§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 11.6 a.m.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Younger)
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
It is 40 years since Mr. Herbert Samuel, now Lord Samuel, introduced a Bill which bore the same name as the Bill which is now before the House. That Bill, which became the Children Act, 1908, has frequently been referred to as the Children's Charter. It was the culminating point of many reforms which had been passed over a period of almost 100 years for the protection of children. Since 1908 there have been a variety of Acts affecting children, the most important of them being the Children and Young Persons Acts of 1933 and 1937. The Statute Book now contains a fairly comprehensive code protecting children from harmful conditions of employment, from cruelty and from corruption of morals and regulating their treatment before courts of law and when they are in the care of public authorities or voluntary bodies.
The Measure which I am now commending to the House, despite its comprehensive title, deals with only one aspect of the law relating to children; the care and welfare of boys and girls up to the age of 18 who, for one reason or another, cannot be cared 1610 for by their own parents or in their own homes. The Bill has its origin in the anxieties felt by many people in recent years about the treatment of children in public care. These anxieties came to a head when a boy named Dennis O'Neill, who had been boarded out by a local authority, died from the ill-treatment which he suffered at the hands of those to whom he had been entrusted. Following that case and other matters which were brought to the notice of the Government at the end of the war, two Committees were appointed to survey the whole problem; one, under the chairmanship of Miss Myra Curtis, dealt with England and Wales, and the other, under Mr. J. L. Clyde, dealt with the Scottish aspect of the problem. Both committees reported in the late summer of 1946. I should like to take this opportunity of paying tribute to the fine work done by these Committees and to acknowledge that this Bill is based largely upon their research and recommendations.
As my hon. Friend the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland will speak later in this Debate, I will not deal in any detail, except in passing reference, to the particular problems of Scotland. My remarks will refer mainly to the situation in England and Wales. The inquiries of these two Committees show that there are in England and Wales approximately 125,000 children, and in Scotland nearly 18,000, whose upbringing is in some degree the responsibility of public authorities. The reports show also that, while in general no children are being cruelly treated, there are a number of defects in the present system of child care.
If I may summarise one or two of the main defects, I would say that, in the first place, the sphere of public responsibility needs to be widened so as to include some categories of children who at present are outside it altogether, and to retain under supervision until a later age children for whom provision is now made so long as they are of quite tender years. In the second place, the arrangements at present made for the temporary accommodation of children when they first come into the care of public authorities have often been grossly inadequate.
In the third place, there has been, on the part of too many voluntary bodies and public authorities, a failure to give to those under their care the personal 1611 sympathy and human understanding so necessary to the wellbeing of children who lack the love and affection of their parents. In saying that, I do not want to be misunderstood. There are, of course, very many individuals and organisations who have been doing splendid work in this field to whom these strictures do not apply. I am bound to emphasise the failures of the existing system rather than its successes, because it is clearly with the failures that the new methods must attempt to deal.
There is no doubt that the apparent soullessness of some of the arrangements at present made is due, not so much to the lack of goodwill on the part of any individuals, as to the lack of training and knowledge of the problems which have to be met, sometimes the lack of finance, and above all the lack of clear-cut responsibility for the supervision and guidance of persons engaged in child care. I think that the lack of clear-cut responsibility is in turn due to a large extent to a confusion of functions between different Departments of Government and between the different committees of local authorities in some areas. For this reason, it is perhaps the most significant feature of the Bill that subject to certain reservations it places the whole Ministerial responsibility for the care of deprived children upon a single Minister, and local responsibility upon councils of counties and county boroughs through the specially appointed children's committees which will be served by a children's officer.
With regard to Ministerial responsibility, the decision to concentrate all these functions in the Home Office was announced by the Prime Minister in the House on 24th March, 1947. I am speaking here, of course, of England and Wales. That decision conforms with the past history of the Home Office, which has long had responsibility for neglected children as well as for delinquent children, for the laws of guardianship and adoption and for the international aspects of child welfare. The decision gives effect to the view expressed by the Curtis Committee that:whichever Department undertakes the work, it should have a children's branch making a special study of child welfare on the side of the home, without specialist bias on any side, and an inspectorate able to judge whether the conditions for the child's total welfare as a human being exist in a particular case.1612 The Home Office have such a children's branch and such an inspectorate, and these are already being strengthened to meet the new strain now to be put upon them. Equally important are the provisions of Part VI of the Bill which put the local responsibility upon the councils of counties and county boroughs, and provides that these councils shall appoint a children's committee and a children's officer. Both the committees and the officers are to be concerned with all the work relating to children which comes within this Bill. The definition of that work is a rather complicated legal one, and it is to be found in Clause 39 (1). The committees and the children's officers may not deal with any other matters affecting children unless they have the consent of the Secretary of State.
It is hoped that the children's committees will be formed from persons with experience of child care, and that they will not hesitate to co-opt others with specialised knowledge if it seems useful to do so. The children's officer will be the linchpin of the new service, and will often be a woman. It is upon her, above everyone else, that the task will fall of inspiring the whole of the new service with humanity, and, if I may use the words of Sir W. Monckton, who conducted the O'Neill inquiry,of ensuring that the administrative machinery is informed by a more anxious and responsible spirit.
§ Commander Maitland (Horncastle)
Did I understand the Under-Secretary to say that the officer will always be a woman?
§ Mr. Younger
I think I said that the officer will often be a woman. There is nothing dogmatic about this. I think the hon. and gallant Member would agree that in many cases women candidates will be found to be the strongest competitors for these posts. The woman officer—I will refer to the officer as being a woman—will require outstanding qualities of knowledge, administrative ability, and tact and human kindness. The service will largely depend on our finding people of the requisite qualifications. I can tell the House that some 30 posts of children's officers in England and Wales have already been filled, and there are others which have been advertised. It is encouraging to note that the advertisements for these posts seem to be attracting people with the professional qualifica- 1613 tions the Curtis Committee thought essential for this important work.
I believe that the creation of children's committees and children's officers will do much to raise the whole status of child care among local authority activities. It will permit a new start to be made with a new spirit in those areas which have lagged behind—and there are certainly some such areas—and even those areas which are already in the vanguard of progress are likely to benefit by the increased concentration of skill and responsibility in these committees and officers. The scope of the work which will fall upon the new service will not merely include existing functions which are laid upon local authorities by various Acts, such as the Children and Young Persons Acts, the Public Health Acts and the Adoption of Children Acts, but will make several new additions to their duties.
Under the Poor Law, local authorities now maintain many children under 16 who have no parents, or whose parents are prevented from looking after them. This will end with the Poor Law in July. Instead, under Clause 1 of the Bill, it will be the duty of the local authority to receive into their care, where they consider it necessary in the interests of his welfare, any child under 17 who is orphaned, deserted or lost, or whose parents or guardians are for any reason prevented from looking after him, and to keep him in care until he is 18, if need be. In both these respects the age is raised as against the old Poor Law system. Local authorities may assume full parental rights by resolution as at present, but subject to a reference to the courts if a parent objects.
The local authority's obligations under the Children and Young Persons Acts are further increased by a provision that they must agree to act as a fit person if a court, after consultation, wishes to commit a child to their care. There is a much greater extension of local authority duties to be found under Part V of the Bill, which amends the Child Life Protection provisions of the Public Health Acts and the Adoption of Children (Regulation) Act, 1939. The present law provides for children under nine who are maintained apart from their parents for reward and also provides for the supervision of children under nine, where arrangements are made through third parties for placing 1614 them in the care of persons other than their parents. By the Bill the age limit will be raised in both those cases to the school-leaving age, and supervision may be continued up to the age of 18.
Part II deals with the kind of treatment which will be made available by the local authorities. It will be the duty of the local authority to give the child an opportunity to develop his character and abilities as a whole, so far as possible, just as his parent would try to do; in particular, the local authority's duty will be to prevent the child's segregation from children with normal homes, and to see that he should enjoy, so far as possible, the same facilities as other children in respect of education, health and other matters. Children will be treated alike, whether they come into the care of a public authority acting as a fit person or under any of the new provisions of this Bill.
Part II of the Bill sets out in detail the various ways in which a local authority may discharge its obligation for the care of children, and types of accommodation and supervision which it is expected to provide. I can only summarise a few salient points. Special emphasis is laid on boarding out in private households, because this is a method which gives the nearest equivalent to a normal home background. The extension of this system under adequate safeguards will probably be the first major task of the newly appointed children's officers. Where boarding out does not seem appropriate or practicable for the time being, the local authority may provide homes of their own or place children in voluntary homes. In any event, whether the children are boarded out in public authority homes or with voluntary organisations, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will make regulations governing the treatment of the children under those conditions.
An important new provision of the Bill is that which enables local authorities to provide for the after care of children who have left school. A local authority will have the duty to advise and befriend any child up to the age of 18 in their area who has left the care of a local authority or a voluntary organisation since leaving school. Moreover, local authorities may provide hostels for their young people up to the age of 21, and may allow others who have come from normal homes to 1615 live there, too. This provision is aimed at preventing undue segregation of this type of child.
A local authority may make grants for the education of children for whom they have cared, up to the age of 21 or even above that age. It is hoped that by these provisions it will be possible to give these children an equal chance with others of university or college education, and to give them a friend to whom they can turn should they need advice when they first go out to work after leaving school.
With all these new obligations placed upon public authorities, it is legitimate to ask: what of the parents? Have they no rights or duties? I think Members will realise that this a matter on which it is very difficult to strike an entirely satisfactory balance. The Bill contains several provisions safeguarding the rights of parents and, by other provisions, places upon them certain duties. Local authorities are enjoined to have children looked after by their own parents wherever this is consistent with the children's welfare. Even where a local authority have assumed full parental rights, under Clause 2, they, may, nevertheless, make an arrangement of this kind for the child to be looked after, if they think it proper, by its own parents. Parents have the right to complain to a court against a resolution of a local authority which assumes parental rights over their child.
As a general rule, every encouragement will be given to parents to keep in touch with their child, and local authorities are authorised to pay their fares to facilitate visits if the parents are a long way from the place where their child is being kept. In any case, parents will have the duty of maintaining contact with the local authority which is looking after their child, and also of contributing to the maintenance of the child when they can reasonably do so. Taking all these provisions together, I think it may be claimed that the interests of parents are sufficiently protected. Equally, every effort has been made to safeguard the religious upbringing of children whether boarded out with a family or living in a home.
The pioneers of child care in country were voluntary societies, ported by private contributions and 1616 endowments. These societies still care for very large numbers of children, and the Bill proposes that they should continue to do so. Although some voluntary homes have been bad in the past, and some are, undoubtedly, still inadequate today, recent inquiries do not show that, as a whole, their standard is inferior to the standard maintained by public authorities. Often their deficiencies are due primarily to lack of funds, and the Bill will permit the Secretary of State to make grants, in certain circumstances, to voluntary organisations for necessary improvements in premises, equipment, or staffing. At the same time, the Secretary of State's powers of control are enlarged through the requirement that voluntary homes must be registered and that they may be removed from the register by the Secretary of State if they are unsatisfactory. This provision, which, I think, the House will recognise as necessary, is subject to the right of appeal to an independent tribunal.
The Secretary of State may, and no doubt will, make general regulations governing the conduct of these voluntary homes. The cost over the whole field of child care will be shared equally between the Exchequer and the local authorities. This principle is applied not only to the new expenditure arising for the first time under the Bill, but also to expenditure which does not now qualify for direct grant aid—for instance, money expended on the care of children now maintained under the Poor Law. The Financial Memorandum which accompanies the Bill sufficiently analyses, under these different heads, the financial provision which is to be made, and I do not think I need take up the time of the House now in going through them in detail.
The importance of training was stressed by the Curtis Committee, and can hardly be exaggerated. It is obvious that the greatest understanding of children's problems is required for this difficult and very responsible work. Clause 45 empowers the central Department to arrange courses of training in child care, to make grants towards the cost of training courses provided by any other body, and to pay or contribute towards the fees and expenses of persons this taking training. Training has, in fact, sup already begun. In July, 1947, the and Central Training Council in Child Care 1617 was appointed, and under its auspices 65 women began a year's training as boarding-out officers last October, with the cooperation of the London School of Economics and the Universities of Leeds, Liverpool and Cardiff. Courses for house fathers and house mothers, combined with periods of practical experience in homes, have already been organised by local authorities, and a considerable expansion of this type of training is envisaged, including refresher courses for those already engaged upon the care of children.
The Bill contains a number of interesting and important administrative provisions which we shall no doubt have an opportunity to examine at a later stage. The only one which I think I ought to mention to the House at this stage is the appointment of Advisory Councils on Child Care for England and Wales and for Scotland. These Councils will be widely representative of all interests, including local authorities and voluntary organisations, and will serve to keep the Secretary of State in the closest touch with the realities of the work and with the latest developments in child care.
I believe that the House will readily approve this Bill. At the same time, I am very conscious that no statute can do more than provide an administrative framework within which child care may be improved. Once this Bill becomes law, it is with the men and women engaged upon child care that the issue of progress or stagnation will lie. In putting forward this Bill, therefore, we are asking all who are concerned in giving life to its provisions to work together with only one end in view, the lasting Welfare and happiness of those who give the Bill its name, the children.
§ 11.32 a.m.
§ Commander Galbraith (Glasgow, Pollok)
I feel that it would be in accordance with the wishes of the House were I at once to congratulate the Under-Secretary on the able, clear and concise manner in which he has explained the provisions of the Bill to us. At the same time I would like to congratulate the Secretary of State and the Government on being so fortunate as to find themselves in a position to introduce a Measure of this kind which has been received throughout the country, in the Press and in both Houses of Parliament with such universal acclamation.
1618 It is true that for many years the public conscience has become ever more sensitive to the disabilities which are suffered by children who are deprived of a normal home life, and it is in consequence of that, as the Under-Secretary told us, that there has been a long succession of Measures and Acts of Parliament the object of which has been to improve the lot of these children. Each one of those Measures has seen us take a step forward. The Bill sees us take another great step forward. It is rather strange, if we contemplate for a moment, from what seemingly small beginnings a great ameliorative Measure like this comes. I will go a little further into the genesis of the Bill than the Under-Secretary did. It seems to lie in the first place in the letter which Lady Allen of Hurtwood wrote to the Press and in the pamphlet she published, and then in the very deplorable and tragic case of Dennis O'Neill. It was those events coming one on top of each other which led the Coalition Government to set up the Curtis Committee and the Clyde Committee on whose recommendations this Bill is founded. It would be appropriate if I took this opportunity on behalf of my hon. Friends to join with the Under-Secretary in an expression of appreciation of the work of Lady Allen and the chairmen and members of the two Committees to whom not only this House but the whole country owe a very deep debt of gratitude.
There is one thing I would mention in regard to these two reports because it gives me a peculiar pleasure, and that is the unanimity of their findings. That seems to show that, at least so far as their feelings are concerned, there is not such a great difference between the people in England, Wales and Scotland as we are sometimes led to believe. It goes further. It shows that the solution of at least a number of our problems may lie along similar lines. It will be generally agreed on all hands that the case has been made out for a unified control and for the placing of the responsibility for the welfare of these children squarely on the shoulders of one Department. I believe that will be found to be a more efficient system than the system existing today, good as that system is in parts, and that that principle should be applied to the local authorities is also right. One hope which I would express is that the 1619 greatest possible care shall be taken to make sure that the administration does not become too rigid or too unimaginative.
I am glad to see that the Bill contains powers which allow both Ministers and also the local authorities to make grants of financial assistance to the voluntary organisations. As the Under-Secretary said, the voluntary organisations were the pioneers in child care, and the continuation of efficient voluntary organisations may well be a safeguard against a too rigid and centralised control. I am certain that every hon. Member realises that a great deal, of pioneer work still remains to be done, and the existence of voluntary organisations working alongside the State organisation cannot but be helpful to each of them. If we are to get the maximum progress and benefit from the work of these voluntary organisations, it is essential that so long as they conform to the standards laid down they should be allowed to work without restraint. I hope that the grants of financial assistance will not have attached to them conditions which would in any way interfere with their independence or restrict their freedom to go ahead with pioneer work in child welfare.
The Under-Secretary alluded to the duty laid on the local authorities to provide accommodation. I am glad to note the stress he laid on the system of boarding out which is also given great prominence in Clause 13. Every child is entitled to a home. No matter how good an institution may be, it cannot supply th atmosphere and freedom which a home can give—where one can feel that one really has a place of one's own and an intimate place in the life of the family. It may be that I am wrong, but so far as my researches have gone, it appears that the system of boarding out has been practised more freely in Scotland and been more fully developed there than in England. If I am right in my contention, the House will perhaps be interested to know that that system has been in existence in Scotland for over 170 years and that it is 103 years since, by the passing of the Poor Law (Scotland) Act, 1845, it received official recognition. It may also be of interest if I quote a few figures from my native city of Glasgow to show how much the system of boarding out is relied on in Scotland. 1620 At present the welfare committee of the Corporation of Glasgow has some 3,000 children under its care. No fewer than 2,600 of them are boarded out with fester parents and the remaining 400 are accommodated in children's homes.
I am glad to know that, so far as Glasgow children at least are concerned, it is now a considerable number of years since any of them have been accommodated in a poor house. That is a practice which must be discontinued at the earliest moment. These boarded out children are visited at least once every year by members of the corporation committee and more frequently by its officials. Seldom is it found that the foster parents fail either in the letter or the spirit of doing their full duty to the children placed in their care, and also seldom is it discovered that the children do not regard themselves as being real members of the family with which they are boarded. These foster parents are performing a great social service of the utmost value to the community, they deserve our highest commendation.
I realise that it is impossible to build up a system of that kind overnight, but I trust that as a result of the reports of these two committees, and as the result of this Bill, the local authorities will do their utmost to develop the boarding-out system to the greatest possible extent, for that is the solution which gives the child the greatest scope for a happy and natural development. It may appear at first sight that there will be considerable difficulty in finding suitable foster parents willing to take on the care of these children, but the service, once it has been set up, would not appear to be quite so difficult to maintain as some people might imagine, for those who undertake this duty find in it great satisfaction and compensation for the work they do, so that it becomes a family tradition to take boarded-out children. In the records of the Corporation of Glasgow there are many instances where today the grandchildren of original foster parents are continuing to carry out the good work which their grandparents started.
So far as institutions are concerned, the smaller the number of children in each home, the better, and I hope that when it is possible to build new homes, the larger proportion of them will be of the cottage type which has been so success- 1621 fully tried out in England by Dr. Barnado's Homes and in Scotland by Quarrier's Homes. That leads me in passing to allude to the present position which I understand exists in Dr. Barnado's Homes at Barkingside. I am given to believe that 47 of their cottage homes were requisitioned by the Minister of Health in 1940 and are still under requisition. I appeal to the Home Secretary to look into that, for it seems to me strange that when so many children are at present accommodated in workhouses—a system we all condemn—these cottages should not be released for the purposes for which they were built, and for which they are so badly needed.
Before I leave the question of homes, I would add my weight to the words uttered by the hon. Gentleman as to the great desirablity of the children under the care of the local authorities and in homes being educated with the ordinary children and not being set apart; not only educated, but means should be found for them to take their recreation with the ordinary children as well. I am certain that every hon. Member welcomes Clauses 20 and 34 of the Bill. I agree with the hon. Gentleman that perhaps the most difficult time in the life of a young person is when he leaves the protection of his home and goes out into the world to seek his livelihood. It is then that the influence of the home is of such great importance; it is then that advice which can be obtained from the home is so vital to the future of these young persons.
Therefore it is altogether essential that young people who have been in the care of the local authorities and voluntary organisations should know as they now know from the Bill, that they can look with certainty for advice and friendship from both the local authority and the voluntary organisation. That knowledge will be of inestimable help, as will also the financial assistance which the local authorities are now allowed to give for the maintenance, education and training of these young persons.
Turning for a moment to the children's committees, there are those who object in principle to there being included as members of a local authority committee persons who are not on that local authority. I have never held that view, for it has always seemed to me that there are certain functions of a local authority—I have 1622 particularly in mind education and child welfare—where the inclusion of experts is most beneficial, and their inclusion also gives an opportunity of service to those who are interested but are unable to give the time necessary for full participation in local authority work. I am glad, therefore, that those who are qualified are to be included in the children's committees.
In regard to the children's officers, they are probably the most important of all the people in this scheme; as the hon. Gentleman said, they are the linch-pin of the whole organisation. It is laid down in Clause 41 that no appointment may be made without consultation with the Secretary of State and until his approval has been obtained. That may be a wise provision, but I imagine, on the other hand, that there are people who would argue that if the local authorities are capable of assuming the responsibility for the care of these children, they might also be capable of appointing their own children's officers.
Be that as it may, there is one matter in connection with Clause 41 on which I would like to be assured. The children's officers and their assistants should be in the field and should not be submerged by paper work; they should be constantly among the children for whom they are responsible. That matter was discussed at some length in another place. It is a matter of great importance, if those officers are to perform their duty, that they should be in the field and not in the office, and I trust that the right hon. Gentleman will be able to assure the House that he will sec that adequate clerical assistance is made available to these officers.
There are many good features in this Bill. There is the ban against the severance of the important relationship between the parent and the child. There are the provisions for the payment of the expenses incurred by the relatives visiting the children. There is the setting up of the observation homes which are most necessary if the children are to be placed in the environment most suitable to them. One of the best of the provisions is the extension of the child's life protection provisions to all below the school-leaving age, and their further extension in certain circumstances until 18 years of age. Altogether I feel that this is a bold and imaginative Measure which provides a 1623 framework within which much may be done to provide happier lives for those children who have been deprived of childhood's most precious heritage, a good home. Legislation, as the hon. Gentleman said, can do little more.
Whether this Bill achieves its object will depend to the greatest extent upon those who are called upon to work it. I would express this hope, a hope which I am sure will be fulfilled, that those persons will bring to their task a like imagination to that of those who have framed this Measure, and will add to that a great deal of sympathy and understanding. That is necessary if we are to raise from this framework a great, live, human service. This Bill started off as a good Bill, it has been improved as a result of the deliberations in another place. We on this side of the House will do our best to improve it still further in Committee. We wish it well, we trust not only that it will receive a unanimous Second Reading today, but that it will have a calm and speedy passage to the statute book.
§ 11.50 a.m.
§ Mr. Somerville Hastings (Barking)
I wish to add my word of welcome to this Bill. I do so because it recognises that there are certain intangible factors which cannot be weighed and measured, but which are of infinite importance in the development of children. As is well known, children brought up in institutions do not in all cases stand up to life as well as children brought up in ordinary homes. The Curtis Committee, on which I had the honour to serve, was appointed to inquire what further measures were necessary to make up for this loss to children. We came to the conclusion that there were two principal considerations. Children separated from ordinary parental care lacked affection and interest and also felt the loss of stability; that whatever happened to them there should be, at any rate, somebody to whom they could appeal. As a result of our deliberations we suggested the formation of children's committees and children's officers, and these have been incorporated in the Bill.
I was very glad to hear from the hon. and gallant Member for Pollok (Commander Galbraith) how uniform is the approbation of this Bill from all sides of the House. I have only heard one real 1624 criticism of it. That was that it is a firstaid Bill which deals with troubles which exists, but goes no way to prevent them. I suggest to the House that it can be made the framework on which a really preventive service can be built. We realise that it is very much better, wherever possible, instead of taking children from an unsatisfactory home, to reform the home itself. A lot has been written about "problem families" and how they can be dealt with by social workers going into the homes at frequent intervals, and how these families could be put on probation. I wonder whether in future the children's officer and children's committee could have to deal with such families?
I hope that the children's officer and the children's committee will be regarded as a centre for guidance for everything connected with the home care of children. We have all read in the newspapers terribly saddening accounts of children who have suffered from the cruelty of their parents or guardians. What has impressed me most has been that in practically every case it is evident that that cruelty has been going on for some considerable time. I know there is the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, but they rarely take action until they are quite sure of a conviction. Would it be possible, when the children's committee and the children's officer are established and have the necessary status, for neighbours and teachers, and anyone who even feels suspicious that children are not being looked after properly, to communicate with the committee, or its officer, who could make judicious inquiries, and deal with cases of suspected cruelty in the very early stages?
It has been pointed out that the best way to deal with children deprived of parental care is to board them out. In 1944 it was my duty to visit a large number of boarded-out children on behalf of the London County Council. They were evacuees sent from London, and I was required to see how they fared, and to thank the local authorities for their care of them. I found these children happy and well looked after. It seemed to me that those who were doing the very best work were men and women whose children had grown up and left them, but who were still interested in children.
We know that at present there is difficulty in getting people to receive children for boarding out, but when housing con- 1625 ditions become a little less strenuous, many more people will be ready to receive these children. As I went round the various towns and cities in the centre and the North of England and inquired into the methods employed, I was particularly impressed by what I learned in Leicester. There the air-raid wardens went from house to house in their streets making inquiries of people whether they would consider taking evacuated children in case of necessity. The people were only asked to consider the proposal. Then, when a convoy arrived, the children were housed in a reception centre for a day or two, and the people who had agreed to consider the matter were against approached and asked to come to the reception centre. They were not actually told to select their children, but to say what age and sex they would prefer, whether they would like a brother and sister, or two brothers and so on. As far as possible, their wishes were acceded to.
In Leicester it was found that the reception centre was particularly valuable, and I am glad that in this Bill the need for reception centres is especially stressed. They are very necessary for short-stay cases, such as for children whose mothers have gone into hospital for an operation, and for longer-stay cases in which the children go into the centres for observation. There is nothing more depressing to a foster mother than to be given the care of a child who next day develops scarlet fever, or whooping cough, or both. If they are taken to a reception centre for two or three weeks, that is usually avoided, and an examination can also be made of their psychological make-up. They can be cleaned up if necessary and any unpleasant habits may perhaps be eliminated. I know the objection is that it means two moves for the child, but if those in charge of the reception centres are especially skilled in dealing with children and getting their confidence, and if there is plenty to amuse the children in the reception centre, that objection is not likely to be serious.
There always will remain a residue of children who cannot be boarded out, and for whom homes are necessary. With other members of the Curtis Committee, I went round various homes for children. I admit that it was wartime, but it seemed to me, and to most of the members of the committee, that children in homes in 1626 many cases lacked a good deal. There was not the personal attention and personal consideration which was necessary. Some of these children had not their own possessions, and some seemed by no means well cared for. Some even lived in barrack-like buildings in institutions founded perhaps 100 or more years ago. No doubt the individuals who founded these institutions had the best intentions, but in many cases conditions had not been changed since their early days, and, further, the spirit of the people in charge of some of them left a great deal to be desired. We found that some of the children spent most of their days in prayer or work, with very little time for play. We found in one institution that the children's clothes were collected at night and put in a basket, and when they dressed next morning it was a mere matter of luck whether they got the same clothes or not.
We ought to be very careful about all these homes. The children's officer will be in direct charge of all those under the local authority, but I am not sure that under the Bill there will be sufficient supervision over the voluntary homes. The children's officer will be able to visit these voluntary homes, but will he or she be able to make suggestions for improvements in conditions? I know that the officers of the Secretary of State will have power to visit these homes, and that regulations will be made for them. These regulations will be concerned with accommodation and equipment, the health of the children and their religious training. Does care of their health include regular medical inspection, and ought not these regulations perhaps to include other matters?
§ Mr. Burden (Sheffield, Park)
Is not my hon. Friend asking for a doubling of things? Already most of these children come within the scope of the local education authorities.
§ Mr. Hastings
Yes, but a local education authority will inspect as regards education. I am not sure to what extent they will inspect the whole life of these children. At any rate, the Bill gives power to the Secretary of State to arrange for the inspection of these homes, and I am suggesting that the inspection should be as full as possible, that the whole life of the children should be watched over. The inspector should inquire, for instance, 1627 as to the ratio of staff to children, to see that there is sufficient staff to care for them. I am putting these points to the Home Secretary, and no doubt he will consider them when he draws up the regulations.
I do not want to take up time, but the one other point I should like to deal with is that of emigration. As regards children from voluntary homes, it seems to me that the proposals of the Bill are fairly complete. They suggest that the Secretary of State shall make regulations and make sure that the provisions shall includethe operations or intended operations of the organisation.I imagine that means that when these children have emigrated they shall be carefully looked after in the country to which they have gone. But I am not so sure that the care of children to be emigrated through the local authorities will be as good. I read in Clause 17 that emigration will only take place with the consent of the Secretary of State, and amongst other conditions he must see thatThe child consents or is too young to form or express a proper opinion on the matter.I am not at all happy about that. In the past Poor Law authorities have been rather too inclined to emigrate children to the Dominions and elsewhere, but by the Poor Law Act, 1930, a child under 16 who is to be emigrated must give his consent before a petty sessional court. I feel that to be a stronger safeguard than that which is embodied in the phrase I quoted. I hope the Secretary of State will look into that point. We cannot afford to lose children from this country. The population here is ageing and, as is well known, the Dominions will accept only children who are specially sound in body and mind. I feel that children should emigrate only if they really want to go and are over 14 or 16 years, and that as good arrangements have been made for their supervision in the Dominions or elsewhere as would be made under this Bill in their home country.
I welcome this Bill, and I am sure that all my fellow members of the Curtis Committee will agree with me that even if it does not go quite as far as some of us would have liked, we will yet give complete approval to it.
§ 12.8 p.m.
§ Sir Patrick Hannon (Birmingham, Moseley)
I join with other Members of the House in offering a very warm welcome to this beneficent Measure, and I should like to congratulate the Members of the Curtis Committee, of whom the hon. Member for Barking (Mr. Hastings) was one, upon the admirable work which they performed for child life and child welfare in this country. I should like to recall also the work done by the late Mr. Neville Chamberlain over a long time in the Midlands area. He devoted himself a great deal to the welfare of the mother and the child, and in this Debate I do not think we should forget all that was done by those who were responsible in those days, in large measure for laying the foundation of child welfare work. Some of the sad cases of which we have heard in recent times make the advent of this Bill eminently desirable.
I congratulate the Under-Secretary of State on the concise and comprehensive statement which he made to us this morning in moving the Second Reading of the Bill. If he were here at the moment, I should like to say to him that I would prefer to see him sitting on this side of the House rather than on the other. A distinguished relative of his to whom I owed many obligations in the past, would be very much disturbed I feel, if he were to see him sitting on that side of the House.
I am particularly gratified that the Under-Secretary pointed out how important it is that the religious denomination of the child shall be safeguarded in the boarding-out scheme. This matter was referred to in another place, and an assurance was given by the Lord Chancellor that it would receive the careful attention of the Government. I very much hope that the officer appointed to take charge of child welfare under the provisions of this Bill will pay due regard, in the boarding-out schemes, to seeing either that the child is placed with a family of the same religious denomination or that an undertaking is secured that the child will not be deprived of the opportunity of following and practising the religion of its parents. I am glad of what amounted to an assurance in this direction which was given this morning by the Under-Secretary of State.
1629 I wish to deal with a small point affecting one of the finest voluntary institutions in the country in relation to child welfare, Dr. Barnado's Homes. In the stress of war and in the process of making arrangements following upon air raids on London, 40 cottages provided for the accommodation of children from these homes were taken over by the Government. That could not be helped at the time, but those cottages are still retained by the Government and the management of the homes is placed in an embarrassing situation in relation to the provision of accommodation for their children. I hope that some arrangement will be reached as soon as possible to enable the return of the cottages, not at once but one by one. I understand that in correspondence which has taken place with the Home Office the secretary of the homes made the suggestion that arrangements might be made to release these cottages one by one, as quickly as possible, for the accommodation of children.
I was glad to hear the reference which was made to the work of the voluntary organisations, which have in this country in the past made an immense contribution towards the welfare of our children. I hope that the independence of these institutions will be maintained and safeguarded under the operation of the provisions of this Bill. As has been said, voluntary institutions—in Scotland in particular—have given evidence of a real constructive purpose in their approach to child welfare.
There is another matter upon which I should like to touch. In these days large numbers of people come from Ireland to this country to settle and bring up their families. Sometimes, in the difficult circumstances arising from entering a new community, some of these people have much difficulty in relation to the life of their families, and much distress arises. I hope that in cases which arise, not very frequently, in which the welfare of a child coming from such a family is concerned, the child will receive the same treatment and have open to it the same privileges as children born of parents in this country.
I welcome this Bill. Every lover of children in this country will welcome it. It is a Measure which enhances the reputation of the House of Commons, and it is gratifying to us that this matter shows that we can all agree on something. I 1630 congratulate the Home Secretary upon what he has achieved. It is particularly good to know that even in these days, when baffling problems tend to drive us apart in the political life of the country, they can be thrown aside for a moment and we can all work together in bringing into operation in this country legislation which is bound to have far reaching affects on the future welfare of the child, and consequently on the future welfare of the country.
§ 12.15 p.m.
§ Mrs. Corbet (Camberwell, North-West)
For a long time I have been among those who have advocated the unification of the services for the children with whom this Bill deals. I am glad to know that we are moving in that direction nationally and it is essential that we should also get some unification locally. Before proceeding to my main theme, there are a few observations I should like to make in reply to things that have been said by hon. Members who have preceded me. The hon. Member for Moseley (Sir P. Hannon) has just told us about the excellent work which the voluntary organisations do. That is quite correct, but he perhaps forgets that voluntary organisations are able to choose the children whom they allow to enter their homes, whereas local authorities have no such choice. They must take the children. That means that the local authorities will often have the most difficult children with whom to deal.
My hon. Friend the Member for Barking (Mr. Hastings) spoke about people who had taken in evacuated children. Quite recently my attention has been drawn to the infinitesimal number of people who are now prepared to accommodate in the evacuation areas those remaining evacuees who are emerging from the nurseries and who need to be boarded out. The fact of the matter is that boarding out, desirable though we all recognise it to be, is not so easy. The Curtis Committee recognised that we wanted people who for sheer love of children would take them into their homes and give them that family background which no institution can provide. I defy any Member to show me how any institution can provide that family life and individual attention which is so necessary for children. The people who take these children must be actuated by sheer 1631 love of children. There are plenty of such people, but there are many difficulties standing in the way. There are not so many who are prepared to go on taking children throughout their lives. After all, a mother brings up her family and when she is middle-aged she is free of the cares of looking after children. She emerges from the chrysalis stage, takes part in politics and social work; and even goes out to work. Not so the foster mother or anybody employed to look after these children.
There is the difficulty of whether or not we should pay more. My right hon. Friend has recently been pressed to allow more to be paid to foster parents. He was a little worried, I suppose, whether he should do so, because foster parents might make a profit out of the work. On the other hand, it was becoming quite apparent that we could not get foster parents until we paid more. In a home it costs, even without education, even without the refinements and the trained staff and extra numbers of staff these children require if they are to have the individual care and attention and life that we wish them to have, £3 11s. per head per child. In our residential nurseries in the county of London it costs £210 to £220 to maintain each child per year. Hon. Members will have a glimpse of the difficulty which a local authority has in boarding out its children, when it is realised that the rate of pay which we give to foster mothers is something more in the region of £1 to 30s. a week. The local authority has every incentive to board out, from the financial point of view. If indeed they do not do so in larger numbers, I think that it must be conceded to them, when they have employed trained staffs for many years, that the difficulties are greater than is usually imagined.
To illustrate my point, a year or so ago, a magistrate in one of our juvenile courts appealed for a home for a child of, I believe, the Roman Catholic faith, that being one of the cases in which we find it difficult to find foster homes. There were 500 people who wrote and said they were prepared to take that particular child. A responsible local authority, cannot, of course, just send a child to anybody who offers to take it. The result was that all the homes were 1632 visited by one of our very well-trained and experienced boarding-out officers, of whom the London County Council have some 14. The number of people was whittled down, and, with the people who refused to take anybody but this particular child, eventually, out of the 500 homes, the number available was something less than 20. That will give hon. Members some idea of the difficulties of boarding out. Adoption is an even better measure than boarding out, and enlightened authorities have been long encouraging adoption. Nevertheless, there are all sorts of regulations and restrictions, so that although there are many children in local authority homes and voluntary organisation homes, there is a waiting list of people who want to adopt children.
If the terms of this Measure are carried out in the spirit in which they are meant to be carried out, and if the authorities endeavour to secure for their children as nearly as possible an approach to home life, with all the advantages that a normal child enjoys, they will be embarking on a very expensive project. I know that they are to get a grant of 50 per cent., and I hope that, if it should prove that that is not sufficient, the Government will look sympathetically on an increased grant. It is an improvement on the existing situation where local authorities mostly have to do this out of the block grant.
I would draw attention particularly to the question of the institutional staffs. I hate the word "institution," but I am not so sure that the word "home" has not acquired almost as unpleasant an odour. We have been told that we are training boarding-out officers. To my mind, the people whom we have to train are the people actually handling the children. The boarding-out officers will not handle the children. The house mothers and the house fathers with whom they will live will be the people who will handle them. Although we are told that local authorities are instituting training courses, I think it is essential that everything shall be done to see that house mothers and fathers are trained, and they will have to be of a quality which it has not been possible to have in the past.
We have to be able to pay them and relieve them of the domestic duties, such as cooking, sewing, cleaning and all the rest of it—which takes up their time and 1633 makes them like any other harassed mother—and enable them to look after the children and give special attention to their recreation and leisure time. We have to be able to say to these people, "If we give you leisure, we want you to devote yourselves entirely to the spiritual and mental development of the children, and not have to bother all the time about their physical welfare."
Finance committees will have to learn to be very generous and give better pay to more and better trained staff. I have mentioned the case of children in London's residential nursery schools. We give them nursery trained teachers with trained assistants. The number of staff in these schools is one to every two and a half children. That is not too many, because the children have to be cared for for 24 hours of the day, seven days a week and 52 weeks in the year.
When I first realised what the intentions of the Government were with regard to the machinery by which this Bill was to be adminstered, I confess that I was extremely unhappy. I have been a member for many years of the education committee of the largest local authority, and I was well aware that the work of the education committee is not restricted, as was suggested by the Curtis Report, to the schooling of the children. As soon as the new Education Act came into operation it became more apparent that the functions of education committees are not restricted but are very wide and cover almost every side of the child's development from the early age of two up to a mature age.
That being so, education committees are developing staffs to deal with children in all these aspects. Attendance officers become trained and skilled in the observation of families and there is a great system of care, committee workers and voluntary workers' organisations, and after-care work. All these people are necessary in the department of the education officer in exactly the same way as they will become necessary in the department of the children's officer. It grieves me to see the possibility of the duplication of staffs and for the necessity for departments to have to resort to elaborate systems of cross reference, with potentialities for friction—because friction can and does exist even in the best run 1634 local authorities—as between one department and another.
Children whose welfare is not provided for in this Bill include the handicapped children, T.B. contacts, delicate children under five, those who can be sent to boarding schools under the Education Act and those whom we hope increasingly to board out in order to enable them to attend a particular school. All those children have to be looked after under the education officer who will need precisely the same kind of staff as will be required under the children's officer—to board out, to prepare estimates, to manage homes, to inspect them, and for after-care work.
What shall we have succeeded in doing? We shall not have succeeded in our main object of integrating these children into the main stream of child education. We run a very great risk of segregating these children. What is meant by integration? It is terribly difficult, if children are in homes, to persuade them to believe they are not in homes. We have been told by the heads of our institutions that if we send children out to school in the neighbourhood, not more than a very small number of children should go to any one school. The difficulties of physical integration are great enough. The task which will confront us for a long time is a very big one. Already enlightened authorities, like Glasgow, London and many others, are integrating these children into the life of the neighbourhood. They have their "aunts and uncles" schemes. They have their clubs which the children join and to which they are able to invite other children in the neighbourhood. They go out to tea in the neighbourhood. All enlightened authorities organise schemes of that kind. There is no lack of realisation or appreciation of what should be done to enable the children to feel that they are not just in homes.
On the other side, there is the fact that they are in homes, and that everybody knows that they are home children. Will it help if we label them as children being looked after by a committee—the children's committee children? Would it not be very much better if they were not labelled at all and if all their activities could be directed by the education committee in no way separated from the other children? How much more simple it would be for the education committee to 1635 make sure that every one of the increasing educational opportunities which are made available to ordinary children should also be made available to these children. Having shown how disappointed I am that it has not been made easier for education committees to pursue this work, nevertheless I wish to express my gratitude for the provision for exceptions in Clause 40. I would like to impress upon the Home Secretary how grateful we should be for an assurance that education authorities will be able to carry on the scheme which has worked successfully for many years. I hope he will realise how much more we would appreciate this Measure if he would be as generous to local authorities in their desire for exception as he feels possible in the interests of the children.
§ 12.34 p.m.
§ Commander Maitland (Horncastle)
I agree with a great deal of what was said by the hon. Member for North-West Camberwell (Mrs. Corbet) in her most interesting speech. She did an excellent service in bringing the House back to the realities of administration. Those of us who have been connected with this sort of work know how difficult it is and, particularly, how expensive it is if the work is to be done well. I want to take up in a rather different way one point which she made. It is curious that we have three Bills going through their various stages in this House and the other place all of which concern children and young people. There is the Education (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill, which we have just sent to the other place; the Employment and Training Bill, With particular attention to Part II, which we are now discussing in Standing Committee; and there is the present Measure.
Those three Bills all have similarities. They are all good Bills which are not opposed, and they all perform, in some ways, the same function. They draw together the ends of custom and legislation into a much more satisfactory form. If I may use a rope-making simile, they take the yarns and make, them into strands. There is, however, in all these Measures one great dissimilarity. Although they deal, as it may well be, with the same children, a different Minister is responsible for each Bill—the Minister of Education, the Minister of 1636 Labour and the Home Secretary.
Without committing myself, as the hon. Lady did, to the Ministry of Education, I think that the time will come when we must gather up the strands and, to complete the simile, combine them in a rope which will be managed entirely by one authority. We shall then avoid some of the difficulties which undoubtedly exist in the present control by three different central Ministries, though it is clear that great care has been taken in this Measure to overcome this particular problem. In fact, one day we must aim at a more central organisation which will look after all the interests of all young people.
I wish to raise one point of principle in which I hope I am wrong. The other points which I wish to discuss may be more suitable for the Committee Stage, but I should like, if possible, to have an answer today. The most difficult part of the Bill concerns the duties which will have to be undertaken by the juvenile courts under Clause 2 (1, b). To some extent, those duties are already being carried out. I refer to the moment when a local authority decides that a child is not being properly looked after by its parents, and that they desire to take it into the charge of the local authority. That places enormous responsibilities on the juvenile court.
I speak with some feeling, because ten years ago I was, from time to time, the chairman of a juvenile court which used to consider cases somewhat similar to this. Probably the decision to separate children from their parents is one of the most anxious and difficult decisions which one may be called upon to make. One finds all sorts of different desires and wishes pulling in different directions. There is the desire to maintain the rights of the parent, and there is the desire to help the child. I always found it they were terribly difficult cases, and I am sure that others must take the same view. I have often wondered whether a court of summary jurisdiction is really the right body to make this great decision.
I wish that I could give to the House some ready-made suggestion. I cannot do that. It might be thought possible to have trained commissioners to deal with these subjects, but, again, that might be impracticable, and we certainly do not 1637 want to create a lot of new authorities with powers of jurisdiction. It is one of the advantages of the British form of government that we all have to go through the petty sessional courts, and it is quite a good thing. The problem of knowing when to separate a child from its parents when it has not been satisfactorily brought up, is very difficult indeed to decide, and I hope that as much help and guidance as possible will be given to those who have to carry out this duty.
Following on this I come to a smaller point in connection with Paragraph 17 of the White Paper. I am not sure that this point has not already been dealt with in another place. I looked rather carefully, but could not find out whether it had been or not. It is the question whether the putative father of an illegitimate child has to contribute or not. I would throw out the suggestion that, if a putative father does not desire to contribute, it would be just as well to cut the losses and not make him contribute. If he desires to contribute, that is another matter, but I do not believe that it should be argued that he should unwillingly contribute because we must have finance. I cannot believe that that is right, and I think the interests of the child should be paramount in this respect. I believe that if we force a man to contribute to his illegitimate child, it may have a very disastrous effect upon it in many ways, particularly, later in life, as he may well develop resentment at the fact that he has had to pay for a considerable period and he may find means to vent his spite on his child.
I was very interested to hear what the hon. Lady said about Clause 40 in regard to the "get-out" part. She rather assumed, I thought, that it was to allow for the possibility of the education authorities taking over these responsibilities.
§ Mrs. Corbet
I think the hon. and gallant Member will agree that none of us know what is intended by the "exception" provision.
§ Commander Maitland
That is why I raised the point. I read most carefully through the Debate in another place, and I think the answers that were given were very inconclusive. I hope the Home Secretary will tell us why this "get-out" Clause has been inserted, as it seems to 1638 me to be rather curious. Either there is some good reason for its being inserted or there is not, and, if there is not, it should not be there.
I want to mention another small point concerning a matter on which I had personal experience recently. It concerns the age of the persons forming the committee. When one talks about the age of people on committees, one nearly always gets into hot water. Everybody, always thinks they are the right age to do anything, and in many cases they are probably quite right, but, in the case with which I have recently dealt—of children in a home which gave me a great deal of anxiety—it appeared to me that one of the reasons which made that case so difficult was the age of the member, of the committee dealing with it. That had at least something to do with the matter. If, by regulation or in any other way, some steps could be taken to ensure that there should be some young people on these committees, I think it would do great service to the administration of this Bill.
I sometimes think that we in this House, are inclined to forget when we agree to the passage of a Bill that the work is then only just beginning. If ever there was a Bill which will stand or fall by efficient administration, it is this Bill. I hope that, when he makes his report to Parliament from time to time, the Home Secretary will tell us how the administration is progressing, and the House should be very careful to watch how it is actually put into force. So much will depend upon the way it is done. This is an excellent Bill and we all welcome it. If the Home Secretary can ensure that its administration is good, he may succeed in bringing the right meaning into the title of his office and become the Home Secretary in the true meaning of the words.
§ 12.46 p.m.
§ Mr. Carmichael (Glasgow, Bridgeton)
Like other hon. Members who have spoken, I must indulge in repetition to the extent of declaring my appreciation of this Measure. I regret that it was the tragic circumstances of the O'Neill case that forced it on the public conscience to the extent of compelling the appointment of the Curtis and Clyde Committees. Nevertheless, if that beneficial change was produced as a result, we are at least entitled to regard it as helpful.
1639 In presenting this Bill, the Under-Secretary necessarily stressed the bad conditions of today. I think they have been stressed so much in many places that it is necessary here to give appreciation to what has been done already in this country in the treatment of children who, through many circumstances, have been denied parental responsibility or guidance. I am thinking especially of Scotland. I want to say, with no feeling of pride or with any disregard for the treatment of children in England, that I do not think the O'Neill case could ever have happened in Scotland. In fact, I think I am supported in that—
§ Mr. Carmichael
I think the hon. Lady, if she reads the evidence in the Curtis Report carefully, will realise that there was a carelessness of administration among the authorities concerned that should not have happened. First, there was a carelessness in the arrangements between the two authorities, and second, in the home selected.
§ Mrs. Corbet
It is impossible to provide for every kind of detail. I can assure my hon. Friend that the London County Council has been worried to death in case there might be any trouble, in spite of all its expert staff.
§ Mr. Carmichael
I do not want to be held up by arguing about one case. All I would say is that I am proud of the fact that I have no knowledge of any such cases happening in Scotland. I think we should place on record our appreciation of the very great services rendered to children, first of all, by the local authorities. Many local authorities have had members on the despised Poor Law committees who have devoted great attention to the welfare of children, and the officers have also been very careful in the selection of homes for children. It is quite true that unsatisfactory homes have been found, and, in some cases, we may designate them as actually bad, but, taken as a whole, the local authorities have done an admirable job in the attention they have given to children.
There is one point which I do not think has been stressed sufficiently. We have 1640 to pay a great tribute to the hundreds of kindly guardians in the country who in humble homes have devoted themselves unsparingly to the welfare of these unfortunate children. I say that with almost 20 years intimate experience of this work. There are few counties in Scotland where I, as a member of a committee, have not been in watching the work of the children's department. I look back on that as one of the finest parts of my local government service. I am extremely proud of Glasgow's contribution in that direction. It is in that sense that I look at this Bill. I appreciate the fact that an attempt is now being made to co-ordinate the work and to have a clearer idea of where responsibility rests, because there has regularly been friction between parents and local authorities concerning the taking away of children.
I am glad that the sheriff of the county will now be the final authority when parents object to the resolution that may be passed by the local authority. The only point I want to stress is in connection with the proposal that the parent must keep in touch with the local authority. He must when he is able, make payments, and in default he can be fined. I hope that great discretion will be exercised in this matter, because I know of many cases—and I say this with great regret—where the sooner the parent was forgotten the better. I have never accepted the view that the parent can necessarily rear the child better than anyone else. I have known children who were taken away from the parents and boarded out with foster parents at such a young age that they knew of no other parents. The parent might be a most undesirable person and never have had any interest in the child whatever. In such a case, the child should be reared by foster parents. I hope there will be no undue stress placed on keeping contact with undesirable people who have thrown their children, more or less, on the local authorities.
Boarding-out and the finding of a suitable home should be the first responsibility of the committee. I think that is the big task of the children's officers. Much stress has been made of the point that the children's officer is the real administrator and guardian of the child. I do not accept that. I think the task of the children's officer should be primarily that of finding the right type of 1641 home for the child. If he can do that, then I think he has done the biggest part of his job. I hope it will be possible for a central register to be kept so that whenever homes are closed by a local authority as being unsatisfactory, they may never again be used by any other local authority. I think that at the moment, something like that is done, but not sufficiently well to make it completely watertight.
We have some very fine homes in Glasgow. They are used in the first place to look after children until they can be found proper family homes. We have many children kept in the homes for a considerable period. I hope that those homes will not be so large as to be regarded as institutions. No one is finding fault with the people responsible for the institutions, but it is obviously necessary when children are in large institutions containing anything from 50 children upwards, that discipline must operate. It cannot be avoided. There must be regular hours for everything, and, therefore, there is a discipline that is completely divorced from ordinary intimate family life. I hope the supervision of these homes will be in the hands of the right people and that the homes will not be too large to prevent the children getting the best opportunities.
With regard to the children's committees I hope that if it is necessary to co-opt people they will be people of long experience in the handling of children. I am not clear from the Bill what will be their actual functions. I hope that they will be defined much better in the regulations. In Glasgow they do not merely look after the children in the sense of just boarding them out or having them put into homes; they have many other duties to perform. There are works departments attached to some of the homes and a fine department has been established for dealing with the children's clothing. Is that department still to be continued, or is it to be associated with some other section of the local authority? There is also the question of transport to be considered.
With regard to the appointment of women officers, it should be borne in mind that there are a number of youngsters boarded out who would strongly resent the guidance of women when they reach a certain age.
§ Mrs. Jean Mann (Coatbridge)
Who is to find the officers or the men to look after the children? Is a man or a woman to be in charge of the home?
§ Mr. Carmichael
Is it a great risk to put such a responsibility on the shoulders of the man who wants to see his children properly brought up?
§ Mr. Carmichael
With due respect to motherhood, I resent the idea that a man is completely indifferent to the guidance and direction of his children. It was said in another place that women would make the best officers. What I am asking is that there should be no undue stress on women in a matter of this kind as men can do the work equally well.
What I think is the worst feature of the Bill is the tremendous stress which is laid on the fact that people have been trained at the London School of Economics, or may have gone to one of the provincial universities. I do not decry the advantages of such training, but we should not unduly stress the thought that a person is incompetent to look after children who has not those qualifications. Many people may enter this calling in the same way as people enter any other profession; not because they have any special inherent qualities which fit them for looking after children, but because it is probably as good a profession as any they can enter. I hope that the various aspects of the whole problem will be seriously considered by the advisory committees.
Can the Under-Secretary give any assurance as to the type of people who will be appointed to these committees? Will they comprise people who are already on the local committees? It is probably wise that the children's officer should be known to certain children, but this is not advisable in every case. The less interference there is with a child once he has been found a good home, the better it will be. If the advisory committee is to function properly it must have a knowledge of how the children are being treated and must, in consequence, visit the homes from time to time. My experience is that in certain districts it is necessary to visit the homes, the schools, the clergymen, and also to 1643 interview the children—to see everybody associated to the various duties. In other cases, however, it is unwise for the child to be visited even by members of the local authority.
I will give one example of a nameless child found in the City of Glasgow many years ago, for whom we had to find a name. In due course the child was taken to ideal foster parents in the country. It would have been unwise for an officer to visit that home when the child was settled to make the usual inquiries as to how it was being looked after and to request to see the bedding, the standard of accommodation and so forth. A visit was merely paid to the school, and that child never knew anything other than that she was born in that Scottish coastal village and that the people with whom she lived were her parents, by whom steps were eventually taken for her proper adoption.
Unless we are careful, everybody in the area will know that the child has been boarded out; the child herself will become conscious of the fact and will be seriously handicapped. I hope that in the appointment of the advisory committee, in issuing regulations to committees of the local authority, and in advising the children's officers, it will be recognised that all manner of children are involved. Methods of approach which can be used in some cases may well be serious and dangerous if applied to certain other cases.
A great step forward has been taken in attempting to co-ordinate this work. As in other Bills, the legislator's job is the easy one, because if any difficulties arise in the House they can be settled in Committee, where on all sides there are legal-minded men always ready and willing to assist irrespective of their political convictions. In another place also people are similarly well equipped to deal with legislation and a Bill is well examined before its final stages. The whole thing can be of little avail, however, if it is operated with rigidity and administered by people without that human feeling and understanding which is so necessary in the field we are discussing.
I do not think the subject has been sufficiently well aired in the past for all the decent kindly folk who can look after 1644 children to be brought in as foster parents. I hope that the publicity from our discussion will make people realise that they can make their contribution in this way. If so, our deliberations will have achieved a good purpose. While it is important that the children's officer should be a person of the highest standard, the key to the whole problem is the finding of the right home and the right guardians. If we can do this, the work of the other people will be of minor account. What matters is that the children will be in homes with parents who will give them guidance and help to bring them up to become decent citizens of a decent community.
§ 1.8 p.m.
§ Mr. Wilson Harris (Cambridge University)
As I am not familiar with the slightly foreign regions of this island from which the hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Carmichael) hails, I will refrain from following his interesting speech. I will concentrate on a matter which was raised by the hon. Member for Barking (Mr. Hastings) and on which I should like to say something more. As for the Bill in general, I join with other hon. Members in giving it a most wholehearted welcome. The Measure as drafted justifies the choice of the Home Office as the Department to administer this important work. This is very sound legislation and we have the promise that it will be supplemented by efficient administration.
What appeals to me most is the appointment of the children's committees and the children's officers and the provision for the inspection of voluntary institutions. In re-reading the Curtis Report, my eye was caught by those depressing, and almost poignant, words which occur again and again, "deprive the child," or "children deprived of care." Every child should enjoy the affection and the other benefits of a happy home environment, and I rejoice to think that when this Bill becomes law those words can be excised, I hope for ever, from our political and social vocabulary.
Local authorities are enjoined to advise and befriend the various children who come under their aegis. I do not know whether those words are taken from earlier statutes, but they strike a human note which is of very great importance and warmly to be welcomed. We see a prospect now of children who need it getting 1645 care and supervision, but there is something else that every child wants, and that is affection. I do not suppose that the Home Secretary is in a position to be able to supply affection officially; he does not seem able to apply it to the universities; but affection, to be forthcoming, must come from the foster parents, and I am sure that they will show the same affection in the future as they have shown in the past.
The one point I wish to make concerns one class of children for whom I am not satisfied that adequate provision has been made in this Bill, and that is the children to be considered for emigration. To send a child of 14 to 16 away from these shores to some distant country, whether in the Dominions or outside, is to submit that child to what is sometimes a rather alarming experience. It is, therefore, of the utmost importance that the fullest attention should be given both to the selection of the children at this end and to their reception at the other.
The Home Secretary is familiar with paragraph 515 of the Curtis Report, where the authors lay stress upon the importance of prudence rather than of precipitance in this business of emigration. They point out that the children liable to be selected are precisely those children for whom satisfactory jobs can be found in this country, and that we can ill afford to spare such children. They are not considering the community as a whole, but very rightly the individual child. It is not enough to ask whether a child is a suitable subject for emigration, and whether it is a boy or girl who is likely to face the new surroundings with equanimity and adapt itself to the new environment in which it finds itself. It is rather a question of whether emigration is the best thing which can be done for the child itself. It seems to me that the matter is not always put in that order.
First of all, a suitable subject is looked for, instead of looking to the best interests of the child itself. Let us assume that the selection is rightly made. What is going to happen when the child gets to Canada, Australia, Rhodesia, or wherever it may be? We have been told very rightly of the elaborate provisions which are properly being made for after-care in this country, and we have been reminded of the im- 1646 portance of the child keeping in touch with its parents as far as is possible. It has been pointed out that it is a very serious matter, except in very special cases, to break in any way the ties between the child and its parents. If that is true of children being given special treatment in this country, how much more true is it when it is a case of sending 'a child thousands of miles away, so that it may never again see its parents?
Who is to take the place of the children's officer who is responsible for the after-care here and can be relied upon to carry it out efficiently? Who is to advise and befriend the child when it gets to the Dominions or to some foreign country? Who is to advise about its career? We know that far too often, girls sent overseas mechanically enter domestic service. Is there to be provision in the case of these emigrated children for their further education? We have been told this morning how the children here are to have an opportunity equal to that of other children of going to the universities, but are they to have further education when they go abroad, and are they to be able to go to universities in Australia, Canada and elsewhere?
There are two Clauses in this Bill which deal with emigration, and I am not entirely satisfied that they adequately cover the ground. Clause 17 provides that the Secretary of State shall not give his consent to emigration unless he is fully satisfied with regard to several matters in respect of which he ought to be satisfied. Clause 33 goes further, and is rather more reassuring, by providing for the making of such regulations by the Secretary of State as he may feel necessary to safeguard the interests of the children in this matter. But a great deal is involved here which concerns not only our own Government and the Home Office, but the Government of any country to which these children go.
Therefore, I submit to the Home Secretary—and this is my single proposal and final word—that he should consider most seriously the calling of an inter-governmental conference which will go into this whole matter, at the selection end and at the receiving end, to draw up some scheme which will satisfy him and this House that children sent overseas to a new life will have as full and ample 1647 opportunity to express and develop themselves as those children who are coming under the beneficent provisions of this Bill in this country.
§ 1.17 p.m.
§ Mrs. Nichol (Bradford, North)
This is a Bill which has been most eagerly awaited, and I wish to add my words of welcome to those which have been expressed by hon. Members on all sides in regard to it. I also wish to congratulate my right hon. Friend on having introduced into this Bill most of the recommendations of the Curtis and Clyde Committees. The accusations which are made in regard to hurried legislation cannot be levelled against this Bill, because it is now 20 months since the Curtis Report came as a shock to this House and the country. Since then a great deal has been said, and there has been time to consider the various actions which should ensue in this matter of caring for deprived children. The Bill has had this advantage of having been debated in another place, and I feel sure that it will be accepted by this House with very few Amendments. It is obvious from the way it has been received that the House is delighted to welcome it.
I would remind the House that the main intention of the Curtis Committee is the unification of the law in respect of more than 125,000 deprived children—that is children deprived of a decent home life—and to effect that unification by the creation of a central authority and by the setting up of ad hoc children's committees, working with trained children's officers whose sole business will be the care of these deprived children and to provide the missing element in their life, that is, the lack of a home background. The object of this central authority is to make sure that never again shall a child die of cruelty or neglect, as did Dennis O'Neill who has been referred to so many times today, and that never again shall a child suffer from the confusion and muddle in administration.
My criticism of the Bill is confined to one or two points. First, there is what has been called the "get out" Clause. My hon. Friend the Member for North-West Camberwell (Mrs. Corbet) said it was an escape Clause. I believe this Clause unnecessarily weakens the 1648 Bill. In the guise of providing a simple solution for a set of circumstances which might easily arise—such as in a thinly-populated area, where the provision of a special children's committee might be unnecessary, or would work clumsily—there is an opportunity for local authorities, who may not desire control by the Home Office, to contract out of one of the most important provisions of the Bill. Clause 40 states clearly that local authorities if the Secretary of State is satisfied that their work will continue, need not set up a separate children's committee. I know that consent of the Secretary of State must be obtained, but at the same time. I regard this as a very dangerous loophole, which I hope will be rectified at a later stage.
In my opinion, this Clause does not fulfil the purpose of one of the main recommendations of the Curtis Committee which has been so much emphasised today, namely, the necessity for the unification of responsibility and control. By this Clause there is great danger that the system we are trying so hard to cure, that is, overlapping of authority, will continue. One of the reasons for the O'Neill case was that it was nobody's business, yet everybody's business, to care for that child. The Curtis Committee felt that never again should this kind of thing happen through any administrative confusion.
§ The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Ede)
If consent were given to the operation of a committee other than a children's committee, it would still be the responsibility of the Home Office, no matter who operated it.
§ Mrs. Nichol
I thank my right hon. Friend for that assurance. I feel much relieved to hear that the right to contract out may not have such disastrous effects as I feared.
I want to deal briefly with the merits or otherwise of the chosen central authority in this matter being the Home Office. Some of my hon. Friends on this side have hotly debated with me whether the responsibility should be that of the Ministry of Education or the Home Office. They have child life and care greatly at heart, just as much as those who take an opposite view; it is just a question as to which would be the better Department to take over the sole care 1649 and responsibility of these deprived children. I believe it is wrong that one Department should control the life of a child from the age of two to 21. I do not see why one Department should close its tentacles around a child so that the child should have no being of its own, as it were.
In the case of the child living at home with its parents, this does not happen. The child's home is a place of security and stability, and nothing invades that home unless it is by the consent of the child's parents. I do not believe that the question of home finding and the suitability of homes would be better dealt with by the Ministry of Education than the Home Office. The Home Office have a great record, going back to the end of the last' century, in home finding and caring for children. I think it is wrong to regard this Department as one which is entirely concerned with punitive measures, or as a Department which is concerned only with children who are delinquent. This is quite erroneous. This is a Department for home affairs; let it be home affairs in its widest possible interpretation.
I am glad that the Home Office have made a clean sweep of the job. My hon. Friend the Member for North-West Camberwell spoke of the work which education authorities are doing in this matter. I admit that, but if my hon. Friend's argument, that the work they were doing was par excellence, were true, there would not be cases where this work was not being well done, but the Curtis Committee found that most slipshod work was being done by certain education authorities.
There has been great appreciation of boarding out as a method of caring for deprived children. The Curtis Committee regarded boarding out as the second best way of caring for a child. The first, of course, is adoption. I should be out of Order if I referred to that now, as this Bill does not deal with that subject, though I hope that legislation will be introduced later to deal with this question of adoption. Adoption is undoubtedly the best thing. People only adopt because they really want a child, and they assume all the responsibility of parenthood and give the child the complete and absolute benefit of a permanent home, which is the great thing. 1650 The next best thing is boarding out, but we must not simply say that boarding out is the best thing in all circumstances. Not all children are suitable for boarding out. Some children do not fit easily into a home which is not their natural home. Sometimes things go wrong with the family by whom they are taken and sometimes the family's financial affairs worsen, or there may be a second marriage, and their relationship is thereby affected, and as a result the child may suffer. Many things may occur which may make foster homes not absolutely 100 per cent. perfect for every child.
Where the home is good and the child is suitable for boarding out, then boarding out is simply grand, because it is the nearest approximation to a natural home. A boarded-out child sees the home in all its aspects. It sees the good side and the bad side. It experiences the jolly times and it also experiences the irritations such as when the clothes line breaks on Monday morning and mother is cross, and the milk boils over. It is good for the child to experience that sort of thing along with all the jolly things. It is good for the child to be able to help father in the garden and to help mother with her shopping, and to share the love and affection of relatives. It is important, however, that we should not accept sub-standard homes for this purpose merely because boarding out is an easy way of meeting this problem.
While boarding out is good, we must face the fact that we are unlikely to get sufficient homes to take all the children who need them. Out of 125,000 children deprived of a normal home, only 31,000 are cared for in foster homes. That leaves a tremendous number to be cared for in other ways, and we must seriously consider the other ways in which they may be cared for. While institutional life has drawbacks, it also has some advantages. It has the advantages of community life, into which some children fit very well, and of amenities such as swimming baths, gymnasia and large halls for concerts and parties. We ought not to write off institutions as completely undesirable. They are good for some children and they have certain advantages.
If we are to build institutions or extraneous homes specially for children, I hope they will not be big barrack-like buildings. The delight of small homes is 1651 incomparably clear to those of us who have done any work at all among children. In Bradford, which I help to represent, and which I hope I may be forgiven for mentioning—because Bradford is the pioneer city in child care, and has always seemed to look several moves ahead—we are only now able to complete a home started many years before the war and which to some extent anticipated the findings of the Curtis Committee; it consists of small grouped homes of eight or 10 children of both sexes in which the children get the advantages of both a home and a community life.
This Bill is so good that I feel very churlish in criticising it at all, but one other point of criticism I want to make is that the full system of the Child Life Protection Society is not extended to voluntary homes. All children going into a voluntary home should have contact with the children's officer, and the advice and help of the children's officer should be given to the voluntary home for every child who enters it. I hope that my right hon. Friend will look into this at a later stage.
This excellent Bill will give our children a chance that they have never had before. When this Bill is working properly—we all know it will take some time—the children will never again have the haunting fear of insecurity, of not being wanted and of being thrown out into a world which they might feel does not care very much for them. I warmly welcome the provisions for, aftercare, the financial assistance which will be given to the young people between 18 and 21, and the advantages which they will have in training and further education. I also warmly welcome the provision of hostels for the young people of 18 to 21 who are going in for training or who are working.
All these things are splendid. They mark a new era in enlightened child care. We think this Bill is good, and we congratulate the Home Secretary on introducing it. When the whole plan is taking shape, and when we have our staffs of trained people, the children who have not the advantage of a good natural home will have opportunities which they have never had before, and will have the chance to grow up into good, useful happy citizens who can face life squarely and with clear eyes, knowing that they have the chances which so far have gone 1652 mainly to children with more fortunate early upbringings.
§ 1.38 p.m.
§ Mr. Basil Nield (City of Chester)
There are two reasons why I am particularly pleased to follow the hon. Lady the Member for North Bradford (Mrs. Nichol)., The first is that she was a member of the Curtis Committee, to whose work many hon. Members have already paid high tribute, and the second is that the hon. Lady has raised points of great importance, and the House is grateful to her for doing so.
As has been pointed out, when this Bill becomes an Act it will be one of a series of enactments affecting the position of the children of this country. In all these enactments the paramount consideration has been the welfare of the child, and that has been decided by the courts under many of the statutes which have been referred to. It is clear that when we are considering the position of the homeless and deprived child, and seeking to give him a start in life, that again is the overriding consideration. The terms "homeless child" and "deprived child" are used in the Curtis and Clyde Reports, and it seems important to make certain, first of all, that those terms can be properly applied. To some extent, though not seriously, I join issue with my hon. Friend below the Gangway when I say that it is only as a last resort that there should be separation of parents and child. I agree with my hon. Friend that there may be cases where it is essential in the child's own interests, but let us hesitate before taking that step.
What are the methods which can be adopted for trying to help the homeless child? Some of them are adumbrated in this Measure. The hon. Member for North Bradford has pointed to the first and best, the system of adoption, which is not within the purview of this Measure but very much within the purview of the general discussion. The second method is in the forefront of the Bill, and that is the method of boarding out these children in the care of foster parents in as good homes as can be found. I observe that in the Curtis Report the matter was dealt will as follows:We have placed boarding out next because of the view expressed in nearly all quarters that it is on the whole the best method short of adoption of providing the child with a substitute for his own home1653 Clause 13 enables the local authority to do this, and one hopes that the local authorities will use their best efforts to put into effect the system of boarding out in as large a number of cases as possible. The third method is the provision of residential communities, and much has been said already on this subject. Power is given to local authorities to this end by Clause 15, and I agree as to the desirability of avoiding the larger homes and institutions and following the system which has been adopted in other directions of the family group system in smaller homes.
The fourth method which is indicated in the Bill is the method of assisted emigration. This was referred to by the hon. Member for Barking (Mr. Hastings), and two or three hon. Members have raised a point upon which I hope some answer may be forthcoming, because it raises doubts in many minds. The House will observe that under Clause 17 a local authority may assist emigration of the homeless or deprived child, subject to the consent of the Secretary of State, who shall not give his consent unless he is satisfied that emigration would benefit the child, that the parents or guardians have been consulted, or that it is not practicable to consult them, and that the child consents, or is too young to form or express a proper opinion. The doubt I feel is whether it is right, in the absence of parental consent and where the child is too young to form its own view, for it to be sent overseas as an emigrant. I hope this matter may be given further consideration, especially as I recall that in the report of the Curtis Committee there was no great enthusiasm demonstrated for such a system of assisted emigration.
Such are the methods suggested for helping in these cases, but I attach the greatest importance also to that part of the Bill which deals with after care. The provision of hostels has been explained, and the grants for training education appear to be wholly admirable. I feel impelled, however, to emphasise that time must elapse before many of the benefits we hope for from this Bill can become realities. We should indeed do a disservice if we put it out that all these benefits could be achieved immediately. No one suggests that is possible.
1654 Upon the administrative provisions, may I say that whereas we can plan in this House, it is the local authorities and the men and women who will be asked to operate these schemes who will be responsible for their success. We do right to acknowledge the responsible and in many ways difficult task which the local authorities and others will be asked to undertake. For instance, the selection of the children's committees and the children's officers obviously requires the most careful consideration.
One word about the voluntary organisations. I am glad that inherent in the Measure is an acknowledgment of the splendid work done by very many voluntary organisations. The Measure makes that quite plain. We observe that the Secretary of State may authorise grants and local authorities, too, may make grants to voluntary organisations. Most hon. Members have been at one time or another connected with or interested in some of these organisations, adoption councils, child welfare centres, Dr. Barnardo's Homes, and The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children. Incidentally the branch of that last organisation in my own constituency celebrated its 60th year of work only last week. There are many men and women, and one rejoices to know it, who are always to be found ready to give of their time and labour and resources for the causes of humanity. They do not ask for any reward or praise, but perhaps it is sometimes right that a word of gratitude to them should go out from this House.
§ 1.49 p.m.
§ Dr. Haden Guest (Islington, North)
It happens that the Second Reading of this Bill 'falls in a week which is particularly favourable for the consideration of any medical question, because the dispute with the British Medical Association has been resolved and the medical profession as a whole is now to co-operate in helping to build up a medical service. I say this because the few points I have to bring before the House are largely medical points. They were brought to the attention of the medical group of the House—a purely unofficial organisation, but one which contains Members of the House of Commons and of another place—which has practical relations with the British Medical Association. Yesterday we received a deputation from the British 1655 Medical Association consisting of a distinguished medical officer of health, a distinguished woman child, maternity and welfare officer from one of our great cities, and one other expert, who wished to draw our attention to certain matters in the Bill which we thought of such importance that I am now bringing them before the House.
In Clause 7, which deals with children in the control of the Ministry of Pensions, power is given to the Minister of Pensions to require—that the care of the child shall be transferred to him, and thereupon the child shall cease to be in the care of the local authority.In Clause 33, dealing with voluntary organisations, there is the question of inspection of places in which children are housed when the organisation is a voluntary organisation. My own experience for many years when an active doctor, was as a consultant medical officer to a county council, the school medical service and the clinics service, and I know this matter intimately. The feeling in the minds of medical officers is that in no circumstances must the power be taken from local authorities to go into premises, not only to see children, but actually to inspect the premises, and to see that they are in a proper condition. That may seem a simple point, but it is extremely important, and I very much hope that the Home Secretary will be able to give a satisfactory and categorical assurance that in no circumstances will local authorities be barred from making inspections of premises to see whether they are suitable for housing children.
I join with other hon. Members in welcoming this Bill. Like, every Bill, it only creates machinery which has to be worked. The Debate has shown quite clearly that there is unanimous good will in the House towards this Measure, and I am quite sure there is unanimous good will in the country as a whole. With that good will we should be able to make the Bill work very well indeed. What a child requires is not very elaborate institutions, nor very elaborate regulations, but, if possible, a home in which its mother looks after it and surrounds it with loving care and attention. That is the whole essence of looking after children.
1656 I would very much prefer to leave a child in a dirty home, if I were sure that the mother loved and cared for it, than to take it to the most satisfactory premises which any expert committee could devise. One cannot transmute human love and affection into spiritual vitamins and distribute them in capsules. I hope that when the committees and inspectors, and all those concerned in this administration, are working out their plans, they will keep constantly in mind the very simple ideal that what they have to get as near as possible is duplication of the conditions of the ordinary normal good home, with a loving mother in it.
§ 1.55 p.m.
§ Mr. Sidney Marshall (Sutton and Cheam)
After the welter of debates to which we have listened, not only on home affairs, but also those affecting other countries, it is pleasant to devote time to a Measure which will do so much for the children of our country. When first presented in another place, the Bill had many obvious blemishes, and one is gratified to be able to recall that in its passage through the other place it has been very considerably improved and many of the objections some of us had to the Bill as first presented have disappeared, although I cannot say that now it is a perfect Bill.
On the other hand, I think we mostly, agree that it contains so much that is good and so very little that might lead to a little rearrangement later on, that it is an entirely satisfactory Measure. It resolves a point which was in the minds of many of us when the Curtis Report was debated in the Debate on the Address in 1946, and subsequently; namely, which Minister would eventually be responsible for the administration of the then projected Measure. I say unblushingly that I was hopeful that Minister would be the Minister of Education. Arguments adduced that education authorities in the counties were already overworked did not bear much weight with me, because I am an administrator and I know very well that, however big the administration one has to administer, if it is properly departmentalised it can be thoroughly administered. Also, apart from administering education in my county for many years, I have had the pleasure of administering homes under the direction of the Home Office. Although it has been 1657 finally decided that the Home Secretary shall be the Minister responsible, and I am quite content that that shall be so, I still wish that it was the Minister of Education.
The hon. Member for North Bradford (Mrs. Nichol) expressed the opinion that it was not desirable that a deprived child—a horrible term, but we cannot find another—should be confined to the administration of one Minister, and that it would be better to have more than one Minister responsible. I do not think it would have the slightest effect on the child whether one or two Ministers were responsible. However, I am not going to quarrel with the fact that it has been resolved that the Home Office shall be the Ministry in charge. With that I am content, although I would like to rid my mind of a perhaps unfounded suspicion that if the present Home Secretary happened to be Minister of Education, the Bill might be a little different.
The great pleasure which I derive from the advent of this Bill is that the Poor Law child will disappear for ever. My mind has been exercised for many years over the number of children who have had to be brought up under the Poor Law, with the taint which inevitably has attached to them throughout life. One has experienced so much of it. Much as has been done t try to avoid it, the stigma, or whatever you like to call it, has remained all through life. If the poor child got into trouble later, one of the first facts to be brought out in evidence was that he was brought up in an institution. That in itself damned the boy, or girl, without any question.
In my own authority, I tried for several years to have the care and upbringing of children who came under public assistance transferred, within the framework of the law, to the education committee, but I regret to say that owing to the tenacity with which those concerned with public assistance held on to the children, no doubt with the very best possible intentions, I did not succeed. Therefore, I very much rejoice that today all that has gone by the board; that children will no longer have a public assistance taint, and will be able to take their place as citizens without any handicap arising through their having been brought up in an institution.
1658 The other point which many hon. Members have touched upon this morning, and on which a diversity of opinion has been disclosed, is the status and the constitution of the local committees which are to be charged with administering this Bill when it becomes an Act. I am convinced that Clause 40 was put into the Bill with very great care and forethought. I have had considerable experience now in dealing with children, the deprived child and those dealt with under Education Acts, and I am not at all convinced that a separate ad hoc committee is a necessity. I believe that a separate committee charged solely with the care of the deprived child is absolutely essential, and I believe, too, that a children's officer must be appointed.
I am indifferent whether the officer is a man or woman. For various reasons it might be more suitable work for women, but it is essential that the children's officer shall be a person well qualified and properly remunerated, and be given full responsibility and have freedom to act as she would desire in fully implementing the provisions of the Bill in regard to the work which it places upon her shoulders. It will be necessary to secure that there is an entirely separate staff charged with the administration of the work, and not a part-time staff. With that condition secured I think that it would not be so essential that it should be an entirely separate committee. It should freely work within the framework of the existing education committee, under the safeguards and with the provisions which the Bill provides, and which, I feel sure, an enlightened local authority would be only too desirous of putting into effect.
I deprecate the suggestion that Clause 40 should be regarded as an escape Clause. The word "escape" has in some ways a sinister meaning, and I do not like to think that anyone in this House would suggest that any local authority charged with administering this Bill would desire in any way to escape its responsibilities. It is a sinister word, and I think the meaning which has been placed upon it is an entirely wrong meaning. I am pleased indeed to think that the Secretary of State has allowed himself the opportunity to approve when he thinks that a sub-committee—it may be of the education committee—can satisfactorily carry out the functions of the 1659 Bill. I feel there need be no fear that the inclusion of Clause 40 will mean that the Measure will not be fully implemented as it is intended that it should be by this House. With that I leave the point of the committee.
I have made only a brief mention of the children's officer. Already there are 32 of these officers in the country. No doubt many authorities have been working under the joint letter which came from the Ministries many months ago, and have probably set up a very successful organisation working within the framework of the education committee itself. No doubt they are fully alive to the fact that the officer and the staff must be adequate for the responsible duties which have to be discharged. I am very glad to see from the Bill as it is now before us that, during its passage through another place, the regulations relating to the religious upbringing of the children have been very much improved. To my mind most people will now feel that in that respect the Bill is entirely satisfactory and that the provisions for religious instruction are entirely adequate.
The hon. Member for North-West Camberwell (Mrs. Corbet), who has had great experience with the authority on the other side of the river in work amongst children, mentioned particularly the question of costs and one item to which she referred was the foster home. This has been a source of considerable anxiety to authorities around London for some time, because difficulties have been created through one authority offering better terms than another. Some while ago, however, I am very glad to say that the central authority in London came together with the authorities in the home counties and agreed upon scales, so that one authority should not be competing against the other in the matter of payments made to foster parents.
I say very definitely that the scales for foster parents at the present time are really inadequate. Although we have improved them recently, we still do not pay enough money for the upkeep of children. The hon. Member for North-West Camberwell instanced the costs which are incurred by foster parents. It is anomalous because, although we limit the amount of money we pay the foster parents, we do not really limit in the same 1660 way the amount of money we spend in children's homes that are maintained by the local authorities. I hope that we shall be allowed wider latitude to pay foster parents more than we have hitherto done. Every speaker has stressed that the ideal way for a deprived child to be brought up is in a foster home. I do not think that anyone would differ from that, but I assure hon. Members that the great difficulty is to find the foster homes. I wish that some wave of public opinion could be started throughout the country whereby people, especially childless couples with homes, could be induced to open their doors to some of these children, and no doubt add very considerably to their own happiness.
The hon. Member for Barking (Mr. Hastings) has related some of his experiences with evacuated children. It was a great experience when so many people in the country opened their doors widely, especially to London children and children from the other dangerous areas, and to note with what delight they were able to record their experiences with those children. I am sure that if many people knew how much happiness they could get from taking in and acting as foster parents to one or more children—two is often preferable to one when there is no other child in the house—it would give great assistance to the local authorities which are charged with the duty of finding those homes. It is strange to think that the word "home," which means so much to most of us and has a very definite meaning, has an entirely different meaning when it is applied to a building in which there are perhaps two or three hundred children. The very word "home" is a misnomer in that case. If we cannot board these children out with foster parents, it is best to have them in small homes, with a foster mother. In that way we can provide the best possible conditions—conditions which are as near to those of real home life as possible.
I hope that those who will be implementing this Bill will, with their wider responsibilities, no longer have their eyes upon the barrack-like buildings of which we have heard. I hope that they have gone for ever, and that we shall find that the cottage home is the usual way of providing for these children. There are so many ways in which the domestic and home life of the children in these homes can be fostered and helped 1661 by many people outside the actual committee visiting these homes under the aegis of the committee, and taking an interest in individual children there. In that way they can do a great deal towards providing those home conditions which we all know so well, and which have been mentioned today.
A provision in the Bill which I warmly welcome, as I am sure most Members do, is that relating to after care. We shall now be able to look after, in a proper and substantial fashion, the boys and girls who have left our homes, not only until they reach the age of 18 but until they are 21. That is so often the period in which they really need material help that has not been forthcoming. By this Bill we shall be able to provide for that essential need, and be able to help those boys and girls to make their way in the world in a satisfactory fashion. It is known and recognised that these deprived children are the equal, intellectually and intelligently, of the other children in our schools. Many of them have reached positions of considerable eminence in some of the professions, and the provision made in this Bill for help to be given to those children when they have left school will be of material assistance to them, more particularly to the gifted children, in succeeding in adult life.
The hon. Lady the Member for North Bradford mentioned the question of some amendment of the law of adoption. If that could be done, and the difficulties which exist today in regard to the adoption of children could be decreased, it would be of great assistance to local authorities in finding homes for the children for whom they have become responsible.
I feel sure that the provisions of the Bill can be put into effect without undue delay, in spite of what my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Chester (Mr. Nield) said to the effect that there were so many provisions which could not speedily be put into operation. Having thoroughly examined the Bill, I am glad to think that, from the administrative point of view, most of the provisions can be implemented without undue delay, and the benefits of this Measure can be provided by authorities which are generously minded enough to do so and 1662 which have sufficient sense of their public duty and responsibility. The provisions of the Bill can be quickly brought into effect and can quickly prove most valuable.
§ 2.16 p.m.
§ Mr. Corlett (York)
It is a, great pleasure to share in the general congratulations to the Under-Secretary for the clear and lucid way in which he explained the provisions of the Bill. It was a pleasure, too, to hear the generous welcome which was given by the hon. and gallant Member opposite who followed him. I would like to congratulate the Home Secretary on introducing such a typically workmanlike Bill. We have come to associate this type of Bill with the Home Secretary. Like everyone else I welcome this Bill wholeheartedly. I am in complete agreement with most of its provisions, but I take strong exception to some of the administrative provisions. When we were discussing the Curtis Report in the House 18 months ago I said that I thought we had failed to deal with the deprived child because we had always put the handicap of the child first and the child itself second, thereby inevitably segregating the child, which is the one thing above all else we must seek to avoid. I said that the Curtis Committee had made the same mistake.
I think that this Bill makes the same mistake. It deals with the handicap of the child and, therefore, will segregate the child. It goes further and says that although it is the statutory duty of all education committees to accept full responsibility for all the children in their area— normal, subnormal, physically handicapped and mentally handicapped children—yet on no account shall they have any responsibility for deprived children, who come into every one of those categories. That seems to be segregation with a vengeance, and as I have said, segregation is to be avoided above all things. I believe that it can only be avoided by placing such children under the normal agency for dealing with all children both at the centre and in the localities. The normal agency is the Ministry of Education and the education committees. Unfortunately we are not to have that.
I welcome the proposal in the Bill that there shall be a single department to deal with all aspects of life of all deprived 1663 children. That is necessary, but like the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam (Mr. S. Marshall), I wish it had been the Ministry of Education. It seems obvious that the Ministry of Education should have that responsibility. However, I feel such complete confidence in the children's branch of the Home Office, particularly after its recent considerable strengthening on the educational side, that I am quite sure it will do the job sympathetically and efficiently. I think too, that it will have a genuine, personal interest, so that I am not unduly perturbed about the central department which secures the supervision of these children.
What I am perturbed about is the proposals made in regard to control in the localities, because I think the provision there runs counter to all modern progressive development. It is now 18 years since the Ministry of Health suggested to local authorities that they should consider the transferring of these deprived children from public assistance committees to the education committees. It was a very wise suggestion, and a number of authorities acted upon it. Even so recently as last year two such big and progressive authorities as Middlesex and Surrey, with the full knowledge of all the circumstances, handed over deprived children to the care of their education committees. This is the typical British way of achieving reforms. One authority pioneers the way and overcomes the difficulties, and later other more cautious authorities seeing what is happening, come into line and adopt the same methods.
It seems reasonable to assume that, in a few years' time, we should have had all these deprived children under the care of education committees. The Curtis Committee was quite familiar with this development and said that it was a step in the right direction. Now, suddenly, the position is altered. Authorities are to be told that they must not allow education committees to have the care of deprived children. They are even told that they must take this responsibility from those education committees who have it now. They are given no choice or alternative. They are merely told that a pattern has been set and that this new ad hoc committee must be given responsibility for the children. Education committees are not used to that kind of thing. They are 1664 rather shocked. They generally find that central Government Departments are prepared to discuss these matters with them and listen to what they have to say, and to have regard to local circumstances. In this case there is no such discussion. They are merely told that a rigid pattern is set and they must follow it.
It is very unfortunate that this should happen just at a time when local authorities are very restive about the curtailment of their powers, and very upset indeed about the encroachment upon their preserves by central Government Departments. Irrespective of the merits, or demerits, of this decision, the decision itself and the manner in which it has been made have given great offence to local authorities, and they resent it very much. I do not doubt that there are very good reasons why this decision has been made, and that those making it believe that they had good reasons for what they were doing. They say that an ad hoc committee would be the only type of committee which would have the necessary prestige and importance to do this work effectively. They also say that only such a committee would be free to devote their energies wholeheartedly to the work. They also believe that, by making the ad hoc committee a major committee of the council, reporting direct to the council, it will thereby be assured of prestige and importance. I venture to doubt every one of these assumptions.
I am not at all certain that the necessary prestige and importance will be given to this committee merely because it is an ad hoc committee. I am beginning to wonder whether it would have any prestige and importance at all, merely because it is an ad hoc committee. It will certainly report direct to the council, but it would be reasonable to assume that its report will appear rather low down on the agenda. I believe that it will receive just as much consideration, no more and no less, than the library committee, the museum committee or the allotment committee will receive. I cannot think of any reason why it should receive any more, and I cannot see why, merely because it is an ad hoc committee, it will therefore necessarily have prestige.
An ad hoc committee will be completely dependent on the goodwill of other departments, notably those of education and 1665 health, if it is to be effective. The Curtis Committee frankly admitted that. I hope that this goodwill will be readily forthcoming, but it may not always necessarily be forthcoming. Anyone with experience of local government work will think it a facile assumption that the services of one department are always readily at the disposal of another. There is such a thing as interdepartmental rivalry, not only at the circumference, but at the centre—as we have seen over which department should have the honour of introducing this Bill. Rivalry has been very pronounced there, and I cannot think of any reason why it should not be equally pronounced at the centre. If unfortunately that goodwill is not forthcoming then the deprived child will be deprived indeed.
I believe that this ad hoc committee is no solution at all. It merely shifts the problem, but it does not solve it, and we shall be making a great mistake if we think that it does. Like the hon. Member for North-West Camberwell (Mrs. Corbet), I would have much preferred that in the localities the responsibility had been given to a sub-committee of the education committee. Such a committee would include in its memebership as indeed it sometimes does today, members of the education committee, the maternity and child welfare committee, the health committee, and co-opted people with special knowledge of and interest in children. I am certain that such a committee would have had as much separate identity, importance and prestige as any ad hoc committee.
Our dilemma always is to secure a committee with separate identity and yet prevent segregation, for the more we have separate identities the more likely we are to have segregation. That dilemma has to be overcome. I believe it can only be overcome by handing over the responsibility for this work to a sub-committee of the education committee. Such a committee could secure for the deprived child automatically and as a right the whole range of the educational services. It would be one of the education committee family, part and parcel of the whole education service and the deprived child would receive just the same attention as all other children receive. I believe that such a committee alone can overcome this difficulty of separate identity. If the 1666 children's committee that is to be set up is not the right committee to secure all the education services for the child, then, indeed, we have failed. We are told that the childrens' officer is the linchpin.
I have always believed that the intimate and individual nature of this work of caring for deprived children would necessitate sooner or later the appointment of childrens' officers, but I have always assumed that that officer would be on the staff of the chief education officer. That appears to be a natural assumption. I always assumed that he would be an official of the education department, for the work of the education department is at least progressive, reformative and human. If the children's officer was a member of such a staff he would be in direct internal relationship with the whole of the education service. No officer outside the education department will have direct internal relationship in the same way; and just like the county librarian or the schools meals supervisor he would have special and individual responsibility, yet like them he would be able to call upon the services of the whole professional and advisory staffs with facility and with the sure knowledge that comes of close and intimate contact with the service. If we are to have a children's officer—and we must have one—I feel he must of necessity be a member of the staff of the education department. It is, I think, a mistake to place him under the clerk to the council. Clerks to councils are most worthy and competent people but, in the nature of things, they deal with legal niceties, correct procedure and strict compliance with standing orders, and they are not so much concerned with what might be called the human and social side of the work.
I suggest that the children's officer ought to be a member of the staff of the education office; but I am a voice crying in the wilderness. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Anybody else who cries is a voice crying in the wilderness too, because the decision has already been made in advance of legislation. The authorities have been told what they must do. They have been told that they must appoint these children's committees and children's officers. We have been told today that 1667 already 30 have been appointed. Therefore, we are voices crying in the wilderness and we shall be heard too late to affect the decision. I cannot help feeling that the approach in this Bill to the question of administration has been entirely emotional and idealistic rather than practical. I wonder whether my right hon. Friend would consider meeting one halfway or by giving to the education committees their own approved schools and remand homes? We all know that a number of authorities have their own approved schools and remand homes and we would have liked more authorities to have them. Before the war they were only required to meet any deficiency, and the deficiency was never very serious. But during and since the war they have done a wonderful job, as the children's branch have done, in finding and equipping houses and establishing them as approved schools and remand homes in conditions of great difficulty. My own authority and the West Riding authority have just provided two admirable remand homes in spite of great difficulties, and they do not like the idea of giving them up when they have just established them.
The Home Office would agree that most of these approved schools and remand homes belonging to local authorities are well run. The Curtis Committee had little fault to find with the approved schools. They are education institutions, and constantly they require advice and help from the specialists on the staff of the education departments. I wish to ask my right hon. Friend whether he will make it incumbent upon the children's committees that they shall delegate to the education committees their own approved schools and remand homes, giving the children's officer the right to visit those homes to deal with individual cases more. The other points which I wish to raise are details which perhaps could best be dealt with in Committee.
We ought to look again at the question of who is to be responsible for the records which are put before juvenile courts. In the past it has been the duty of the education department, but that right is to be taken from them. Who else can give this information better about the activities of the child in school and at home than the officers of the education department? They have done it until now. Is the 1668 children's officer to write to the chief education officer, who is then to write to the welfare officer, who will then visit the school; where then the welfare officer will receive the information, convey it to the chief education officer, who Will then inform the children's officer? That would seem to be an absurd way of dealing with the matter, especially when one remembers that the interval between the date of the charge and the trial is very small.
Another point concerns the visiting of the homes of parents in order to fill up the application forms for approved schools. Much detail is required and I can envisage double visitation, as a result of which parents will be annoyed. All sorts of information will be required from parents of children who are to go to approved schools. Parents will naturally resent giving that information first to an officer from the children's committee and then to an officer from the education department. In spite of my criticism of some of the administration proposals. I have to welcome the Bill. It is an important Bill and one which is urgently needed. Although I have been critical, I think that it will be agreed that my criticism has been constructive, and no one appreciates constructive criticism more than my right hon. Friend.
§ 2.36 p.m.
§ Mr. Lipson (Cheltenham)
I hope that the administration of this Bill will not be ruined by an inter-departmental war over the bodies of the deprived children. Personally, though I admit that the hon. Member for York (Mr. Corlett) made a very strong case for a vested interest in this matter, I am convinced that the decision to appoint an ad hoc committee is the right one. It is a right decision because a matter of this kind ought to be dealt with by a main committee of the council rather than by a sub-committee of any other body, however important it may be. For local authorities, this will be largely pioneer work. I want the officer who will be responsible under the main committee to have as much independence, freedom and opportunity of showing initiative as is possible. There will be much more opportunity if she or he—I think more often than not it will be she—is responsible to a main committee of the council and not to the education officer of a local authority.
1669 I speak as one who has been associated with two local authorities for many years. I know what happens to reports of subcommittees when meetings of the council take place. They do not occupy very much attention. The Gloucestershire County Council have already appointed a main committee to deal with the objects of this Bill. When we are told by the hon. Member for York that this committee will have no prestige, I would tell him who has taken the chairmanship of the committee. That position has been taken by the chairman of the county council himself, the busiest man in the local authority. The proceedings of this committee will receive far more publicity if it is a main committee of the council than they would ever receive if it were a subcommittee. This work requires publicity. It requires that public attention should be concentrated on it to ensure that full advantage is taken of the opportunities provided by this Bill.
My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary had a very enviable task today, and I should like to congratulate him on the way he rose to the occasion. I think it is a happy tradition that a Children Bill, when introduced by the Home Office, should always be introduced by the Under-Secretary. Two previous Under-Secretaries who have introduced Children Bills, have risen to eminence in the life of the nation, and we are quite sure that my hon. Friend, who is the third, will do as well as his predecessors have done.
I am glad that tribute has been paid to Lady Allen of Hurtwood, because this Bill originated in her letter to "The Times," and perhaps this is an occasion when we might pay tribute to "The Times." This is only one of many instances when either a letter or a leading article in "The Times" has been fruitful of some great reform in the national interest. I think the House of Commons might take this opportunity of recognising that "The Times," in its day, has rendered very great service in this way.
But neither Lady Allen of Hurtwood, "The Times" nor the Curtis Committee's Report could have produced this Bill unless there had existed in this country a very strong social conscience on this matter, and it was when the Curtis Committee was able to reveal the conditions which existed regarding deprived children that the social conscience of the people 1670 demanded that legislation should be introduced to put things right. Happy is the country which has a social conscience as strong as that, and it is, I believe, the great hope of those interested that this will not merely result in the passing of a Bill and placing it upon the Statute Book, but that that social conscience will watch the working of this Bill when it becomes law and ensure that it does actually provide for these deprived children what it is intended to do for them.
May I interpolate another comment? On an occasion when we in this House are introducing a Bill which will bring some increased measure of happiness and security to 125,000 of our own children, perhaps we can give a thought to the millions of children, said to be 400 million, in the world today who are short of food, medical supplies, and, in many instances, of homes, and also express the hope that they, too, may find, either through the United Nations or the actions of individual Governments, something of the happiness and security which we are trying to provide for our own children.
I should like to ask the Under-Secretary one question. Is it intended that these homes or institutions which will be run by the local authorities for these children shall be homes or institutions for children of both sexes? I think one of the unsatisfactory and tragic things that happens to deprived children today is the separation of brothers and sisters. We have boys' orphanages and girls' orphanages, and never the twain shall meet. It is bad enough for children to be separated from their parents, but it is doubly tragic that brothers and sisters are unnecessarily separated. I hope the Home Secretary will make it quite clear that it is the intention of the Government that these institutions—and we shall have to rely primarily on them—will be for both sexes, because, desirable as we all know it is to board children out, in practice it is becoming increasingly difficult to get foster-parents to do it. It can only be done satisfactorily by seeing that in these institutions brothers and sisters are not separated and placed in separate institutions.
The Bill, of course, provides only the framework. It will be the thousands of men and women who have to carry it out who will clothe it with everything that will make it worth while. I am confident that 1671 they will do a good job, knowing the men and women of the local authorities, and knowing also the officers who are likely to be responsible for carrying out the administration of this Bill. I am quite sure that they will be equal to the very great responsibility that will be placed upon them. A great deal, of course, will depend on the children's officers. They must be properly trained and have the required qualifications, but the human qualifications in a service like this are the most important of all. I hope that the appointing committees will have regard to these, and, in particular, to the qualities of imagination, of sympathy, of understanding and particularly of love.
We talk of these children as being deprived children, but what is really behind those words? It means that they have gone without all those things which we who have happy memories of our own childhood can remember and which we try to give to our own children. We know what a difference it can make to the whole of a child's career if its childhood has been happy or unhappy. Let us also remember that these children are particularly sensitive. They know they are different from other children and they know that they have missed something. There may be no physical scars, but there are mental scars and scars on the soul which we have to try to remove, in order to make the children believe that they are wanted in the community.
I do not see why these children, even if dealt with by one Department or another, should have to suffer from segregation. I do not believe that any local educational authority will say that these children cannot have the benefit of all its services. I ask that everybody should co-operate to make this Measure a success, and I also express the prayer that God will speed its purpose.
§ 2.48 p.m.
§ Mrs. Jean Mann (Coatbridge)
I join with others in welcoming this Bill, and will try to get my criticisms over quickly. In Clause 7 of the Bill there is a reference to transfer to the Ministry of Pensions when a child is in the care of a local authority, and Subsection (1) states that the Minister of Pensionsmay at any time require that the care of the child shall be transferred to him, and thereupon the child shall cease to he in the care of the local authority1672 I link that up with Clause 17, and I confess that it strikes a cold chill in me when I read, on emigration, that the Secretary of State shall not give his consent unless he is satisfied that the child is too young to form or to express a proper opinion on the matter. It is very difficult to legislate for human happiness. We can try to create conditions, but I think it is almost impossible to legislate for happiness in children. It is a case where we must "gang very warily."
The hon. Member for Cheltenham (Mr. Lipson) made a plea for keeping families together. I have done a great deal of visiting throughout Scotland and I have gathered a great deal of experience in this direction. I emphasise the need for trying to keep the children together. That is the only raft in a shipwreck that these youngsters have. I have seen a case where the father died and then the mother died and there were four children. They were sent to the care of the observation wards in Glasgow, and whilst there they went to school. I have seen the children in the school playground at 11 o'clock make one rush towards each other, and the eldest girl, aged 11, like a hen gathering her chickens under her wing, gathered her little brothers and sisters. That was all that was left of their home. Who would be prepared to break it up? It was so lovely to visit the children when the four were together.
I ask the Front Bench to consider this example: I with two officials visited a home—and may I say that the 3,000 very successful homes are not all in Glasgow? I do not want that impression to be created, because the finding of a home is a very important matter, and we find a great many of them in the crofts in the Highlands, where the grown-up family have gone to the town and the mother is left; or perhaps an old spinster sister is left—and often she makes the best mother in the land, the woman who has never had a child of her own and whose pent-up love and affection finds an outlet in the care of deprived children coming from our towns. I think that this is the case which will dwell with me always: a home where a spinster woman was looking after four children, aged three, five, seven and nine years—all unable to express an opinion as to whether they would like to emigrate or not. When I was in the home I asked if we could see 1673 the children, and someone sent out for them. The children came rushing in. The three-year-old sat on the knee of the foster parent, the five-year-old clutched her hair, and the seven-year-old and the nine-year-old got hold of an arm each. We knew by the look of the children that the relationship was good, and we did not poke any more into that.
I do not know whether it is right to say that men or women are most suited for this job. I think that there is much to be said on both sides. I know that, as I was leaving, this woman came after me, pulled me back and said, "Will you see to it, Mrs. Mann, that under no circumstances do these children go back to their mother, because it will break my heart?" The mother had no interest in them whatever. Is it possible that an order will go forward that tender children like this are to be uprooted from a home where they have found that pearl above price, affection and love, and sent away to other countries? I certainly hope not.
I agree with the hon. Member for Barking (Mr. Hastings) who talked of the time that all children know—the time when the child wants to become an engine driver or later decides that he is going to be a sailor. I have had that in my own family, and I have had to counter it. When a boy is going away to sea, usually between the age of 13 and 14, that might be a very good time to suggest emigration, but not in the young tender years.
I would like to back up the hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Carmichael) in his remark that the whole success of this scheme lies in finding suitable homes. Do not let us have too many regulations, too many "dont's" and too many "musts." I wonder whether, if officials accompanied by local authority people like myself had found little Effie emerging from the coal hole in Silas Marner's house, they would have condemned Silas Marner's house? I contrast it with the first house I mentioned. Everything was polished to perfection. It would suit those who have gone through the London School of Economics and the various universities. They would have been delighted at the silver on the sideboard, the beautiful gleaming polished woodwork, the floors on which we nearly slid over when we entered. The children 1674 were called and they stood by this ex-school teacher—I am casting no reflection on school teachers, but she was a grand disciplinarian who would have commended herself to hundreds and thousands of officials. The children stood at her side, and when we asked them questions, they said, "Yes, Ma'am; No, Ma'am." I had a very nasty duty to perform. I had to tell the eldest of the three children that his father had died that week in a Glasgow hospital, and there would be no home for them to go back to. How was I to tell them, surrounded by this discipline and this polished perfection? I argued with myself how I could approach the boy. Eventually, I took him into the garden, and I said, "David, I have some very bad news for you." He said, "I know what it is. Father has died." I said, "How did you know?" He said, "I have known it all the week. I have felt it inside me all the week."
I went to the school to see the school teacher to find out whether the children were happy, and she said, "They attend very regularly, but she will not let David play shinty." That was the type of home that would be found suitable by any number of officials. I thought that it was thoroughly unsuitable. It was so tidy; there was not a Dick Barton story lying about or a gramophone record or anything to upset its beautiful equilibrium. It was thoroughly unsuited for three heartbroken children who were needing love and affection. We were able to transfer them, before we left that district, to another home where there was a baby of six months being brought up. We took the three children to that home. It was an untidy home. There were gramophone records lying about, there were books, and there were signs of meals being cooked and meals being cleared away. We thought that the young child of six months would be something to take the attention of the three away from their own condition, because the youngster was also an orphan child. I plead that in administering this Measure we do not insist on a very high standard. I was rebuked once by a minor official, who told me to say nothing about a particular home which was untidy, but in which the woman would take children, even if they had skin trouble, when every one else had refused. She had a knack of making the children happy.
1675 I give the Bill my best wishes, well knowing the difficulties of administering such a Measure. Whether the officers appointed are men or women, or whether the homes are to be of a high or a medium standard, I hope that the great deciding factor will be love and affection for children whose lives have been robbed of these enjoyments.
§ 3.2 p.m.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Sir Thomas Moore (Ayr Burghs)
This Debate reminds me of a plea by the late Mr. Ramsay MacDonald in 1929, when he hoped that the House of Commons as then constituted would 10solve itself into a Council of State; he was disappointed. It is an occasion such as this, however, when a Bill is presented which arouses no political controversy, creates no class prejudice and makes no difference between one child and another, that brings all that is best out of the House of Commons and makes the event an historical occasion—one which is not sufficiently often repeated.
Before commenting on the Bill—I have little or no criticism to make—I would like to join other hon. Members in paying tribute to the report on which the Measure is based, and especially to its authors. Miss Curtis and Mr. Clyde have carried out their tasks with a wisdom, humanity and understanding beyond praise. The Home Secretary, the Home Office and the Secretary of State for Scotland have interpreted the report—and also the public conscience on the subject—with great competence. I hope that I have paid adequate tribute to those who are responsible for this great step forward. I am reminded of its complementary Measure, the Criminal Justice Bill, on which I spent many interesting hours. The present Bill is in one respect complementary to it; yet, if it is properly and sympathetically administered, large sections of the Criminal Justice Bill may never be needed.
Most of us in this House—and, indeed, many thinking people throughout the country—have been worried and unhappy during the past few years at the growth of juvenile crime, youthful hooliganism and a sort of general irresponsibility. It is not the fault of the children nor, indeed, of their parents; it is the fault of circumstances for which neither are responsible. It is sometimes despairing to read of 1676 certain cases from Glasgow or elsewhere, but if we read of other countries we are proportionately relieved and quite proud of the situation here. We can remember what happened after the first world war in Russia and know what is happening today in Germany, where hordes of homeless and lawless children are roaming the streets and living on crime. That situation does not exist here.
The reason why such a situation does not exist here is the high standard of the mothers of this country, about some of whom we are being critical. This country owes a great deal to the mothers, in their homes at all levels, who, against every kind of physical and moral difficulty, bring up their children in cleanliness and self-respect. I recall the case the other day of a nice open-faced young woman of about 32 or 33 who came to see me with her three children who all looked as though they had been just turned out of a band box. She was a nice, kindly, friendly person, but I found on subsequent conversation with her that she and her three children were living in a room and kitchen with 11 others. It shows the character of a woman that she can produce this lovely little band of children out of a home like that. Therefore, whatever criticism we may make of some of the mothers whose children we are discussing, let us remember that the vast majority of mothers are fine, grand women to whom we owe a great debt.
I now have a few criticisms to make. I am a bit doubtful of the propriety of placing so large a responsibility with the Secretary of State and the local authorities. I admit that they will have their advisory councils, children's committees and children's officers. I do wish that the children's officer had been called the children's friend officer had been called the children's friend. We keep getting too many titles and names with which we are so familiar in Government Departments, such as institutions, centres and heaven knows what. It seems to me that if we could devise phraseology and names which represent the spirit of home to the children who are deprived of their home, we should be going a long way towards providing the background and atmosphere in which their future may happily develop. With the best will in the world, there is something about a local authority which is cold and impersonal—
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes
I think that that is a reflection on the local authority of Ayrshire. I have served on that local authority.
§ Sir T. Moore
The hon. Member is deliberately misunderstanding me. I said that there is something cold and impersonal about local authorities or a State Department in the minds of the people and especially of the children.
I make the plea therefore that far greater confidence should be placed in the voluntary organisations and societies. I hope that the local authorities responsible for administering this Bill will place their faith in these great voluntary bodies. I am a great believer in voluntary organisations and societies, because they are composed almost entirely of people whose heart, soul and mind are in the job, whereas, whether we like it or not, local authorities have to do the job with paid officials who may or may not have the character, sympathy, understanding and humanity which are necessary to carry it out efficiently. I am particularly glad that visits by members of the family and especially by the mothers are being encouraged and paid for before children are adopted. It is sometimes forgotten that many a mother has failed in her job not because of lack of love or duty, but through sheer physical exhaustion and ill-health. Therefore, the longer and the more a mother can be kept in touch with her child, so much better is the hope for the rebuilding of the home and for the future of the child.
When legal adoption takes place then, I think, all contacts should be broken. If any strings are left tied the position of the adopting parents and the child itself becomes very difficult. There is a great field at the moment for adoption, especially as many illegitimate associations were, contracted during the war. But adoption is also open to abuse. It is within my knowledge that doctors have recommended that a child should be sent to totally unsuitable parents, not for the sake of the child but for the sake of a hysterical patient. They have said, "A child would be the making of you." They do not think of the unhappy child they 1678 are sending to the totally unsuitable foster-mother, who may be an elderly woman with no maternal instincts at all and no real feeling for the child. The Home Secretary has promised to review legislation in connection with adoption societies. I would ask him to bear that in mind, and also to remember that the work of these societies must be placed on a reliable and trustworthy basis.
Finally, may I say how glad I am that the capital expenditure which will be in volved in carrying out the proposals of this Bill will not be very great? Unfortunately, it will be a very long time before all the provisions of the Criminal Justice Bill, particularly those relating to the setting up of remand centres, will be carried out, because of the lack of money. In this Bill little expenditure is involved. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Cheltenham (Mr. Lipson), I wish the Bill Godspeed, and hope that there will be no unnecessary delay in putting it into operation.
§ 3.17 p.m.
§ Mr. Anthony Greenwood (Heywood and Radcliffe)
I am sure it will be generally regretted that the Second Reading of this Bill, like the Third Reading of the National Assistance Bill recently, should have to take place on a Friday, when the size of the House is far from commensurate with the importance of the subject, and many Members are denied the advantage of listening to such human and well-informed speeches as the one we have just listened to from the hon. and gallant Member for Ayr Burghs (Sir T. Moore), and others who have spoken in this Debate. At the same time, I am sure that all absent Members would wish to join in the tributes which have been paid today. I hope that the House will forgive me if I add my personal tribute to Sir Walter Monckton for his report on the case of the O'Neill boys. I was working closely with Sir Waiter at that time, and I know the great care and industry which he devoted to that distressing case in his determination to bring the true facts of the situation to light.
I do not think this is a perfect Bill, if indeed a perfect Bill is ever introduced, but it goes a good deal further towards perfection than many Bills would have done. I find myself in some difficulty, like a thorn between two roses, in relation to the points of view of my hon. 1679 Friend the Member for North-West Camberwell (Mrs. Corbet) and my hon. Friend the Member for North Bradford (Mrs. Nichol), who urged the claims of the Ministry of Education and the Home Office respectively. I also have great sympathy with the hon. and gallant Member for Horncastle (Commander Maitland), who drew attention to the fact that there were three Bills before the House dealing with various aspects of child care all coming under different Ministries. The hon. and gallant Member might have added another—the Bill to deal with day nurseries and baby minders, introduced yesterday by the Minister of Health. I also feel sympathy with my hon. Friend the Member for York (Mr. Corlett), who put forward a plea on behalf of the education authorities, but I believe the solution to our difficulties is that put forward by the hon. Member for Cheltenham (Mr. Lipson). It is not so much a matter of getting a perfect administrative machine; what will count is the spirit behind that machine, and the way in which the machine is operated.
We have had distressing cases in Lancashire lately involving the care of young children. I have seen a mentally deficient child of 10 in the aged infirm ward at a public institution in an atmosphere described later by a member of the guardians committee as being like that of a tap-room. The best that could be said by a member of that committee was that the child could hardly look out of the window without seeing grass and that on one occasion he had been taken on a trip to the seaside. I know the difficulties today through the lack of premises and trained personnel, but what we have to realise is that local authorities responsible for this work will be able to continue during the next five years to advance those reasons why things are not being done. I emphasise that it is not only a question of premises and of Acts of Parliament. What matters is the spirit with which the local authorities tackle the work.
I have in my hand a report which was placed before the public assistance committee of the Lancashire County Council last month as a result of an investigation made a few weeks earlier by inspectors of the Home Office and the Ministry of Health, and this is more than 18 months 1680 after the Curtis Report was presented to the Home Secretary. It concerns a children's home attached to a public assistance institution and coming under the matron of that institution. It reports that the Secretary of State is concerned about the very unsatisfactory conditions under which the children are living, particularly as regards premises and standards of child care. It uses these words:The premises are considered to be totally unsuited for the purpose for which they are used in that they are cold and depressing in appearance, the play accommodation is seriously inadequate, and the sanitary and washing facilities deplorable.It also says that the only recreational facilities for these young children are paved yards which were seen to be in a dilapidated condition.
The report discusses the question of staff. We find that apart from the matron, the senior staff consists of six nursery assistants, all of them untrained and, in the words of the report, without "understanding of children's essential needs." When the inspectors visited this home, they found two toddlers sitting unattended on pots in the toddlers' bathroom, naked from the waist in a room described as icy cold. The towels in the toddlers' bathroom were unmarked, there were no flannels, and the babies' bed jackets were kept in the bathroom with damp towels. The report says that the children were very cold and it was clear that although they were clean and well nourished, they appeared inanimate and retarded. The report also says:The children's playroom——the only playroom these unfortunate children had——contains a press and two tables which take up the whole of the space. There was no other furniture or decoration in this room. This room is the children's only home.' The children are said to play games in it but it is difficult to see how recreation is possible in such circumstances.Although this was a home for children who were supposed to stay only a few months, one boy had been there since 1937. In conclusion, I would quote:The reasons for the children's admission appeared to be unknown to the staff, who were completely ignorant of their ultimate disposal. The staff appeared to regard them rather as 'ships that pass in the night' than as growing personalities needing affection and individual care.What could be worse than that in 1948, 18 months after the Curtis Report which 1681 astounded this country and aroused the conscience of the people of Britain, it should still be possible for children to be cared for in a home in this way in the County of Lancashire with the people in charge not knowing where they came from and where they were going? If this scheme is to work as it must work, we must introduce into the administration of the system the love, affection, care and human sympathy to which all sides of the House have subscribed this afternoon.
§ 3.20 p.m.
§ Mrs. Leah Manning (Epping)
I should like first to offer my felicitations to my right lion. Friend for having been able to bring this Bill to the Despatch Box, though I do not say that with very much good will. He reminds me a little of a man who, all his professional and political life, has had the care of children and then, being moved to the higher realms of the Home Office, feels himself to be rather like a deprived father. However, he has secured his children and I shall not deny him the paternity of them. I hope he will do his very best, as indeed I am sure he will.
Speaking so late in the afternoon, I shall not criticise, as I had intended to do, the administrative parts of the Bill. This has been admirably done already by my hon. Friends the Members for North-West Camberwell (Mrs. Corbet) and York (Mr. Corlett). Anything I could say now would be superogatory. Everything possible has been said against this dichotomy in the local authority, but I want to repeat one thing which has not been stressed enough, that there are many rivalries inside our local authority offices; the children may suffer. When we first set up our war-time nurseries, nobody was more disappointed than I was at the struggle between the education authorities and the maternity and child welfare authorities. My hon. Friend who worked with me at that time knows the difficulties we had as a result in getting war-time nurseries set up.
I am afraid that with these children the same thing may occur, although I hope it will not. I would not go so far as to suggest that the education authorities would deprive the children of anything simply because they do not come under their direct control. Indeed this Bill gives the education authorities the opportunity 1682 of giving the children complete training. I remember with what pleasure I first saw these boys and girls, often then called Poor Law children, come under the education committees. It was good to see those boys and girls coming from the workhouses into our own schools. This is one of the parts of the Bill I like best, because it gives a great opportunity to our local education authorities to treat these children as if they came from ordinary, normal homes and to see that boys and girls with ability go right on and get training up to the university stage.
I welcome that, and I welcome Clause 19 particularly, because it gives these girls and boys a home in a hostel after they have left school. One of the hardest things for a child who has not had a home during childhood is that it does not have one in adolescence, and it often happens that in adolescence children who have been boarded out wander off and have no one to whom they can turn. Also, many of these boys and girls, under the Education Act, will be at school at least part-time. They will need a home.
There are two other points I particularly want to mention. The first has already been touched upon but not with much sympathy—,by the other members—the question of emigration. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Barking (Mr. Hastings) that it would be quite wrong to allow a child to be sent out of the country if it were too young to come to any decision on that point. I would, however, make an exception of a child boarded out in a family, where it was happy, if the family emigrated. However young the child might be, it should go with the family with whom it was happily boarded out. I take a different view from other hon. Members who have spoken about the emigration of older children. One hon. Member said that often we do not know what these children feel in their own hearts about their deprivation. It may be that they are much more sensitive to the fact that they are different from other children than we realise, even when they seem quite happy, and that they know there is something which makes them different.
For these children, particularly, emigration, and a new start in another part of our great family of the Commonwealth, is a very good thing. I thought of these children a lot during the two days' 1683 Debate on foreign affairs, and I often think of them when questions are raised about the Commonwealth. People say that we do not want to send the best of our young people to the Commonwealth and find this country peopled by displaced persons, from the Continent, but how wrong is that view. We should send out some of our best boys and girls, trained in professions and good trades, to whom the opportunity of a new life in the new world will give them stability. They will be able to put behind them things that hurt them if they are of a sensitive nature, and can start with as good a standing as anyone in the community. It does not worry me if our best people go to other parts of our great family. I am the only one of my own generation, and nearly the only one for two generations in my family who is left in this country. The rest of the family are to be found in every part of the Commonwealth and I am proud of it.
It is a good thing to take people from Europe. Here we can be a kind of refinery, which will turn those people into good democrats. That is the glory of our nation; it is what makes us strong. The boys and girls of whom we are talking should be encouraged to emigrate, but I want them to be well trained, and to be the best of the deprived boys and girls—those suitable for good craft training and university training. For them, I believe emigration will be a splendid thing.
It is a sad thing for a child to be deprived of its home; it is a sad thing for a child to be deprived of parents, but it is also a very sad thing for the parents. I am sorry there is nothing in the Bill which will link up the further educational work of the Ministry of Education with parents some of whom are not bad at heart. They are just stupid. An old charwoman of mine used to call them "slummocks"— a very picturesque word which exactly describes these people. They are not always bad people, nor always cruel, but they let their children become verminous and neglected because they do not know how to take care of them. It would be a fine thing if we could redeem such parents. Then there would not be so many deprived children.
My right hon. Friend ought to co-operate with the Minister of Education to see whether there is not some way by which this can be done under the 1684 provisions of the Education Act. The work could begin with girls who stay at school whole or part time until they are 18. Let us try to redeem these mothers and show them how a home can be run and a family brought up. If children have to be taken away from them for a time, do not let it be for always. The best redemption for a mother is that she should have her child with her. Although this is a Bill dealing with deprived children, we must also see whether we can do something for the mothers who are deprived for a time, and give these mothers a chance of bringing up their children. I give the Bill a very warm welcome.
§ 3.30 p.m.
§ The Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Thomas Fraser)
The House has clearly been at its best today. I do not know when I have enjoyed a Debate in this House so much. Each hon. Member in turn has spoken with very great knowledge of the subject under discussion, and my hon. Friend introduced the Bill this afternoon with what has been recognised on all sides of the House as a very concise statement of its purpose. In the past we in this country have made great provision for most of the children with whom the Bill is concerned, and if we were to examine what has been done here in comparison with what has been done in other countries it would be found that we have not been at all lacking.
However, we want to go very much further; we are not satisfied with things as they are, and it looks as though this Bill may very well take us to about the end of the road. It would seem to me that if the provisions of this Bill are fully implemented we shall have gone about as near as possible to giving equal opportunities to the otherwise deprived child as are available to the ordinary child who has the good fortune to remain in the hands of, and under the care of, good and careful parents. We are, after all, dealing with a very small proportion of the young population of this country. I should estimate, from the figures given by my hon. Friend in opening the Debate, that we are discussing here just over one per cent. of our child population.
§ Mr. Fraser
I was not trying to play down the need for the Measure in any way, but was merely indicating that it is a very great credit to the House that it should have discussed at so high a level, and have shown so keen an interest in, a Measure which deals with only something over one per cent. of the child population of the country.
Some hon. Members, including my hon. Friend the Member for Epping (Mrs. Manning) and my hon. Friend the Member for Barking (Mr. Hastings), have said that we ought to do rather more Clan provide this treatment for the deprived child, that we ought to take preventive measures; in short, that we ought to deal with the parents, if possible, before they are indifferent and before neglect has gone so far as to require the child to be taken under the care of the local authority. We appreciate that there is great weight in what both my hon. Friends have said in regard to that matter. Of course, if we could have provided in this Bill for some such measures as they contemplate—a little vaguely, I think they would concede—to deal with the parents, perhaps we should have done it; but I do not think that this Children Bill is the proper instrument. We had better remember, when we set about dealing with parents who have not yet become so indifferent as to come under public notice, that there will be very considerable resentment. I Mould think that there is no freedom that would be more stoutly defended than the freedom to be indifferent about the bringing up of one's children. It is a very regrettable thing, but nevertheless I think it is true.
The question we must ask ourselves at the moment is, do we go far enough in the provisions in this Bill? We have very largely accepted the recommendations of the two committees, which have been commented upon today, but the question is, have we gone far enough, or have we gone too far? Is the State interfering too much with the responsibilities of local authorities or the voluntary organisations? First of all we propose, as was recommended by both the committees, to put the whole of this work under one Department of State. Giving consideration to these recommendations, the Government came to the decision that the Department of State to be made responsible should be the Home Office. In Scotland the Secretary of State would have been responsible 1686 in any case, as the Health, Education and Home Departments in Scotland all come under the Secretary of State. He will assign the responsibility under this Bill, when it becomes an Act, to the Home Department.
Some of my hon. Friends have discussed the desirability of the responsibility being imposed upon the Ministry of Education. My hon. Friend the Member for York (Mr. Corlett) thought it was not altogether necessary. He was not sure that it was desirable to have the responsibility concentrated in one Department at all. I think that the view of the House is that one Department of State must be made responsible, and that there was confusion, over-lapping and some sacrifice of the necessary attention resulting from the provisions that have obtained hitherto. I think it is appropriate that it should he the Home Department. Some hon. Members, who may be described as educationists, have seen the force of making these children the responsibility of the Minister of Education. I have no doubt that some hon. Members who are medical men would see the force of making the Minister of Health responsible. It has been said today, by those who are not in favour of the Home Department being the responsible authority, that other Departments will be shut out. I cannot understand that at all. Surely the Ministry of Education will continue to be responsible for providing education and the Ministry of Health for providing certain services.
§ Mr. Fraser
Here we have a Ministry that is given the job of providing that the correct treatment will be given to a child to compensate it for the loss of the normal home life. That is something which does not inevitably fall within the sphere of the Ministry of Education or the Ministry of Health. For the most part the child will be boarded out and live with foster-parents.
I should have thought that there is a great advantage in not making the responsibility that of the Ministry of Education or the education committees, in as much as if the child, when it reaches the age of 15, 16 or even 17 and is still at school, receives some advice from the schoolmaster or the director of education as to where it shall go from there, there would, 1687 if the child were under the Ministry of Education and the education committee, probably be no thought of challenging any such advice that was given. But if the children's officer does not accept the advice that the child or the adolescent has brought home from school as to whether he should go forward to a university and have an academic education, or go to a technical school, or leave school and go to work, and the officer has a view about the matter, it seems appropriate that he should report that view to the children's committee and, having made the necessary representation to the children's committee—
§ Sir P. Hannon
I do not think anyone is challenging the correctness of the Home Office taking responsibility.
§ Mr. Fraser
Oh, yes. Several hon. Members challenged the desirability of putting this matter under the Home Office. In any case, we are firm in our belief that the Home Office should have this responsibility.
My hon. Friend the Member for York thought that we ought not to have a children's committee, that the work should be done by a sub-committee of the education committee. On the other hand, Members on both sides of the House have taken the view that it should definitely be done by a children's committee, and they were very worried at what they described as the "get out" provisions of the Bill. We hope, indeed we anticipate, that there will be children's committees in all local authority areas. We have provided for the waiving of the responsibility of the duty to appoint a committee in special circumstances because we hive to learn by experience. We appreciate that there are areas—I can think of counties in Scotland with a population of perhaps 14,000 scattered over a wide area—where there are not likely to be many such children to be cared for in this way, and it might seem to be an unnecessary duplication for the local authority to have a special committee. I am not now telling such local authorities that they need not appoint such a committee; they will have to give a good reason for not doing so. But it is not a bad thing at this stage, when bringing forward far-reaching proposals, that there should be an opening for the Secretary of State, if he is so 1688 minded, to waive the duty imposed on the local authority to appoint a children's committee.
There will, however, in all cases be a children's officer. The Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department has indicated that in England and Wales they have anticipated the provisions of the Bill and have already made some appointments. We have not gone so far in Scotland. We were severely rapped over the knuckles for anticipating the Fire Services Act some time ago, and we thought we had better not risk being further rapped over the knuckles, so we have not anticipated the provisions of this Bill. The hon. and gallant Member for Pollok (Commander Galbraith) urged us to see that the children's officer got out into the field and was not given too much paper work and office work to do. I give the hon. and gallant Member the assurance that that is what we intend—that the children's officer shall work in the field, and that the local authority shall provide the necessary staff to do any bulk office work which will fall within his sphere.
§ Mr. Carmichael
Will not the children's officer be required to make representations and reports? Will he not be required to prepare necessary reports and statistics for his committee, and also to make reports to the Secretary of State for Scotland? Can he delegate work of that kind to people in an office?
§ Mr. Fraser
I should think that all the duties mentioned by the hon. Gentleman would be covered in the field work referred to by the hon. and gallant Gentleman. He wanted to be assured that the person would not sit upon the office stool all day but that he would get out. Local authorities which have homes for the treatment of these young people will have to satisfy themselves that they are properly run. No doubt they will also pay visits to the homes run by voluntary organisations. We all wish to see such officers out and about as much as possible seeing the result of their work and the work of the children's committees in implementation of this Bill. Both the committees recommended these things. Both recommended that the best way of providing for children who are denied a normal home life was to get them placed under the care of foster 1689 parents. We have accepted that recommendation and it is contained in this Measure. Clearly it is a fact that if we can get good foster parents, that is the best possible way of providing for young people who are denied a normal home life.
However, we must not pour too much scorn upon the homes or institutions. I have taken the trouble to visit many homes and institutions and I have also seen a fair number of foster parents' houses. I would not say that every foster parent was better than every institution that I have seen. Some of the smaller homes and institutions have 30 to 40 children living in them, with a satisfactory matron in charge and a suitable staff, and I can think of no better treatment than that for the child except a borne in which he or she would be treated as a member of the family.
§ Mr. Fraser
That is the very best thing. But if he is treated as something different from the other members of the family, if he is not given the same freedom and it he is made to do duties which the others normally would not be asked to do, then he is probably being less well treated than if he were in the very best kind of home. The Government agree that it is better that the homes should not be too big. I have seen some of the biggest homes. Frankly, I have been more than a little over-awed by some of the big homes. Where children are treated in homes or institutions, it is highly desirable that they should be educated in the ordinary education authority schools outside. Where the children are concentrated in the very big homes that is impossible. Where there are two or three hundred young people gathered together in one big home, whether it be a local authority or a voluntary institution, it is impossible for the children to be educated in the village school. They would completely swamp the school. In those circumstances, we have found generally that the education for the children has been provided in the homes. That is not a good thing. I sincerely hope that in the not too distant future we shall be able to provide for the education of the children in ordinary education authority schools outside the institutions.
1690 I was pressed to say something about the cottages belonging to Dr. Barnardo's Homes which were requisitioned during the war. I was asked to give an assurance that they would be derequisitioned at an early date. The position is that the cottages were requisitioned by the Ministry of Health and were used as flats. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary was not unimpressed by the representations made today, and he asks me to give an assurance that he will consider the matter sympathetically.
Tribute has already been paid to the voluntary organisations for the great work they have already done, and I would merely add my own tribute to them and say that it is very right that we should provide in the Bill that local authorities, where they see fit, may make the fullest use of the voluntary organisations in implementing the provisions of this Bill. I was asked whether the voluntary homes would be adequately supervised. I think that is already covered in the Bill. They have now to be registered, and if they do not come up to the high standard which we hope to see reached by the local authorities in their institutions, the power lies with the Secretary of State to withdraw the registration.
One of the features of the Bill which has not been touched upon very much, to my surprise, is the fact that the local authorities are now having the duty imposed upon them to keep these children under care up to 18 years of age. That was a recommendation of the Clyde Committee; the Curtis Committee recommended it only up to 16 years of age.
§ Mrs. Nichol
I think they would have liked to make it i8 years of age, but 16 was as much as they hoped for.
§ Mr. Fraser
I myself have very considerable national satisfaction in that it was a Scottish Committee that recommended the age of 18. That is a great step forward, and the Bill provides that the local authorities may give assistance to young people beyond the age of 18 in order to keep them at school. That is a big advance, and I was a little surprised that more was not said about it in the discussion today. It is important and worthy of notice that we are providing in the Bill that local authorities may keep young people of promise at school until they can go to a secondary school, and, if they show reasonable 1691 promise of profiting by it, they may be sent on to the university and be given an allowance. It seems to me that we are providing in this Measure that these young people will be given equal opportunities to those enjoyed by the ordinary young people of this country.
One minor change which is made in Scotland which is not a change in England is the provision that local authorities may assume parental rights by resolution under the provisions of Clause 2. English local authorities have had that power hitherto, but it is a new thing in Scotland. Hon. Members have also discussed the question of emigration at some length, and several have asked for an assurance as to the care of the young people when they went overseas. I do not know that I should say much about that at this stage; no doubt, there will be discussions in Committee. The Home Secretary or the Secretary of State for Scotland would wish to be assured, however, that proper care was to be taken of the young people after they went overseas before they would permit the emigration of the children. They would want to know that it was in the interests of the young persons to go, and, if they were satisfied on that, they would also want to be assured that the young people would be cared for if they went to the Dominions. I believe that in the Dominions there are committees whose job it is to take care of deprived children in the same way as we do in this country. We have also the High Commissioners who would no doubt do a useful job in that regard.
§ Mt. Wilson Harris
Does the hon. Gentleman not think that there is some need for more comprehensive and exhaustive discussion with the countries of reception as to the steps that can be assured? Is he satisfied that the Governments over there are taking steps that we would desire them to take? Is it not worth discussing this matter with them?
§ Mr. Fraser
I think that they are willing to play their part, and there have been discussions with them in the past. I think that the whole matter is pretty well tied up at the present time, but, as I have indicated, it is a matter that will be further ventilated during the Committee stage of the Bill, and I do not think that I need say anything more about it at the present time.
1692 As many hon. Members have said during the discussion of the Bill, it is merely to provide the machinery, and, no doubt, during the Committee stage hon. Members will endeavour to improve that machinery. The most important thing is that we should attract to the children's committees and appoint as children's officers the right type of people—people with sympathy, understanding, knowledge and tact; people who are able to place themselves in the position of the parent in relation to the children in respect of whom they will have heavy responsibility under the provisions of the Bill.
§ Sir P. Hannon
Would the hon. Gentleman give a similar assurance with regard to the religious training of children boarded out in Scotland as was given by the Under-Secretary of State with regard to boarded-out children in this country?
§ Dr. Haden Guest
Has the hon. Gentleman any answer to give on the question of the right of inspection by local authorities, as this is a matter to which medical officers and school associations attach great importance?
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read a Second time, and committed to a Standing Committee.