HC Deb 22 December 1971 vol 828 cc1566-82

2.50 p.m.

Mr. James Hill (Southampton, Test)

I am grateful for this opportunity to raise the topical and timely subject of the education and care of pre-school children.

At present local authorities are prevented from opening new nursery classes by circular 8/60 entitled "Nursery Education." This even prevents authorities from making use of spare rooms within existing schools for the creation of nursery schools. The circular was amended in July, 1964, and subsequently in December 1965, to make it possible then for authorities to open nursery clases or to create classes if by so doing they would increase the net teaching force by admitting children of women teachers who would then be released to teach full time or part time in primary and secondary schools. In effect, each additional nursery class opened had to enable the authority to secure the services of four qualified women teachers, including part-time teachers at their full-time equivalent value. This circular was issued at a time of acute staff shortage, especially in infant and junior schools, and has to be seen in the context of what were then rapidly increasing annual birth groups.

The later 1960s saw both a turndown of annual births and a rapid increase in the number of teachers qualifying each year. The most encouraging feature concerning teacher recruitment has been the marked increase in the number of young teachers wishing to teach in infant and first schools. Authorities, especially those in Southern England, are now faced with the problem of selecting from an embarrassment of candidates rather than having to seek out married women teachers and to encourage them to return to their profession before their children have reached school age.

In these changed circumstances it would be advantageous to offer nursery education much more widely, and this could be done without detriment to pupils of compulsory school age. I am sure we are all agreed that the years up to five are crucial to the intellectual, linguistic, social and emotional development of young children. It is during these years that the rate of development is at its greatest. This fact has been recognised by the pioneers of nursery education.

Recent research, including that carried out by Dr. J. W. B. Douglas, Dr. M. Kellmer-Pringle and the latest Plowden Committee research project follow-up, has re-emphasised the importance of these years of education for children who are able to make an early start at school. Therefore, during this period children are developing their knowledge of language, learning how to organise information and to formulate questions—all essentials for securing maximum advantage from later education. They learn to cope with their own emotions and to make social adjustments to adults and other children.

If they are allowed to develop fully, it is important that they should enjoy a controlled environment adjusted to their needs and offering a rich variety of experiences and stimuli. Ideally, all children should have the opportunity to attend nursery school for at least one or two years before being admitted to their first schools. In this way they would be able to enjoy the use of premises, furniture and equipment chosen especially to meet their needs and would be taught in small groups by teachers trained for work with younger children and supported by two-year trained nurses.

Since 1967 Southampton has been able to provide opportunities for nursery education throughout the southern central sector of the city, but requests for additional nursery classes could be authorised to serve the needs of children in other parts of the city. It is clear that at this moment of time there will be no major extension of nursery education. Consequently, we must explore alternative means to help the young children.

The expansion of nursery education in socially deprived areas under the urban programme has proved that all Govern- ments now recognise the importance of compensating for an inadequate home environment at an early age in a child's development. Nursery classes and playgroups to a more limited extent can provide opportunities for imaginative play and social contact with other children. This is vital if we are to put an end to the scandal of children entering full-time education while lacking basic verbal skills.

However, I stress the value of nursery education for all children. No home, however good, can provide all the facilities of a nursery school such as trained teachers and enough children of a similar age. More and more mothers who are cooped up in high-rise flats cannot be expected to provide adequate space or the necessary stimulus for children on their own. The importance of the preschool years for development of a child's intelligence and capacity to learn is already acknowledged in my earlier remarks. Thus the efficiency of our educational system must be determined to an extraordinary degree by the success or failure of our pre-school policies.

It follows, therefore, that nursery education should not be regarded just as a rescue operation or as a luxury for those parents who can afford to pay for it, but as part of the normal educational provision that a country should be able to make available to all its children.

Secondly, I would point to the need for full-time as well as part-time provision for the pre-school child. Between 12 and 35 per cent. of mothers with children under five work outside the home. Thus about 750,000 children are involved. The rise in illegal child-minding in deprived communities, especially among West Indians and West Africans, is often due to lack of pre-school facilities to provide care for those children whose mothers have usually been forced to go out to work because of financial pressure. Every day thousands of babies and young children are being left in cramped rooms, deprived of comfort and toys, and this is happening in their most formative years. Even the amended legislation is largely concerned with health hazards, but it is acknowledged that the legislation is more or less unenforceable. The lack of adequate facilities is proved beyond doubt by such facts as those which I shall describe: by the existing demand in the long waiting lists; by the figures for existing provision in relation to the potential demand; and by the rapid expansion of the voluntary provision.

There are about 2½ million children between the ages of three and five and of these about 34,000 are in State nursery schools and some 228,000 in State primary schools. The latter number includes about 150,000 "rising fives" many of whom may have been put into a class with much older pupils and may therefore not be receiving nursery education. Fewer than 100,000 benefit from what may be regarded as the ideal start: six terms at a State nursery school. About another 35,000 attend private nursery schools or classes registered with the Department of Education and Science so that at the most just over 15 per cent. of children aged three and four get the opportunity to attend a nursery class and most research figures insist on a figure of only 10 per cent. A further 5 per cent. of this age group are children attending private or State-aided nurseries and creches or are in residential homes. In these, although the standards of care and health are maintained, the educational preparation which marks the nursery school stage is very low and is more usually wholly absent.

The day nurseries maintained by local health authorities and voluntary organisations under the National Health Service Act, 1946, usually are better equipped than the private ones in terms of play space and staffing. It should also be noted that many of the private establishments registered as nurseries are really nursery schools or play groups and, therefore, are unable to meet the needs of working mothers for full-time care for their children.

The voluntary play groups which have sprung up provide in some form or other for up to 5 per cent. of this age group. The Pre-School Play Groups Association caters for between 160,000 and 170,000 children. The standards of these groups are variable; although organisations like the Save The Children Fund try to provide trained teachers, there is no control by any education agency. In the main, they are situated in the better-off suburbs, and the chances of their taking root on a large scale in working-class areas are remote at present.

Thus to summarise, more than 75 per cent. of children will receive no form of pre-school service. Of the 20 to 25 per cent. who do, 5 per cent. are in play groups where they might or might not get excellent preparation, and 5 per cent. are in nurseries which have little or no educational function.

Such figures do not give any indication of the uneven distribution of provision between regions. There are county boroughs, such as Plymouth, Enfield and Bromley, with populations of more than 300,000, and counties like Sussex, Devon, Leicestershire and Wiltshire, with populations of more than 400,000, which have no places in maintained nursery schools.

A similar situation exists in relation to day nurseries. Generally, there is little correlation between need and the regional pattern of provision, although this should be emerging in nursery education as it is expanded under the urban programme. However, the current priority in education is the rebuilding of primary schools, which is justified on the ground that secondary education has been receiving relatively more resources in recent years. It is true that the time for rebuilding many of these schools is long overdue. But when will the balance be redressed in favour of the under-fives who receive only 2 per cent. of our national education budget? Surely the rebuilding of primary schools offers a unique opportunity for expanding nursery education at a minimum cost by including a nursery wing in each school built.

If, in spite of the strength of these arguments, the commitment to the provision of universal nursery education does not materialise in the near future, much can and should still be done to improve the provision for the under-fives. I welcome the promise of a further provision in deprived areas. But the aim should be a comprehensive and inclusive service in all areas in the near future. All local authorities willing to go ahead on their own should not be prevented from so doing by administrative restrictions such as those contained in circular 8/60.

Local authorities should be encouraged to extend their pre-entry provisions to compensate in some degree for the lack of full nursery education. Southampton has given recognition to the needs of young children by its present admissions policy and by the support and encouragement that it has given to heads of schools to make pre-entry provisions.

The statutory age of entry to school is at the beginning of the term after a child's fifth birthday, but only where staffing and accommodation permit. The pre-entry system whereby children attend school for one or two half-days in the previous term has meant that almost all children are making a gradual move away from their homes and into school during the two terms prior to becoming statutory fives. Headmasters and headmistresses report that they have seen great benefits accruing to children as a result of the pre-entry scheme. The children are able to learn gradually how to adjust to larger groups of children than they will normally meet in their homes or at play. They are able to meet their new teachers who will be such an important part of their lives in the near future. They become familiar with school buildings and with school routines. What is perhaps even more important, the pre-school medical examinations are carried out during this period, and defects which might hinder a child's educational progress can be remedied early.

Under the present Southampton policy, children whose fifth birthday falls between 1st September and 31st December are admitted to schools as "rising fives" in September at the end of the academic year. Consequently, they enjoy a full four years' first school course. Children with birthdays between 1st January and the end of the spring term are admitted in January and enjoy three years and two terms. Children whose birthdays fall between the period from the beginning of the Easter holiday to 31st August are admitted at the end of the summer term and so enjoy only three years and one term in their first schools. Thus, through the lottery of birth, some children enjoy a full four-year course while others have little more than a three-year course, and it is among the latter group of children that a disproportionate number of poor readers is likely to be found.

In the recent past, it has not been possible to devote efforts to extending opportunities for young children because other demands upon resources have had to take priority. Preparations for the introduction of first schools had to have the first priority. For several years, the increasing sizes of successive age groups entering schools have been putting great pressure on accommodation and staffing. There have now been several developments which provide an opportunity to move towards a fresh approach. The accommodation difficulties associated with the introduction of first schools have been overcome. The sizes of the age groups entering first schools have declined slightly. The supply of teachers trained to work with young children continues to show a steady improvement.

Any new system for starting school must take account of the following major factors. First, the transition from being mainly at home with mother to being a full-time pupil must be a gradual process if the child is not to be subjected to undue physical and emotional strain. This can be achieved in some form of pre-entry system and if the majority of pupils start school on a mornings only basis until they are ready for full-time education.

Secondly, the teachers receiving these children must be fully conversant with the needs of young children and the support of a nursery nurse must be available to make sure that there is a good ratio of trained adults to deal with all the children's needs.

Thirdly, the size of classes should be appropriate and uncrowded accommodation must be available, together with the appropriate equipment and furniture. My right hon. and hon. Friends know the sad state that education was in at the date of the last General Election. My right hon. Friend has expanded all sectors of education, giving priority to primary schools, as promised in our election manifesto. This debate gives me an opportunity to thank my right hon. Friend for the opportunities and the generous provisions that she has made in my constituency. We are extremely grateful.

Everyone on this side of the House realises that, over the next four years, my right hon. Friend intends to make available £190 million. That is a staggering total. I believe that it is the largest amount ever pressed into this sector. We also know that more than £70 million has been allocated for minor works in 1971–72 and 1972–73. Even the 8,000 nursery places provided in deprived areas since June, 1970, compare magnificently with the 10,000 places approved by the Labour Government in the whole of their six years in office.

All this, and the additional burden of raising the school-leaving age to 16—something to which the Labour Party gave only lip-service—has put a tremendous strain on the resources of the Department. But, despite all this, will my hon. Friend convey to his right hon. Friend the feeling that the 1964 and 1965 Amendments to circular 8/60 are now of historic value only. If any go-ahead education committee can make space available and squeeze its financial lemon, let it be free to do so. Encourage it with pre-school entry and the results will soon be there to be seen in our children.

I should like to finish by reading a paragraph from a letter from the Chief Education Officer of Southampton: After a careful study of the accommodation problems affecting our first schools and departments, I think that 12 first or primary schools would be able to house a nursery class without great difficulty and with only a minimum of modifications. As the teacher supply position continues to improve, it should prove possible to staff nursery classes at all 12 schools within two or three years at the outside. If a phased scheme were introduced, the Authority would be able to provide furniture and equipment as part of its normal estimate procedures. Ail 12 schools serve catchment areas where the children would undoubtedly benefit considerably from nursery school provision. Surely my hon. Friend must agree that this is the sort of progressive thinking that we on this side of the House must encourage. I am sure that the debate has shown that the problems of nursery education can be solved in future and that he and his right hon. Friend will do all that they can.

3.12 p.m.

Miss Joan Lestor (Eton and Slough)

I congratulate the hon. Member for Southampton, Test (Mr. James Hill) on raising this subject today. I agree with almost everything that he said, because he made the case for the pre-school child admirably.

I want to make only one, as it were, party point. However, I do not wish to make this a party debate because those of us who have stayed for it—there are precious few—are obviously concerned with the pre-school child.

The sin which was committed when the ban on nursery schools was put on in 1960 has left all of us who care about the pre-school child with an enormous burden of trying to start something again when the barriers, as it were, have been put up.

I realise that I have only a little time because the Under-Secretary has to make his comments. In 1944 very brave words were spoken about the pre-school child. We now realise how slow progress has been since. We must remind ourselves that when the lobby by the under-fives and their mothers took place here in 1968, those mothers were the under-fives in 1944 for whom nursery schools were promised. At the present rate of progress those under-fives who came with them will be lobbying again in 20 years for their children.

I do not share the hon. Gentleman's optimism about the speed of development of nursery school facilities, although I hope that he is right. I hope that this Government and successive Governments will show a change of heart in this direction.

The hon. Gentleman made the absolutely valid point, of which we do not make enough, that, for the most part, we offer nothing to our pre-school children until they go to school, and then we expect them to go to school full time at the age of five or five-plus. We do not give them any facilities for nursery education, although we often include in our figures for pre-school provision those "rising fives" who are in primary schools. One of the biggest sins we commit against pre-school children is to say that we have no facilities for them before the age of five, but that we expect them to take a full day's schooling, in the main in a class of 30 or 40 other five-year olds. The minority, who have been to nursery school, play group, or even day nursery, have at least had the advantage of socialisation and experience with other children and a staff ratio which is much higher than in any primary school dealing with children of five or under.

I want to repeat a plea which I have made before, and which was also made by Dr. Yudkin a very long time ago, it seems. The needs of pre-school children throughout the country vary enormously because the nursery school or play group does not meet the needs of the working mother. We do not know sufficient to make dogmatic statements, but I believe that we need a survey throughout the country to discover just what is the provision for and need of children particularly in areas where mothers go out to work. Many mothers of pre-school children go out to work and they are often forced to send their children to child-minders, sometimes unregistered, because the day nursery provision in the area is so poor. I realise that this is not the responsibility of the Under-Secretary. However, until we get some kind of "marriage", as it were, for the preschool child between the provision that is made by education and that which is made by the social services through the day nursery and play group, we shall always miss out on the needs of certain groups of pre-school children.

I am aware that the Labour Government did not do anything in this respect, although I personally wanted them to do so. I have always believed that there should be a joint administration for the pre-school child between what is now the Department of Social Services and the Department of Education and Science. I have never understood—I understood even less after I had spent eight months in the D.E.S.—how it is that if someone sends a child to a day nursery it comes under the Department of Social Services and one has to pay but that if one is lucky enough to have a nursery school in the area, it comes under the Department of Education and Science, as all pre-school education should after the age of about two, and one does not pay for that. The play group movement, to which all are indebted for the provision which it has made for young children, is making an educational provision which comes under the Department of Social Services. Until we sort this out and decide what we want for our pre-school children, whether it be baby-minding or education, we shall still continue to have these gaps.

I do not want to reiterate the other points raised by the hon. Gentleman, but they are absolutely valid. I do not want to put words into his mouth, but I believe that primary education begins before the age of five. Therefore, we must merge into the primary school-building programme provision for children under five. if the Under-Secretary and his right hon. Friend cannot yet see their way clear to expanding nursery school facilities, I am sure that if the empty classrooms could be made available many voluntary organisations would be delighted to make use of them. The urban programme was the first step, after many years, in making provision for children. I and many others welcomed it as a step in the right direction. What I regretted, and still regret, is that when we have the criteria of deprivation as a provision in education it is often not the best standard to use. The measurement of deprivation can vary enormously. For example, many children in materially well-endowed areas are very deprived indeed. It is not necessarily the children from poor areas who suffer from deprivation. I am sure that no hon. Member would disagree with that statement.

I have always believed—and I say this as one who taught the under-fives for many years—that it is during the third and fourth years that a child is at its most curious. Education is about curiosity and how to harness and stimulate it. At the moment we are missing the stage at which a child is most receptive and when attitudes to learning are formed most readily. I have never understood why we picked on the age of five and said that it was only then that education should begin.

I hope that the hon. Member for Southampton, Test is right when he says that the Government will launch us into a tremendous expansion of nursery education. But if they do not, and it is my feeling that they will not, I hope that they will look closely at what is being done by voluntary effort for the under-fives, and that in the meantime they will give every assistance to the play group movement.

3.20 p.m.

Mr. John E. B. Hill (Norfolk, South)

I am glad to support what has been said from both sides of the House, and particularly to welcome my namesake the Member for Southampton, Test (Mr. James Hill) on joining us in trying to get better provision for the under-fives. My hon. Friend gave us a classic description of the problem and of the partial and uneven progress that is being made. I am glad that he is joining the hunt against circular 8/60, and I hope that if we cannot get rid of it in the short term it may be possible to make further relaxations and include as qualifying returning mothers not only trained teachers, but perhaps trained nurses and other people, such as social workers, whose services as married women in professional employment are urgently needed by society as a whole.

Every piece of research turns up further confirmation that the pre-school years are decisive in forming a child's attitude and setting probable limits to the development of his potential. In today's Daily Telegraph there is an interesting article on the findings of the National Children's Bureau, under the direction of Dr. Kellmer Pringle, pointing out that by the age of seven so much is decided almost for life and therefore how important are the years leading up to those first two years in school. There appears to be some doubt about the necessary money being available to enable this most important research to be continued. I should like to think that there was no possibility of the Government's reducing their support for the National Children's Bureau.

It seems that local authorities in general are making uneven use of such powers and facilities as exist. Some local authorities—and my own is an example—are doing their best, and I hope that the Department will be able to record the good practices and circulate them so that those authorities which have not been very enterprising to date will in future make use of such provision as is allowed.

3.23 p.m.

The Under-Secretary of State for Education and Science (Mr. William van Straubenzee)

I am sure that the House is indebted to my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test (Mr. James Hill) for initiating what must necessarily be a short but none the less important debate, and I am delighted that the hon. Lady the Member for Eton and Slough (Miss Lestor) and my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, South (Mr. John E. B. Hill) who has been particularly associated with this problem, have been enabled to take part in the debate, however shortly, too.

We have briefly been lifting our eyes to the hills, and we must now descend to the depths with my contribution. Let me first establish quite clearly that on one matter at least, namely, the value of pre-school education, we are on common ground. Even without the evidence of research about the mental development of young children and the rapid growth which takes place up to the age of four or five, we should, I feel sure, be influenced by the conviction of thousands of parents and teachers that preschool education means indeed a real benefit to children. The Hadow Report contained the memorable phrase What a wise parent will desire for his own children, a nation must desire for all children. That is perhaps the most persuasive case for nursery education and it was reffected in remarks made from both sides of the House this afternoon, and I do not take issue—far from it—with any of the arguments put forward, from either side, in that respect.

At the same time, I recognise that my hon. Friend and others are hoping for something more than a sympathetic voice. I was asked not only to share my hon. Friend's objectives but to say when it might be possible to provide something, in concrete terms, to achieve them. I fear that I must say, in answer to this short debate on the last day of term, as it were, that I have no Christmas surprise in store. I hope, however, that I can put the matter in perspective.

It is true that at present we are simply unable to do as much as we should like in expanding facilities for the under-fives. The reasons are familiar enough, and some of them were given by my hon. Friend; nursery education is relatively expensive to provide and, as he rightly said, our resources are fully stretched to necessary improvements in the education of children of compulsory school age.

It is often true that desirable improvements must be tackled one at a time, and, as my hon. Friend said and as has received widespread approval, my right hon. Friend is for the moment giving priority to her programme of primary school improvements. I hope that, even though it may sound discouraging, this point will be well taken. Having made it, I will now take a rather more constructive approach to the whole problem.

First, the advances. A limited advance has been made under the urban programme. I realise that in comparison with the 140,000 places for children under five in maintained schools—this figure includes nursery schools and nursery classes attached to primary schools—the 18,000 nursery places which will have been approved by the end of this year under the urban programme may not seem significant. This figure includes the six classes in the Southampton local authority area to which my hon. Friend referred.

But the importance of this programme is that it has enabled the Government to concentrate resources in the twilight areas of cities where children most need the stimulus of nursery education. The hon. Lady the Member for Eton and Slough rightly made the point that many areas outside the scope of the urban programme also have social and environmental problems; for example, children in remote rural areas must often contend with surroundings which are bleak and isolated. But the downtown urban areas are probably the most acutely deprived, and it is there that the selective provision is most needed.

The fact that virtually all the resources available to the Department under the urban programme have been devoted to pre-school education reflects, I hope, its importance as a weapon against social and mental deprivation.

Hon. Members referred to the playgroup movement. I know that they understand this clearly, but perhaps for the sake of the record I should make it abundantly plain that statutory responsibility for the legislation governing preschool playgroups rests with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services, and the hon. Lady made this point.

For obvious reasons we in the Department of Education and Science take a keen interest in their activities and are in close touch with the Department of Health about their future development. The Department of Education and Science makes an annual grant to the national headquarters of the Pre-School Playgroups Association to help to develop its valuable advisory services—my right hon. Friend recently increased this to £7,000 a year—and to the Save the Children Fund, to which reference has been made. This fund does admirable work in organising playgroups in deprived areas.

I very much welcome the help which individual playgroups receive, in cash and kind, from local education authorities. Playgroups deserve special praise not only for their direct contribution to the need of young children but because many of them actively involve a number of mothers in the activities of the group and in the education of their own children.

The House may feel that this adds a new dimension to pre-school education. It can be especially valuable in the deprived urban areas. These are often, as we know only too well, in unpromising surroundings for a movement which is based on self-help and voluntary effort. Nevertheless, it is encouragingly true that many playgroups have been started in inner city districts and urban programme grants to the value of £250,000 have helped to establish them on a firm basis. As only one example, in Southwark a playgroup adviser appointed by the local social services department has used an urban programme grant to establish playgroups supervised by local mothers, many of whom attend part-time courses at the college of further education.

Many local education authorities have recognised the potential of the playgroup movement by making grants to individual playgroups, helping with the equipment and premises and organising courses for supervisors and appointing advisers. In one area groups of playgroups are able to turn for advice and support to a team of infants' school teachers under the direction of the L.E.A. adviser for nursery and infant education. We are anxious to build on what has already been achieved, and the two Government Departments concerned are together actively considering what further contribution playgroups might make to the needs of the under-fives. I am sure that the House, and the hon. Lady in particular, will recognise that a good deal of discussion will need to take place before the lines of future development emerge. But the House, and the hon. Lady in particular, can be assured that we are not in the meantime being idle.

In considering the needs of the under-fives the traditional distinction between educational provision and social provision tends to become somewhat artificial. Education and care are different aspects of an overall concern with the mental and the physical well being of young children, and all children who, for one reason or another, are in need of extended day care as a substitute for the normal home environment will also benefit from the stimulus of nursery education. It is in recognition of the complementary rôle of education and other social services that the Department of Education and the Department of Health and Social Security are discussing together not only the rôle of playgroups but the interrelationship of the needs of the under-fives over the whole range of provision.

As an example of active co-operation, seven experimental projects have been approved under the urban programme which will combine the facilities of a nursery school and a day nursery. The first project has already started to admit the first children, and all the local authorities concerned are discussing their plans with the Department of Education and the Department of Health. It is too early to say how far the idea of joint provision will be taken up by other local authorities, but one of the aims of the consultation I have mentioned between the central Departments is to evaluate the success of the experimental projects as they develop.

My hon. Friend and the House generally will appreciate that I have had time only to touch very briefly on some of the points made. I will write to my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, South on the points he mentioned about research. He will forgive me if I naturally want to check the facts on that first. I am sorry that I have been unable to say more at this moment about the future expansion of education for the under-fives. Nursery education is gradually becoming, however, more widely available. The urban programme will have a significant impact in the areas of greatest need, and local education authorities have steadily increased the number of nursery classes which they may establish provided that married women teachers are thereby released for work.

I have taken careful note of what has been said by my hon. Friends the Members for Southampton, Test and Norfolk, South. Many local education authorities, including Southampton, have found it possible to admit children under the statutory age to school. That is apart from the additional nursery classes provided under the urban programme.

Moreover, I have been interested to learn, directly as a result of this debate, something of the novel pre-entry scheme introduced by the Southampton L.E.A. and described by my hon. Friend, under which under-fives are invited to attend their future infant school for a few sessions a week before they are ready to attend full time. I understand that they come with their mothers, and that the scheme is designed to make their first experience of school rather less bewildering than it can sometimes be. I commend this initiative.

We recognise that the demand for nursery education, of which the success of the playgroup movement is a good illustration, far exceeds the supply of places available. In considering when and how far it will be possible to meet the demand within the resources available, we shall certainly bear in mind all that has been said by hon. Members on both sides. today. Debates like this, initiated so ably by my hon. Friend, help greatly to throw a searchlight upon a problem that I well understand is strongly felt in many parts of the country.