HC Deb 11 December 1928 vol 223 cc1902-5

asked the President of the Board of Education if he can give a detailed statement of the needs of school children in the West Riding of Yorkshire as to food, boots and shoes, and clothing, and the extent to which these needs are being met by the activities of his Department?

The PRESIDENT of the BOARD of EDUCATION (Lord Eustace Percy)

I apologise for the length of this answer. There are 22 education authorities in the West Riding. Of these, during the week ended 1st December, 12 were providing meals for 5,000 children. I have, as yet, received no official return from the West Riding county authority, but I understand that they also are now feeding about 1,000 children. Of the remaining nine authorities, some are understood to be making preparations for feeding. Surveys by the authorities' medical officers of the condition of the children were conducted in a number of the areas last summer, and recently in the Barnsley area. The results of the surveys varied considerably in different areas, e.g., 8 per cent. of the children were found to be malnourished in the districts of the county surveyed, and 3.6 per cent. in Barnsley. In Doncaster, Pontefract, Rotherham, and Sheffield, the surveys failed to reveal at that time any abnormal conditions. The surveys are concerned primarily with the state of nutrition of the children, and I have not the same amount of information in regard to boots and clothing, but they tended to confirm what is generally known as to the unsatisfactory state of the children's boots and clothing in the distressed areas. Thus, in the West Riding survey of last summer, 21 per cent. of the 44,000 children examined were found to have had hoots in the recent Barnsley survey, approximately, 6 per cent. were returned as badly clothed.


In view of the fact that the examination seems to have been undertaken mainly during the summer, and in view of the very serious developments since then, does the Noble Lord propose to give further co-operation in the West Riding?


I am in constant communication with the West Riding. The whole point of my action was to get the surveys made at the end of the summer, before the schools broke up, so that preparations might be made for meeting the situation in the winter.


Will the Noble Lord make some such arrangement as that which I understood him to say he has made in South Wales, so that, where children are being fed and the parents are receiving outdoor relief, nothing shall be deducted?


I think that that is the case, but I should like notice of the question.


In view of the statement which the Noble Lord has just made, and which refers to an area that is not usually considered to be among the most distressed areas, does he not think that that is a good reason for his Government proceeding with the Bill which was introduced the other day by my hon. Friend the Member for Wall-send (Miss Bondfield)?


In view of the figures which the Noble Lord has given, may we expect that we shall receive his support for that Bill?


I think that, if hon. Members wish for a statement of the Government's attitude on that Bill, they had better give notice, but I should like to point out that the Bill as drafted refers only to the areas where distress is most acute.


Has the Noble Lord made up his mind with regard to the Bill?

Viscountess ASTOR

Does not the fact that the Bill only refers to the areas where distress is most acute show that it is rather a reasonable Bill?


I am afraid that the trouble is that the areas which are most acutely distressed could not afford to bear the cost of even 10 per cent. of a new service of this kind.


If the Noble Lord is not satisfied with the Bill, will he present a Bill of his own?


In view of the rather remarkable statement which the Noble Lord has just made, does he mean to suggest that the fact that an area might be too distressed to provider even 10 per cent. is a reason for the Government doing nothing at all?


No, certainly not; as was stated by the Prime Minister, an announcement of what the Government intend to do will be made in a few days.

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