HC Deb 03 March 1937 vol 321 cc429-35

"That a Supplementary sum, not exceeding £2,600,000, be granted to His Majesty, to defray the charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1937, for the Salaries and Expenses of the Post Office, including Telegraphs and Telephones."

Resolution agreed to.


Order read for resuming Adjourned Debate on Question proposed [24th February] on consideration of Eighth Resolution, That a Supplementary sum, not exceeding £30,050, be granted to His Majesty, to defray the charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1937, for Grants in respect of the expenses of the Managers of Approved Schools in England and Wales; the expenses of Local Authorities in respect of children and young persons committed to their care; and the expenses of the Councils of Counties and County Boroughs in respect of Remand Homes.

Which Question was, "That this House doth agree with the Committee in the said Resolution."

Question again proposed.

Mr. Paling

I want to ask the Under-Secretary whether he can now answer the question to which we did not get a satisfactory answer before, and which was postponed on the understanding that an answer would be given at this stage.

7.10 p.m.

The Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Geoffrey Lloyd)

I was asked where the recent new approved schools were situated. They are at Manchester, Hertfordshire, Middlesex, Staffordshire, Lincolnshire, Glamorgan, Kent and Birmingham. I can also say that the Home Office have to approve the appointment of the head masters of the schools. I am in a position to assure the hon. Member that this Supplementary Estimate does not mean in our view that there is a great rise in juvenile crime. On the contrary, it means something satisfactory rather than disagreeable. It may be due to the increasing use that the various authorities are making of the courts under the Children and Young Persons Act. As a result of that Act, many private people and also police authorities are more ready to bring juvenile cases before the court because they are more confident that they will be dealt with in a sympathetic manner and in a way which will help to improve the character and prospects of the children concerned. There was power given to send children to approved schools, or to put them in the custody of a fit person, even when an offence had not been committed, if the circumstances of the home were such as to justify the view that they were likely to be led into a life of crime.

Mr. Bellenger

Has the hon. Member the figures of those who were sent to approved schools on account of home conditions?

Mr. Lloyd

I have not got those figures, but there is a considerable increase in the number of care and protection cases. There are approved schools provided by local authorities or voluntary agencies, but there is also in the Estimate provision for maintenance expenditure by local authorities. One of the innovations was to allow local authorities to act as fit persons for the purposes of having children in their custody. In the old days, private individuals had to assume onerous liabilities in respect of any child, but by enabling local authorities to become fit persons in the legal sense, they are able to appoint individuals to do the actual work of the foster parent while the local authority remains the legal entity which is the fit person. I can assure the House that this Estimate does not lead us to any gloomy reflection regarding juvenile crime. The reason why we have to present this Supplementary Estimate is that the expenditure depends on the use that the Courts make of the Act in a particular year, and it is not easy to foretell with great accuracy what use the Courts will make of the Act in any particular period. We do our best to estimate, but in actual fact more use was made of the Act than we expected. I believe, however, that that, so far from being a reason for gloomy reflections, is a sign of the increasingly humane way in which juvenile delinquents are being treated in this country.

Mr. Paling

Can the hon. Gentleman say whether there is a greater disposition on the part of the magistrates now to send children to these schools and take them out of the care of their parents when the parents object? A few cases have come to my knowledge in which parents have been very much disturbed because they have thought that their children have been compulsorily taken from them.

Mr. Lloyd

It is true that there is now an increased disposition on the part of police authorities to bring doubtful cases before the magistrates, and I think it may also be true that there is a disposition on the part of magistrates to send children to approved schools when they think it is really in the interests of the child and of the future of the child. I do not, however, think that there is any undue tendency on the part of magistrates to do that. From time to time I have had cases from hon. Members of this House, and have looked into them very carefully, but in most of these cases I do not think that even the Member himself has been convinced that there was any real ground of complaint, although he may have put forward the case at the request of the parents.

7.18 p.m.

Mr. Maxton

I am not satisfied with the very kindly answer that has been given by the hon. Gentleman. He tells us that the reason for this increased Estimate is that greater use is being made of tile Children and Young Persons Act. That means that greater use is being made of the Act in one respect, that is to say, that commitments to these approved schools are more common now than they were previously. I do not think the hon. Gentleman's responsibility in this matter runs across the Border, but there is a corresponding rise in the Scottish figures also.

There seems to be an idea in the minds of magistrates that, when the name of these schools was changed from reformatory or industrial schools to approved schools, these places had become delightful little Etons and Harrows for the young delinquents of the slums; but they are essentially prisons. The fact that they are under the control of the Home Office rather than of the Board of Education is an indication that in the minds of the Government these youngsters are to be treated as prisoners. In former years, before the passing of the Children and Young Persons Act, the number of youngsters committed to reformatory and industrial schools was steadily diminishing; other ways were being found of dealing with them besides by imprisonment; but, now that we have these approved schools—the same institutions with a different name, under the same control, and with the same type of staff—the numbers committed to them are increasing year after year. Moreover, appalling sentences are given by magistrates—five and six years of imprisonment in these places. For the most trivial offences, like playing football in the streets and things of that description, youngsters are haled before the court, and someone comes forward and says, "This boy has been in trouble before; this is a bad case; he broke a window two months ago; we shall have to make an example of this little ten-year-old boy."

I had a case in my constituency where a youngster 7½ years of age was committed and branded as a young criminal. He came out of a respectable home; his father was a man whom I would trust to look after his children as I would trust to look after myself. It so happened that his wife was away in hospital at the time undergoing an operation, and when she came back she found that her youngster had been committed to one of these prisons for five years. The Under-Secretary says that we must not be disturbed by these increasing numbers, but it is happening all over the country; more and more youngsters are being taken away from their homes. I admit that occasionally the homes are such that they are better out of them, but I wish I was quite as sure that the conditions in the school are so immensely superior to those of the home. It requires an exceptionally fine institution to make up for family life and parental affection, and frequently the homes from which these children are taken are perfectly good homes. I had a most extraordinary case of a youngster 15 years of age who had been committed to one of these institutions for a couple of years, and whose parents subsequently found that he had been enlisted in the Army as a boy. When I took up the matter on behalf of the parents with the War Office, they told me that they had the authority of the headmaster of the school; the Army authorities took him as being in loco parentis. We talk about liberty and all the rest of it, but that seems to me to be going desperately far. I hope the hon. Gentleman will not feel, in regard to these schools, the complacency that he has expressed here today, but will go and have a look at them, and will send round some suggestions to the magistrates to the effect that they should not rush too easily to commit these children.

7.23 p.m.

Mr. A. V. Alexander

I am sure the Under-Secretary will have gathered, from the questions which the Opposition put in the Committee stage and from the points which have been raised to-night, that the Opposition are concerned about the increased number of children who must be provided for as indicated by the new Vote. While we do not want to hold up the business, in view of the work that the House has subsequently to do, I think the Home Office representatives ought to be ready to go into this matter in much more detail when the Department's Vote comes before the House for consideration. The remarks which have been made on the Supplementary Estimate are just a pointer as to the kind of information which Members want, in order that their real and genuine concern about this development may be satisfied.

Years ago I had some experience on the staff of a local education authority, and I know a little about that type of school, which was sometimes a boarding school, where the children were taken right away from their parents, and sometimes was of the day-school category. The hon. Gentleman's answer has not given us sufficient information to enable us to gather exactly what is being done in regard to these newly provided institutions which are covered by the Supplementary Vote, and I hope we may have further information on that subject. I think the House ought to have also, when it goes into Committee of Supply on the Home Office Vote, figures showing what has been the total result of this administration of the Children and Young Persons Act on the boys—and girls, I suppose—who are sent to these institutions, so that we may have some idea as to whether the action of magistrates in this matter, admittedly from right motives, is of exactly the right character.

Another point about which we are concerned, and on which we ought to have information, is as to the type of teachers now being appointed to the staffs of these schools, and especially as to the attitude which the Home Office take on the Report of the Departmental Committee with regard to the conditions, status and salaries of the teachers who are being appointed to schools of this class. In any case I think we shall have discharged very briefly a useful function if the Home Office will make a point, on the main Vote, of meeting our concern on this matter and giving us the chance of debating it.

Mr. Lloyd

Perhaps, with the leave of the House, I may say that I quite appreciate the desire of hon. Members for information on this very important branch of social work. I will go thoroughly into the points which have been raised, and will be prepared to make a detailed statement on the whole subject at a later opportunity.

7.27 p.m.

Mr. Sexton

I cannot quite understand the replies which have been given on this Vote. The hon. Gentleman, when he was asked whether the Vote was due to an increase in juvenile crime, said that it was not, but on the 11th June last year I asked the Home Office a question as to the number of juveniles between 14 and 16 who had been convicted of crime in the years 1933, 1934 and 1935. In reply I was told that, in 1933, 4,669 juveniles between 14 and 16 had been convicted of crime. In 1934 the number had gone up to 6,257, while in 1935, for which year the figures were not yet available, it was estimated that the number was 8,600. It appears to me, therefore, that one of the main reasons for this Vote must be an increase in juvenile crime.

We have been told that in the case of these new approved schools so called —I agree with the hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton) that they differ very little from the old reformatory schools of years gone by—the head teachers are appointed by the managers. I should like to know who appoints the other members of the staff, and I should also like to know something more about the managers—who they are and whom they represent. Further, I should like to know how many remand homes are covered by this Vote, where those remand homes are situated, of what type they are, and who inspects and reports upon them, because in my opinion some of the boys and girls who are committed to these homes and schools are being unfairly dealt with.

I am very much concerned especially for these children between 14 and 16, because I believe that the right place for these boys and girls is in the ordinary schools, and not in industry. In my question of the 11th June last I also asked how many of the boys and girls who had been convicted of crime were still attending school, and the answer to that part of the question was that practically none of them had been attending school. As an old teacher I consider that those boys and girls between 14 and 16 ought to have been kept under the discipline of school rather than running about the streets, getting into trouble, and being convicted of crime. I hope that we shall have some fuller information on this matter on the Home Office Vote.

Question, "That this House doth agree with the Committee in the said Resolution," put, and agreed to.

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