HL Deb 01 November 1939 vol 114 cc1600-44

3.32 p.m.

THE LORD BISHOP OF WINCHESTER rose to call attention to some of the problems arising out of the evacuation of women and children; and to move for Papers. The right reverend Prelate said: My Lords, I am afraid that the Notice I have put on the Order Paper is rather vague in its terms, but there are so many problems which arise in connection with evacuation that I thought it better to put it in general terms rather than to put down a question which might have occupied half the Order Paper. Like most of your Lordships, I suppose, during the last few weeks I have been in very close contact with various problems arising from the evacuation of women and children. Hampshire is a County in which there are various areas. There are two towns which are evacuation areas, there are a number of country towns and a very large number of villages which are reception areas, there are two areas which are neutral, and I myself live in what I believe is somewhat unkindly described as a waterlogged area.

The questions which have arisen in connection with the evacuation of women and children are many and difficult. I should at the very outset say that I believe the Government were right in their policy of evacuating the children. If they are criticised now because of the evacuation, the criticisms would have been much fiercer if there had been no evacuation at all. They would have been told that they were leaving the children exposed to all kinds of dangers, and I believe that if, during the last few weeks, any of the large industrial towns had been bombed—which happily has not been the case—a large number of the difficulties which are now spoken of so frequently would have been seen in their right proportions. There is, however, one part of the evacuation policy which I think has been shown in its present form to be a failure, and that is the evacuation of mothers with their children. A very large number of these mothers have now returned to the towns from which they came. At the very outset it was only a minority of the mothers who availed themselves of the opportunities of evacuation. It has not been a mere dribble of mothers returning to the towns, but a steady stream has returned. I know village after village from which all the mothers have returned. The kind of figure I am given, not only from the country villages, but from many of the towns both in the South of England and also in the North, is that something like 75 per cent. of mothers have now returned. I am not sure that that is an accurate figure, but a very large number have undoubtedly returned.

I think on consideration it will be seen that that was inevitable. These mothers, who have been accustomed to the towns all their lives, find the country as intolerable as we should find a back street in some city if we had to stay there for an indefinite time. One mother who returned said: "I saw fields and more fields, and I never want to see another field in my life." Another woman excited indignation in a small country village, where she was asked to make some slight change, by saying that rather than do that she would return, and added: "This is all the thanks I get for coming to such a one-eyed place." Another woman, on return home, said: "Well, I have had my experience in the country, and I would face an air raid sooner any day." We have to recognise that to those bred and born in a town, who have lived there year after year, the loneliness of the country depresses them and makes them unhappy. Then there are also the natural difficulties which are bound to arise when in a small cottage there are two women with different ideas of cooking and different standards of life. Friction is bound to arise.

But I think the most usual cause which has led women to return to the towns is the desire to be back with the husband and the older members of the family. Husbands have often urged them to return. I have seen it stated that the husbands have been acting selfishly in that regard, but those who make this criticism do not know how uncomfortable is the working man's house when the wife is away for any considerable period. The wife, of course, is not only wife and mother but she is housekeeper, she is cook, she is parlourmaid, she is laundrywoman and everything else rolled into one. I think it is quite natural that the women should desire to return to their husbands. I would therefore venture to suggest to the Government that if there is in the future, as I think there may be, another evacuation perhaps on an even larger scale, no attempt should be made to encourage the women to leave their husbands and to go into the country. I am not referring to the expectant mothers. They ought to be removed to safety areas, but they of course are removed only for a period. I think also younger children should be removed, but their case should be met by hostels with trained workers and, I hope, by the encouragement of nursery schools. But I have come to the conclusion that it is a mistake to urge wives to leave their husbands.

When I turn away from the mothers to the evacuation of the children there is a very different story to tell. On the whole, children have been happy, and most of them extremely happy, in the country. I have heard it both from the towns and from the villages. In a very interesting survey made in connection with the Liverpool University and published only a few days ago, the investigators said that they gathered that 92 per cent. of the children who had been evacuated from Liverpool were happy. Again and again, as I have moved about the country parishes and asked about the children, I have been told that they were happy and gaining in health. Not only are the children happy, but very often their hosts are happy. We hear of the blunders, the mistakes and the mischiefs sometimes committed by the town children; we do not hear so often of the unrecorded goodwill and the kindness and happiness which are shown by those who have received them. I know of three villages where the suggestion was made that the children, for educational purposes, should be removed elsewhere: the villages unanimously appealed that the children should be allowed to remain with them.

But in speaking of the happiness of the children and the way in which they have so generally been received, it is only right to refer to one very serious difficulty which in some places has prejudiced a large number of people against receiving the children. I am referring to the children who have left the towns with skin diseases and have been infested with insects of various kinds. A good deal has been made of this. I am sure it only refers to a small minority of children, but in some places a large number of children have come in such a condition that consternation has been caused among those who have received them. It has not been the fault of the children, nor has it always been the fault of the parents. It has very often been due to the environment in which these children have had to live year after year. These facts have, I think, brought home to a good many people, in a way they have never understood before, the horror and the scandal of the slums. The circumstances in which the evacuation took place were very difficult. It was in holiday time; the medical inspection, when it was possible, was hurried; and also it has to be remembered that though the medical inspection may be thorough, if a child goes back to its home that night, quite possibly by the time it goes away it may be infected again.

I am sure there has been an almost unnecessary but perfectly natural amount of alarm and consternation about this. I would suggest to the noble Earl who is to reply that it should be made quite plain—I believe he has already stated this—that in any future evacuation there should be a most careful medical inspection. More than that, I should think it wise that children who are suffering from skin disease or who are infected in any way should not be sent to private houses or property; they should be sent to a special hostel or camp where they would be under supervision, and then probably after a very few days it would be possible to send them on with a medical certificate to a private house. Some statement on broad lines, but quite a definite statement on those lines, would help to reassure many who are in an exaggerated way alarmed about what may happen.

Now I turn to the much more important and difficult question of the education of the children, both in the reception areas and also in the areas which are regarded as dangerous. In the reception areas in very many instances it has been necessary to have the double shift. That was quite unavoidable in the circumstances, and I am told by education authorities—I was told only the other day by one of His Majesty's inspectors of schools—that on the whole in the fine weather the advantages have been great. It has enabled children to get in touch with the country and to experience country life in a way they would not otherwise have done. But what is not unjustified and is unavoidable for a short period would be a very serious matter if it were continued for months and for years. It means that both the town child and the country child will suffer in their education. It means that the parents and the foster-parents will also suffer, because they will have some children, especially in winter, at home throughout the whole of the day.

One of the main difficulties, I am told, is in connection with vacant halls. There are a number of these halls, but the question arises who is to pay for them. The owners of the hall say: "We are willing to allow the children to have the hall, but there must be some payment for wear and tear, light, heating and so on." The education authorities in areas where children have been evacuated say: "We are not responsible: we cannot spend money on this purpose." The authority from whom the children have been evacuated say: "This is no concern of ours." The only matter, I understand, on which the contending forces are agreed is that the Board of Education should make a larger grant. In whatever way the matter is settled—and I am not asking for a larger grant—I hope that the President of the Board will give orders that as soon as possible the double shift of education shall come to an end, so that the children may have their full education.

But even more difficult and more pressing is the problem of the children who are left in the towns. Only about half the children in many places were evacuated, and a considerable number have returned to some of the towns. These children have no schools to which they can go. They are losing in their education, and in some cases they are beginning to run wild; they are a nuisance to their own homes and they are a nuisance to others. The noble Earl is fully aware of the urgency and difficulty of this problem. He has already used a phrase which I think has caught hold of the popular imagination: "There is a danger of these children becoming little barbarians." There is a very real danger, if this continues, that the children may lose all the benefit of the education they have had in the past.

Of course the Government are in a most difficult position over this. If these schools are opened it will be taken as an all-clear signal, and children will be pouring back again into the towns. It is a great responsibility for the Government to say that all danger of bombing is over. I doubt whether any of us could take the responsibility of urging the Government to take that line. If, after all, there was danger two months ago in September, the danger is as great to-day. We know perhaps more clearly than ever that we are dealing with leaders and with people who do not know what mercy, gentleness and honour are. There is a real danger still of bombing, and if the Government feel there is that danger—and of course they have facts and knowledge in front of them which no one else has—it will be wrong for them to attempt to bring the children back again into the towns. I think, therefore, if they feel there is this danger, that a more systematic attempt should be made to remove a larger number of children from the danger areas.

It may be possible to reduce the extent of the danger areas. It may be possible to say that some areas which were regarded as dangerous can now be treated as neutral. But those areas which are regarded as dangerous should have the children as far as possible removed from them. Compulsion is, I think, at the present time out of the question, but there is room for much more propaganda than there has been in the past. It is useless making two or three spasmodic appeals; you need to do something much more persistent if it is really to go home to people. The notices which we occasionally hear in church really arise from the incumbent's knowledge that, unless they are repeated several times, nobody pays attention to them. It is no use thinking, like the Bellman in The Hunting of the Snark, that if you repeat a thing three times it becomes true. I should hope that the Government, through the cinema, through the wireless, through the Press, and through voluntary organisations, would bring home to parents the advisability of removing their children.

In connection with this, I hope very much that the contributions which the parents are asked to pay will not induce the poorer parents to remove their children back to the town. I think it is perfectly right that the parents should be asked for contributions. A large number of the parents can well afford to make them, but some of the parents cannot, and they do not yet understand that where they cannot afford to pay their children may still remain in the country. And there is one point I want to raise here, of which I have given the noble Earl private notice. I am informed that a number of children, especially the children of poor parents, have been sent to relatives. This seems to be a most reasonable course, but under the rule laid down in Circular 1876 by the Ministry of Health, when children are billeted with relatives, even where they were sent to those billets prior to August 31, the relatives are not allowed to draw billeting allowances. I am told by one of the evacuation officers that on account of this quite a large number of children of poor parents are now returning to the towns. That does seem on the face of it to be a most unreasonable thing. There may be some explanation for it, and possibly the noble Earl will be able to give it. But when difficulties of that kind have been removed, when propaganda has been carried out effectively and thoroughly, there still will remain in the town danger areas a large number of children. And it is of vital importance that these children should not be penalised by being deprived of education, and that schools should be open for them in some form or another as soon as possible. I think there is a rising feeling in the country that education should be provided for the children who are now left in the towns.

There is one other matter to which I want to refer, and that, I think, in some ways is the most difficult of all—the problem of how home life is to be preserved during this period of war. Supposing the war lasts three years, what will be the relationship of the children to the parents from whom they have been separated for this long period of time? I know that those who are hosts of these children complain about the way in which the parents come down. "If only the parents would not come" is a phrase I frequently hear. When parents come sometimes they are very thoughtless in their behaviour, expecting to be fed by people who are as poor as themselves, and to treat as their home the place in which their children are staying. But I think that difficulties of this kind could be got over. I think the parents do need a certain amount of suggestion made to them. I wish the Ministry of Health or the Board of Education would issue a leaflet written in very simple language, under the heading of "Hints to the Parents of Evacuated Children." I am sure a number of these difficulties would be removed if the parents were warned against certain conduct which gives unintentional offence to the hosts of their children. In some cases excursions are run to the villages in which the children are staying. A whole herd of chars-a-bancs and 'buses descend on a village. That I believe is especially the case in connection with some of the northern areas.

But when everything has been said on that side, the fact remains that a large number of the parents are most unhappy because their children are away from them. I was very much struck by some of the instances given in that survey in connection with Liverpool from which I have already quoted. There, parent after parent spoke of the very real unhappiness they felt through the absence of their children. After all, the working class mother's main interest in life is her children, and when the children are taken away from her she feels that there is a blank which hardly anything else can fill. I think, therefore, the Government ought to be trying to think out some long-term policy as to how children could best be kept in touch with their parents. Possibly they may be able to keep in touch with them in the holidays. Possibly some of these new camps may be used as holiday camps, in which the children can spend the holidays with their parents. There should be perhaps some regular day every week, varying in different districts, on which the parents can see their children. In different ways the children should be kept in touch with their parents, if home life is not to receive a very grave blow. I will only say, in conclusion, that I hope the noble Earl will not think I have been over-critical. I know he is dealing with the problem most sympathetically, and I know that he sees that, although this is a great problem, there is an even greater opportunity in it of giving the children an experience of the country which they otherwise would never have had. I beg to move for Papers.

3.58 p.m.


My Lords, I think we are all very much indebted to the right reverend Prelate for bringing before this House a question which is causing—shall I say?—a good deal of perplexity in many country districts. First of all, may I say one thing which the right reverend Prelate omitted, and that is that I think we ought to congratulate those who organised the sending of children to the country on the way in which that was carried out? When one considers what an extraordinarily difficult task it was, I think it is a matter for very general congratulation that the children were got to their destinations, and that there was not more trouble and confusion about it than actually occurred. My experience is on the side of the receiving authorities. I think it might be said of them and of their inhabitants that they have tried to play the game. The circumstances have not always been easy, and I do not say that there has been no grumbling, but I have heard very much less grumbling than I should have expected and than I had expected there would be when the scheme was first mentioned.

The inhabitants in the receiving areas have in some cases been tried pretty high. The habits of some of the children, to which the mover has referred, have come as a bit of a shock. The right reverend Prelate also referred to the mothers coming down. One can understand the anxiety of the mothers to do so, but it does upset things a bit. That is one of the complaints I have heard, that visits by the mothers do not make things easier for the temporary hosts. Another thing to which reference has also been made, and which makes things a bit more difficult, is that children have been brought down into country districts and are more or less settling down when they are removed again. These are some of the broader aspects of the problem with which we have to deal and with which we are trying to deal. I am not here to represent the grumblers in any way. I am speaking on behalf of the receiving authorities as far as I know their case. They try to do their best in the unforeseen circumstances that have come upon them, and on the whole there is no very great ground for complaint in the way the children have been treated by the receiving authorities.

What I want particularly to call attention to is a more technical matter, and that is the financial side of the question. Remember, my Lords, the receiving authorities have nothing whatever to gain in this matter. They are compulsory hosts, and they ought not to be out of pocket by it. I quite recognise the difficulties of the evacuating authorities, the financial difficulties especially. They have to keep going. They have to keep up the fabric of their schools whether these are occupied or not. They have all the necessary expenses of the upkeep of a system that is no longer being carried on. I quite see that it is hard on them that they not only have to keep their existing establishments going to a certain extent, but also have to bear a great deal of the cost of the migratory experiment that is now being carried on. It is to the difficulties of the receiving authorities that I particularly wish to draw attention. The County Councils' Association have set up a special committee to deal with this matter, and they are, I believe, to interview representatives of the municipal authorities and also, in conjunction with the municipal authorities, to bring the whole matter before the Ministry concerned. Speed is really of great importance in this matter. Whatever decisions are arrived at, we want to know about them soon, because at the present moment the county councils do not know where they are from the financial point of view.

I attended a meeting yesterday in my own county to discuss this matter at which we had the considered opinion of the various county officials who deal with it. My noble friend who will reply to this debate has been good enough to say that if I hand it to him it will receive his consideration. Let me recount a few of the more important points—I do not want to go into details—which actually are troubling those officials who have to deal with the matter. First of all, the mover referred to cases in which there are sums recoverable from the parents. That is quite true, but who is to recover them? The receiving authorities really cannot do it. You cannot expect the officials of a county council in the West Country to deal with the parents of children sent down from Essex, to go into each individual case, to try and recover a few shillings, or may be a sovereign or two, from poor parents at that distance. It cannot be done. Some arrangement ought to be made by which such sums can be recovered not by the receiving but by the evacuating authority. The next matter that is troubling a good many of us is the date of the settling day. We have the authority of the President of the Board of Education that the receiving authorities shall not be out of pocket over this matter, and of course we take his word for it, but we have to advance the money at the present time and we want to know when we are likely to get it back.

At the present moment the receiving authorities have got to pay. For how long are we to finance this operation? Is it to be for the duration of the war? The extra cost is very large. I inquired in my own county, and was informed that in a single area it might, for education alone, run to anything up to six figures. That is a very large sum for a county to find. Such a sum cannot be raised on the rates for a single year. It would be in every way bad finance, it would be a great hardship to the people of the county, and would cause a great outcry. We must not have an enormous rate levied on an individual county for this purpose. I want to ask whether we could have six-monthly settlements or annual settlements. If that is not workable, or if it would be too cumbrous, then I suggest borrowing on special suspense account for the duration of the war, the debt on which would be recouped at the end of the war.

The next point is this: When the settlement comes, what is the basis of it to be? You cannot make calculations of the cost of every individual child. I suggest that when the settlement is made it must be on a per capita basis for a yearly average. The actual figure per capita would be difficult to arrive at. It ought to be a matter for discussion between the evacuating and the receiving authorities, and I should hope one of the Government Departments—either the Ministry of Health or the Board of Education—might step in as umpire to settle exactly what the figure should be. That again I think ought to be done quickly. It makes things very difficult indeed for the receiving authorities when they do not know what the settlement is going to be when it comes. That is on the direct education side. The same questions also arise about health with regard to the children. Here the county council can send in the bill, but it cannot recover the cash from the individual, and again we ask that the evacuating authority should recover whatever is due in such cases as that.

Another matter that arises is one which the mover of the Motion has already mentioned; that has reference to the mothers who come down and have babies in the country districts. We have found several actual cases in which the mother comes down, and is confined in the district, the expenses being paid by the local authority; then, as soon as she can get about again, she goes back to the district from which she came. She does not receive the maternity benefit. It has been paid to her husband who is in the area from which she came, and our difficulty is how to get that money from the husband. There, again, we want either the Ministry or the evacuation authority to help us to recover what is due to us. It is so very hard to turn a county council into a debt-collecting authority with powers to be exercised in a county more than 100 miles away.

Another point that will come up and to which I should ask my noble friend to call attention, though it is not one for which I could expect an answer at a moment's notice, is with regard to what is known as the formula. Noble Lords will remember, in relation to the Local Government Bill, how the grant that local authorities were to get from the Government depended on what was known as the formula, a very complicated thing that few people understood. I was in the House of Commons when that Bill was being passed. Many people were unable to understand the formula and I never thought it would answer at all. It was so incomprehensible that it was almost impossible for anyone to argue about it. But one thing is clear, and that is that the formula which regulates what the amount of the Government grant to a local authority should be, has, as one of its factors, the population of the receiving county. The population of the counties is going to be very largely raised by this evacuation, and not only by the compulsory evacuation of schoolchildren but by people who are evacuating themselves. I should like to ask whether at all events it could not be considered that the grants under the formula should be so altered as to comply with conditions that are existing during the war. When a county's population gets a temporary rise of anything up to 30 or 40 per cent. then the contribution of the Government towards its expenses ought to be raised in the same proportion.

Those are the chief points that I want to bring forward about the evacuation of the children. I do not think that the difficulties to which I have called attention are insoluble. With good will on each side and with a little judicious pressing on the Government Departments, I think a fair solution may be very easily arrived at, but I want to stress again that speed is necessary. I have been particularly impressed by the fact that the present position makes things very difficult for the staffs of the local authorities. They have a great deal of extra work thrown on them just at a time when they are short-handed through a certain number of their members having joined the fighting forces. I want the Government to do all they can to speed this matter up so as to enable them to get on with their work.

4.17 p.m.


My Lords, I should like in the first instance to join with the noble Lord who has just sat down in paying my tribute to the right reverend Prelate who has raised this question this afternoon. We have always been accustomed, if I may say so, to have a mixture of common sense and knowledge from the right reverend Prelate, and we have had an exceptionally good example of both this afternoon. The right reverend Prelate has gone over the ground very fully. He has mentioned some of the defects of this scheme and the troubles which are being experienced in both educational matters and in health matters and so on. I am quite certain that the right reverend Prelate is right in saying that many of the troubles which remain are due to the division of authority. There are a number of different officers—the billeting officer, the education officer, and so on—and many troubles I think would be resolved if authority could be more concentrated.

The right reverend Prelate has mentioned to your Lordships the return of the mothers and young children, and I think we shall all agree that a great deal of that is deplorable. On the other hand, personally I feel that we have got to face the fact that the mothers are really torn in two. They have got to choose between their husbands and their children, particularly the young children, and I think we have to face the fact that many of the mothers will, and I think rightly, elect to return and stay with their husbands. I think the husband who expects his wife to return is entirely justified in doing so. Difficult as the choice may be, I think for our long-term policy we have to recognise that the policy should be based on the fact that the mothers should be with their husbands and that we should do what we can to keep the children away. The right reverend Prelate said that in some cases 75 per cent. of the mothers have returned. From my own experience I should think that was rather high, but I believe it to be the fact that taking the country as a whole it may be that 75 per cent. of the children under five have returned. That 75 per cent. of the babies and the toddlers should be back in areas of potential danger is really lamentable, and is one of the things which we must try and correct.

The fact is that this evacuation was extraordinarily well carried out with a great deal of improvisation, but the time for improvisation is now past, and we have got to try and build up a long-term policy. We are told that we have to legislate for a three-year war. The present conditions in these reception areas are not organised for a three-year war. That matter has to be organised on a much more permanent and solid basis. There are one or two practical suggestions which I should like to offer as to the sort of steps which I feel will tend to help in the settlement of the long-term arrangements. We have got to make a great effort to improve the conditions for the children who are in the reception areas and to prepare for a further evacuation. Everything must be done to encourage a further evacuation, and to that end the present arrangements for education, to which the right reverend Prelate referred, must be improved. I should like in passing to pay tribute to the teachers, who have struggled manfully with the difficulties which they had to face. Both the men and the women teachers have proved themselves, in the main, real heroes. They have struggled with impossible conditions; they have taken a great deal of responsibility when there was no-one to give them authority, and they have done marvels. But, after all, they are only the teachers; they are not the parents and they are not the hosts of the children; and they must be helped by an improvement in the arrangements.

One practical thing which I think should be organised—I believe it has been organised in a few cases, but much more should be done—is the provision of at least one communal meal per day. That, in addition to keeping the children together for their education and for their meal, would be a relief to the householders. I have great sympathy with the position of the householders. As the noble Lord who has just sat down said, they are playing the game in the main, but many small householders have had an intolerable strain put on to them by having to receive these children. They have played the game, but it would be an immense relief to them if, for at least one meal in the day, the children could be taken care of in the school where they are going to be taught.

The matter of vermin has been referred to and there is not much more that I want to say about that, except that I think the moment at which this evacuation occurred was the one to make the matter of vermin appear in its worst aspect. The children are always dirtiest and most verminous when they have been on their summer holiday. The school people had not time to get them back into order again, and I think that is responsible for a good deal of the trouble. In that connection it ought to be made perfectly clear that no householder ought to be compelled to receive a dirty or a verminous child. I hope that is already clear, but, if not, it ought to be made abundantly so.

Secondly, I would like to see a great development of what I should call residential nursery schools. Of course that would involve a lot of money, but then, if the war is going to last three years, billeting these children is going to cost a lot of money; and if you had the residential nursery schools you would have a permanent asset of enormous value. Merely to set up such schools and to get them staffed with the right kind of people would be the very means to secure the confidence of the mothers who at present are taking their children back to the towns with them. I have the greatest sympathy with the mother who does not want to leave her under-fives in the hands of strangers. I have seen it happen, that where in the evacuation area there has been a well-established nursery school, and the mothers have got the habit of sending their children there and have got to know and have gained confidence in the people who are running the place, a large proportion of those children have gone out with the nursery school when it has been evacuated and the mothers have been content to see them go. That I think is the state of affairs that you have got to try to create all over the country. There will always be some mothers who are able to go with their children. While I say that I think the mothers in the main should be with their husbands, any mothers who want to be evacuated with their children should go; and among them will be many who will be able to help to manage and run such residential nursery schools as I am suggesting.

Then again, one thing has happened which ought not to have happened; that is, that there has been too much commandeering of schools in reception areas. The noble Earl who is going to reply will, I hope, put the greatest pressure on a rapacious War Office to give up some of these schools. I do not know who the historian was who talked about "a brutal and licentious soldiery." I am not calling the War Office brutal and licentious, but they have been very rapacious and I think a trifle lacking in judgment in some of their commandeering of schools and other places. It must be wrong that schools in reception areas should be commandeered. Then, what about the camps? It is only a few weeks since the noble Earl who is going to reply carried the Camps Bill through your Lordships' House. I wonder how many of those camps are complete and whether any of them have been made available for the purposes for which they were intended. I would like any information there is about that, and I would like an assurance that an effort will be made, even in these difficult times, to devote the camps to the purposes for which they were intended or to some purposes analogous thereto.

In a word, our policy must be to get the children out and properly to organise the services for them. Do not let us be blind to the fact that this is a tremendous social movement which is going on, and one which has enormous potentialities for good. I suppose the greatest strength of this country has always been the class unity which we have enjoyed. There have been times when there has been sometimes more division and sometimes less division between the classes. I suspect there has seldom been a time when there has been less division than there is at this moment, and I personally always hoped that this movement out of the great towns into the country was one which had in it the seeds of tremendous social value. The searchlight on conditions in the slums has certainly been turned very strongly on to these difficult questions of dirt and vermin. The slum clearances of the last few years were doing a lot to ameliorate those conditions slowly. Now, anybody who had failed to realise the terrible blot which the slums were has had it brought forcibly to his notice.

I have heard a great deal of blame attached to the classes in which these conditions exist. It is vain for any member of our society to feel that he is free from responsibility for those conditions. It is no use blaming only the people themselves. They have a responsibility, but they have in some ways less responsibility than those in authority who allowed those conditions to exist. If we can bring about the complete elimination of such conditions simply because we now realise how intolerable they are, a great gain will have been made. Above all, if in the younger generation of children who have gone to the country a love of the country can be induced, the older people who cannot stand the sight of the fields must go back to the slums, if that is what they prefer; but if the children can be brought up with a love of the country and we can get thereby some permanent reorientation of the population, then a very, very great object will have been achieved.

4.29 p.m.


My Lords, we are all most grateful to the Bishop of Winchester for raising this matter and for convincing us, if we needed to be convinced, that we are confronted with a social problem of the greatest possible magnitude. This is an experiment far more considerable than any that has ever been either conceived or attempted in our country. I have been at pains, as he has, to get a good deal of information from different parts of the country and have made a rather more intensive survey in that part of the country of Kent which is under my special jurisdiction. First of all, let us acknowledge thankfully the great measure of success which has attended this vast experiment. Like my noble friend who has just sat down I think a meed of praise ought to be given to the teachers. It has been a most remarkable proof of the confidence which that great profession has gained both from the children and the parents. In the reception areas, as I know well, they have not been content merely to give such teaching as has been possible, but have been foremost in doing everything they can to promote the general welfare of the children, and this, as again I know, has thrown a very great strain upon them which most of them have not hesitated to undergo. There is perhaps only one word of appeal which I should like to make to the teachers, especially those who come from the large urban areas, and it is that when they find themselves in the country they should pay very careful respect to the character and limitations of the country schools and not be too supercilious in their complaints. I think also that they ought, more than perhaps has always been done, to pay due respect to the perhaps humbler headmasters and headmistresses in these country schools. But speaking generally it is difficult, I think, to praise too highly the work which the teachers have done.

Then again I think we ought on this occasion to recognise the valuable work of that great organisation the Women's Voluntary Services, known as the W.V.S., with its 1,500 centres, its 5,000 local officers, its 500,000 enrolled members, of whom I think about 127,000 have been specially enrolled for these evacuation services. It is not always remembered that the W.V.S. had begun to make arrangements for the possibility of a great evacuation as long ago as last February, and much of the success of the initial plans has in many places been due to that preparation. Let us also pay a tribute to the Women's Institutes, particularly in the rural areas. Most of your Lordships know that these Women's Institutes have been the means of seeking out hitherto unexpected proof of the resourcefulness, the capacity, the intelligence, and the initiative of our countrywomen. Everywhere they have been ready to put themselves at the disposal of the communities in which they live. I think perhaps it would be unfair if I did not allude to the work of the parochial clergy throughout the country. No doubt there are some who are so conscious of their being the parson, the persona of the parish, that they have been a little resentful of those who do not believe that they have a monopoly of wisdom and guidance in their parishes, but speaking generally they and the ministers of religion everywhere have really done their best to put themselves at the head of a neighbourly movement in their district.

When we come to the future, I think it is interesting to know that a Special Central Committee, in association with the National Council for Social Service, has been appointed representing women's organisations throughout the country, under Miss Margaret Bondfield, and that that committee will make it its business to study the emergence of the larger problems to which in a short time I may allude, to be a clearing house of information and to deal with Government Departments and the local authorities. Much also, I think, may be hoped from that Youth Committee which the noble Earl has established in the Board of Education. But most of all, in regard to whatever measure of success this great experiment has attained, let us give our meed of praise to the small householders throughout the country. They have suffered manifold discomfort and inconvenience, and almost without exception they have displayed a readiness and willingness which we ought in this place to acknowledge. They have been really discharging a national service of the greatest importance and have been pioneers in a great social experiment. Therefore from your Lordships' House let there go out a word of praise to these humble women up and down the country.

Of course, as the experiment proceeded, there have been special needs disclosed, which, if it is to continue or even to be enlarged, must receive most careful attention. The noble Lord, Lord Balfour, has already alluded to some of them and I need not repeat what he has said. Certainly there is one great difficulty about clothes. It so happened that the children were evacuated in the summer months and it has been very difficult to provide them with proper clothing now that winter approaches, but in many ways, much too detailed for me to trouble your Lordships with, that difficulty is being surmounted. There is also great need, especially if the experiment is extended, of that communal feeding to which the noble Lord has alluded. That might make the greatest possible difference. There is also need—it would be a great advantage in some places—of communal washing. It is a curious sign of social life that in many places the washtub has proved to be a greater centre of fellowship between the countrywomen and the townswomen than anything else. When their hands are deep in the soap suds they seem to be in some marvellous way drawn together.

One point I specially want to urge and I do so because I hope the noble Viscount, Lord Dawson of Penn, will follow me and perhaps extend and develop what I wish to say. It is the urgent need for the medical officers of health throughout the country to take steps to provide special—I will not call them hospitals, I think the term used in different areas of the country is sick bays, to which the children who are ill or infected can be removed. It is quite impossible for these small households, already overcrowded, to deal with sickness, and I wish I thought that in all parts of the country the medical officers of health were showing themselves sufficiently alert and alive to the need of providing these special hospitals or sick bays in separate houses. I am sure there will be need for procuring separate empty houses for these infected children of whom we have heard so much this afternoon. I am sure that there is a great deal of local enthusiasm which will gradually provide these needs, but I hope they will receive increasing attention.

When we make a survey of this experiment as a whole I entirely agree with the noble Lord, Lord Balfour, that it reveals a really remarkable output of neighbourly energy throughout the country and a sign of good will among all classes co-operating for the common good, for which we cannot be too thankful. Yet large and very grave problems emerge. If we could stabilise the situation we might be fairly satisfied with it, but it is just that which we cannot do: it is perpetually changing. I am not going to speak now of what has already been so fully discussed: the return of the mothers with young infants from the country to the evacuation areas. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Winchester has already explained the very natural reasons which have led to their return. I almost hesitate to add another, but I have heard of it so often that I may be forgiven if I do so. It is that the absent wives are sometimes a little afraid of the attentions which their husbands may pay to other ladies, or other ladies may pay to them. But at any rate the return is very natural and, of course, going on continually. I know of one place where there were originally 270 of these mothers with infants, and where now only eighty have been left.

The return of the children is, of course, going on continuously. I think it is sometimes forgotten—I am not going to weary your Lordships with statistics—that less than half of the children of school age who might have been evacuated were in fact evacuated; and of these I think, speaking generally, that at least one quarter have already returned. The question—of course a very obvious one—then arises: what is to be the position of the boys and girls who have been left in these areas or have returned? They have no schools, they have no teachers, they have no discipline. As has been truly said, many of them are running wild. I hope that the noble Earl, who has given so much close attention to this whole question, will be able to tell us this afternoon of the steps which he thinks it might be possible for the Board to take, either to reopen schools in certain circumstances or to provide other means of carrying on the education of these children. An even greater difficulty occurs with regard to the older boys and girls, those who are reaching or have almost passed the school exemption age. It needs little imagination to see to what particular difficulties and temptations they will be exposed during these dark evenings, and I hope that the noble Earl, if he cannot deal with all the points that have been put before him, will be able to tell us what success he is having in preventing unnecessary commandeering of club premises, or in persuading those who have commandeered them to return them to their proper uses. It is really of the vastest importance that nothing should be done to prevent the means by which these boys and girls can be kept out of the streets and in wholesome occupation.

This leads to one of the gravest problems to which I venture to call your Lordships' attention. That is the general breaking-up of school life and the unity of schools throughout the country. There have been, of course, advantages on the other side. The right reverend Prelate referred to them, and the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Burleigh, has done so even more fully. I quite acknowledge all that introduction into country life which has come to so many of these town children. But there is another and very different side to the question. As an illustration, there is a place where the military—the "brutal and licentious soldiery"—have commandeered three large elementary schools, with the result that the children in these schools are left to obtain what education they can in other buildings scattered up and down the town, or in fragments of time, so that now they are only able to have half a day of their schooling.

The difficulty is even greater with the secondary schools whose pupils have been evacuated from many danger zones. Your Lordships know how much importance these secondary schools attach to their character and their tradition. How can they be maintained in these present circumstances? They are obliged to share with other secondary schools, sometimes already overcrowded. I know of one instance where these secondary school pupils are able to have only one full day in the week, or one in ten days, in the same building. And that is going on all over the country. The position is aggravated by what I cannot but think is the needless carefulness of the local authorities: they will not allow more than sixty or eighty children to be in any one school unless the most complete precautions in the way of trenches and shelters have been made against the possibility of danger from the air—and that in districts which ex hypothesi are considered to be reasonably safe. That presses home to my mind the question which I think lies at the root of this whole matter. I almost hesitate to put the question, but I feel that I must. Is there not a danger of the whole community at this time being over-obsessed by fear? I am not denying for a moment the need of the most careful precautions, but is there not a real risk that in making precautions against air raids, which in the reception areas can at the worst only be very occasional and fragmentary, and which even in most cases, as we now know, are likely to be far less dangerous than at one time was anticipated, we may be running into the very grave danger of breaking up the school life of multitudes of our children throughout the country?

That brings me lastly to a second and most grave problem, to which the right reverend Prelate alluded: the break-up, not only of school life, but also of family life throughout the country. It seems to me certain that family life must be broken up in a two-fold way: the evacuated children lose their hold upon their own homes, and the parents of those homes lose largely their sense of responsibility. That is all very well for a short time, but what is to happen if that goes on for a year or two years? Again, in the reception areas the home life of these good people who have been so willing to receive the children from the towns is necessarily interrupted and fundamentally changed by the inclusion of children of a quite different outlook, environment and habits. Here again, is not it possible that we are making needlessly elaborate provision for safety, and thereby running the danger of breaking up the family life of the country? I am old-fashioned enough to think—and I notice that my old-fashioned views are supported by His Holiness the Pope in his recent Encyclical—that the family is the base of the community, and that on the welfare of the family and the home largely depends the welfare of the whole country. Therefore once again I ask myself, in guarding against the risks from the air are we not running the even greater risk of breaking up the school life and the family life of the country?

In saying this one is very open to misunderstanding. I am not suggesting for a moment that the great system of precautions which has been built up should in any serious way be affected: God forbid! But I do ask whether it may not be too elaborate, out of proportion to the reality of the danger and to the other needs of the community. I venture to repeat that question with all the risks of its being misunderstood —Are we not as a community allowing ourselves to be over-obsessed by fear? Risks there are and must be; we must guard against them; but let us not forget the risk, that attaches to care in this matter, of being careless upon others most important to the welfare of the country. Must we not make a balance between the risk of air attacks and the risks of dislocating the general life of the community? I venture to say all this because I am sure that there are here great problems which require a fuller and more careful consideration from the Government and the whole of the community than I think they have yet received.

4.53 p.m.


My Lords, may I first say how heartily I concur in what has fallen from previous speakers in the expression of our admiration for the way in which the evacuation plans were carried out? They were well conceived and they were equally well executed. One fact brings that out—it almost amounts to a general post of the people. From the London area alone 270,000 children were distributed among 73 different local authorities. That one fact bears witness to the immensity of the scheme which was carried out so well. But it is surely beyond question that we have passed beyond that initial period. That first crisis is over, and we have now to face the realities of the position and, if I may, I will quite briefly repeat the figures.

London headed the list in the proportion of children who were eligible and who were evacuated, and in London rather more than half of the 500,000 children who were eligible were evacuated; that record stands at the top of the list. If you go to other cities, such as Middlesbrough or Leeds, the proportion of children who actually left those towns varied between 25 and 30 per cent. of the whole child population. If you add to that the figures of the drift back, in the case of London already 20,000 children have drifted back, and there is a similar drift back to other cities. The indications are that the drift back will continue. I put it to your Lordships—if you have 500,000 children of whom only 270,000 went and 20,000 have already come back, which practically means an estimate of 50–50, is it reasonable to expect that in the future the evacuation of children can be more than partial? I believe it is not. And when that fact is settled, I suggest that on that fact must be built the policy of the future.

The right reverend Prelate who opened this debate with the authority with which he always deals with these questions, gave reasons why an evacuation must in the very nature of things be only partial. I would put my interpretation a little differently from his. I think the fundamental reason for the difficulty of bringing about a complete evacuation is that fundamental instinct of human nature on which the family life is founded, and that is the homing instinct. You cannot by any legislation in the world cut through a fundamental instinct of human nature. In my judgment that homing instinct will operate all the way through. It is quite true it will operate most markedly in the case of mothers who have children under five. There you have a woman whose maternal instinct is constantly battling with her love of husband and home and her sense of responsibility. And what is the consequence? Inevitably she and her children go back together.

That is shown very well by the fact that at least 50 per cent. of the mothers who have children under five with them have come back. Some would put it higher. I am aware that His Majesty's Government have met that difficulty by saying that no future evacuees shall be accompanied by their parents. I will not say more on the other causes. They are to me pretty obvious. If you increase the economic stress when the family is divided into two homes, if you increase it by a shilling a week, you are going to add to the tendency of that family to drift back to the city. And so again with family life. It is quite true that children are perfectly happy if they are left alone. But as the years go by one can see a grave harm being inflicted on home life generally by this prolonged separation between parents and children.

I suggest therefore that the conclusion is irresistible and that we have to face up to the fact that no evacuation is ever going to be more than partial. I do not mean by that that the policy of evacuation must be abandoned. Far from it. I believe a smaller quantity could quite easily be redeemed by an increased quality, and I fully agree with what fell from my noble friend Lord Balfour of Burleigh, that by concentrating on the quality of the work done for the smaller number of evacuees, we should get a result which would more than compensate us for the loss of the larger number. The noble Lord has already sketched how we might lay down thereby the beginnings of schemes which many of us hope will be carried out in the future, by which not only nursery schools but other schools are ultimately developed on boarding school lines. If that is so, surely we must, without any further delay, provide for the large mass of children who are going to remain in the homes of their parents, and we must reckon upon at least half of them doing so. In this city I do not believe we shall get beyond the figure of 250,000 and it is a very serious matter that those children who are left behind should not be provided for without further delay.

You cannot divide the questions of education and health. In the intellectual sphere education and health are steadily drifting together as a matter of thought, and they are also coming together in the matter of administration—witness only the medical services of the Board of Education and the Ministry of Health working hand in hand in all important matters. It is impossible, in child life especially, to separate education and health. I put it to you, my Lords, that already harm has been done. That is inevitable. No one can be blamed for that; but I tremble to think what the consequences will be in these winter months if these 250,000 children are to go on drifting about London doing nothing during their school hours. Not only that, but we must face this, that welfare services and hospital services have been reduced to mere skeleton services; babies are not looked after as they were in peace-time; school medical services are working at half speed. When you come to the big hospitals, which are the key and the inspiration of medical thought and set the pace in matters of care and treatment of the sick, I say that while you can afford to shut these up for a short period of time, you cannot afford, except in circumstances which are very cogent indeed, to keep them closed any longer.

I would remind your Lordships that we are approaching a time of a great deal of infectious sickness. Any week now we may get our winter diseases. It is a year when there is some reason to fear we may get the height of the cycle of measles, and if measles come we may get diseases like diphtheria. The matter is worse than that. You cannot shut down big hospitals which, for generations, have been part of the warp and woof of this community and think you are going to get no ill results. I remind your Lordships of early disease being left lying at home, not being either diagnosed or treated in the early stages. I think again of infectious diseases once they get ahead—and, if I may step aside for a moment, that is a serious danger, as the right reverend Prelate said, in the country districts. We must remember that there is a great deal of overcrowding. You get an outbreak of severe influenza in one of these overcrowded communities in the reception areas and you have a terrible problem, very easily, right at your very door. It is a matter of luck how severe it might be. But under conditions of anxiety such as we are going through now we have to remember that the resisting power of the community is lower, and demands greater care and caution than in peace. I am not disputing the fact that it may have been necessary to close down the big hospitals in London for a short period of time, but I would without hesitation open them forthwith with certain limitations which would fit them for the special duties and special dangers they have to meet. If one-third of each hospital were set aside for casualties and the remaining two-thirds restored to peace-time work, and if there were special facilities for evacuating into a hospital near by—not at all difficult to arrange—I believe that proposition is quite practicable.

What, to my mind, is so serious now is that we go on from week to week and nothing happens. Perhaps your Lordships will not realise this, but when we remember the busy hum that went on night and day in our big hospitals, never ceasing, and go into these places now, they are just pools of silence. You cannot carve out large pieces of the community, or of the work of the community, whether it is war or peace, without inflicting far more troubles than any dangers that might arise. I would put this more generally. I cannot conceive in a community of 8,000,000 people, massed together as they are in this great city, its being possible to remove any of the ordinary services for any length of time. I believe the effect of doing so—and I put this with great respect—will inflict far more suffering on the community than the dangers envisaged. Anything I may say does not imply criticism of the Emergency Medical Service. The Emergency Medical Service had a great task of vast difficulty in setting up a number of hospitals adapted for all sorts of purposes, and under the able leadership of its Director-General it has done wonderful work. But hospitals are not built in a day. A big hospital is not an assemblage of bricks and mortar. It is something that has grown up through the generations. It is a great living organism, and you cannot uproot it in the way which is being done and think you are not going to get grave results. I do plead that, without further delay and under suitable conditions which are quite easy to devise, these big hospitals should be opened, medical education should be restored, and the training of nurses resumed. I ask your Lordships to reflect on what the consequences to the community will be in a few years' time if you do anything to damage the education of your students.

It may be said you cannot run the risks of bombing. Is it not a fact, as the most reverend Primate suggested, that we are beginning to suffer from too much casualty-consciousness? Are we not getting evacuation-conscious? Are we not thinking, in all our problems, in terms of casualties? In being without our main institutions the harm that you are doing is continuous, it is ubiquitous, and it is certain, whereas the direct hit from a bomb is problematical and it is in fact local. I put it to your Lordships that the dangers from the former to this community are far greater than the dangers from the latter. Surely it is the duty of every man to do his work in that place where he can do it best, whoever he may be. I know full well there is no profession in this country which would hesitate for one moment in doing the work which belongs to it in the place where it is right it should be done. When one reads of these widespread evacuations of administrative offices and so on, one begins to say, "Is not that a proceeding that is likely to engender fear in the community?" Is it not psychologically based on fear? Why should you remove administrative offices to the country with all the disadvantages that go with that removal? You do not do that for your milkmen and your tradesmen, or your doctors or your clergy. Why should it be done, then?

My suggestion is that we should face the fact that war is war, that there must be dangers here just as there are far greater dangers at the front, and that we should reopen our big institutions and restore our daily work. I urge that both as regards education and health we should make provision for our children, that we should provide leisure and recreation for them in their spare time, that we should no longer leave our youth to wander about the streets in the night-time with nothing whatever to do, that we should set to work and open our hospitals, heal the sick, prevent disease, and provide measures for the assurance of health amongst our babies by infant welfare and maternity work. Open up those institutions at full blast, for never more than at this particular time have we needed to provide for the health of the citizens of the future.

5.12 p.m.


My Lords, the impact of this evacuation scheme undoubtedly must have a tremendous effect on that section of the population which has been subjected to it, upon those children and mothers who are being evacuated, and upon those householders who have received them. The effect may last perhaps for a generation. I would like to say, from what I have seen at first hand of the evacuation itself, that it was carried out in a most admirable manner. The general administrative arrangements were good, and if I had to single out people for special praise I would mention the billeting officers, who deserve it, and, above all, the women in the households who received the women and children evacuated. I am inclined to agree with the right reverend Prelate that perhaps a great deal of the evacuation has been unnecessary, and that the children and their mothers would be just as safe in their own homes as they are in the areas in which they are now living.

It should not be forgotten that this great burden which is thrown on a section of householders is borne for the whole community by a small section of the community. It has always been the principle in this country that any taxation or burdens on our people ought to be equally and fairly distributed. This evacuation scheme has undoubtedly hit a section of the population unfairly, while many of the rest of the community have escaped that burden. I think that ought to be recognised by the community, and possibly by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I would like to say in relation to the education arrangements, that in the areas which I know so well an unnecessary burden has been put upon the householders owing to the fact that there is double-shift education. Because of the lack of accommodation, and, possibly, lack of education facilities, householders sometimes have to prepare two and even three sets of meals for the various children who are billeted on them, in addition to providing meals for their own households. Women have complained to me that they have had to prepare three separate meals owing to the circumstances I have mentioned. If there is a shortage of accommodation in the schools, surely some of the churches might be used during the week for educational purposes. I am sure the accommodation exists, and only requires to be made use of.

One question has been put to me by many householders, to which I would particularly like the noble Earl to reply—What is the responsibility of the householder to the parents of the child that he looks after? Boys and girls are looked after by the householder during the time they are in the billet, but after the period of their breakfast time until evening they are for the most part not within sight of the householder. On their way to and from school they climb trees, fall off, are hurt, and meet with various other mishaps. What responsibility has the householder to the parents in regard to these accidents? Can the parents take an action at common law against the householder for neglect in looking after the children during those hours when they are outside the billet? This is a very important point and one which I think ought to be cleared up. I have asked about it many times, and I have never been able to get an answer.

Another thing to which I would like to draw the noble Earl's attention is that some of the areas that have received the children are more vulnerable than the areas from which the children have been evacuated. As we know, large aerodromes have been constructed, and in some cases these aerodromes are close to areas to which children have been evacuated. In the opinion of people in those areas who ought to know, the areas are much more vulnerable than those from which children have come. It seems to me that some examination of these particular areas ought to take place, and that if they have become more vulnerable the new position should be dealt with.

Lastly, I would like to point out the difficulty that arises in regard to distances from school for which children can claim a free 'bus ride. In the area in which I happen to be I am told that the distance is three miles. That is a long way for small boys and girls to go to school, and it seems to me that when 'buses are available free travel to school ought to be allowed for much shorter distances than appears to be the case now. I think the whole nation ought to recognise the wonderful work that is being done by those householders who have accepted the evacuated children. Though some of them may not be quite of the standard they would like, nevertheless, they are attending to them without complaint, or at any rate there have been very few complaints. I think many empty houses in the areas to which children have been evacuated ought to be fitted up so that children suffering from various complaints could be placed in them and treated, and not left in the billets where they are an additional burden on the householder. I have been asked again and again what can be done in that way, and I hope it will be impressed on the authorities that that ought to be done in any area, so that any child who falls ill instantly goes off to that bay and is there looked after by women who are there for that purpose. I hope the noble Earl will press that point, because it is one of great concern during the winter months.

5.21 p.m.


My Lords, there are one or two points about which I should like to ask the noble Earl. I have had several complaints from very small cottagers who have received perhaps one or two children, that the parents come down on Sundays to see their children and they invariably expect a hot meat meal. Of course, when they come to a large house it is a different matter; one can either tell them that they must bring their own food or one can give them something; but for parents to go into a small house of this sort and to expect a hot meat meal of that nature on the 8s. 6d. (or perhaps 17s. which is given for two children) is a great imposition upon the householder. With regard to what the most reverend Primate said, and to which the noble Lord has just alluded, about the fitting up of small houses in the villages, in my own experience that is being done, I believe (though I am not quite certain) under the auspices of the Red Cross. Certainly in my own neighbourhood I know that provision has been made for children who may become sick or infected.

The noble Lord, Lord Bayford, alluded to the difficulty of collecting money from another local authority. I expect the noble Lord knows that at petty sessions when a motorist from Essex or Lincoln is fined in Sussex there is an easy method which is now in operation by which the fine can be transferred for collection from the police of the one county to the police of the other and it is then collected locally. The same applies to rates in cases in which a defaulting ratepayer has left the neighbourhood. Whether the police of the collecting county retain the whole of the money or not I am not aware, but I think it is a matter with which probably the Board of Education know how to deal.

My noble friend behind me has spoken about the need for our large hospitals in London being allowed to go on with their work. I agree entirely. I am chairman of a hospital in London, part of which has been shut up for the past two months. After about one month we took the law into our own hands and we opened a certain portion of it again. We have now got nearly half of it tenanted with patients. I hesitate very much to say anything on a matter like this which traverses what the noble Viscount has said, but surely we must have casualty clearing stations somewhere, and I presume that the hospitals have been chosen for that purpose because they are better suited and better fitted up than any casual hall that one might take. The other point is this question of the separation of the parents and their children for a large portion of the year. Is that such a very terrible thing? Most of your Lordships, I imagine, when at school were separated from your parents for as much as eight months in the year; and both your Lordships and your Lordships' parents appear to have survived it without any very great trouble. I really cannot see why these children should not be in country surroundings for eight or nine or even ten months in the year. It is not going to do them any harm. The children can get on without their parents and I should have thought their parents could get on without them for that limited time, even if the separation continued for a year or two. Perhaps the noble Earl will give some reply to the points I have raised.

5.26 p.m.


My Lords, I would like to add my voice to those of other noble Lords who have thanked the Bishop of Winchester for putting down this Motion. It has certainly produced a very useful and a very full debate. I hope your Lordships will forgive me if I do not answer every single point that has been raised, otherwise I am afraid your Lordships would be detained here until a very late hour. The Bishop of Winchester began his speech by saying something with which all your Lordships have shown your general agreement—namely, that the Government were right to embark on this scheme of evacuation. Of course, that scheme was prepared originally on the assumption that, immediately on the declaration of war, London and other great towns of this country would be subject to heavy bombing; and, as noble Lords have said, doubtless if that had occurred, we should have heard very little of many of the criticisms that have since been made; because what is really part of the trouble of this scheme is that, whereas it is an emergency war measure, as a result of not having any bombing for the first two months or so of the war we are all looking at it and judging it, at least subconsciously, as though we could judge it according to peace standards. We have got to admit from the beginning that this is a second-best scheme; that the right place for the children is in their homes and in their proper schools in the towns; and anything else is likely, as I say, to be a second-best scheme.

Many noble Lords have paid tributes (for which I, on behalf of all those who have helped to operate this scheme, would like to thank them) to everyone who took part both in its preparation and its operation. I would like particularly to thank noble Lords for what they said about the teachers. The teachers have had a hard time, just as everyone else has. We all of us realise that children have been separated from their homes and parents. We sometimes forget, though, that the teachers' homes also have been broken up, that the teachers have been put to extra expense as a result of that and have had vastly extra burdens and responsibilities. I think we would all be agreed that, with the exception of a certain number of cases—and, after all, there are always such cases in every community—the teachers have played up to the most extraordinary extent.

I think the subject of this debate really falls under two heads: first, the reception areas; and secondly, the evacuation areas. As the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Winchester has said, I think we should all be prepared to admit that perhaps, if we were looking at the scheme afresh with the knowledge and experience that we have to-day, we might think very carefully before we should again embark on a large-scale evacuation of mothers. Nevertheless even that scheme might have been justified if we had found ourselves engaged in the type of war which we then expected. Numerous explanations have been given of why they have returned in such large numbers. All of them have a very high degree of truth in them and I think it is unnecessary for me to repeat them. In any small-scale evacuation that is still going on the Government are not making arrangements for sending any more mothers away with children. With regard to the very interesting point made by the right reverend Prelate, and I think by the noble Lord, Lord Balfour, about the opening of nursery schools or nursery centres, I can say that that matter is at the present moment under the very careful consideration of my right honourable friend the Minister of Health and myself, working at the problem jointly.

If we turn from the question of mothers and children under five to schoolchildren we have, as noble Lords have said, rather a more encouraging picture. The figures for the return of mothers and children are very high—over a small area that was suveyed the other day we came to the conclusion that they were something over 40 per cent.—but in the case of schoolchildren the figure was between 5 and 10 per cent., a very notable difference. There is one point I would like to mention, which I think has not been mentioned in the course of the debate, but one which is operating to some extent against the working of the scheme in reception areas. The most reverend Primate referred to the fact that in some cases we seem to be over-infected by fear. These children were sent to reception areas because they were considered to be comparatively safe, and yet I am afraid there are a number of schools not yet open in the reception areas because they are waiting for the provision of trenches. I tried in a broadcast address recently, and I would like to try again now, to make it quite clear that this is not in accord with the wish of His Majesty's Government. These matters, however, have to be left to the discretion of local authorities, and I would appeal to those authorities to think very carefully whether it is really necessary to keep schools closed in many places or to submit themselves to quite unnecessary expense.

On the whole, we have a very happy picture of these children in the country. Of course, there are difficulties and great problems which still have to be faced, and we know that many householders are undergoing very great difficulties, if not actual hardships. The noble Viscount, Lord Mersey, mentioned one comparatively minor point, but one which means a great deal to many householders who only have Sundays to themselves and who at any rate are not particularly wealthy. The way in which the parents of some of the evacuated children go down on Sunday and demand a meal is most thoughtless and unnecessary. The right reverend Prelate referred to the affection that has been growing up between some of these children and the householders. In dealing with this scheme of evacuation we received a full share of complaints and criticisms, and so your Lordships will realise that it was with some feeling of gratification that the other day, when we thought it necessary to make arrangements for a scheme of re-billeting, we received the following telegram among many others: On behalf of some reception homes please do not remove our evacuated children from Clacton. They are happy, so are we. Please give us your help. That was encouraging, as it was encouraging to hear of a small girl of eight who, when asked by an inspector how she was getting on, said: "I am staying here till I marry." There are many other stories I could pass on to your Lordships, all of them with at least some degree of encouragement lying behind them.

Mention has been made of the condition of some of the children. I am glad that those of your Lordships who have mentioned this point have reminded us that it refers only to a minority. I think we must always remember that if out of a hundred children two or three are in an unfortunate condition, it is the two or three about whom we hear, and that we do not hear about the ninety-seven. We must also remember to be fair to the teacher. The teacher, after all, only has a child for five hours a day out of the twenty-four and no school can overcome the influence of certain homes. As the noble Lord, Lord Balfour, reminded us, we all of us have to take our share of responsibility for what in fact those homes are like. I can, however, tell your Lordships that it has been the case for some weeks now that no child is evacuated who has not been thoroughly medically examined, and in no case will a child be evacuated in future until it has been cured of such a disease as scabies if it should be so infected.

With regard to education in reception areas, undoubtedly, as the right reverend Prelate said, the scheme has been working very satisfactorily so long as there has been good weather, but now it is most important that we should, if possible, make provision for further accommodation. Of course it is possible to exaggerate the extent to which the double-shift system is being worked. It is being worked in rather fewer cases than we at first feared would be necessary. I will, if not at the end of this week then at the beginning of next week, send out a circular to local authorities making it quite clear once and for all that the hiring of premises to supplement ordinary school accommodation will definitely be a charge on the Government Evacuation Fund and that therefore no local authority will have to bear the charge. I hope that that will be of some assistance to them. I would only say, on this question of taking halls for school purposes, that I hope local authorities will be careful to preserve the other amenities of the halls that they are going to use as schools during the day. It really is most important to some of these small village communities that they should not be deprived entirely of the use of the village hall.

The noble Lord, Lord Bayford, has raised a very important financial point. He has voiced the very natural anxiety of the receiving authorities. I gathered from what he said that he is really satisfied with the Government assurance that in the long run they are not going to be caught. What he is nervous about is the period over which they may have to carry possibly heavy charges. The position is that where money is receivable from the Government there is nothing to prevent an interim payment on account, in so far as it is a matter of arrangement between local authorities. To begin with, of course, the heaviest education expenditure is continuous; that will continue to be paid directly by the evacuating authority; but other education expenditure has to be paid by the receiving authority. There is, however, nothing to prevent the receiving authority from getting interim payments on account from the evacuating authority, and we very much hope that arrangements will be made on that basis.

Perhaps I might pass now to another aspect of this problem, and one which has given me a great deal more concern than the problem of the children who have been evacuated. I refer to those children to whom noble Lords have already made reference—namely, those who have stayed in the evacuation areas. Of course this difficulty would not have arisen if parents had taken advantage of the offers of safety that were made for them, but they did not do so. It is no good blaming them; the scheme was a voluntary one and they doubtless had their reasons. But the task before the Government is to face the simple and hard fact that more than half the school children who could to-day be in comparatively safe areas are in fact still in the vulnerable areas and receiving little or no education. Of course the Government maintain their opinion that underlay the evacuation scheme—that the further these children are away from the possible dangers of bombing and the nervous strain of war conditions, the better. But these children in evacuation areas are now getting the worst of both worlds. On the one hand they are running a quite unnecessary risk, and on the other they are missing all social care and schooling, and a great number of them are acquiring habits of idleness, if nothing worse. I think the position only has to be stated even briefly for it to be quite clear that no Government could possibly allow such a situation to continue.

As I see it, there are only two possible alternative solutions. The first is to get all the remaining children out of the vulnerable areas; and that means compulsion. As the right reverend Prelate says, I do not think any of us in existing circumstances—indeed in any but the most extreme circumstances—would feel that we were right in adopting such a measure. We find ourselves, therefore, driven back to the second solution, and that means some measure of reopening the schools in the vulnerable areas. This is the course that the Government have decided to adopt. We have hesitated to adopt it for reasons that have been given by various noble Lords, because we have felt that it was a very heavy responsibility to take, to do anything that might be misinterpreted by parents and taken by them as an all-clear signal saying that it was all right to bring their children back to the evacuation areas. But that is not the attitude of the Government. We do not feel that this should be taken as the all-clear signal. We have been influenced simply and solely by the fact that as a nation we simply cannot afford to let three-quarters of a million children grow up without education, school discipline or medical care.

I sometimes think that one of the chief merits of a democracy is that its citizens have some sense of responsibility. In speaking to parents, therefore, I feel that I am speaking to a body of responsible people, and if I could address them personally I should say something like this: "In your children's interests, leave them where they are, in the reception areas. It is true that we have not yet had any raids in this country in terms of what took place in Poland. That is all to the good. But we do not know what is coming, and this is quite literally a matter of life and death about which we are speaking. I know that English people do not like the idea of running away from danger, but that is no reason whatsoever why children should not have the safety to which as children they are entitled. Every one of your children has been given full opportunity of safety, with transport, accommodation, and education—all, including accommodation and even keep up till now, provided at full Government expense. That has not been easy for anybody, and it has been extremely expensive, but in the view that we took of the dangers we felt, and we still feel, that it is necessary. Of course you miss your children and you feel a break in family life. But surely we are fighting this war as a whole and united nation, and I would ask you to do your bit by sticking it a little longer, and to accept our assurance that we for our part will undertake here and now to tell you when it would be right for you to bring back your children."

That is what I should like to say to the parents, and I would ask them to remember further, that if raids really come, there can be no nice and orderly evacuation as before; there will just be a rush and everybody will have to take his chance. The Government, of course, will do their best to help, but they just will not be able to do very much. Parents will not be able to count on trains in an emergency, nor, I think, will they find householders whose friendly help they have rejected prepared to make all the effort a second time. They would make a mistake, too, if they thought that it was going to be possible for the education that is going to be provided in these areas to be at any rate any better than what is being given in the reception areas at the moment. A great number of the schools in the towns are either so constructed or so placed, say in the London dock area, as to be quite unsuitable for this purpose. Others have been requisitioned, and while I am confident that we shall be able to get quite a number back, we certainly shall not be able to get all of them back. There is also the provision of protection that will be necessary, and that in itself will probably limit the accommodation in the schools. For all these reasons I think, therefore, that the numbers will have to be limited, and a great many schools will have to work on a double-shift basis.

The Government have, however, decided that as many schools as possible shall be reopened for the education of the children whose parents desire them to attend. My right honourable friend the Home Secretary has promised to help local education authorities by instituting at once a survey of the school premises in order to decide which of them are suitable and what form of protection is available for use. I see the noble Lord opposite disturbed about a phrase that I have just used—"children whose parents desire them to attend." At first I had hoped that it might be possible to make attendance immediately compulsory, with some right to parents to opt out on the basis of saying that they do not consider it right for their child to join with great numbers of children in one building in the period of danger. But I have discussed this matter with local education authorities, and my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Scotland has discussed it with his local education authorities, and it is quite clear that, for the moment—mark you, this is a progressive scheme that we can gradually build up—it would be best, I think, to keep it on this basis.

I think the most reverend Primate will be pleased to hear that I have already had discussions with the War Office on the question of requisitioning of schools, and we can definitely rely upon them to help us wherever possible. Of course, that does not mean that they can release every school. A position which I think is going to be more difficult, and possibly more numerous, is that of the school which has merely been transferred from one committee of a local authority to another, from the education committee to another. There, of course, the pressure from the Government Department cannot do very much, but such influence as we can bring to bear, I can assure noble Lords, we certainly will. Of course, there is a good deal of work for the education authorities to do before some of these schools can be opened—not only protection, but getting back the teachers, the conduct of surveys, and so on—but we are impressing on local education authorities the desirability of opening as soon as possible, although I am afraid there may be some of the schools that will not be opened before the Christmas holidays. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Scotland has asked me to say that similar arrangements are being made in Scotland, and he has already made a statement in another place to-day. I hope that your Lordships will share my view that the decision as to the reopening of schools in evacuation areas was the only one which the Government could reach, and we feel also that we are right in trusting to the good sense of parents of evacuated children to keep them where they are, and not to misinterpret our action.

We have discussed this evening the problem of evacuation. I do not know that it will be out of place, though, just to remind ourselves for a moment that behind that problem lies something much greater—namely, the purpose for which this move was carried out. The State offered the parents the opportunity of safety for their children because it realised that the life and greatness of this country had to be carried on for years and for generations after this war is over, and those children whom we are discussing this evening are in fact the nation of the future, the workers and the citizens to whom we have to look to carry on after the war. We all of us knew before we went to war that it was going to mean a terrible set-back to all our schemes of social progress, but I do not think that many of us can have realised the extent of the educational and general social chaos that it was going to produce in a purely negative way.

At the same time, I do not think that the present position ought to be too discouraging to us. I believe that a great deal can be done, even during war time, to regain some of the ground that we have inevitably lost. I believe that there is a credit side of the account as well as a debit. Children who have been evacuated have learnt of things that they hardly knew existed. There is to be at least a beginning made of restarting the schools in the evacuation areas. Technical evening institutes, colleges of art and teachers' training colleges, if they have not actually been reopened already, are all in process of reopening. The most reverend Primate has reminded your Lordships that the National Youth Committee has been set up. All that is on the credit side of the account.

But I believe there is something else too, and the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Burleigh, has referred to it—the fact that we know just a little bit more about social conditions than we did. If this war has done nothing more than to make us conscious of some of the great gaps in our social system by the revelation of the habits and conditions of some, albeit a minority, of our evacuees, I believe it has in fact done something that is worth while. In regard to the great mass of the children, it has shown us that better housing and good schooling can do a great deal to raise the material and moral standards of the people's lives, though, of course, that is not the whole of the picture. The other side of the picture, I think, gives us no reason for condemning anybody—neither those who have shocked us, nor ourselves, who are, after all, responsible for these conditions being in existence. But I do think that it gives us an opportunity to make a fresh start, and we need only condemn ourselves if, at a time when we are saying and feeling that we are fighting a war for liberty and democracy and religion, we allow ourselves to drift back into an acceptance of things as they are.

Those of us who are engaged in educational work to-day are faced by quite appalling difficulties, due to evacuation and the war generally. But I think we are faced also by a challenge—a challenge of work undone and work needing to be done, that makes that struggle of ours worth while. The actual progress may be difficult, if not impossible, at the present moment; but we can by our work and by our striving keep aloft a standard that can and must be carried forward once again when the fighting is over and the time has come to devote our energies to those things for which we are waging this war.


Would the noble Earl answer the question I asked about the responsibility of the householder towards the parents in the case of injury?


The position is this, that if a child is injured in an accident, that is an accident, and there can be no question of claim on anybody. But if a question of culpability arises, then of course the matter might have to be taken to a court, and it would be for the court to decide.

6.1 p.m.


My Lords, the subject has been discussed so exhaustively that I propose to say one or two words only. We should not like the matter to pass from your Lordships' House without one word from the Labour Benches. I do not propose to do more than to say, what others have said, that this movement of a vast population has taken place with credit to everybody concerned in that great administrative responsibility and exercise. The London County Council, for instance, had to deal not only with its own area but with areas of eleven other authorities. Though I knew that the work would be carried out with efficiency, I perhaps know better than most of your Lordships how great a strain that has been upon the municipal servants in the London area and elsewhere, and I should like, in passing, to express my own sense of very deep appreciation of everything they did.

I will not go into the questions which have been debated. There are many things I should have liked to have said from the Labour standpoint. I point out, in passing, that a great deal of the difficulty is financial so far as the poorer classes are concerned, and that difficulty has not really been faced in the debate to-day. For instance, parents are under the impression that they have to pay 6s. for every child evacuated. It has not been made clear to them that all that is subject to review. If the noble Earl could, over and over again, repeat that it is not necessarily an obligation to that extent, perhaps the influx from the country to the towns would, at any rate, be arrested. My own impression is that we must expect a steady and continuous flow from the country areas back to the towns. Therefore the question arises as to whether the Government are justified in opening the schools in evacuation areas. It seems obvious that we cannot leave these children to run about without education, because in a child's life every period that is lost is a period that will not be regained. I cannot help feeling that if the Government had been keener about providing adequate shelter in London, and had not relied upon mere sandbag protection, the situation might have been altered.

I will pause only to say one other thing about the mothers and the under-fives. They have come back in considerable numbers, and more will come. I am in that position of life which entitles me to pay compliments to ladies. I do not like the whole blame being put upon these young mothers with very young children as though they alone were to blame. Their husbands have wanted them back. I know, and every married woman knows, what a helpless creature a husband is, and when his wife is away from home he is like a lost soul. Therefore in all probability the husbands have had as much to do with this inflow as have the women. It is a problem we cannot settle. I can understand the desire to get back to the towns and the surfeit they have had of green fields. Your Lordships will remember that Dr. Samuel Johnson had the same dislike. He said: Sir, when you have seen one green field you have seen all green fields. Let us take a walk down Fleet Street. These women and others have taken that view, but what we have to do is to see that children are not brought back under the misapprehension that the parents cannot afford to keep them in the country, and if we do bring them back we have got to see that adequate protection is provided for.


My Lords, I rise only to say that the House has been unanimous in its appreciation of the skill and efficiency with which the evacuation was carried out and in its desire that something should be done for the children who have been left in the vulnerable areas. The noble Earl has met that desire in his speech. He has shown us that he is fully aware of all the problems and difficulties arising from the evacuation, and with great courage, if I may say so, he is doing his utmost to meet these difficulties. I thank him for his reply, and beg leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.