HC Deb 15 February 1940 vol 357 cc931-7
75. Mr. Messer

asked the Minister of Health what increase he proposes to make in the billeting allowances for evacuated schoolchildren?

Mr. Elliot

I am making a statement at the end of Questions on evacuation and will refer in that statement to the point raised by the hon. Member. I would ask him to await my statement.

77. Mr. Messer

asked the Minister of Health whether he has considered the report sent to him of a speech made by Mr. Charles Segal, a headmaster who was evacuated with North Kensington schoolchildren to Taunton, in which he described the evacuation scheme as a complete failure; and whether he will consult with local health and education authorities with a view to effecting improvement?

Mr. Elliot

I have seen a Press report of the speech in question. I am in close touch with health and education authorities, through my Advisory Committee on Evacuation, and otherwise. I am circulating particulars of the membership of the Advisory Committee in the Official Report. I do not think it necessary to take special action in the particular matter referred to.

Sir A. Knox

Does not the right hon. Gentleman think that this schoolmaster spoke the truth?

Mr. Duncan

Can my right hon. Friend say of what school in North Kensington Mr. Segal is headmaster?

Mr. Elliot

I am afraid I could not answer that question.

Lieut.-Colonel Acland-Troyte

Can the right hon. Gentleman say whether the evacuation has not shown the complete incompetence of the London education and health services?

Following are the particulars:


List of Members.

Sir Percival Sharp, Secretary of the Association of Education Committees.

Sir Frederick Mander, Secretary of the National Union of Teachers.

Mr. R. N. Armfelt, Secretary for Education, Devonshire.

Mr. J. Chaston, Town Clerk, Kettering.

Mr. H. Darlow, Town Clerk, Bedford.

Mr. E. P. Everest, Clerk of the Atcham Rural District Council.

Mr. J. L. Holland, Director of Education, Northamptonshire.

Dr. P. D. Innes, Chief Education Officer, Birmingham.

Mr. A. J. Lees, Secretary, Urban District Councils' Association.

Mr. J. J. McIntyre, Secretary, Rural District Councils' Association.

Mr. J. Paley Yorke, Principal L.C.C. School of Engineering and Navigation.

Mr. T. J. Rees, Director of Education, Swansea.

Mr. E. M. Rich, Chief Education Officer, London.

Mrs. E. V. Parker, ex-President of National Union of Teachers.

Miss A. Catnach, Headmistress, Putney County School.


Mr. Greenwood (by Private Notice)

asked the Minister of Health whether he has any statement to make about the progress and development of the Government's evacuation plans?

Mr. Elliot

Yes, Sir. The Government have had the question of evacuation under careful consideration. They remain convinced of the desirability of the dispersal of children from the evacuating areas. Plans have therefore been prepared with the object both of retaining in the reception areas as many as possible of the 400,000 children who are still there and of providing for a further large scale evacuation to take place if air raids develop on a scale involving serious and continuous bombing. These plans for a new evacuation have been prepared in close consultation between the Departments concerned and representatives of local authorities and the teaching profession both in England and in Scotland. They will apply to school children only— not to adults. It will be for the Government to decide, in the light of prevailing circumstances, when these plans are to be put into operation and in respect of which areas action is to be taken.

Evacuation will be voluntary: the parents who register will however be required to sign an undertaking that they will send their children away when evacuation is ordered, and a statement that they intend to leave them in the reception areas until the school parties return. In the meantime, the Government attaches great importance to the retention in the reception areas of those children who are already there. The nation, I believe, is deeply grateful to the householders who have provided homes for these children and does, I am sure, recognise its exacting nature and the calls it has made on their time, labour and home life.

I am happy to be able to inform the House that Her Majesty the Queen desires to show her appreciation of the great public, spirit shown by those householders who, during the last six months, have sheltered children unknown to them and provided for strangers a home and a sympathy of incomparable value. To each of these householders Her Majesty proposes to send a personal message as a token of her recognition of their service to others. It is the desire of the Government to ease, wherever possible, the burden which this task inevitably involves to the hosts. It has been decided that the billeting allowance in respect of children who have attained the age of 14 should be increased to 10s. 6d. per week. This will not be confined to the scheme for further evacuation, but will come into force in the week beginning 2nd March.

The provision of sick bays and of hostels for difficult children and for those who are unsuitable for billeting in private houses and for other purposes will continue to be developed. Local authorities are being encouraged to make the best use of houses suitable for these purposes. Although other forms of accommodation will be used to the fullest extent practicable, billeting in private houses must remain the main source of provision for the 400,000 children already in the reception areas and for those others who, in the event of air raids, would be evacuated under the plans which I have described.

The equitable distribution of this service among suitable householders is of great importance. At the present time only about one in five of the householders who volunteered a year ago are being called upon, and it will be generally agreed that it is scarcely fair that this task should fall solely on the shoulders of this minority. The Government are therefore making an appeal to the general body of householders and it is a part of the Government plan for 1940 that local authorities should establish a roll of householders willing, when called on, to share with their neighbours in the work of receiving and caring for the children. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland and I are each to-day issuing a circular and memorandum to local authorities, in England and Wales, and in Scotland.

Sir Percy Harris

Arising out of the very interesting statement, may I ask the Minister whether the new scheme makes, arrangements as far as possible for the schools to be evacuated as schools and for the children to go under their own teachers instead of mixing children from various schools? Will the Board of Education have more responsibility in this scheme because they are in closer touch with the education authorities than the Minister's Department?

Mr. Elliot

It will be our desire that schools should go as units. We hope that with the greater time which will be available under this scheme it will enable this to be more satisfactorily carried out than was possible under the emergency provisions last year. Furthermore, my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Education and I are in close co-operation, and we are arranging as far as possible for the same close co-operation to take place locally also.

Sir Wm. Davison

Will this scheme not come into operation until the bombing has actually started? Will parents who are willing, having given further consideration to the matter and to the statement made by the Government, be able to send their children now, into a safe area in the country, or must they wait until bombing commences?

Mr. Elliot

The main scheme which I have outlined will be a scheme providing for a further large-scale evacuation to take place if air raids develop on a scale involving serious and continuous bombing. It has been possible for parents to send their children away and we hope it will be possible for that still to be done. That is one of the reasons we desire to obtain a roll of householders to assist in this survey.

Mr. Herbert Morrison

Is the Minister aware that there is a great shortage of billeting accommodation at the other end, partly owing to the absence of the use of compulsory powers? Does he not regard it as a hazardous business to delay deliberately further evacuation until bombing is actually in progress?

Mr. Elliot

No, Sir, I am aware that there is at present a shortage of billeting in the Home Counties and areas which have already received a great number of children, and of the difficulty of accommodating a certain number of children from London arising out of the desire to re-unite children with their schools. It is scarcely fair that the whole of this burden should fall on a small minority of householders who are at present accommodating children. As to the danger which may arise, I think the right hon. Gentleman will be aware that the number of children at present registered for evacuation is extremely small. One of the reasons for making the new plan contingent upon the development of air warfare is that without that it has been our experience that parents do not register, nor do they bring children for evacuation even when those registered are called upon.

Mr. Sorensen

Is the Minister aware that one very important factor in the problem of evacuation is the desire of the parents to see their children as frequently as possible, and does his scheme cover that very important point?

Mr. Elliot

We have made arrangements to deal with the desire of parents to see their children and considerable advantage is being taken of them. I think this problem is not a major reason for the return of children at the present time.

Sir Annesley Somerville

Will those parents who take advantage of the new scheme be allowed to withdraw their children again, or will it be a compulsory scheme once advantage has been taken of it?

Mr. Elliot

I am asking, as I have said, that parents should sign an undertaking that they will send their children away when evacuation takes place. Our intention is to leave them in the reception areas until the school parties return. A rigidly compulsory scheme on a scale involving hundreds of thousands of children would be, I think, impracticable. One must work with the good will of the parents, which, I am sure, will be forthcoming under these conditions.

Mr. Duncan

Will the Minister make a statement to explain how the parents are to register? Is it to be done through the local authorities as before?

Mr. Elliot

That is set out in considerable detail in the circular we are issuing to-day, copies of which will be in the Vote Office. Leaflets are being issued to householders to explain to them how this is to be carried out.

Mr. Davidson

In regard to the statement as it applies to Scotland, has there been a new survey in order to try and prevent children being sent, as was the case the last time, over 200 miles away from their parents, who could not even pay them an occasional visit?

Mr. Elliot

Whatever survey is carried out in Scotland in some cases children from certain areas will have to go long distances before suitable billets can be found, and this will also hold for the great city of London.

Sir E. Graham-Little

What measures are being taken to secure that there is an expert medical inspection before the children are evacuated?

Mr. Elliot

That is also set out in considerable detail in the circular which will be found in the Vote Office. It is the intention that inspection will form an integral part of the scheme.

Mr. Messer

Would it not be better if the Minister were to reconsider the billeting allowances of those under 14 in view of the difficulties of finding billets at the present allowances?

Mr. Elliot

It is true that the allowances have to be considered, but I am convinced that it is the disturbance of the home life people feel most, rather than the insufficiency of the billeting allowances. I think the example given of the desire of the Government and of the nation to recognise the importance of the national service being rendered will weigh very greatly with the householders of this country.

Sir Joseph Lamb

Is there to be any contemplated extension of the camp system, or the utilisation of large houses or schools?

Mr. Elliot

As I have said, the authorities are being encouraged to use private houses, empty houses, for sick bases, hospitals and other purposes. As to camps we are already taking steps to fill up the whole programme of camps already constructed. The construction of further camps will need to be considered in the light of the labour and the material available.

Mr. Benjamin Smith

Will the Minister, in asking mothers to allow their children to remain away for the whole period, have regard to the fact that one of the great factors in bringing children back is the incapacity of the father and mother with a family of four children to pay 24s. a week?

Mr. Elliot

In the Government scheme I do not know any case for which such a charge for a child is made.

Mr. Smith

For four children?

Mr. Elliot

As the hon. Member knows, the scale on which recovery is based has been very carefully worked out and remissions are made wherever cases of hardship are found to exist.

Mr. Stephen

Can the Minister say how many children were taken in at Windsor and Balmoral Castle?

Mr. Elliot

A considerable number were taken in at Balmoral Castle.

Mr. Lipson

Does the Minister think that a more satisfactory billeting arrangement would be made in reception areas if the local education secretary was made the billeting officer?

Mr. Elliot

I do not think that it can be said that the local education secretary is more acquainted with the housing position in an area than the housing authority. After all, billeting to a certain extent is a question of housing.