HC Deb 10 December 1929 vol 233 cc331-55

(1) The Minister, after consultation with the Board of Education, shall, subject to regulations made with the approval of the Treasury, make arrangements with local education authorities for the provision, so far as is practicable, of approved courses of instruction for inured contributors under the age of eighteen years who claim benefit.

(2) In any case where a person, being an insured contributor who is under the age of eighteen years and has been unemployed for such period as may be prescribed, claims benefit, it shall be the duty of the Minister, if there is an approved course of instruction at which that person can reasonably be required to attend, to cause notice in writing in the prescribed form to be given to him informing bins that such a course is available, and that if he fails without good cause to attend the course he will be disqualified for the receipt of benefit, and if it is shown that such notice as aforesaid was given to any such person and that on any day lie did not duly attend the course of instruction in accordance with the notice, he shall, unless he shows that he had good cause for not so attending, be disqualified for the receipt of benefit in respect of that day.

(3) For the purposes of this section the expression "approved courses of instruction" means courses of instruction approved under paragraph (v) of Sub-section (1) of Section seven of the principal Act. —[Miss Bondfield.]

Brought up, and read the First time.


I beg to move, "That the Clause be read a Second time."

We had a very considerable Debate on this question at an earlier stage of the Bill, and I do not wish to take up the time of the Committee by going over again the statement of the case. I very cordially move this new Clause, and I hope that it will meet with satisfaction from hon. Members who have shown a very real interest in the question.


I thank the Minister for putting this Clause into the Bill. Some of us have watched with considerable anxiety the bringing of young people into insurance. We are very anxious that the young people should not too soon be launched into the world of industry. We desire that as long as possible they should be kept in the world of education. Unfortunately in 1931 children will only be kept at school until the age of 15. I hope that the time will come when we shall keep them there until the age of 16. During the Debates great contrasts have been drawn by hon. Members opposite between the children of the poor and the children of the rich, and special reference has been made to the great advantages in regard to training and education which are open to the children of the rich. The great advantage which they have is that they have greater provision and care made for them in regard to education, and we consider that the same opportunity should be given to poorer children. This Clause will help in that direction.

We want to feel that when young persons become employed that they are not tree from supervision and care, but that when they pass from industry and become unemployed they will pass, as it were, under the operation of this new Clause, into the world of education, where they will still be looked after. The words of the Clause assure us that the Minister is going to do what we asked her to do, and that is to make arrangements with the local education authorities for the provision, so far as is practicable, of approved courses of instruction. I take it that that means that, in conjunction with the President of the Board of Education, she is going to make great efforts to provide such courses of instruction. That is the only real meaning that the Clause can have, if it is to be any help to the children. It is a great improvement to the Bill and it will give great value to numbers of young people. We do not want, in this Bill, to make the children grow up too soon. We want to preserve the home influence and the school influence so long as we can. Because the new Clause does go a great way in doing that, I thank the Minister for having brought it forward, and I congratulate the Committee on the fact that we have improved the Bill by putting such a Clause into it.

Viscountess ASTOR

I am very pleased that the Minister has seen fit to bring in this new Clause, but I feel it is dependent on too many things. It says: after consultation with the Board of Education, shall, subject to regulations made with the approval of the Treasury, make arrangements to local authorities for the provision, so far as is practicable, of approved courses of instruction for insured contributors under the age of eighteen years who claim benefit. 7.0 p m

We do not know what the Minister of Education has to say, because during the whole of this Debate we have not been able to get one word out of him. We know perfectly well what the Treasury is going to say, because, if the Treasury is willing to take money from children of 15 years of age, it is perfectly obvious that it is not going to give anything new towards the development of these centres. If the Government are really thinking of the children, why did the Minister leave out the most important recommendation of the Shaftesbury Committee, namely, the training of juveniles? We know how few centres there are—only 31 local education authorities out of 371 have got them. It is not going to be made any easier to start them; on the contrary, owing to the Regulation which the right hon. Lady issued in September, it is going to be much more difficult for local authorities to start them. In fact so much so, that I do not think the Committee realises that in the first report of the National Advisory Council on Juvenile Employment, there is a reservation made in the names of Mr. Conley, Mr. Elvin, Sir Percy Jackson, Mr. Keen, Mr. Ben Turner and Miss J. Varley. I think the Committee would like to know what they said: We feel with much regret compelled to record our view that the criteria for establishing centres are much too stringent to encourage, indeed to enable, the establishment of centres in many areas in which they are necessary. In particular we believe that the insistence that there should be 35 juvenile claimants on the register before a centre can be established, is likely to make it impossible to establish centres, for it must be borne in mind that a juvenile cannot become a claimant until he or she is at least 16 years and 30 weeks of age. The scheme, however, is intended to provide for juveniles of from 14 to 18 years of age. We attach special importance to the clause of the report noting that the scheme is regarded in many respects as experimental, and but for that clause, we should not have felt able to accept the report. The circular sent out by the right hon. Lady is far more reactionary than anything that the late Government sent out. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] I wish hon. Members would listen instead of interrupting me. It is very difficult really to carry on an argument, but it is very easy to interrupt—any ass can do that. If you are going to have a centre in an area of five miles, you must have 50 juveniles unemployed, 35 of them have to be drawing the benefit, and, if the average attendance falls below 40, the centre can be closed. If that Order had been in operation, we should never have got juvenile employment centres established. For instance, in Plymouth, where they have been established and are flourishing, there are five of them, but, if this Order were enforced, they would be closed. This is a most reactionary Order, and it is no wonder that Miss Varley, Mr. Ben Turner and Sir Percy Jackson have put in a protest.

We know that there are certain moments when the children get to work; in the month before Christmas, for instance. It falls off, and again in the summer it falls off. Under this circular, any local authorities who do not want centres—and there are many who obviously do not want them because only 31 out of 371 have started them—are going to be enabled to shut down these centres. When the right hon. Lady's Bill comes into operation, there is going to be a positive shortage of juveniles. She might have said that there was something happening in the country which we deplore, namely, that the children are going into industry at 14 and are being turned out at 16, and that we have always protested against that And think it a crime. I, personally, welcome the raising of the school age and the lowering of the age of insurance, but by the time that this Clause comes into operation there should be no juvenile unemployment, and the dangerous thing is that it will be very difficult, from the educational point of view. Most of the local authorities who are really progressive think that, and they are positively alarmed. We all know the horror of blind-alley employment. I think it is even worse if you take a child whose parents are willing to exploit it, and they may have to do so on account of their own low wages. We have the greatest difficulty in persuading parents to allow the children to go on, although we know that in the end those children will make far more from staying on at school a year or two more. There are some who do not want it, and think of the temptation it is going to be to them to take their children from school as soon as they have sufficient certificates and put them into work and then pull them out and draw the dole.

The right hon. Lady is really thinking too much about insurance and not enough about the children themselves. It is from that point of view that I do not feel satisfied about this Clause. It is better than nothing, but why was it not in the original Bill? That is what I do not understand. The child ought not to draw benefit unless it attends a centre or continuation class. It should be forced to attend some educational centre. Can the right hon. Lady assure us that she has some pledge from the Minister of Education and something from the Treasury, even if it is going to be a little more expensive? Is she going to say that in those areas, where there are not 50 unemployed children within a radius of five miles, those children are to get some sort of instruction I want to know, because I am certain, if the late Government had brought in this Clause, there would have been such a howl that it would have been heard from here to Timbuctoo It would have been said: "There are those wicked capitalists exploiting the children and not thinking of education." That is what we have had for 4½ years. We know, whatever hon. Members opposite feel about juveniles, they feel that our one object was to exploit them. I think the Government are exploiting them over insurance and that they are not thinking of the future question of raising the school age. I am thinking of it.

Education is one of the most important things this country has to face—advanced education. We know it is no good telling us that this is to get the children to stay on at school. When they get a certain number of certificates, they can go into a job and get out and draw the unemployment benefit without even going to centres, because in some places they will not have centres. I should hate my child going into a blind alley occupation, but I would rather he went into that than sit at home and do nothing—from the point of view of his character. This is not insurance for the purpose of education. It is only going to make it easier for those who do not want their children to be educated if they stay at home. It is all very well people telling you that the whole world is made up of keen educationists. It is nothing of the kind. If it were, we should have a different world. I have no doubt that hon. Members regret the lack of education as much as I do. If we had had an educated democracy, it would have been a more intelligent democracy. From that point of view, I want the right hon. Lady to give us some assurance that she is not going to be dependent on consultations with the Minister of Educa- tion and with the Treasury. We have heard great rows outside about what the Chancellor of the Exchequer has done. We know that he is adamant. As to the Minister of Education, I feel like a certain singer. He reminds me of the lines: Say something, sweet Belinda, Thy voice I long to hear. I have hardly been able to resist singing it. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] Hon. Members may shout, but they know perfectly well I am speaking from the point of view of the children. They know that there is a real danger in this Bill, because when the time comes that it is in operation, there will be very little juvenile unemployment, but it is going to stand in the way of advanced education.



Viscountess ASTOR

Nobody knows better than the hon. Member. Why was he so keen against lowering the insurance age in 1924? Because he said it would make it much more difficult to raise the school age. [HON. MEMBERS: "NO!"] It is no good shouting at me. Hon. Members know it. I honestly thought that the Government which the right hon. Lady represents was interested in the children, but I do not think so now. I am deeply interested in this matter. I am not scared about the industrialists. I am thinking of the children. Under this new Circular you are going to make it almost impossible for the children who are not in insured trades to get any training at all. That did not happen under the late Government. Any child unemployed could go to a juvenile employment centre, but this new Circular makes it dependent on having 35 out of 50 children drawing benefit. That did not happen under the last Government. That is why Miss Varley and the others registered a complaint. The House should bear that fact in mind. It is all very well for hon. Gentlemen below the Gangway to say that they are pleased. I am not in the last pleased, and I do not believe that the country will be pleased. I do not think that there is anything constructive about this Clause at all. With my hand on my heart—and thank God I have got a heart as well as a head—I can say that if I thought this was going to make for the welfare of the children I would not mind. I do not believe that it is. It is only because of pressure from the Committee that the right hon. Lady has brought up this Clause. It shows that the Government are thinking of the fund, not of the children. Hon. Members opposite should think a little ahead. This will not keep the young children out of blind-alley occupations, but it will be a real deter-refit to further educational advance. The Government I think, should have given us something a little stronger. After all, they are a party which is on trial for the first time. They jeered at the failures of Liberals and Tories, and perhaps had some reason to do so, but their failures are nothing to the failure of the Government in this respect. The right hon. Lady should give us something a little more reassuring. If not, she and her party, will live to regret the day.


The extremely sincere, eloquent and well-informed speech of the hon. Lady the Member for the Sutton Division of Plymouth (Viscountess Astor) shows that not only her heart but her head has been deeply interested in this particular question, and I feel certain that what she has said will produce a more satisfactory statement than we have yet heard from the Minister of Labour. In introducing this new Clause she gave us the benefit of just one or two sentences, and I assume that she intends at a later stage in the Debate to reply to the points which have been raised. At the same time I may not have judged her action rightly, and perhaps the truth is that the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Education, who is now present, is to give us some explanation of this Clause. I sat here during the whole time this matter was being discussed on Clause 1, when we had the privilege of the presence of the President of the Board of Education, but in spite of many appeals we were quite unable to elicit from him one single sentence in regard to the matter. The Minister of Labour recognises that we on these benches are deeply and sincerely interested in this matter. The Clause says: The Minister, after consultation with the Board of Education, shall, subject to regulations made with the approval of the Treasury. It is obvious, therefore, that in framing this Clause the right hon. Lady has had consultations with both these other De- partments, and we have a right to ask the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Education to tell us what happened at those consultations, and what is the opinion of the Board of Education. He might tell us how the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Education proposes that these training centres shall be extended. It is clear that these problems have been discussed and thought out by the various Departments, and all we are asking is that they should give the Committee some information as to what occurred. If the President of the Board of Education on a previous occasion had only vouchsafed a few sentences on this matter, he would have saved hours of discussion in Committee. We quite understand that the representatives of the Treasury are not present as they are fully occupied in dealing with their own back benchers upstairs, but the Parliamentary Secretary is here, and I think he might give us the benefit of his opinion.


Who is upstairs?


Well, in another part of the House. [An HON. MEMBER: "Rubbish!"] It is perfectly clear that the truth of what I have said is realised by hon. Members on account of their completely irrelevant interruptions.


I am sure the hon. and gallant Member does not want to make a deliberate misstatement. May I tell him for his information that there is no meeting going on between the officials of the Treasury and the back benchers on this side at the present moment.


I am glad to hear that at least on one day in this week it has not been necessary for representatives of the Treasury to discuss the future policy of the Government at the dictates of the back benchers of their own party. It has been contended on many occasions that the operation of Clause 1 of this Bill, which brings people between the ages of 15 and 16 into unemployment. Insurance—


I really have allowed more latitude than I ought to have done on this new Clause. It deals with the provision of approved courses of instruction for persons under 18 who claim benefit. It doss not raise the general question of unem- ployment insurance for young people. That question has already been decided in Clause 1.


The only point I want to make is that as the Unemployment Insurance Fund is going to benefit to such a great extent through the operation of this Clause, we think that the result of a week's thought by the right hon. Lady on this matter is entirely unsatisfactory. The fact that the fund will benefit to this large degree by the contributions of these children is a reason why these further facilities should be given, and we think that more information should be given as to the future intention of the Government on this particular point. May I once again most respectfully suggest that as we have a representative of the Board of Education present, and as this is essentially an educational matter, we should have some information and guidance from him. We do not desire to obstruct business in any way. The President of the Board of Education should offer us a little advice on a matter which is so essentially an educational question. I hope the Parliamentary Secretary will do the Committee the honour of giving us the result of the conversations which have been held before we decide on the future of this Clause.


I confess to a little surprise at the speeches of hon. Members above the Gangway. They have devoted much eloquence in criticising what after all is really a constructive effort. It may have come rather late in the day, it may have required some persuasion, but it does something which hon. Members above the Gangway did not do throughout five years. On the contrary, I have a certain quarrel with them because the existing machinery was allowed to rust. In 1922 there were 17 centres in London offering facilities to out-of-work juveniles up to the age of 18 years. For various reasons those centres were allowed to die, and at the present moment there is not a single centre in London. That is under the benevolent guidance of the right hon. Gentleman above the Gangway who has just been returned to this House. I am not going to be ungrateful to the right hon. Lady, because this is really an excellent attempt to embody what was the general feeling of the Committee. I am quite prepared to recognise that she is quite new to these Debates, and to guide a Bill of this character through Committee is no light task. When dealing with the Amendment, of which this new Clause is the result, she expressed the opinion that she did not see how it could be translated into an Act of Parliament. Still, we have struggled; we have saved it, and I am sure she is grateful. It was a long struggle, but the result has been this excellent new Clause. I would remind the Noble Lady the Member for Sutton (Viscountess Astor) that this is mandatory. It puts an obligation for the first time on the Minister to provide these classes. It says: The Minister, after consultation with the Board of Education shall, subject to regulations made with the approval of the Treasury, make arrangements …of approved courses of instruction for insured contributors under the age of 18 years. That is a great step forward. Hon. Members above the Gangway in Committee asked that they should be provided for those under 16.

Viscountess ASTOR

May I explain. We did so because we thought the Bill was only dealing with children from 14 to 16 years of age.


Now it deals with young people up to 18 years of age. We have got what we wanted; we must not grumble. These words are rather exceptional in an Act of Parliament. Where it can be proved that it is practicable to provide these classes it is the obligation of the Minister to see that they are provided. I do not want to underrate the difficulty of carrying out this proposal. There is a difficulty in organising these classes. Very often you have young persons scattered over a large area. That has been one of the difficulties in London, where you have pockets of unemployed, 20 here and 30 there, and as far as I understand the proposal is to organise two classes for London. Imagine what it will mean to ask a small boy at Hammersmith to travel all the way to the charming and delightful neighbourhood which I have the honour to represent. That is the proposal I understand. I am very fortunate I am told that the first centre—perhaps it is to commemorate my effort to convert the right hon. Lady—is to be in Bethnal Green. That would be a most delightful journey for the small boy from Hammersmith, and I am sure it would be profitable to him to get to Bethnal Green; but I suggest that by the time he has arrived his enthusiasm for education will have waned. The latest suggestion is that his fare will be paid. That will be of considerable assistance.

I suggest, however, that if this scheme is to be a success the Government must not be content with any half measures in sending all the children North of the Thames to Bethnal Green, or all those South of the Thames from Battersea, Greenwich and Woolwich, all the way to Bermondsey or Southwark. What we want above all things is the active cooperation of the Board of Education. Under the last Government the Board Of Education stood aside as a sort of observer, leaving the whole burden to the overworked and over-worried Minister of Labour, whose troubles were quite big enough without his having the business of organising these classes. It may be that the Minister of Labour will have to foot the bill, but the work should be carried on under the supervision of the Board of Education representatives and inspectors. That is most important.

Secondly, there must be elasticity. Where you have a lot of juveniles it would be wise to have sufficient classes in a building specially located for the purpose, but where you have scattered children I see no reason why other facilities should not be utilised. There are the technical schools, the continuation schools, and even some of the central schools, where you could get the co-operation of some of the teachers. That brings me to the most important part of the subject. The whole success of these proposals depends on the securing of the right staff. Schemes have broken down in the past because they were a make-shift arrangement. It may be information to some Members, but under the old arrangement the instructors charged with the duty of training out-of-work juveniles up to the age of 18 were paid by the hour. I believe the rate in London was 5s. 6d. per hour. When three or four boys got a job in a factory and took themselves away from the school, the teacher lost his job.

I do not want to be unkind, for some of the men were splendid, but in many cases you had the dregs of the profession who could not get on the staff of the ordinary schools because they were either too old or unqualified, and they were thrown into these training centres just to carry on. That could not be a success. You want really the pick of the profession, men who have the social sense, men who desire to sacrifice themselves to this great social work of helping these young people. In other words you want to provide a permanent staff and organisation, men who make it their business and train themselves to handle these young persons.

Even more important than that, you want proper equipment. You do not want these boys coming back to the school in the ordinary sense to learn ordinary arithmetic, something they had broken away from when they entered industry. You want these institutions to be living institutions, with proper craft rooms, proper art rooms, and all the necessary appliances for physical culture, a proper gymnasium, and in the case of girls opportunities of attending at a cookery centre where they can learn to keep their self-respect while out of the labour market. I am grateful, I shall not say for small mercies, because I believe that this is the beginning of better things. I believe that out of this small beginning will come great good, and I congratulate the Minister of Labour on her willingness to listen and learn and help when members try to assist her—willingness which she has put in the tangible form of this excellent Clause.


No one wishes to deprive hon. Members of the Liberal party of the small triumph that they have had in securing the adoption of a principle which was ably and cogently put forward from the Liberal benches in earlier Debates upon the Bill. Every one who knows the record of the hon. Member for South-West Bethnal Green (Mr. Harris) on this subject of education, knows that he has given very close attention to it and is an authority on it. But I must say that I agree with my Noble Friend the Member for the Sutton Division of Plymouth (Viscountess Astor) in thinking that those who occupy the Liberal benches are rather optimistic in their belief that the Clause will do everything that they claim.

There are one or two questions that I wish to ask. I know that it is of no use protesting against the absence of the President of the Board of Education, but I think it is a great pity that on a question on which there is very little party feeling, and on which Members on all sides are anxious to find a common focal point for their views, the Minister who is as much concerned as the Minister of Labour has not once taken part in the discussion. He was present when the original Clause was brought forward. I do not know whether he thought that this side of the Committee was trying, to use a slang phrase, to "rag" him when he was asked to speak. I can assure him that it was an entirely genuine and sincere appeal. To-day, he has not even come down to the House and has sent his Parliamentary Secretary, who has not as yet taken part in the Debate. I do not protest because it is no use protesting, but I do make an appeal to the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Education to reply to certain questions which, as must be apparent, cannot be dealt with solely by the Minister of Labour. The very words of the Clause show that. The case for the intervention of the President of the Board of Education is much stronger in this new Clause than it was on the original discussion. The first words of the new Clause say: The Minister, after consultation with the Board of Education, shall, subject to regulations made with the approval of the Treasury, make arrangements with local education authorities for the provision, so far as is practicable, of approved courses of instruction for insured contributors under the age of eighteen years who claim benefit. The Minister can only do so after consultation with the Board of Education. The hon. Member for South-West Bethnal Green has said that the Clause is mandatory. On a strict interpretation, I do not think it can be called mandatory, because it contains the restraining words, "so far as is practicable."


Can anybody do more than that which is practicable?


Certainly. The hon. Gentleman has been long enough in this House to know that there constantly occur in Acts of Parliament the words "The Minister shall," without any qualifying condition.


If the Noble Lord will read the Clause without the words "so far as is practicable," he will see that the meaning is nothing.


Our whole contention is that the Clause is a weak Clause so far as instruction is concerned.


Will you tell us precisely how you would strengthen it?


That is the question with which I was about to deal. This phrase, "so far as is practicable," may be necessary, but it is essential that in a matter of this kind we should have from the President of the Board of Education his definition of what he means by "so far as is practicable," or tell us what is in his mind. It is essentially a matter for his Department. It may be that these words have had to be put in, but from the point of view of Parliamentary purity it is no good to say that this is a mandatory Clause, It is not a mandatory Clause. [Interruption.] The Prime Minister has not chosen the hon. Member for Aberavon (Mr. Cove) to be his Minister at the Board of Education, and, as the hon. Member is not the Minister, we cannot have from him an authoritative statement on the interpretation of what is admittedly a very important Sub-section of this Clause. I have the greatest admiration for the hon. Member's Parliamentary character, but he is not the Minister.


I have asked you to say what you would put in its place.


I hope that we shall have from the Parliamentary Secretary the interpretation that he puts on the words "so far as is practicable." Another point has already been referred to. That is the question of the distance of a boy's or girl's home from the centres that he or she can reasonably be required to attend. I presume that those words "can reasonably be required to attend" have reference to the distance of the insured person from the course of instruction. We ought to have some statement on that point. This new Clause has been brought forward as a result of pressure from all parts of the House, and especially from the Liberal benches, but really it is no use for the Minister to dispose of the matter without explanation by saying it is a happy solution of a difficult question. It may or may not be a happy solution, hut we have had neither from her nor from the President of the Board of Education any adequate explanation of all the conditions governing the Sub-section. I would again appeal to the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Education to give us that explanation which we have been seeking on so many occasions when the matter has been under review.


In the original discussions on the general principle of the Clause, it was pointed out that the insertion in the Bill of this provision for the development of juvenile centres arises out of the reports of the juvenile advisory councils. This action which I have taken, and which the noble Lady deprecated so strongly as being utterly inadequate, at least is action definitely taken as soon as that report was in my possession. I gave instructions immediately that the recommendations of the advisory council are to become operative, and a circular went out. It is true that those recommendations do not go the whole way, but they go very much further than anything else that has happened, and to that extent it is a very great advance upon the position prior to October. This advisory council's recommendation is based upon the threefold action of the Ministry of Labour, the Board of Education, and the local education authorities. The primary step had to be taken by us. We are most anxious, and it is clear that the whole Committee agrees, that we should maintain that threefold responsibility. The financial basis—it is a definite part of the plan with regard to setting up centres—is that the local education authority should pay 25 per cent. of the cost, not so much on account of the money as that they should be definitely identified with the education given and feel that it is part of their work, and that it should not be merely Ministry of Labour work or Employment Exchange work but juvenile centre work, and, therefore, we place the greatest importance upon the co-operation of the local education authorities.

I can assure the Committee, and my hon. Friend will reiterate the statement if it id required, that the President of the Board of Education is cordially and enthusiastically in favour of doing everything possible to carry out the scheme. The position hitherto has been that these unfortunate centres have had to live from hand to mouth. I have taken the step of giving them permanence for three years, and we will see how we get along with a greater degree of per- manence. These centres are only the first step. It is quite obvious that there will be children so few in number that no one could justify setting up a centre with a fully-equipped staff for two or three, or 10 children. The expense would be out of all proportion to the results. In addition, therefore, to setting up centres on this basis, which is described in the report, we propose to take every channel available. If we can get a single child linked up with a class, we shall do it. If we can get three or four children into an institute, we shall do it. We shall use every opportunity and every vacant place which would enable us to bring children into touch with the education authorities. The details of all these things will necessarily have to be worked out in each locality. The Noble Lord asked whether distance was to be a factor. Decidedly, it will be a factor in connection with the matter of whether it is reasonable to ask a child to attend a centre.


Could the right hon. Lady give any indication of what sort of distance?


No, that would be a question to be settled locally. We welcome the feeling that has grown in the House. The Ministry of Labour will go forward knowing that there is a united House behind it in the desire to develop it. I shall use the powers conferred upon me to the fullest possible extent, and I can confidently count upon the cordial co-operation of the Board of Education in that effort. I have been asked where the Treasury comes in. It comes in in this way. It has consented to put up 75 per cent. on the understanding that, in regard to insured persons, the Unemployment Insurance Fund puts up half of that 75 per cent., so that the Treasury has a very direct interest in the whole business.

Viscountess ASTOR

The Treasury has always put up 75 per cent. Under the new circular it is going to put up much more to give uninsured children juvenile unemployment pay.


The Noble Lady has already spoken.


I rise because of the observations that fell from the hon. Mem- ber for South-West Bethnal Green (Mr. Harris), who complained of the system of education under the guidance of the late Minister of Labour. The London County Council was really the responsible body for seeing that these classes were held and properly staffed, and it comes with a very ill grace from the hon. Member to criticise my right hon. Friend when he himself was a member of that education authority.


I was one of a minority of five out of 130 and I was powerless.


It is also within the recollection of the Committee that they had never seen or heard of him having complained to the London County Council that the method of education, or the provision of staff, was not carried out in the way he thought they should be. Therefore, I think it is very bad form on his part to try to take party advantage when, as a matter of fact, the late Minister of Labour was not responsible for the way in which educational matters were carried out. But I think the Minister of Labour is doing the right thing at last by setting up these classes. They are very essential. I am glad to observe that the Ministry is going to find 25 per cent. of the cost. No doubt on the last occasion the contribution of the Treasury was somewhat small, but on this occasion they are going to increase it. The reason they can afford to increase it is that they are receiving money from a very large body of children who will never get any benefit from it, and they can obviously afford to find the money on this occasion, whereas previously children of 15 did not come under the insurance scheme. I also suggest that, when these classes are set up, it will be very desirable if the Minister would, in conjunction with the juvenile committees, have courses of a character that would be of real use to those who are out of employment. The hon. Member for Bethnal Green mentioned domestic training for girls. That would he an excellent idea. It is a thing that ought to lie much more encouraged than it is at present. Generally I am hopeful that these classes will prove successful. It is gratifying to find that the Minister has altered her mind. She first said this could not be done because there were administrative difficulties. It is an ex- traordinary thing that those administrative difficulties have disappeared since the feeling of the Committee was so strong that the classes should be held. But we must not look a gift horse in the mouth. It is certainly better to have these classes late than never and I hope they will prove a success.


I wish to express gratitude for the action of the Government in accepting the Amendment. At the same time I should like to make one or two comments on it, because I am by no means satisfied that it is all we might have obtained. It is a very great advance and it entirely depends on the way it is handled whether we get all we might out of it. I should feel much happier if these words "in so far as is practicable" were not present, because that means a very wide margin for the Ministry and various officials to say such and such a thing is not practicable. I am sure, if some of the existing regulations of the Ministry of Labour are maintained unaltered and are not made more flexible, there will be a great deal not done that ought to be done. This is not a new problem. After the War, when the troops were being demobilised, we were faced with exactly the same problem of giving instruction and training to those who had had their careers interrupted, but the difficulties were overcome and it was found possible by one means or another to give the training. Where it was not possible to set up centres in towns it was got over either by paying the fares of men to come to the centres or, where that could not be done, in certain cases arrangements were made for instruction to be given in the villages by the local wheelwright, carpenter, shoemaker, or farmer. It ought not to be impossible to face this problem in the same spirit and to overcome the difficulties on the same lines. Although the words are riot absolutely mandatory I hope the Government will feel that the issue is so imporant that they will go as far as they went when the troops were being demobilised.

8.0 p.m.

To show the difficulties that are sometimes raised, I should like to give an account of what happened in the case of the very progressive town which I represent—Wolverhampton—and how they faced this matter. They had the credit of being the first town in the after-War days to bring forward a juvenile training scheme. That was in 1921, and they were met with the strongest opposition and obstruction from the Ministry of Labour at that time, but they persisted, and although they were told that they would have to pay the whole of the expenses out of the rates, they consented for 12 months, to their eternal credit, to pay 100 per cent. out of the rates, so keen were they on the scheme. When, in 1923, the national scheme came out, it was founded very much on the lines on which it was started in Wolverhampton and on which it has continued ever since. I think the name of Miss Fitchett who has been at the head of this scheme is very well known at the Ministry of Labour, and that the Ministry are fully aware of the excellent pioneer work that has been done by Wolverhampton in this matter.

While the Ministry, with their Regulations, have been very helpful in connection with this centre, I say, quite seriously, that the Regulations want altering, because they are not sufficiently flexible. I know of cases where in one week there have been perhaps 700 attending and in the next week 1,500, and then the number has gone down again, and that has meant that the staff has had to come and go weekly, just as the numbers have seemed to ebb and flow; and I urge that the teaching staff should be put upon a more permanent basis. You cannot deal with it on a day-to-day or a week-to-week programme. You want to set it up so that you will know that for a definite period ahead you will have a staff capable of dealing, with the problem, and I hope the Under-Secretary will consider most carefully whether it is not possible to make the rules very much more flexible than they have been up to the present time.

With regard to the human value of these centres, I would say that in our case many of those youths, who came reluctantly, with no good will towards the scheme, boys who came to scoff, remained to pray. It appealed to them; they realised the advantage which they got, and it had a very valuable effect on their self-respect, so much so indeed that these youths, after the compulsory part of the training was over, kept in association voluntarily, formed a little society of those who had been through the centre, and indulged in all sorts of cultural activities which would never have taken place at all if it had not been for the control that was kept over them at that very important period by the juvenile training centre that was set up in Wolverhampton. I want to urge the Government most strongly to go as far as they can, to take trouble, to take heroic measures, because they are worth taking in this matter for the sake of the children, to face the administrative difficulties that undoubtedly exist, and to overcome them.


I am very glad that the Minister of Labour has not embodied in this new Clause the original suggestion of the Liberal party. It is not the Minister who has been converted; it is the Liberal party that has been converted to the practical necessities of the situation. It has been said that it is only the Liberal party which has any educational concern for the children, but I want to apply a corrective. The original suggestion of the Liberal party was that every child everywhere should be compelled to go to a juvenile unemployment centre— [Interruption.] If the Noble Lady will listen a moment—

Viscountess ASTOR

I really protest.



Viscountess ASTOR

On a point of Order. Every time I look over to the other side, hon. Members say that I should stop interrupting. There is no sense in it.


I want to say, briefly, that the original suggestion had the backing of neither the second report of the Advisory Committee nor of the first report of that Committee. As a matter of fact, the Committee, after prolonged consideration, said it was not advisable to put compulsory powers upon local education authorities to provide juvenile unemployment centres up and down the country. Not only is this a wise thing from the point of view of the child, but I say that the child who has paid for his insurance should have the benefit. There has been a very greatly exaggerated idea as to the educational effect of juvenile unemployment centres. I want to give them full credit for what they have done. I have been round to a number of them, and undoubtedly they have done good in some cases, but the suggestion is that they are training centres, and one would imagine that they could be made training centres for vocations, that they could be set up everywhere as permanent institutions. We have had it suggested from the other side that there should be a permanent staff, with permanent equipment. Just imagine putting up juvenile unemployment centres permanently everywhere, when, as a matter of fact, in those already established in the worst areas the average attendance is only a matter of three weeks! The child is in and out. The Malcolm Committee considered it and said quite distinctly that you could only frame the curriculum in these unemployment centres, not for a week, not for a month, but from day to day. Why? Because the child is in and out, because the child is looking for a job; and I am not going to stop the child looking for a job.

While I realise the benefits of the juvenile unemployment centres, I want to say quite distinctly that they are not the permanent next step in education. The hon. Member for South-West Bethnal Green (Mr. Harris) has missed one very important point, and that is that you are putting these centres under the aegis of the Ministry of Labour. I want all educational endeavour to be definitely under the Ministry of Education, and the next permanent step forward is not a juvenile unemployment centre at all. If we are to have a permanent scheme, we shall have not merely to raise the school-leaving age. It has been amusing to hear of the great interest in education of the Conservative party, when they are opposed all the time to the raising of the school age. We invite the spirit which has been displayed to-night in the next step forward, and I regard that as the permanent institution of the Fisher continuation schools. There you will get your permanent structure, there you will get your equipment. I am glad the Minister of Labour has not accepted the original compulsory Clause, and that we have got an instruction to the Ministry to set up these centres "so far as is practicable," realising at the same time that our next great step forward is along the line of compulsory continuation schools.

Viscountess ASTOR

Does the hon. Member think that this Bill makes that more easy?


Yes, certainly.


The Minister of Labour told us that 25 per cent. of the cost of these juvenile unemployment centres would be borne by the local education authorities and that 75 per cent. would be advanced in the first instance by the Treasury, which would recover 37½ per cent., as I understand it, from the Unemployment Insurance Fund. The Noble Lady the Member for the Sutton Division of Plymouth (Viscountess Astor) has pointed out that she is proud of Plymouth because it has five of these unemployment centres, and she says they are flourishing. Plymouth is a part of the same county of which I represent the north-west corner, and I can understand that you might well get, in a great centre like Plymouth, with a population of a quarter of a million or more, a sufficient number of children who were out of work to justify those five unemployment centres, and therefore Plymouth would benefit; but in the whole of the rest of the area of Devonshire there is probably not a single place, with the possible exception of Exeter, where there might be one, where a juvenile unemployment centre on these lines would be a practical proposition, because the children could not possibly attend it, even if they were there, and they would probably be so scattered and so few in number that I am indeed thankful for the insertion in the Clause of the words which have been criticised by the hon. Member for South West Bethnal Green (Mr. Harris), namely, "so far as is practicable." The scheme would be impracticable in Devonshire for the whole of the county excepting Plymouth, and I want to know why the county rate should he charged with the cost of an educational effort which can only benefit Plymouth.

With regard to the 75 per cent., the same objection is applicable, though in a less degree, because whether the money comes out of the Unemployment Insurance Fund or out of the Exchequer, there is only a very small fraction of the people in the county who can possibly benefit, and the taxpayers and the contributors to the Unemployment Insurance Fund in all the rest of the county cannot possibly get any advantage at all. Therefore, I think the finance of the scheme is very unfair and does not place the burden in the slightest degree on those localities that will benefit. It is only in the great centres of population that this scheme can possibly be carried out at all, and I say that those portions of the population which can benefit by it ought to bear the cost of it. I can understand, as the hon. Member for East Wolverhampton (Mr. Mander) said, that Wolverhampton was a progressive place and that the ratepayers were prepared to pay 100 per cent. of the cost of the first unemployment centre set up, but if Wolverhampton was able to get children to go there, Wolverhampton ought to pay for it. I do not think it ought to be divided over the whole of the rest of a large agricultural county.

I would ask the Under-Secretary for the Ministry of Education whether this question of the finance of these centres, as the only localities in which they can ex hypothesi exist are the great towns and cities, has been considered at all. When this Clause comes to be put into the Bill, I think the hon. Gentleman will hear something from the local education authorities in counties such as that a part of which I represent, which will point out to him that it is a very unfair proposition indeed, in a county where there is only one city large enough to benefit by the scheme, to charge the cost of it over the whole county through the county rate.

Commander WILLIAMS

Many of us thought, when the Minister of Labour rose to move this Clause, that we should have some explanation from the Minister of Education. I was inclined to look with favour on the Clause until the speech that was made from below the Gangway by one of the great authorities in this House on education, but I must say quite frankly that by the time he had finished his speech I doubted whether this Clause would really carry out what we wished to do, namely, to make as many of these centres as possible. Many of us have appealed for a considerable time to the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Education to give us a definite answer on one or two points. We want to know what organisation he has, in conjunction with the Minister of Labour, to put this Clause into effect. We have had some figures, not necessarily authoritative, as to the number of centres that there are already. May I ask the hon. Gentleman what preparation he is making to build up new centres? That is a perfectly fair question, which I have no doubt that he can answer—that is, always presuming that he intends to answer, and to take charge of this part of the Bill on behalf of the Government. Under this Clause, there is to be not only the consultation of the two authorities that have been mentioned, but also the approval of the Treasury.

We have heard from the Government Front Bench that 50 per cent. will come from the fund, and 25 per cent. from the Treasury, so that there will be a contribution of 75 per cent. in all towards these schools. What, approximately, does the fund expect to make out of these particular juveniles? The Minister of Labour said yesterday that they would not be one of the very expensive sections of the insured people. What amount is likely to be made out of the juveniles, and will that amount be balanced, roughly, by their contributions to this fund? If we could have answers to these questions, which we have been seeking for well over an hour, we could go on, provided that they are satisfactory, to deal with the matters following. The other day the Chairman ruled that insolence of speech on that occasion was perfectly legitimate; some people can be very polite in speech and others less polite, hut, if there is a form of insolence in the House of Commons which is much worse, it is that of a Minister who comes here and, after having had repeated requests to give a reply, remains silent. I am sure that the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Education will be the last to refuse a request which has been expressed by many hon. Members, and that he will not for a moment like to refuse the appeal which has been made to him.

Clause added to the Bill.