§ 7.8 p.m.
§ Mrs. Ayrton Gould (Hendon, North)
I beg to move,That, in view of the many cases of cruelty and neglect of children who were not included in the terms of reference of the Curtis Committee, this House calls upon the Government to appoint an official committee to inquire into the extent of the evil and make recommendations for effective prevention and remedial treatment.In moving this Motion I want to thank the Government for giving us the opportunity to debate this vital question. The number of children affected may be relatively small, but the court cases are not only increasing in number but they are becoming more serious and more distressing. Only last week a child of 11 months died and the post-mortem showed that it had died of starvation and neglect. It is dreadful to think of the frightful sufferings of that child and of all the other children whose cases ultimately come before the court, many of whom have suffered for months and sometimes years before their cases become public.
One of the most serious aspects of the problem of child neglect and cruelty is the means of ascertaining the number of children who are seriously neglected and ill-treated. Hygiene officers and workers in touch with scores of cases week after week, month after month and sometimes for years on end, very often report these 2432 cases but nothing is done because the local authorities state that they have no power to interfere with these children in their homes if there is no question of criminal prosecution. The powers of the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children are equally limited, and very often their inspectors are terribly frustrated. But I should like to pay a tribute to them and to say what very fine work has been done for many years by the devoted workers of that society.
The greatest difficulty, as I see it, is finding some means to safeguard these children before irrevocable harm has been done, before they have been battered by mental and sometimes physical cruelty into human wrecks or worse. Thank heaven today public conscience is awakened to these matters. Society in this country cares about the welfare of the children. Only a little over 100 years ago, thousands of small children were driven into mills and into mines to work 15 hours, a day, and it was proved before a Select Committee that every child who did not die in the first few months, became deformed. It was also revealed that in every mill there was an overseer whose sole duty was to go round with a strap to beat the tired children into sufficient wakefulness for them to go on with their work. The conditions in the mines were even worse.
2433 In spite of the publicity given in those days to those appalling conditions nothing was done for many years. The position was very different from today since then, apart from Lord Shaftesbury and a tiny handful of supporters in both Houses, no one was in the least interested in these terrible revelations. I feel sure that the position is so changed today that there will not be a right hon. or hon. Member in any part of the House who is not in principle in favour of this Motion. Today all the glaring abuses have been swept away. The progress made in child welfare has been really wonderful and under The Children Act, which became law last year, every child has a right to care and protection, to be properly housed, fed, clothed and educated. But in spite of all this there are still children as helpless, as wretched, as cruelly treated as the children in the mines and mills 100 years ago—not because society does not care, not because the Government do not want to prevent it, but because we have not yet found a way to protect these children from the callous brutality of their own relatives.
The problem is a very difficult and complex one. That is why we who have promoted this Motion feel that an investigation by thoughful and responsible people of varied experience and qualifications is the right way to help to solve it. We feel, in short, that an official committee similar to the Curtis Committee should be set up to inquire into the conditions of the children in their own homes; to inquire how ill-treatment and serious neglect can be prevented; what should be done along the lines of prevention and what can be done in the way of remedy. We feel sure that it is possible, with enough care and thought, to find a way to protect these most deprived children and to give them the welfare conditions to which every child is entitled.
Some people believe that there is already ample provision to safeguard the children who are deprived in their own homes. Unfortunately, this is not true. One of the great difficulties is the question of entering the home of the child when it is known that something very wrong is going on. Hygiene officers, welfare officers, teachers, various responsible people of this sort may know that there is not only serious neglect but actual ill-treatment which is seriously harming the 2434 child, mentally and physically, and yet, unless it is possible to institute criminal proceedings, nothing can be done, unless, of course, the parents will co-operate by inviting an officer into the home.
Naturally, the worse the case is the less anxious the parents are to have any outsider come in and look at the home. That is why, in the very worst cases, after terrible harm has been done to the child, action is taken in court and nothing has been done before it became a court case. Other cases of neglect are very often the result of a mother having to bring up a family in slum conditions and having lost heart and so given up the struggle, or a mother who is mentally unstable and physically debilitated. Or it may be the case of a mother who is frightened of her husband—a brutal husband who may be cruel to all the children, or in some cases to one or two children who are his wife's but not his. Again these conditions bring problems of their own, although the hygiene or welfare officers soon become welcome visitors in these homes and are very often able to help a great deal.
I should like to cite an example, and I give it only because it is a typical case. I have selected it from the many cases which have been brought to me. It is the case of a father who is serving a long term of imprisonment. The mother and six children were living in a slum dwelling and the conditions had become really dreadful. The children were ragged, they were not properly fed, they were dirty and verminous, and generally in an appalling condition. This was one of the cases where the mother welcomed the welfare officer and, finally, five of the children were sent to a local authority home and the mother, with her baby, was sent to a voluntary home for the recuperation of mothers. In two months she has become not only a fit human being, but also a reformed character, anxious to have her children at home, and to make a good home for them; and she has learned a great deal of mothercraft to help her do it. But if she goes back to the slum home which she left, then in two or three weeks' time conditions will be just as bad as they were before.
Meanwhile, the borough and the county authorities throw the case from one to the 2435 other, as it were. Neither wants to provide a council house for her; they do not look upon the mother as a desirable tenant; and there seems no possibility in these days of shortage of removing the family into another home. What is to happen to them? Are the children to live on the rates until they are grown up and bread winners? Is the mother to go on living from pillar to post, and having only the baby at home—and possibly that may be taken away from her ultimately because it is neglected? Or should there be some priority is housing for these such cases? That is one of the problems that an inquiry should look into.
Another serious problem is the impossibility of preventing children from returning to completely undesirable homes. I will give a couple of examples of these. Again, these are merely two examples out of many similar cases that there are. There is a couple of very unstable parents with a three and a half year old child. The mother has been three times a voluntary patient in a mental hospital. She ought to be going back, but will not do so. The child has been found several times by neighbours crying because she is terrified of the way in which her parents quarrel. The child was in a poor state of health and was not properly cared for. She has been away now for some weeks with a foster mother with whom she is happy. The mother is now at home and demands that the child should be returned to her. At present there is no power to keep the child from going home to its own parents under the most undesirable conditions.
The other case is perhaps even worse; it is one of a mother who, during the war, deserted her six children while her husband was abroad. The children were left with a very undesirable neighbour. The husband was a good soldier with a fine record. When he came home he was very much distressed at the children's condition, and went to the school care committee about them. Ultimately, three of the children were removed to foster homes where they were extremely happy. The father died this summer. The mother has now married the man with whom she was living. She has taken the children home after deserting them for five years although they were heartbroken at leaving 2436 their foster parents. The children are getting into a terrible condition. They look ill and uncared for. The mother drinks terribly. She has forced the eldest girl, who was an apprentice in a good job, to leave and go to work in a low class café. The girl is too frightened to do anything but give all her money to her mother, who is drinking it all away.
All these cases need looking into—not these particular cases only but all the problem cases arising—because we want to stop this sort of thing from going on. Most important of all, when responsible people such as hygiene workers, welfare workers or teachers, make complaints, somehow it should be possible for the local authority by a statutory right to have access to the undesirable home so that it may be found out what is going on there. At present a child in a foster home can be got at, because there is a right of access. There is no right of access to any child in its natural home, however unnatural that home may be.
These are a few of the problems we feel should be inquired into, and that is why we have set our hearts on the setting up of an official committee with terms of reference which will enable it to cover all the problems of the children who did not come under the terms of reference of the Curtis Committee. We ask the Government to accept this Motion because we are convinced that such a committee can solve, to a very great degree, all these problems. The task is very urgent because, in the midst of all the welfare that is provided for children today, there are in their own homes a number of children who are just as wretched, just as helpless, just as ill-treated as those children in the mines and in the mills 100 years ago. We must not fail them. We must find some way to give them the protection they need—as soon as possible before the harm has been done to them that turns their misery into court cases.
§ 7.26 p.m.
§ Mr. Somerville Hastings (Barking)
I beg to second the Motion.
I think we shall all remember how we were shocked when the report of the Curtis Committee appeared and the facts which the Committee investigated 2437 became known. Those who were members of that Committee will, I think-all of us—agree with me when I say there were just as sad cases of which we had knowledge—cases which occurred concerning children in their own homes—but which were outside our terms of reference. I think that those who, like my hon. Friend the Member for North Hendon (Mrs. Ayrton Gould) and others, have knowledge of these sad cases will agree with me that, perhaps, the saddest thing about them all is that the ill treatment and neglect were not of days and weeks but of long duration, so that there is a scar—in most cases permanent—on the mind of the child affected.
We in this country have in the past been apt to regard the family of a man as part of his chattels—almost—to do as he likes with. We have advanced, certainly, from the days which are described by the author of "The Barretts of Wimpole Street," but still we regard a man's home as his castle, without inquiring into what happens in the dungeons of that castle.
Certainly, in connection with health the tactful health visitor, as has already been pointed out, visits homes in cases of all types of sickness, and gives any advice that may be necessary; but the welfare of a child is just as important as its health, and homes, where necessary, must be investigated. At the present time, so far as I know, there is no statutory authority on whom the duty is laid of protecting children in their own homes who appear to be neglected there.
We are dealing with the health of the children, and their education and their physical needs through family allowances, the Assistance Board, and in the case of orphans through national insurance payments, but those supporting this Motion are inclined to think that there are other matters of equal importance. There is the emotional development of the child, which may be so seriously affected by cruelty or neglect. We know that neglect and cruelty come from many causes, but there is no doubt that one of the causes is poverty, especially with a large family of children born soon after one another and with very short intervals in between.
Cases of that sort have been extensively investigated, and we know that the mothers, who are often in bad health, 2438 reach a state in which they feel unable to deal with the situation, so that they give up all hope, and neglect begins and continues. Now, we are not convinced that the provision for these cases has been sufficient in the past. To send a woman to prison for neglect of her children, much as she may deserve it, may not be best for the family. Could not more use be made of probation? Or better still, could not these cases be found at their earliest beginnings and remedial treatment undertaken?
The first thing in dealing with such families as I have described, is, I think, to understand the mental outlook. I have here a book entitled "Children in Need,"" written about some of these problem families. In it is a quotation from another book called "Branch Street," by Marie Panetti, which seems to me so significant that I would like to read it:Their background, their bagful of experience, has taught them not to trust and not to hope, but to attack, to grab, to lie, to steal, to cheat—all of which are the reactions of people against a world they fear and in whose merciless power they feel themselves to be.Surely the first thing to do is to get the right attitude to society into the minds of these people. I feel that an inquiry should be made into how that can best be undertaken. It has been carried out successfully in connection with home advice services, such as have been instituted in the City of Norwich, and there are the Family Service Units. If there is clear evidence of real affection in the parents, and if the condition has not got too far, an attempt at rehabilitation: should be made.
What I think this official committee, if appointed, should do is shortly this. They should inquire into whether there ought not to be in every area some authority, well known to all those who are interested in children and who have their care, to whom even a suspicion of neglect or ill-treatment could be reported. In such cases there could be a careful and tactful inquiry by some officer, and if there is evidence of either cruelty or neglect the case would have to be dealt with. If a case is recognised in good time it can generally be dealt with without recourse to the law.
There is just one other type of case I should like to mention. It is a type met 2439 with and described by the Curtis Committee. It is the case of an unwanted child who is passed over directly by its mother to some other person. This is known as direct placing. At the moment, if there is no monetary exchange, and if there are no proceedings for adoption, it is quite outside the ken of any local authority, and there is no inquiry and no supervision whatever. This is the sort of thing that can happen, and I fear is happening very frequently. A woman who is going to have a child does not want it known, and wants to get rid of the child as soon as possible; there are nursing homes who take in such individuals. In return for care in her confinement and assistance in disposal of the child the woman is prepared to work in the home for weeks or months, both before and after the confinement, and the child is passed on to almost anyone who will receive it. Indeed, there have been cases in which the child has been sent a long railway journey and died on the way. As far as I know, that is quite within the law at the present time.
In conclusion, I should like to mention a case of this description which was brought to my notice by the L.C.C. officers. An unmarried mother wished to have her illegitimate child adopted. A couple desired to have the child and adoption proceedings were instituted, but when the court made inquiries it was found that these two people were not married and were most undesirable people having both served terms of imprisonment. The court therefore refused to make an adoption order and the child was returned to its mother. A few days later the child was passed directly to these same two people, without any payment being made and without any attempt at legal adoption. That is apparently at present quite within the law, and as far as I know the child is still with them.
§ 7.39 p.m.
§ Sir Ronald Ross (Londonderry)
I intervene in this Debate because I have long been interested in this question, because I think it is a good thing that it should be discussed in this House, but more particularly because for some years now, I have had the privilege of being a member of the Executive Committee of the National Society for the Prevention of 2440 Cruelty to Children. I thank the hon. Lady the Member for North Hendon (Mrs. Ayrton Gould) for the tribute she paid to its work. It is a society which is encouraged by the personal interest of the Home Secretary, and I think by the majority of his predecessors. It extends over the whole of England and Wales, and the whole of Ireland, including the Irish Republic. In Scotland there is a sister society—the reason for having a distinct Scottish society being that the law of Scotland is so dissimilar from the law of England that it is better dealt with by a separate society. The two societies have the most cordial relations and a very close liaison.
I think that the society and its supporters are to be congratulated. The society was started 65 years ago, before the country was conscious of these needs in connection with children. During that time, very substantial progress has been made. In 1901, the Society instituted 2,884 prosecutions, the prosecution, of course, being the ultimate weapon. In 1922, the prosecutions had come down to under 1,000. This year they numbered 626 at the last convenient date, and 442 cases in the juvenile courts. I think that we all agree that there is no adequate substitute for a happy home for a child. However well conducted an organising institution may be, it cannot give a child the advantages of a really happy home. When I look back upon the blessings of my life, the greatest blessing I can count is that I was a member of a very happy home.
The Society is not a prosecuting society. The prosecution is the last resort. Of the cases investigated by the Society, only 2 per cent. resulted in prosecutions. The main thing is reporting. If a case is reported to the Society, either to the local secretary, the local inspector or to headquarters, I can promise that it will be investigated immediately. The difficulty is to get prompt reporting of the cases, and it is very necessary that there should be no delay. The hon. Member for North Hendon emphasised that point very effectively when she said that the state of a child might deteriorate very rapidly unless there was prompt action.
I think that the machinery for doing this already exists. Whether more legal rights should be given to whatever officer or person is investigating a case of child 2441 neglect or ill-treatment—and neglect far surpasses ill-treatment and cruelty—is a matter which I do not propose to discuss, beyond saying that the right of entry into people's homes is a very serious step to take. I think that the experience we have had is very substantial because over 40,000 cases are investigated each year by the National Society. Last year, over 98,000 children were concerned in the investigations, and over 500,000 visits were made by the Society's inspectors. As to whether it is necessary to have the right of compulsory entry, I should hesitate to express an opinion. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman may have something to say on that point.
§ Earl Winterton (Horsham)
All that we are asking for is an inquiry into these matters by an impartial official body.
Sir R. Ross: I appreciate the interruption, for which I am grateful. We are only discussing whether it would be right and proper or desirable to have an inquiry. Nothing is being asked for immediately. That is, no doubt, one of the points that will be considered.
I would say that the society's inspectors are fairly successful in their investigations. The case which the hon. Lady made about a hygiene officer is almost a commonplace with the inspectors. They do their best to gain the confidence of the parents and are often looked on by them not as a hostile body, but as friends. There are matters, however, where I think official action could help. One is that there should be more accommodation for defective children who require special education facilities. That is a very difficult problem. Another is this: When a child has to be removed to a place of safety, there is not always a place of safety available. Here I would pay tribute to the many organisations, including Dr. Barnardo's, which do invaluable and devoted work in this connection.
A third point—and I do not raise it in any party spirit, although I might do so on another occasion—is the question of housing. Housing is a very important element in this problem. One inspector has said that in his district no less than 50 per cent. of the cases which came under this notice were directly due to the housing problem. I mention as a factual statement that housing is a very important matter in connection with the problem of child welfare.
2442 Another matter which, I think, should be mentioned is the standard of neglect. It is always difficult for a poor woman with a large family to maintain that good standard of care and attention which one would wish to see. It would be unfortunate if any nagging authority were to pester these poor women who are doing their best to keep a home going. I would say in passing, that the W.V.S. have done good work in helping such people. The greatest need is for prompt reporting of these cases, and it may be that if officials were encouraged to report, things would get better.
In the course of one year, over 10,000 cases were reported by officials of one sort or another, apart from the 3,000 to-4,000 cases to which the society's attention was drawn by the police. Sometimes there is delay which is very dangerous. Unfortunately, many people think that if they report somebody, that person will be prosecuted instantly. Of course, that is not so. A prosecution generally means the breaking-up of a home, which, as a rule, is not good for the child. What is needed is the reform of the home, and it is curious how often that reform can be achieved.
I think that the machinery already exists if people would only tell the society or its representatives about these cases. There are 270 inspectors at work in the area with which the society deals and more are employed in Scotland by the Scottish society. If the encouragement of officials to report cases for investigation led to increased work, I think that the society would be prepared to put on more inspectors. As it is, the 270 inspectors have achieved over 500,000 visits and dealt with 98,000 children in a year. It would be unnecessary to appoint more inspectors for the time being, but if more are needed they will be appointed.
We are all agreed on this question, which is above party, of the vital importance of taking care of children. The child has no defensive powers of its own to save itself from neglect, and neglect is really the greater danger, 87 per cent. of the cases being neglect and only 13 per cent. actual cruelty. The child cannot protect itself, and it is therefore the duty of us all to see what best can be done. I represent a body which is not jealous of its own position, but it is jealous of the interests of these children.
§ 7.51 p.m.
§ Lady Megan Lloyd George (Anglesey)
I am sure the House is indebted to the persistence and pertinacity of the hon. Member for North Hendon (Mrs. Ayrton Could) that has happily resulted in a second Debate taking place within a few months on this vital matter, which I hope will bring an even richer reward before the evening is over. We are justly proud in this country of the welfare State that has been built up over a number of years. Caps have been filled in our social services and new categories have been brought in, but this relatively small and pathetic community of neglected and ill-used children is still left shivering in the cold, in spite of all that has been done by voluntary effort.
We are all anxious to pay our tribute to the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children for the magnificent job of work they have done, very often -with shortage of staff and shortage of funds. No praise could be too high for these devoted people. But in spite of their work, in spite of legislation passed by this House, the problem still remains virtually untouched. No action can be taken today to protect these children unless some irreparable damage has been done and can be shown to have been done. That is a most serious state of affairs which must be put right by the House without delay.
It is difficult to assess the number of children involved. In 1949, the R.S.P.C.A. [HON. MEMBERS: "NO."] The craze for initials has become almost a curse, and ought to be ended. In 1949, the N.S.P.C.C. dealt with nearly 100,000 children, and only 626 prosecutions were instituted, on the only grounds on which prosecutions can be instituted, that of criminal negligence. How many of the 99,000-odd children not protected by the law as it stands can be quite rightly classified as neglected and ill-used? How many more are there about whom we have no information of any sort?
The last occasion on which we discussed this matter the Under-Secretary told us that hints had been given in circulars sent out to local authorities. But we have now got past the stage of hints to local authorities. He told us that he did not know what the reactions of the local authorities had been, and I hope the Home Secretary will be able to give us 2444 some information as to the response of local authorities to the hints given five months ago. The Under-Secretary also spoke of the difficulties that have to be faced in tackling this problem. Of course there are difficulties. There are always difficulties to be faced in overcoming social problems of this kind, but they can be faced and overcome.
There is the danger of giving a statutory right of access to homes of the people. None of us wants to start a new snooping service into the private affairs of the citizens of the country, but there are what might be called accredited agents in touch with the homes, such as the teachers, to a limited extent, health visitors, and those in the home nursing service and the domestic help service.
Whatever duties it is decided to impose, whatever responsibilities are to be given, whatever categories of people are to be given those responsibilities and whatever action is to be taken as a result of the information given, these are all matters best dealt with by an official committee of inquiry of responsible and well-chosen people. All we are asking for in this Debate is that an inquiry should be instituted without delay. Five months have already gone by since this matter was first brought up in the House. We beg of the Government not to let another month go by, because each time we delay we are condemning these children and extending the sentence of misery and neglect they are already serving.
§ 7.58 p.m.
§ Mrs. Nichol (Bradford, North)
It is a matter of personal regret to me that I was unable to be present when the Debate on this subject took place on 22nd January. Some extremely valuable speeches were made in all parts of the House on that occasion. I feel it is good to raise this subject, because it gives encouragement to those who are doing child welfare work, both in voluntary and non-voluntary organisations, and it allows the country to see that Parliament is vigilant in this grave matter and that these questions can be discussed without party controversy. I had hoped that this Debate would not explore the ground that was so fully and adequately covered on the last occasion, because the Motion before the House takes the matter a step further, and it is important that we should 2445 discuss the practicability of such an inquiry and its probable results.
Reference has been made tonight to the Curtis inquiry, and an analogy has been drawn between the proposed inquiry in this instance and that which was held under the chairmanship of Miss Myra Curtis. May I remind hon. Members of the differences between the two? In the case of the Curtis Committee we had very specific and circumscribed terms of reference. There was also fairly easily ascertainable data in existence, evidence which was fairly easy to verify, and the practical work which was able to be done by the Committee through visits to homes and institutions of a voluntary and a nonvoluntary nature. I think that the proposed inquiry in this case could not possibly be as specific as that, for various reasons.
Much cruelty of a non-physical nature is inflicted upon children. I think it is impossible to get evidence of the kind of cruelty which arises sometimes because parents are maladjusted, because the child is perhaps less attractive than its brothers or sisters, because it is suffering from a physical deformity or is handicapped in some way, because the child was not very much wanted or because of the jealousy of another member of the family. For many reasons much mental cruelty is inflicted upon children, and it is not confined to any one class. Suppose this kind of cruelty could be inquired into. What could be done about it, even when it had been investigated? I do not pretend to be a psychologist, but those who have studied psychology tell us that this kind of cruelty is often, in the end, a great deal more harmful to human beings than is physical cruelty.
Who will give evidence at the inquiry? Such evidence can only come from those who are engaged in work concerning children. I submit that we can get all the statistics now; we can only inquire of those who are already engaged in this work, such as teachers, welfare workers, probation officers, nurses, health visitors and the great voluntary organisations. I cannot see how we could obtain a new supply of information and evidence. I feel that no inquiry could be really effective unless its terms of reference were clearly defined and its recommendations could be made effective very promptly. 2446 Here, we are up against serious difficulties; we really do run against rocks.
When the evidence has been collected and collated the responsibility would have to be placed upon an existing Government Department. If it is to be the children's department in the Home Office—and in the Debate in July it was stated that it was very likely to be this department—I would remind the House that there is a great shortage of staff there. Further, this department has scarcely settled into the great work which it has undertaken, and for which it was specially instituted. We have not nearly enough trained people in the children's department or trainees coming along, and we do not know where to get them. There are not enough nurses, either. If we institute an inquiry of this kind, which will probably recommend that further investigation work be done by highly trained persons, I would like to know where we shall get those people.
A great deal of machinery already exists. On the education side, there are teachers and welfare officers. There are health visitors under the Health Service Act, Section 24 of which places wide powers in the hands of such visitors. It not only allows them access to homes which need to be inquired into, but makes it compulsory that they should visit such homes. There are home helps, nurses, housing managers—some of whom, I am glad to say, are women—probation officers, the staff of the children's department of the Home Office and there is the vast amount of valuable work which is done by the N.S.P.C.C, to which tribute has been paid today, and the family service units.
If I had been a foreigner, and had read the speeches which have been made by my hon. Friend the Member for North Hendon (Mrs. Ayrton Gould) and my hon. Friend the Member for Barking (Mr. Hastings), I might have formed the impression that the British are rather bad parents. Actually, the contrary is the case, the British are good parents; we love children and animals. Indeed it has become a joke abroad. Bad parents form only a very tiny proportion, almost infinitesimal, of the total number of parents in this country. I agree, of course, that even if there is only one suffering child, we must do something about it, but we must be careful not to 2447 give the impression that we are a nation of child neglecters, or that British parents as a whole are not good parents. I believe that a great deal of the cruelty that is caused is not wilful. I think it often arises because of circumstances which are too much for the mother. Sometimes it is due to bad housing, and of this the Government are fully aware and are doing their utmost to deal with it in spite of what hon. Members opposite may say. I think much of it is due to fecklessness and shiftlessness on the part of some parents. As I say, it is not wilful; many parents would not believe that they were cruel even when the cruelty was pointed out to them.
In the Debate in July it was stated that a possible cause of child neglect was because of mothers going out to work. I represent a constituency where a great number of married women with children go out to work. In defence of them I would say that a great number of these women are far better mothers than some of those who stay at home. There are women who stay at home and spend many hours of their day in what we in Yorkshire call "calling." They go into a neighbour's and sit and gossip while the hours speed by. Meals are not prepared and the ironing, sewing, mending and so on are neglected. A good many mothers who go out to work plan their day and take advantage of the help available and their children are properly taken care of. The cases of deliberate and vicious cruelty are, of course, very well ventilated in the Press, and they come to the Press via the police courts and the N.S.P.C.C.
We must be careful not to give the impression that this matter is not being looked after. A great deal is being done. The problem has existed for a long time, but now we are a great deal more aware of it. I do not need to convince the House of my own deep personal concern in this matter. I feel very deeply and strongly about it. I am not against an inquiry, but I am only anxious that we should be aware of the difficulties which would arise if an inquiry were held. An inquiry frequently leads people to believe that something startling and searching will result from it. If that were possible I am sure the Government would allow it, but I agree with my hon. Friend the 2448 Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department when he said in July that it was very difficult to do more than was being done at the present time in the present great shortages of staff.
The Under-Secretary promised us that there would be departmental consultation, and that was only five months ago. Despite what was said by the hon. Lady the Member for Anglesey (Lady Megan Lloyd George), I do not think five months is a very long time. The holidays occurred just afterwards, and these consultations started immediately and are still going on. It would only be fair to give these inter-departmental consultations a chance. We might then find where are the gaps in the administration, and if these exist they could be tightened up. There must be a little more time to collate the information provided by consultations between the Departments. A great deal of good might come from them without having to have any inquiry. By tightening up the administration, if it requires it, we can ensure that the services and the machinery are being used to the full to secure proper family welfare.
I do not want to give the impression that I do not share fully the apprehensions and the misgivings that all of us in this House feel about the number of cases of child neglect, and many of intense cruelty. I do, but we ought to be very careful not to give the impression that we are a much worse nation than we are—an impression that nothing is being done or that there is no machinery for dealing with it. If an inquiry is finally decided upon I hope the terms of reference will be specifically stated, and that it will be done in the light of what practical measures can be taken. We should remember that nothing can be more disappointing than an abortive inquiry which in the end fizzles out because we ask it to do something which it is not able to accomplish. If an inquiry is finally decided upon, I hope it will be done in such a way that practical recommendations will be forthcoming to cure the evils which we have been discussing tonight.
My own feeling is that there is machinery already in existence, and that these departmental consultations should be given a chance. We should not embark upon anything or, indeed, promise anything of a far reaching nature without 2449 being perfectly certain we have got staff to undertake it. Above all, we want to be careful that we are not going to engage Departments which are already stretched to the uttermost, to cope with the work of such an inquiry, which would result in their being diverted from the job which they set out to do only a short time ago.
§ 8.17 p.m.
§ Mr. Godfrey Nicholson (Farnham)
The House knows that the heart of the hon. Lady the Member for North Bradford (Mrs. Nichol) is in the right place. I certainly know it from my personal acquaintance with her, but I very much regret the speech which she has just delivered. Upon reflection I am sure that she will regret it too. It was a speech of a typical bureaucrat. I do not see how she can deny that much is wrong. I do not know how she can deny to the people of this country the right to have investigated what is wrong. There are difficulties, including those of administration, but in a case like this both sides of the House agree that these difficulties must be got over. I feel confident that the Home Secretary will agree to an inquiry taking place.
The genesis of this Debate is the uneasiness of the public conscience at the cases of terrible cruelty that arise and are known, and an uneasy suspicion, which we all have, that there are many cases—one does not like to say "more"—which do not come into the open. That alone is justification for an inquiry. If it only results in public uneasiness being set at rest something will be achieved, but I fear it will not result in that. It will show that these cases are on the increase, and that they are not being punished adequately. I do not necessarily mean that the punishment is of insufficient severity; in many cases it is not done in the right way. The hon. Member for North Bradford is making a grave mistake if she thinks that those who are anxious and uneasy on this whole subject can be put off with the sort of speech which she has delivered.
§ Mrs. Nichol
I certainly did not give any impression that I wanted anybody to be put off. I made it quite clear that I was not against an inquiry, if we could have guarantees that such an inquiry would be useful and would serve a purpose.
§ Mr. Nicholson
I quite agree. I am trying not to do the hon. Lady an injustice, but before an inquiry takes place there cannot be any guarantee as to its effectiveness or as to its recommendation. An inquiry must take place, and then we can criticise it if its results are ineffective, or if its recommendations are not what we think they should be. The case we are making out is that an inquiry should take place. It may result in a waste of time and money, or it may not, but as Mr. Speaker would say, we believe that there is a prima facie case for such an inquiry. I have the House with me in saying that, and demanding an inquiry into these cases of gross cruelty and into the way with which they are dealt. The problem that the Home Secretary is facing—I hope he is facing it—is the scope of the inquiry and its terms of reference.
I would suggest three lines of approach. The first is what I call the obvious one, concerning cases of outrageous and gross cruelty. Are they on the increase? Are they being satisfactorily detected and dealt with? The second line of approach is in regard to something which is really much more important. It is that some attempt should be made to do something more than to shut the stable door after the horse has gone. It is no good catching up with the cases of extreme cruelty when they have reached the level of extreme cruelty. I should like to see the inquiry trying to find out what steps are being taken to help parents with difficult children. We have all had experience of difficult children, not necessarily our own. Probably many of us have been difficult children. When I see some difficult children, I have a great deal of sympathy with King Herod.
It is not an easy matter. We all know the great care and forbearance with which it is necessary to deal with a difficult child. One's heart bleeds at the thought of impatient and unsympathetic parents dealing with children of that sort. After all, even the most moderate and well-behaved children, like my own, sometimes need forbearance. I believe that the inquiry must extend into the question whether more guidance can be given and in what field it ought to be given.
But the main field for the inquiry is as to the boundary line between official action and voluntary action. I was sorry 2451 to see the letter in "The Times" this morning from Mr. McCann, the secretary to the N.S.P.C.C, in which, it seemed to me, he overstressed his case which, roughly, was that there is no more room for official action or administrative action on the part of the State or the local authorities, and that the situation now can be dealt with only by voluntary organisations. I do not affirm that and I do not deny it, but I say that there is a case for inquiry into that question. I can see a great deal to be said on both sides.
We are much too prone to think that because a child has been sent to a good institution the problem of that child is satisfactorily settled. That is a fatal approach. We are much too prone to think that it is better to take a child away from a bad home to a good institution, but very often that is not the case. One of the great disadvantages about an institution is its constantly changing management, with the result that a child in the course of its life may fall to be dealt with by dozens of different people. I think that often the most inferior parent is better than the best voluntary or paid workers who are constantly being changed. Questions like that ought to be gone into.
The final question with which the State will have to concern itself sooner or later is the plain and simple fact that a nation stands or falls by its standards of home life. I do not want to weary the House by platitudinous remarks on a subject on which we are all agreed, but sooner or later, unless, things improve in connection with children, unless juvenile delinquency decreases, and unless the citizens of this country show a greater sense of public spirit and obligation, one day, perhaps not in our lifetime, the State may have seriously to consider how it can rebuild the standards of home life that have brought mankind from a state of savagery to a state of comparative civilisation.
Again I do not want to weary the House, but I would ask the patience of hon. Members while I read out a few sentences from the leading article in "The Times" this morning. It says these words:Cruelty and neglect, in fact, need fresh definition, so that child-suffering will not be thought of only in physical terms with too little regard to mental ill-treatment or to home 2452 circumstances. The misery of a child subjected to the continuous nagging and threats that come from a lack of affection, or from a home divided or insecure, may well be more significant in the long run than bruises and weals which can be shown in court or recorded by a witness. The Debate today cannot ignore these invisible scars.The House of Commons, if the discussion is to be at all comprehensive, will also have to consider the plight of children of divorced parents, whose welfare and supervision seem to be nobody's business once legal custody has been settled. It will have to consider, too, the dangers which, in spite of new legislative proposals, adoption still has for some children, since they can still be adopted in an informal fashion, dispensing with legal forms, proper inquiry, or any kind of supervision.It concludes with these words, which may seem at the moment far outside the scope of legislation or of administration, but which represent the kernel of what we are thinking about:The real responsibility is, and must remain, that of parents. It is to parents, and not to public substitutes for them, that policy must first look before seeking other remedies. A study of mothers in prison for child neglect showed that, alongside illhealth, poverty, and lack of help, ignorance of child care was a chief cause. Family care work by voluntary bodies, the home advisory services of some local authorities, and the experiment in residential rehabilitation conducted in Lancashire point out a way.I commend to the House this last sentence:When all material help has been rightly given to these unhappy parents, only the wider awakening of a proper sense of parenthood, with its deeper spiritual meaning, can cope successfully in the end with cruelty and neglect.Something is wrong. No Member of Parliament, with his knowledge of his constituents of all classes of life, can, or should be able to, sleep peacefully in his bed at night when he thinks of the number of unhappy children that are sleeping, or are vainly seeking sleep, at the same time.
§ 8.28 p.m.
§ Mrs. Middleton (Plymouth, Sutton)
I am certain that no one in this House will dissent for one moment from the importance of the subject which has been brought to our notice tonight, and everyone will want to thank my hon. Friend the Member for North Hendon (Mrs. Ayrton Gould) for giving us a chance to consider it. At the same time, it is very important that we should not get the matter out of perspective. After all, the number of children affected is only a very 2453 small proportion of the total child life of the nation, and it is a diminishing proportion, as has been so well shown by the figures given by the hon. Member for Londonderry (Sir R. Ross). All that has been done during this present century, and especially in the last five years, to assist parents in discharging the duties of parenthood has brought about this happier state of affairs.
I doubt if there is any country in the world where the children of the nation as a whole are so well cared for as they are in Great Britain. In making that statement I have at least some evidence upon which I can go because during the last two years I have had the honour and privilege of being a delegate to the Inter-Parliamentary Union and on behalf of that body I have been surveying legislation throughout the world for the protection of mothers and children. That work has been far and away the most satisfying work I have done since I was elected to this House. It is true to say that all over the world there is a developing conscience about this subject of child welfare and an increasing sense of responsibility towards the protection of the young life of the human family.
In some countries legislation is still far from what we would desire it to be. Great Britain's record stands very high indeed and is setting a standard which it is the tendency for other nations to try to emulate. I mention these facts not in order to detract from the importance of the subject which we are discussing but because, after all, legislation in democracies is the outcome of public opinion, and I believe that the fact that our legislation is so good is testimony to the great importance which public opinion in Great Britain attaches to the welfare of the child.
In saying this I am not unaware of the bad spots, nor of the importance of this Motion. At the same time I confess that what has always surprised me has been the degree to which parents, especially parents in workingclass families, have been willing to sacrifice themselves and all that they have for the sake of their children. One might often call in question their wisdom in dealing with their children. In the main one has to say that their devotion to their children is entirely beyond question.
Therefore if this Debate is to fulfil its purpose we need to apply our minds to 2454 the relatively small number of cases where children are suffering from neglect. I suggest that the causes of that neglect are three-fold. In the first place, we have to consider those parents who are -physically and mentally unfitted for parenthood, especially those who are mentally unfitted. I shall not try to open up a controversy tonight such as that which surrounds the proposals for the sterilisation of the unfit. I would, however, say that where parents who are physically and mentally unfitted for parenthood beget children and subsequently neglect them, imprisonment or fines are quite useless methods of trying to deal with the situation. There is only one hope for such children and that is to provide them with a new home, and that, happily, in the majority of cases the community is now able to do.
The second cause of neglect of the sort we are considering arises from environmental conditions, particularly housing conditions to which reference has already been made. I expect that every hon. Member is aware of the social survey, a copy of which I have in my hands. It is entitled "Our Towns," was published during the years of the war and was the result of an inquiry carried through by the National Council for Social Service. I should like to trouble the House with one short quotation from it:Poverty leads to bad housing without the space, water supply, food storage, cooking facilities and private sanitation essential to good home making. Ill-found accommodation encourages bad feeding Slum conditions—noisy streets, crowded beds, the irritation of bugs, lice and skin diseases—murder sleep. Everything that militates against healthy living encourages skin diseases, which are often closely associated with vermin. Bad feeding, inadequate sleep, insufficient air and lack of healthy exercise and recreation affect mind as well as body, and aggravate the serious and growing problem of the dull child, already estimated by the Board of Education to number 15 per cent. of eight-year-olds in elementary schools. According to the Report of the Mental Deficiency Committee, dull children grow up to produce most of the problem families of the next generation, including many of the feeble-minded. They bulk large among the unemployables and are often dangerously suggestible. Their dullness leads to bad spending and household management, undeveloped character and lack of parental control. Juvenile delinquents are strongly associated with poor parental control and also with dullness and backwardness.There we have the vicious circle showing how bad housing in one generation 2455 leads on to circumstances begetting the same kind of problem in succeeding generations. Nothing is more heartbreaking for a mother than to be struggling with family responsibilities under conditions that never give her a chance—overcrowding, lack of the ordinary domestic amenties, no privacy within her home, unnecessary drudgery. Jt takes a heroine to struggle against handicaps such as that, and to try to do all that she otherwise would do, easily and willingly, on behalf of her family and her home.
Speaking as one who sits for a constituency where the housing problem is still enormous despite more than 6,000 new homes opened since the war, I am amazed at the high percentage of such heroines among the womenfolk of our cities. I have also noticed that often when a family has been removed from overcrowded, unhappy conditions on to one of our housing estates, family life becomes a different and much better thing than it was before. The improvement in the material surroundings has led to an immediate improvement in the social environment of the child. Therefore I say that good housing is perhaps the chief factor in the solution of the problem which we are discussing tonight.
Thirdly as a cause of neglect, I would put the lack of training for parenthood among our young people. It is surprising, is it not, that this most delicate and difficult task of bringing up a young child is so often entered upon with no preparation at all. I know that girls below the age of 15 years get some kind of training in cookery, laundry, housewifery, needlework, and so on, while they are at school. Sometimes they even get lessons in caring for a baby. All that is to the good but, under 15 years of age, boys and girls are not sufficiently developed for understanding the psychological, moral and material factors which combine to the making of a good parent. So I hope that, when the Education Act is fully implemented and our county colleges are established, we shall not neglect this part of our educational work but that we shall use those county colleges to assist our young people to an understanding of all that goes to the making of a good home, a good parent and family happiness.
2456 That, then, is one of the things to which we ought to pay more regard, the training of all young people in the responsibilities of parenthood. That kind of work can be supplemented and, indeed, is being supplemented today by the work of a considerable number of voluntary agencies. Churches and religious organisations are doing some of the work very well indeed. A good deal can be done, in some cases is being done, in community centres on our housing estates. Much is being done in those localities where the local authority has had the good sense to provide welfare officers for its housing estates.
Women's organisations like the Mothers' Union are making contributions to this work, and, after school age, I do not think we can over-emphasise the valuable work that can be done by such organisations as parents' and teachers' councils. Indeed, I should like to pay tribute to the mostly unacknowledged work which is often done in this connection by headmasters and headmistresses, not by reporting cases of neglect to the local authority or to the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, but simply by sending a note to ask the parent to come for a private talk and, during that talk, doing a good deal of the work which we are asking, by the Motion, should be done on behalf of neglected children. There are, however, cases which, even by those means and by others which I have not time to mention, cannot at present be avoided and do not come within the classes I have so far mentioned. What can we do about them? Again, I doubt very much the value of fining and imprisonment in these cases.
I want to refer briefly to an experiment which is going on in my constituency. It is a voluntary experiment, which has been started by the Salvation Army, and which has had some notice in the local and national Press. A home has been established named Abbotsford, and into it the Salvation Army are taking mothers and children in whose cases there has been neglect. There they are training the mothers in how to manage both the home and the children and how to overcome the many difficulties with which they are faced. Only in remedial work of this kind, it seems to me, shall we find the solution of the problem which we are discussing tonight. I am very glad that it 2457 should be in my constituency that this experiment has been started, and I should like to say how much those of us in Plymouth, at any rate, appreciate this pioneering work of the Salvation Army.
§ 8.42 p.m.
§ Brigadier Medlicott (Norfolk, Eastern)
It is always a good thing for us to maintain a sense of perspective, and the hon. Member for the Sutton Division of Plymouth (Mrs. Middleton) has helped, by reminding the House that this is, after all, a limited problem in terms of actual numbers, and that it would be very unfortunate if the impression got about that Great Britain in particular was suffering from the problem of cruelty or neglect to children. The fact is that we see the problem large because we see it through the eyes of our awakened conscience. In many respects, as has already been said, we are probably in advance of any other country in what has been done towards the solution of this problem.
I should like to say how helpful it has been to know that the Home Secretary, who is responsible for dealing with this question, is wholeheartedly in sympathy with the efforts that are being made, and because of this no one has tried to overstate the case. The speeches have all been able to be measured and reasonable speeches because we know that we do not have to convince the right hon. Gentleman of the urgency of what is involved.
There are, however, two aspects which have to be considered—the long-term and the short-term. We have been very shocked in recent years by some examples of cruelty which have been almost unbelievable, and the natural reaction of the public is to ask that heavier and more serious penalties should be imposed in these cases. It may well be that there are cases where, on a short-term view, nothing but punishment of the parents can be considered, but we all realise that that is in fact only the short-term view and that this question goes far deeper and that we have to go into it in a much more patient and scientific way.
It has been said, rightly, I think, that the number of cases of cruelty is relatively small compared with the number of cases of neglect. In regard to neglect, each generation seems to have its own particular difficulty to face. Our grandfathers had the problem of a sleeping conscience on this matter, and the cruelty 2458 of industrial work and in the mines we would regard as inconceivable today.
On the question of neglect we of today have the cinema to cope with and I wonder for how many hundreds of thousands, or millions of hours during the last 20 years, small children have been left alone while their parents have been at the cinema. That is a problem which may be rectified by the increasing growth of television in the home, but it remains to be seen what will be the next factor to distract parents from their homes and from the care of their children, which should be their first consideration.
I must take up a point mentioned by the hon. Member for the Sutton Division of Plymouth. Although housing has a vitally important contribution to make, it is only a part of the solution, as the problem I believe goes far deeper. To most of us the whole question of cruelty to one's own children is almost impossible to understand. There are deep psychological and moral questions involved here which the committee, if set up, may help to go some way towards solving, but we shall never do it alone by material aids, either legislative, or in the form of housing. I remember hearing Dr. Sangster, who preaches just across the road from here, describe a discussion he had with a tenant living on a new housing estate which was supposed to be the last word in every sort of amenity. The tenant said, "We have wonderful houses, good roads, built-in cupboards and refrigerators, in fact everything which could possibly be done for us, has been done, but you can't leave your bike anywhere for five minutes."
That is the sort of problem behind this task, the problem of helping parents to behave in a better way and of understanding the reasons which cause them to behave in a way which, to us, is incomprehensible. I welcome what the hon. Lady said about the importance of bringing the churches into this matter, for a double reason. They have a vast amount of experience in this kind of work and an understanding of it, which is perhaps not given to anyone else. They also have some knowledge of the real depths of the underlying spiritual and moral problems and of the way to their solution.
I believe that a vast amount of good can be done by setting up this committee and I hope that the Home Secretary, if he 2459 decides to accept the Motion, will use his customary skill and wisdom in the selection of the personnel to serve upon it. This may be an occasion upon which, perhaps, a larger rather than a smaller body might be helpful and if they can do something to get down to the deep-seated reasons for this strange and unhappy problem, they will have deserved well of this generation.
§ 8.50 p.m.
§ Mr. Weitzman (Stoke Newington)
My hon. Friend the Member for North Bradford (Mrs. Nichol) said that the pressure to obtain this official body to inquire into this matter might give a very bad impression about this country. It is because this country is foremost in its love for children and in its desire to see that everything is done for children that this Motion ought to be pressed. The immediate reaction of most people to cases of cruelty to children is one of horrified condemnation of a crime which is apparently as far outside common experience as are sexual assaults. But that very comparison should make us beware. Our feelings may not be as straightforward as we think.
If the horror is justified, we should pause to consider before we condemn, and we should remember that the rich do not appear in court on charges of cruelty to their children. The parties who are usually involved are persons of low mentality and little education, and persons living in poverty and squalor; that is, they are persons in respect of whom the rest of us should feel a certain social guilt, and it is this guilt which often gives emotional force to our condemnation.
In cases in which a person is accused of cruelty to children we must remember that the aims of punishment which apply in the case of other offences still apply. There is the safeguarding of society in general, the rehabilitation of the offender, the deterrence of potential offenders and the punitive element, but in this type of case the primary object is, above all, as it should be, the welfare of the child. As the law stands today it can deal only with cases of cruelty to children which result from certain things or cases of positive malnutrition which can positively be proved—cases of corporal punishment and inadequate protection, for example, living in bad conditions.
2460 We must remember, however, that there are a host of other cases. There is the case of the loveless, neglectful parent, for example, in which the normal development of the child is really destroyed. The law cannot deal with such a case. Those people who do such wonderful work in our child guidance clinics are very familiar with cases in which, because of neglect, often through ignorance perhaps, and with the best of intentions, disastrous effects are produced in children. Again, under the law as it is today, these cases cannot be dealt with. It is obvious that the law is very limited in the scope of its application to cases of this kind. When we reach a state of law such as that, because all law represents the state we have reached, it is essential that when we find an evil there should be a detailed inquiry into the causes and into what can be done in order to deal with what has happened.
I wish to mention a recent case in which a mother neglected two children, whom she left in blankets soaked in urine while she went to the cinema. She had been warned once before, and she was sent to prison for a month. Many people might consider that to be a light punishment of shameful neglect, but there are other factors in the case. She was allowed £3 10s. a week by her husband. There was not much latitude in her domestic arrangements. Her husband was out of work a good deal; the domestic atmosphere was not very congenial. She was obviously in a very unenviable position. The neglect of her children was a crime but it was also a symptom. The month's imprisonment might hide the symptom but it could not cure the disease. Society through the magistrate asserted its horror by inflicting that punishment, but it does not offer a cure.
In that case, as in others, there are many issues to be studied. Will the month's imprisonment in that case alleviate the domestic difficulties from which the crime in part arose? Will the mother learn better how to cope with the problems? Will relations with her husband improve? Above all, what will be her attitude, when she comes out of prison, towards her children? During the case this woman said to the magistrate, in regard to a policewoman in court who gave evidence, "She is 2461 not making it any good for me." The magistrate said, "She is not here to make it good for you." For whom was it being made good? Obviously not for the children.
It has been suggested by authorities on this problem that in the case of delinquent children who have a bad home environment, it is better to keep them at home than to transfer them to the care of a foster-parent or to put them in an institution, provided there is some form of supervisory control. The remedy in many cases surely is that something in the nature of child guidance organisations or welfare officers should look into these matters to see why the mother or father, as the case may be, acted in this way, what is the financial position, and so on; because obviously there is something wrong.
I suggest that the proper course is that the law should be called in in some cases but that it should be called in only when it can assist, and that often other measures should be invoked and every endeavour made before the application of the law is sought. We all know that a great deal of work is done by the child guidance clinics, by the child welfare organisations; and considerable tributes have been paid to their work.
The problem is, clearly, a psychological one. Obviously, under our new health system, the aim of which is to build up healthy children in a healthy environment, the state of affairs will be helped, and things will be better; but it is a matter which has very wide issues indeed. It is a matter of vital importance because it deals with the nation of the future. Unlike the hon. Member for North Bradford (Mrs. Nichol), I do not think we ought to be afraid of the fact that we are going to find enormous difficulties, but that we should look to see where are the practical remedies we can apply.
Here is an evil that must be studied from every possible angle, gone into from every possible point of view, so that this nation, which proudly boasts that its treatment of children is such a fine one in so many respects, can go on to see that no aspect of the child problem is neglected. I hope that speedily the Home Secretary will set up a committee, with as wide terms of reference as possible, to go into this problem so that the greatest possible benefit can be done.
§ 8.59 p.m.
§ Brigadier Prior-Palmer (Worthing)
I think the House and the nation owe a deep debt of gratitude to the hon. Member for North Hendon (Mrs. Ayrton Gould) who moved this Motion today, and also to my noble Friend the Member for Horsham (Earl Winterton) who is to wind up the Debate, and who has been so persistent in this matter. We are here to establish a case for the setting up of a committee. We are not here today to make constructive suggestions as to how to cure some of the evils which exist, and I would say at once that this Motion is in no way an implied or actual criticism of the way in which the voluntary societies, particularly the N.S.P.C.C, have operated over such a long period. Everybody has the greatest admiration for what this organisation has done. I should be the very last person to advocate greater Government control, or an addition to an army of snoopers, but it is clear to everyone, from cases which are brought to light, that despite the magnificent work of the voluntary organisations the situation at the moment is still far from satisfactory.
I suggest that the ill-treatment of children comes under two headings: that of mental cruelty and that of physical cruelty, and of the two there is no doubt in my mind that the former is the most reprehensible, the most prevalent and the most difficult to deal with. The fault obviously lies largely in the field of ignorance, and possibly to a lesser extent in the housing shortage. This House and the nation were shocked by the Curtis Report, and the Government, I think commendably, have taken fairly swift action and a comprehensive view in regard to it.
§ Brigadier Prior-Palmer
Very swift, if the right hon. Gentleman prefers it. It is, of course, comparative.
This Motion covers cases which are outside the Report of the Curtis Committee, and in my view the existing child welfare clinics, mothercraft clinics, and so on, are not as yet adequate, as is proved by the number of cases coming before the courts, and others of which one gets to know in the normal course of duties as a Member of Parliament. I do not 2463 consider that a community centre, or any such facilities, take the place of the home for one single second. They must be adjuncts of the home, but they can never take the place of the home.
In my view, the duty of such a committee as is suggested is to report on methods and means of bolstering the happy home and even making it happier. In the final analysis, in the long-term view, the cure comes under the heading of education, but by far the greatest problem for this committee, if it is set up, will be the question of the short-term methods which can be adopted to deal with the existing situation. That will be the most difficult task of all.
I do not tonight propose to make suggestions, although there are many that I should like to make. I do not believe that this Debate is designed for that purpose. This Debate is designed for us to try to establish a case for the setting up of a committee. To those organisations which are already at work in this field I again say that I do not believe the establishment of this committee would in any way interfere with their normal functions. In fact, the report of the committee should make it very much easier for them to continue those functions which they have performed magnificently for such a long time. After all, it is the welfare of the future generations that we have at heart, not the private feelings of any individual or organisation. We are all at one in the object we have in view.
I have a very great respect for the hon. Member for North Bradford (Mrs. Nichol). I have travelled abroad with her on a delegation, and I know the interest that she takes in child welfare; but she really did contradict herself during the course of her speech. She first asked where the committee were to go for the evidence which would be necessary to enable them to formulate any conclusion, but then went on to give us a very comprehensive list of the various people to whom the committee could go to get all the evidence they would want—the home helps, nurses, and visitors. She said that, the statistics are available to us, so why is it necessary to set up a committee? It is necessary for the simple reason that we have not the time to make the recommendations. It is for a small, selected body of experts to collect all the evidence 2464 available and then make their report to the House of Commons. On that day, we can rise in our places, if we are lucky enough to catch Mr. Speaker's eye, discuss the report and make concrete suggestions.
It may be that when the report is read, we shall come to the conclusion that there is nothing that can be done from the official angle, and that all we can do is to strengthen, as far as possible, the hands of the voluntary organisations. I think it unlikely, however, that I should recommend such a thing until I knew all the facts. I dislike very much indeed, having regard to 30 years of Army training, making any constructive suggestions without having the whole of the facts before me. It is in order that we shall have the facts that this Motion has been tabled by the hon. Lady. I support the Motion because I think there has been a prima facie case established for the setting up of a committee, and I hope that the right hon. Gentleman, when he replies, will not only say that a committee is to be set up, but that it will be set up at the earliest possible moment with the widest terms of reference.
§ 9.7 p.m.
§ Mrs. Leah Manning (Epping)
I think that the contents of every speech, with one exception, will have proved to my right hon. Friend that there is an outstanding need for a committee of this kind to find out the facts, collate them, and make suggestions as to how we can fill this one remaining gap in child care in this country. We are far from the days when the mothers of this country were exploited, badly fed and ill-educated. Many noble people in all parts of the country—Lord Shaftesbury, Charles Booth, Charles Dickens and Charles Kingsley—made it their life's work to improve the lot of our children. I have just been reading one of the outstanding contributions to children's rights. That is the declaration at Geneva which was put before the League of Nations Union by a friend of mine when I was a student—Eglantine Jebb—which gave to the children a charter of their rights.
As I read this charter, I could not help feeling that in our own country at least nearly all those things had already been accepted. I quite agree with the hon. Member for North Bradford (Mrs. Nichol) and others that we want to make 2465 these things known, that both nationally and internationally the welfare of children has improved during the last century in this country and during the last half century all over the world. It is against that lightening sky that this hard core of dark cases stands out so startlingly and horrifyingly, and even if it were only 100 children, we should have to see that something was done to make their lot less painful, less harmful and less hard.
I am sure that the committee will confine itself to finding out the cases which exist, the reasons which led to this cruelty and how we can deal with them. I would say that very few of these cases of cruelty are due to direct sadism. There are some—we can always pick them out in the papers—but I suggest that the vast majority of them are due to downright fecklessness, irresponsibility and lack of knowledge of how to cope. I know that we are asked to be sympathetic with some of these cases. I look back to my own childhood in the late Victorian and Edwardian days, when there were very large families, but mothers then seemed to know how to cope. Family tradition and family life were something very precious in all homes in those days.
I am not at all sure that one of the things we ought not to be doing—and I hope the committee will do this—is to find out how to get a sense of responsibility into young people intending to marry and set up a family. My hon. Friend the Member for the Sutton Division of Plymouth (Mrs. Middleton) gave a number of excellent suggestions to the committee. I know that we cannot propose what the committee should do, but the suggestions which she put, forward contained some fine and constructive ideas of the way to deal with our young people, and to get them to realise the importance of family life and how precious it is to the nation. Such a realisation would make it unnecessary to take any drastic action against parents.
With all respect for the work that is done by the N.S.P.C.C, on whose behalf the hon. Member for Londonderry (Sir R. Ross) spoke, the society is not good enough, has not the powers and has not the money to deal with this problem. I could give the hon. Member details of a brutal and very sad case which occurred in my constituency. It was in a village 2466 where four children were assaulted by a man With a thick cane. The weals were still to be seen on their buttocks a week after the event. One was not even a child, but was a young woman who was put across a table and beaten in this way. The N.S.P.C.C. cannot bring such a case to court because it is not a' prosecuting society.
§ Sir R. Ross
Perhaps the hon. Lady will give me particulars.
§ Mrs. Manning
I will give the hon. Member full particulars. I have not the time at the moment, as several Members still wish to speak. I ask my right hon. Friend to take note of what has been said, and to give us this committee quickly.
§ 9.12 p.m.
§ Mr. Lipson (Cheltenham)
I hope the Home Secretary will respond to the appeals that have been made to him from all sides and will agree to set up this inquiry. If he does so, I am sure he will have public opinion behind him, because, as a nation, we love children and hate cruelty, and we hate it most when it is applied to children. I have no misunderstandings about the difficulties that such a committee will have to face if it is to achieve its end, and no illusions that it will be able to abolish all cruelty to children. Because it cannot abolish all cruelty to children that is no reason why an attempt should not be made to put an end to as much as possible.
Valuable suggestions have been made in the course of the Debate as to the course the inquiry should take. I hope the Home Secretary will not put forward, as is often the case, the obvious objections to such an inquiry. I doubt, for instance, whether the Curtis Committee, when it was appointed, was expected by many of us to have the results it was able to achieve. One advantage of an inquiry is that it focuses public attention upon the problem. This is a serious problem and one we are all anxious to see solved. We are woefully ignorant of its nature and its extent. It has been said by some that it is increasing, and by others it is said to be decreasing. Let us see what, at least, are the facts.
I agree with what has been said about the part bad housing plays in this problem. I believe that if we could solve 2467 the housing problem, we should go a long way towards dealing with such cruelty to children as exists. If that brings home an additional reason for dealing with the housing problem it seems to me that an inquiry of this kind would serve a useful purpose. I do not hold any exaggerated opinions of the results that might be achieved by an inquiry, but I believe that it would have results that would justify its appointment. Anyhow, as a result of the inquiry we should know more about the nature of the problem and suggestions would be put forward for dealing with it.
Like others, I have had experience and knowledge of the valuable work which has been done by the N.S.P.C.C. I think that they ought to be among the first to welcome this inquiry, because they have been pioneers. They have worked for a number of years in this field and, as has often happened in this country, voluntary organisations have prepared the way until there has come a time when it has been necessary for the State to take a hand. Whatever the result of an inquiry might be, I think it would strengthen the hands of the N.S.P.C.C. It would bring home to the public the serious nature of the problem, and I hope it would also make clear the N.S.P.C.C.'s contribution and perhaps suggest means by which they, in co-operation with any other action which might be taken, might more effectively carry on their great work.
I believe that this Motion is very well timed, and that we would all feel happier if, when Parliament is prorogued on Friday for the Christmas Recess, we knew that as a result of this Debate, action was being taken to get rid of something which is hateful to us all, which is a blot on our national life, and a great evil in our midst.
§ 9.18 p.m.
§ Earl Winterton (Horsham)
As has been said earlier, this occasion is a reward for the pertinacity which the hon. Member for North Hendon (Mrs. Ayrton Gould), who moved the Motion, the hon. Member for Barking (Mr. Hastings), who seconded it, and I myself have shown in this matter. May I say that I have found it a pleasure to work with the hon. Member for North Hendon and the hon. Member for Barking in order that we might ventilate this all important subject. 2468 I could not have had better colleagues in this respect.
I want to stress, first, on behalf of those of us who are interested in this matter that what we are asking for tonight is not legislation but an impartial investigation into an admitted evil. I cannot believe that anyone could object to our request being granted. This is, fortunately, one of those rare and felicitous occasions when no party or political views are in conflict, but I want, in the short time available to me before we hear the Home Secretary, to deal with three points arising out of the subject matter of the Debate and upon which there is room for legitimate difference of opinion. To be in accord with what I have described as the non-controversial nature of the Debate, I will preface my statement on them by saying "It seems to me," which is the reverse of being dogmatic.
First, the British give what I believe to be a wholly false impression, especially to foreigners, that they are more interested in preventing cruelty to animals than to children. For instance, there is an extraordinary number of animal welfare societies in existence—about half a dozen—headed by the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, all of which are intended to prevent or prosecute instances of cruelty to animals. There is only one society to do the same for children, the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children.
The other day there was an instance of the extreme interest taken in animal welfare in this country. I only refer to it by way of parenthesis; otherwise I would be out of Order. I mean the alleged bravery of a cat on board H.M.S. Amethyst. The "Daily Mail," with a courage I commend, rather guyed the proceedings by a leading article which it called "Simonology"—in other words, the worship of a cat. It was solemnly suggested that if this cat should die, a fund should be got up in order to provide welfare for other cats at sea in memory of the deceased cat which was alleged to have shown such bravery.
The point of all this is that at the very time when there was all this eulogy of this alleged heroic cat there were only three or four lines in the newspapers of a case of heroism on the part of a small boy, aged eight years, who did his best to rescue another boy from 2469 drowning. He did not succeed, and he was nearly drowned himself. That only got four lines, while Simon was being headlined in almost every newspaper in the land.
The second point is more difficult to deal with and I apologise for dealing with it. Both sides of the House are agreed that there appears to be an astonishing disproportion in the law or in the interpretation of it as regards the different offences against children: A friend of mine, whose name is very well-known for his interest in child welfare and as a magistrate presiding over children's courts—I need not mention his name because I have not his authority to tell the story I have to tell, but most people will know to whom I am referring—sent me the shorthand notes of a case of rape of a small child somewhere in London. I confess that I have not been more horrified by anything than reading the evidence given in court. This child was decoyed into a room and was raped by this man, who was some relation of the family of the child. He received a few months' imprisonment. I am not criticising the sentence, but stating the facts.
At the same time it happened that there was another case, one of a number which are regularly occurring, of a vice which we all condemn, improper conduct between a grown man and two boys. Usually the evidence in those cases where boys of 14 or 15 years are concerned shows that at least to some extent they are consenting parties to the offence. This particular man got several years' imprisonment. Purely in parenthesis I would add that some of us on both sides of the House think that that is another part of the criminal law which needs inquiring into, because some of the people who commit these crimes are literally not right in the head. I was astonished at the difference between these two cases. That is one of the things that an inquiry like this would look into.
The other point I want to make leads me on to slightly controversial ground. To see a group of small children standing in the wet and cold on a winter's night outside a public house shocks me as it does foreigners who are well disposed to us and who are visiting Britain for the first time. Public opinion in France, Belgium and other Western 2470 Union countries would not tolerate such a state of affairs. The House will be amazed by the story I have to tell of the origin of an Act of Parliament.
The Act was brought in in the 1906 Parliament, which was very interested in temperance matters. It prohibited what had hitherto been allowed, children being taken into public houses. It was opposed by one or two of us, including the notorious Mr. Bottomley and myself. I remember in particular being very much chaffed by some members of the Liberal Party on having such a colleague. We said that, however undesirable it was that children should be taken into public houses, this Clause would have the effect merely that parents would leave their children outside in the street. We were told that that suggestion was an insult to the parents of the country, that nothing of the sort would happen and that we were in alliance with the drink trade in trying to give young children the chance to consume alcoholic liquor. Unfortunately, it has been shown that the provisions of that Act, however meritorious they were in intention, had the result that we suggested, and our criticism of that day has been brutally justified. That, again, is one of the matters into which a committee could inquire.
These three contentions which I have advanced are, I submit, some of the many pillars of reinforced concrete which support our overwhelming case for an official inquiry. The British people, although at times afflicted with party political views, continue to possess one of the finest political consciences in the world. I am certain that if an official inquiry proved that there has been an illogical or wrong-headed attitude in regard to these matters in the past, this House, acting for the nation, would find a remedy.
In regard to the objections which have been put up by at least one hon. Member against the holding of such an inquiry, on the ground that this evil is confined to a very few people and that the holding of an inquiry would give the impression abroad that the evil was more widespread than it is, I would reply that there are occasions when dirty linen needs washing in public because that is the only way to convince anybody that it exists. I take the view, which I think is the view of the House as a whole, that the 2471 setting up of an inquiry is an indication of the desire of this House to have the evil properly considered by an official committee. We are faced with a dis-quietening situation, and I think the case for an official inquiry was very well put in the leading article in "The Times" today.
I am bound to say in the presence of my hon. Friends, that in my opinion the secretary of that excellent institution the N.S.P.C.C. has misinterpreted the object of this Debate in his letter to "The Times" today. We seek an official, impartial inquiry into the situation. The N.S.P.C.C. is not a sovereign law-making body as is this House and has no moral or legal locus standi to prevent an inquiry being set up. When legislation is proposed, full consideration would be given to the views of the society, which it is admitted on all sides of the House has done long and meritorious service in the cause of suffering childhood. I would say with emphasis to my hon. Friend the Member for Londonderry (Sir R. Ross) that we cannot at this time of day say that an unofficial society, however administered, staffed and dealt with outside this House, can be a substitute for official action by this House if there is an evil to be remedied.
§ Sir R. Ross
If the noble Lord listened, as I think he did, attentively to my speech, he will agree that I never attempted to make any case of that nature. If an inquiry is to be held, the society will welcome any good which may come from it.
§ Earl Winterton
I was not dealing with the speech of my hon. Friend but with the letter of the secretary of the society of which he is a member of the governing body, which was very hostile to the Motion and to the holding of the inquiry. I am very glad to hear that the society has no objection to an inquiry because I could not think it would be otherwise, and I hope that it will take an early opportunity of making that clear because it was certainly not made clear in the letter.
The note on which I want to close, because really in this most useful Debate all the points which need to be made have already been made, is to say that the collective opinion of this House on a 2472 moral issue, aroused as it has certainly been this evening, possesses today as always a strong propulsive power whose influence is felt far beyond these shores. Again and again this House, in its Debates all through its long history, especially when no party issue arises, on matters of this kind, has had an influence quite out of proportion to what may be the attendance in the House at the moment or to the interest which is shown, even the interest shown in the country. It has an influence all over the world, and I believe that that influence has been well exercised tonight.
There is undoubtedly from the House as a whole a clear request for an impartial inquiry into what seems to be a defect in the comprehensive code of law which the country possesses to deal with grave evils, and such an inquiry would in no way derogate from the general very high standard, so rightly paid a tribute to by speaker after speaker, of our treatment of childhood in this country. It is only to deal with this admitted evil that we ask for the inquiry. Knowing, to use an old-fashion term, the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for the Home Department to be a "just man," I warmly commend the terms of the Motion to his notice.
§ 9.33 p.m.
§ The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Ede)
As the noble Lord the Member for Horsham (Earl Winterton) has said, we have had a useful Debate. It has been an interesting Debate and it has shown in a series of speeches well informed on the subject how deep the interest of the House is in this matter. I am very glad that we have had the Debate conducted on a non-party basis with a general consensus of opinion that this is a subject which merits the attention of the House and of the Government.
The record of the House in recent years in this matter has, I think, been very high indeed, for when my right hon. Friend the Lord President of the Council was filling my Office and caused the inquiry into the death of Denis O'Neill, there was a very strong feeling when the Report was received that serious evils had been revealed and that immediate action was called for. My right hon. Friend set up the Curtis Committee on which my hon. Friends the Member for North Bradford (Mrs. Nichol) and the Member for Bark- 2473 ing (Mr. Hastings) served—they were not Members of this House at the time they were appointed—and when that Report was received, the conscience of the nation was accurately reflected in the feeling of the House.
The Government promoted legislation embodying nearly all the recommendations of that committee in the first available Session. The hon. and gallant Member for Worthing (Brigadier Prior-Palmer) made some comments on the swiftness of the action, but I do not know that we could have been more swift than that. I think we were responding to public opinion in that matter and I am happy to say that the administration of the Act has shown that the local authorities themselves are equally concerned in seeing that a high standard is fixed for the treatment of those children who come within the purview of the children's committees.
Tonight we have had brought to our notice another group of children in whom the House is interested and on whose behalf very strong representations have been made to us. It would be as well that we should get some sense of proportion, as has been asked for both by my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford', North and my hon. Friend the Member for the Sutton Division of Plymouth (Mrs. Middleton), who made what in my opinion was a most balanced and constructive speech.
In the first ten months of 1948, 32 cases were dealt with at assizes and quarter sessions and 849 cases were dealt with in magistrates' courts, making a total of 881 cases. I am glad to say that in the first ten months of this year, although public attention, through this House, has been focussed on this subject, the numbers are 16 cases at quarter sessions and assizes and 705 in magistrates' courts, making a total of 721. I am not producing those figures in any spirit of complacency. Seven hundred and twenty-one cases are far too many and they indicate the nature of the problem with which we have to deal.
I want to draw a quite clear distinction between neglect and cruelty. It is true that the distinction that I draw may not always be found in the existing law, but cruelty I regard as something positive and morally wicked, and to be condemned on those grounds. Neglect may arise from 2474 many causes—I will try to deal with some of them—and I am not saying that it is not blameworthy, but I do not put it into the same moral category as cruelty. Fortunately the number of cases of cruelty, while they of course attract a great deal more attention in the newspapers, are by no means as numerous as the cases that are brought forward of neglect.
We have had many suggestions with regard to the matter and I should like first to deal with the speech of the hon. Member for Londonderry (Sir R. Ross), who quite rightly said that I am very interested in the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children. I have benefited greatly from their advice and experience in many phases of the work of my office. I recognise that they are a very valuable voluntary organisation, but I am inclined to agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Epping (Mrs. Manning) that with their existing staff they have reached the limit of their usefulness, and the ground that they can cover is not by any means all the ground that might be covered, and should be covered, by such an organisation. For instance, I took the figures he gave, that they had 270 inspectors who made half a million visits. That is 1,850 visits per inspector per annum. With 313 working days, that gives six visits a day, which I should think is about as much as an inspector can do in the course of a day and it means that these people are quite fully employed.
I hope no one will take me as in any way disparaging the work of this society, but I think it does mean that they are not in themselves sufficient to cope with all the cases that undoubtedly exist. While we are very thankful to them for what they do, I would myself think that had they more inspectors and more opportunities they might be able to deal with more cases. I want to commend them particularly for this; that in cases of neglect, especially, they do regard prosecution as the last of the remedies to be applied. We had the case mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke Newington (Mr. Weitzman), who spoke of a woman sent to prison for 28 days. I am bound to say that our experience is that such a sentence of imprisonment in such a case does nothing to remedy the undoubted wrong that has been done to the child.
2475 The Governor of Holloway, if the woman goes to Holloway, does her best in all these cases of women committed for child neglect to give them some training in mothercraft. She does the same for women who enter Holloway pregnant, and for the younger women who may be going out to become wives. Everything is done to help them, but, in 28 days, one cannot do very much. That has been particularly the experience of the home at Plymouth which my hon. Friend the Member for the Sutton Division mentioned and with which I will deal later. Twenty-eight days is no use for that purpose. It means that to some extent the home has been disrupted, and, while I do not quite accept the view put forward by one or two hon. Members that the mother goes back feeling a sense of grievance against the children, I am certain that very little has been done to help her constructively towards managing the home better in the future.
I submit to the House—and I think that what has been said tonight by many hon. Members goes to substantiate it—that the great majority of cases of neglect arise from shiftlessness, fecklessness and an inability to cope with domestic situations that rather overwhelm a woman of a not very high intelligence to start with. But let us face this. We must not imagine that child neglect is confined to one class of the community only. There are quite as many children neglected for bridge parties in proportion to the number of women who attend bridge parties as there are from parents going to the cinema. I notice that Mr. J. B. Priestley, in the introduction he wrote for the report of Mrs. Hubback's Committee, said this:Finally, at the risk of seeming ungrateful, I must add that I feel that this Report, immensely valuable as it is, still remains incomplete without more reference to the neglected child among the well-to-do classes. Such children may possess all the comforts, but they live in a condition of emotional insecurity that is dangerous to themselves and may afterwards be dangerous to society.The problem that confronts us, therefore, is wide in its scope. I think the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for North Bradford was one that the House ought to hear in a Debate of this kind. It takes some courage to get up and speak against what is the obvious 2476 general emotional feeling of the House. The House will know the story of the bishop who reproved the boy who had not the pluck to be the only one to say his prayers in the dormitory, and the boy retorted, "Would you, my Lord, have the pluck not to say your prayers in a dormitory inhabited by bishops?" My hon. Friend put in front of the House certain practical considerations which we have to bear in mind when we are asked to deal with this problem, for one of our difficulties is to get definition and terms of reference. That is a great difficulty in this case, for hon. Member after hon. Member on both sides of the House has said that what we do not want to do is to establish some form of additional snooping—to use a word of the modern jargon.
I agree. Neither do we want to manufacture additional crimes. What we want to do—again in a phrase used by my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke Newington—is to assert that the primary object we have in view is the welfare of the child concerned. I agree with hon. Member after Member who has said that what we also want to do is to preserve, and especially to improve, the standard of home life in this country. I am quite certain of this, that the reasonably good home is better than the perfect institution or the perfect foster parent. And that, I am quite sure, we must all regard as fundamental.
Therefore, I am disappointed that so little use has been made of the excellent work that has been started by the Salvation Army at Plymouth. I sent round a circular to all magistrates' courts commending this Home and suggesting that the neglectful mother who was obviously capable of improvement should have it made a term of her probation that she attended this home. There was an effort made to start a similar home in London. For two or three months no cases were sent to Plymouth at all and, since the home started earlier this year, only 20 mothers have been sent. Fourteen of these are recorded as being below average. The people in charge of this home—and the Salvation Army have a wide experience that enables them to assess people's character and home-making qualities pretty accurately—said that the women have all been judged to be loving mothers and faithful wives but thoroughly incompetent housekeepers.
2477 They have usually had a number of children at short intervals, and being intellectually dull and physically incapable have gradually sunk under the weight of domestic responsibilities and difficulties. The regular routine and training for both mothers and children has shown remarkably good results. These mothers are allowed to take their children under five years of age with them. I cannot help but think that that is a particularly valuable thing to do in these cases. It avoids the break-up of the home and its keeps the mother in touch with the children, and, after all, her instruction is provided in connection with her own children and not in connection with the celluloid dolls that are sometimes provided in mothercraft centres, which do not squeal if they are held the wrong way and cannot make any effective protest if they are dropped.
I think that this is a very valuable experiment. The results have been quite good and I sincerely hope that other institutions on these lines will be brought into existence, for I am quite certain, and it cannot be too much emphasised, that we desire to help these women, who through lack of individuality and possibly through overwhelming circumstances, have just foundered in their homes. I sincerely hope that there will be a considerable extension of this work as time and opportunity occur.
As a result of the Debate in July I have, as my hon. Friend promised the House, set up a working party inside the Home Office which in addition to members of the staff of my own Department has members of the staff of the Ministry of Education and of the Ministry of Health investigating the problem, and particularly the extent to which the existing law is not being used when it might be used. I am bound to say that some of the cases that have been brought before the House tonight appear to me to have been suitable for action under the existing law. I would point out, for instance, that Section 40 of the Children and Young Persons Act, 1933, is a great deal more capable of being used than would appear to be the case from some of the remarks about it this evening. It says:If it appears to a justice of the peace on information … laid by any person … that there is reasonable cause to suspect—that an offence of cruelty or certain criminal acts have been or are being com- 2478 mitted in respect of a child or young person or—and I wish to point out that this is an alternative and is not something for which the first condition has to be fulfilled before the second becomes operative—that a child or young person is being assaulted, ill-treated or neglected in a manner likely to cause him unnecessary suffering or injury to health:the justice may issue a warrant authorising any constable … to search for the child …and in doing so to enter any place specified in the warrant.
I am quite certain that one or two of the cases mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for North Hendon come within the second alternative paragraph, and I regret that there should be any doubt as to the power of a justice to grant a warrant in such a case. If individual cases are reported either to the police or to the N.S.P.C.C. or to my Department I am quite certain that some of them could be dealt with under that paragraph.
The working party is having this ground very carefully surveyed, and I hope that shortly I shall get from it a report on the ground to be covered, on the specific parts of the law which at present are not being adequately used, and on the gaps which exist in the law, which this Debate and the state of the public conscience reveal as being in need of attention by the legislature. I do not imagine that anyone wants a committee for the mere sake of having a committee. On the other hand, I realise that there is a general desire that the public conscience shall feel that the problem is being fully covered.
Therefore, I am authorised to accept the Motion as drafted. If it is found that the work of the people now engaged on the task adequately covers the needs of the situation, and I feel that the advice they tender to us is sufficient for action to be taken, I would respond to the feeling of the House that no time should be lost in dealing with the matter. Therefore, I am not tonight promising that what is called here "an official committee "—by which I understand the hon. Lady to mean people who are not officials—
§ Mrs. Ayrton Gould
Similar to the Curtis Committee.
§ Mr. Ede
I wish the hon. Lady had said that, then I should have known what 2479 she really meant, because I gather she does not regard an official committee as a committee of officials.
§ Mrs. Ayrton Gould
I understood that the Curtis Committee was called an official committee, and I did stress in my speech that we wanted a committee similar to the Curtis Committee. I am sorry if I was not clear.
§ Mr. Ede
The hon. Lady made it quite clear in her speech, but she is asking the House to pass this Motion, and not her speech.
§ Earl Winterton
Surely, it is a common term. It does not mean a departmental committee. It means an ordinary committee, but official. It is a common term. It has been used before.
§ Mr. Ede
I presided over the departmental committee on private schools, which was a committee constituted like the Curtis Committee. I want to assure the House that the Government are fully seized of the state of the public conscience in this matter, and the strong feeling on both sides of the House, and we desire that any steps we have to take shall be taken speedily and effectively, with the fullest possible knowledge in front of us 2480 when we take action. That means that if the work of the party now engaged on it indicates that there are some rather blurred edges, or some places in which we should wish to ascertain what public opinion on the matter may be, we should then proceed by way of some kind of committee mentioned by the hon. Lady. But I have seen too many issues shelved in this House by the appointment of committees, rather than hastened, to make me feel that, of necessity, the appointment of a committee, the promise of an appointment of a committee, when inquiry is already going on, is the only way of getting the best results we want.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
That, in view of the many cases of cruelty and neglect of children who were not included in the terms of reference of the Curtis Committee, this House calls upon the Government to appoint an official committee to inquire into the extent of the evil and make recommendations for effective prevention and remedial treatment.