§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[Mr. Drewe.]
§ Captain Cunningham-Reid (St. Marylebone)
The treatment of juvenile delinquents has recently shocked this House and the public and I am about to give the House the details of yet another case. I hope that as a result, in conjunction with what has come before the House before, hon. Members will come to the conclusion that our whole system of dealing with juvenile delinquents should drastically be looked into.
The particular case to which I desire to draw attention concerns a girl of 15 years of age who was prosecuted for being found at Hyde Park Corner drunk and incapable at 1 o'clock in the morning in company with soldiers. Before I relate what transpired, I desire to inform the House that both the girl and her mother—the father is dead—have without hesitation given consent to their case and their names being made public. Nevertheless, in the girl's future interests I have decided not to mention her name and I shall therefore refer to her from now onwards as "Mary."
The mothers tells me that Mary, her only child, was a good and useful daughter until such time as the mother was conscripted for war work and went to the Ministry of Information as a typist, when Mary was left on her own for long periods. It was then that this high-spirited and attractive-looking girl made undesirable friends. These taught her to drink and to do other things which were objectionable for one so young. Mary was completely dazzled by her new environment and her mother, not having the time to exercise proper control over her, in desperation, consulted Miss May, a St. Marylebone probation officer, who apparently suggested that the mother should give her daughter a good whipping. The mother pointed out that the daughter was considerably larger than she was. At that period that was the limit of the probation officer's assistance. Eventually a Mr. Hooper, of the St. Marylebone Juvenile Employment Exchange, found Mary a job as a junior clerk, and I would like to point out to the Under-Secretary representing the Home Office that it was not the mother 1033 who found her daughter this job, as was suggested to me in a somewhat disparaging way by the Home Office.
It was soon after this that Mary was picked up by the police, drunk and incapable at Hyde Park Corner. She came before the Chelsea juvenile court, and the magistrate, the Hon. Lady Montagu, sent her to the Shirley remand home at Croydon to undergo medical examination. When she again came before the court, Miss Montagu, with the additional information that she had at her disposal, sentenced Mary to be on probation for a year, and at the suggestion of a Miss Rich, superintendent of the Croydon remand home, she sent the girl to do canteen work in a particular land girls' Y.W.C.A. hostel, which was in the country. She was seen off at the station by the St. Marylebone probation officer and for five weeks, that is to say, from then until the time that I drew the attention of the Home Secretary to this case, proper supervision of the girl ceased.
It is now stated by the Home Office that though it was about five weeks before the probation officer visited Mary, nevertheless, the probation officers, who, after all, were responsible for her, were in close touch with the hostel throughout and gave all particulars concerning Mary by letter and telephone. There is something strange here because a few days after this child arrived at the hostel the warden of the hostel rang up Mary's mother, and, after inquiring what had happened to a parcel of clothing that the girl was expecting, asked her mother what were the circumstances of the girl being sent there, as she had been told nothing. Mark you, the warden of this hostel had been told nothing about the probationer. Seeing that Mary was supposed to be in need of special care and to be under the warden's supervision, this seemed to her mother to be most extraordinary. The mother, of course, gave the desired information. Very shortly afterwards, I understand, this particular warden left the hostel under most doubtful circumstances. Before she left, however, she had found time to inform all the land girls in the hostel of the whole history of Mary's record that the mother had conveyed to the warden in confidence. Surely, that was an entirely unnecessary piece of unkindness on the part of that warden, but is it not rather extraordinary that this 1034 warden, who left the hostel while Mary was still there, did not tell her successor whom she overlapped anything about Mary at all? The new warden wrote to the probation officer who had originally sent Mary down there, and I quote from her letter:I was pleased to receive your letter. Having just taken over this hostel, I knew nothing about Mary.The first warden told nothing to the second one about a person who was placed in her charge. [An HON. MEMBER: "Why did she not tell her?"] I shall come to that in a moment. Soon afterwards, the new warden told Mary's mother that it was impossible for her to exercise any supervision over her daughter during off duty hours as she the new warden, had too much to do. The Home Office have informed me that the new warden took up no such attitude. It may astonish them to realise that this warden has corroborated to me personally what was told to Mary's mother. The girl was, therefore, able to go into a near-by town, which is full of troops, completely on her own if she desired to do so. Until I took up this case she was at no time, during these first five weeks, at this hostel visited by any probation officer, to find out what the conditions were. Not even the local probation officer was asked to go and see her, and although Mary wrote to the Miss May I have referred to, she received no reply for four weeks. It is possible that that was because Miss May, the Marylebone probation officer, was ill, but Miss May had deputies. Anyhow, all this was not very encouraging to a girl who was supposedly being helped to pull herself together and make a fresh start. It is quite unnecessary for me to say that the girl felt utterly miserable and cast off by everyone, and that she complained of the immense amount of work she had to do. I understand that the land girls told her to shut up and that she was lucky not to be in an approved school. The new warden told her that unless she did what she was told without complaint she would be dismissed.
Early on Friday, 22nd October, I informed the Home Office that I intended to raise the matter, given the opportunity, on the Adjournment. That same afternoon a St. Marylebone probation officer arrived at Mary's hostel, hot-foot from London, to interview Mary and got her to say that she was happy there and would 1035 grumable no more. The new warden gave this information to me the same day over the telephone. When I told this to Mary's mother she was dumbfounded. I must say that I was getting perplexed myself, so I decided to find out, at first hand, exactly what was going on at this hostel. On 25th October I called at the hostel and had a talk with the new warden and the cook, an elderly lady who had been there all the time, and with Mary. I asked Mary why she had told her mother one thing and the probation officer another and she replied, without any hesitation, that she had been told that if she was sent away from that hostel she would have to go before a magistrate again. With tears in her eyes she added that anything would be better than that. So she was forced to tell the probation officer what she did tell her. To put it bluntly, she was intimidated.
I then asked her about her work and the working hours. I find that the circumstances were slightly at variance with what I originally conveyed to the Home Office in the letter which I wrote to them on 20th October. I have here the true details of Mary's work, just as she gave them to me, and corroborated by other people in that hostel. It is a list which makes one tired even to read. This girl had to work from six o'clock in the morning until two or three o'clock in the afternoon and at night from 6.30 or 7.0 until 10 o'clock. The hours were sometimes varied but not counting meal-times, this girl of 15 had to work on an average 10 back-breaking hours a day of drudgery, scrubbing floors and kitchen pots, cleaning lavatories and the like. Never have I seen the hands of any woman in such a pitiable state as were the hands of that young girl, through the work she had to do. The house in which she worked is a very large, straggling, rather tumble-down Victorian mansion standing in its own grounds and Mary was expected to do practically the whole of it—not of course the cooking, but all the rest of the domestic work. I am very willing to read out the details of her work, but perhaps the House would prefer to be spared these harrowing details, and in that event I will spare them. On second thoughts however I do not think I will. I think the House ought to be aware of what this young girl had to do very day. I will give it to the House just as I took it down from 1036 Mary herself. It was corroborated by the cook and by another inmate of the hostel. This was Mary's day:Get up every morning at 6 o'clock then help to prepare or get the girls' breakfast and help to get the things ready for the girls' sandwiches. Then, while the breakfast is being served, as the girls finish their porridge, start to wash up and then as soon as the serving is finished clean pots and clear away the tables that the girls have used for sandwiches; then scrub the two tables, wash board down, clean sink, empty tea-pots, sweep the floor and then have my breakfast. When finished, start on girls' dormitories. Sweep floor, tidy stands, mop over floor with dry mop, then clean out grate, mop over floor with polish, dust everywhere and on top of girls' wardrobes and then put the bunks back and anything else that is moved. This is done three times because there are three dormitories. Then sweep first passage and mop over and dust thoroughly, then start on girls' bathrooms. Scrub at the back of the sinks, clean mirrors and scrub shelves, clean taps and basins and baths then sweep out well and mop over with polish. Sweep the other passage and clean and dust w.c., then mop all through and dust odd bits. Then clean staff bathroom and w.c. and polish floor and then the other passage and sweep back-stairs. Then sweep the front stairs and hall and scrub stairs down one day and the hall the other day right the way through and dust well. Then wash dusters, have lunch and am off duty at 2.0 till 7.0 or 6.30. In that time do my washing, wash self and do own room and any odd things such as mending. Then, when I come on at night, get plates down, help serve dinner after having my own and then wash pots, clean up kitchen and make girls' tea, take it in, and then finish off pots. Prepare supper, prepare pots of tea and lay tray which consists of sandwiches of bread and dripping or paste; then at 9 o'clock ring bell and the girls come to fetch it, then at 9.30 clear away and get to bed. After washing, getting undressed and in bed it is about 10 o'clock.I asked Mary what other servants worked regularly at this house, and I was informed by her that there were only Mrs. Willis, the cook, and another girl who had been there for only a short time. Mrs. Willis appeared to be a reliable type of person. I read to her the list I have just read to the House and asked her whether it was correct. She replied, "Quite correct," and added that no young girl should be expected to do so much and such hard work. Mary had been sent by the magistrates to this hostel to do canteen work and she told me that if she could do the serving and do the extra kitchen work she would be happy to do it and could manage it. This girl had been sent to the hostel to do work fitting for one so young—canteen work—but having been got there, she was exploited and had to do work which was equivalent to adult 1037 hard labour. The Home Secretary in a letter to me frankly said:She was certainly overworked during the first fortnight.I can assure the House that it was not only during the first fortnight that this girl was overworked; it was right up to the time the Home Secretary's attention was drawn to this case. At this hostel Mary took the place of a girl who had come from the same remand home as she had. This girl, who was having V.D. treatment in the local hospital, was dismissed from this same Y.W.C.A. hostel, because she was discovered with a lorry driver in her bedroom and I am informed that all she would say afterwards was, "They have driven me to it again."
The circumstances of these two girls who followed each other to this particular hostel convey a very ugly impression that these wretched children were just farmed out for sweated labour and that the treatment they received was calculated to make these young and susceptible girls into confirmed prostitutes. Even if we were to discount entirely the graver aspects of this case, what an extraordinary lack of human psychology has come to light? Is this the way our child delinquency system encourages a girl to regain her self-respect? Certainly this juvenile Mary Magdalen has not been so fortunate in the inspiration to make good as was the older Biblical Mary Magdalen.
On the day Mary was charged about 30 other girls were up for the same sort of offence. One wonders how many of these and hundreds like them are receiving such soul-destroying treatment as Mary received. What kind of system is it that enables such a system to go unnoticed? It must be wrong if such cases can come to light where there is no adequate continuity of surveillance when a child delinquent leaves London. Had the probation officers responsible visited Mary in the country, or had they even got the local probation officer to visit her these unsatisfactory conditions would have been found out—at least it is to be hoped so. Further, it might have been discovered that the first warden of the hostel was quite willing that these two girls should be given late night passes. Incidentally, the first warden of the hostel, who is no longer there, and who was chosen by the Y.W.C.A., left under a cloud. She was in the habit of having a man in her room 1038 and bringing drink into the hostel, which, as hon. Members know, is contrary to all Y.W.C.A. regulations. So, one way and another, this did not seem quite a suitable place for the well-being of young girls from a remand home, and they would not have stayed there if the probation officers had been carrying out their duties properly. It may be that probation officers in these days have too much to do, but that excuse does not do away with the bad conditions. It is not without some significance that when I asked the St. Marylebone chief probation officer for an appointment, I was told that she could not manage it that day and that, in any case, before she saw me, she would first have to get the permission of the Home Office, as she was employed by them.
I would like to know whether it is a Home Office instruction that a Member of Parliament cannot, without first getting Home Office permission, see one of his constituency's probation officers about one of his own constituents? Here is the sequel. Soon after I gave notice of my intention to raise this matter in the House, Mary was whisked away from this deplorable hostel, and what she dreaded came to pass. She came before the court again the day before yesterday. The magistrate sent her back to her mother. And that is the story of Mary, a 15-year-old delinquent. It is possible that good may come out of evil and that Mary and her sad story may be the means of making this House and the Home Office come to the conclusion that if these deplorable things can happen to one young first offender, they can happen to hundreds, and that we had better make sure about this and have an investigation into the whole matter of juvenile delinquency.
There is only one more word I desire to say. I very much regret to have to say it, but the Home Office is now blaming Mary's mother. Goodness alone knows how that helps Mary. In a letter to me the Home Office says:One of the difficulties in this case has been the mother's attitude since her second marriage. She refuses to allow Mary to stay with her and does not even want her to be in London.Of course, the mother did not want the girl to stay in London—and if she was at home, she would be in London—surrounded as she would be by her bad companions, that had caused all the trouble. Subsequently, though, she had her daughter back, realising that the 1039 limited control she could exercise over her at home was preferable to the slack and insufficient control of probation officers and the demoralising treatment that her daughter was subjected to outside London. The Home Office letter goes on to say of the mother:She refuses to give an address to Mary, or to the probation officer, who are dependent upon telephone calls from the mother for all contact with her.There is not a word of truth in this. In the first place, Mary knew her mother's address in London all along, and Miss Lawrence, the probation officer acting for Miss May when she was ill, was given the address by her mother when the latter changed her address. Miss Lawrence was, I understand, subsequently transferred to Camberwell, and as Miss May was ill, no wonder there was confusion among the authorities about the mother's address; but how unfair to blame the mother for this. Anyhow, I have reason to know that Miss May was, all along, well aware that the mother worked at the Ministry of Information and could at any time be contacted there. To add insult to injury, the Home Office letter goes on to say:If Mary had been cast off by anybody, it was by her mother.What a thing to say. The mother was sufficiently concerned about her daughter to get into touch with her Member of Parliament. She is a fine type of woman, and, throughout, she has shown the most motherly concern and responsibility for her only daughter. On one occasion the mother telephoned to her daughter at the hostel three times during the week-end, but each time was told that her daughter was not available. That was not so. It was not the mother's fault that she was called up for war work and consequently could not watch her daughter. It is a shame to conscript her and then to blame her, and for the Home Office to "pass the buck" in this mean manner. In conclusion, I trust that in view of what I have told the Home Office they will not attempt to side-track or to brush aside the sum total of what I have conveyed to them to-day, but that this total, together with the recent case of the boy who was birched, will convince the Home Office and will convince this House that the whole system pertaining to juvenile delinquents is rusty, is rotten and should now be overhauled.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Peake)
The hon. and gallant Member has made a lengthy indictment of the probation service. This matter has been the subject of some correspondence between him and the Home Secretary, to which I shall refer in a few moments. He wrote a long letter to the Home Office about this case on 20th October, but in his speech to-day he has, for the first time, made a number of completely new charges which were not mentioned in that letter. The most serious of those charges, I think, is that the probation officer whom the girl's mother consulted in the middle of May advised the mother to give the girl a good whipping. Surely if my hon. and gallant Friend had investigated this case thoroughly, as he claimed to have done, at the time he wrote to the Home Secretary, he might have made that allegation at the time, so that it could have been investigated and replied to.
§ Mr. Peake
It is extremely difficult for a Minister to stand at this Box thinking that he has had the full case put before him by an hon. Member and then to find that completely new charges are brought forward at the last moment and without notice.
So far as the background of this case is concerned, it is a type of case which is all too numerous at the present time. It is a story of a girl of 15 who has fallen into bad company, who has become what we describe at the Home Office, for lack of any better term, "a good time girl," who has taken to drink and going about with soldiers at all hours of the day and night.
§ Mr. Peake
She comes from a very indifferent home. Her mother was a widow who is now living with a man who is already married to somebody else. There is friction, naturally, as there always is in those cases where the daughter has been very devoted to her father, now dead, between the daughter and her mother and the other man, and that is the reason, no doubt, why this girl has got into trouble. She came before an experienced magistrate, who is well known, I should think to some hon. 1041 Members, on 1st September. She was sent for a fortnight to a remand home for inquiries to be made. On 15th September she came before the court again. She was put on probation, and what is called a "residence condition" was imposed, arrangements having been made for her to be sent to the Women's Land Army hostel to which the hon. and gallant Member has referred. I do not think he referred to the locality, and evidently he does not wish the hostel to be publicly identified.
§ Mr. Peake
The hon. and gallant Member also referred throughout to the girl as "Mary," but I cannot see any objection to her real Christian name being used in this discussion, because the Christian name is in the correspondence, from which I should like to read one or two passages. Undoubtedly in this case there has been a "slip up" by the probation service. The particular probation officer was ill and was on sick leave for most of the time that this girl was at this Women's Land Army hostel. There is no doubt she ought to have been visited soon after her arrival and kept under continuous supervision by the probation service throughout the period, but the probation officer in question, who is a good officer, was ill or away on sick leave, and, incidentally, her home has been blitzed, which also caused her a certain amount of distraction and trouble. But undoubtedly the supervision in this case was not what we should have liked it to be. I frankly admit that to the House.
I understand that two complaints are made by the hon. and gallant Member. One is that she was not properly supervised and had opportunities at this hostel of getting into further trouble, and the second is that she was overworked while at the hostel. To some extent those two complaints cancel each other out. If this girl was occupied in domestic drudgery for the long hours described by the hon. and gallant Member it is clear that she could have had little opportunity of getting into trouble.
§ Mr. McEntee (Walthamstow, West)
Surely a girl working long hours would seek some distraction afterwards, even though tired.
§ Mr. Peake
The hon. Member may take that view, but my own view always has been that people get into more trouble through not having enough to do than through having too much. I will read a passage or two from the letter which my right hon. Friend wrote to the hon. and gallant Member on 25th October. My right hon. Friend said:The girl has settled down and is happy working under the new warden. The probation officer told her she could, if she wished, move to a hostel in London, but she said emphatically that she wished to remain at—. She hopes to get into the Women's Land Army when she is 16 at Christmas. There have been difficulties in the supervision of this case, and while it is true the girl was not visited before 22nd October, the probation officers were in close touch with the hostel by letter and telephone throughout. Miss May, the probation officer concerned, has been on sick leave during most of the period of the girl's probation, and last week, when she intended to visit the hostel, was bombed out of her flat. Supervision has been carried on by substitutes and by the rest of the probation staff, who were already carrying heavy case loads. You will be aware that replacements and substitutes suitable for this kind of work are hard to find at the present time.Then there is set out the substance of the girl's own story as to long hours which she worked at this hostel. The girl herself, in a letter which she wrote to the probation officer on 21st September, set out the hours which she worked and said this:I have to be in by 9.15 every night when I am off, and so I do not think you need worry about me. I never go out by myself but I am always with the girls. I forgot to tell you that my wages are 17s. 6d. a week with all found. I can eat whatever I like when I like.That, I think, disposes of the suggestion that the girl was unhappy or was maltreated at this hostel. Undoubtedly the hours of work were too long, but those conditions were remedied, so I am informed, when the warden in charge of the hostel when the girl arrived there was replaced by a new warden on 1st October.
§ Captain Cunningham-Reid
Where in that letter did it say that the girl was happy? I cannot find it.
§ Mr. Peake
I thought that was quite a right and proper inference from the quotation which I read to the House from the girl's letter. If the hon. and gallant Member disputes that that was a statement by someone who was happy, we can each form our own opinion about it. My hon. and gallant Friend has taken great interest in this case. He has been 1043 to see the hostel. He has seen the girl, and I understand that he interviewed the girl's mother. As a consequence of that, the new warden, against whom I did not understand my hon. and gallant Friend to make any complaint, has definitely stated that she cannot keep the girl in the hostel any longer. That is the reason why the girl was taken to the court once more. As the hostel, where she was residing as part of her probation, would no longer keep her, it became necessary to decide what her future was to be. She was taken before the same magistrate, who put her on probation, on 3rd November, and the condition of residence was discharged, because her mother is now prepared to have the girl living with her at home, which she was not willing to do when this trouble arose.
§ Mr. Peake
On account of the difficulty of supervising her adequately and on account, as I understand it, of the visit of my hon. and gallant Friend and the amount of publicity which, in the view of the warden, this case was attracting. It is to be hoped that this girl will be better treated at home in the future than she was at the time when she got into trouble. She is evidently a very nice girl. The probation officer has made very good reports upon her, and so far as we are concerned we are most anxious to do all we can to assist her on to the right road again. The probation service undoubtedly, as I have explained in this particular case—
§ Earl Winterton (Horsham and Worthing)
Did I understand my right hon. Friend to say at an earlier stage—a fact that was not disclosed by the hon. and gallant Member—that the mother was living with a paramour, a man not her husband, and is it not apparent from the report of the probation service, that a good deal of trouble was caused by those home conditions?
§ Mr. Peake
That, of course, is most clearly so. A very large proportion of the girls who get into trouble in this way come from broken homes. The mother, who was not willing to have the girl at home before is now willing to do so. The magistrate has consequently discharged the residence condition, and the girl has gone home again. I admit that the probation service in this case has not functioned with the efficiency which we all expect of it. It is an isolated example in my experience. I have the greatest admiration for the work of this service: I have seen a good deal of it, and I think it is unfortunate in this instance. I do not at all resent my hon. and gallant Friend having raised this case in the House, but I think it would be a great mistake if hon. Members thought that slips of this nature were common with the probation service, because that is not my experience. Nor do I believe it is the experience of hon. Members generally. Having said that, I hope that hon. Members will be satisfied that, as a rule, these things do not happen and that in this particular case no great harm resulted and that, as a result of the case being raised, it will lead to the greatest possible vigilance being taken to see that nothing of this sort occurs again.
§ Dr. Russell Thomas (Southampton)
I do not want to make any difficulties for my right hon. Friend at all, but I think the hon. and gallant Member did say that the probation officer refused an interview with him and replied that there was a general instruction that Home Office permission had to be obtained.
§ Mr. Peake
That is a new point to me, and I have not heard it before. I did not know that the hon. and gallant Member had had any difficulty in getting an inter-with with the probationer officer. As I understood, there was no blank refusal but merely a statement that it was inconvenient to see her on a particular day.
§ Captain Cunningham-Reid
No, Sir, it was that I had to get the permission of the Home Office to see her. Is that so?
§ Mr. Peake
No, I know of no instruction to that effect at all. I will certainly look into the matter to see that there is no instruction. It is obviously of the greatest importance that Members of Parliament should be able to make contact with the probation officers in cases of this character, and I will certainly see that an 1045 instruction to that effect is, if necessary, sent out.
§ Mr. McEntee (Walthamstow, West)
I would like to know whether the institution to which reference has been made has been approved by the Home Office. The home is of a character to which we are responsible for sending young persons who may not have committed any crime at all. In this case it may be said that she committed a crime by getting drunk, but I would point out that people can be sent to the homes who have committed no crime. The only thing that can be said is that there is no effective control over the girls by their parents. We ought to be satisfied that the homes to which such children can be sent are homes to which any children ought to be sent. The evidence in this case would appear to indicate that the supervision in this house must have been exceptionally bad. The Home Office cannot escape blame for any lack of their own supervision of the homes to which children are sent.
It is all very well to come along now and say, "Well, we agree about this isolated case." Have we any evidence that it is an isolated case? Frankly, I am not at all sure that it is. I handed in a Question on this very matter, and I hope that it will receive discussion in the new Session. It draws attention to facts in connection with children who are sent to institutions of this kind, and to the handicap that it is to them in after life. I hope the Question will appear on the Paper in the new Session for the consideration of the Prime Minister. Here is the case of a home presumably considered to be satisfactory by the Home Office. I see that magistrates in the various police courts have been informed that this, among others, is the type of home to which young children can be sent with the approval of the Home Office. We ought to have some inquiry. I honestly believe that the Home Office ought to have inquired more than they appear to have done up to now. We have been told, and it has not been denied, that another girl was able to take men into her bedroom at night. We have been told that the hours of labour are disgracefully long. We can only assume that the Home Office either did not employ responsible people—I do not charge the right hon. Gentleman with that, of course—or the people who were 1046 responsible for the actual administration did not make any inquiry about it. I should like to know how long those conditions have been in operation in this home. We have been told that it is a Young Women's Christian Association home.
§ Mr. McEntee
It is a home for Land Army girls run by the Young Women's Christian Association. I do not think they have anything to be proud of. When young girls of 15 can be sent there and when a number of Land Army girls are living there day by day, one wonders what kind of influence is being brought on them. It is a home to which Land Army girls and juvenile delinquents are sent. It may be that there are even more girls than that, not only Land Army girls but other juvenile delinquents, some having committed criminal acts and some net. The right hon. Gentleman shakes his head. Has he any knowledge of that? Has inquiry been made as to who goes to that home?
§ Mr. McEntee
Was not the statement made in a previous case of somebody being sent in similar circumstances to the home and she was found with some men in her bedroom? Is not that the case?
§ Mr. McEntee
It may be a new allegation, but surely it is one that ought to be inquired into. If conditions like that exist, will the right hon. Gentleman promise this House that inquiry will be made as a consequence of this case, and if such an inquiry can be held it will be not only into this hostel but into others, periodical inquiries, so that we can be informed? There should be an inquiry not only at the time a home is certified by the Home Office as a suitable place but periodically during its continuance as a Home Office home. May we have an assurance that an inquiry will be made that will be satisfactory to the public 1047 generally that girls will be well looked after?
In this case it has been stated by the right hon. Gentleman, and I did not like it, that it was really the fault of this girl's mother. He went out of his way to give a public advertisement of the conditions under which the girl's mother is living. I do not think it is fair to the mother, and I resent it. Everyone will read in the newspapers or in Hansard the conditions under which that home is run, and it will soon get round where it is and people will know. All the Land Army girls will know.
§ Mr. McEntee
Surely the right hon. Gentleman will know that is not so. Does he not think that the Land Army girls will talk? Does he think that they will be as astute as he has been in withholding names? Frankly, I do not. I think it is bound to be made public, to the detriment of the family concerned. I think it was rather mean to mention the conditions under which the mother was living, and as to trying to blame those conditions for the girl's offence, if he was right in that, surely that is not the type of home to send the girl back to. That is the obvious thing for one to think. The right hon. Gentleman stands up and tells us that the real trouble was the home, that the girl never had decent conditions in the home, and then he went on to tell us that in future the home conditions will be better than the institution to which we had to take her. The magistrate has decided to send her home. Will there be any supervision of her now? If the home will be of the character that the right hon. Gentleman said, what is to be the future of this girl, and why was she sent home, if the home is so bad?
§ Mr. Speaker
The hon. Gentleman must be careful. He is criticising the verdict of the judge, and we are not allowed to do that.
§ Mr. McEntee
I should be very sorry to do that, because I have the highest regard for the judges and their judgments generally. I am thinking more of the girl than I am of the judge. The judge sent her 1048 back, and one would imagine it was on some assurance of the Home Office that the conditions of the home were now improved. If conditions were so good that she should be sent back there, I do not like the way the matter was handled at an earlier period. I hope that, as a consequence of the discussion of this unsavoury case and the handling of it by the Home Office, it will not be possible for such a case to come before this House for a long time to come.
§ Mr. Astor (Fulham, East)
I rise to speak, because for a good many years I have been a member of the council of the Clarke Hall Fellowship, in memory of Sir William Clarke Hall, who started the probation system in this country. Before the war we were short of probation officers. Probation can only be an effective thing if there is real supervision. The idea that probation is letting someone off with a caution is the greatest possible error. Probation cannot be effective if the probation officer has so many cases to deal with that each case cannot get real supervision. Apart from that, even before the war there was a shortage of remand homes and places where delinquents could be sent under really satisfactory conditions. Some answers to written Questions which the right hon. Gentleman's Department kindly gave me this week show that the situation has got worse during the war. Naturally, the number of probation officers has tended to decrease. There is not the same number of young people coming into the service and there is a natural wastage through marriage. There are many more broken homes now than there were before. Fathers are away on service, mothers are working, and children, even those from 11 to 14 years, spend a great deal of time in the streets and get into undesirable company. Before the war, under normal conditions of home life that kind of thing would not have occurred. There is a large return to London of children who had previously been evacuated. There is an inflationary tendency, in that there is more money coming to young people who can earn it, and there are all the problems connected with the presence of British and Allied troops who are also cut off from their home life—some of the Allied troops having a very large amount of money to spend.
The situation now is, in every aspect, worse than it was before the war. I hope 1049 this Debate will be an occasion for the Home Office to go very carefully into both the immediate and the future question. These girls are the mothers of the future. This is a country with a small population, dependent on quality, and it will be well worth while to divert a small number of really good women and men into these probation and like services in order to deal with the trouble which we all know is going on to-day. After the war we want to have a probation service much better paid than it is, with better prospects, so that when demobilisation comes, we can attract women who have been officers in the A.T.S., the W.R.N.S. and the W.A.A.F., and who have had experience and have been successful in the handling of girls. Similarly we want men with fine Service records who have had experience of dealing with personel problems to enter into that service. We need to look into the question of more remand homes and more approved schools. I hope that the Home Office will add to that an inspectorate to go round and keep friendly contact with these institutions and keep them informed of the situation in each place. I hope they will suggest to hon. Members who have approved schools or remand homes in their constituencies, to keep in touch with those institutions. It would be a valuable link for the Home Secretary and a useful piece of work for Members to do. Finally, there are some very good people, now on the retired list, who could be brought back. The most outstanding woman who ever dealt with the question of delinquency, Miss Barker, is now retired. I think people like her and others might well be brought back and I hope this Debate will provide an occasion on which all these questions can be reconsidered.
§ Mr. Graham White (Birkenhead, East)
One point which emerges from this Debate has not been dealt with by my right hon. Friend. There may be some apprehension in the minds of hon. Members regarding the excessive hours of work in this hostel. I would be glad if he would tell us whether he has any control over the hours of work in those hostels generally, and whether there is any regular inspection. Presumably, those homes are in receipt of some grants from public funds. It may well be that they are not within the scope of his Department. It may be that the Ministry of Labour and 1050 National Service is responsible, but will the right hon. Gentleman be good enough to inquire, and see whether there is any control over the hours of employment in these places? With regard to the observations which my hon. Friend has just made, I should like to join him in his tribute to the probation service. On the point of the hon. Member for Southampton (Dr. R. Thomas) about a barrier being placed between probation officers and Members of Parliament, in my experience there has been the greatest possible access and every available help has been given in every case in which I have taken an interest. Could the right hon. Gentleman also say whether the Home Office are trying to increase the number of probation officers? Perhaps he will be good enough to deal with the point about the hours of labour.
§ Mrs. Adamson (Dartford)
I would like to join the hon. Member for East Fulham (Mr. Astor) in his desire that probation officers and services should be investigated with a view to trying to get some people who have retired and who are experienced in this work back, as various other Government Departments have brought back retired officers into their service and found their work very valuable in this kind of war. I am profoundly disturbed by some of the revelations in this case. Here was a young girl of 15 years out at late hours or early hours in the morning, drunk and in company with soldiers. She would be in considerable moral danger and would rightly be detained, but I wonder whether the men whose company she was in were also detained. That may be a new factor in the situation, but it is one which ought to be taken into consideration. There is far too much of this going on at the present time, and social workers, both men and women, are deeply disturbed by such occurrences, which I believe are a regular feature of our large cities.
I too feel that a protest must be made about the long hours and the exploitation of this girl of tender years. I feel that this girl has been the victim of a series of misfortunes in so far as the type of home from which she came, the lack of parental control, the association with undesirable people, are concerned, and then to be sent to a home of this kind, where evidently there is no real supervision. It may have been due to a 1051 breakdown in the probation service, but these facts disturb us. They are lamentable. My right hon. Friend said that no details had been given in this case as to the whereabouts of this particular Land Army home, but I have ears, and I certainly seemed to get the location of the particular home, and I know it very well. I am surprised to hear of incidents of men being able to get into the bedrooms of the women residents there. The place is in an isolated district, but it would never have been possible if it was under proper supervision. With these revelations I say that a place of that kind is not a fit and proper place to send a child like this, who is charged with a particular offence and who needs real guidance and help if she is to be put on the road to a better life and to have a future.
I am not going to enter into the merits and importance of the statements or the case put forward by the hon. and gallant Member for St. Marylebone (Captain Cunningham-Reid), but in view of these new facts I think the Home Office would be well advised to have an investigation into this case, because these cases are disturbing, particularly in regard to what has taken place or is alleged to have taken place. Information has been given to this House in regard to the general position of delinquency among children. I feel very disturbed about the whole position and the revelations in this case, and I trust the Home Office will give us an inquiry and will be able to take action which will make these cases a thing of the past and which will ensure that children who are delinquents and who need help and guidance, particularly our young girls of 15 and 16, are to get the proper kind of treatment and help which will enable them to become in the future, by training and other methods, really good citizens. I must add, finally, that I feel very unhappy that after all the statements that have been made and the accusations against the girl's home, she should have been returned to that home. Therefore, in view of all these facts and disturbing revelations, I hope the Home Office will have an inquiry into the whole position.
§ Commander King-Hall (Ormskirk)
I will only detain the House for a few moments, but there are three questions I would like to put. Firstly, is there a list supplied to justices of various homes 1052 and hostels to which these junior delinquents are sent? Secondly, is this list kept under constant revision, as conditions may obviously vary from time to time if the wardens change and so on? Thirdly, is this list published, and can it be easily obtained? I would just add this word on the general problem of which this is an example. I am probably talking to the converted in pressing the Home Office to encourage in every possible way the development of youth clubs. I think we should spend more money than we are spending in assisting youth clubs and youth organisations. Since I have mentioned money, I think it is a remarkable, creditable and very noteworthy fact, which I hope will be given publicity not only in this country but abroad, that this House of Commons yesterday spent six minutes in passing a Vote of Credit for £1,250,000,000. To-day it has spent, rightly and usefully spent, nearly one and a half hours in investigating one case of a single individual. That, I think, reflects credit on the operation of Parliament in time of war. I hope that note will be taken of that elsewhere.
§ Mr. Driberg (Maldon)
I should like to ask one question, not because I wish to cavil or quibble about what may seem a minor point, but in order to get all the facts of this very distressing case out. I should like to ask exactly what the right hon. Gentleman meant when he said, as I understood, that the new warden of the hostel had sent the girl away because of the publicity arising out of this case. Surely, as he himself said, both the hon. Member who raised the matter and the right hon. Gentleman himself were most careful not to mention any names or places. Will he explain what he meant when he said that it was because of the publicity that the warden, against whom there is no reflection at all, thought it better to send the girl away, back to this unsatisfactory home? I hope that, because of the numerous expressions of concern in various parts of the House, the right hon. Gentleman will take advantage of the privilege which, subject to your ruling, Mr. Speaker, I think he has, to ask leave of the House to speak again, and to answer these questions fully.
§ Mr. Peake
I am not sure whether the leave of the House is necessary to enable me to speak again on the Adjourn- 1053 ment, but if it is, I will ask for it. A number of points have been put. I listened with interest to the hon. Member for East Fulham (Mr. Astor), who has had to leave the Chamber. He has an extensive knowledge of the probation service. Of course, we want to maintain, and if possible to increase, the efficiency of the probation service. It is difficult to do so in time of war. We want to get young people into the service; we find that they handle these boys and girls better than middle-aged or elderly people do. At present there are very heavy demands for persons who are of a suitable age to undertake probation work, but we will certainly see whether there are any temporary relaxations of our rule about recruitment which could be made with a view to strengthening the service.
§ Mr. Frankel (Mile End)
And increasing the salaries of probation officers? They are lamentably low.
§ Sir Edward Campbell (Bromley)
It is better to take on none at all unless you are going to get the best. It is a very important service. Do not get somebody just to fill a gap.
§ Mr. Peake
I am not sure whether, if we aim at the perfection which the hon. Member desires, we shall be able to get an adequate service. We have to look round and do what we can in the circumstances. We are doing all we can on the other points, such as the provision of remand homes and approved schools. The number of approved schools has been increased by 33 per cent. during the war, which is not a bad record, in view of the difficulty of securing accommodation and equipment in present conditions.
The hon. Member for East Birkenhead (Mr. Graham White) asked whether there was any control over the hours of labour in these institutions, hostels and so forth. So far as I am aware, there is no statutory control over hours of domestic service in this type of institution, but I will look into the point. As to whether it would be possible, if these institutions are in receipt of Government grants, for any conditions to be imposed in regard to hours worked in them, I will look into that.
1054 The hon. Member for Dartford (Mrs. Adamson) said—and I think we are all in agreement with her—that this girl was a victim of misfortune, and that this case ought to be investigated. Of course it will be. We have investigated the statements which the hon. and gallant Member put in writing to my right hon. Friend. We have not yet had any chance of investigating the new statements which he made to-day, some of which were important, and some of which were very damaging should they turn out to be true, and I welcome the opportunity of a thorough investigation by the Home Secretary into the allegations, and such an investigation will be undertaken.
My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Ormskirk (Commander King-Hall) asked whether magistrates in juvenile courts had available to them a list of suitable homes for girls in need of care and protection, whether that list was kept up to date, and whether that list was published. I rather think, speaking without any official guidance on this matter, that what usually happens is that the probation officer tries to find a suitable home and that it would be the duty of the probation officer to see that it is a suitable home before making a recommendation. I do not think that there is any published list. I imagine that a good many private persons who have no children of their own take care of girls of this character. Clearly it would be undesirable for the names of people, who undertake this work, to be published, but my hon. and gallant Friend's points will be noted and, if possible, we will make use of them. The hon. Member for Maldon (Mr. Driberg) asked why the girl was being allowed to return to an unsatisfactory home.
§ Mr. Peake
Yes. The people who find homes for these boys and girls do it on a voluntary basis. Nobody can compel them to keep these boys and girls if they do not wish to do so. If they find a boy or girl to be difficult, and decide to throw their hands in, a new home has to be found. That, I understand, is what occurred in this case. The new warden thought that this girl and her case were likely to give some bother. Possibly she wished to avoid publicity being drawn to her particular hostel. Quite justifiably, 1055 in my opinion, she said to the probation officer, "Please take this girl away." The probation service brought this girl to court again. The girl had been away for two months or more, and the magistrate, in her wisdom, decided to allow the girl to go back home. I do not think we should challenge that decision without further knowledge. The statements which have been made in the Debate will be carefully examined, and full investigation made into all the circumstances.
§ Captain Cunningham-Reid
I am very glad that there is going to be an investigation. I would just ask whether, when that investigation is completed, I could be made aware of the fact and of the findings. In the meantime, may I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his courtesy and frankness in this Debate?
§ Dr. Russell Thomas
The right hon. Gentleman has spoken of the possibility of enlarging the probation service and of helping these people after these unfortunate things have happened to them. I think it is far better to try to prevent these young girls falling into vice, if it is possible to do so. I do not believe it is a sound principle to legislate for immorality, but we all know that at present the West End of London is riddled with this type of thing. Young girls of 15, 16 and 17 are constantly being seduced and their whole lives set on the wrong path. If the right hon. Gentleman could strengthen the hands of the police and so on to deal with this kind of thing, I am sure it would do far more good than trying to cure the complaint, as it were, after so much damage has been done.
§ Question, "That this House do now adjourn," put, and agreed to.