HL Deb 03 October 1939 vol 114 cc1238-57

4.25 p.m.


had given Notice that he would call attention to the serious problem of juvenile welfare and the intensification of that problem brought about by war conditions; ask His Majesty's Government what steps they propose to take, particularly in view of the suspension of the National Fitness Council, to set up machinery for dealing with the problem; and move for Papers.

The right reverend Prelate said: My Lords, I mean to detain your Lordships only a short time in asking the Question which is on the Order Paper in my name, but I should like to say a few words in support of the subject that is raised and also to make suggestions to the noble Earl who is to reply. During the past few years since the last war there has been a most remarkable development in organisations for the benefit of the adolescent, especially those between the ages of fourteen and eighteen. No doubt in the first case they were often supported mainly with the negative purpose of keeping boys and girls from the streets, but increasingly they have become positive agents of the greatest importance for developing both the body and the mind of those who are to be the future citizens of the country. They have helped these boys and girls to use rightly their leisure time. I am not sure that it is always realised that while 114 hours in the week are spent in eating, sleeping and working, there are 54 hours which on an average are available for leisure.

I think it is true to say that last winter the various organisations for the youth of this country had never reached a higher pitch of excellence and efficiency than they did at that time, and now, quite suddenly and abruptly, a very large number of these organisations and clubs are in danger of being brought to an end. Many of them have already been brought to an end, and this is due partly to the fact that some of the leaders and managers of these clubs have been called away. Some have been called up to serve in the fighting forces, and others have volunteered to do different forms of National Service. Without leaders it is impossible to hold a successful club. But that is not all. A large number of the buildings which were used for club purposes have been commandeered or have been taken, sometimes by unauthorised persons, some for work in connection with the national effort, and the result will be that during the late autumn and this winter there will be a very large number of boys on the streets at night with nothing whatever to do, loafing very often at the street corners, or roaming about restlessly looking for some interest.

Now this happens at the very time when it is most important that organisation for juveniles should be as strong as possible. Juveniles are feeling as much as anyone the strain and the anxiety of our times. Their excitement shows itself often in restlessness, sometimes in noisiness and occasionally in acts which bring them within the reach of the law. During the last war I was in Portsmouth, and after the first year of the war one of the most difficult problems we had to deal with was the problem of the juvenile. So far as the boys were concerned they formed themselves into gangs, fighting with one another, and sometimes making themselves a real nuisance to others who were using the streets. There was nothing really inherent in the way of wrongness; it was the natural expression of high spirits and overstrained minds but it was undoubtedly a nuisance. It was impossible to suppress it by the ordinary methods of police action, and it was found necessary to form a large youth council whose sole purpose was to provide various kinds of recreation in the evening for these boys and girls.

Now that is the kind of problem which has already arisen in many of our towns to-day. There are large numbers of boys and girls who find the clubs to which they have been accustomed to go in the evening closed, and their ordinary recreations have come to an end. And I would remind the House that on this occasion this does not only affect the towns, but has occasioned a very serious problem in the country to which a large number of children have been evacuated from the dangerous areas. I am speaking at this moment only of some of the older children who have been quite suddenly placed in a country village. So far in most places things have gone on perfectly well. The evenings have been light and the children have found plenty which is new and of interest to them. But I cannot imagine what some of these children will do in the long winter evenings. They have always been accustomed to the brightness and excitement of the streets of the town and they will become restless if they are kept in all the evening. They will become unhappy, they will write to their parents asking them to move them away, and they undoubtedly will be a source of inconvenience to their hosts. Something I am quite sure will have to be done for these children.

There is the problem as I see it, and I would like, if I may, quite briefly to make three or four suggestions for the consideration of the noble Earl the President of the Board of Education. I hope that he will issue a circular to all the education authorities in the country bringing home to them the urgency of this problem and making suggestions to them as to how they may best meet it. I know that some education authorities have already taken action, but there are other education authorities who are quite unaware that there is any problem, and there are still other education authorities who, knowing that there is a problem, have not the slightest idea as to how they may best meet it.

I hope the noble Earl will issue a very strong circular making suggestions. I hope he will also do his best to see that buildings are available for clubs and various other organisations. Some buildings have been taken over quite unnecessarily. Lately I have been meeting a number of country clergy asking what they can do in their villages for these children, and again and again I have had the reply, "Our parish hall has been taken over for national defence purposes." At first I accepted that difficulty, but I heard it so frequently that at last I asked what it really meant. I found on investigation—I am speaking of country parishes, not towns—that it meant that some person, occasionally authorised but frequently unauthorised, had put up a large A.R.P. notice, had put an ambulance and some equipment into the hall, and then claimed the hall exclusively for the duration of the war. That is really nonsense. In many cases we have been urging that one small section of the hall might be used for this purpose and the rest of the hall might be made available for recreation and so on. I hope the noble Earl will be able to make his influence felt in this matter, and that he will encourage local education authorities to allow schools which are not now used for ordinary education to be used for club purposes in the evening.

But it is no use having club rooms unless there are leaders, and here I would like to express the hope that the noble Earl will make a very strong appeal for voluntary help. There are a number of people who are too old to take much part in many forms of National Service, and who are most anxious to do something. He might make an appeal to them. I am thinking also of another section of the population from which he might be able to draw a large number who would help in this way. There are a large number of boys who have just left their public schools who are not old enough yet to be called up for the Army but many of whom will feel—or their parents will feel—that it is not worth their while going to the University. During the interval between leaving school and joining the Army they might well be asked to help the clubs and other organisations. I have some reason for believing that such a request would meet with a very favourable response.

I received only this morning a letter from one who is especially qualified to speak on this matter. I will tell the noble Earl the name of the writer afterwards, but I am not authorised to mention it here. The writer said: There will, I anticipate, be quite a number of boys who will want to leave school at eighteen and a half and will be reluctant to go up to the University for such a short and uncertain time and will want some way of filling in the months intervening between school and military service. I believe that a call for volunteers from the President of the Board and, say, the National Council of Social Service might get quite a healthy response. I think many of those boys leaving school would be thankful to feel that they were taking some active part in the work of the nation at the present time. Of course they would need training—I am not under any delusion about that—before they were able to take over clubs on their own responsibility. There is one other suggestion I should like to make, and that is that the noble Earl should appoint some committee—a committee of experts, a committee of those familiar with this subject—who would concentrate on thinking out what may best be done to solve what is really a very important problem for the future of the nation. I beg to move.

4.37 p.m.


My Lords, I do not intend to keep your Lordships more than a minute or two, but I should like to say that those of us who are interested in the youth movement are intensely grateful to the right reverend Prelate for having brought this subject before your Lordships' House. I do not think I need impute ignorance to the noble Earl who is going to reply for the Government of the fact that buildings have been taken, without any real reason, from various movements interested in youth and used for other purposes. I feel certain that he will do his level best to get these buildings back to their original purpose. I would also like to urge, if I may, that the Government should make some definite pronouncement upon the value of the work done by leaders in the voluntary institutions. We have had from time to time rather half-hearted words from His Majesty's Government saying that this work is of national importance, but I think your Lordships will agree with the right reverend Prelate that it is all-important at the present time that those in the age group fourteen to eighteen should have their civic education continued.

I would like to see leaders made available. They can be got back from temporary jobs to which they have gone, to do the work which they took up first of all. Personally I have urged upon leaders that the work they are doing is of national importance, but it is very difficult to persuade them because we are all of one family. If someone outside the organisation—speaking for the Government say—would definitely state that the work is of importance during this emergency, we could get back many people who have been definitely trained for this purpose. I am sure the noble Earl will give every consideration he can to the suggestions made by the right reverend Prelate. We in the youth organisations are delighted and grateful that the right reverend Prelate has brought the matter before your Lordships.

4.40 p.m.


My Lords, may I intervene for a moment before the noble Lord replies? I should like to support the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Winchester from my own experience of the last few weeks, both in country and town. The difficulty has arisen again and again that buildings which were erected for purposes of educational and social work among the young and among adults have been taken over and are really not being used, though they are prevented from being used for the purpose for which they were built. I only hope that whatever is said on behalf of the Government to-day will make it easier for those of us who are responsible in this matter to bring pressure to bear on local authorities.

Children who have been brought into the reception areas in large numbers have only half a day in school, or in some cases three days out of six in school and three whole holidays. Unless they are looked after, I am quite sure that when the winter months come some of the admirable foster-mothers who have been provided to look after these children will refuse to go on, and I shall not blame them, because the burden is very heavy.

They are doing their best and are delighted to do it, and in many cases are doing admirably; but when it gets dark at four o'clock and they have two, or three, or perhaps four, extra children to look after, we are asking too much of them. I agree that we can get voluntary workers, but if our buildings are taken away the thing becomes perfectly impossible.

4.43 p.m.


My Lords, I think we must all feel grateful to the right reverend Prelate for raising this subject. If I detain your Lordships for a few minutes in replying to the debate, I am quite sure you will forgive me. It gives me the opportunity of making clear the Government's policy in regard to those young people, of whom we speak rather impersonally as juveniles or adolescents but who are really just as human as you or me: young boys and girls between the ages of fourteen and eighteen—or perhaps I should say between the ages of fourteen and twenty, when they come under the Militia Act.

I have always felt that even in peace time the treatment of this age-group forms one of the largest gaps in our Social Services. They are provided for as to rather more than one-third in full-time schools, secondary schools and junior technical schools, in technical institutes and evening institutes, in boys' and girls' clubs, and by the body represented by the noble Lord, Lord Somers, the Boy Scouts. Many of these boys' and girls' clubs are doing quite magnificent work, but no doubt many of them are suffering from most inadequate buildings and equipment. When you add to that the black-out, the general strain of war, the fact that an increasing number of their fathers and perhaps of their elder brothers are joining up, that possibly also some of their mothers are evacuated, and that frequently, as the right reverend Prelate and the noble Lord, Lord Somers, said, the club premises have been taken for some other purpose, I think we begin to see the sort of problem with which we are faced.

I am very glad the right reverend Prelate mentioned the village side, because there is no doubt that the social life of some villages, particularly in the long evenings, is going to be most severely damaged unless we can get back some of the buildings for the purpose for which they were intended. The boys and girls of whom we are speaking are the soldiers and skilled workers of two or three years hence. It is on their health and their intelligence and on the development of their characters that the future of this country depends. If the war is still going on in two or three years' time, then it will be for them to join the Army or to work as producers of munitions of war. If the war is over, it will be for them as workers and as citizens to help to rebuild the life of the country after the waste and ruin of this tragic struggle. Some of us have been a little shocked about the ways of life and the conditions of a certain proportion of the evacuees, particularly, I think, of adults more than children; but I hope that those who have suffered, as they may have, from these things will be brought to realise that it is due largely to the circumstances in which great masses of our people are compelled to live even to-day. From the age of fourteen, when a boy or girl leaves school, over the majority of them all supervision and authority of any social kind ceases. In war time virtues and vices are magnified, and what is a tragic wastage in peace time becomes in war time a festering sore.

The right reverend Prelate has already reminded your Lordships of what happened during the last war: it was that we waited until 1916, when that struggle had been going on for two years, before anything was done, and that then the demoralisation and the delinquency amongst the young had grown to such an extent that the Government was forced to take action. I hope that now we will take action from the beginning. The Central juvenile Organisation Committee was then set up under the Home Office. At about that time Mr. Fisher was invited to come into the Government and play his part as President of the Board of Education and he set to work, even in the midst of war, preparing what became known as the Fisher Act of 1918. A very great tragedy it was that that Act was never really put into force. I think the position to-day in regard to adolescents would have been entirely different from what it is, if that Act had been put into force.

But, though the day-continuation school provisions—which made allowance for a part-time release from industry for seven or eight hours a week of young people between the ages of fourteen and eighteen—were not brought into operation, one important section remained. The right reverend Prelate referred to the part that the local education authorities have played in this problem and the part that they could play. Under one of the sections of that Act—Section 86, I think it was—local education authorities were given power to make provision for young people of the age that we are discussing; but, owing to the fact that they have other calls on their finances and their energies, they have, with very few notable exceptions, as the right reverend Prelate has already said, been able to do comparatively little under that provision. I will certainly take note of the suggestion of the right reverend Prelate that we should circularise the local education authorities as to the urgency of this problem. I think he would be interested to know that already, as a matter of fact, before the war broke out, we had been doing so, and I am quite sure that one of the first proposals the new Committee, about which I will speak in a minute to your Lordships, will probably be with regard to such a suggestion.

It was really in order to try to meet some of these problems that the National Fitness Council was set up. Those of your Lordships who are familiar with this work will know that that organisation did quite excellent work, and I would like to take this opportunity of thanking the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, and all his colleagues, both at headquarters and in the areas, for all the enthusiastic work that they did. I think that, in our desire to bring everybody who was interested into the work, there is no doubt that the Government did create a rather cumbrous machine. That was not the fault of the Council or of the area committees, but there is no doubt that that machine was extremely slow-working. I think we must all regret the inevitable suspension of the National Fitness Council during the war—inevitable if only because in these times a machine is essential that can act quickly and can act directly. But let us be quite clear that the suspension of the National Fitness Council does nothing but make our problem more pressing. The enthusiasm engendered by that body will only turn to disillusionment unless something is done to preserve and develop facilities.

We have been considering this problem during the last few days in order to decide what new machinery we should erect for dealing with this problem in war time. The Government have come to the conclusion that the best way of proceeding is that the Board of Education should make itself more directly responsible for this work than in the past, and I am accordingly setting up a special branch in the Board of Education for dealing with this problem. This branch will be responsible for the administration of such grants as may be made available. The Board will thus be in direct contact with the local education authorities and with the voluntary bodies who are doing the work in the country. Now, one of the main difficulties in the past, and one which unfortunately the National Fitness Council was never able entirely to overcome, was that of the lack of contact and understanding between the local authorities and the voluntary bodies. Local authorities, in fact, definitely resented, under the machinery of the National Fitness Council, having to approach the Board through an outside body. I am happy to be able to say now that all the parties have expressed their willingness to co-operate and to help on the new basis. The Government will be able to rely on the experience and advice of a Committee—just such a committee as the right reverend Prelate suggested—whose task it will be to advise me on matters affecting England and Wales and the Secretary of State for Scotland on matters affecting Scotland.

I think your Lordships might be interested to hear the names of the Committee. Mr. Kenneth Lindsay, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board, will be Chairman, and Mr. Ralph Assheton, who is Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour, will co-operate on the Committee, as it were. I think we are all aware of the amount of work and experience that the Ministry of Labour has had in the past in dealing with this problem. Then the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, who was formerly Chairman of the National Fitness Council, has consented to serve. Now we come to the representatives of the voluntary bodies. Sir Wyndham Deedes will come on as representing the National Council of Social Service. With him will be associated Miss Curwen, who is Vice-Chairman of the Standing Conference of National Juvenile Organisations, and Mr. Oyler, who is Chairman of that body. Sir Percival Sharp will serve for the general association of local education authorities, but I am happy to be able to say also that Mr. Charles Robertson will come on as representing the London County Council. He is Chairman of their Education Committee. Finally, one who is a very respected member of another place, one who also is well acquainted with the problems of Wales and who is also a Member of the Miners' Federation of Great Britain, Mr. George Hall, has consented to serve.

In addition, it has been arranged—and I think your Lordships will agree that the work of the Committee is likely to gain very much from this fact—that Scotland should co-operate directly in this work, and therefore Captain McEwen, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, will be a member, together with the Honourable M. Upton, who is Vice-Chairman of the Scottish Fitness Council, and Mr. E. M. Wedderburn, who is a member of the Scottish Central Council of Juvenile Organisations. In addition, Sir David Milne-Watson has consented to act as an adviser to the Committee on all matters affecting juvenile employment and industry, and I think all your Lordships will be very glad to hear that I have been fortunate enough to obtain the services of Lord Dawson of Penn, who will act in a similar capacity as regards medical and health questions. Both those gentlemen, I felt, it would have been improper for me to ask to serve on a Committee which was going to deal to a large extent in detail, but I am happy to feel that we shall have their services without their troubling to attend to all those details. Then representatives of the Home Office and other Government Departments will keep in touch with the work of the Committee, and will attend when matters come up of interest to them.

So much for the machinery—machinery which, I hope, will give the central guidance and drive that this work has hitherto lacked. But what of its task? Firstly, the question of premises. Your Lordships will realise that for the moment, with the shortage of labour and materials, new construction is likely to be out of the question, but there is this immediate problem, to which I have already referred, of examining with the appropriate Service Departments—and there I include the Civil Defence as well as the military—whether it may not be possible to restore at least some of the buildings which were taken during the first shock of the war. I do not think I need emphasize that statement. But there is the further question of using some of the evacuated schools in the towns, and other buildings of a similar type, even if it has to be done on a rather makeshift basis for the time being. And, secondly, co-ordination. The local authorities and the voluntary bodies have each of them made their contribution in the past, sometimes working together, but sometimes rather painfully unaware, I think, of what each other was doing. Now this co-operation, where it has existed, has to be strengthened. Where it does not exist it has to be brought to life. In fact, I should say that the marriage of the work of the local education authorities and the voluntary bodies was leaving each free to make their own peculiar contribution to perhaps one of the most important features of this new machinery we are creating.

And finally—a point that has already been referred to—there is the question of leadership. Even before war broke out both the Board and the National Fitness Council had already come to the conclusion that one of the best ways of helping this work among juveniles would be to encourage the provision of leaders and organisers, both whole-time and part-time; but with the coming of war this need has become very much intensified. The fact has already been mentioned that numbers—which I hardly like to contemplatc—have been already lost by the movement to services often of certainly no greater national importance than this. Those who can return to this work, having left it, should return to it, and I would venture to make this very definite appeal on behalf of His Majesty's Government, stressing the importance that they place on this work. But I would also appeal to a vast number of patriotic men—and women too—who volunteered to work and have not had their services accepted as yet, to realise what good work they could do in this direction; some perhaps over-age for the firing line, others, just leaving school, and not in the mood or the mind to go to the Universities for a year or two before they join up, as otherwise they might have done, and who are wondering how they can serve their country at the present moment. I cannot think of any better way of doing it than this, and I would be prepared to join in an appeal to them, and perhaps an appeal, to begin with, to the headmasters of schools, to help them to realise how useful they might be.

I have tried to touch briefly on just some of the tasks that must first, I think, come before this Committee. I want to assure your Lordships that we are going to pursue them with energy and with a due sense of their importance. I cannot help feeling that there is perhaps sometimes a danger lest in a period of emergency and war we tend to feel that everything of long-term value must be thrown overboard, and that the really practical man should think only in terms of wanting to win the war. But I ask myself, are we in fact going to have a morale necessary for winning the war if we make no effort to preserve, and even to develop, those things for which we say, and we feel, we are fighting? Or can we afford, even taking the shortest of views, to neglect our young people, whether we regard them as workers, or as fighters, or as future citizens? Surely the real fact is that the long-term and the short view are here quite indistinguishable. I think this debate has shown quite clearly that your Lordships take the view, which I believe is the view of the majority of people in this country, that if we win the war on the field of battle but the generation following us are not up to facing the struggle—and I think we have all by now recognised that there are going to be some very hard struggles in the future—then indeed we shall have scored only a very partial victory.

I do not believe myself that the conflict of interests and ideals that this country represents is going to be settled finally on the field of battle or in any treaty. It is going to be decided by the health, the skill, the intelligence, the staying power, and the character of the individual members of the different nations during the years, whether they be of war or of peace, that are ahead of us. They will be years during which there is not going to be any room for frills or luxuries, and when every proposal is going to have to pass the stern test of basic need. But I do not think a single member of your Lordships' House would for a moment contend that to prepare our coming generation for the future is a frill or a luxury. I earnestly hope that everyone who has applied himself, or is thinking of applying himself, to this problem will feel that in so doing he is performing a vital national service, and I trust that we may feel that we may proceed on our task with the knowledge of your Lordships' good will.

5.9 p.m.


My Lords, the noble Earl has just concluded his admirable speech by expressing a hope that his proposals will have the good will of your Lordships. I cannot refrain from giving myself the privilege of being the first to assure him—I am sure on behalf of your Lordships—that the good will is most cordially given. I venture to hope that his speech will be very widely reported, or at least that it may be the basis of some such circular as he may contemplate issuing to our local authorities. Sometimes those of us who raise particular matters to bring to the attention of the Government are not always very fully satisfied with the Ministerial replies, but I doubt whether there has ever been a matter raised by any member of your Lordships' House which has had so immediate and so satisfactory a response from the representative of the Government. I congratulate the noble Earl and his Department, and the Government if I may say so, on recognising so fully a vitally important problem.

I alluded to it in a few sentences when speaking a short time ago here about allowing boys of this age to volunteer for National Service in their spare time, or their whole time if possible. Perhaps the noble Earl will forgive me if I say he might reconsider his reply to that matter in the light of the very excellent speech he has made to-day. Meanwhile I endorse every word the noble Earl has said as to the need for not allowing the stress and preoccupation of the war to diminish the importance of this matter. The importance of the character and capacity of the future citizens becomes more obvious the more we think of it. Many of these boys themselves, if the war lasts, may be called up for active service, and all of them will be citizens at a very difficult time when the war is over which will make demands on the citizenship of this country of a quite peculiar kind. I wholly agree with what the noble Earl said about the grave misfortune that that large vision of the Fisher Act was not more immediately put into operation at the close of the last war, but in this respect, at any rate, we can make some endeavour to return to its principles.

I specially noted with pleasure the three plain points of the noble Earl's statement. First, that he has instituted a special branch of his Department to deal with this most important problem; second, that he has endeavoured to bring local education authorities and general and voluntary organisations together, and is assured of their consent; and, third, that he has appointed a Committee which, so far as I can recollect the names, seems to be an admirable body to give advice to the Board of Education on this matter. I need not dwell further on the points which have been made by the Bishop of Winchester and by the noble Earl himself, but I am very glad he recognises the growing importance of preserving premises so far as possible for these young people both in town and country. The possession of power is apt to be very intoxicating to those who are not accustomed to it, and appears very often in the country to have run to the heads of those gentlemen entrusted with it. I am quite certain that a great number of mistakes have been made in the premature commandeering of premises which might have been used for better purposes and in cases where other premises equally suitable were available. Nothing could be more timely than some reminder from the Government that those who represent the Civil Service Departments in different parts of the country should be a little more careful in their choice of the premises which they commandeer.

As to what has been said about leadership, it needs no words of mine to reinforce it. I am very much impressed by the noble Earl being able to say that he has the wish of the Government behind him in expressing the hope that numbers who have, from very patriotic motives, already addressed themselves to some form of National Service and have left their leadership of great movements such as the noble Lord, Lord Somers, represents, should be induced to return and to regard that as National Service quite as great as that which they have undertaken. In conclusion, I should like the noble Earl to understand, speaking on behalf of a great many people in different parts of the country, that we thank him for the statement he has made.

5.15 p.m.


My Lords, the right reverend Prelate has given your Lordships a very clear picture of the disadvantages which are entering into our local life on account of the activity of the A.R.P. It is only natural that a body which was roused by enthusiasm all over the country should in course of time represent what one might call an amorphous effervescence. The time has now come to bring it down to some more reasonable proportions. I would draw the attention of the noble Earl to this point. A.R.P. work is taking far too much of the attention of the local authorities. It is occupying too much of the attention of the local health authorities, and I would point out that this winter there are not only the difficulties to which the right reverend Prelate has referred, but there will be, almost inevitably, difficulties connected with the health of the younger people. You cannot introduce large numbers of new children into an area without importing a certain number of risks where infectious disease is concerned. We have to bear in mind that there are two ills in particular—measles and diphtheria—which will require the closest attention of the local health authorities during the coming months. It is no secret that these authorities have been considerably overworked in these past months—overworked in such a way that almost their more proper duties have become impaired.

It is inevitable, but it is a matter of regret, that the National Fitness Council has come to an end. It was doing considerable work under great difficulties, and on the whole it did its work well. It is some solace to us that the noble Earl has been able to announce a substitute to take its place, and perhaps in the circumstances of the war it will be a more efficient substitute. But I would like to call his attention to the fact that the body he is setting up will involve considerable expenditure of public money. Any war necessitates the curtailment and end of a large amount of public expenditure, and if that expenditure is involved in what I may call the furniture of our material civilisation, what matter? What does it matter if our furniture has to last for a few more years? But there are certain matters which will not brook delay, and amongst these matters there is none so important as everything that concerns the rearing and production of a healthy race to follow on those who have to take the responsibility of this war. We must apply the whole of our thought, without delay, to the question of those who are going to take our place and remake the world after the war is over. I can only hope that the scheme the noble Earl has put before us is but a foretaste of a larger policy on behalf of the Government concerning our population.

This is a very grave matter, and one which is inclined to slip out of the public view. We are concerned with making the very best of the children and youth we have, and doing everything, as the noble Earl himself said, to make them strong and fit in body and character, because on them the future nation depends. He went so far as to say that the war will not be won by the armies, that it will be won by those who are being trained now in order to remake the world after the war is over. Therefore I do appeal to the Government not to be content with this scheme of the noble Earl's, good as it is, but to set to work seriously to face the larger problem of population. They can leave it largely in the hands of experts, but it needs to have Government backing.

In regard to our population question I would point out that it is in a very serious position, and I can illustrate that by quoting briefly three facts. First, we are at present failing to replenish ourselves to the extent of 24 per cent., and that has been going on for some time. If you take one hundred women through the whole of their reproductive life, if our population is to be maintained they must produce in girl babies enough to replace the population. One hundred women must produce one hundred girl babies between them. That just keeps it level. In 1881 those hundred women were producing 150 girl babies—too many no doubt under our present circumstances. By the beginning of this century they were just replacing themselves, and now those one hundred women are only producing seventy-six. There is a fact nothing can alter. We are not replenishing ourselves.

I come to the second fact. Our population contains a steadily decreasing proportion of young people, and a steadily increasing proportion of elderly people. In 1931, taking the people under twenty and the people over sixty, the people under twenty in that year were three to one. Now that has steadily gone down. The proportion of youth has steadily gone down. In the next year (1940) it will only be two to one, and if the present trend goes on by 1962 those under twenty and those over sixty will show an equality. In other words the producers will equal the pensioners. That is the second fact that we cannot get away from. I am not so sure of this, but I think you will find that the only reason our total population has not begun to go down is that medical science has enabled the elderly to live much longer. Now I come to a third and even more significant fact. In 1921 we had 12,000,000 under fifteen at school; by 1951 we shall only have 6,000,000. How can a nation go on prospering and being great with such a steady decline in its youth and its production of children? I do not believe this question is insoluble. There is no nation in the world like the British who will undertake the reform of a thing if it is once convinced it is desirable, and as far as making it desirable, that is a matter of propaganda.

Another matter that ought to be considered is this. It is quite clear that the facilities for children to be born and the facilities for educating children must be greatly increased. This is one of the few countries where the children of the vast majority of the middle classes pay for their own children's education in public schools. It is my belief that this war will see the end of that for a very large number of this class, and that we shall have to assimilate our lives to those of most other civilised countries—for instance, France, the United States and Scandinavia—where the vast majority of the children are educated at the public expense in the secondary schools. I was recently in Sweden and made inquiries of what was the custom in that country. I found, if you took the whole of the country, that ninety per cent. of the children of the total population were educated in elementary schools, that when they had been in the primary schools a certain while they passed to the secondary schools, and that very little expense was expected of their parents until they reached the time when they wished to go to the University. In short I would suggest that the noble Earl, following up his own expression of opinion, should quietly face this question, and that this policy of increasing the population should be seriously undertaken by His Majesty's Government and not put off. It will not do to put it off; it has got to be seen to now. A scheme should be prepared so that these married couples who are otherwise willing to bear children should be saved some of the expense in return for the great service they do for the nation thereby.

5.28 p.m.


My Lords, if I detain your Lordships for one minute it is because we should not like it to appear as though those of us who sit on these Benches (when anybody does sit on them) are uninterested in this most vital question, and I should not like the right reverend Prelate to feel we were not grateful to him for introducing this matter to your Lordships' House. I would like also to recognise the value of the statement which the noble Earl has made on behalf of the Government. It appeared, as far as I could follow it by listening, to be constructive and hopeful for the future. I cannot say how much I personally feel the importance of this great matter. Boys very frequently go to the devil because nobody else seems to want them, and we ought to remember that the genius of a boy, if it is there, has to be encouraged by association, by leadership and in all kinds of ways. I speak in the presence of the most reverend Primate and the right reverend Prelate when I say I do not believe there is any joy that old people have that is quite so great as that which comes from seeing young people developing their personalities for future service. But we cannot regard that as being a mere automatic thing; it has got to be encouraged. Therefore I hope what the noble Earl has said will be followed up and that great good will come of it. The only remark I will make on what the noble Viscount who has just sat down said about what happened in 1931 is that it is not the only incident of that year which has to be regretted.


My Lords, I only rise to thank the noble Earl for his reply. I knew that he would be sympathetic, but he has been much more than sympathetic: he has given us a most practical and helpful answer. The reply, if I may say so, is satisfactory in every way, and I hope that great publicity will be given to it. I withdraw my Motion, with the leave of your Lordships.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.