering of any underfed children that may exist in this country. I realise that the hon. Member who moved the Second Reading of this Bill has been actuated for many years by the most noble motives in connection with this question. He has done what he can to promote the feeding of children, and I welcome this effort on his part to-day in securing another step in the promotion of the objects for which he has so long worked, and I do trust that this House will to-day give its assent, I hope unanimously, to the Second Reading of this Bill.

I may be disposed to criticise some of the details of this measure, but, after all, my criticism is overborne by the fact that; although we have 110 authorities spending something like £183,000 a year in providing needs for children attending elementary schools, yet I am quite satisfied in my own mind there are a large number of underfed children attending our elementary schools, who ought also to be provided with the necessary sustenance in order that they may take advantage of the education given in the schools of this country. It is one of the most distressing sights that any human being can see to observe an underfed child, a child starving, a being not old enough to undertake to provide all the necessary provision of life, suffering from want of food. In the interests of the taxpayers, if I put it in no higher category, it is absurd for us to spend large sums of public money in securing better training for school teachers, in building great schools, in equipping them, and then to find that the inmates of those schools are unable, owing to malnutrition, to take advantage of the education given in those schools. Unless the children of this country, who are compelled to attend our elementary schools, are properly fed, we shall continue to reap that harvest of disease, of weakness, of unfitness which we know exists in our slums, and the signs of which we see too frequently in the streets of our towns, and which we can also see even in our schools and in the industrial life of our population.

To the fact that large numbers of the youths of this country are underfed during their school years is due the rejection of the large number of the recruits both for the Army and the Navy. To the fact that a large number of the girls of this country are underfed and suffering from malnutrition is also due the weakness of the infants which they produce in after life, and the great infantile mortality consequent thereon. If this Bill is passed into law with amendments, it will, I believe, do much to diminish the misery, wretchedness, and poverty due to malnutrition. The Bill is based upon the principle that the feeding of children is part of our school medical service. Malnutrition is a physical condition which requires doctors to diagnose. It must not be assumed that malnutrition is due merely to lack of food. It is due to a large number of other causes. It is due, as the hon. Baronet the Member for the City of London (Sir F. Banbury) said it may be, to lack of clothes. It is due to insanitary surroundings; it is often due to the habits of the people; to lack of sleep on the part of the children; it is due to wasting diseases, to lack of food, and frequently to irregular meals and unsuitable food. Unless the cause of malnutrition is properly diagnosed indiscriminating feeding merely becomes ineffective ratepayers' charity. A square meal may be wasteful and harmful if the right cause of malnutrition has not been previously ascertained by a doctor. I agree with the proposals in this Bill, so far as they make the doctor the individual upon whom should be placed greater responsibility in connection with the reports which he makes to the education authorities. But for the teacher or doctor to issue orders to his employers, or for the education committee not to have to consult the local authority, will receive, I think, from the hands of the ratepayers' representatives throughout the country no support, and I think that these proposals will have to be considerably amended in Committee if we are to carry the education authorities throughout this country with us in carrying our proposals into law.

One hon. Member criticised this Bill because it did not in so many words repeal a particular paragraph in a previous Act. I understand the provision of this Bill to mean that there shall be no longer a limit to a halfpenny in the £, with a view to raising money for the purposes of the provision of meals. There are 110 local authorities who have adopted the Act, and I think there are thirteen of these who spend the full halfpenny, which they are entitled to do under the halfpenny rate. That to me is an indication that some authorities are prepared to spend more. Any man who thinks over this question will realise that in certain cases we might have one authority providing meals, and another authority alongside it not providing meals; some children being thus placed in a preferential position compared with others, which we ought not to allow. Why should two children, say a boy and a girl in the same family and circumstances—the boy going to a boys' school in one district and the girl to another school in another district—why should the one get the food and the other not? Or, take the case of two schools in the same area, where the halfpenny limit has been reached, why should one child be fed and another child, possibly even in the same family, not be fed because there is not enough money owing to the halfpenny limit having been reached? There is provision in Clause 3 which will remove restrictions in regard to feeding in the vacation. I understand that that would include Saturdays, and, if it does not, it ought to be made to include it. After all, if the parent can afford to provide one meal, it should be on the Sunday. It seems to me that on Saturday, as well as on the other five school days, the child should be fed, and provision should be made for it if the child needs the nourishment on that day, as well as on the five days when it is attending school.

Clause 4 deals with the question of the publication of information. I believe that the influence which is calculated to have the greatest weight with education authorities is public opinion, and it is only by creating a really sound and healthy public opinion that you will be able to put pressure of the right kind on the representative local authorities of this country. I admit that in Clause 5 some machinery is required to induce local education authorities to extend the work which they are doing, and also to bring the laggard authorities up to the point which we all desire to see them reach. I am now going to make one strong qualification in regard to which I may not be able to carry everybody with me. I have given a great deal of thought to this subject, and I am satisfied that the time has come for another step forward, but I do not think that step should be to impose the principle of compulsion at this particular moment. The present Act has not been a complete success. We are still to a large extent in the experimental stage, and we do not want to establish a system of all-round compulsion until we are quite sure that we are on the best lines and upon really sound ground. What I have endeavoured to find out for myself, by studying the practice of other countries in several schools, both in France and Germany, is what is the best system which ought to be established to enable underfed children in elementary schools to be supplied with the necessary food.

The problem really bristles with difficulties. Where experts differ in regard to an operation you may generally draw the inference that that operation is not universally successful otherwise all the experts would agree. I have recently been in France, where a national system of education has been in existence for a very long period. Everybody who knows France realises that there are a very large number of children un-provided for whom it is essential in the interests of the State should be provided for in the way of meals when they attend a school in that country. It has been realised in France, and a fund exists in many places which is called the Auxiliary School Fund, and out of that fund contributions are made primarily for the support of these school kitchens for the poorer classes in some of the areas in France. Out of 36,000 communes there are only 13,500 who have the kitchens for the children attending the primary schools, and in nine-tenths of them they have no resources of their own, and there is only a State Grant of £5,200 towards the feeding of children in these schools.

I went into a large school in Paris, and there I found 200 children fed daily, all of them receiving most excellent food, and far better food than I have seen in any of the schools which I have visited in this country, and I have seen the meals in a good number of schools, especially in London. We all recognise that the people in France can cook a good deal better than the people in this country on the average, but the three helpings the children received at the particular school I am referring to opened my eyes to the quality and character of the food which may be given to the children. So far as I could judge with my experts, the quality, as well as the quantity, was better than that which we give in most of the schools here. The reason may be that they have had this system longer in operation, but one thing rather struck me, and that is that even the child at the age of three brings its own drink. It does not bring milk, which is obviously the proper article the child ought to consume, especially small infants, but every child down to three, with the exception of two or three of them brought its own half-bottle of wine.


I think the right hon. Gentleman would probably find that the wine is diluted.


That I do not know, but I saw the bottles with wine in them.


Does the State provide the half-bottle of wine?


No, the parent provides it, and he also provides the bottle and a basket; and a clean napkin is brought once a week, provided by the parent. In addition, bread and little luxuries, like jam, are also carried by the children in their little baskets to school, and these other little delicacies are added to the provision made by the municipality. In Paris there were 6,396,000 meals provided, and what will perhaps interest the hon. Baronet the Member for the City of London is, that there are more than half of these meals, 3,229,000, actually paid for. In Munich I found that the children who had some distance to travel, and for whom it was not convenient to go home, had the opportunity of putting a small coin in a slot machine, and in this way they were able to obtain a stamp which entitled them to obtain for that stamp a meal at the school. I suggest that in the case of the education authorities in this country that course may be followed to a greater extent than it is at the present moment. In Bordeaux, I am told, there is a mid-day meal provided in every school. Throughout the provinces of France there are about 150,000 children who are fed in the schools. In Germany there is very great variety. In Berlin about 5 per cent. of the children are fed, and in Konigsberg about 20 per cent. In nineteen towns the municipality provides the meals, and in twenty-six towns the municipality provides grants which are contributed to private associations who make provision for the meals.

In order that the House may realise the complicated character of this problem, I want to give just two or three figures to show some of the difficulties which would naturally occur in connection with the compulsory system if it were brought into operation in our country at the present time. There are 487 towns in Germany with a population of over 10,000 inhabitants; 201 make some arrangements for feeding—these are according to the last figures I have. In forty-two towns the feeding is done by the municipality; in seventy-eight by private associations, and in sixty-nine by associations and municipalities collaterally; nine towns give three meals in the day, eighteen towns breakfast and dinner, six towns lunch and dinner, nine towns breakfast and lunch, seventy eight breakfast only, seventy-six lunch only, and eighty-six dinner only. In Berlin 879 came without breakfast in the last year for which there is any record; 1,486 frequently had no breakfast at all; in 2,997 cases they brought no lunch with them; 2,600 frequently brought no lunch with them; and 4,388 were found not to receive any warm meal at all. Dr. Fischer, who has made a great study of this question in Germany, reports that after visiting Austria and Germany and most of the towns in Germany, he found that the provision of meals for school children in the majority of cases was quite detached from Poor Law administration; but in Berlin, where it has been systematised to a greater extent than in any other town, it has been found necessary that the Poor Law authority should be consulted, and forms are provided so that the teachers, first of all, may communicate with the parent on one form, and then, if it is thought advisable by the authority and the school teacher that a mid-day meal should be provided for the child, a form has to be filled up by the school teacher stating what the family circumstances are, and referred to the Poor Law authority for advice and as to the period for which free meals are to be provided. There are provided in Berlin something like 1,591,000 meals for 8,700 children.

I have quoted those figures, because I want the Committee to realise the great variety which exists even in those two countries. Seeing that in Norway, Sweden, Italy, and Switzerland, as well as in these various provinces of the German Empire, they all adopt some system or other, but that there is no general agreement as to which is the best method, I think this House should hesitate before it adopts a compulsory system which is possibly going to set the clock back. Let me just quote the sort of questions we would be compelled to consider in the event of a compulsory system. If we had a compulsory system, the Board of Education would be consulted, no doubt, with regard to a great number of details, and the whole onus of the administrative work would be placed upon the central authority to a large extent. We should be asked whether the teachers, for instance, would have to look after the feeding of these children; we should be asked whether the caretaker or the managers ought to provide the meals; we should be asked what was the proper menu or bill of fare to be provided for the day in each area; we should be asked as to whether parents were to be prosecuted when they declined to allow their children to be fed; and we should be asked, in the event of only one child requiring to be fed, whether the school fire was to be used in order to provide a warm meal for that child, or whether the child was to be sent to the nearest public-house in order to secure its meal. All those sort of questions, though they may appear to the House obviously very trivial, would be put to a Government Department, and I want hon. Members to realise that it is the total aggregation of such trivial points that causes friction and trouble. Take the case of the Insurance Act; there are a very large number of trivial points being raised in connection with the working of that matter which cause the greatest inconvenence and difficulty in working a measure of that kind, and I want to be on absolutely safe grounds in connection with the next step we take towards the provision of meals.

There are other questions which are not of a trivial character, with which this Bill does not deal. There ought obviously to be some adjustment, in connection with the provision of meals, in the relation of the work of the Poor Law authority and the Board of Education and the local education authority. If an authority is going to feed children, it is obvious that authority and also the Poor Law guardians ought to have a knowledge of the facts, because in many cases it is a question of outdoor relief and as to whether there should be any increase or diminution in outdoor relief when free meals are given to children in the various districts. Both authorities ought to know what is being done for the children when the parents are receiving anything in the nature of outdoor relief. My own personal regret, if I may say so, is that at the present time we are not as a State contributing to the cost of meals provided by the various local authority areas. If we were doing so, I believe that we could do a great deal, not only to stimulate the laggards to come up to the standard set by the more progressive authorities, but we could avoid by suggestion and recommendation a great deal of waste which is now going on. If we could really investigate the whole system so as to make good recommendations to the various authorities as to the way in which the work could be best done, we could check waste, co-ordinate the work, and we could bring pressure to bear upon the authorities which would induce them to make the necessary provision for all underfed children. After all, we have had some little experience already in connection with the good working of the optional arrangement with regard to the medical treatment of children. The medical inspection of children is compulsory, but the medical treatment of children is optional, and I am glad to say that, under that optional system, we are securing steadily a great improvement in the provision which is being made for the treatment of the various illnesses from which children in our schools suffer. I do not think, either in connection with the provision of meals or in connection with the treatment of children, the moment is quite ripe for compulsion, although I believe that compulsion will become necessary in the future, when we are satisfied that we are on absolutely sound grounds. At the same time I am quite sure of this, that the most enlightened authorities in connection with the provision of meals are setting the standard for the whole country, and if you had a compulsory system it would, I am afraid, be the laggards who would be setting that standard. It is because I want the standard to be high that I do not wish to make a mistake at the present moment.

We are expecting shortly to be able to relieve the rates by contributions from the State, and we are hoping to be able, in that way, to bring the laggards up to the standards which the more progressive authorities have already attained. We believe that a good deal of money which might be spent on a compulsory system would at this particular moment be wastefully expended, but if such money were spent under a permissive system, with a power of putting pressure upon the authorities, that money could be spent without waste and without friction, and we should lay the foundations of a thoroughly sound system which would settle this problem for all time. I should like to see—I do not know whether it would be in order—a provision in this Bill which would enable local education authorities to punish parents when they do not provide the meals requisite for the health of their own children. Under the Children Act there are powers of that kind given to certain persons and authorities, but the education authorities who have a responsibility connected with these children have not that power at the present moment. That is a provision in the law which requires early amendment. But I do not wish that anything should be done by legislation to diminish parental responsibility. The experience so far, in connection with the provision of meals, is that there has been no diminution in the recognised feeling that a parent should perform his duty to his child. During periods of unemployment, when a great number of men are thrown out of work and are unable to provide meals for their children, we have found that the number of cases have gone up in which the authorities provide the meals, but as soon as the parents get back to work, directly they can afford to provide meals for their children, although they have been accustomed to have them provided for them during the period of unemployment, they take a pride in feeding their own children out of their own resources. I do not believe that the provision of meals for necessitous children has a pauperising influence which is going to do harm in the future if it is well watched and carefully administered.


May I point out that the case of necessitous children is very different from that of starving children?


I am not going to bandy words with the hon. Baronet as to whether underfed children are starving children or as to whether a necessitous child is an underfed child. When I used the word "necessitous" I referred to a child which required food in order that it might take full advantage of the education given to it in the schools of this country. In one sentence I may say that whilst I am anxious that there should be, here and now, a real step forward taken in connection with the provision of meals, I am not at this moment prepared to accept the compulsory provisions proposed in this particular measure, as I do not believe that they are the best calculated to secure the end which the hon. Member has in view. But this Bill does contain so many proposals of a progressive character which it is desirable to have passed into law that I hope, as I said at the beginning of my speech, the House will unanimously give it a Second Reading.


The right hon. Gentleman said he desired to take a broad view of the Bill, and he expressed himself in very sympathetic terms in regard to it. I, too, am prepared to take a broad and sympathetic view. I am bound to say the right hon. Gentleman did not express himself very much in favour of the Bill towards the close of his speech, particularly when he was dealing with the topic of compulsion, which rather strikes at the root of the measure. In that matter I entirely agree with him. He pointed out that compulsion would probably have an injurious effect on the working of the system. It is true that food is not all that is necessary to make a child fit to do school work, and anyone who goes into a school attended by the children of the very poor must be well aware that their general surroundings, late hours, bad air, and insufficient attention at home, all go to make the child unfit to do its work.

I was not able, during the time I was at the Board of Education, to introduce legislation on this subject, because at that time the local authorities were very fully occupied in undertaking the new work thrown on them by the Education Act of 1902. But I was able to institute inquiry and to collect a certain amount of material. No one can go into the schools in the poorer parts of London without realising the pathetic and deplorable condition of the underfed children. I used to leave some of these schools with a strong desire to take out a great many children to the nearest eating house and give them a square meal, to take out a less numerous party to the nearest shoemaker and fit them out with boots and shoes, and to take another group to the clothiers where they could get proper clothing, warm and suitable for the work they had to do. I do not wish to be regarded as lacking in sympathy in dealing with this subject, but it struck me that the Board of Education must deal with it on certain principles connected with its special work as regards the education of children, and I groped about for sonic principle on which we could do the work effectively. The first thing I felt—and it has been very strongly expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for the City of London, and admitted by speakers on the other side of the House—was that nothing must be done to destroy the sense of parental responsibility—the feeling that, first and foremost, it is the parent who should provide sufficient and suitable meals for the child. Then there was another consideration. The State takes a child away from its home, under the system of compulsory education, for a certain number of hours every day, and compels it to go through a certain course of study more or less exacting on the child. In doing that the State appeared to me to incur the great responsibility of seeing that the child was equal to the work the State required it to do. There was this third consideration, that it was cruel to ask the child to under- take the studies it was called upon to undertake in our elementary schools when, through insufficient feeding and other conditions, it was really unequal to the work it was called upon to do. There was also this practical consideration, that the State was not getting the worth of its money; it was not getting any return for the teaching provided in the school if the children, through physical conditions, were unable to pay proper attention to their teacher or to carry away with any sort of retentive memory the matter which the teacher endeavoured to put into their hands.

I tried, on these principles, to work out some scheme by which underfed children could be properly fed and made fit for the work in the school. It seemed to me that these children fell into certain well-acknowledged groups. First, there were the children of parents who could feed them, but who did not feed them, and I felt those children ought to be fed and those parents ought to be made to pay. I entirely agree with the President of the Board of Education, that in certain circumstances they ought not merely to be made to pay, but they ought to be punished for the condition in which their children are sent to school. The second group is a fluctuating group, namely, the children of parents who from continuous poverty, which came upon them through no fault of their own, or through occasional loss of work and occasional poverty, were unable to provide the meals their children required. That, again, was a case in which I thought aid ought to come in, and meals ought to be provided. There is a third class, the children of parents who, through various circumstances, cannot be present to provide their children with meals, but who would be very willing to pay for the meals given on the spot where the children were being taught. These three groups really would bring a class of children within the range of a combination of voluntary assistance and local effort. I had hoped that by that combination, which was legalised under the Act of 1906, the needs of these children would be met. I am rather afraid that wherever you bring in either rate-aid or State-aid in any form you tend to kill voluntary effort. I am afraid it is quite certain that all the needs of the children have not been met by the Act of 1906. I am very glad the President does not think that this need should be met by putting compulsion on the local authorities. I believe compulsion would, as he said, bring the standard down to the level of compulsion, and would sterilise or destroy the efforts of those communities in which voluntary effort and local aid between them were doing more for the children than could possibly be done under the conditions of greater compulsion.

I always regard this matter in connection with school work and school life. I regard the duties of the Board of Education in that matter as duties to ensure that the child comes to school able to do the work which it is asked to do, able to do it cheerfully and comfortably, and not hindered by any lack of nutrition. Everybody knows how hard it is to be called upon to work under such conditions, as we ourselves sometimes suffer from here, with insufficient feeding, owing to undue attention to our Parliamentary labours. This Bill ignores school life altogether as an element in the feeding of children, except that it treats the school as a sort of rendezvous for the children, who are to be considered by the teacher and the medical man as to whether they are proper subjects for feeding or not. The school brings the children together. The medical officer determines whether any children ought to be fed or not. They are to be fed in vacation, as well as in school time, and the teacher is to have authority to give a meal to any child at the expense of the ratepayer if the teacher thinks he looks hungry and dissatisfied. To begin with, that is giving a very large power to the teacher. It enables him to feed the children at someone else's expense. It also ignores the special relation of the Board of Education to this particular question of feeding children. Looking at the general duties imposed upon the Board of Education and upon the local authority and upon the teachers and medical officers by this Bill, I cannot see why the feeding of children should commence at the time of school life. If children are to be fed in their school days, why should they not be fed before their school days begin? It looks as if the promoters of this Bill had in view the imposition of a liability on local authorities to see that a child is properly nurtured from its earlier years and during its school years afterwards. That is not a duty which ought to be imposed upon local authorities hastily and without consideration by this House.

There is one good feature which was dwelt upon by the hon. Member for Sunderland (Mr. Goldstone), that medical in- spection is brought into such prominence in this Bill. But medical inspection is not all. There ought, besides the assurance of the medical man that the child ought to be fed, to be some inquiry into the circumstances of the parents in order to ascertain whether it should be fed at the expense of the ratepayers or at the expense of the parents—that is to say, whether the money should ultimately be recovered from the parents. The President of the Board of Education has spoken of schools in France. I made some inquiry into them a few years ago. I went to Paris with an introduction to the authorities there, and I was given power to go into various schools. I asked to be directed to the poorest school in the poorest district they could name. I was sent to a school which was said to be what we should call here a slum school, and there I found a very appetising menu, and certain children, only I think the better to do, brought out their flasks or bottles of wine, which were carefully supervised by the directeur to see that they were weakened sufficiently to do the children no harm. The whole system appeared to me to be a very good one. It was a combination of municipal aid, State aid, and voluntary aid, but in every ease careful inquiry was made as to whether the child ought to receive his food gratuitously or not, and I was assured at the time that in a very large number of cases the parents paid for the meals, the money being devoted not merely to the provision of meals, but to the provision of boots and blouses.

On the whole, I am bound to say, and I say it with some regret, that the general appearance of the children in what was a slum school in a poor district of Paris was very much better than the average appearance of the children in a similar school in a similar district in the poorer parts of London. The children not only had better boots, which is a test of poverty, and were fairly clothed, but I made some inquiries as to what they had before they came to school in the morning. That is a very important feature in school work. I asked to have some of the poorest children introduced to me, and I was told that no child had come to school without having had a breakfast of some sort—café au lait and a roll, and one little boy told me with satisfaction that he had soup and jam, which does not sound to me a very good way of feeding the brain, but it seemed to agree with the boy in question. It struck me that a good deal was done by the parents in France which was not done in the same way by the parents in London, and I regretted to feel that the French child was better looked after in the same class of life than the English child. I think that shows that a very moderate amount of State or local aid, coupled with voluntary assistance and under judicious direction, will carry us a long way in feeding the children; but if the State is going to undertake the large responsibilities which are indicated in this Bill, I think the State itself ought to come forward with some assistance. It ought not to be thrown entirely upon the rates or left to the casual discretion of local education authorities, or to the teacher, who may or may not be judicious or sentimental. The Board of Education will have a heavy task thrown upon it if the provisions of the Bill are to become law, and if they are to become law the State must come forward and not have the present heavy burden thrown upon local authorities. I should have no desire to oppose the Second Reading of the Bill, but I feel that many of its provisions are open to serious criticism, and they all require to be looked into carefully, lest, in a matter on which we are all agreed, our joint efforts should end in doing more harm than good.

3.0 P.M.


Although this Bill does not apply to Scotland, I desire, as an old schoolmaster, to say a word in general commendation of its provisions. I think every parent worthy of the name is proud to supply his children with food and education and clothing, but it does not take very much keenness of vision to see that there are some parents utterly unworthy of the name, and by the dark and inscrutable fate of Heaven, these worthless individuals are sometimes allowed to be the parents of a numerous progeny. I think the duty of the State is twofold with respect to such matters. First of all, we must endeavour to inject into these wastrels some feeling of responsibility, and mean while we ought to see that the children themselves do not die of starvation. The first problem may take a very long time to accomplish, and perhaps be even hopeless of accomplishment, but the second is capable of accomplishment at once by philanthropy, either individual or national. I take it that it is an uncontrovertible maximum of modern education that no child should be allowed to study or do intellectual work of any serious kind on an empty stomach. History and geography and parsing and the analysis of sentences are all very good in their way, but physical stamina and vigour are something infinitely more important. In this city of London there are tens of thousands of children who go every morning to school underfed and inadequately clothed. In the richest city of the world, "mid pleasures and palaces," that is a deplorable subject of contemplation. If life is the only real wealth, as Ruskin says, our country must become poor indeed if such a large proportion of the rising generation are being trained in that way and are sickly and underfed.

However much it may wound our pride, it is impossible to assert that wealth and birth and opulence are things that involve very much personal merit on the part of those who possess them. One child is born in a squalid and miserable garret, and at the same moment another child is born under conditions of affection and luxury. It has always been so from the beginning of the world, and probably these anomalies will never be altogether cured, but because Nature in one case is stingy and in the other case is profuse, that is no reason why we should not do all that is humanly possible to alleviate these injustices and anomalies, and with the deepening of the national conscience we shall come to see that the State has a special duty towards the slum child, towards the innocent victims of poverty, and that from the merely selfish and utilitarian points of view the system of neglect is in the long run by far the most costly. I do not think we can be blind to the signs of the times. Never to such an extent as at the present day has love and care of the child been so much in evidence among all civilised nations. Never before would the State have thought of extending benefit to the mother of a newly-born child in order that that child might have a better welcome into the world and better nutrition. The child is the heir and promise and custodian of all that is best in the race. I say that the whole attitude of modern society is showing a change in that respect. We no longer allow a child of eight to twelve years of age to work long hours among the whirling spindles and dangerous machinery of cotton factories. We no longer allow that because the public conscience has become deeper in these matters. I believe that during the last fifty years the death-rate of the whole population in this country has gone down from twenty-two to sixteen, but very little diminution in the infantile mortality has been observed, and it is on such grounds as these, without committing myself to the details of the provisions, I support the Second Reading of the Bill, which has been so well brought forward by my hon. Friend.


My only quarrel with the hon. Baronet who moved the rejection of the Bill is that the always appears to me to be such an incurable sentimentalist.


indicated dissent.

Mr. H. LAW

I thought it might surprise the hon. Baronet to be so described. The reason I describe him as a sentimentalist is that he, and some others like him, seem to live in an utterly unreal world, and it appears to me that that is exactly what a sentimentalist is—a man who has no grip upon the realities. The world in which the hon. Baronet lives is a very beautiful one. It is a world in which motor ears roll up to their doors at the right hour of the day.


I have not got a motor car.

Mr. H. LAW

I apologise to the hon. Baronet if I am incorrect. At all events, I am sure he has the equivalent of a motor car, and, consequently, so far as trams and bridges are concerned, he has never known what it is to cross Westminster Bridge and struggle for a scat in the bus with a large number of people who are coming from their work. He lives in a world of servants. They are old family butlers who have been in the service of the family for many years. These people are always perfectly well looked after. The children in that world have never been hungry, and probably more is spent on their toys at Christmas than is spent in the whole year on the children we are considering now. It is not want of heart that causes the hon. Baronet to oppose this Bill. I am quite sure it is want of knowledge. The hon. Baronet really does not know what are the conditions of the children with whom this Bill is concerned. I believe there will be on these benches [the Nationalist Benches] very general sympathy with the object of this Bill—I do not say in all respects, and with every detail—which is to make more adequate the provisions which Parliament has already adopted, with the intention that the children the State compels to go to school shall go to school in such a condition as to be fit to receive the instruction the State provides. We have heard a great deal about the logical consequences of such a measure as this, but I do most certainly think that the feeding of school children who are not, and cannot be, sufficiently fed at home is properly the logical consequence of compulsory education. I do not believe that there is anywhere a keener sense than in Ireland of the futility, I think one might say the cruelty, of compelling children to go and spend long hours at school if they are in such a condition as to be unfit to receive the instruction given.

I, personally, have always regretted very bitterly that when Parliament passed the Act of 1906, which this Bill seeks to amend, Ireland was not dealt with. I do not think that that Bill could have been applied to Ireland, but I have always regretted very much that opinion in Ireland, at that time at any rate, did not make it possible to deal with the Irish case simultaneously. We have, God knows, just the same need in Ireland as in this country or in Scotland. There is no country, unhappily, were perhaps there are a greater number of children who are underfed. There is no country where there are a greater number of poor children who are capable of receiving the greatest benefits from education, and I am afraid there is no country where there are a larger number of children, especially in the large towns, who are habitually underfed. A great deal of attention was directed to this matter during the recent strike in Dublin. I would like to remind the House, and people outside who are interested in the matter, that, far from the need having ceased because the strike is over, the need is greater than it was during the strike. At the time of the strike great attention was directed to the whole problem of poverty in Dublin, and funds poured into the voluntary committees which charged themselves with the work of feeding school children. By voluntary effort I am told that in certain schools during the strike they were able to feed every poor child, and in some schools they gave two or three meals a day. Now interest has dropped, the newspapers are saying nothing about it, and the result is that children who were getting two or three meals a day during the strike are now getting none, and the excellent ladies who have charged themselves with this voluntary feeding in the schools are only able to feed a few of the very poorest children in the very poorest schools of the city.

I think that is an extremely good illustration of the impossibility of relying altogether upon voluntary effort if this problem of underfeeding in schools is to be adequately dealt with. The House may have observed that two of my hon. Friends and I have on the Paper an Instruction which we were advised was necessary to extend this Bill, and the principal Act to Ireland. I should like to say at once that it is not my intention to move the Instruction, for reasons which I will briefly give, In the first place, I do not propose to move it because, on looking into the Bill more carefully, I am convinced that from the purely drafting point of view, it would be extremely difficult to adapt the measure to the Irish case. The whole machinery in Ireland with respect to the management of education is different from that in this country. Not only does the principal Act not apply, but we have not got, for example, local education authorities in the sense in which that term is used in the Bill. There are many other respects in which the Bill would want to be very greatly altered in the Application Clause if it were to be made to apply to Ireland at all.

There is a more serious reason why I do not propose to move the Instruction. Personally, I am quite prepared to go the length which this Bill suggests, and to welcome the medical inspection which it provides and to make it mandatory, where a medical officer reports the children are underfed, that a local authority should provide them with food. There is great force in what has been said, that if once you accept the principle that hungry children are to be fed, there is no sense in laying down a hard and fast limit. But one has to recognise that even in this country it was felt necessary to begin in a more modest way, and a Bill exactly such as this would probably not be acceptable in Ireland. At any rate, I do not think that it would be wise or desirable, having regard to all the circumstances, to go further at the present time than to apply to Ireland the rather more modest provisions of the principal Act of 1906. That I very much hope may very soon be done. I am very hopeful that we may be able to get general agreement in Ireland among those principally concerned in this matter, and that before very long we shall be able to remove what I think is a very grave scandal indeed—that Ireland is the only part of the three Kingdoms where there is no provision whatever, except such very inadequate provision as is afforded by voluntary agencies, acting alone without any aid whatever, to deal with this evil. I think that the lines on which we may hope to see progress may not be quite the same as in the principal Act. I think it probable that we shall be able to utilise voluntary agencies more than is done in this country. Still, I hope that we shall be able to make an advance. But, so far as I know, Irish opinion is meantime entirely with hon. Members in this country who desire to make, in a manner most suited to their own country, the provisions which Parliament has already passed for feeding hungry children more effective than they are at the present time.


I understand that many hon. Members are anxious to proceed to the second Order on the Paper, and therefore I shall make my remarks as brief as possible. I feel, however, that it is necessary for a back bench Member holding the views which I hold, to say something before we proceed to the Second Reading of this Bill, because two of my hon. Friends have moved the rejection of this Bill, and, if no one expressed views contrary to theirs, it might be supposed that they represented the general body of opinion on this side of the House. I can speak for no one but myself, and I rise therefore for the purpose of dissociating myself from the views which they have expressed. With the general principle of the Bill introduced by the hon. Member for Bradford I am in full sympathy. With reference to some of the proposals in the Bill, I am in some doubt, but, because the most important principle of the Bill in my opinion is that every local authority should be compelled to make provision for its necessitous children, I am prepared to support the Second Reading of the Bill. I was very disappointed to hear what the President of the Board of Education said with reference to compulsion. It seems to me that his remarks might equally have been applied to every one of the branches of public education. I find from the last Report of the Board of Education that 310,000 children were fed at the cost of the rates in 1912, and that there were 300,000 other children who needed feeding but were not fed. I cannot see why, when this House has decided that necessitous children should be fed, it should depend upon the pure chance where the parents of the children may live, whether these children are or are not fed.

In certain respects the Act of 1906 has not fulfilled the expectations that were expressed at the time of its passing. It is disappointing to find, as has been found in London, that there is a very large number of children who require feeding, not in times of exceptional emergency, but week after week, month after month, and even year after year. It was hoped, certainly by members of the London County Council, when the Act was put into operation, that the number of chronic cases would be few. That has not been found to be the case. Again, it has been found that meals have been provided for children whose parents did not deserve any aid or encouragement at all. An inquiry was held in London into the whole conditions of the parents of the necessitous children in 126 districts, and it was found that no less than 50 per cent. of the parents of those children were, if not actually drunkards, at any rate addicted to very heavy drinking habits. I agree that that is no reason for penalising the children, but it does strengthen what has been expressed by one or two Members in the course of this Debate, that if we are to extend the principles of the Provision of Meals Act we must deal much more drastically with the unsatisfactory parent. The main body of the opposition of the hon. Member for the City of London was that the extension of this Act would undermine parental responsibility. I will not go into that question from the theoretical point of view at all. Let me put before the House one or two figures which tend to contradict that assumption. It would be supposed that if the provision of meals undermines parental responsibility during the last few years there would have been a very great extension of the meals which were being demanded by irresponsible persons in our great cities. What is the case? I take the case with which I am brought into direct contact—the case of London. In 1898 it was estimated that 55,000 children in London, at some period of the year, were in need of being fed. In 1895 the number of necessitous children was found to be 51,000, and exhaustive inquiries were held in 1898–9, when the number was shown to be about 55,000. In 1909, in 1910, and 1911 and 1912, when I would remind the House that the Provision of Meals Act was in force, the number of children fed during that period were 55,181, 55,147, 49,985, and 44,954. Those figures show that, so far from there having been an increase in the number of parents who required meals for their necessitous children as a result of the passage of the Act of 1906, the exact opposite has been the effect, and there are now fewer children on the roll of necessitous children than there were ten, twelve, or fifteen years ago.

The next question has reference to the feeding of children in the holidays. There, again, I cannot see that, if you think it reasonable that children should be fed in term time, there is any logical objection to their being fed in holiday time. At the same time, the House should remember these two facts—I take again the case of London: Up to the present it has been found that in times of emergency London has been able to rely upon voluntary subscriptions for feeding in the holidays. An hon. Member shakes his head. Let me give one case—I take the case of the time during which the transport strike was going on in 1912. Funds were then collected to such an extent that in a single month £3,000 were spent from voluntary subscriptions upon this holiday feeding. That case may be an exceptional one; but, whether it be so or not, it is certain that as soon as holiday feeding comes upon the rates, those voluntary subscriptions would come to an end. There is another point which hon. Members should consider with reference to the question of holiday feeding, and it is that the step may not be a false step, but it is a very long step which the hon. Member asks the House to take. Up till now, generally speaking, the education authorities have been responsible for the children in their schools during term time alone, but if you extend the feeding of school children to the holidays it will not end in school feeding, and I can see no reason why, if you feed the children from the rates in the holidays, you should not give them also medical treatment. The two things seem to me to be directly connected with each other. At the same time, it is a very long step that the House are asked to take in extending the sphere of the supervision of education committees from the term time over the whole time of the children.

As to the halfpenny rate, I own that I have got no strong view as to whether there should be a maximum or whether there should not. At the same time, it is a remarkable fact that at the present moment, out of one hundred local authorities that are providing meals from the rates, only thirteen require as much as a halfpenny. If you take the case of London, where, I believe, on the whole, hon. Members will agree that the provision of meals has been effectively carried out, the halfpenny rate in London means £89,000. In the estimate for this year a sum of only £48,000 is considered to be required for the meals. In my opinion, nothing like a halfpenny rate is being required in London at the present moment; that is a point which the House should remember in withdrawing the limit of the halfpenny which is now imposed for the provision of meals. Lastly, I come to what is, in my mind, an even more important point. The hon. Member puts the onus of selecting necessitous children entirely upon medical officers. I agree with the criticisms of the President of the Board of Education in that connection. I fully realise that it is most important that no selection should be made without consultation with medical officers.

At the same time, I do object most strongly to an official of the local authority being placed in such a position that he can override the wishes and decisions of the education committee, and have complete control over the rates which the elected authority nominally are suppose to impose. I should have thought it was much wiser to leave the final decision with a local authority, but, at the same time, I would make it quite clear that this work can only be carried out after careful consultation and in direct co-ordination with the medical officers. The hon. Member's proposal would have another bad effect. To my mind, the most beneficial result of the Provision of Meals Act of 1906 was the creation of the Care Committees. Since that Act, and as the direct result of it, hundreds of committees composed of many thousands of sympathetic and active workers have been created in every part of the country. They were chiefly and principally created as a result of the Provision of Meals Act to make selection of the necessitous children. The members of those committees have been visiting the houses in every part of the country, and have been giving the most useful advice, not only with reference to school feeding, but with reference to medical treatment, and other branches of work of that kind, to the parents in poor homes. I believe that if you put the decision into the hands of an official, and took it out of the hands of these Care Committees, you will be taking away much of the interest of the work which has made those committees so useful during the last three or four years. I have made these two or three reservations, and I come back to what I said at the beginning, that apart from those questions, which are questions which can well be met in Committee, I agree with the principle of the hon. Member's Bill, that the time has come for an extension of the 1906 Bill.


I am sure that everyone in the House will welcome the speech of the hon. Gentleman who has just spoken. Personally I am very glad to hear that as, on the 1906 Bill, I may fairly conclude that hon. Gentlemen opposite are in favour of the principle of this Bill. Naturally, I take a great interest in this legislation, which is a very strong advance on the principle carried out in the Act of 1906. I have watched the carrying out of that Act with the very greatest interest, and I am decidedly of opinion it has done much good in the country and commended itself generally to all sections of society, as well as all sections of the House. I listened with much interest to the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Oxford University (Sir W. Anson). He was sympathetic in 1906, just as the general body of hon. Gentlemen opposite were sympathetic, and he said to-day that he was convinced that it was necessary now to go a little further than the Bill of 1906 went. I waited to hear in what direction he would go further, but he did not answer the feeling of inquiry that was in my mind. He said he did not favour the principle of compulsion which was embodied very carefully in this Bill. How can we go further without compulsion? I was very sorry that my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Education appeared to deprecate the policy of compulsion. Something must be done to wake up the negligent authorities if the general principle of the Bill is to equally apply. Therefore I think, although welcoming the sympathetic tone of the right hon. Gentleman, we might fairly have asked, since he objected to the principle put by my hon. Friend in this Bill, that he should have suggested some other principle that would have effected the purpose which he himself approves of.

I am very glad now that he has left that the Front Opposition Bench is in charge of the Chairman of the Kitchen Committee (Colonel Lockwood). I do not think there could be anything more appropriate. From all we know of my right hon. Friend, and of the value of the great services he renders to us all, I believe he is the very best representative of the Opposition to occupy that official position. I hope he will say a few words in favour of the general principle of the Bill, and not be as restricted in approval of it as his Leader was. How has it come that we have got to look at this Bill again and at the principle of the Act of 1906? It is entirely owing to the action taken by this House in another respect. Since the Act of 1906 was passed we have approved of medical inspection, which has been made compulsory, so that every authority is bound to have medical inspection of the children even if it does not feed them. The medical officer has also to make a report, and we have got here a very interesting document, namely, the General Report of the medical inspection all over the country. That Report shows that 10 per cent. of the children all over the country, numbering at least 600,000, are suffering from malnutrition, and that under the existing Act only 300,000 children are fed. Roughly, that is the fact which the hon. Member who introduces this Bill (Mr. Jowett) brings forward. He has always taken a great interest in this question, and he has done most useful work in connection with it, and has brought forward this Bill, a most important Bill, and moved it in a speech of great knowledge and power this afternoon. He says that we must look after those 300,000 children. The moment we look at the facts we see everywhere illustrations of the broad principle on which he proceeds, namely, that a good many children are neglected. The hon. Member who spoke last estimates that there are 317, although I think 330, educational authorities throughout. the country and only 113 of those have put the Act of 1906 into operation. Therefore more than half the education authorities are doing nothing whatever in this direction, and if the Compulsory Clauses are put into operation, we may not have on an average anything more than a halfpenny rate. I am satisfied we will require some compulsion to make those authorities who are now neglecting their duty to do it.

That is the first principle, that of compulsion, brought forward in this Bill. The second is that the feeding of the children should be carried on through the holidays as well as when they are at school. I think my hon. Friend who moved the Bill brought quite pathetic facts before the House, showing how a child increases in weight when it goes to school and then begins to suffer immediately the holidays commence. What is the great principle which is the basis of this argument? The State takes hold of the child and insists that the child shall be educated. That, by the way, would be the answer to the right hon. Member for Oxford University. He asked if you feed them in the holidays, why not feed them before the period of school life commences and after the period of school life closes. I do not say there should not be more care in those periods, but the answer to the question is that during the period of school life the State has made itself responsible. The State has taken up that duty, why is not the child kept constantly at school? It is because it is not practicable, because the teacher could not attend every day in the year and the child could not attend every day in the year. If the child is to be looked after by the education authorities during the school time, then the State, if the child is destitute, must also look after it at the other periods. I say that the principle carries you that far. I am not at all anxious to shock public opinion on this matter, but I do believe there is a very kindly sentiment in the general community which is well represented in the House. When the Bill of 1906 was passing the hon. Baronet the Member for the City (Sir F. Banbury) made just the same speech as he makes in 1914. He never changes.


That shows how consistent I am, and I wish hon. Gentlemen opposite would follow my example.


I am perfectly consistent too, but I thought after eight years I had converted the hon. Baronet. In that time the whole country has been converted and the whole House, so that the hon. Baronet stands out alone. Men may come and men may go, but he stays there for ever.


A little backbone is a good thing.


I really do not think that in this matter the hon. Baronet does credit to those good qualities of heart which we all know he displays in many other respects. I do not believe he has any satisfaction in contemplating the idea of a starving child any more than any of the rest of us. The argument I would address to him is this, that we have had nine years experience of the Act, and, on the whole, no one has found any objection to it. The London Education Authority which was very reluctant to take up the Act, now feels that it could not without the Act carry out most useful work connected with education in London. Other authorities also have undertaken the work with care, without waste, and with sympathy for the children, and I believe that the results have amply justfied the House in the step which it took in 1906, and all the experiments which have been made. I was a little disappointed with the speech of my hon.. Friend (Mr. H. Law) who represented the Irish case. He said that he and some of his friends had very good intentions, but that those intentions rather melted away when they came to the point. There is only one ground upon which I agree with him in not moving his Amendment, and that is that there will, I hope, be a Parliament in Ireland within a year or two, and they will then be able to deal with those scandals connected with education and other matters which really are more serious in Ireland than perhaps in any other country in Europe. My hon. Friend referred to Dublin. Even in the country districts in Ireland, many children go to school from nine o'clock in the morning until four o'clock in the afternoon often without any food. They go to cold, damp school-houses, in which there is no fire, and there they remain without any food or nutrition during that long period. Although Irish parents are very kind to their children, there is a great deal of suffering on the part of children attending school.

It is a great reproach to this House—of course, everything in Ireland is a reproach to this House—but it is a particular reproach that we have managed to look after our own children and our own educational system while there is this great contrast between the system in this country and the system in Ireland, just as there is in every other respect in the government of the two countries. It is only on that ground that I think my hon. Friend was wise for not moving his Amendment. On merits the Bill is wanted in Ireland much more than any other part of the Kingdom. In conclusion I would ask the House not to be divided upon this subject. It is not creditable to the House that there should be a Division. I remember that on the last occasion there were only seventeen Members against some hundreds. Now, after eight years' experience, there ought to be no Division at all. The matter will be fully discussed in Committee, and if there are any small points that require attention—personally I do not see anything materially wrong in the Bill, as you must adopt the principle of compulsion in some way—they can be dealt with upstairs. I hope, therefore the House will agree unanimously to the principle.


I have no wish to enter into the idyllic sentiments which govern the whole life of my distinguished Friend the Member for the City of London (Sir F. Banbury). The House will agree, at all events, that he is consistent in his opposition to many proposals that come before this House, and perhaps it is his very consistency which endears him to his Friends. The right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Lough) alluded to the office which I hold. I honestly confess that there are times when I feel that I should like to distribute amongst the 300,000 children who are not properly fed some of the scraps that are rejected with turned up noses by Members who attend the House—in some cases rarely; in others often. I have no great knowledge of children in the towns, but I have been chairman of an educational body in my own district ever since the Act came into force, and the question of the children has naturally occupied my attention. I was very much interested in the remark of my hon. Friend the Member for Oxford University (Sir W. Anson). He drew a comparison between the children in a very slummy area near Paris and the children of a similar area in England, and that comparison, he said, was in favour of the children in France. My knowledge of France is a rather varied one, and I am inclined to think that the parental care of children is exercised to a higher degree in France than it is in England.

The great point as regards this Bill is whether its provisions will diminish parental authority too much. We cannot shut our eyes to the fact that we have got past the stage of nothing but voluntary effort. Taking the Bill all round, although, I think, there must be some Amendments in Committee, I hope that hon. Members who oppose it will not proceed to a Division. At the same time, as a close observer of life in the country districts, I must honestly say that I see less care for the children on the part of younger parents at the present day than there used to be when I was a young or middle aged man. There does not seem to be the same determination that the children should not want food even if the parents themselves go without. I have often taken up the point when speaking to young parents who have children at school. In the old days parents would go hungry themselves rather than allow a small child to go to school improperly or not well fed. I think that very often children might with advantage go to school at a later age and remain till a later age than they do at present. Very young children whom we see dragged through the dirty lanes of the country Would very often be much better at home; they would be brought more into contact with their parents, and a greater feeling of responsibility would be created. Although there are some strong Amendments that I should like to move, they are matters which can be dealt with in Committee, and I trust the House will see its way to pass the Bill without a Division.


We have listened to a sympathetic speech from the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Colonel Lockwood). I want, however, to refer to some of the remarks made by the hon. Baronet opposite (Sir F. Banbury), because, if he will allow me to say so, it seemed to me that the objections that he took to the Bill were just the type of objection which is made by so many people to a Bill of this character when much thought is not given to it. The hon. Baronet said, first of all, that in a matter like this we want to be guided by our heads as well as by our hearts. That is a very true remark, and I think that if the hon. Baronet considers the matter he will see that in this matter we are being guided by our heads. He might make that remark sometimes when we pass legislation, just to get rid of a difficulty, without going into its source. One has only to allude to some of the problems which have been recently before this House to illustrate that. We were discussing yesterday deficiencies in the Insurance Act. If we are to make up those deficiencies, we have to raise the whole standard of the health of the country. The way to do that is to begin with the children. Recently we have been discussing questions of wages, and the desire to give a minimum wage. If we are going to do that we shall have to make people worth that wage. The reason why so many are not, or said not to be, is because of their poor physical standard. If we are going to deal adequately with the question of wages, we must deal with this question of the health of the people. It is just the same with regard to unemployment. One of the reasons why there is so much unemployment is because so many of the people are physically unfit for employment. We have now begun to give State money for unemployment. If we use our heads as well as our hearts we shall try and deal with the difficulty in the early stages, and so prevent boys and girls growing up to be men and women who are not physically fit. From that standpoint a case is made out.

Take it from the standpoint of the Army. It is only ten years or so since the country was startled by being told that in one year 50 per cent. of the recruits for the Army were rejected because they were not physically fit. The last figures, I think, show that about 24 per cent. of recruits were rejected. Simply taking it from that standpoint, the standpoint of defence, surely the first thing that we have to do is to rear a strong, virile people? If we are going to do that, we must prevent in the schools, if we can, all those things which lead to bad health. If that is good for people who are going into the Army, it is good for the civilian—if it is necessary that he should be robust, strong, and physically fit ! So I hope that the Government will be encouraged, not only to support this measure, but to look to enlarging the scope of the measure at an early date, because I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Oxford University was right when he said that if the principle of this Bill be accepted we were bound to deal with the children in the early stages. If we use our heads in this matter, we shall find that we have to go back to an earlier age than even the school age in dealing with these children; to try and see that from the very days of birth children who need it are given what is necessary to make them physically fit.

4.0 P.M.

This is a hopeful question. The medical men, I think, say, notwithstanding all our slums, bad conditions, and poverty, that 90 per cent. of the children born are born healthy. We know perfectly well that by the time they get into the schools 50 per cent. of them are ailing in one way or another. It cannot be in the true interests of national economy to allow that deterioration to go on. I believe that any Government which really considers this question and tries to grapple with it will be forced to take hold of it even in the earlier days. In regard to the actual Bill that is before us I think there will be general agreement that my hon. Friend is right when he asks for State aid for this measure. I hope there will be general agreement that he is wise to dispense with the limitation of the halfpenny rate. I hope, also, that the House will consider that it is the right thing to consider this question in relation to medical service. The hon. Baronet opposite said his view was that this matter should come under the Poor Law. I absolutely dissent from him. This question is not to be considered from the standpoint of poverty. It has to be considered from the medical standpoint and the physical condition of the child. It is not the fault of these children that they are in this position. Anyone who has given any thought to this question would wish to remove the children from the survey of the Poor Law and bring them within the province of the Education Department. Further, I think we shall agree with what has been said as to the need for the administration of this Act being as thorough and as efficient as can be. We want the right kind of food given. We want meals to be sufficiently frequent. We want also that the meals should be made educational. I was interested in seeing in the Report of the medical officer for the constituency which my hon. Friend opposite and myself represent, that this point is specially alluded to—that is, the need for making the actual meals educational. By that is meant teaching the children the virtues of courtesy and politeness, so that when they come under the province of the chairman of the Kitchen Committee, they will behave themselves in the proper fashion. These meals can be, and should be, made educational. Again, I think if we consider this question from a medical standpoint we shall see that it is necessary to provide the meals during holidays, because we desire that these children should be made physically fit for the great duties of life.

In the matter of compulsion, I think it largely depends upon the amount of the Grant that the Government are willing to give. If they pay the whole cost, of course they can compel. If they pay 75 per cent. probably they can compel. If they are only going to pay something like 50 per cent., I am not sure whether the most important thing is not to stimulate authorities that are willing by the larger Grant, rather than the Department during the next two or three years should be troubled and harassed by having to prosecute unwilling authorities. Therefore, whilst in some ways disappointed with the speech of the President of the Board, I believe this question very largely depends upon the amount of the Grant that the Government are willing to give. I believe the more you look into this question the more you will find that ineffective nutrition lies at the base of all forms of degeneracy. I agree with a recent Prussian Minister of Education when he said:— The The people's school has more to do than merely to teach the vehicles of culture, reading, writing, and arithmetic; the chief aim is rather the preparation of citizens who can and will cheerfully serve their God and their country.


I am sure the House all round must have felt itself elevated up into an atmosphere much higher than ordinary. We have all been able mentally to praise ourselves for our infinite amount of charity, but when I come to deal with definite speeches delivered I find myself rather puzzled. My right hon. Friend the Member for Essex (Colonel Lockwood) told us this Bill was an excellent one, but that it required a great many changes. He told us that the parent in other countries was more apt to care for its own child than in England. We are going to teach the parent by this Bill to care less for its child. One hon. Gentleman indulged in a great deal of perfervid eloquence in a speech with which we are all perfectly agreed, but he did not by any means commit himself to its principle. The hon. Member from Ireland who spoke told us that he was quite in favour of the Bill, but he indulged in some sarcasm on my hon. Friend the Member for the City of London (Sir F. Banbury). He told us he was not going to move his Instruction that the Bill should apply to Ireland, not only for its defects, but because he found there was a profound objection in Ireland to the Bill. Although in Ireland perhaps there is more need for it, because there is more poverty and more suspicion of malnutrition of children, yet the hon. Member would not like to see this Bill applied to Ireland. But we are all agreed upon One point, and that is that children in this country must be nourished, and nourished properly. The question is not one of passing this Bill, but rather how are you to do that best. I say it must not only be done effectively, but you must consider how to do it with the least injury to the great social economy of this country. Are you doing that? Have we proceeded according to any methods that any sane legislature would accept.

A Bill of this sort dealing with the very fundamental truths upon which our social system is based is a Bill that should be brought forward by the Government, and have fitted in with the rest of their legislation, and should have been made part of their Poor Law, and not be left to be introduced by a private Member's Bill. The Bill of 1906 was a private Member's Bill. This Bill is a private Member's Bill, but the President of the Board of Education said he cannot accept various parts of it. He absolutely rejects the grand principle which is to compel local authorities to do their duty by the compulsion of their officials. Still, we are told we are to pass the Bill, and that we are all agreed on it. The hon. Member who has just sat down delivered his speech but does not wait for an answer. He indulged in vague aspirations on the necessity of improving the manners of the children and improving the physique of the children—for the sake of the Army. What has this to do with the provisions of the Bill? If you pass the Bill, will the manners of the children be better at the school canteen? How do you improve the choice of dishes or the table manners of the people? That is indulging in rodomontade which has no practical bearing on the question. You must educate the children, but you will have to do something more. It is easy for hon. Members to say that they are not talking about clothing children, but why not? Because that has not been brought forward and it has not become a popular subject, but anyone who knows the life of the children and the conditions under which they are brought up as well as I do, knows that clothing is quite as great, and perhaps a greater, difficulty than the question of feeding to-day. I have seen children within a few hundred yards of this House spending money upon their trashy food, which they are able to purchase at places provided by His Majesty's Office of Works, which destroys their health and their digestion. I have seen them with their little limbs in boots that did not fit them, and ill-made clothes in which they could not move their bodies according to any wholesome rules.

It is as much our duty to see that the children are clothed well as it is to see that they are fed, but it is our imperious duty to take care that we do not do that in a way which will injure the character and lessen parental responsibility and thus encourage the wastrel, who can in this way throw his burdens on the nation and yet be on an equality with the hardworking, thrifty parent. It is all very well to indulge, as the hon. Member opposite did, in a denunciation of the wastrel at a time when you are doing everything you can to encourage him. You tell the wastrel that if he goes to the Poor Law for relief you will deprive him of his vote, but if he does not perform the duty of feeding his children, and leaves them to be fed by the Poor Law authorities; that is to be no stain upon him, and he is to be the equal of the industrious and the hard-working parent. I ask hon. Members to perform that duty with caution and with due safeguards. The duty of proposing such changes, which strike at the very root of our social economy, rests upon the Government, and not upon private Members. Proposals of this kind ought to be introduced as part of the great system, and not by patches and tatters introduced by private Members.

Look at the Bill itself. We have been told in eloquent terms by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Islington (Mr. Lough) that we should accept the principle and not mind the details. What is the principle? I wish I could find out a clear principle in the Bill. I have read the Memorandum, and all I can say about it is that it does not correspond in the least with the provisions of the Bill. The Memorandum introduced something like compulsion, and it says the final responsibility for saying whether a child is or is not underfed is to be taken away from the local education authorities and imposed upon school medical officers, the medical officer of health, or other medical official. [An HON. MEMBER: "Hear, hear.") An hon. Member opposite cheers that remark, but, unfortunately, when I look at the Bill I find that such a provision does not exist in it, and no such power is given to the medical officer. That principle vanishes from the Bill as soon as you begin to touch it. I stated this fact to a legal friend of mine, and he said, "Certainly that principle is in the Bill, and it is a compulsory power." I asked him to point it out in the Bill, and he had to reply, "I see it is only in the Memorandum, and it is not in the Bill." Is that really sound legislation? The Bill says that you may ask for medical inspection, and then, if medical inspection determines that there is insufficient feeding, the local education authority have the duty of carrying it out. There is medical inspection, there are medical reports, there is a Care Committee in all the large schools, and there ought to be a Care Committee under every local education authority. Anyone who knows, as I do, the work from week to week of these Care Committees—I have very close connection with them—and the way in which those who sit upon them go and see the children, attending the medical inspection, and hear the medical officer's reports, and then prescribe what is necessary in the way of feeding, knows that to say that the local education authorities have completely neglected their duties, is a libel on our local government. There is an immense deal of this work done, and an immense deal of care spent upon it, and I do not think that in London there is a child who has not a chance of being properly fed. Another point in the Bill, no doubt, is that it attempts to do away with the limit of the Grant. That I suppose is another point on which hon. Members support the Bill. Unfortunately, although the memorandum indicates that, the Bill itself does not do away with the limit. The Bill in Clause 2 says that the local authority may spend out of the rates such sums as may be necessary.


Look at Clause 6.


It does not repeal the Clause which limits it to a halfpenny rate, which is the one thing, as anyone who knows anything of drafting knows ought to be done, and which, I think, ought to be done and cannot be done too soon. I remember I had doubts about the Act of 1906, and grievous accusations were brought against me for my cruelty of heart and hard-heartedness, but the doubts I felt in 1906 were confirmed by the facts before the Select Committee on which I sat. We heard a great number of witnesses from Scotland, witnesses freely called, and not a single witness from Scotland was in favour of the Bill. I remember pointing out at the time that Bill was before the House that the limit of a halfpenny rate was a piece of absolute illogical nonsense, and saying that if you had to feed the children you could not limit the amount. You must do the thing properly, and if a penny, twopence, or threepence were necessary you ought to be empowered to charge it. Unfortunately, although you have attempted to repeal the limit in your Bill, your draftsman has not had skill enough to do it. Lastly, there is the question of this holiday feeding. I sat on the Committee, and I have studied the question closely, and I can say that there is a great deal of exaggeration about it. We fixed the number of children in London who suffered from insufficient nutrition at about 55,000, and it turned out, in practical working, that we were very nearly correct, although since, I think, it has been rather reduced, and is now about 44,000. We were told very clearly that a very large part of the evil came not from want of nutrition, but from malnutrition, and there is to be found the secret of the difficulty. After the holidays, it is said, children come back ill-fed, and it is because during the holidays they wander about the street and eat the garbage and other miserable trash which is given them at the barrows, and sometimes, I think, some of that most unwholesome trash that is produced by the hon. Member for the City of York (Mr. Rowntree). Perhaps if he would use his eloquence to prevent the substitution of that material for really wholesome food he would do much more good. This question is one not of education, but of the Poor Law. If the Government had not been occupied with vote-catching they might have dealt with the Poor Law. They have a duty cast upon them to do that, and they are not relieved of that duty because some of their followers try to take little patches of the work and deal with it in homœopathic morsels. This question of the Poor Law requires to be dealt with in a large and comprehensive way. The Government have neglected their duty in this respect, and it will not be fulfilled by transferring this matter in the way now proposed. That would only tend to injure the system both of the Poor Law and of education. Bit by bit yearly the work of education is being turned into something entirely different; your educational authorities are dealing far more with matters of social economy arid with popular movements for relieving the poorer classes of their responsibility than with the real question of education. Keep your educational authorities to their own work, and let the Government bring forward, for the approval of this House, proposals far more useful than any in which they have lately been engaged—let them bring forward a complete and comprehensive system for reforming our Poor Laws.


One must have been struck this afternoon by the high level of the speeches delivered and the detachment they have shown from party considerations, and even in the case of the hon. Member for the Glasgow and Aberdeen Universities (Sir H. Craik) that note was sustained until he came to his closing remark, which indicated his inability, if I may say so, to rise above party considerations. As far as I am concerned, I am in sympathy with, and intend to vote for this Bill. Reference has been made to the case of Ireland. Some time ago the Corporation of Dublin passed a resolution in favour of the very principle involved in this measure, and we should be glad indeed if an opportunity offered of bringing Ireland within the scope of this Bill, but notwithstanding the good-humoured criticisms of the last speaker on the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Donegal, I think it would be absolutely impossible to bring Ireland under the operation of the Bill, because if we look at the very title of the measure, "A Bill to amend the Education (Administrative Provisions) Act, 1907, and the Education (Provision of Meals) Act, 1906," he will see that neither of those Acts applies to Ireland, and that it would be absolutely impossible by any Amendment of this Bill to give Ireland the benefit of its operations. If any hon. Member above the Gangway assumes from that fact that we are opposed to the principle underlying the Bill, he is utterly mistaken. The hon. Gentleman who has just sat down suggested, in very vague language, that there was some sinister influence which would prevent hon. Members from Ireland supporting a measure of this kind. I am not aware of any such influence; on the contrary, speaking as one of the Members for Dublin, I am aware of the great anxiety among responsible people in Dublin and, indeed, throughout Ireland to avail themselves, if possible, of a measure of this kind. One regrets being obliged to say it, but, unfortunately, anybody who is acquainted with the conditions of life in Dublin, and anybody who has been born and reared in that city, must be aware that there is a great deal of unavoidable poverty under present conditions, and accordingly there is a very pressing necessity for some measure of this kind to deal with the children of the poor in Dublin. Reference was made in the early part of the Debate to the possibility that such a Bill would be abused by some parents. Surely that fact is no reason why the children of those parents who would not abuse it should not get the relief the Bill proposes to give them. We had a very interesting speech from the hon. Baronet (Sir F. Banbury) earlier in the afternoon. He is always interesting and sometimes illuminating. I thought he was particularly illuminating to-day, because he told us—I do not know whether he was speaking for his leaders—that, so far as he was concerned, he did not believe that the party to which he belonged were other than human beings. Some of us are under the impression that some of his leaders think they are heaven-sent.


I said we were honest.


I was not dealing so much with the honesty of the party above the Gangway, but with the hon. Baronet's statement that he regarded them as human beings. I have risen to repudiate the suggestion on behalf of the city of Dublin that we would not be very anxious, if possible, to conic within the scope of this measure. The Bill in its objects and principles has my hearty support, and I am going to vote for it.


I honestly want to compliment the hon. Baronet the Member for the City of London (Sir F. Banbury) on the kindly way he has referred to this Bill. Indeed, I have not the slightest objection to the tone of the Mover or the Seconder of its rejection. What one cannot quite understand is the fact that everybody gets up and praises the Bill and says we are human beings, and all the rest of it, and then launches off into reasons why they cannot do anything. They speak of parental control and parental responsibility, while all the time the poor children are going without food, which is the most important thing. We ask that the local authority should have power to feed children as necessity arises. I want to appeal to the loyalist side of the House to consider this: I have known loyal celebrations to be held, in connection with which workshops have been closed down for the day, which means the loss of a day's work, and probably no dinner for the children on Sunday. These men say, "We would like to go and demonstrate our loyalty, but what can we do? It means the loss of four or five shillings a day to us." We are told that in cases of distress we should turn to the Poor Law. The moment that the Poor Law was suggested in connection with the Insurance Act a cry of horror went up. Then you would think from the glib way in which hon. Members talk of the Poor Law that it is quite easy to get Poor Law relief. An actual experience of the Poor Law would paralyse the scientific philosophy of the hon. Gentleman who has just addressed the House. They have a wonderful theory that you may not feed a person except in cases of sudden and urgent necessity. You cannot starve suddenly. You gradually get into that condition, but when you are starving it is very urgent. But how can you have both? You cannot have anything sudden and urgent. We hear frequently about parental responsibility, but there is also parental opportunity. I am not talking of the man with 25s or 30s., or any weekly wages at all. I am talking of the enormous number of casual labourers whose wages are very uncertain, from half-a-crown to 10s. a week. I met on Friday night, after I left this House, a man with a pound of steak in his hand. Let hon. Members think of this who talk of parental responsibility and thrift ! The man was the worse for drink. There is an awful crime ! He said to me. "Give us a loaf of bread !" I looked at him and said, "It is a pity you have not spent your 4d. in another way." His answer was, "I have earned four bob to-day, and it is the first four bob I have earned for a fortnight, and I am going to have a bust to-night if I never have another." Would the hon. and learned Gentleman preach thrift to that man? How would you tell him to look after his little children? I can produce a report in which it is said that it is to the advantage of a constituency that there should be a reservoir of casual labour. That means to say that when they have no casual work they should remain on hand, and when there is they may be taken out of the reservoir and put to work. Who is going to feed them while they are in the reservoir? They say do not do that or you will interfere with self-reliance and manly respect, and the poor are so good to one another. I know that, but it is too little they have to give, and if the asset of the nation depends on some of the philosophy we hear in this House, I doubt whether you would get very many strong children. We live in an age which I am proud to say I have lived in during my lifetime. We have lived till now, when everyone vies with everyone else to find out what they can do for the children. Everyone wants to help the children. Let us discuss in the abstract parental neglect and all the rest of it. We are with you. We think the money could be better spent, but remember the awful temptation to a half-starving man when he gets a shilling in his hand. Remember the den he has to go home to. Remember the hungry faces which are facing him at holiday time as well as any other time. It is an opportunity of joy for you. When is the Easter vacation? When are we going to have a little recreation? When are we going to recoup? But these are times of sorrow for the poor.


I do not come within the category referred to by the hon. Member, I not only sympathise with the Bill, but I want to actively support it in every possible way I can. It is never agreeable to find oneself differing in one's views profoundly from one's own friends and colleagues with whom usually one is working in such very close harmony. The hon. Gentleman (Sir H. Craik) said that in his mind the great objection to this Bill was that it was upholding and legislating for the wastrel and the unfit at the expense of the fit and the thrifty. Corning from the very centre of the Black Country, born in it myself, going through districts two days ago where the conditions of life are almost unknown to the majority of Members of both sides of the House, one is bound to come to the conclusion, and I have come to it, that the great bulk of the evils with regard to the wastrels and unfit in this country are due to the evils of the social system, for which, in my opinion, you are not doing anything. There is another way in which, I am afraid, some of us look at these problems differently to other Members. There are two general points of view from which you can regard all these great questions. You may take the abstract, or perhaps the theoretical, point of view, and when I take that point of view, I say without hesitation that I am very largely in agreement with both of the hon. Gentlemen who proposed and seconded the rejection of the Bill. Personally I would far rather find a better means of dealing with the problem than this particular Bill. If you ask me whether, in its general principle and in the abstract, I regard it as sound and good, I answer that I do not.

I might point out that the fundamental way of really getting at the root cause of the evil which the Bill attempts to deal with is to see that people have got sufficient income to enable them to feed their children. [Cheers.] I am very glad to think that hon. Members agree with me. Next week, or the week after, when I propose to introduce a Bill dealing with wages I hope I will get a very great deal of support from my hon. Friends here. In this matter we have got to look at the practical circumstances and the concrete facts that meet us in every day life. While I would much rather see these great social problems dealt with together in a way where we could find, from the national expenditure point of view, a better means of dealing with them, still on the concrete facts which stare us face to face, I am only too glad to accept the proposal laid down in this Bill. Why? Not because it is absolutely the best way of dealing with the matter, but because, if we do not deal with it in this way, ten years will probably pass before we get an opportunity of doing anything else. There was a great deal in the speeches made by the hon. Member for West Islington and the hon. Member for York, and, from my point of view, they really touched the roots of the trouble more than anybody else who has spoken to-day. What is the great outstanding fact shown by every report from medical officers of boroughs and counties with regard to the inspection of children? I cannot speak from memory as to the exact figures, but the reports, one and all, went to show that if we want to deal with the health of the people in the cheapest possible manner, we must begin at an earlier date. We must begin, not merely on the day children are born, but with the mothers themselves before the children are born. I rose particularly to refer to one point. There has been very little reference on either side of the House to the financial requirements which this Bill involves. The hon. Member for Bradford gave figures with regard to the difficulties in Bradford of dealing with the matter because of the smallness of the amount produced by a halfpenny rate in that city. But in the Constituency which I represent a halfpenny rate only brings in £450. How much worse off is a town like that in the black country compared with the great industrial borough of Bradford. The President of the Board of Education I know does sympathise with these great towns which are unable to consider the question of giving increases of salaries to their teachers, though they recognise that it ought to be done, because they have not the money to do it. The great and serious problem which we have all to bear in mind is: how is the money going to be found? How much is going to be put on the local rates? How are those necessitous districts, which to-day cannot adequately meet the educational requirements of their areas to find the additional money for carrying out the provisions of this Bill? I am delighted with what seems the moderation of this Bill. A great many proposals come from hon. Members below the Gangway opposite with which I utterly disagree because of the extremities to which they carry their proposals, which otherwise I would like to support, and it is owing to the moderate spirit in which this Bill is brought forward by the hon. Member for Bradford that I think he will this afternoon find such general support as will ensure that this Bill will be afforded a Second Reading.


I desire to say why I am about to vote for the Second Reading of this Bill. I am glad to think that on this occasion I am in agreement with my colleague in the representation of York. The principle of this Bill is not now disputed. It has been conceded by the legislation of 1906, and I think that that consideration supplies an answer to a great deal of what has fallen from the hon. Member for Glasgow University. It is too late to object to the principle of feeding starving children. Reference has been made to the great responsibility which falls on parents. I should be the last to say that that responsibility should not be recognised and strengthened, but in this matter what I am chiefly thinking about is not so much the parents as the children themselves. It is a grim and tragic thing to contemplate half-starved children being sent to school in a condition which renders them incapable of profiting by the instruction given. It is absolute inhumanity to send such poor children to school in such circumstances, and I venture to suggest that they should be enabled to attend in a condition which fits them to profit by the instruction given. Is it not a farce that through our educational machinery children in need of food should be compelled to go to school though they are not able to derive benefit from the instruction given there? I agree with my hon. Friend who has just spoken that, after all, this Bill is only a negative Bill, a makeshift to meet a deeper and growing evil. The only way to meet this and similar evils is to look forward to the time when there will be an improvement in the wages of the country, which will remove those evils with which this Bill seeks to deal, but until that time, and so long as these evils do exist, I think it is only right that we should extend the principle which this House has already adopted, and seek to remove, or, at any rate, effectively deal with evils which admittedly call for remedy.


I think this Bill has an excellent object though it is an extremely bad Bill. Still, I shall support it. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh !"] The Committee upstairs will practically redraft it. The worst blemishes in this Bill appear to me to he these: First of all, you abolish the limit of the halfpenny rate. No doubt that was a bad limit to have, because it has acted unequally as between rich districts and poor. At the same time, I do not think it best to allow the local authorities to spend money on feeding school children without some limit of some kind. We all know that many local authorities are exceedingly extravagant, some of them with the best motives. We remember the dietary which was approved of by the Poplar Board of Guardians. I think it would be a very great danger to the ratepayers if such a dietary were set up in the elementary schools of the country. The obvious way in which you ought to limit the expenditure is not by proceeding on any fraction of a penny rate, but according to the amount spent per meal per child. It seems to me that is a method which could easily be adopted, and would be very satisfactory. This Bill absolutely scraps the present machinery under which local authorities compel these parents who are in a position to pay for food to do so. At the present time it may be that a small revenue is obtained by this method, but a number of parents are induced to keep their children, knowing that if they neglect the duty which they are in a position to carry out, the local authority, under the Act of 1906, will be obliged to recover the cost of the feeding of their children in the Law Courts. If you take away this check, undoubtedly it will very largely increase the number of children that will have recourse to the rates. At the present time the feeding of school children is in the hands of admirable local committees. They do very good work; they inquire into the necessities of individual cases, and I think it is a very great mistake to do away with those committees in the way the Bill proposes. Apart from that you transfer the responsibility which is at present in the hands of the local authority, to the hands of the medical officer of health, who is not responsible to the ratepayers. For those reasons I think that when the Bill goes upstairs, it will need very drastic redrafting, and I hope that the Committee will bear in mind the very glaring defects which ought to be made right.

Sir J. D. REES

I cannot understand why this Bill should go upstairs with the principle of compulsion in it. The right hon. Gentleman who answered for the Government followed the usual course of the Government on a Friday afternoon. He poured butter on the heads of the hon. Members who introduced the Bill, and then proceeded to say that, though the Government heartily sympathised with everything they said, they could not support the compulsion which the hon. Member for Bradford (Mr. Jowett) had introduced in this Bill. It was just the same last Friday with the blind. I thought it was an understood thing that if a Bill passed the House of Commons and went upstairs that its main principles were to be agreed to. In this case the very chief principle of the Bill is not agreed upon. Even the Government itself which makes this recommendation in order to maintain harmonious relations with hon. Gentlemen below the Gangway—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."]—I maintain it is for that reason. Why did the right hon. Gentleman cut out that which is the most precious part of his hon. Friend's programme. I submit this is one of those Bills which is laid before the House without any calculation of cost—a Bill dear to the heart of the Chancellor of the Exchequer—in which the principle is passed without any regard to the cost on the ratepayers and the taxpayers, and then it is sent upstairs in the hope that it will never be heard of again, and the Government will enjoy all the credit of having supported it. I was particularly glad that the hon. Member for Woolwich (Mr. Crooks) spoke, because, eloquent as are his words, his acts are far more eloquent. He had the opportunity of translating his principles into acts in Poplar, with the result that, while he gave everything to everybody who asked—at other people's expense—so much were the rates raised in that unhappy borough that industries left that part and the last state of the poor was far worse than the first. It is not humanity to make vague recommendations without regard to their cost. First of all, we should count the cost in every case. This extra cost falls indirectly upon the poor. If there were time, as there clearly is not, I would like to have quoted in regard to what the hon. Member for Lanark referred to, the Report on the diet of the poor in Glasgow of the physiological department of Glasgow University, in which it is stated that the extraction of a penny from the pockets of the poor—it is true I am speaking of the Insurance Act, but the same applies to this Bill—creates such difficulty with regard to their diet that it causes far more detriment than would result from any benefits such as are designed to be given by the Insurance Act. [Interruption.] Since I cannot make myself heard, I am afraid I must bring my remarks to a close.


I desire to suggest some reasons why this Bill is a necessary corollary of another private Member's Bill. The hon. Member for Carlisle (Mr. Denman) has upstairs in Committee a Bill, which I am opposing to the best of my ability, to extend the compulsory school age to fifteen. That is done in the name of free education. It is a simple farce to talk about free education in this country while we have poor people with large families on whom we impose these conditions without having provided them with the means of keeping their children at school. Therefore, whilst I oppose the compulsion, which deals a blow at parental authority and responsibility, I support the Second Reading of this Bill as heartily as I oppose the other, because it is the natural corollary. If you are going to give what you call "free" education—or, not give it, but impose it—you must provide means for feeding children who receive that education.


I rise because the only way to get this Bill through without a Division to-night is to speak for the next two or three minutes—

Question, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question," put, and agreed to.

Main Question put, and agreed to.

Bill read a second time, and committed to a Standing Committee.