HC Deb 11 November 1943 vol 393 cc1383-404
The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Herbert Morrison)

I am afraid I am drawing the House away from very important international affairs, and I would like to join with others in congratulating my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary on his eminently successful Conference. We are now departing from great events to an event which concerns a young girl of 15 who got into a little difficulty in this country. The House will depart from the great world stage to the personal welfare of an individual child. That is not a bad thing. It is one of the things of which this House is capable, and as long as it is capable of that we shall be doing our Parliamentary job very well. It will be remembered that last Friday there was a Debate initiated by the hon. and gallant Member of St. Marylebone (Captain Cunningham-Reid) which concerned a young girl referred to as Mary, about whom he had already corresponded with the Home Office. There are two things I would like to say by way of introduction. One is that if specific and serious allegations are to be made either against a State Department or against individuals by hon. Members who address the House, I think it is reasonable and proper, in order that the Minister in charge may be able adequately to reply, that the Minister should have sufficient notice in order that he may investigate the allegations as to matters of fact.

I regret to say that in this case no notice was given of a considerable number of allegations of fact which were made by the hon. and gallant Member, with the consequence that my right hon. Friend the Under-Secretary, who dealt with the matter with his usual competence and courtesy, for which I think the House will give him full credit on all occasions, had to say on a number of allegations, "I cannot answer that, I do not know about that, but I will cause investigations to be made." The result was, I am afraid, that in the Press reports—perfectly proper Press reports—certain conclusions may have looked as if they were proved which on subsequent investigation appear to be unfounded on the information I have. I think that is not quite fair to the Home Office, and particularly, as I will reveal, it looks as if it was pretty unfair to some of the individuals mentioned in the course of the discussion and unfair to a great voluntary organisation, the Young Women's Christian Association.

The other general point I would make about this discussion is this: We are in a time of war, when there are perhaps increased opportunities for young people to get into trouble. I think, taking the young people of the country by and large, they have been pretty well behaved in the circumstances of war, but there has been some increase, at any rate in the earlier years of the war, in juvenile delinquency. I put this point to the House with great reservation and great respect. It may be wrong in particular cases, but I venture to say that if and when some of these young people go wrong and get into difficulty and the law has to deal with them, I am not sure that it is always best that troubles about them should be dramatically ventilated in Parliament and the Press, because especially when it is done in the House some of our brighter youthful elements may feel in consequence that the way to sympathy and fame is to be a naughty boy or a naughty girl. That would be very unfortunate and might have a bad effect on the young people of the country. I do not make more of the point than that, but it is a point for responsible consideration by everybody when these difficulties do arise.

In the course of the remarks of the hon. and gallant Member for St. Marylebone he made a number of allegations which were so injurious to persons who were doing their best to assist this girl, and particularly to the Young Women's Christian Association, that I have thought it only right, although it is a relatively small matter, to bother the House with it in order that I could put another aspect on the case for the consideration of hon. Members. This young girl of 15 whom the hon. and gallant Member referred to as Mary pleaded guilty to a charge of drunkenness before the Chelsea Juvenile Court on 1st September. The experienced Chairman of the Chelsea Court decided to remand her for inquiry, and being reluctant to send her to a remand home she (the Chairman of the court) asked the girl's mother to keep her at home for the time being which was thought by the court to be the best thing. Unfortunately the mother of the child refused to have anything to do with the girl, and there was no alternative in those circumstances but to send her to a remand home. When the girl came up again on 15th September, the Chairman decided that it would be desirable to place her in employment away from London, and it was arranged that she should go into domestic service at one of the considerable number of hostels which are provided at the request of the Minister of Agriculture by the Young Women's Christian Association, for the girls who are employed in Land Army work.

I am informed by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture that in running these hostels, which the Ministry inspect from time to time, the Young Women's Christian Association is doing admirable public work. I think that its work will not only be known to my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture who is here, but to various hon. Members, from their personal experience. It is therefore greatly to be regretted that as a result of agreeing to help the Court and do her best for the girl, the warden of one of these hostels who agreed to take Mary into employment as domestic help should have become the victim of such mistaken aspersions upon her character as were made in this House last Friday.

Captain Cunningham-Reid (St. Marylebone)

Who is the warden of whom the right hon. Gentleman speaks?

Mr. Morrison

I am referring to the warden to whom the hon. and gallant Member referred and upon whom he made aspersions. He knows the warden. I think that enough damage has been done without my particularising who the warden was. The general effect of the hon. and gallant Member's statement was to suggest that this lady, who was in charge of this hostel, was of doubtful, if not immoral, character, and that she exploited the girl, and another girl, whom she had taken into the service of the hostel, in a manner which was calculated—I am using the hon. and gallant Member's own words—to turn them into confirmed prostitutes. As regards the character of the warden, it appears that the hon. Member must have been told a malicious story by someone outside the hostel, and I greatly regret that he should have repeated it in this House without taking sufficient care to verify its truth. The story had in fact been fully investigated when it came to the notice of the responsible authorities, and I am informed that it is completely groundless.

The lady in question, who managed the hostel efficiently, is of high moral character, I am informed, and left at her own request to take up a similar position in another Land Army hostel. That is the information I have, of the most affirmative character, and I suggest to the hon. and gallant Member that he has some responsibility to consider whether he should not withdraw the aspersions or bring conclusive evidence that proves him to have been right. My information is that he was wrong.

Captain Cunningham-Reid

Does the right hon. Gentleman deny the specific allegation that I made about this particular warden and which I am quite willing to repeat?

Mr. Morrison

Certainly. My information is that it is not true. I only say that this being a place in which, thank goodness, we can all say what we like, and in view of these firm denials, there is a responsibility in these personal matters not to make allegations until we are quite sure they are right. If they are denied and we cannot prove them to be right, the proper thing is that the allegations should be withdrawn; but that is a matter for the hon. and gallant Member.

Captain Cunningham-Reid

I will not again interrupt the right hon. Gentleman it I possibly can avoid it, but this is a very important point. The right hon. Gentleman has got his information from the Y.W.C.A., but my information is from the people in the hostel itself. I got my informaion from three separate people in the hostel itself, who said that this woman brought drink into the hostel, which was against all Y.W.C.A. regulations, and that she had a man in her room.

Dr. Morgan (Rochdale)

As a teetotaller, I see no wrong in a woman having a little drink in her room, and why should she not have a man in her room if she wants to, provided—[Interruption]—

Mr. Morrison

What the hon. and gallant Member said on Friday was—and this is from the OFFICIAL REPORT: 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 and bringing drink into the hostel, which, as hon. Members know, is contrary to all Y.W.C.A. regulations."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 5th November, 1943; col. 5037, Vol. 393.] The Y.W.C.A. say—[interruption.] Have we got to the position when the Y.W.C.A. has got to be disbelieved? The hon. and gallant Gentleman can go visiting and listening to tittle-tattle, and he must be believed, but this great voluntary public organisation must be disbelieved.

Captain Cunningham-Reid

But the Y.W.C.A. officials were not at the hostel.

Mr. Morrison

The Y.W.C.A. have made careful inquiries, and have told me two things, that the allegations are untrue and that this lady did not leave under a cloud at all. She left of her own volition in order to take up another post of a similar character in another hostel. In any case, I suggest that the onus of proof is on the hon. and gallant Member. The onus of disproof is not on me and not even on the Y.W.C.A. It is the hon. and gallant Member who has made a public allegation, and I think it is his duty either to substantiate it or to withdraw it. Let the hon. and gallant Member not be lighthearted about it. I am sure that he would not wish that any woman, or man if it comes to that, should be under the allegation in Parliament of serious moral irregularity, in an important position, unless the allegation could be proved. As regards the character of the warden, I am informed that it would appear that the hon. and gallant Member must have been told a malicious story by somebody outside the hostel. However, he says it was some person inside the hostel.

As regards the treatment of the girl in the hostel, I have had full inquiry made Naturally I was very much concerned when the Debate took place. I read the report and sent some pretty direct minutes to my Department. I do not wish to take up the time of the House in attempting to answer all the allegations made by the hon. and gallant Member, on most of which I find, to the best of my knowledge, that he was misinformed, but I should like to say that I have satisfied myself that the girl was well treated at the hostel, that she enjoyed the life there and was received with every friendliness, both by the warden and her staff and, let me add, by the land girls themselves, who were in residence, and that she herself, that is to say, the girl known as Mary, would have wished to stay there if her mother had not removed her. The hon. and gallant Member made a great point about the girl being overworked at the hostel, and, on the information before me when the hon. and gallant Member first brought the case to my notice, I felt that for the first fortnight of her stay she might have been overdoing it. Further inquiries, however, have put the matter in a somewhat different light. It is true, we admit, that during the first fortnight the girl's hours of duty were long, and they were subsequently shortened, but the actual work was intermittent, and there is no reason to believe that it was harder than that being done by many other girls of similar age under war conditions.

The hon. and gallant Member further alleged that, owing to lack of proper supervision, the girl was able to go to a neighbouring town which was full of troops. This allegation must, I think, be based upon an erroneous idea that the girl was sent to the hostel for custodial training and that it was the duty of the warden to see that she did not leave the hostel unaccompanied. Well, that is not the case. The truth is that the girl was simply engaged there as a domestic worker and that the warden had no authority or duty to control her during her free time. Indeed, I think it would be objectionable, if a young person goes into employment, that it should be, so to speak, semi-penal. It would not be calculated to have the best effect on a young person. There is no reason to believe that the girl abused her liberty to leave the hostel at any time when she was free. All my information goes to show that she behaved well during her stay at the hostel. I should like to add that the girl is reported by those who have come into touch with her to be an intelligent girl, of nice character, and the suggestion therefore of the hon. and gallant Member that she was in danger of becoming a prostitute is quite as erroneous as his remarks about the lady in charge of the hostel.

In his speech, the hon. and gallant Member also made a number of allegations about the way in which the probation officer dealt with the girl. For instance, he said that when the probation officer was originally consulted by the girl's mother several months before the daughter actually appeared in court, the only advice or help which the probation officer would give was that the mother should give her daughter a good whipping. I am satisfied from the inquiries which I have caused very carefully to be made that the hon. and gallant Member has been misinformed and that this allegation is entirely untrue. As a matter of fact, at that time, the probation officer was under no obligation to deal with the matter at all. Probation officers are officers of the court, and before the child had gone to the court they should have said to the mother, "This has nothing to do with us." They are good, public-spirited servants. They could see that there was difficulty and they did what they could to be helpful, which I think is to their credit. They did take a great deal of trouble to help the girl, quite voluntarily outside their official obligations and they made arrangements for her to join a girls' club.

In replying to the Debate on Friday, my right hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State referred to a "slip-up" in the probation service, and it did appear from the information which was then available that there had been unintentionally an apparent failure to do all that was necessary in this case, but here again further investigation has shown that as much was done as was possible and requisite in the circumstances of the case. It was unfortunate that the probation officer who knew most about the case was ill at the time and had to go on sick leave. As a matter of fact, this particular officer had had a flat bombed out in September, and she had had to make arrangements about her mother who was about 80 years of age. These things do happen even to officers in the public service, and they are entitled to some consideration when they do happen. However, although she could not deal with the matter herself, she did arrange for another officer to deal with the case when she was on leave, and this other officer acting for her kept in touch by letter with the girl, from whom she received a grateful reply and also communicated with the warden of the hostel by telephone.

Captain Cunningham-Reid

Did the warden visit this particular hostel and see that it was a suitable place for the girl, or did she, alternatively, ask the local probation officer to visit the home? It is a very important point, owing to the fact that five weeks elapsed before she again saw a probation officer.

Mr. Morrison

She did not visit the home before the girl was sent there.

Captain Cunningham-Reid

Did she visit it afterwards?

Mr. Morrison

No, I am not sure that she did, at any rate in the early stages. She communicated with the local probation officer, according to my information. Let us have a sense of proportion. Here we are in the middle of a great war. If we are to do these things as 100 per cent. meticulously as the hon. and gallant Member is asking, we shall strain the manpower available for these matters. What the probation officer did was to make inquiries among responsible people, social workers, and those people suggested that here was an excellent place for this girl to go to, she would have a good time and be mixed up with decent people. I should have thought that, broadly speaking, it was a very sensible proposition. The hostel was thoroughly recommended. If visits are to be made to every place to which any deliquent conceivably may go we shall have our work cut out. I do not think it was unreasonable in the circumstances that there was no prior visit. The probation officer did keep in touch with the child by letter, as I have said, and had a grateful reply, and she also communicated with the hostel by telephone. This hostel had been strongly recommended by social workers. My hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Lindsay) says that it is customary for these recommendations to be taken at their proper value by the probation service, and therefore, it was not thought necessary to visit, before the girl was sent there. But for the probation officer's illness, it would have been after the girl had been there for a short time.

The hon. and gallant Member said that when he gave notice—and here again I come to a point which he has raised—of his intention to raise this matter on the Adjournment, the probation officer arrived at the hostel hotfoot from London. The assumption always is that the public service has to be in the wrong, that the warden has got to be wrong and these people are to be guilty until they are proved innocent. Here is an allegation that because the hon. and gallant Member gave notice that he was going to raise the matter the probation officer went hotfoot from London.

Captain Cunningham-Reid

Is it not a strange coincidence? There was an interval of five weeks.

Mr. Morrison

That is the argument of the hon. and gallant Member. If he finds a strange coincidence, they are guilty. I do not know whether he has ever sat in a court and listened to the evidence, and I do not know whether he will ever be in danger of becoming a justice of the peace. I should like to give evidence as to his judicial capacity. He is, I am told, mistaken, as the probation officer had gone to the hostel before any notification of the hon. Member's intention reached her and there was, therefore, no connection between the two incidents. I hope, in these circumstances, that I have said enough to assure the House that in this particular case, not only was there no question of ill-treatment of the young person, but everything was done that could be done to help the girl to recover her self-respect and to lead a happy life in good surroundings. When the full co-operation of a parent is not forthcoming, the best efforts of social workers may be frustrated.

In his speech last Friday the hon. and gallant Member asked the House to come to the conclusion that juvenile delinquency should be looked into. This case, at any rate, does not support that request. As hon. Members know, there is another case which is the subject of inquiry at the moment, and I shall, of course, await a report of that inquiry before deciding whether any action on my part is required arising out of that case. I should like to say that the Home Office is deeply interested in the whole question of offences committed by young people. We take a lot of trouble in this matter, and it is a good thing for the Home Office that it has to deal with the remedial side of these difficult problems as well as the police side of apprehending offenders. I hope the Home Office will never become an office devoid of such functions. We do not want a Continental Ministry of the Interior in this country, and it is a good thing that the Home Office has got to find remedies and treatment as well as deal with the apprehension and perhaps the prosecution of young offenders. We do take a great interest in the problem. My Department's advisers are exceedingly conscientious and I do not wish them to be discouraged more than would be fair. The Department is interested in the whole question of offences committed by young people, because we realise that to deal effectively with young offenders is the best safeguard against crime in later life. Many of these young people have fallen into serious difficulties through no fault of their own; sometimes through adverse surroundings, sometimes through economic difficulties and poverty, and sometimes through parents who do not quite know how to do their job. In birching cases I sometimes wonder whether the parent instead of the child ought not to be birched.

A great deal of valuable work is being done by probation officers. Good work is also being done by officers of local authorities, particularly the education department, who take a great deal of interest in these matters, and by other social workers. They may all, by some negligence or indiscretion, expose themselves to criticism. They sometimes do make mistakes. The Home Office sometimes makes a mistake. The Home Secretary sometimes makes a mistake—and sometimes Members of Parliament make mistakes. But just because there is an occasional mistake, it would be a pity to roll the whole service in the mud, and make them cease to be proud of themselves. I want them to be proud of themselves and to elevate the service by maintaining a fine esprit de corps. If they make mistakes they must, of course, put up with the criticism, but I venture to suggest that, if unfair it is rather discouraging and disheartening to those who are doing this fine work, with the sole desire to help young people. I do suggest that criticism should not be made unreasonably or without adequate steps being taken to make sure that the criticism is justified.

There is just one other point to which I think I ought to refer. The point was made that the probation officer had not readily responded to the hon. and gallant Gentleman's invitation to see him. The hon. and gallant Gentleman thought she ought to have been more forthcoming when he wished to see her. I am always anxious that officers in my Department and officers of local authorities with which my Department deals should be courteous to Members of Parliament, but I am bound to say as regards this case that all the officer did was to be cautious and to check up by inquiring from the Home Office whether there was any objection to complying with the hon. and gallant Member's request. The Home Office said there was no objection and, I think, the meeting did take place.

Captain Cunningham-Reid


Mr. Morrison

I thought I did. It may be that the hon. and gallant Member had by this time got to the point of raising the matter in Debate; it may be that the battle was on and that it might not have been desirable for the meeting to take place, but I think all hon. Members will readily agree that an officer is perfectly entitled to be cautious about giving information arising out of official duties, especially where the officer is dealing with confidential information about family circumstances. Officers have to be careful about giving information on private matters and it must be remembered that the probation officer is an officer of the court and is answerable to the court for his method of dealing with probationers under his care. It would be undesirable for a probation officer, without special authority, to make public, information about particular individuals who have been entrusted to his care by the court. This probation officer, therefore, was only exercising reasonable official caution in consulting the Home Office. The Home Office did advise the probation officer to see the hon. Gentleman and to inform him about the case, but I begin to wonder whether, in the light of my experience in this Debate, we must not even be cautious in going as far as that. If the information given is treated in a responsible way, I do not think there is any harm in it, but if the officer is liable to become a brickbat thrown about the Floor of this House in debate, then I think the matter has got to be thought about. I am sorry to have had to take up the time of the House on this point, but I felt it had got to be said. I did feel that in this case, good, nice people had not been treated fairly and I thought it best to make this statement. It is now for the hon. and gallant Member to make any observations he may wish.

Mr. J. J. Davidson (Glasgow, Maryhill)

May I make one appeal? We have listened to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary. He has made a very full statement on this particular case, and I think the hon. and gallant Member will agree that it is not a case in the discussion of which other Members can indulge. It is not a question on which we can speak. I would appeal to the hon. and gallant Member that, if he is not satisfied with the text of the Home Secretary's reply, he should take the matter up himself with the Home Office, by meeting the Home Secretary or his representative and thrashing the matter out between them, but I appeal to him not to take up the time of the House of Commons and have reported in the public Press personal facts that concern only one particular family. I think it would be a pity if this House indulged in such a Debate.

Captain Cunningham-Reid (St. Marylebone)

I do not intend to respond to the suggestion that has been made. Some very damaging statements have been made, damaging to myself, by the Home Secretary, statements which concern my integrity and the information which I recently gave to the House. I think, therefore, that it is only right and proper that I should reply to what has been said by him. I approach my reply with some temerity, especially in view of the fact that I am following a very efficient debater of this House who certainly has made out a plausible case. It is my intention not simply to attempt also to make out a plausible case, but to make out a very strong case in reply. I, naturally, was given no notice of the criticisms that the Home Secretary was going to make, but, nevertheless, I feel that I am in a position to be able to deal with them.

Before thoroughly getting on to the main issue, I would like to draw attention to the fact that early to-day there was a very special occasion, inasmuch that the Foreign Secretary made a statement to the House and made that statement upon the Adjournment. It is customary for the Adjournment period to be used sometimes for such special occasions, but, generally, it is supposed to be for the particular use of Private Members. To-day two Ministers have made use of this period, which, I think, is unprecedented, but let me say quickly that I myself welcome it for two reasons. The first is that I am very concerned about this particular case, and I am glad that we have had a further statement so soon and that I am given an opportunity to reply to it, and, secondly, I think it shows what an invaluable period this Adjournment period is and bow necessary it is that this period should be assured at the end of every Sitting of this House. An important part of our Parliamentary procedure is that a Home Secretary can come down to the House and take up some time on an Adjournment for a specific purpose that concerns one individual in this country.

To-day what has impressed me is the expeditious manner in which the Home Office have conducted this inquiry. In that respect they have set a very fine example to other Government Department, but, somehow, I feel that beyond that their example is not quite so good. At the end of last week this particular case was put before the Home Office in this House. It was stated that a child delinquent, a girl of 15, was over-worked and the reason for that was inadequate supervision. The Home Office had had ample notice that that was what I was complaining about—days and days of notice. In fact, the Under-Secretary commented on the length of my letter on that subject. On that occasion the Home Office definitely admitted that the girl had been overworked and that it was the result of inadequate supervision. To-day they have completely gone back on that admission. I would like to point out one other thing about that Debate last Friday. They then followed up their commendable frankness by drawing a red herring across the main issue. They went for the mother tooth and nail. How that was expected to help the girl goodness alone knows. But even that red herring lost its flavour, because the magistrate sent the girl back to the home and influence which the Home Office had so pontifically deplored.

Yesterday another peculiar thing happened. I expected to hear something about it to-day. The Home Secretary must be aware of this fact; if not I do not think there is very good liaison work between his officers and himself. The stepdaughter of the mother arrived in London, and Miss May, the probation officer, without consulting the mother, gave her Mary's business address. This woman then went and saw Mary and as the Chelsea juvenile court was sitting, she also went off to see Miss Montagu, the magistrate, and Mary was subsequently told by Miss May that in a month, that is to say as soon as she is 16, she will probably be sent to a hostel in Coventry. Incidentally, the step-daughter lives at Leamington. The mother was at no time consulted about this and got the information from her daughter yesterday evening, and got the information in spite of the fact that Miss May impressed on Mary not to tell her mother. Mary is now back at home because the magistrate considered it a suitable place for her. I want to impress that point on the House. Why then will not her home be a suitable place for this girl in a month's time? Further, if it is a suitable place now, why is the mother not being consulted? Why is her daughter's business address being given behind the mother's back?

Mr. H. Morrison

As the hon. and gallant Member knew this earlier yesterday why could he not have told me? This is the specific technique of which I complained—that new allegations are brought up in Debate which the Minister cannot be expected to deal with. It is grossly unfair. We ought to have notice of these things, so that we can deal with them. I suggest to the hon. and gallant Member that he has to choose between giving us notice about these things, if he thinks it is right to raise the happenings of life to these young people in public in this way or raising them direct with the Department, which most hon. Members prefer to do.

Captain Cunningham-Reid

My right hon. Friend is assuming righteous indignation about this, but he has not heard the other side of the story. As I was hoping to point out, it is impossible each time you come across another piece of news to inform the Home Office or any other Department that is likely to be involved in a Debate. In the second place, I got this information only a very short time before the right hon. Gentleman got up to speak, and my hon. Friend on my left can bear me out, in as much as I was sitting with him when I got a message to go to the telephone.

Mr. Morrison

And it comes out on the Floor of the House straight away.

Captain Cunningham-Reid

If I may continue on this point, it seems to me a very strange state of affairs that not only did this probation officer tell this girl what I have just informed the House but she also informed this girl that the mother and step-sister would write to the girl direct to her business address, and the probation officer advised this girl to tear up such letters, so that the mother would not be aware that the stepdaughter was writing to her. This probation officer has to my mind all through this case behaved in a most extraordinary manner. Not content with past mistakes, she is now deliberately attempting to make trouble in Mary's home. An hon. Gentleman says "Nonsense." I should like to know whether the Home Office have at any time during their investigations interrogated either the mother or the girl. If that is not so, if the right hon. Gentleman cannot tell me that, it seems to me a most extraordinary inquiry, a very one-sided affair.

To-day we have had statements from the Home Secretary that I can only describe as "red herrings rampant." The poor mother has again been made the scapegoat, and all the officials who are responsible in this case have become dear little white lambs. The main issue has once again been side-tracked by trying to make out that incidental details were misrepresented by me. Let us examine the Home Office reply to my allegation. The Home Secretary has received statements on this matter from various people. By his silence just now I gather he has had no statement from the mother or the girl, which in itself is curious. I wonder how his representatives obtained the information they have got. It may be interesting for the House to know that when I obtained my information my informants had no idea, any more than I had, that this case would receive publicity. They spoke to me quite naturally and without fear of any consequences. The situation for them has now altered. They have had to take into consideration who it is that employs them, and very likely it is their employers who have asked them to make statements and to deny things. I think the House may agree that statements obtained by the first means are quite as likely to be uninfluenced information as the statements obtained under the second circumstances. I think I am entitled to ask the Home Secretary whether he or the Under-Secretary or any important official in his Ministry has seen any of the people concerned. I saw my witnesses myself, and if the responsible people in the Ministry did not get this information direct from people at the hostel who did they get it from? If people in the hostel were interrogated did they have their advisers with them or were they alone when questioned, and consequently likely to be frightened?

The Home Secretary has made great play of the fact to-day that I did not give him notice of many of the allegations, or perhaps I should put it this way that I did not give notice last week to the Under-Secretary of many of the allegations I then made. Can the Home Office deny that the main allegations I made in that Debate were previously made in that long letter I sent to the Home Office, which included the fact that I mentioned that the first warden of this hostel had left under a cloud. If the right hon. Gentleman looks up my letter, he will see those words which gave him ample opportunity of looking into the matter of the circumstances of that warden's sojourn, but to come here and try to lead the House astray by saying that I have done something which a Member of this House should not do so far as the etiquette of this House is concerned is misleading and unwarranted.

There were one or two allegations that had only come to my notice a very short time before that Debate, but which were quite incidental to the main issue. Really it is going to be absurd if in any Debate any information one ever gets, however incidental, cannot be used if one does not previously convey it to the Minister who is to reply. There would be no end to that. I would challenge the Home Secretary now to tell the House of one really important allegation I made which I did not refer to in that original letter that I sent to him and to which he so lengthily and courteously replied. Presumably there is no reply to that.

The Home Secretary goes on, trailing this red herring, by saying how Miss May, the Probation Officer of St. Marylebone, has denied ever telling the mother, when the mother originally went to consult her about her daughter, that probably it would be advisable to give the daughter a good whipping. That information came to me from the mother. I would point out to the Under-Secretary that when I men- tioned that matter I did not do so in any way which I considered was to the disadvantage of the probation officer. I personally think that it was not bad advice on the part of the probation officer. I think it would be a very good thing if parents occasionally, instead of relying so much on probation officers, were to deal with their children themselves. I see no objection to that whatever, and therefore I do not see that it really matters in the slightest whether the probation officer said that or not. I certainly said it in no manner derogatory to the probation officer.

Other things were said in reply to my allegations. The most serious concerned my statements about that first warden of the hostel. Therefore the House will no doubt wish me to deal with that matter. Let us examine the Home Secretary's reply to that allegation. The Home Secretary has informed the House that according to the Y.W.C.A., who very naturally are on their mettle, this warden was in their opinion entirely satisfactory. I made, last Friday, certain specific charges against this warden, which, I told the Home Secretary to-day and evidently surprised him, I had got from people in the hostel. The Home Secretary was quite unable to-day to say that he had received contrary information from anybody in the hostel. He got his information from the headquarters of the Y.W.C.A., which is not situated in that particular hostel. I suggest to the House that my evidence from people in the hostel is quite as good as any evidence of the headquarters of the Y.W.C.A. I should like to know from the Home Secretary of whom the Y.W.C.A. made inquiries to find out whether allegations, which they had not known of before, had been made about one of their wardens. I think that this is such an important point that I will refresh the memory of the House with one short sentence as to what my allegations were on that occasion and which I deliberately repeat again, and I shall give some further chapter and verse as to why these allegations are true. I said to the House last Friday that the first warden of the hostel was in the habit of having a man in her room and bringing drink into the hostel"—

An Hon. Member

What does that mean?

Captain Cunningham-Reid

If the hon. Member will be patient he will see— which as hon. Members know it is contrary to all Y.W.C.A. Regulations."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 5th November, 1943; col. 1038, Vol. 393.] By drink I mean intoxicating drink. Perhaps that is the answer winch the hon. Member wanted. The Home Office has not denied either of these allegations, and I think we ought to have some reply and a definite denial of this, not just an omnibus denial as to the Y.W.C.A. officials saying that this warden's services were, to the best of their knowledge, satisfactory. It might confirm my arguments, especially concerning the drink being brought into the hostel, when I say that I am prepared to bring forward two people who were in that hostel who themselves had cleared away bottles which had contained spirits from the room of that first matron. That first matron, the Home Office will find out, will be willing to admit that she certainly did bring stout into the hostel. [interruption.] I believe she alleges that she did it quite openly. She used to have it at table with the land girls. Here is the warden of a hostel in charge of land girls who have been working all day on the land, who come in tired and thirsty, and who watch the warden drinking stout, which is against regulations, while all they can have is water or cocoa. I am suggesting to the Home Office that they have not yet specifically denied these serious allegations of having a man in the room, and drink, in the hostel, information concerning which I received from three people in the hostel whose names I am perfectly prepared to give to my right hon. Friend.

I only wish to say this in conclusion, if I could have the attention of my right hon. Friend. I made other allegations, which the Home Secretary has not touched upon. The Home Secretary has to-day suggested that this place was a situation where a girl could have good surroundings and a good influence. The Home Secretary has not said a word about my allegations concerning the previous girl who came to this hostel from the same remand home that Mary came from and who was having V.D. treatment in the local hospital, and who was dismissed because she was found with a lorry driver in her room. I deliberately refrained the other day from giving sordid details to the House which might be considered unneces- sary. In fact, I understated my case. I did not mention what I could have mentioned, that matters were far more disgraceful than I had made out. I did not say that in the case of this particular girl I have just referred to—concerning whom no denial has come from the Home Secretary—it was not a question of just one man, but of two men being found in her room. It is a very serious matter, and I do not think that the Home Secretary should laugh.

Mention was made the other day about the cook of this hostel, who went by the name of Mrs. Willis. The cook's husband arrived one day to see his wife, and saw a ladder against a window. Being a shrewd man, he took the ladder away, and then went and consulted his wife. Both went up to the girl's room. They had considerable difficulty in getting in, and when they did they discovered what I have already told the House. There are more things concerning this hostel which I am prepared to tell the Home Secretary in confidence. Does the Minister say that, one way and another, this hostel was the proper place to send girls who were trying to make good? Does he say that this was a good influence on the 50 land girls who were there, and does he claim that this treatment of a girl on probation was just an isolated case, as the Under-Secretary claimed the other day? If so, I shall be bringing to him shortly a number of other cases in which he may be interested. It is really a pity that the Home Secretary has attempted to whitewash this case by trying to avert attention from my main and all important allegations, which originally the Home Office were unable to deny. It is a pity, because a lot of good was being done, inasmuch as, because of the publicity being given to this case, other bad employers of girls on probation were minding their p's and q's in regard to the defenceless girls under their protection. As a result of the reply I have had to-day, all these bad employers will be greatly relieved, and will come to the conclusion that whatever they do to the unfortunate probationers they employ, the Home Office will protect the employers because of their semi-official capacity.

Earl Winterton (Horsham and Worthing)

I do not propose to follow the hon. and gallant Gentleman in all his statements about this case, but I would like to say that in a very long experience of Parliament I have never heard a more cock-and-bull case put up.

It being the hour appointed for the interruption of Business, the Motion, for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[Captain McEwen.]

Earl Winterton

It was a very typical speech from the hon. and gallant Member. I propose to deal with a much more serious matter, a question which goes to the very roots not only of the rights and procedure of this House, but of human decency as well. The hon. and gallant Gentleman the other day made a statement to the House, from which he has quoted, but from which I propose to quote again: Very shortly afterwards, I understand, this particular warden left the hostel under most doubtful circumstances."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 5th November, 1943; col. 1033, Vol. 303.] Not "I state," but "I understand," it is worth noting. He went on to say what he has already quoted, that 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, that she was in the habit of having a man in her room and bringing in drink, etc. The Y.W.C.A. is an institution which has been doing for a great number of years most admirable work in this country. I know something of its work, I have subscribed to it, and someone near and dear to me works in it and I resent very strongly the charge which the hon. and gallant Member has brought against the Y.W.C.A. in particular.

Captain Cunningham-Reid


Earl Winterton

I am not going to give way: I never interrupted the hon. and gallant Gentleman. I am dealing with the charge which he has brought against the Y.W.C.A. in particular. He cannot deny it, because he interrupted the hon. Gentleman, and said, "Yes, you got it from the Y.W.C.A." Does he or does he not charge the Y.W.C.A. with giving false information to the Minister? The Home Secretary told him that he had communicated with the Y.W.C.A., who informed him that the hon. and gallant Gentleman's statement was completely groundless: that she did not leave under a cloud, that she left at her own request and was at present employed in another hostel. The hon. and gallant Gentleman cannot have it both ways. He has either described the Y.W.C.A. as a lying body or he has not. Does he accept their statement or does he not?

Captain Cunningham-Reid

I have already made it quite clear to the House. I said to the Home Secretary, so far as the inquiry from the Y.W.C.A. wag concerned, I wanted to know from whom the Y.W.C.A. had made those inquiries. When I know that they actually made inquiries from the people in the hostel, then I am prepared to answer the right hon. Gentleman's question.

Earl Winterton

I will leave the hon. and gallant Member's answer to the House. A more evasive reply I have never heard. I asked him a plain question: whether he accepted the statement made by the Y.W.C.A. or not. He then proceeds to say that he wants to know on what basis the statement was made. These people were, and still are, the employers of this woman. Is it conceivable that anybody in their position, having been asked a question by one of the highest officers of State, the Home Secretary, should have answered without having investigated? The matter cannot be left where it is. I challenge the hon. and gallant Gentleman to make these libellous statements about the Y.W.C.A. and about this woman, outside.

I know of no fouler charge that can be brought against anybody than a charge against the chastity of a woman. The hon. Gentleman, of all people, made a charge about chastity—the hon. and gallant Gentleman, I beg his pardon. I challenge the hon. and gallant Gentleman—and it is legitimate to do so—to make this statement outside the House where it can be challenged in an effective manner in a court of law. Let him repeat the charges and the name of the hostel and of the woman against whom he makes these charges. Let him produce his witnesses, and what witnesses. The hon. and gallant Gentleman goes to a hostel. In any hostel, there are always people who differ from the management. He takes up the tittle-tattle of a few people, and he says that he is prepared to give the names to the Home Secretary. What value has that unless it is on oath? Of what value is the hon. and gallant Gentleman's evidence unless it is made outside on oath? I have nothing more to say on that point, except that I should think that public opinion outside this House will not allow the hon. and gallant Gentleman to make charges against a citizen of this country without substantiating them in public outside this House, and that is the challenge I make.

Captain Cunningham-Reid

Is not the Noble Lord aware of the fact that both the Home Office and myself have been very careful not to mention the names of any of these people?

Earl Winterton

The hon. and gallant Gentleman has been very careful not to mention the names of anybody but very careful to blacken the woman's character. I have made my challenge which the hon. and gallant Gentleman cannot refuse. He has to make his statement outside this House and if he does not make it there may be means of making him do it. He can be described in terms in which there will be no question of Privilege, and he will have to come into court.

As regards his attack on the probation system generally—and I apologise because I have shown some heat but I was obliged to do so—I would like to say how much I agree with the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary. Having had the privilege of being for a short time an assistant Minister at the Home Office, I would like to pay a tribute to the immense value of probation work. I suggest that, for the moment, we should refrain from criticism of this service, since, as the Home Secretary properly reminded the House, there is an inquiry going on which affects the whole question of probation. When that inquiry has taken place then will be the time, if necessary, to have a full discussion on the probation service. I would, as I say, pay tribute to the devoted work of these people and to say that I hope that Dr. Goebbels or any other enemy of this country will not take any comfort from the fact that we have, from time to time, brought up the question of juvenile delinquency, because the experience of police and magistrates is that in the circumstances—and there are a few black patches in the country—the youth, male and female, of this country have come magnificently out of the four most difficult years in our history.