HC Deb 22 August 1940 vol 364 cc1470-5
Mr. Ramsbotham

Sir, by your leave and with the permission of the House, I will make the following statement:

The House will be aware of the great and growing desire among the young people of this country for further opportunities of physical training and recreation, to enable them to attain a higher standard of bodily fitness and to make a fuller contribution to the service of their country. I have for some time been considering this important matter and have decided to set up a small directorate to secure the further development of physical training and recreative work among young people of both sexes. The directorate will work in close association with the youth branch of the Board of Education and in co-operation with the War Office, the Board being concerned mainly with young people between the ages of 14 and 18. I am glad to say that, in addition to an officer of the Board specially delegated for the work, I have obtained the services of Major S. j. Parker, who was the Board's staff inspector of physical training, until he was seconded as General Staff Officer for Physical Training, London Command; and of Miss P. C. Colson, the secretary of the Central Council of Recreative Physical Training. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War is appointing an officer to act in liaison with the Board of Education.

I wish to make it clear that this decision involves no departure whatever from the policy of co-operation with local education authorities and voluntary bodies laid clown in the Board's Circular 1486. We have no intention of ignoring the wider interests of youth or of creating a new movement based exclusively on physical training; our object will be to strengthen the service of youth on the physical training side where it is at present most severely handicapped. The new directorate will have as one of its immediate tasks to examine the best methods of appealing to young people, including, for example, the question of some form of county badge. It will also set itself to provide all possible facilities for the satisfaction of the growing desire among young people to get and keep themselves fit, and so to be of greater service to their country in the present crisis of its existence.

The House will understand that no movement of this kind can succeed unless it has the full support of local education authorities and voluntary organisations. I have already had some preliminary discussion on the matter with the executive of the National Youth Committee, which includes representatives of local authorities and voluntary bodies, who have cordially welcomed my proposals, and I shall proceed forthwith to more formal consultations.

Mr. Lees-Smith

May I ask, arising out of the statement, which I welcome, whether the special function of the War Office will begin after military service age has been entered upon; secondly, whether the new directorate which has been announced will take immediate steps with regard to the organisation for leisure of factory workers which was announced by the Minister of Labour, and with regard to which I understand the Board of Education is acting in the capacity of an agent?

Mr. Ramsbotham

With regard to the first Question, I pointed out in my statement that the Board are primarily concerned with the age 14–18 class. After 18 the young man comes within the ambit of the War Office. For that reason, of course, the War Office are more concerned with him. But, apart from that, the co-operation of the War Office is very desirable for the reason that so many young men of military age have been called up who have in the past had experience of teaching physical exercises and giving physical training. I shall have the service of the normal facilities for civilian training, but I shall be dependent for some time on the assistance of the War Office in providing the instructors who are necessary for the large numbers of young people for whom this scheme is designed. In answer to the second question, with regard to factory workers, thanks to the action recently taken by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour there is far closer contact now between the local Youth Committees and the young factory workers than there was in the past, which will enable us to do much more for them than we have hitherto been able to do.

Sir P. Harris

Does the association for the first time of the War Office in the training of youth through local authorities mean an accentuation of the military character of their training? Will it not be the simplest way to give more grants to the local education authorities who have years of knowledge and experience of the training and physical recreation of young persons between 14 and 18?

Mr. Ramsbotham

As I have said in my statement, the Board are mainly concerned with the young people between 14 and 18, but obviously every young man when approaching 18 knows that it will become necessary to serve his country as a soldier, and I am convinced that one of his desires will be to get himself physically fit for the task he will have to fulfil.

Mr. Kenneth Lindsay

May I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the arrangement between the Board of Education and the War Office, and ask him whether there will be sufficient funds available from either the Board of Education or the War Office to see that this scheme is put into immediate operation?

Mr. Ramsbotham

I sincerely hope so. It will be my task to secure all the support which this scheme will demand.

Mr. Maxton

May I ask the right hon. Gentleman what powers he has in this matter? Why does he choose a name like "Directorate"? Why is there an element of compulsion in it, and are employers to be in a position to compel adolescent employés to attend drills?

Mr. Ramsbotham

I can assure my hon. Friend that there is no element of compulsion. I have pointed out that there will be close association with voluntary organisations.

Mr. Maxton

Why, when we have the elaborate machinery which this House set up only a year ago, should the right hon. Gentleman supersede it by this quasi-military machinery?

Mr. Ramsbotham

There is no quasi-military machinery. This scheme is set up to deal with a very greatly felt need.

Mr. Charles Brown

Where is the need?

Mr. Ramsbotham

Among the young people.

Mr. Brown

How do you know?

Mr. Ramsbotham

As regards the word "Directorate," I do not attach much importance to terms, but it seems a suitable term to employ.

Mr. Rhys Davies

Does this scheme mean that members of the military forces will be entitled to get together factory workers for training?

Mr. Ramsbotham

We need the co-operation of the War Office; otherwise, we shall soon find ourselves very short indeed of people competent to train young people in physical and recreative activities.

Mr. Granville

Will my right hon. Friend invite the co-operation of those responsible for running the annual camp known as the "Duke of York's Camp," who have had great experience?

Mr. Ramsbotham

I shall welcome the assistance of anybody qualified to give it.

Mr. Noel-Baker

Is the badge scheme, which the right hon. Gentleman mentioned, founded on the valuable work done by the late National Fitness Council and on the experiments, which have been successful, in Scotland?

Mr. Ramsbotham

All previous experience in that connection will be taken into account in deciding what form the scheme shall take.

Sir F. Fremantle

Inasmuch as there is great danger in this movement of people becoming stale will my right hon. Friend recognise the advantage of having a representative of the Ministry of Health?

Mr. Ramsbotham

I shall keep in close touch with them.

Mr. Bellenger

With reference to the right hon. Gentleman's remark about the co-operation of the War Office being needed primarily because he will be dependent upon them for instructors, is he aware that the physical training staff of the War Office is now very limited and that the War Office themselves cannot get enough competent men to train the Army, and, therefore, if he further depletes that staff by utilising it for his own scheme, will not the Army needs be affected?

Mr. Ramsbotham

I have naturally discussed that with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War, and I am assured that the War Office will be able to give me assistance.

Mr. Stephen

As the right hon. Gentleman is introducing the Hitler system for youth, will he not appoint a junior Fuehrer?

Mr. Lipson

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the chief handicap to adequate recreation for young people is the absence of playing fields, and will he see that there will be sufficient funds available to purchase them?

Mr. Ramsbotham

Naturally I will do what I can, but in winter evenings it will be necessary to use enclosed premises.

Mr. Tomlinson

Is the Minister aware of the impossibility of the local authorities keeping faith in connection with the machinery that is being set up? May I also ask him whether it is not a fact that just recently he asked the local authorities to undertake the very work which he is now detailing to the War Office? Is it not a fact that large counties have been spending time in drawing up programmes of facilities for the coming winter, all of which work, it seems to me, will again go into the melting-pot as a result of the new machinery which is now suggested? Further, may I ask the Minister whether the only facilities for physical training now available are in the gymnasia, in the hands of the local education authorities; that the preparations for this winter's training are already in hand and that by this new proposal he will very seriously interfere with that work?

Mr. Ramsbotham

I have already pointed out that there is the closest co-operation with the local education authorities, and as far as I am aware the local education authorities greatly welcome the assistance which I have indicated.

Mr. Maxton

Will the House have an opportunity of debating this matter?

Mr. Lindsay

In view of certain misunderstandings which I know will arise, may we, through the usual channels, arrange for a proper discussion?

Mr. Glenvil Hall

Before the scheme is put into operation?

Mr. Mathers

May I ask the hon. Gentleman whether, in making that statement, he was speaking for Scotland as well as for England and Wales?

Mr. Ramsbotham

I am not speaking for Scotland, but I have naturally communicated my intentions to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland.