HC Deb 06 December 1946 vol 431 cc699-728

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

1.49 p.m.

Dr. Barnett Stross (Hanley)

The problem I wish to bring before the House is one concerned with the care of young children, particularly from birth to the age of five, who are in day nurseries. The emergency arrangements established during the war have, in my opinion, broken down, and the provision for the general education of these children has worsened as compared with the temporary and admittedly makeshift arrangements we had during the war. The outlook for these children is indeed rather bleak, and they may well be described as "deprived" in more senses than one. If I make my case, as I think I shall do, I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will accede to immediate measures which will afford a remedy for this problem.

The background and the history of the problem are something like this: We know that about one woman in nine in the age groups 15 to 50, which are the child bearing groups, has children who are under five, that the number of children in such families is approximately 13 children per ten families, and that the total child population of from nil to five is about 2,250,000 for the country. In response to a Question which I asked the Minister of Health on 21st November last, information was given that children aged two to five in day nurseries numbered approximately 30,000 —the actual figure was 29,636—and the number of day nurseries was given as 916. I have not available the number of children of from nil to two in day nurseries in England and Wales, but I would estimate them roughly at about 10,000.

As long ago as 1918 it was admitted by everyone who had some knowledge of the subject that the right type of education for children from two to five years was of the nursery school type, and in the Fisher Act of 1918 such education was embodied. But the economies of 1920 and 1931 defeated all our hopes, and there has been very little increase in the scope of education of this type. When war came there was manifested immediately a greater need for nursery accommodation, partly because of large-scale evacuation from dangerous areas of. mothers with young children, and partly because of the obvious need for the employment of women in our factories. There were four principal methods used. First, late in January, 1940, there was a joint circular from the Board of Education and the Ministry of Health, establishing or advising the establishment of nursery centres in the reception areas. Careful examination of that circular showed that for the times in which we lived it was as good as could be expected. Although the standard was not as high as we could have wished it was all that could be done when there was risk of bombing and large scale movements of people throughout the country.

Early in 1940, another circular was issued by the Ministry of Health alone, establishing day nurseries for children in the groups nil to five years specifically for industrial areas, and hoping in this way to make it possible for women to enter factories and help us to produce munitions. Staffing of these day nurseries was to be by a hospital trained nurse as matron, assisted by the usual staff. About the same time the Minister of Labour took a hand, and offered a subsidy of 6d. a day to the minder of a child, the mother paying the other 6d. The fourth method, and the most important one, came on 31st May, 1941. Again we had a joint circular, showing the effective liaison which was being carried out during the war years between the Ministry of Health and the Board of Education, establishing two types of nursery—full-time and part-time.

As I have to make some critical observations about staffing as it exists today, I hope that the House will permit me to give an analysis of the type of staffing we had in the war years. Firstly, for the full time nursery we had a matron, who was to be a hospital trained nurse, not necessarily with continuous or extensive experience of the, nursing of children, but nevertheless a certificated nurse. She had a deputy, and in addition to that was assisted by certificated nursery nurses, and by nursery assistants who were trained by the Child Care Reserve technique. This is important. The Child Care Reserve was an interesting and most successful measure of overcoming our difficulties of staffing. Women were carefully chosen for their personal and practical experience of the mothering of young children. Where possible they were womenfolk who had had children of their own, and whose children were growing up. They were given an intensive course of 12 lectures, lasting only two to three weeks. We found, as I think we had a right to expect to find, that they brought with them, as a result of their practical knowledge and experience as mothers, just the type of affection and intuitive knowledge in the handling of young children which we wanted.

In addition to the Child Care Reserve we had student nursery nurses and domestic staff, and lastly, and perhaps most important, a teacher. The teacher was to be nursery trained, to have charge of the education of the children from two to five, and to have the over care of one, two, three or possibly even four nurseries. Staffing, of course, was extensive, and some of us wondered how much labour would really be released when we noted that a staff of at least 12 was required for 40 or 50 children. None the less, that was not our main concern. Our main concern was to see that the children received the best available care, irrespective of cost or staffing. The situation today is that there is a continued and urgent drive for production in the factories, and we require, it is said, that women with young children should be made available for productive work. During the war, we put up with all types of makeshift arrangements, and all of us expected that when peace came there would be an improvement, as certainly there should be, in the care of young children in our day nurseries.

I think that the Parliamentary Secretary will agree with me that the ideal method of caring for young children of this kind is by the recognised technique of the nursery school, where a child is not away from its mother too long, and where the best specialised care that is available is offered to the child itself. All of us realise the difficulties with which we are faced today, the problem of finding suitable buildings, the difficulties associated with staffing, but I think none of us expected to find that the care offered today would be worse than it was during the war. It causes us to put the matter in this way. We have to say to ourselves and the country: are we to ask for the increased prosperity of the country and increased production at the expense of this class of children?

The ways in which there has been a worsening may be described as follow. First, in 1944 the subsidy for the training of assistants under the Child Care Reserve ceased. Many of these women were married folk, and they have gone back to their homes. Therefore, the output of suitable staff is now such as cannot cope with the situation. Secondly, for some time trained nursery teachers have no longer been available, and there has been no oversight of the education of the children in the age groups 2 to 5. On 21st November, I asked the Minister of Health a Question about the number of teachers with nursery school training who were employed in these nurseries, and the answer I received was that the information asked for was not available. I suggest to the Parliamentary Secretary that the fact is that in very few cases are these teachers now available at all, and if that be the case, I hope he will agree with me that the position is quite undesirable, and must be rectified immediately.

The third point on which there has been a worsening as compared with the wartime situation is that the cooperation that we saw afforded by the three principal Ministries, the Ministry of Labour, the Ministry of Health, and the Ministry of Education, is no longer apparent. I find it very difficult to understand how and why that should have come to pass, but if it has come to pass, I beg the Parliamentary Secretary and the Minister of Health to use their influence to make suitable approaches and to see to it that we get it back again. The fourth point on which there has been a worsening is in the matter of equipment of the nurseries. Children require, admittedly, specialised types of education according to their age. As the children's senses unfold, all of us who have seen them at play, or who have brought them up, know what they require. The young child is, of course, an exhibitionist who shows off to those who love and care for him and who requires the applause that those who love and care for him offer to him, so that he can continue his efforts and practise his further attempts at growing up. The growing child needs equipment for his body if the senses are to unfold suitably. Everybody knows what that type of equipment is, and I need not give details of it. During the war, we had great difficulties in finding it. We used every type of organisation, including the men and women in our prisons, to help to make and supply it. I would like to give my meed of praise to the Nursery Schools Association for the lead that they took in this important piece of work and the success which they achieved.

I have mentioned the type of staff we had during the war. In the present-day nurseries, the type of staff that is offered no longer contains the skilled, trained nursery schoolteacher, and the assistants who could be so quickly and easily trained under the Child Care Reserve are at present no longer available in suitable numbers, because the grant was discontinued in 1944. I have in my hand a very interesting and attractive pamphlet called "Not Yet Five." It is very well illustrated, it is very interesting to read, and it is a very recent publication by the Ministries of Education and Health. On page 20, there is a note on the staff employed in nurseries, and at the bottom of the page, under Section B, it describes it in this way: Today all residential nurseries catering for children of all ages up to five are usually in the charge of a matron and a deputy matron. Other members of the staff, in addition to the teachers, are certificated nursery nurses, nursery assistants, for example, ex-nannies or persons who have taken the C.C.R. course, etc., etc. I think this is misleading. I do not think it is desirable that we should have a publication as recent as this which speaks of the addition of the teacher when the teacher is no longer available, and has not been for some time. I would like, nevertheless, to offer my congratulations to the Parliamentary Secretary on the fact that the certificate of the National Nursery Examination Board, which involves a two years course, is an excellent thing, but I am sure also that he will agree with me that a two years' course is somewhat slow in providing staff.

The inferences from all that I have said would appear to me to be as follow. First, that the Ministry are giving the country the impression that, if they care adequately for the physical needs of our children in the day nurseries, they have done enough. Secondly, it follows from that that I have a right to accuse the Ministry of assuming that the educational and emotional needs of the children do not matter and may be neglected. Thirdly, that almost any kind of institution can adequately replace the mother of the child. I think that, if we took the child's viewpoint, we would get a very different story. If the child could explain to us, or if we could throw our minds back accurately far enough, we would know that, to spend 10 hours or more in a nursery in the very tender years nil to five, away from their mothers, is a difficult matter. It means that these children can escape only for a few minutes per day back to the safety of the environment to which they were accustomed and where they were born, and that escape is to a mother who is tired and weary and harassed, and hardly in a suitable or fit condition to offer any of the affection and care that the child needs after being 10 hours away from her. The child would say to us that it appreciates, perhaps, being well washed and very well fed, but it does not appreciate or understand the environment it is plunged into each and every day.

I am sure the Parliamentary Secretary agrees with me that the finest nursery one can ever establish can be merely a complement to the home and never a substitute for it, that a good nursery is something that would teach our children cooperation as well as independence, and in addition, affection and trust and that we do not require nurseries that remind us of the stepmother we read of in Hans Anderson and Grimm. The child does not care for efficiency. That means nothing to the child. We know the child requires that its health should be safeguarded, and no one can do that better than my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary and his Department; but the child requires more, and whatever else it needs, it is our duty to supply it.

Before I leave this point, may I point out that there are other children, as well as those of two to five, who are affected by this piece of administration? Although a mother who works in a factory can dispose of her child in a nursery, good or bad, she often has other children, aged 7, 8, 9 or 12, who are deprived of her care. I think that the Parliamentary Secretary will agree with me that these children also tend to suffer because their mothers are away from them. It is from this group that we get those children who have the greatest number of skin infections, infested heads and scalps; the children who get wet through and do not dry their clothes because there is no one to tell them to do so; the children who do shopping for their mothers and sometimes spend the money in queer ways; and the children who become delinquent as a result of the absence of their mothers.

I, therefore, ask the Parliamentary Secretary to agree with me on six points. First, that he will encourage the mothers of children from nil to two to stay at home, because when children are at this age, we have no moral or practical right in peace time to ask their mothers to go to the factories. It is a very interesting point that one can estimate how many children tend to die as a result of their mothers being in factories. The figures have been carefully worked out by Professor Woolf, of Birmingham Univer- sity, and are used as a standard index, so that it is possible to estimate the death-rate of children under the age of one year out of each thousand born. I do not think that I need press this point on the Parliamentary Secretary, because I am sure that he would be the first to say that this was desirable.

Second, I ask him to use his influence to reinstate the courses for the Child Care Reserve. I have said, I think, enough about that point to suggest that suitable staff of a trustworthy nature can be quickly trained. Third, when I ask that nursery trained teachers should be given supervision of the educational needs of these children in the nursery, I beg the Parliamentary Secretary to realise that if we do not have skilled teachers, all else tends to be useless so far as the educational training of the children is concerned. I would be the last person in the world to suggest that the most devoted band of women in the world—the hospital trained nurses—are inferior in any way. But they are specialists, after all, as I know full well, in the treatment of children who are sick, and they are accustomed to give all their skill and energy to make them well. They do not pretend in any circumstances, nor have they ever pretended, that they understand the educational needs of the healthy child. Therefore, there can be no question of choice between them, for in the nurseries both are needed.

Fourth, with reference to equipment, I ask the Parliamentary Secretary to see that equipment is supplied in sufficient quantities and of the right type. Children of four to five years ought to have suitable paper, crayons, paint brushes and water colours, but these will be of very little use if there is no one to instruct them. Is it fair to ask a matron to understand the technique which has been evolved, and is still evolving, of how to instruct a child to play constructively, and to understand what the child is getting at when it draws or paints? Some types of equipment are, I know, freely available in day nurseries. Anything connected with health is freely available. I have myself seen lots of paper of the toilet variety marked "O.H.M.S.", and articles of hollow ware in tin, enamel and porcelain with "G.R.VI." on them. I am reminded that the Leader of the Opposition, many years ago, once accused the Conservative Party of fostering Imperialism by the Imperial pint. I do not want to accuse the Parliamentary Secretary of fostering education purely on the Imperial pot. If we could get a full amount of equipment and people who could train other helpers in the use of it during the war, there is no excuse for us, during the peace, if we fail.

Fifth, the time has come, surely, for the fullest liaison between the Departments that are concerned with these children. Sixth, perhaps a more difficult point, but one well within the provisions of the Ministry of Health, is that they should supervise those children who are in charge of minders. There are more children who are minded than we ever get in our day nurseries or nursery schools. We all look forward to the time when there will always be a nursery for those who want to take advantage of it; certainly, for the two to five, or the three to seven, because times may change. The Parliamentary Secretary has the administrative machine, and surely it would be very easy, under the supervision of some of his health visitors, to train those who could go to the houses where children are minded, to make sure that the child has sufficient fresh air, that its clothes are changed, that it is well fed, that the supplementation of food offered under the maternity and child welfare schemes is made full use of and maintained, and to offer the kind of advice which will allow the minder to educate the child in simple play and exercise.

All these things could be done very simply and economically, and I know that I am not speaking to deaf ears when speaking to the Parliamentary Secretary. I know that he must have great sympathy with all that I have said, but it seems to me and to many of us throughout the country that there has been some kind of inter-departmental jealousy, and as if the bodies of these children were being fought over by different Departments. I feel that cannot be true, but it is a great pity that any of us should have a mistaken idea about this. I hope, therefore, that we shall have an answer from the Parliamentary Secretary which will be reassuring, and that he will tell us that we have nothing to fear, and nothing but the best' is to be good enough for these children.

2.19 p.m.

Dr. Stephen Taylor (Barnet)

I would like to endorse what my hon. Friend has said, particularly with reference to the under twos. I think that all the experience has been that the day nursery for the under twos is not a very satisfactory place. There have been two very good papers on this subject recently—one in the "British Medical Journal", and the other in the "Lancet." The first was published by the Federation of Medical Women, which showed a very high incidence of respiratory infection in the day nurseries for under twos. The second was by a medical officer of health for one of the East London Boroughs, and she found the same thing, and a very high absentee rate at the day nursery schools. Many mothers took their children away in the first week because they said that the children were fretting. I think that they were probably right.

There was not a satisfactory gain in weight during the period while the children were at school, and again there was a very high rate of infection, respiratory and otherwise. There are difficulties inherent in putting groups of small children together. It is an un-biological situation, for, after all, a normal family, unless there are twins or triplets, is not ten little ones, but a series of stages. It is an artificial environment for little ones to be shut up for 12 hours in the same room with a lot of other tinies whom they may loathe the sight of. No matter how personal or how good the workers are in such a day nursery, there is an inevitable change of workers from time to time. Not always the same nurse will change the nappies or give the baby its bottle, and these little ones have their personal idiosyncrasies and really require continuity of care. I feel that the day nursery was perhaps justified as a makeshift arrangement in wartime for the under twos, but it is not justified now for this particular age group.

Another point arises in connection with the detection of deafness in young children, and this is a very serious problem indeed. I think that two in a thousand children are in fact deaf, and unless this deafness is detected at about the age of two, when it is possible to discern it because of absence of response to simple requests, and so on, and unless training for deaf children is started at a very early age, there is an element of preventible mental defect added to the deafness. I am afraid that as yet we do very little about detecting deafness in very young children, and provide very few facilities for their training in the two to five age groups.

2.24 p.m.

Mrs. Ridealgh (Ilford, North)

I should like to follow the hon. Gentleman the Member for Hanley (Dr. Stross) in his appeal for nursery schools, and I feel that we should have a new approach to them. In the past we have viewed them as places where we could send children whose mothers went out to work. I think the purpose of the nursery school is to cater for the welfare and happiness of the children and not for the parents' convenience. I appeal to the Minister to do all he can to have nursery schools set up where the children will receive qualifying training, which is not possible in many homes. I think, too, that a nursery school is most important for the only child. In a nursery school, the only child can get companionship and a sense of independence, instead of being tied for ever to its mother's apron strings. It can stand on its own little feet and feel that it is an individual in this world. Too often, of course, the mother's household duties make it impossible for her to give the child all the attention it should receive.

I know that we shall be told that we are short of trained nursery school teachers, but I would urge the Minister of Health to press his right hon. Friend the Minister of Education to provide extended facilities for the training of such teachers. Nursery school teachers require a longer period of training than the ordinary school teachers, and many of our girls who are going into the teaching profession cannot afford that extra period. This is in addition to the fact that there is a shortage of facilities for the training itself. I hope that the Board of Education will give extra financial grants so that we may obtain these additional nursery school teachers, who are needed if we are to build a real educational service in this country and produce self-respecting, individual, and independent citizens.

2.25 p.m.

Mr. Scholefield Allen (Crewe)

I do not wish to follow the hon. Member for Hanley (Dr. Stross) although I support everything which he has said. The question I want to raise with the Minister is that of the milk supply to children in this country, because the care of children is very closely associated with an adequate supply of clean milk. I have a personal interest in this matter because closely related to me are two children who, during the years before the war, were able to get a supply of tuberculin tested milk but, owing to the evacuation scheme following upon the outbreak of war, were moved to another part of the country, and, as a result, both developed bovine tuberculosis. Both had to have operations for the removal of glands in the neck infected by milk which was not fit for children to drink.

This matter of the milk supply to children is a very urgent and serious one. It was raised by the hon. Member for Barking (Mr. Hastings) during the Debate on the Address. Unfortunately, his speech was made on Friday, 15th November, when no Minister was here to reply to the questions he raised, and on the following Monday, again unfortunately for the hon. Member for Barking, the Debate continued on foreign affairs. Thus his questions which, in my opinion, were vital questions, were never answered by the Minister. That is not a matter of complaint. It arose from the way the Debate on the Address went. No Minister was actually called upon to reply to the speeches made on the 15th.

I am, therefore, very anxious to give the Minister an opportunity of telling the House and the nation what is being done by the Minister of Health to ensure a supply of clean milk to children. When I wished to intervene in this Debate—if I were fortunate enough to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy-Speaker—I did not know that the hon. Member for Barking would be able to be present. He is an expert, and if he is fortunate I think he would wish to make a contribution to this Debate which would be far more learned than one coming from a lawyer. I hope that he may have an opportunity of obtaining a reply from the Minister to the questions he raised on a former occasion. If I may be allowed to steal a little of his thunder, I would point out that he did raise on that occasion the question of Defence Regulation 55G, which apparently came into operation in 1944. That Regulation gives the Minister of Food power to designate areas in which it would be decreed that nothing but accredited, tuberculin tested or pasteurized milk should be sold. My hon. Friend the Member for Barking asked a question whether any area had been so designated. Up to three weeks ago, that reply was in the negative. It is a great pity that when Regulations are made something is not done by His Majesty's present Government to see that they are acted upon, and to see that whatever can be done is done to supply clean milk to the children of this country If the Regulation is there, I ask the Minister to put it into operation as soon as possible. Let the Government put an end to this matter of dirty milk at once.

In another place, the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture promised that he would introduce during this Session legislation to deal with the question of improving the quality of milk. This is not the occasion on which to suggest legislation, but we can ask the Minister to tell us what the Ministry of Health are now doing to see that the great number of unnecessary deaths due to infected milk in this country of young children does not continue during the existence of a Labour Government. It has been said that 40 per cent. of the cows in the country are infected with tuberculosis. That may be an exaggeration. However that may be, far too many cows are so infected. From the very interesting speech made by my hon. Friend the Member for Barking, I understand that the London County Council recently tested the milk coming into London in those big tanks. They found that 80 per cent. of the milk was infected with tubercle bacilli. That is a terrible state of affairs, and should not be allowed to continue for one day longer than is absolutely necessary. The necessary regulations and effective remedies should be brought into operation.

I have had intimate personal connection with this problem. On my own behalf and on behalf of my own children, as well as on behalf of the children of the country, I appeal to the Ministry to do everything they possibly can to see that the deaths, which are very large in number, are reduced, that children are no longer infected because of dirty milk and that this problem shall no longer exist in this country, it is not a difficult problem to tackle if it is approached in the right way. I appeal to the vigorous Minister on the Government Front Bench to apply the vigour for which he is so noted to the problem of cleaning up the milk supply of the nation.

2.34 p.m.

Miss Herbison (Lanark, North)

Many people will be delighted that the problem of nursery schools is being debated Many of us have been extremely worried that so many day nurseries, open during the war, are being closed down. Naturally, we expected that with a Government such as we have today, far from being closed many more nursery schools would have been opened. One of the reasons why I feel it is essential that nursery schools should be kept open and many more provided, is that children in some districts spend their whole lives in the most deplorable surroundings. I had a deputation of mothers come to me from an area where the day nursery was practically closed. I went with them, and saw the homes from which children were coming. Those homes could not have been much worse. Representations were made, and the nursery was kept open.

The hon. Member who opened the Debate stressed the point of staffing. When we examine the type of people in charge of day nurseries, we find that very few are fully qualified teachers. The hon. Member was correct when he said that the physical needs of the children are adequately dealt with. The children are clean, given proper sleeping time, and so on. Children from two to five years of age are those for whom day nurseries are most necessary, and they need far more than just to be kept clean and properly fed. From my experience in teaching, and from many discussions I have had on the subject with a friend in charge of the educational side of day nurseries in Glasgow, I have come to the conclusion that I would far rather see a child running about in a back porch dirty, than in a nursery school with nothing but adequate care taken of its physical needs. Complexes may be set up for very young children in this way that may be very difficult to eradicate during the rest of their lives. Without proper staff in nursery schools it were far better not to have nursery schools at all.

Both the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Health deal with day nurseries. I am not so convinced that only the Ministry of Education should be made fully responsible for them. We want, more than anything else in day nurseries, fully qualified teachers. Many teachers today have qualifications as nursery teachers. They may have been teaching in the infant or junior schools. We have not sufficiently realised the need to attend to children between two years and five years. I suggest to the Parliamentary Secretary that he should find out from local education authorities how many teachers with nursery training are at present teaching outside nursery schools. The authorities should do their very best to get those teachers back into nursery schools. They ought to attract as many teachers as possible into short-time training courses for nursery teachers. If the matter were examined carefully and with sufficient attention, many problems that have been mentioned today would be swept away, and our children would have the care and attention that many of us would like to see them getting during their most impressionable years.

2.39 p.m.

Dr. Somerville Hastings (Barking)

I am very grateful to the hon. and learned Member for Crewe (Mr. Scholefield Allen) for raising again this very important matter of tuberculous milk. I spoke on the matter recently in a speech on the Address, and yesterday a Question was replied to by the Minister of Education. She told us that by no means all the milk supplied to schools could be considered safe. She gave the figure of 92.6 per cent. of the milk as being heat-treated or from tuberculin tested cows. Surely it is regrettable that 7 per cent. of the milk supplied to schools should be of such a character as to be liable to be of very great danger to children. The Government supply the schools with milk. Surely the Government should set an example and provide the schools with milk that can really be called safe. Two days ago I had a letter from the headmaster of an elementary school in the country. He said he always gave his own children milk but knowing that it was dangerous in that area he had it boiled. However, the milk that came into his school for his elementary school children came in large containers and it was impossible for him to have it boiled, and he asked me what was to be done. If the Minister of Education will look in her postbag, she will see that letter.

I really rose to speak about the general care of young children in day nurseries and nursery schools. A good deal has been said already as to the advantages of nursery schools and also—I would stress this point—of their dangers. I suggest that there may be a half-way course. I feel that in the future there is a great place for day nurseries and nursery schools, but I suggest that they are best for children for half their time only. It has already been pointed out that when a child spends ten hours of its day in a day nursery there is not much time for it to receive that affection which it so much needs from its mother. The child will be asleep a good deal of the time it spends in its home. The best thing would surely be to let the child go to the nursery school or day nursery in the afternoon or the morning when the mother is doing her household duties and cannot give care to the child, and for the child to spend the rest of the time with her when she has time to give it that undivided attention which it claims and needs. Those of us who have been to day nurseries know how much children lack this and unconsciously suffer from lack of affection. We go into these institutions and the children cling round us and struggle to be picked up and made a fuss of. Every young child is a pure individualist and thinks of itself only

What these children learn in their time at home is just as valuable as what they learn in the day nursery or nursery school. I have a doctor friend who has seven children. As his is a busy household, as soon as they were able to leave the nursery the first six of these children were sent away to boarding school, but the seventh child was kept at home and went to a day school. My friend said that the development of the seventh child was so much more rapid and complete than the other six. What the child learns in an ordinary home is very valuable. It learns how the ordinary affairs of the household are carried out—how the puddings are made and so on—and the child imitates these things, and the educational value is great. Nevertheless, what the child learns in the day nursery and the nursery school is also of extreme value. It learns to live in a community—it is not always such an easy thing to learn how to live in a community and those who join a community such as we have here find that out very soon. Experience in community life and the capacity to get on with others, and to share toys and so on, is very valuable indeed. I therefore suggest that there is a way of getting the best out of both worlds. If the child goes to a day nursery or nursery school, where every care is taken regarding its education and health, for half a day and spends the rest of the day at home with its mother, the best results will be achieved.

2.45 p.m.

Mrs. Jean Mann (Coatbridge)

I propose to address my remarks mainly to the question of the nursery schools for the under twos. I thoroughly approve of what the hon. Member for Barnet (Dr. Taylor) has said regarding these schools. There is a danger where children are gathered together in numbers of their being subject to infection, particularly when they are so gathered together at a time in their lives when they are susceptible to that infection. Therefore, I hope the Government will not encourage women to go out and leave children under two in the nursery schools. I remember that I was forced to leave my children when they were under two, and I know that they never got accustomed to my absence. I have returned home—and I left them in good care—to find dry sobbing going on half an hour after my departure. That always happened, and it is quite correct that we must have regard to the tender feelings of young children. No one can replace the mother, and a healthy happy mother is best employed when she is looking after her young ones, particularly when they are under two.

There is a service to those mothers which I think we are overlooking. When the mother is ill, who is to look after those children? There are mothers who are running a temperature or who get influenza and the doctor says that they must get to bed. They simply cannot do so because their young children demand care and attention. My sons are doctors and they tell me that women pack up and leave the maternity homes perhaps three days after the birth of their children because there is no one looking after the young ones in their own homes. The wartime nurseries extended their services to keep the children for a week and even a fortnight when the mother was engaged in all-night work in wartime factories. Surely if the mother is renewing the life of the nation, she is engaged in very important work. I would like to see the nurseries extended to take in the children of mothers who are ill or who are being confined. Until we have done that for the young mothers we ought not to think of closing down the nursery schools for the under twos.

2.49 p.m.

Mr. Eric Fletcher (Islington, East)

There is one aspect of this subject of the provision of nursery schools to which I desire to draw the attention of the Minister. Most authorities responsible for the provision of nursery schools are naturally anxious to meet the demand which exists, but some of them are worried— indeed, very concerned—about the cost involved. The high cost of the construction of nursery schools is, of course, conditioned by the standard plans laid down by the Ministry of Education, no doubt after consultation with the Ministry of Health. As representatives of both Ministries are here, I hope they will look into this matter, because if the present standards are adhered to I am afraid that the net effect is likely to be to diminish or even reduce to nothing the number of new nursery schools that may be established.

These are the facts. A prewar nursery school in London where, no doubt, the costs are as high as, if not higher than, those in other parts of the country, costs £54 14s. per place. I have particulars of one school in mind the cost of which was £6,614 for 120 children. The authorities in London, wishing, as always, to take time by the forelock, have, notwithstanding other preoccupations, been considering what new nursery schools can be erected. The development plan for London involves a proposal to begin work almost immediately on five nursery schools in different parts of London where sites are already available, and there is a demand for them. But what do we find? We have got to the stage of preparing costings for building these schools in accordance with the plans laid down by the Ministry. The House will be surprised to learn that the cost involved in building new nursery schools in accordance with the Ministry's present plans works out at no less than £147 a place on the new standards at 1939 prices. On present-day costs, which are, of course, considerably increased over 1939 prices, this will come out at £423, or something like £32,000 for 80 children. If the present plans are adopted, this is quite the highest cost per place of any school, from nursery to secondary schools. Unless the standards are reviewed and considerably modified, the result will be that, with the best possible intentions, local authorities will not be able to do very much in providing nursery school accommodation.

I can well imagine that in an ideal nursery school very ample provision would be made for lavatory accommodation, kitchen accommodation and so forth, but I ask the Ministry to bear in mind that, unless there is some overhaul of these proposals, they will run the risk of defeating their own objects by laying down plans which it will be very difficult for local authorities who want to do something on these lines to carry out.

2.55 p.m.

Mr. Austin (Stretford)

The hon. Member for East Islington (Mr. E. Fletcher), who always speaks with such great knowledge of London affairs and London finance, has hinted at the development of nursery schools in the London area. I hope it is an augury for the future, and I am glad to hear of it. I think it will be a good thing if the rest of the country were to follow the work and development throughout the British Isles, which is very necessary. However, I wish to pay tribute to the hon. Member for Hanley (Dr. Stross) for initiating this Debate. I do not think we can have enough Debates on child welfare and all concerned with child welfare. I think the point raised by the hon. Member for Barking (Mr. Hastings) that it would be preferable for children to spend only half their time in nursery schools and half their time at home, was met by the initiator of the Debate when he said that nursery schools can only be treated as complementary to the home. I would impress on the House, if I may, that it is because of the present social conditions and economic conditions that many mothers, who would otherwise wish to have their children at home all the time with them, are compelled to put them into day nurseries.

The main point which seems to have emerged from the Debate is that of a lack of liaison between all the Departments interested in the problem. This is only one aspect of that lack of liaison between all Government Departments concerned in regard to child welfare in many fields and many provinces. The Report on the care of children raised this issue, and juvenile delinquency raises the issue in its widest possible context. Because of that, I recently put down a Question to the Prime Minister in regard to liaison between all Departments concerned. The response was most gratifying and accordingly I am precluded from making any further mention at this stage of what I consider necessary. I appreciate that in the day nurseries there is a considerable shortage of staff. Will the Parliamentary Secretary not consider making an appeal for voluntary workers today, such as was made during the war? My wife was a voluntary worker in a day nursery during the war. She was interested in the work, and rendered a certain amount of service. Many thousands of women up and down the country were likewise able and prepared to serve in day nurseries, and they rendered good service. They could be called upon again, if the Ministry of Health made the necessary appeal. A point arising out of my wife's experience of day nurseries is of the utmost importance and I am sure will interest the House. When children arrived at a day nursery they often came from the most appalling conditions at home. They were sometimes infested, often with bugs, and often with fleas. They were bathed and washed, and given fresh clothing. But, when the poor overworked mother came home in the evening, the old and dirty clothing was put on the children again, and they went back into the most appalling social conditions, which, I appreciate, cannot be dealt with within the space of a year or two.

I would emphasise the importance not only of there being adequate and fair treatment for the children inside the nurseries, but could not some provision be made in regard to inspection in the homes 'of these children, and training of the mothers concerned, because this is a matter of great concern? It is no good translating the child from dirty conditions at night into clean conditions by day, and then allowing it to go back to the sloth, neglect and idleness which prevails. I hope the Parliamentary Secretary will pay the greatest possible attention to this very important point and that some effort can be made to inculcate the mothers with the necessary sense of responsibility, for the betterment of themselves as well as their children.

2.59 p.m.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health (Mr. Key)

I think we have had a very interesting Debate on this subject. I want to give a short history of the problem by way of reply to the many points which have been raised. Between the two wars the day nursery service was really a very minor part of the ordinary maternity and child welfare service provided by our local authorities. Such nurseries as were established had been found to be of great value both to the children and to their mothers where home conditions were unsatisfactory. But their number was really very small, because by 1939 only 21 had been set up by local authorities in this country. With Dunkirk came the realisation of the essential need to get all available women into industry. If that was to be done quickly and effectively then, clearly, some sort of provision had to be made for the care of their children. It was from that time that the drive began to establish what were then called wartime nurseries. The point I want to emphasise about the development of these nurseries was that the motivating force was industrial. It was because industry needed women, and before women could go into industry arrangements had to be made for the care of their children, that day nurseries were set up.

In order to encourage the quick development of the service, the Government instituted a 100 per cent. grant on all expenditure incurred by the local authorities for that service. Any sites that were available and convenient for the purpose were taken. Huts were erected on empty sites, premises were requisitioned and adapted, and staff of all kinds was secured for the purpose of providing the service as quickly as possible. The thing to be remembered is that it was not possible in all cases to consider the postwar uses either of the land or of the building, and that so far as the service itself was concerned there was no sort of long-term planning for development. It was a wartime service of wartime nurseries designed to meet a wartime need. Therefore, when the end of the war came, we found it was necessary to give a great deal of thought to what was to be the future of the day nursery service. Every aspect of that service—industrial, social, medical, and educational—was brought under review. As a result of that review, in December, 1945, a circular was issued to the local education and welfare authorities, in the country. It was sent out jointly by the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Education after consultation with the Ministry of Labour.

I want to say here and now that in the development of this service, and in its present administration, far from there being any lack of liaison between the Ministries concerned, constant consultation goes on between the Departments. This joint circular gave expression to the policy of the Government with regard to this service.

Mr. Scholefield Allen

The Minister mentioned that the circular went out in 1945. That was a very important year in our history and we wonder whether it was before or after the Election, whether it was issued by the Coalition Government or the present Government.

Mr. Key

It was in December, 1945. Therefore, it was issued by this Government after consultations which came within my personal knowledge. As I say, it was the policy of this Government which wae made plain in that circular. What was it that the circular said? With the permission of the House I will read at any rate part of one section which I think is important: The Ministers concerned accept the view of medical and other authorities that in the interests of the health and development of the child no less than for the benefit of the mother the proper place for a child under two is at home with his mother. They are also of the opinion that under normal peace time conditions the right policy to pursue would be positively to discourage mothers of children under two from going out to work; to make provision for children between two and five by way of nursery schools and nursery classes; and to regard day nurseries and daily guardians as supplements to meet special needs. That emphasises the policy. The policy, therefore, is with regard to day nurseries that the}' are to be designed and used for the purpose of meeting a temporary need. The permanent policy is to be nursery schools and nursery classes in the ordinary schools, but until those normal times come to make the establishment of the proper services possible, the need for more production for the home market and for export has to be met and as a result provision must be made as far as possible for the children of all mothers who are willing to go out to work to meet that need as well as for the needs of mothers who do not go out to work.

The welfare and local education authorities were, therefore, asked in that circular to review the needs of their area. In consultation with the Ministry of Labour—and here let me emphasise that all the time we emphasise the necessity of this liaison not merely at the centre but in the regions and areas as well— it should be decided which of the wartime nurseries should continue to be run by welfare authorities as day nurseries, which they were going to be able to pass over to local education authorities to be run as a service, which we regard as much better; and which of them it was felt were to be closed. The circular recognised that the continued need for production necessitated the employment of married women and that many more nurseries would be required now than were before the war. The welfare authorities were offered as from the 1st April, 1946, a special grant in addition to the normal block grant—a grant analogous to that paid to nursery schools and nursery classes under Ministry of Education Regulations which have been laid before Parliament.

Those same grant conditions were to be applied to day nurseries and the circular asked the local authorities to submit their claim for this service for their own individual areas, setting out their proposals for future nursery provision as from the 1st April, 1946. An analysis of those schemes which have been put forward shows this, that welfare authorities have continued 916 nurseries under their maternity and child welfare powers as ordinary day nurseries; 300 have been converted into nursery schools; and just over 100 have been closed down altogether.

The vast majority of these closures were due to decreased demands, and a rearrangement of the facilities, in a given area, whereby the demand was met by having four day nurseries instead of five, and arrangements of that sort. Also, of course, consideration had to be paid to the overriding need for the premises for the sites to be returned to their prewar use. Very often they had been used as schools or orphanages, or places of that kind. Very few closures have been brought about by the failure of the local authorities to do their duty, or can be attributed in any way to the reduction in grant which has taken place. Of course, while the war service grant had been a 100 per cent. grant, this new, normal peacetime service receives roughly a 50 per cent. grant, on top of the block grant.

We feel that to revert to that 100 per cent. grant of wartime would be to deprive the local authorities of any financial interest in the services, which are primarily theirs, and which it is their duty to administer; that then they would have no motive for financial good management, nor pride in achievement; and that to re-introduce the 100 per cent. grant would take away the local nature of the service, and do a good deal to undermine local responsibility. During the year that has elapsed since the circular was issued, strenuous efforts have been made to maintain an efficient service where the need for that service has been proved. Approval has been given to the replacement of a considerable number of nurseries, and to their reestablishment on fresh sites or in improved premises. The sites were, perhaps, bombed sites required for rebuilding, or the premises they were occupying had to be given up for some more important purpose. But, in addition to these replacements, completely new nurseries have been authorised.

In all these cases, close touch has been kept with the Ministry of Labour, so that the provision has been related to the industrial demands that there are in an area; and, at the same time, close touch is kept with the Ministry of Education to ensure that a fresh day nursery does not conflict—and this is a very important matter to decide—that the new day nursery does not conflict with any nursery school that is in existence in the area, or is being planned by the educational authority. I might point out that, since January, 1946, as I said, not only were 300 day nurseries changed into nursery schools, but a considerable number of additional local educational authorities have continued wartime nursery classes as ordinary nursery classes in conjunction with the schools that are already in existence.

One of the problems here is that of finding the necessary staff, and schemes for training student nursery nurses for the certificate of the new National Nursery Examination Board have been and are being put into operation. Students will receive a two-year course of practical training and further education before they take their examination. All of us who have anything to do with these schools and day nurseries are very well aware of the need to improve the training arrangements and to raise the status of the nursery nurses as well as the general level of child care, and we are doing all we can to bring about that development. All nurseries are being inspected in connection with the training arrangements, and we are about to undertake a very comprehensive review of the salaries of nursery workers who are not State registered nurses. We have arranged that a certain number of ex-Service girls shall be trained to become nursery nurses under the Vocational Training Scheme of the Ministry of Labour, and 50 of them are already in training; a considerable number more will follow.

In connection with these services, as well as the many others which we are trying to develop, we have a great many problems to solve. The difficulties that are in the way are not primarily financial difficulties on the part of the local authorities; it is rather a question of finding suitable sites, obtaining proper buildings for the purpose, getting; hold of the necessary labour and materials to adapt or construct buildings, and finding the staff to run the nurseries. There is a shortage of trained nursery staff, and a nursery needs a very large staff in comparison with the service given. One attendant is needed for every five children if the nursery is to function properly.

Dr. Barnett Stross

Would the hon. Gentleman agree that the proportion of one to five takes no account of domestic staff, and would be more in the region of one to three if domestic staff were included?

Mr. Key

That is true, but I was dealing with the trained staff which must be provided. We at the Ministry are in touch with the Ministry of Labour and with the Board of Trade with regard to the possible need for increased services. Conferences have been and are being convened, particularly in places like Lancashire, between representatives of industry and of the local authorities concerned, in order to make more ordered progress in the satisfaction of existing demands. It is true also that nurseries in factories are opening without reference to the welfare authorities, and that presents us with another problem of the greatest importance, namely, to ensure that in these cases proper standards are adopted. We dare not allow children to be cared for in these places by untrained and unqualified women who may not be aware of the dangers to health which are present when large numbers of small children are kept together in a confined space, and who may not take the necessary precautions in dealing with them.

Therefore we must insist on the highest standards both of accommodation and attention. If nurseries are established inside factories, we must be sure that they will provide the children with the necessary care and attention, and will be operated with the full knowledge and approval of the local welfare authorities. This particular development in nursery services is one which we have to watch very carefully indeed. I should like to emphasis that it is not at all an easy task to adapt a war-time service of this nature to peace-time needs, when such an adaptation was never envisaged when the service was first established, and when it has to take place in the face of very great competing demands on the national resources. I should not like to say that no mistakes are made and that no short-comings can be revealed in the existing service, but, on the whole, I think that it will be found that we are solving this problem as rapidly and as effectively as we can possibly hope, in view of the conditions which face us.

Such is the general survey, and I now want to turn to some of the particular points which were raised during the Debate. Let me deal first with the training of the necessary nursery teachers. There is, as I have said, a great shortage, and this is hampering the development of nursery schools and nursery classes on the part of local education authorities. The Ministry of Education are taking all the practical steps they can to increase the supply of trained teachers. The Nursery Schools Association recently informed the Ministry of Education that they were unable to run courses of the child care reserve type after the end of this year. The Ministry of Education, were, proposing to invite the London County Council and the Middlesex County Council to start up courses of the child care reserve type. We have now ascertained the position in several regions, and the reports of our women inspectors indicate that there are a good many vacancies in the post of warden in day-nurseries all over the country. We shall, therefore, have to be giving consideration to the extension of that same sort of idea to other parts of the country which we had in mind for London and Middlesex.

I may say that the terms of a proposed circular are under active consideration, by the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Health, to be issued to the welfare authorities and local education authorities at an early date, drawing attention to the importance of filling vacancies in the post of warden in day-nurseries, both in the interest of the children, and to ensure that proper training facilities exist for nursery students. Owing to the great pressure for qualified teachers in the ordinary schools, we feel that the best use for such teachers, in connection with nursery accommodation, will be that the qualified certificated teacher shall act as superintendent of a group of nurseries in which the individual nursery works each of them under a warden who is not a qualified teacher. Welfare authorities are to be asked, as a matter of urgency, to review the needs of their nurseries on the educational side, and where a number of wardens are required, to approach local education authorities with a request that these authorities shall set up courses of the child care reserve type, with the object of filling vacancies with people who have received such training within the next six months.

The point I wish to emphasise about these courses—and the local authorities have been informed of this—is that they will rank for grant, under the Ministry of Education Regulations, on the same basis as for ordinary educational provision. It is true, as my hon. Friend said, that the central organisation for the Child Care Reserve was wound up at the end of 1944, but already some local education authorities have taken up the job of running courses of the type I have mentioned. I have already tried to emphasise that I think that my hon. Friend was under a misapprehension when he said that there was not the liaison that there ought to be between the Departments concerned. I want to assure him that there is the closest liaison on our part with the Ministry of Education and with the Ministry of Labour and National Service on all these matters.

As to the point made by my hon. Friend with regard to suitable and ample equipment, and as to the equipment in existence being unsatisfactory in character, I would point out that so far as the wartime nurseries are concerned, when they were originally set up, there was an allowance of 10s. per place for toys and educational equipment, with an annual maintenance allowance of about 2s. 6d. That expenditure, of course, was fully reimbursed. From April, 1946, it has been open to welfare authorities to incur reasonable expenditure under that head. Such expenditure, I would emphasise, ranks for special grant, so far as we are concerned in the provision of that equipment.

One other point raised by my hon. Friend was with regard to the daily guardians or minders of the children of women who are out at work. Here, in the development of this scheme, we have made the provision for which my hon. Friend has asked. For instance, the local authority, which is the child welfare authority in the area—let me read: will inform you— that, is, the minder— when you have been placed on the register and will tell you the number of children you may take charge of under the scheme. It is not contemplated that anybody should undertake the care of more than two or three children, except in special circumstances. Here is the point which I think my hon. Friend wanted: The authority— that is, the local child welfare authority— will arrange for the health visitor to call upon you from time to time to see that all is going well and to give any help which may be required. So that arrangement is already being made.

So far as milk is concerned, it is the subject, as I think my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Crewe (Mr. Scholefield Allen) realised in his statement, of a good deal of inter-departmental co-operation. Already the Minister of Food has made the statement that he purposes to press on with the development of heat treatment of milk, and in cooperation with the authorities concerned—with us and the Ministry of Agriculture—with the supply of treated milk, as well as in cooperation with the local authorities and the Ministry of Education. I can assure my hon. and learned Friend that we shall do everything we possibly can to tackle that problem. I think I have already indicated that our purpose is the development more of the nursery school than of the day nursery. I would say to my hon. Friend the Member for North Lanark (Miss Herbison) that we must not confuse day nurseries with nursery schools and that we cannot provide in day nurseries the type of staff which would be required for the nursery schools. I think it would be entirely wrong to try to develop day nurseries along those lines. We should leave it to the educational authority to develop the school rather than to the health authority to develop the day nursery.

With regard to the extension of this service for the purpose of looking after the children of mothers who are ill or of mothers who are to be confined, which was mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Coatbridge (Mrs. Mann), so far as I am concerned I think it might be a step in the wrong direction. I believe that the proper way of dealing with the children of mothers who are ill or who are being confined is not so much to provide day nursery accommodation for those who are under two or under five, but to develop a system of home helps who can go and look after the family as a whole in the homes of the people who are in a position of that sort.

I think I have covered the main points that have been raised in the Debate. I am certain that the Debate will have been helpful and valuable to us, but I think that if we proceed in the development of this service along the lines I have indicated, we should ultimately reach a solution of the problem by the inclusion of the two to five age groups in nursery schools and nursery classes, and making it possible, in a general way, for the mothers of the children of the under twos to stay at home and look after their own children.

Mr. Austin

Can my hon. Friend give us some indication of the Government's intentions with regard to volunteers for day nurseries?

Mr. Key

There are a number of nurseries which have been developed voluntarily, but I do not see that it falls to us to say that we intend to give any special consideration so far as they are concerned.

Mr. Austin

I mean voluntary workers.

Mr. Key

It is for the local authority in the area concerned to decide whether or not the need in their particular nurseries is such that they have to appeal for voluntary workers. It seems to me far more a matter for an appeal locally than for a national appeal to be made for assistance, and there is nothing to prevent local authorities from making such an appeal.

Question put, and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at Twenty-seven Minutes to Four o'Clock.