HC Deb 03 May 1939 vol 346 cc1925-53

Amendment made: In page 6, line 4, leave out from "to," to "and," in line 7, and insert "a borough, there shall be substituted a reference to a burgh and references to urban or rural districts shall not apply."—[Mr. Wedderburn.]

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read the Third time."

5.17 p.m.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Education (Mr. Lindsay)

My speech on the Financial Resolution was a little blurred by the prospect of a solemn announcement which was about to be made, and on this occasion I want to remind the House that the purpose of this Bill is twofold—evacuation in wartime and education in peace-time. The House has, I think, tended to discuss quite important questions such as amenities but not perhaps to discuss very fully these two main purposes of the Bill. The fact that we are introducing quite revolutionary changes in the technique of education, and the fact that unemployed men who have lost some of their natural strength are going to earn what are really, in effect, subsidised wages, are matters on which the House has preferred not to dwell. I think it is typical of legislation in this country that we introduce important changes by, as it were, a side wind. I must at this Third Reading stage say one word about the peace-time uses of these camps, because that is extremely important. Many of the sites have been chosen and some of the camps will be ready, I hope, by September. Let us picture these camps in the happy event of our escaping war. Much of the talk in the recent Debates about the utilisation of these camps by adults and the possible effect upon seaside resorts is, to my mind, completely beside the point and, indeed, out of place. I wish to see relays of town children filling these camps during term-time. It will be the deliberate policy of the Board to promote this movement.

So much for the nine months of the year during which the children will be at school. Then there will remain the Christmas, the Easter and the Summer holidays, and at these times I should like to see juvenile associations of various kinds using the camps on reasonable terms from the Corporation. The ideal camp, I think, is the small one pitched by a few boys. They can be seen every week-end at the side of farms all over the country. The boys have taken their equipment with them, perhaps on bicycles. But there are hundreds of boys' clubs and other organised bodies possessing no sites for their camps, who would welcome this opportunity. It is imperative, therefore, as the Minister of Health said, that there should be adequate space for recreation. The camp sites might well cover, as I believe they will, 20 to 30 acres. I make the suggestion that the juvenile organisations in the various districts might well take over these camps perhaps for the whole period of the summer vacation, and let them out, because they will have a complete knowledge of the various clubs in their districts. In many cases it will be impossible for one club or one Scout troop to take over a camp with accommodation for 350, but if there are four or five there at the same time it will be possible to arrange all kinds of competitions and to organise the camp on a local basis. Indeed, I suspect that some of the bigger authorities would wish to take over the camps for the whole year.

Mr. R. Morgan

Will the hon. Gentleman tell us how many existing camps there are which are recognised by the Board?

Mr. Lindsay

There are between 18 and 20, and their total accommodation is about 1,400. Therefore, the present arrangements are on a very small scale; but with camps having accommodation for 350 boys between 14 and 18 there will need to be deliberate organisation. I see great possibilities in this movement for the young people between 14 and 18. I see possibilities not only of the ordinary unorganised activities, which are much easier in a small camp, but possibilities of dramatic performances as well as of ordinary sing-songs, perhaps educational films and popular lectures—something which I described elsewhere as the beginning of a voluntary youth movement in this country. Therefore, I should like to bring before the House this particular aspect of the camps which has not hitherto been stressed—the possibility of using them for those between 14 and 18.

Let me return to the school side. Here is a chance of doing something far more important. About half of those who attend the present 20 camps to which my hon. Friend referred are sick and weakly children, and they are sent there on the advice of the medical officers in their districts. By the construction of these camps it will be possible to send relays of children not only to camp but to the country, and here they will live and eat together and will learn to appreciate and to understand each other in conditions which are quite impossible in the ordinary urbanised school. It is my conviction that two weeks in these camps will be worth two months in some of the schools which at present exist. It would be better still if the children could make two visits a year in order to see something of the seasons. Let us remember that many of these children, as those who have any experience of London know, have never heard country sounds, have never smelt country smells. We talk glibly about training teachers who will have a rural background. You cannot gain a rural background in a training college between the ages of 20 and 22. The most impressionable years are the young years. I believe that this may mean a revolution in the technique of education in this country. Only this morning I received very interesting details about an elementary school in South London, situated not very far from here, which wishes to start a young farmers' club on quite new lines in the middle of a big city. The objects are: To assist in breaking down the ignorance and apathy of urban populations towards rural problems, and to provide backgrounds for classroom study in geography and nature study. Later the letter says: It is most desirable that instruction should begin at an age when handling animals is a joy, when fear can be eradicated and soiled clothing is a matter of small account. Here, I believe, is a chance of restoring what has been lost to many, an early acquaintance with the country at an impressionable age. Two years ago I had the pleasure of moving the Third Reading of the Physical Training and Recreation Bill, and recently this House has seen fit to pass the Access to Mountains Bill. To-night we are, I hope, going to pass unanimously the Camps Bill. I believe this is only part of a great national movement to restore to what is, after all, a rather over-urbanised and nerve-ridden world something of the peace and simplicity which come from living in and knowing something about the country. I think that a Bill which gives us the possibility of 250,000 children getting a fortnight in the country every year ought not to be passed over as an ordinary Bill dealing with the question of evacuation, important as that is; it is a Bill which has enormous possibilities and is part of a more sensible and healthy approach to education. I believe that with sympathetic leadership we may, through this Bill, give a chance to the education system of this country to change over from its present rather narrow and pedantic curriculum and provide that equality of physical opportunity which, I believe, is at the basis of democracy.

I wish I could announce this afternoon what I know many hon. Members opposite are desirous of securing, equally with me—a bigger grant to local education authorities for the maintenance of the children at these camps. I cannot at the moment give any further undertaking. I can only say that the matter has really nothing to do with this Bill. It will be discussed on its merits between the local education authorities and the Board of Education, and all I can say to my hon. Friend opposite is that I shall press very strongly for this increased grant, because I believe that it is vital to the success of this movement. I go as far as that; and the fact that I cannot actually announce anything this afternoon will not, I hope, be taken as indicating that the Board of Education is not in earnest about the matter. As I say, it has no specific relation to the Bill as it stands.

Mr. E. J. Williams

In Scotland it seems to have.

Mr. Lindsay

Everything is different in Scotland. But quite apart from this Bill, and on its merits, I shall press to secure full advantages for elementary education in connection with these camps. For this and many other reasons I hope the House will give the Bill the Third Reading.

5.30 p.m.

Mr. Noel-Baker

I say at once that I fully agreed with the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Education when he expressed the hope that the camps would be full throughout the year with relays of school children. I hope with him that during the holidays it will be possible for the juvenile organisations to take them over as he suggests, and again to keep them in full use. That will very greatly ease the financial problem of the statutory companies and will enable them to charge a lower rate per head per week and thus to maximise the use to which the camps are put. I do not agree with what he said if he meant to exclude the possibility that there should be camps under this Bill for adult holiday purposes. I am delighted that he thinks that the use of these camps ought to be driven forward with all the energy which the Board can put into it, and that he thinks the camps will introduce a revolutionary change in our method of education. I think that he is very likely right, but I am convinced also that there is a great demand for camps for adult holidays as well. I believe that the Government ought and will be compelled to take further powers under the Bill as well as to exercise the powers which they now have, to make camps for adults.

On the question of money, about which the Minister of Health spoke on the Report stage, the hon. Gentleman suggested that it might be necessary for the Government to come and ask for more money. I have always thought that the basic estimate of £20,000 for camps was very low. I doubt whether in many cases 30 acres will be all that we shall need. I have seen, and I do not know whether the Minister has seen, the plan of the Lambeth Municipal Camp. It is now at the Housing Centre in Southwark. It allows for50 acres, and I am bound to say, looking at the plan, that the camp is far better with 50 acres and that it would have been rather narrowly restricted if it had been confined to 30 acres. It is a question not only of additional land but of expansibility, about which the Minister gave us such a good deal of satisfaction on the Committee stage. The right hon. Gentleman has held out hopes that in time of war the camps will be expansible far beyond the two-fold expansion originally suggested. That will mean more money.

The Parliamentary Secretary says that local education authorities are to be encouraged to send children to the camps for two weeks and perhaps for two weeks twice a year. I am not sure that one month instead of two periods of two weeks each would not be more beneficial to their health, but that is another question, and experience will show. He suggested that four weeks might be ordinarily allowed to other children, but 50 camps accommodat- ing about 350 children each will not go very far, and I think that we shall be obliged to have more camps. If the Government are thinking rather in terms of money, and come to the House and ask for more money, we shall be very glad to vote it. We are very sorry that the Parliamentary Secretary could not announce that the rate of grant for elementary schools for the use of these camps is to be increased beyond 20 per cent. It would be most ludicrous if the Board were to give 50 per cent. for the use of the camps to secondary schools and only 20 per cent. to elementary schools.

Mr. Lindsay

Perhaps I might just correct what is something of an exaggeration. It is true that everything in connection with secondary schools receives a 50 per cent. grant, but it is also true that secondary schools have their own camps all over the country, and that they do not therefore make use of the 50 per cent. grant specifically for camps. I want to make that point clear.

Mr. Noel-Baker

The children are to be taught in the camps, and if the education authorities receive 50 per cent. while teaching the children in their home towns they should receive 50 per cent. while teaching them in camps. If they receive 50 per cent. for secondary school children they ought to receive that percentage also for elementary school children. It is in the elementary school period that the children can receive most benefit from the camps. The years from five to 12 are the decisive ones in which their physical future is determined. I am certain that if we had to choose whether we ought to send to the camps children of elementary school age or of secondary school age, it would be right to choose the elementary school age, and if that is true surely it is desirable that 50 per cent. should be given. It would be an anomaly to give a lower rate than that which you would give for secondary school purposes.

If it is the case, as the Minister tells us, that the camps are to be ready in September, and if it is desirable then that they should be in full use from the very start, it is also desirable that the Government should make up their minds on the question of grant, because until they do so local education authorities will not be able to lay their plans for the coming autumn. Unless those plans are made now, the camps will be kept empty for a considerable time after they are set up. We shall continue to press the Government on this matter, and I hope that then decision will be taken with the least possible delay.

There is only one other point which I wish to raise, and it relates to the siting of camps. Again, I hope that the Minister will be able to see the camp exhibition at the housing centre of which I have already spoken. There are some extremely valuable maps in that exhibition, dealing specifically with the siting of camps. They take account of what I may call the strategic effect, namely, the relation of the siting of the camps to the danger from various targets which the enemy will probably try to bombard in time of war. I think that subject is very important and I hope that the Government are taking it duly into account. There is another factor of which I hope they will take account and which is more important still, and that is that the camps should be put in good country. By that I mean beautiful country. I hope that the Government are not just going to dump them down in a field when two miles away there is a moor or a wood. I hope that they will ensure that the children in the camps will have natural beauty all round and all the time. Let us remember that most of the children will not go far from the camps most of the days they are there. I hope that the Government will bear in mind that what is primarily desirable is natural beauty close to the camps.

I am glad that the Parliamentary Secretary made the speech he did. We think with him that this is a very important Bill, and we agree about its peace-time social purposes, both educationally for the children and for holidays for their parents and older children. We agree much more about those peace-time purposes than we do about the evacuation of children from towns in time of war, important as that may be. We are glad that the Government have at last taken this first step—we think a very modest and hesitating step—towards providing equality of opportunity for our people to see the countryside.

5.39 p.m.

Sir Percy Harris

It is very fortunate that the Parliamentary Secretary was allowed to introduce the Third Reading of this Bill. I think that the Minister of Health will agree that for the evacuation of school children the Bill is a very small contribution compared with the vast number of children who will have to be evacuated, because only a very small percentage will be accommodated at the camps. I agree with the hon. Member for Derby (Mr. Noel-Baker) that it is a good Bill and that something good has come out of the rumours of war that have influenced our policy so much in the last few months. While I agree with the speech made by the Parliamentary Secretary, I do not think that the impression should be given abroad that the Bill is a novel proposal because we are initiating the first introduction of children under our school authorities to the country.

I should like to take the opportunity here of paying a tribute to the great and pioneer work done by the School Journeys Association. Hundreds of thousands of children have visited the country during the last quarter of a century as a result of the activities of that society. Sometimes they have stayed in camps near the sea and sometimes in villages under the supervision of their school teachers. The work and the initiative have been provided by associations representing the school teachers with, of course, the good will and financial assistance of the Board of Education and the local authorities concerned. It has been a marvellous thing and the pennies of the children and their parents have been contributed to enable children to go away on those organised school journeys. I am able to say from my personal knowledge that many boys and girls have been prevented from taking advantage of a school journey because of shortage of money and inability on the part of the parents, by reason of poverty or unemployment, to make the small contribution required. I can bear testimony from many years' experience of the school journeys to the important effect they have had on the minds and characters of the children who have been lucky enough to have those facilities. In most of the schools with which I am familiar the journeys are followed by quite amusing and attractive essays which show the new outlook on life which has come from the visit to the country.

I hope that these camps will be largely organised by that great society, at any rate for London, because they have an accumulated experience and knowledge which it would be a pity not to utilise for this purpose. I understand that the camps will be largely for the advantage of London, which is a great, continuous urban area. Tens of thousands of children very rarely got a sight of the country unless they go on one of the school journeys organised by the Country Holiday Fund. I am glad that the Parliamentary Secretary accentuated the importance of using the camps during school holidays. School journeys take place generally during the school terms and are part of the school education. They are subsidised on that basis and come into the syllabus of training. In holiday time some sites for the clubs are urgently necessary, but there is nothing about it in the Bill.

I remember the great work that was done by a former Member of this House, Mr. Frank Briant. He was helped by Lord Arnold, and although I will not say it was pioneer work, it was magnificent in the way it organised camps for children who lived in a very poor and overcrowded district. There are dozens of clubs which have been running camps of this kind under great difficulty, both of money and of opportunity, and as the Bill will extend that work it is all to the good. It is good also to know that the State, the Government, have recognised the utility of this movement and that they will now bring school holidays within the reach of tens of thousands more children.

We do not want the rules to be too strict, or the regulations too severe. I hope that the new trust will be under the control of men and women with knowledge and experience of young people and sympathy with their ideas, that there will be that freedom which is the essence and foundation of the holiday spirit, and that the rules for the control of these camps will be inspired by that spirit, so that, when young people go into the country, they will go there in a spirit of inspiration, not fettered by severe State regulations drawn up by officials and tied up with red tape. If the Board has an understanding of the purpose of the Bill, I believe that great advantages and benefits will accrue from it to the permanent well-being of the community and of the nation.

5.46 p.m.

Mr. Spens

I should like to say a word of thanks to my hon. Friend for his speech in moving the Third Reading. The view he put forward that the 50 camps to be established under this Bill should be for the children in the first place will appeal to everyone. Whatever provision may exist at the present time, it is certain that hundreds of thousands of children who could make use of camps do not get the opportunity of doing so. The hon. Member for South-West Bethnal Green (Sir P. Harris) said that there was nothing novel in the Bill, and it is true that great pioneer work has been done by private individuals and private subscription, but here, after a quarter of a century, we have, not a Socialist or a Liberal Government, but a National Government, stepping in and giving an enormous impetus to the movement. No doubt that impetus originates in one sense from sources abroad, but what we have mostly been discussing is the use of these camps in peace-time. I do not want hon. Gentlemen opposite to think I do not appreciate, as they do, the desirability of holiday camps for adults, but I felt some anxiety when listening to their speeches in Committee, because there seems to be a great desire on their part that these first camps should be appropriated, at any rate-partly, for use by adults. I hope that the hon. Member for Derby (Mr. Noel-Baker) will agree with me that the first object should be the children.

Mr. Noel-Baker

I personally should like the great majority of these camps to be devoted to children, but it would be extremely difficult to make camps which would be suitable for use by children at one part of the year and would be usable by adults for the rest of the year. I hope that under the Bill the Government will establish new experimental camps for adult holidays, because there is an enormous demand for such camps, and it is very important that experiments should be made in this direction at the earliest possible moment.

Mr. Spens

I am much obliged to the hon. Member; the difference between us seems now to be reduced to something comparatively small. I agree with him on one point, namely, that these camps should be placed in proper country, and, as one who represents an area where we have these camps, I should say that proper country means the really rural parts of the country. Such areas, however, are sparsely populated at the present time, and a 1d. rate brings in but a very small amount. Experience teaches us all along the Kent coast that, if you have a series of children coming from school during the summer, it is certain that in one summer out of two, or one out of three, they will bring infectious disease with them. In one case scarlet fever broke out, and a great number of children got it. Naturally, under the Ministry of Health regulations, those children had to be sent to the local isolation hospital, and they all had to be nursed and attended there, so that that hospital, which normally might have only two or three patients, was more than full for a series of weeks, and the expense incurred came to a very substantial figure. Those who were responsible—I mention no names and no bodies—for sending those children to that camp, refused absolutely to pay a penny towards the cost of nursing them in this local hospital, and the local ratepayers, in a very small area, had to suffer an increase of 3d. in the £ on their rates to cover the expense of nursing their guests. I mention that because it is one of the sort of troubles that come to the local population in such cases, and I hope the Government will consider it in the arrangements that are made. Apart from that, I welcome the suggestions which have been made this afternoon, and wish the experiment all the success that the Parliamentary Secretary has voiced to the House.

5.53 p.m.

Sir William Jenkins

I welcome the speech of the Parliamentary Secretary. We in the distressed areas in South Wales have had some experience of camps. I remember that years ago our views on the question of camps were not accepted, because it was said that it was as much as we could do to provide schools. Year after year we sent deputations, but our request was refused, until the depression came, and even then we were unable to get anything done except through the Social Service Council. We were, and still are, anxious that the camps should be run by the education authorities, because we know how valuable have been the camps that we have had in South Wales, particularly for weakly children. I want to know where South Wales will come in under this Bill, and whether there are to be any additional camps in Wales. There has been no definite promise that we are to have one in Wales, and we should like to know. The camps that we have at present are being run by the Social Service Council in conjunction with the education authorities, who hold joint meetings once or twice a year to make the necessary arrangements. I should also like to be assured that the camps to be set up will be permanent—that they will not consist merely of sheds and wooden structures, but will be permanent, well-equipped camps, so that the children may have every possible opportunity of improving in health and in their general condition. I am glad that the Government are contemplating an area of 20 or 30 acres of land for these camps, because we want, not only to feed the children, but to give them plenty of opportunities for recreation in the open.

Another very important factor, which has already been mentioned, is the suitability of the site, so that water, drainage, lighting and other facilities may be available, and the children, particularly from the industrial areas, may have an opportunity of going to rural areas and benefiting from the fresh air. I hope that people from London will not be sent to tell us where these camps should be. I think that the people in the areas concerned are entitled to be consulted before the camps are set up, and I hope that such consultation will take place, particularly in Wales, where we may be able to give advice and assistance in the selection of the best places. I am anxious, too, that the grant should be increased. The 20 per cent. grant for elementary schools is unreasonably low for school camps. If the Government are considering, as I think they are, the health and the future of the children, a 50 per cent. grant is the lowest that ought to be expected for these elementary school camps. I hope that the accommodation and arrangements will be such that the education authorities will get full value from them, both on the educational and on the health side. I know that an application is to be made to the Board for a school camp near the Duffryn gardens. We have recently received a magnificent gift of gardens, on which something like £350,000 has been spent, and we want a school camp near to those gardens. They are 40 acres in extent, and contain all kinds of trees, flowers and so on. We should like our children to have the opportunity of seeing these beautiful things for themselves—of seeing something other than coal, steel and iron. I hope that the distressed areas, and particularly South Wales, will be considered in connection with this matter.

5.59 p.m.

Mr. R. Morgan

I want to join in the chorus of congratulation to the hon. Gentleman who moved the Third Reading. As one who has seen something of school camps, I heartily welcome the Bill. I put a question to the Parliamentary Secretary asking how many school camps there were in existence at the present time, and I was rather alarmed at the smallness of the number. The question that concerns me now is when we are going to have a larger number. The camps I have seen in Worcestershire and Staffordshire are excellent examples of what such camps should be. I attach no importance to whether this is an innovation, or whose suggestion it was; I want to give full credit to the Board and the Government for what they are doing now, and I rather resent the implied charge made by the hon. Baronet the Member for South-West Bethnal Green (Sir P. Harris), and also by the hon. Member for Neath (Sir W. Jenkins), that little help has been given by the Board in the past. Let us be quite fair. I suppose one of the greatest pioneers of school camps, and all that appertains to school camps and school boy life was an Inspector of the Board—I think his name was Sir Roger Curtis. No one knew better what the life in those camps should be.

I would like to join with the hon. Gentleman opposite, and say that I hope we shall get a larger grant for these camps. There should be no differentiation in grants between those for elementary children and for secondary schoolchildren. I hope the new camps will be arranged so that they can be easily doubled or trebled, so that, instead of having only 350 camps, we can get two or three times that number in a very short time. I have nothing to say this afternoon about the question of the protection of these children in the event of evacuation—I suppose there will be an opportunity for discussing that on another occasion—but I hope satisfactory arrangements will be made at all these camps. That is a very important factor. These children will require very careful and ample protection. I am sure the whole of the teaching profession and others concerned with children will welcome this Bill.

6.3 p.m.

Mr. Ede

It was quite refreshing to listen to the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Education this afternoon. As one who has been trying to extend. open-air education in one form or another for over 30 years, I was glad to hear that a little fresh air is getting into the Board of Education. In the early days, those of us who were pioneers had no help, and considerable hindrance, from the officers of the Board, and I welcome the new attitude adopted by the Parliamentary Secretary. If the Bill is worked by the Board in the spirit of his speech he will have no cause to complain of lack of co-operation, either from the local education authorities or from the teachers. I hope his warning to the Treasury, from the Treasury Bench, that he intended to put up a stiff fight for additional grants will be heard and understood by the Treasury, and that he will be successful in the fight.

I was very glad to hear the point he made about juvenile organisations that will be expected to use these camps during school holidays. I hope that both they and the senior children in the schools will be allowed to carry out some measure of improvisation in the camp and in their lives there. I know nothing more heartening than the way in which in suburban areas children will get a few sheets of canvas—not always altogether waterproof, I am afraid—a couple of sticks, and a piece of string, and make a camp of their own for Saturdays and Sundays. They get the real camping spirit. They may not get the creature comfort that comes from being in weatherproof huts, but, after all, they are enjoying a healthy open-air life. I hope there will be arrangements in the camps for children for whom such arrangements are suitable to pitch tents, strike the tents, and live in the tents when they desire. A very great deal of the advantage to be gained from this kind of life comes from doing as many things as possible for oneself, so that at some future occasion one can carry on in one's own way with a small party. Having seen this sort of thing going on for the past 30 years, I am sure that it is in such improvisation that the greatest delight is obtained.

I recall—over 30 years ago now—taking a party of boys up the Thames in a boat from Mortlake to Oxford, where we had a very rough time indeed, but when we came back every one of the boys considered he had had a wonderful time, because we had not known where we should be at any future time and had had to improvise things all the way. I see a well-known Thames Conservator opposite. I regret to say that that sort of thing came to an end because the Conservators put up the fees for the locks to such a height that the funds of the boys were no longer adequate to meet the expense. I hope the Parliamentary Secretary will realise that, for many of the boys and girls going to these camps, it is very difficult for the parents to provide from their incomes even a small sum. The boys of whom I was speaking saved up for a long time until they had enough to cover their expenses. I welcome the Bill; I especially welcome the spirit in which the Third Reading was moved this afternoon, and I sincerely hope that the Parliamentary Secretary is going to be successful in his fight with the Treasury for the extra grant, because on the success of that depends the final triumph of this scheme.

6.9 p.m.

Mr. W. Joseph Stewart

I whole-heartedly welcome this Bill, but there are one or two points in connection with it that I would like to mention. One relates to the selection of the sites and the areas in which the camps have to be placed. The Minister of Health, in his Second Reading speech, referred to what was happening as far as the North-East of England was concerned. I come from Durham County, a county which is highly industrialised, with a school population of approximately 120,000 or 125,000. Although we are not in the evacuation area, one is concerned as to what would happen to those children in the event of air raids. The Parliamentary Secretary said this afternoon that these camps had two purposes: evacuation in war-time and education in peace-time. As I have said, Durham at the moment is not an evacuation area, but we are hoping that, although the Government have decided along those lines, they will in the near future, owing to our vulnerability, reverse that decision. It is absolutely necessary that some provision should be made for the evacuation of our children to a part of the county that would, to an appreciable extent, be immune from air attack. Although Durham is a highly industrialised county, there are in the upper reaches of Weardale, the Tyne, and Teesdale beautiful areas, which, I should think, are far away from any possibility of bombing.

Surely, if it is imperative, in the interests of the elementary school population in the other areas of the country, that something should be done on educational lines as far as camps are concerned, Durham ought to be brought into this scheme. I asked the right hon. Gentleman, in the Second Reading Debate, what was going to be done in regard to Durham County, and I am afraid he did not give me a very satisfactory answer. In view of the Parliamentary Secretary's statement that those camps will have to serve the dual purpose of evacuation in time of war and education in time of peace, I would ask the right hon. Gentleman whether something cannot be done to meet the position of Durham by selecting sites in the North-Eastern area, and so bringing a certain measure of justice to that large school population which we have.

6.13 p.m.

Mr. A. Somerville

The hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede), than whom nobody is more qualified to speak on this question—I regret that he has left his place—made reference to the Thames Conservancy. That body is most anxious, within its limitations and statutory obligations and its small income, to do its best to provide facilities for camping and bathing in the Thames Valley. I can assure the hon. Member that, so far as I can, I will make his appeal known to the Conservancy. May I take this opportunity of adding my voice to the congratulations of the Parliamentary Secretary? Even from some of the most evil things good sometimes comes, and it is a very good thing that out of the present international situation has arisen this provision of camps. I welcome the Bill, and I hope that very great good will come from it.

6.15 p.m.

Dr. Haden Guest

I do not want to say anything this afternoon on the evacuation side of these camps, as I have expressed my views in a previous Debate on that subject. This afternoon we have the very attractive subject of camps for purposes of education, and I want to say something from the medical point of view. As the hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) said some time ago, it has been the objective of Socialist propaganda for over 30 years to have open-air education for school children, and these camps go some way towards providing it. The speech of the Parliamentary Secretary really made me almost imagine that I could see him piping, with the little lambs following him into the meadow, so poetical had he become, and I hope that the idea of these camps from the educational point of view will seize on the imagination of the country. If we are able to return at some time from our uncivilised preoccupations with questions of bombing and other things of that kind to really civilised matters of dealing with child life and the humanities, I hope that there will be a very great development of these camps, and that they will develop on the medical side.

The hon. Member for Neath (Sir W. Jenkins) said something about wanting the camps to be solidly built. I agree that they ought to be substantially built, but—and I think that I have the backing of the medical authorities on this matter—do let us get away from the idea of providing permanent structures which will last for hundreds of years, like some of the elementary schools of the London County Council, which, in spite of the presence of my right hon. Friend the Member for South Hackney (Mr. H. Morrison), I say are absolute atrocities from the architectural point of view.

Mr. Herbert Morrison

Not the new ones.

Dr. Guest

They should be camps to last for, say, 20 or 30 years and not for an indefinitely long period. I urge the Parliamentary Secretary to take into consideration the possibility of using these camps more extensively than is perhaps at present contemplated, for the purpose of open-air education of large classes of children. As he knows, large classes of children go to the few open-air schools that are in existence and have special food and so on. These children, in the country as a whole, comprise a very large number, and if they could have their education in school camps they would be enormously improved in health, and, if taken early enough, many children might be restored to real normality. That would be an enormously important thing.

My hon. Friend sitting behind me has spoken of the need of camps in Durham, and the same can be said in regard to Lancashire, Yorkshire and all the industrial areas of the North. I would point out to the Parliamentary Secretary that in these counties you very often have a contact town with tramway routes running out, and the open county within five, six or seven miles, where you could easily erect open-air camps and use them as schools. Many of them would be very easy of access and within almost walking distance of the town. I hope that the idea of camps will seize upon the imagination of the country and will very rapidly develop, and that the question of using some of them, at any rate, for the purpose of open-air education will not be lost sight of. I would suggest as a new motto for the Parliamentary Secretary that he should look forward not only to 250,000 children having school holidays in these camps, but to every child in the country having a holiday. It ought to be just as much the right of every child to have a holiday, as it will soon become the right of every worker to have a holiday with pay

6.21 p.m.

Mr. Tomlinson

I am glad that the hon. Member for North Islington (Dr. H. Guest) brought Lancashire and Yorkshire into the picture. It is essential that camps should be put amid delightful surroundings, and I hope that at least some of these camps may be established in Lancashire. There you get not only delightful surroundings and all the amenities that are required, but the type of educational body that will be prepared to co-operate and make a success of this undertaking. It is strange, and to me it is a tragedy, that we should have to be brought right up against the problem of evacuation before we realise the needs of school children. For 30 years demands have been made for school camps and open-air education. I have been to the Board of Education on more than one occasion to plead for the opportunity to set up an open-air school, and time and time again we have been turned down, and it has been said that there was no money. Now that there is money to burn, I hope—[Interruption]—Oh yes, there is money to burn; it may not be for educational purposes, but at any rate for evacuation and other purposes, in the interests of the Defence of our country, and I say unhesitatingly, after the last 12 months' experience in this House, that there is money to burn. Do not let anybody tell me again that we are short of money, because I will not believe them.

I hope that these camps, which are now to be used for peace-time work, will be utilised to the full, though it will depend upon whether or not funds are made available so that they can be fully used. I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will win in his fight with the Treasury, for I realise that he will have to fight. He has said that he will put the case on its merits. The word "merits" in the English language has two different connotations, one used by the Board of Education, and the other by the Treasury. It does not mean the same thing at all in the two different Departments, but I trust that on this occasion, in dealing with the case on its merits, the educational point of view will come put successfully. I have been helping to provide funds for the last five or six years in order that children might have an opportunity of visiting camps in the summer time. I know of many education authorities willing to provide these facilities for the children, but they are dependent upon the coppers which can be saved, and when the coppers are not available the holiday is not forthcoming. I do not want these camps to be utilised merely as holiday camps for children, but as school camps. I believe that the children would benefit in physical health and attain greater advantages from close contact with the countryside.

The Minister of Health is entitled to our thanks for having seen the necessity for including the Amendment passed this afternoon and now incorporated in the Bill, so that the amenities round the camps may be preserved. If, as I hope, these camps are always to be used for educational purposes and never for evacuation purposes, the amenities of the camps and the preservation of the amenities surrounding the camps become all the more important. However, much as I realise the necessity for the camp site being preserved, I would put in a plea for setting aside some level ground. I know something of the beauty of the mountainside and something of the inspiration which comes from the hills and the woods, but that is not of much use if you want to play football. Boys do want to play football and cricket occasionally, and therefore, I hope that that aspect of the camp site will be kept in mind when the educational value is being considered.

6.27 p.m.

Mr. Hicks

I have been particularly pleased, as, I believe, have other Members of the House, at the generally favourable reception the Bill has received. The only criticism I have heard of the Bill at any time has been that it is inadequate. I am confident that if the Minister had shown greater courage in introducing the Bill, he would have been able to get a larger amount of money and the sanction of the House in order to make a bigger job of it, instead of being limited to 50 camps. In the last Debate a long discussion took place as to the desirability of circumscribing a good deal of the land around the camps in order to prevent ugly buildings being erected and un-favourable trading opportunities created and so prevent a bad environment being introduced, and to all that I willingly subscribe. As to the amount of money allowed for the construction of each of the camps, I really think that the official of the Government Department responsible for giving the Minister a round figure as to the possible cost had either old Army huts or something of that character in mind. Though the provision of these camps has been subjected to the closest possible examination, the money allocated at the present time is not sufficient for the task of building them. I hope that the House will take note of that. After taking into consideration all these factors, including the fact that one public-spirited man has given a site, and, as I understand, other people are inclined to do the same because they like the idea of camps, I would ask the Minister seriously to recognise that the amount of money for the construction of the camps is not sufficient. Not only should the camps be constructed in such a way as to be used as holiday camps for school children, but plans and precautions should be adopted at the present time to meet the needs that would arise in the event of war breaking out and evacuation taking place.

We have considered the question not only of having an assembly hall, but classrooms for children in bad weather, and everyone will agree that that is a desirable thing. With the present amount of money available, however, I am afraid that they will have to be cut out in many instances, unless the House agrees to increase the provisional estimate on which the Minister based his figures. He is not to blame, but those who advised him must have had in their minds such things as Army hats, not dormitories suitable for camps. I rise to strike that note, that in spite of the fact that land is being given and that more will be given, in order to be able to produce an ordinary administration block and an assembly hall and to make some provision for class rooms for the children in the event of bad weather, with a minimum cost of production and the standardising of all the parts, I am sure the money allowed now, on the basis of £20,000 per camp, will be unequal to the task. I ask the Minister to take that matter into his serious consideration. I can guarantee that, so far as the Board is concerned, it will do all that it can to keep the costs down and to have them subject to any examination that may be required, but if the House is called upon to meet the difference between what is provisionally allowed and the actual cost, I hope it will recognise the need of doing it, in order that we may have something decent and respectable for the children to occupy and something of which we shall not be ashamed.

6.33 p.m.

Miss Wilkinson

The young Minister opposite has cast himself for the role of David, but I rather gathered from his speech and from the discussion that has followed that he is much more likely to play the role of the smoking sacrifice for the whole Government. This is really a miserable Bill, brought in for a miserable reason, and that is the necessity of doing something about evacuation. The whole thing, even now that it has been amended, gives the impression that the Government are doing something about this subject when really they are doing very little indeed. The Bill is already out of date by the time it has reached its Third Reading stage. The Minister himself has admitted that the amount of money available is terribly small, and presumably, if he wins his battle with the Treasury, he will have to come to this House and ask for more money, which will take more Parliamentary time. He is faced with rising costs every week, and if the Government are going to do even a small amount of what they suggest with regard to evacuation, the sum of money that is proposed to be given is utterly inadequate. It was inadequate when the Bill was first introduced, and it is more than inadequate now.

We are told that we are starting on an experiment. I would like to ask the Minister whether, as a result of the discussions that have taken place since the Committee stage, he feels satisfied that he will get what he wants with regard to the evacuation of schools. When the Minister was speaking at a very large and most unenthusiastic conference at Newcastle-on-Tyne on this matter, he pooh-poohed the idea of those of us who at that conference advocated very wide expenditure on camps on the moor-side next to the private areas. The difficulty in dealing with any legislation is, of course, that events are moving much more rapidly than we can provide legislation for, and in between the Minister's speech at that conference and the Third Reading of the Bill, I gather from the A.R.P. authorities in my own constituency and area that that area is now almost certainly being marked as an evacuation area.

Mr. Elliot

indicated dissent.

Miss Wilkinson

If that is the case, the situation is even blacker than we thought. You have this Bill, this talk about camps, this assumption that something is being done, and that this small amount represents something like a contribution to evacuation, and then you have the whole of this crowded area on Tyneside, and what is going to be done with those children? I suggest that we are almost crystallising the position round the £1,300,000 which is mentioned in the Bill, and we could use that amount of money for the six Northern counties alone, and then want more. It is not a question of just running these camps only for holiday or school camps. The Government's idea is that they can be extended for evacuation purposes. What then? Is nothing going to be done towards laying down sewerage and water systems? Those of us who feel some responsibility for the child life in these teeming, crowded areas, where nothing is being done at all, really feel that we cannot join in the congratulations over this miserable little Bill at this time, when the least that the Government should do is to ask for something like a token Vote in order to get on with a reasonable scheme for evacuation purposes.

I have been specially asked by the chairman of the A.R.P. committee in my constituency, the deputy mayor, to raise this matter, because he was under the impression that this Tyneside area was to be evacuated. It is on a clear line of river in the very centre of munition works and of a shipbuilding area, and if the area is not to be evacuated, what justification is there for any area to be evacuated? There are wide sweeps of moorland which are extremely suitable for the evacuation of children, and the building of camps, and apparently the Government have not even considered them. The more one sees what is happening for the safeguarding of our population and of our children, the more concerned one gets about the Government's lackadaisical attitude to it. Any amount of money can be raised for the killing of other people's children, but what we are concerned about is the safeguarding of our own children, and it is really appalling that this £1,200,000 should be considered as any sort of contribution to the problem.

This is not the time to discuss whether, as a pleasant piece of educational policy, it is rather nice for the Government to give a bit of money for an experiment to take slum children out for a fortnight's holiday. We could have discussed that five years ago or even a year ago, but the situation now is much too serious for us to be talking merely as though it were a question of a pleasant experiment in holiday camps. This is a point about which the A.R.P. wardens and committees are much concerned. They know that it is not a holiday camp Bill, and therefore they want to know to what extent this really represents the Government's attitude towards camp evacuation. I feel certain that the Government will find that hos- pitality evacuation will probably break down, for all sorts of reasons, but the one type of evacuation that will not break down is where you get evacuation under teachers into properly prepared sites and camps, in areas that are very unlikely to be bombed, areas that can be properly safeguarded. When the Government are appealing to people to give great care and thought and time to these problems, it is very worrying when the Government come along with this sort of Bill and when they are not even frank about it, but dress it up as a holiday homes sort of Bill, when really what they are doing is trying to get away with that issue, when we try and pin them down to the evacuation of children.

6.42 p.m.

Mr. Elliot

It would be discourteous not to reply to the hon. Lady, although I had not intended to go further in my remarks than those made by my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Education. Nearly all the hon. Lady's remarks did not refer to the question which we have to discuss on the Third Reading of this Bill, but rather to the general question of evacuation, and it would be out of order for me to go into that at all. She asked how the matter stood about the areas on Tyneside which were evacuable. I think she herself very well knows the promise that I gave to the conference in Newcastle to send up officers of my Department to hold technical discussions with the technical officers of the local authorities there. The head of my evacuation department went up there and held that conference, and the officers of the local authorities there unanimously decided to leave to my local inspector, in consultation with the local authorities, the demarcation of the areas on Tyneside which would be evacuable areas and which would not. My inspector is now engaged on that work, and I hope to see the result of that demarcation at a very early date. That result will be published along with the results for the other areas that are now under consideration.

Miss Wilkinson

When the right hon. Gentleman shook his head, was he not denying that this area was evacuable?

Mr. Elliot

No. I was indicating that the matter was under consideration and that I was not going to let it be thought that it had been decided that the whole of the hon. Lady's constituency was to be evacuated. The whole thing was under technical consideration and the results are not yet published. It is true that the camps, as I said at the time—and the Government still hold to it—do not provide a large scale alternative to billeting. They are an experiment in the way of evacuation, and they are more than an experiment; they are an extension of a proved and tried method of social progress in school camps. I do not think anyone will agree that the billeting scheme is bound to break down. If so, this country would be confronted with a very serious problem, which it would be quite impossible to solve by the construction of any number of camps which it would be possible to provide in any reasonable time. But it should not go out from this House that billeting is bound to break down. It is on billeting that we must rely in the main for the evacuation of the children, the school children, the young children, the mothers, and the sick people whom we intend to evacuate.

Mr. Noel-Baker

All of us on this side of the House will agree that the billeting system must be exploited to the utmost extent, but we are convinced that the Government are working on far too modest an estimate of the number of people to be evacuated. Whatever the Government do by way of billeting, even if they pack people much more closely, there must be far more accommodation found than is being provided. Therefore, we hope there will be a very great extension of camps, in order that the chaos that will ensue if there is air bombardment will be reduced to the least possible limit.

Mr. Elliot

The hon. Member is now arguing that accommodation ought to be provided for classes other than the priority classes—children, young persons, sick mothers and so on—on whose evacuation the Government is working. The hon. Member for Jarrow (Miss Wilkinson) said that the position was not satisfactory even as regards the priority classes. I strongly differ from that statement. The response that we have had from the country is good. Plans have been closely worked out, and on those plans we must rely for the accommodation for the priority classes. I do not deny that we may have to provide further accommoda- tion, over and above that already existing, for other classes who may have to be evacuated in case of heavy and long-continued air bombardment.

Mr. Noel-Baker

The right hon. Gentleman cannot deny that the more children that are sent to camps the better it will be for the children.

Mr. Elliot

I must not be led away into a discussion of policy and into admitting that the more children that can be sent to camps the better for the children. That is a view which the right hon. Member for South Hackney (Mr. H. Morrison) and other hon. Members opposite contested. It was said again and again during the Second Reading Debate that the children could best be cared for in the households of the country. I do not think it is right to say that the more children that can be taken away from their homes and put into camps the better for the child population of this country. That is not so, and it is not accepted on his own side of the House.

Mr. Noel-Baker

We say that the Minister is now planning the billeting of people, particularly children, in many places which are certain to be targets of air bombardment, and we should like those places to be free of children. Therefore, we think that there ought to be more camps away from the vulnerable areas.

Mr. Elliot

That may very well be, but the hon. Member's point is that the children are better in camps than in billets. That is a contention which was strongly contested on his own side of the House. I will go no further than that. I have been asked about the areas in which camps are being constructed. The camps are being constructed as far as possible within reasonable distance of the great towns. The camps must be regarded as for the purpose of the housing of school children during peace and the receiving of evacuated population during war. Several of the points made by hon. Members did not seem to take that phase of the position into consideration. I have been asked to put camps in the Special Areas. As is well known, a number of camps have already been constructed in the Special Areas. There will be camps in Wales and in the Durham area, but the larger proportion of the camps will no doubt be nearer to the big centres of population which will be liable to the heaviest and longest air bombardment in case of war.

The hon. Member for East Woolwich (Mr. Hicks), whose informed contributions to Debates on this subject we all value very much, warned the House on a point to which I myself drew attention on the Report stage, namely, that the cost of the camps will probably make it impossible for the programme of 50 to be fully completed with the money at our disposal. That is a point which the House must keep in mind. It is probable that the money which the House has voted will not be sufficient to complete the 50 camps. Therefore, any unnecessary expenditure will make it the less possible to complete the programme which was originally thought possible.

Miss Wilkinson

If the right hon. Gentleman now says that the programme contemplated in the Bill may not be able to be completed with the money provided, what is he going to do about it as a Cabinet Minister?

Mr. Elliot

If the hon. Lady would really listen to some of the speeches, instead of being so full with the points she wishes to make—I am not saying that in any controversial sense—she would appreciate the point that I am trying to make.

Miss Wilkinson

That is extremely rude, and not true. I have listened.

Mr. Elliot

Then I must have been unsuccessful in my attempt to make myself understood. I do not think the hon. Lady fully appreciated what was said by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Education. He was not discussing the amount of money for the construction of camps but what percentage of the maintenance charges could be paid by way of grant by the Board of Education. I have tried to make that clear to the hon. Lady that the Parliamentary Secretary was not dealing with the point to which the hon. Lady drew attention.

Miss Wilkinson

Really, this Debate is not taking place in the Glasgow University Union, where members score debating points over each other. This is a matter of extreme importance to a large number of air-raid precautions com- mittees. The right hon. Gentleman says that the total amount of money will not be sufficient for the programme recently foreshadowed with respect to 50 camps. He is replying as a Cabinet Minister, and I ask, what is the Cabinet going to do about it, seeing that the money provided will not complete the Cabinet's own programme?

Mr. Elliot

The hon. Lady has certainly no reason to feel that she is not able to give tit for tat, and that in the strongest measure. I will not say anything about the remarks she has made, because on Third Reading it would be very undignified if we fell into a wrangle on the lines towards which I am afraid we are tending. This is not a question of scoring debating points in the Glasgow University Union or in any other union. The Parliamentary Secretary was discussing the point as to the amount of the Exchequer grant to Local Education Authorities towards the cost of the maintenance of children using the camps. The hon. Lady has brought up a different point, which was first mentioned by myself on the Report stage, and later by the hon. Member for East Woolwich and the hon. Member for Derby (Mr. Noel-Baker), namely, that the camps are liable to cost more per unit than the estimate originally given. She knows as well as I do that the money voted by this House remains. Our task now is to press on as rapidly as possible with the completion of the camps for which the House has voted money. When we have completed the programme, or we are in process of completing it, then we shall have to consider whether any further programme should be embarked upon or not. That is a perfectly reasonable statement, and it is not scoring a debating point. That is facing up to the problem and giving a frank answer to the question that has been put, and I hope it will be accepted by the House in the sense that I give it.

We are approaching the end of a Debate in which points relating to war and peace have been raised. The hon. Member for Jarrow is bitterly apprehensive of the dangers that may come to the people of this country as a whole as the result of air warfare, and her apprehensions are shared in every part of the House. These camps will be valuable to our educational system, but we all have fears as to the other use that may have to be made of them. Let us remember, however, that we are about to pass this Bill without a Division, that the Measure is one which commends itself to the Whole House, for a variety of reasons, not the least of those reasons being that we may get some real advantage from this expenditure to which we are committed on account of the dangers of war. It would be wrong for us to overlook the dangers of war. It would be wrong for us to omit any necessary consideration in regard to war problems. And it would be wrong for us to overlook the chance which is here given to us—that, most fortunately, we may do a real piece of work which will redound to the benefit and health of the school children of our country. We all welcome that fact, and I am sure the House will now unanimously give the Third Reading to the Bill, and part with it with our blessing.