HC Deb 30 May 1945 vol 411 cc303-14

Order for Second Reading read.

6.55 p.m.

The Minister of Education (Mr. Richard Law)

I beg to move, "That this Bill be now read a Second time."

This is a very short Bill. I wish that all Bills were as short. In particular, I wish that all Education Bills were as short as this. But it is also an extremely good Bill, and I do not think that anyone on either side of the House will have cause to dispute its passage now. Another great advantage that this Bill has, it seems to me, is that everything it has to say is really said in the short title. It is entitled: An Act to transfer the functions of the Minister of Health under the Camps Act, 1939, to the Minister of Education. I cannot believe that in any quarter of the House there will be any objection to that course, but I think it would be for the convenience of the House if I went back a little and refreshed the minds of hon. Members on the antecedents of this Bill.

Some years ago now, in those far-off days when wax seemed likely to come, there was presented to the House—in March, 1939—a Bill which I think was called the Camps Bill, the purpose of which was to provide, in country districts, camps which could be used in an emergency to help with the evacuation of school-children and to supplement the billeting arrangements which had been made. It was always envisaged, even at that time, that if the emergency did not occur, or when the emergency had passed, these camps should revert to educational purposes. It is still our intention, now that the emergency has passed, that these camps should be used as school and holiday camps. However, if these camps are to revert, not so much to their original purpose as to the purpose that was originally contemplated, I think the House will agree that it is only sensible and appropriate that they should come under the Minister of Education instead of the Minister of Health. It is the sole purpose of this Bill to make that transfer and to bring these camps under the jurisdiction of the Minister of Education.

I do not think it is necessary for me to elaborate upon the merits of having these camps. That was agreed in 1939, before the war, and I am sure that we must all be very glad indeed to think that at any rate one of the instruments of war—because that is what these camps were—is now to be converted to the arts of peace. There is no doubt whatever that the children of this country will benefit enor- mously from the existence of these camps, and I hope there will be no opposition to the passage of this Bill on either side of the House.

7.0 p.m.

Mr. Ede (South Shields)

I think this Measure is very appropriately brought in at this stage as one of the first Measures that this House is asked to consider after the end of the European war. These camps have, done good work during the war. I had the privilege of visiting several of them myself, and some most valuable experimental educational work has been carried out, especially in the way of providing residential education for children who had not previously had the advantage of participating in that form of education. I recollect visiting two very fine camps which took children from the City of Birmingham, and which were situated in Cannock Chase. One, at Pipe-wood, which was used by girls, became quite famous for the success of the experiment which was there carried on, and I can only say that I hope there will be a very wide extension of these facilities for children. Two years ago there was an amazing response to a questionnaire sent out by the Federation of Women's Institutes. Ninety-nine per cent. of the replies from women's institutes all over the country said they thought every child should have a period of residential qualification during its senior school career. That represents a substantial alteration in the outlook of working-class parents on this problem of residential education. The advantages of these places also consist in their not being so formalised that only the routine of education, as practised in the ordinary schools, is carried on. There are opportunities for experiment, both in class arrangement and the way in which studies are managed.

Undoubtedly a difficulty that was inherent at the time these camps were started is that there has been dual control by two Ministries. When one visited a camp as Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Education one had to ask permission to enter the kitchen, because that was under the control of the Ministry of Health. There were some camps in which the relationship between the staff responsible for cooking and the staff responsible for education was not too happy. By bringing the whole of the administration under one Ministry we can eliminate that, and I hope we shall be able to enforce, more than we have been able to do in the past, the idea that the school meal, especially in a residential school, is no small part of the educational training that the child receives. I hope also that it will mean, in the words of one of the right hon. Gentleman's illustrious predecessors, that the headmaster will be "captain on his own quarter deck," that there will be no doubt that inside the camp the whole of the arrangements will be under his control and that it will be recognised that the whole place is an educational institution.

The future of our educational system is now being shaped in the administration of the somewhat longer Act for which the present Minister of Labour was responsible last year, and which certainly he could never have expected to get through in one evening. I hope that in the administration of that Act the Measure we are passing to-night will be the means of enabling valuable and continuous experiments to be carried out, and that we shall be able to provide, by means of residential education, opportunities for every child to have some experience of camp life. I would like to plead that no camps should be of too short a duration. I have had experience of conducting many boys' camps, and I have found that for the first two nights nobody sleeps and that for the last two days the boys were meeting in committees to decide exactly how little of their remaining pocket money need be spent as a present for mother to persuade her that they had been thinking of her all the time they had been away. When one takes that period out of a week or fortnight it does not leave very much, especially if, in addition, the weather happens to be bad for three or four days—no uncommon thing in England. I welcome this Bill, and I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that my right hon. and hon. Friends on this side of the House will do everything they can to assist him in its passage.

7.6 p.m.

Mr. Kenneth Lindsay (Kilmarnock)

I think it is a happy thing that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Education, in his first appearance here in his new office, should be transacting this particular piece of business. I wish him well in his job and, if I may say so, I wish even more well his Parliamentary Secretary. She will remember that before the days of evacuation we were faced with the problem of whether we could, as a side wind, get into the evacuation scheme something which might be more constructive for education. I suppose I have asked the recent Minister of Education at least 20 times when he intended to transfer these camps from the Ministry of Health to the Ministry of Education. I realised his difficulties; indeed, we were responsible in those days for putting these camps under the Ministry of Health, because it was expected that mothers, and even grand mothers, as well as children and other people, might have to go into these hutments. But soon afterwards, as the Parliamentary Secretary will remember, we had to re-examine the matter, because they were hardly fit for permanent occupation by young children.

I wonder whether the House realises that these camps were the first experiment in residential schools for children between 11 and 14 on any basis other than the open air schools, which previously had been provided by local education authorities. I repeat, what I have said before, what the headmaster of Cranleigh told me. I asked him several times what was the secret of the success of his school and he replied, "It is based on the fact that there is space." At that school the scholars could move about, they reconstructed a lot of the territory and they rebuilt the pavilion. Scholars who came from Ilford constructed an agricultural high school. At another school I visited the county badge system was used under the State authority, and that system, which has been resumed in Hertfordshire, Dorset shire and elsewhere, has been another of the valuable experiments which has come out of the war.

Mr. Silverman (Nelson and Colne)

Had they old school ties, too?

Mr. Lindsay

These camps are now to be transferred, and the National Camps Corporation is to come under the Ministry of Education. The principle has now been established, and I would like to support everything which was said by my right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) about the value of a period of residential education. Whatever our views may be about board schools and day schools I think few people would contest what he said, that a period of residence is of enormous value to a boy or girl at that age.

How is it proposed that these 30 or 40 camp schools are to be used? Will they be let to the local education authorities as such, or be retained by the Ministry of Education so that boys and girls can be sent there on a national basis? In other words, are they to be allied with local education authorities and gradually become part of their structure, or are they to be used in a national way? During the Debates on the Education Act many of us, including my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall (Sir G. Schuster) and my hon. Friend the Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton) made out a case for residential adult colleges, financed from the centre. Are these camps to be financed from the centre, or to come under the local education authorities? At any rate, I hope these camps will be put to their maximum use, and not used solely for sickly and ailing children. I hope they will give normal children from the big towns a period of residential education in the countryside. I welcome the Bill, and I am sure that it will pass with the approval of the whole House.

7.14 p.m.

Sir Joseph Nall (Manchester, Hulme)

These camps or schools have become bigger and better as each speaker has succeeded another. The Minister has introduced a Measure entitled the "Camps Bill"; the right hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) expanded the information and talked about residential schools; and the hon. Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Lindsay) went one better and talked about adult residential colleges. What are we dealing with? We are dealing with what were intended to be, by the 1939 Act, summer camps. It is quite right that they should be transferred to the Ministry of Education. I gather that some camps are now being usefully used as residential schools, and I would like to ask how many of these camps exist, where they are—I do hot suppose any will be available for Manchester—and how many will be available for use this year.

7.15 p.m.

Mr. Edmund Harvey (Combined English Universities)

I join with my hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Lindsay) in congratulating the Minister and the Parliamentary Secretary on initiating their work, which is of such importance, by this most fruitful Bill. They will have the good will of the whole House in taking up work that was un fortunately suspended by the outbreak of war. The Ministry of Education—the Board of Education as it then was—was the first casualty of the war. At the out set of the war it was turned out of its offices, which was symbolic of what happened to education throughout the country. It is, therefore, fitting that the very beginning of the work of peace should be a renewal of this most import ant work and the taking up again of this extremely valuable experiment. I would like to endorse strongly all that was said by the right hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede). I believe this Measure will prove to be of the utmost value to the school life of the country. It will give to thousands of children, who are now able to attend only day schools and who often come from homes that are over crowded, and live all their days under the shadow of the smoke of great cities, an opportunity to live a life of fellowship and comradeship in clean and wholesome surroundings with the atmosphere of the countryside around them. Some 30 or 40 years ago I had for a number of years the experience of taking boys from the East End of London to a camp in the country for a week. I know the difference it made to those boys. It was a revelation. I remember their excitement on leaving London—

Mr. Cove (Aberavon)

Why not improve their homes?

Mr. Harvey

I am all in favour of improving the homes of the people, but while that is being done the children are there, and we can deal with them now while we are making arrangements for better homes. I have seen children as excited by the sight of a frog as many children in happier homes would be at the sight of a rhinoceros. Those children have never before seen such a strange creature as a frog. I have seen the way in which the wonder of the starry night came upon children who have never been able to see the stars for the smoke. That is an experience we want to hold out to thousands of children. It will mean a change of life to some of these town children. I have known children evacuated during this war to the country from the town, who would certainly have lived as town dwellers all their lives if it had not been for that experience, deciding to become country workers. I. know per- sonally of several poor lads who are happily working by their own choice on farms to-day and who would not have been doing that if they had not had this experience of living in the country. That is something we must not neglect in thinking of the work that is opening out and will open out as the result of the passing of this Bill. I hope the Minister will feel that he can go ahead. We look to him to open as many of these camp schools as possible in the near future. I hope the Parliamentary Secretary will be able to tell us when it is hoped to open the first schools under the Ministry as a result of the passing of the Bill.

Sir J. Nall

They are already reopened.

Mr. Harvey

Yes, but they are to be rearranged under the auspices of the Ministry of Education. I am sure that the good will of all sections of the House will go with the Minister in carrying out this work.

7.20 p.m.

Sir Patrick Hannon (Birmingham, Moseley)

I heartily congratulate my right hon. Friend the Minister of Education on the introduction of this Bill. It is a very good augury of his career in this House as Minister of Education. I would like also to congratulate my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary on her first appearance in the House in relation to this Bill. I endorse everything that was said by the hon. Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Lindsay). I happen to be the chairman of the Birmingham boys' and girls' union, an institution which has organised these country camps over a long period of years. By the generous assistance of public-spirited citizens in Birmingham, we have been able to take these children from the slums of our cities out into the open air, with all the results which the hon. Member for the English Universities (Mr. Harvey) has recited.

But I am rather disappointed at one thing. The right hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede), who was until recently Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Education, spoke about the Pipewood scheme. I want to ask the Parliamentary Secretary whether that scheme has been abandoned and if so, why it has been abandoned. The Pipewood scheme was an experiment which commanded the general respect of everybody and it was a really outstanding success. We brought within the ambit of that scheme a great number of young people who were given opportunities of surveying country life at its best and of going into the atmosphere of country life. Has the scheme been abandoned? Will it be revived, and will any steps be taken by the Ministry of Education to continue on that same system other experiments? I congratulate both Ministers on the introduction of this Bill. After all, in these days there is taking place a great new organisation of the educational system of the country. To bring the children of the slums into contact with the wholesome fresh air of the country is one of the finest things that the Ministry could undertake. I hope very much that the camp system will develop as a constituent part of our national education.

7.23 p.m.

Mr. Silverman (Nelson and Colne)

This is a useful little Measure, and I hope everybody will support it, but I must protest against the atmosphere which is being created of revolution in this matter. Listening to the speeches that have been made, any one would think that we were really doing something to change the life, surroundings, environment and destiny of the children of our great cities and slums. We are doing nothing of the kind. All that we are doing in this Bill is to enable a very small proportion of the school children of our land to spend a very short time occasionally in better conditions.

Mr. Lindsay

The hon. Member said there is nothing new about this.

Mr. Silverman

I did not.

Mr. Lindsay

The hon. Member said that too much fuss is being made. Surely he will agree that when it is established that public money can be spent on residential schools for ordinary children, that is a new principle. The more it can be expanded the better.

Mr. Silverman

The hon. Gentleman probably did not hear the first few sentences of my speech in which I said that this is a useful little Bill, and I hope everybody will support it. I do not say it is a bad Bill. It is a very good thing. What I protest against is the attitude of excitement and enthusiasm with which this very small thing is being surrounded. All that is to happen is that a very few children are going for a very short time, very occasionally, to enjoy some of the conditions that better-placed children have all their lives, and having been given a slight taste of what life can be for more fortunate children, they are to be pitch-forked back into the cities and slums, under the grey skies which the hon. Member for the English Universities (Mr. Harvey) talked about, just as they were before. I do not want to say a word that will cast any doubt on the advisability of passing this Measure, but let us preserve some sense of proportion and not pretend we are doing more than we are doing. What we are doing is very little.

7.25 p.m.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Education (Mrs. Cazalet Keir)

I am very glad indeed that the first Bill with which my right hon. Friend and I are connected in this House has received such unanimous approval from all sides. I am particularly glad that it has the blessing of two distinguished predecessors of mine in office. My right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) was worried that experiments would not be tried on a broad enough scale in these camp schools. I think I can reassure him and the House on this matter. A circular—Circular No. 17—was sent out last autumn to local authorities emphasising the importance of experiments. I can assure hon. Members that in paragraph 3 of that circular a very wide latitude is given for experiments in these schools and holiday camps. My hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Lindsay), who has taken such a very great interest in these camps—and I think I can say that it is largely owing to his enthusiasm that they were started at the time they were—asked whether the camps are to be let by the corporation to local education authorities. As I understand it, the camps will be let to local education authorities, and the arrangements will be agreed upon by my right hon. Friend before they are used. My hon. Friend the Member for Hulme (Sir J. Nall) wanted to know how many of these camps there are. There are 31 at the present time accommodating 8,000 children.

Mr. Silverman

That is the extent of the social revolution.

Mrs. Keir

I think it is a very good start. We shall proceed from there further as time goes on. My hon. Friend asked also whether there is a camp near Manchester. The camps are fairly evenly distributed over the country. I will not bother the House now with a list of the places where the 31 camps are situated, but if my hon. Friend would like to see a list I will gladly show it to him, and he will see which ones are situated nearest to Manchester. The hon. Member for the English Universities (Mr. Harvey) asked whether the camps were going to be reopened. I understand they are not going to be reopened, because they are all open. They are not going to have a special opening ceremony because they come under the Ministry of Education. We hope they will go straight on with the good work they have been doing.

Sir J. Nall

Will any of them be available this year?

Mrs. Keir

I do not know when the change-over will take place, but I think it will be as soon as the evacuation scheme is finished. It will probably be a fairly quick process now, and I imagine that as soon as this Bill is passed we shall hope to get the camps back to their proper and original functions as soon as possible. My hon. Friend the Member for Moseley (Sir P. Hannon) asked about the Pipe-wood scheme. My right hon. Friend and I have not yet had time to go fully into this scheme. We will do so, and if we may we would like to discuss it with my hon. Friend. I think I have covered the main points that have been raised by hon. and right hon. Gentlemen. I feel absolutely convinced that this Bill is right and necessary and that its results will be for the good of a great many children.

7.30 p.m.

Mr. Muff (Kingston-upon-Hull, East)

I only wish to pronounce a benediction. On various occasions I have raised this matter by Question because it has been my privilege to visit a goodly number of these camp corporation schools. The only drawback in many of them was the dual control of the Ministry of Health and the Board of Education, with resultant friction. I am delighted that at last this Bill has been promoted. I believe that these schools have performed a splendid function. There is one in Hertfordshire, where 200 odd boys came from 159 schools from the L.C.C. education authority. They were welded into a happy unit and the atmosphere compares most favourably with many schools with generations of tradition behind them. I wish simply to pronounce a benediction.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time, and committed to Committee of the Whole House, for To-morrow.—[Commander Agnew.]

The remaining Orders were read, and postponed.