HC Deb 07 December 1944 vol 406 cc732-5 The following Question stood upon the Order Paper in the name of Mr. KEELING: 84. To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether he can now announce the Government's decision on the question of setting up an inquiry into the methods of providing for children deprived of a normal home life.

At the end of Questions

Mr. H. Morrison

As this is a matter of some importance, I will with permission make a statement in relation to this Question.

His Majesty's Government have had this matter under consideration and, so far as England and Wales are concerned, a Committee of Inquiry will be appointed as soon as possible jointly by the Minister of Health, the Minister of Education and myself. The terms of reference will be: To inquire into existing methods of providing for children who from loss of parents, or from any other cause whatever, are deprived of a normal home life with their own parents or relatives; and to consider what further measures should be taken to ensure that these children are brought up under conditions best calculated to compensate them for the lack Of parental care. The Government have also under consideration the question of the central administrative responsibility for such children which is at present shared between several Government Departments, and they hope to be in a position to make their views on this question known to the Committee as soon as possible after it is appointed.

As regards Scotland, a similar Committee of Inquiry will be appointed by the Secretary of State for Scotland.

It is the normal practice of committees of this character to take evidence in private. In the case of this committee, however, there are arguments for and against the proceedings being held in private and it is proposed that the committee should be given a discretion to hear evidence in public where they are satisfied that that can be done without the risk of failure to elicit the truth or detriment to the public interest.

Mr. Keeling

Will my right hon. Friend allow me to thank him and his colleagues for this prompt response to a wish expressed by nearly 200 Members of this House?

Mr. Morrison

I am very much obliged to my hon. Friend.

Viscountess Astor

Will the right hon. Gentleman make it clear that there are a great many of these homes which are splendidly run by consecrated men and women so that the country will not think that all of them are as bad as some people make out?

Mr. Morrison

There is no assumption in my mind that these homes are necessarily badly run. I have no doubt that many of them are well run, but the Government think, and I believe the House will agree, that there is a good case for a comprehensive inquiry.

Mr. R. C. Morrison

Will the right hon. Gentleman make it clear that the terms of reference are sufficiently wide to cover blind and physically and mentally defective children?

Mr. Morrison

If they are resident in homes, that will certainly be the case.

Mr. Kenneth Lindsay

Will the terms of reference include education and after care?

Mr. Morrison

I am not sure about that. I am afraid I shall want notice of that point, but I will consider it.

Miss Rathbone

Will the inquiry include not only the quality of the homes which exist, but the adequacy of the provision of homes?

Mr. Morrison

Yes, Sir.

Mr. Sorensen

Can the right hon. Gentleman say who will sit on the Committees and how long the inquiry is likely to take?

Mr. Morrison

I am afraid that that question is premature.

Mr. Sorensen

Will the terms of reference include the question of corporal punishment in these homes?

Mr. Morrison

I am not sure, but I should rather doubt it.

Mrs. Beatrice Wright

Is it intended that the inquiry shall include children placed with foster parents or be confined to those in institutional care?

Mr. Morrison

The question of children placed with foster parents and the policy of foster parents instead of institutional treatment, will be within the scope of the inquiry.

Mr. Gallacher

In view of the fact that the children whose cases are to receive consideration, are drawn from the ranks of the working class, will the Minister see to it that the chairman of the Committee is from a working-class family?

Mr. Morrison

We will do our best to get the best chairman. Perhaps I ought to add, in answer to the question put by the hon. Member for West Leyton (Mr. Sorensen), that I think the point that he has raised, if the Committee wish to go into it, will be within the Committee's terms of reference.

Mr. Gallacher

May I press on the Minister the point which I have just put to him, because we do not want another lawyer as chairman of the Committee?

Mr. Evelyn Walkden

Will the terms of reference include existing remand homes in many parts of the country which have not received the limelight which the London County Council remand homes have received?

Mr. Morrison

Certainly, all the homes will have a fair chance of having the limelight put upon them.

Mr. Buchanan

I understand that a separate Committee is to be set up for Scotland; will the terms of reference be the same for that Committee as for the English Committee?

Mr. Morrison

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland can, of course, answer that question, but I understand that it is the intention to follow broadly on similar lines.

Mr. Gallacher

Could I not have an assurance from the Minister that the Committee will not have a lawyer as its chairman but a representative of the working class?

Mr. Morrison

At the moment, I cannot give any assurances whatever to the hon. Member.

Mr. McGovern

Are we to take it that the Communist Party have a suspicion of lawyers, and do not allow them in their party?