HC Deb 28 November 1930 vol 245 cc1755-60

Order for Second Reading read.

Lieut.-Colonel WATTS-MORGAN

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

I have been looking forward to the opportunity of presenting this Bill once more to the House, but I regret that my voice is very hoarse and that I have been suffering from an indisposition for some time. Though the time this afternoon is very short, I should like to point out that it was unique that, on the last occasion when the Bill was presented, in 1928, it was presented by the right hon. Lady who is now Minister of Labour, backed by all the lady Members of this House. The opening words of the Bill proclaim why it is now again presented to the notice of the House. Purely because of the acute distress, which has been of long continuance, brought about by trade depression, the children in many areas are unprovided with footwear. It is a short Bill of five Clauses, and Clause 4 deals with the point with regard to the cost and the distribution of the cost as between the Exchequer and the local authorities. We are not ungrateful for what has been done in the past in the necessitous areas by the Lord Mayor's Mansion House Fund, which was contributed to by the Government in 1928, and all the other voluntary funds. In one area alone, in the Rhondda District, we raised, in 1928,£2,400 for clothing and boots. In 1929 we were able to raise another£2,300. The Lord Mayor's Mansion House Fund raised, with other voluntary funds, an aggregate sum of£2,000,000. All those resources are dried up, and we now want to provide something in their place.

There are safeguards in the Bill against imposition or deceit, and the Bill carries with it that Section of the Education Act, 1921, providing for the health and the well-being of children attending school. In these circumstances, I beg the House to give a Second reading to this short Bill to-day, and allow it to go to a Committee. At this time of the year, when everybody is looking forward to Christmas and all the good things accompanying it, I am sure the House will enable us in the necessitous areas, to secure footwear for the children, who are at present having to go to school in rotten boots, and where those who are in poverty at home will be looked after in the same way. I make no apology for introducing this Bill, and I think that, with the good will and the unanimity of this House, we shall be able to carry it into law.


I beg to second the Motion.

It is an extraordinary anomaly that there are tens of thousands of children so badly shod that ill-health is inevitable. While local education authorities can provide food and medical attention if children are ill, they cannot provide shoes to prevent them from getting ill. Charity and philanthropy have done their best, but despite their best the arrangements are inadequate. This Bill, properly dealt with in Committee, will provide for this need, and I hope that the Government will give it a Second Reading.


Where is the Government answer?


A Bill for this purpose, following the well-marked path made by the Act for the provision of meals, must command general sympathy. I am a little surprised in view of the debate on another Measure, to observe in Clause 3 what looks very much like a means test, and a provision for verification of particulars. I hope that this matter will be carefully considered in Committee, and that the provisions will be brought into line with those that have been adopted in the case of the Education Bill. I am surprised, too, that in connection with a matter of real importance such as this, there should be no representative of the Ministry of Health, or of the Board of Education on the Treasury Bench to express the Government view. It is important that some expression should be given. I hope that even in the short time available, opinion in the House will be found to be sufficiently united to secure a Second Reading.


This is a most extraordinary situation. This Bill has had a long history. It was introduced in my time, and I had to oppose it on the ground that it was useless to help necessitous areas because they could not afford the money to provide their part out of the rates. They could not provide the 10 per cent. which was proposed under the Bill, and that therefore the situation must be met in a different way. We met it, rightly or wrongly, by a grant to the Lord Mayor's Fund. Now this Bill is introduced again and it can never pass, even though it be given a Second Reading now, unless the Government are prepared to introduce a Money Resolution. Are the Government pre- pared to do that? Why is there no representative of the Ministry of Health or of the Board of Education or of the Treasury present to answer that simple question? Why are they not on the Front Bench?


They are.


Is the hon. Gentleman going to answer?


I will decide that.


The hon. Member is going to decide for himself whether he is going to answer. This is not the first time that a Bill has been introduced from the Labour benches during a Labour Government—the Blind Persons Bill was another instance—and the Government have refused to say consistently whether they will introduce a Money Resolution, and have simply run away by failing to introduce the Resotion. We want a statement of policy as to what the Government intend to do, and I hope that we shall get it.


This Bill has occupied the attention of the House for seven minutes only, and yet the Noble Lord has said that it is an extraordinary proceeding that the Government view has not been expressed. Does the Noble Lord assume that seven minutes is too long to wait before we have an outburst from him? I will tell him what my Friends behind me know, that I was going to speak on this particular Measure. Just as the Labour party, 30 or 40 years ago, were the pioneers in encouraging the feeding of schoolchildren, and first got it adopted, equally we cannot object to a policy which says that a child shall not go without boots. It is no good the Noble Lord making merely a party question of this, seeing that he himself opposed a similar Bill on financial grounds, having pledged himself to economy. That course of action gets us nowhere. The Bill as drafted provides, in my judgment, too large a charge on the Treasury; but there is no reason why points such as that should not be dealt with in Committee. It would be necessary to introduce a Financial Resolution, so there is no need for the Noble Lord to get so excited within 15 minutes of the Bill being introduced. It would be a scandal and a crime if any children, because of their poverty, were to be denied bootwear in the coming winter. I think, and I believe, there ought to be ways and means of meeting the situation. I hope the Bill will get a Second Reading—as it will—and I equally wish to make it clear that the contribution at present in the Bill is not one which I accept on behalf of the Government; but, with those reservations, I hope the Noble Lord will be as enthusiastic in this cause as I am, and that he will not blame the Government for extravagance if they find ways and means of dealing with the Bill.


The fact of the matter is—[Interruption.]—I am not going to talk the Bill out—that the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for the Dominions has given no clear reply to the question which was put by the Noble Lord. On this subject we in Scotland can speak with a clear voice. We have had this power in Scotland, and we have not abused it. This power has not been withdrawn by any Tory Government. What we say is that the Government must tell us whether they intend to implement the half-pledge which has been given by the Secretary of State for the Dominions. It is all very well to say there is no one here except the Secretary of State for the Dominions—[Interruption.]


The Bill was down on the Order Paper.


We have the utmost respect for the Secretary of State for the Dominions, but either the Minister of Education or the Minister of Health or the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health should have been here to speak. We say that the pledge given by the Secretary of State for the Dominions is not enough and we ask the Financial Secretary to the Treasury or the Parliamentary Secretary if he cannot give us a clearer statement before the time comes for this Bill to pass its Second Reading.

Question put, and agreed to.

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

Whereupon, Mr. SPEAKER adjourned the House without Question put, pursuant to Standing Order No. 3.

Adjourned at One minute before Four o'Clock, until Monday, 1st December.