HC Deb 29 October 1956 vol 558 cc1189-96

In section forty-seven of the principal Act, after subsection (1), there shall be inserted the following subsection :— (1A) In pursuance of the foregoing subsection it shall be the duty of education authorities to ensure that children are taught the values of cleanliness and good manners at table, the importance of balanced diet and good cooking and the arts of housewifery."—[Mr. Woodburn.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Mr. Woodburn

I beg to move, That the Clause be read a Second time.

I think that the wording of the new Clause makes quite clear its intention. I do not propose, therefore, to say a great deal in support of it, except that it follows very largely the same principles that have guided us in our discussions on two previous proposed new Clauses, that we really ought to make some progress in eliminating the social distinctions in our population.

There is a great deal of excitement and alarm in many countries of the world today over the colour bar, but many of us realise perfectly well that inside our own country, while there is not a colour bar there is an educational bar, the bar of manners which separates our population into what Disraeli called the "Two Nations." We have not yet completely bridged the gap between these two nations. It is quite true that when a more charming member of the working class becomes a film star, she gets persona grata entrance into almost any of the ducal palaces, but that does not happen to the people who do the work of this country.

The industrial workers of this country, the people who are miners and engineers, are not accepted as equals any more than the people of a different colour are accepted as equals. That is one of the things which will denude the industry of our country of the best brains, because the whole tendency is for people to get out of those industries in order to be regarded as among the best sections of the population.

I had twenty-five years' experience in industry. I was brought up in that atmosphere. Unless the status of the people who are doing the work of the nation in the productive field, even if they dirty their faces and hands in doing it, is raised and, outside their work, they feel to be the equals of all the other fellows, there will be a continual drain from the ranks of the workers and the best people into jobs which may not be so useful to the population.

A noble Lord was telling me that he was speaking to two miners in Durham who felt that they should be able to use their brains for something better than digging coal and that they could be in some job where they could use their brains to better advantage. He said, "I hope that you are taking a wise decision. After all, when you have finished digging coal your mind is free to develop in the direction that you have been going by the study of economics, history, sociology and other subjects, whereas if you take another job—supposing you think that it is a better job to be an insurance collector—you may spend your day arguing with people at front doors and at the end of the day you will be so exhausted that you will have no inclination to take up any studies at all."

So there is a balance going on in our community. If people have to work with their brains during the day, they may not have the same opportunity of intellectual relaxation as people in industry. What we want to do is to train our people in such a way that when they leave work they can have social contact with their fellows, whether they come from the university, the mine, the railway or the school.

I often think of what Bernard Shaw said when lecturing in Edinburgh on Socialism. He was asked what difference it would make. He said, "I think that it would make this difference. If a man was walking along Princes Street and he saw a lady whom he thought would make a fit and proper mate for him there should be no social or economic barrier to prevent them from becoming man and wife". I think that our population should be on that basis, and that there should not be segregation in the life of the people. There should not be segregation in the life of the people. Most of this starts in the schools, and the schools ought to do something to change it.

I am suggesting that the manners, social habits and speech of the people should be just as important in the schools as is learning the names of rivers at the other end of the earth. In Scotland, we used to pride ourselves that we so taught the three "Rs" that when children left school they were at least "sound in their fundamentals", as the old people used to put it. I agree that there was a great deal to be said for that, but I have a strong feeling that cleanliness, good manners, knowledge of diet and, for girls when they marry, knowledge of how to cook, even art in the home, are just as fundamental to life as a knowledge of Latin and Greek and of some of the classical subjects with which children struggle in school.

I recognise that teachers are alarmed at the prospect of having still further odd jobs put on them which would detract from the time they can spend on their normal subjects. I can appreciate their feeling, but I think this ought not to be an odd job ; it ought to be a fundamental part of the school curriculum that when children are fed at the nation's expense, it should be combined with all the other arts connected with food, such as the art of setting a table and of decorating the home, table manners and everything which goes to make the man. Good manners make the man.

I have spoken on this theme in the House before, and I will therefore not weary the House by elaborating it now, but I should like this Motion to be accepted in order to bring to the attention of the people in the schools the fact that something should be done to see that all the class distinctions are eliminated in this manner, so that people can meet each other as comrades and friends in any walk of life.

Mrs. Mann

It will be observed that this Clause stands in the name of the male fraternity. No woman Member has put her name to it, although we may not object to it. Although I am supporting it, I believe that it has objectionable features. It is Victorian. It asks that the importance of balanced diet and good cooking and the arts of housewifery shall be taught, and it will be noticed that my right hon. Friend the Member for East Stirlingshire (Mr. Woodburn) said, "taught to the girls." Why not to the boys?

All through this Clause man is looking after himself. He is dictating not only that he shall be looked after but that he shall be looked after by woman. I want to point out that those days have long passed. No matter how much a girl may know of housewifery and cooking, that is not what matters in these days. What matters today are her vital statistics—36–24–36. That is what man looks for. Irrespective of all that my right hon. Friend has said, the girl who devotes her education entirely to housewifery has a very poor chance in the marriage market. That may or may not be a good thing, according to one's own ideas about it.

In my opinion, the teaching of housewifery or cooking should not be confined to girls, because the modern young woman today goes out to work. Some of the women work because they have to, because it takes a combined wage to meet the cost of living. I do not want to be offensive to the Front Bench opposite on this subject. It takes the wages of some wives, combined with their husbands' wages, to get the wherewithal necessary to make ends meet. There are others who, before they could get a new hat or a new dress, had to go on hands and knees to a mean-fisted beggar called a husband before they could get the money, and he had a great deal to say before he handed it over. They go out to work to earn the money instead, and now they go not only for that, but because of the sheer enjoyment of having that little bit of independence, now they have that extra freedom.

10.15 p.m.

Personally, I should prefer an intelligent, well educated mother, groomed in an academic education, to one who had had no education whatever beyond being good at housewifery. She is the kind who will be left at home when her husband goes out to find other more interesting women who can discuss various topics in which he is interested. She gets left far behind.

To return to a more serious aspect of this new Clause, I would remind the Committee of the amount of illness due to uncleanness in our overcrowded areas. It would be interesting to know what the incidence of dysentery is in our schools in Glasgow. I think it may be found that the figures are rather shocking.

Cleanliness is important, but why always put the teaching of everything on the teachers? Why not tell the mothers that they ought to instil cleanliness and hygiene into their children at home? Duty after duty is placed upon the teachers, to the detriment of real education—duties that ought really to be performed at home.

If the new Clause is agreed to I hope it will not be over-emphasised in the schools, but that we shall remember that it is in the home that these subjects ought first to be taught. I hope that the teachers' time will not be too much taken up with teaching them. Where, however, they are taught in school I hope that they will be taught to the boys as well as to the girls. Let the boys be taken for instruction into the cookery room, because when a boy grows up and marries, then, when he and his wife come home at night from work, if he is a man at all, he will go into the kitchen to help her, as she has been helping him to bring in the income.

Mr. G. M. Thomson

My hon. Friend was saying that the man always looks after himself. Can we take it that her speech is an example of Mann looking after herself?

The Solicitor-General for Scotland (Mr. William Grant)

I certainly sympathise with the motives which have led the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire (Mr. Woodburn) to move the new Clause, because I know from what he has said on other occasions that he has this matter very much at heart, but I think that he will agree with me when I say, with the hon. Lady the Member for Coatbridge and Airdrie (Mrs. Mann), that this is a problem which ought to begin at home. Cleanliness, like charity, should begin at home.

What the right hon. Gentleman is attempting is to make sure that at school proper care and consideration is given to questions of cleanliness, good manners, housewifery and the like. I have read this new Clause, even the part about cookery and housewifery, as applying to the boys as well as to the girls. On this occasion, I think that we are looking after not only men but women also.

I feel that the regulations and provisions we have already cover the substance of this proposal. As the right hon. Member for East Stirlingshire is aware, details of the curricula are covered by regulations which are made under Section 71 of the 1946 Act. The right hon. Gentleman has been familiar with the working of that Section and the most recent code issued under that Section deals with the matters in the proposed new Clause in some detail.

It might help if I quote briefly from Regulation 20 of the Schools (Scotland) Code, 1956 where, under the heading, "Formation of Good Habits in Pupils" it is stated that, In the conduct of every school from day to day care shall be taken to train the pupils in habits of personal hygiene and cleanliness, of correct speech and good manners.… and mention is made of the qualities of truthfulness and various matters with which the proposed new Clause is not concerned. The memorandum, "The Primary School in Scotland" also draws the attention of teachers to the need to inculcate at an early age cleanly habits, good manners and the like.

Mr. Woodburn

And table manners.

The Solicitor-General for Scotland

Good manners would embrace table manners, but in so far as table manners are a subsection of good manners they have exercised the Department from the time school meals were instituted. It was brought to the notice of teachers at an early stage of the school meals system that the system provided an excellent opportunity for the teaching of good table manners and cleanliness at table in a practical fashion to the children. In addition, the inspectors who inspect school meals take every opportunity to make sure that these recommendations are carried out. Therefore, table manners are very much in the mind of the Department.

Mr. Woodburn

I appreciate what has been done in some schools. It was because of the contrast between the excellent work done in some schools to train children in these matters with what I understand is happening in some other schools that I was anxious to emphasise that school meals should be used as a means of teaching manners. It is in association with the actual eating of meals in schools that so much could be done that is not now being done.

The Solicitor-General for Scotland

I will certainly bring that to the notice of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. These recommendations have been issued with the same object in view as the right hon. Gentleman has in mind, but it is I think a matter for persuasion rather than for specific statements in a Statute.

As to the importance of a balanced diet, good cooking and the arts of housewifery, these are normally covered in the secondary education of girls. As the right hon. Gentleman knows, the secondary courses are subject to the approval of higher authority and it normally provides for these matters in secondary courses. At the moment boys do not receive instruction in the art of housewifery, but I think that a number of them learn a considerable amount about it after they are married.

With all respect to the hon. Lady the Member for Coatbridge and Airdrie, I think that men are not really so stupid as she would have us believe, and that a good cook and a good housewife has a better chance of getting married than the girl with the vital statistics. It may be that the girl with the vital statistics has chances of getting married more frequently, but the girl who is the good housewife has a much better chance of making a permanent marriage.

In view of what I have said, perhaps the right hon. Gentleman might feel that, having raised the point and brought it to the notice of my right hon. Friend, it might be appropriate to ask leave to withdraw the Motion?

Mr. Woodburn

I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion and Clause, by leave, withdrawn.