HL Deb 24 June 1942 vol 123 cc509-36

LORD NATHAN rose to ask His Majesty's Government the present and prospective position as regards war-time nurseries; and to move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, it is just six months ago, to be precise on the 9th December, that I brought this subject of war-time nurseries to the attention of your Lordships' House. The debate on that occasion came at an opportune moment, for some of your Lordships will recollect it was the day following the occasion upon which your Lordships' House had been especially convened for the purpose of considering the White Paper, then just published by His Majesty's Government, containing proposals for the maximization of the national effort. In that White Paper, and in the Bill which shortly afterwards followed upon it, the most striking provision was that for bringing women, do for the first time under the rules relating to conscription, into the Armed Forces and under compulsory direction into industry. The debate, therefore, fell at a very opportune moment, because, as I ventured to point out to your Lordships, this question of war-time nurseries is one aspect, and although only an aspect yet an important aspect, of the whole problem of man-power.

Your Lordships are, of course, very well familiar with the long and creditable story of voluntary effort in the matter of day nurseries and other provision for children under the age of five years. Many voluntary societies have, for a long period, performed most valuable public services in educating the public mind and in actually carrying out the arrangements for the provision of day nurseries. The trail has been blazed and the pace set, it may perhaps fairly be said, by the National Society for Day Nurseries now known as the National Society for Children's Nurseries, but due credit should be given to the work in this field of endeavour of other voluntary societies, such as the National Council for Maternity and Child Welfare and the Nursery Schools' Association, for the contribution which over a long period they have made. The activities of these organizations have been directed to the provision of day nurseries and nursery schools as a factor in social welfare—a valuable and a vital factor. In presenting the matter to your Lordships to-day I am concerned with the provision of facilities and accommodation not so much as a factor in social welfare as an essential element in solving the whole problem of man-power.

Your Lordships will recall that, broadly, the position under existing legislation is this, so far as married women are concerned. Whereas unmarried women and married women who are neither mothers of families nor wives of Service men may be classified as mobile women available to be conscribed in some cases into the Armed Services, and in any case directed into industry, the wives of Service men and mothers of young children whether their husbands be Service men or not, are not liable to be conscribed into the Fighting Services or directed into industry away from the location of their homes but are liable to be directed into industry not too far from their homes to enable them to live there and exercise their functions as the mothers of families. It is the problem of making the immobile women effectively available for industry that makes it so necessary that there should be adequate provision for looking after the children. Those women cannot be made available unless such provision is made and it is to that purpose that wartime nurseries make an essential contribution. Your Lordships are doubtless aware that women up to forty have already been registered, or rather their registration will be complete at the end of the present week. I ventured, when addressing your Lordships previously, to prophesy that the limitation of the age of forty would be for but a short period and that the time would come when the age would be extended. It is interesting to observe from the Press during the last few days that in fact that will be the case.

As I understand, women will be called upon to register shortly up to the age of fifty. That will create this situation: that by the end of the current year women up to the age of fifty will have been registered, and, by the same time, all those women under the age of forty who are required to enter the Fighting Services, or to go into industry, will have been directed to those places where their services are most required. The Prime Minister, speaking in the House of Commons on the White Paper, to which I have already referred, on the 2nd December last year, made it quite clear—as I ventured when speaking previously to your Lordships on this subject to suggest—that the main reserve for industrial work to which we must look in the future is to be found amongst the married women. They are, said the Prime Minister, "our largest reserves for industry and home defence for the future." The problem is how to make these married women with children, these immobile women, effectively available for industry.

I must confess, as I said at the time of the last debate in your Lordships' House upon this subject, that I was profoundly disappointed with the reply given on that occasion by my noble friend Lord Snell, who, I understand, is again to reply for His Majesty's Government to-day. I was disappointed because, as it seemed to me from his reply, His Majesty's Government had not sufficiently applied their interest to the questions of what are the dimensions of this problem, and how much provision must be made. And I gathered from the noble Lord's reply on that occasion—and everything that has happened since bears out the impression I then gained—that His Majesty's Government are, in this matter, waiting upon events instead of taking such steps as are possible to guide events or at least to be ready against the future. I say, frankly, that it is impossible to calculate mathematically, and with scientific precision, what is the precise extent of the demand that is likely to arise. But it is, I think, possible to form some impression of the kind of target at which we should aim. There are, in this country, some 3,000,000 children under the age of five years. When I was submitting this matter to your Lordships' consideration last December, I suggested that in all the circumstances a reasonable target at which to aim would be 5,000 day nurseries, accommodating between 200,000 and 250,000 children under the age of five. The noble Lord who replied did not dissent from that figure, nor, I agree, did he accept it. As I gathered, he did not think that it was an unreasonable figure. Having given further consideration to the matter in the six months which have since elapsed, and having made such inquiries as have been open to me, I have confirmed my own impression that this figure of 5,000 day nurseries to accommodate from 200,000 to 250,000 children is a reasonable target at which the Government should aim.

That number of children, as your Lordships will appreciate, is only some 7 per cent. of the total number of children in this country under five years of age, and represents only some 4 or 5 per cent. of the mothers of such children. It is not credible, in my submission, that the Prime Minister should have had in mind a number less than 5 per cent. of the mothers concerned when he referred to this subject in another place on December 2 last. Indeed, not only did the Prime Minister on that occasion emphasize the importance of making provision for what he referred to as "our largest reserves," but he drew special attention to this very important subject upon which I am addressing your Lordships to-day. He used these words: the development of crèches and public nurseries or combined nurseries may free, or partially free, mothers of families from domestic duties. … The whole of this process needs to be developed with the greatest energy and contrivance. I can find nothing in the reply given to me six months ago by the noble Lord, Lord Snell, to indicate that the Ministry of Health and other Departments concerned were indeed directing their minds to this matter with a view to dealing with it "with the greatest energy and contrivance," and nothing that has happened since alters the opinion which I then formed; in fact, I would say that the impression made on my mind is that the Ministry of Health has done nothing more in the matter than to protect itself as far as possible from a "come-back." It may well prove within not very many months that it has; not been successful even in that.

The Lord President of the Council, speaking in another place on December 3 last, also referred to the matter in emphatic and unmistakable terms of urgency. He said this: … in regard to the provision of day-nurseries for the children when married women are called upon to give their service—and they will be required in enormous numbers, working in shifts in a manner which has been shown to be very practical and effective in certain parts of the country—all preparations must be pushed forward. There you have two statements, one by the Prime Minister and the other by the Lord President of the Council, speaking with the highest authority in terms of urgency as to the necessity of making adequate provision.

I have suggested to your Lordships, and I repeat the suggestion now, that 5,000 nurseries, providing for from 200,000 to 250,000 children, is the target which should initially be aimed at. Plow far has the matter proceeded? The noble Lord, Lord Snell, will no doubt be able to give to your Lordships figures which are not available to me; but by the courtesy of the Department I am able to give certain figures. Your Lordships will thus be able to form your own judgment on whether it seems that this matter has been pushed forward as one of great urgency and whether, in the words of the Prime Minister, there has been shown "the greatest energy and contrivance." At the end of April of this year, the total number of war-time nurseries in this country was 453, providing for 17,500 children. I wish to give every credit to the Ministry, so that no question can be raised on the argument which I am submitting to your Lordships. If I take into account not merely the nurseries actually in operation but also those approved and in process of being brought into operation—that is, taking the whole field, actual and prospective, in the Ministry's programme—on April 30 last there was provision for 992 nurseries, for 41,000 children. I have done more than justice to the Ministry in giving those figures, because I have included part-time nurseries as if they were whole-time nurseries.

Let me analyze these figures a little, because it may be difficult to form a view of what the total number of 41,000 really means when applied to the country as a whole. Let me take the London region. The total provision, in operation, and also approved but not yet in operation, and including part-time as well as whole-time nurseries, is, for the whole of the London region, for 6,827 children. Does anyone seriously suggest that provision on that scale is anything like adequate in the vast area of the London region, comprising as it does some ten millions of the population of these islands? Let me give slightly more carefully analyzed figures. In the Borough of Bermondsey there is one nursery school providing for 20 children; yet Bermondsey is a thickly-congested, highly-industrialized area. Take Bethnal Green, which I know well, for I formerly had the honour of representing it in another place. There is one day nursery in Bethnal Green, with provision for 24 children. That day nursery, if I identify it correctly, is at the Oxford House Settlement, where there is a queue day by day of children who are unable to find admittance because of the inadequacy of the accommodation. The only other provision made in Bethnal Green is for a prospective additional day nursery, providing for another forty children. I give those as examples to your Lordships of what I submit is the total inadequacy of the scale upon which this problem has been approached. Take the vast and highly industrialized Midland region. There the total provision, actual and prospective, at the end of April this year, was for 6,300 children. That includes the great industrial City of Birmingham, where the actual provision was for no more than 1,696 children, with prospective accommodation for another 1,978, or about 3,600 children in all.

I think that anyone who considers the scale upon which the Ministry has so far proceeded will feel that it has signally failed to pay heed to the behests of the Prime Minister and of the Lord President of the Council, as made in the House of Commons on the occasions to which I have referred. I say in passing that I have observed a statement in The Times, confirmed in the Economist, that the number of similar nurseries in Germany at this time is 23,000 which, on the same scale of accommodation of 40 to 50 children for each nursery, would account, not for 200,000 children, which is my aim, but for upwards of 1,000,000. I do not want to draw any comparisons which cannot be supported or which are misleading. I think it is fair to point out that the population of Germany is, of course, greater than the population of this country and also, as I understand, that these nurseries in Germany take children up to the age of seven years, whereas those in this country are limited to children of the age of five or under.

It may also be suggested by the noble Lord that it is not necessary to look to day nurseries alone to make provision for the children of mothers who have to go to work; he may say that there are the nursery schools and the nursery classes. Well, let us see how the figures stand as regards those schools and nurseries. The total number of children in nursery schools is 6,000—for this purpose quite negligible. There have been and are being a certain number of nursery schools created specially for children of women going to war work. Those number 500, with accommodation for 18,000 children. In addition, there are the ordinary nursery classes for those under five, but as those have a school child population of less than half their peacetime child population, no satisfaction can be derived from those figures. And there is this very formidable factor to which I would draw the attention of the noble Lord, if the Department is relying upon help from the schools in this connexion: that owing to the return of large numbers of evacuated children to their home towns, and owing at the same time to the fact that so many school buildings have been damaged by enemy action, the accommodation in the schools is now so limited that in many of our largest towns the likelihood is that children under five will have to be excluded altogether, which would thus throw a new and to some extent unexpected strain upon the arrangements to be made for dealing with these children.

The noble Lord may say that another possibility is that children should be looked after by minders; indeed, in a Memorandum issued by the Ministry of Health and the Board of Education this course of action was certainly authorized, and even advised. As I pointed out to your Lordships during the previous debate, I deprecate this system of minders: it is a return to the old days of baby farming, to a greater or less extent, perhaps with rather more precautions than used to be taken. When I say that I mean that if it is to be made a profession to take in children, that is something to be deprecated. On the other hand, I applaud the public spirit of the grannies and aunts and other relations, and the near neighbours and close friends who take in children while their mothers are at work as more or less a friendly gesture, certainly not as a business. I hope that the Government will not proceed with this scheme of minding. I know that it is not likely to ameliorate the problem to any great extent. I speak subject to correction, but I understand that in the great City of Birmingham only 42 minders have been found who are considered suitable by the authority for acting in that capacity. It is a great responsibility that is placed on local authorities, and in any case the scheme is highly complicated. There are difficult forms to be filled in by mothers and by the minders, while the maximum rate of is. per child is less than the normal rate that has prevailed. As I say, I hope that the Government will not proceed with this system, but if they do I hope that they will change it into something in the nature of a children's home service.

I have said sufficient, I hope, to indicate that there is more than ample room, and certainly great need, for dealing with this problem with an entirely different outlook. The Minister of Health has gained, not unjustifiably, the reputation of an able administrator, but of this problem he seems to have had no grasp, and on its solution no grip. I hold out in a friendly spirit a warning hand when I say that he is likely to find himself soon in this matter—within a few months, if he is not careful—on the fatal slope of "too little and too late." There will be no, excuse, for mandatory injunction has been placed on him by the head of the Government, and ample warning has from time to time been given, including the warnings in your Lordships' House in December last and again to-day.

There are certain limiting factors upon the possibilities before the Minister, and it is only right and proper that these should be fully recognized. There is, I know, difficulty with regard to premises. It was only in September—but why only in September?—that the Government authorized the requisitioning of premises for this essential purpose. There is a difficulty about equipment, yet equipment is obtainable; though I must say that, from some I have seen, there must either be laxness now In specification or in inspection, for some of the equipment was certainly quite unsatisfactory. The real stumbling block in this matter is the question of staff. My submission is that in this matter of staff the Minister is being far too ambitious. It is in these days impossible, with the problem with which one is confronted, to maintain for these war-time nurseries the high standard in staff and service which rightly and necessarily have prevailed in peace-time under the auspices and at the instance of the various voluntary associations to which I have referred. Whilst I should like to see the peace-time standards improved, relatively high although they already are, I am bound to say that I see no prospect of maintaining those standards if sufficient accommodation is to be found during the war to provide for the relatively large number of children involved. The standard of staff which the Ministry have set before themselves is in the proportion of one to every four or five children, and on my basis of 200,000 children that means finding staff to the number of 40,000 to 50,000. That is a very large number when it is borne in mind that there are certain qualifications they must necessarily have.

The Ministry have established a standard of this kind—a staff of a matron, an assistant matron, two or three trained nurses, a trained teacher, two trained child welfare reserves, one child welfare reserve in training, and two probationers, ten or eleven altogether, apart from domestic staff, for a war-time nursery of forty or fifty children. That is a very large staff indeed. Naturally they are finding difficulty in obtaining recruits, for what is the remuneration offered? For the nursery assistant, for instance, it is £120 a year, for eight or ten hours a day beginning and ending at varying times, according to the hours of the nursery, and living out. For probationers, who are coming in for training under the child care reserve, the remuneration in the middle of the war, when wages are rising, is £52 a year, living out. How is it to be expected that any number of recruits will be coming forward for this work when the remuneration is £52 a year for girls from sixteen upwards, when girls leaving school at fourteen are able to command 23s. and 25s. a week as office girls, running messages and delivering letters in ordinary and professional business offices?

How, in these circumstances, is it to be expected that girls from sixteen to eighteen will be induced to enter this occupation—a blind alley occupation too often —at £52 a year? The Minister must seek authority for a much higher, more attractive rate of remuneration. These girls of sixteen do not look upon this sort of work with any kind of favour, however attractive it may be sought to make it appear to them. Experiments have been made in obtaining recruits. Many girls in the Girls Training Corps—an admirable institution much to be encouraged—have been asked to go into probation for these nursery schools. What has been their answer? "We want to go to something more exciting. We want to be ambulance drivers or go into the A.T.S. or the W.A.A.F. We do not want to go into this rather dull work in a nursery. There is no glamour, no glory, and very little pay." It is essential that the Ministry should adopt an entirely new standard on this subject. The number of trainees is so small; the number trained so far during the war is rather less than 3,000. I need scarcely point out to your Lordships, who are so familiar with this subject, that so far as trained teachers are concerned, they are practically unobtainable.

I finish by making a practical suggestion, and that is that the Ministry of Health should revise and reconstruct the whole system. There is yet time to do that effectively and to achieve the required results if he will bring to bear some of the zip and zest of which I know he is capable, and if he will direct his personal attention to it. I suggest to the noble Lord that the method to be adopted should be this. There should be established in each locality a central nursery from which other smaller nurseries should radiate, and having regard to the difficulties of domestic economy, and the necessity for economizing both in food and fuel, there should be central cooking and the food should be distributed to these smaller nurseries from a central nursery. There should be a fully qualified, indeed a highly qualified, staff at the centre of each group of nurseries, but the staff of each nursery at the periphery of the group need not be so highly qualified. You want people of good will who like children and can look after children. Hospital nurses have a really valuable function to perform, but these nurseries are not places for sick children; they are places for children who are well, and an entirely different outlook and training are required.

I believe that if the Minister would give some consideration to this suggestion, which I only outline here, with a view to carrying it into effect, the problem would be well on the way towards solution. I believe, if he will act with vigour, there is still time; otherwise he will, in December, meet the bottleneck, and we shall be confronted in your Lordships' House and elsewhere with the argument that women cannot be got into industry, that our factories must "run slow" because there are no facilities for dealing with these children if and when the mothers are directed into industry. I have no more to say on this occasion on this subject, except this. Last night it so happened I was reading in Mr. Greville's diary an account of a debate in your Lordships' House close upon a hundred years ago. I came across a phrase which rather pleased me. Because I felt that my noble friend Lord Snell would relish it, I stored it in my mind for use as my closing observation to-day. So I say to him that I hope that to my arguments he will not merely oppose "the soft non-resisting cushion of an evasive urbanity." I beg to move for Papers.


My Lords, the noble Lord who has just addressed us expressly disclaimed any approach to this subject from the point of view of social welfare. He spoke almost exclusively in terms of military necessity. It may be that military necessity is so urgent at the present time as to make the breaking up of home life virtually inevitable, but the point of view of social welfare ought to be heard, and the interests of the children considered, even in time of war when there exists a school of thought which holds that the taking of children away from their homes and the assumption of quasi-parental functions by the State is in itself a good thing. Those for whom I would desire to speak regard it as a bad thing. Primary responsibility for the child we believe to be upon the parents, and. I would speak for the ideal of the home and of the family. Temporary breaking-up of family life due to war necessities there may be, perhaps there must be, on a very large scale. It is indeed inevitable, but it should be regarded, if a necessity, at least intrinsically as a very serious evil.

The psychological effect upon the young begins at a very early stage in life. I have in my hands a little book, Children in War-Time, published, I see, with a foreword by a member of your Lordships' House who I think has just gone out—Lord De La Warr—in which psychological experts write essays on such titles as "The Uprooted Child," "The Deprived Mother" and "The Problem of the Young Child," not as a mere appeal to sentiment, but as a fitting rubric under which to consider, from a scientific point of view, the calamitous results brought upon maternal psychology and upon child psychology by this destruction of the home. The effects of evacuation on the children present a very great complexity of problems. The child psychologically uprooted from the natural environment of home and family is liable, except in the most favourable circumstances, to be injured thereby, and, in particular, a succession of different and unfamiliar caretakers is liable to do harm to the child.

I was a little disturbed when the noble Lord, Lord Nathan, appeared to adumbrate or suggest a policy of reducing the standard of war-time nurseries, or the standard of competence of the staff which should take care of them. I view that with apprehension, because, granting the evil necessity of breaking up the home and herding the children into these institutions, there seems to be creeping in the view that even so you would not run them very well because you had not adequate staff for the purpose. No doubt all those of us who are fortunate enough to possess children have entrusted them to the care of nurses in earliest years, but carefully chosen and trusted nurses, nurses chosen by ourselves or by the mother, and nurses who are continuously responsible, not varying from time to time, if it can be so arranged, not varying from day to day. And even so good parents do not leave everything to the nurses, but see to it that the children are in effective contact with themselves. In nursery schools, and I dare say in war-time nurseries, there is, or may be, a succession of helpers. Sometimes I believe you get a staff of voluntary helpers in such institutions taking turns to look after the children one at a time day by day. I hope His Majesty's Government in any extension of war-time nurseries will endeavour to secure, as far as possible, a permanence of staff and not a continuously varied staff.

I venture to inflict upon your Lordships a short paragraph from an essay in the book to which I have referred: What should be avoided therefore is the placing of little children in large groups under the care of a matron and the frequent changing of junior nurses. A staff of this kind may be very admirable in its work and genuinely kind to the children. But not having a special relation to a few individual children, the nurses are not in a position to provide that solid personal background which small children so much need if they are to grow up into happy and sociable human beings. I hope that paragraph may, so far as possible, be borne in mind. Now I know it is argued in many quarters that children are better looked after in an institution than they can be in a working-class home. Let no one disparage the working-class home, or suggest that the children are of necessity better off in State nurseries. I do not dispute the fact that there may be some benefits; they may be in more cheerful and cleaner surroundings there may be much excellent equipment. I believe that some of the nursery schools that have been started even in peace-time have done most admirable work, and in certain circumstances there is much to be said for providing them as they should be provided; but do not let us suppose that on balance they are invariably better than home surroundings. Children may be taught in them habits of hygiene and personal cleanliness and so forth, but those things are offset by much psychological loss in a large number of cases.

My point is that institutional treatment is not the same thing as a home, and many working-class homes are real homes in the best and truest sense of the word. Do not let us underrate the tragedy of the breaking up of home life. Do not let us forget the emotion in the breasts of the mothers and the inarticulate psychology of the child. I think the way in which home life has been destroyed is the most tragic thing in this war, and I would suggest to your Lordships—I know I shall carry the majority of the members of this House with me—that the ultimate ideal of the future should be to restore home life, to promote facilities for it by suitable housing and in other ways, and to help to improve the standard of knowledge and opportunity among mothers; to promote mothercraft not to replace mothercraft by the provision of State nurseries as though that were a good thing in itself.

If I may go beyond what is perhaps strictly relevant to war-time nurseries, which cater for children of very tender age, I would remind your Lordships that the problem created when the working-class mother goes into a factory, is not simply one which concerns children of five and under. The elder children are deprived of their home, they come home from school and find the home locked up and the mother at work, and when she returns late at night, tired after her day's work, is she then to set to work to provide a meal? Can she do so? What happens to the children in the meantime? I submit that the facts are familiar, for the very grievous increase in juvenile delinquency, which is deplored by every magistrate of children's courts in the land, is not unrelated to the destruction of the home background of the elder children as well as those of nursery age.


My Lords, I venture to intervene very briefly in this debate. I think that perhaps the thinness of the attendance in your Lordships' House to-day may be my excuse, because it would seem to me to indicate that in your Lordships' House, as I believe outside your Lordships' House in many quarters, the importance of this subject is not fully appreciated. The right reverend Prelate, if he will forgive my saying so, although I am fundamentally in the deepest sympathy with his views, has really in his argument gone somewhat outside the point. The question at the moment put by Lord Nathan does not seem to me to be whether the chil- dren should stay in their homes or whether they should go into nurseries. The trouble, which he has deplored, is that the home is being broken up in any case, and we have to provide the best possible alternative for the children.

Actually I cannot follow the right reverend Prelate entirely in his argument. I am afraid I am one of those who would like—incidentally, for one of the reasons he mentioned—further State assistance in the care of children. I believe that this problem of war-time nurseries, raised by the Motion to-day, is not purely a war-time problem, and I hope to persuade His Majesty's Government to a greater generosity towards the scheme since I believe it will have a post-war utility. All workers in this field before the war were agreed, I think I might say, that our provision of nursery schools was hopelessly inadequate. I believe the war is forcing us to deal with this problem, which is a peace-time as well as a war-time problem, and I hope that from our war-time handling of it a peacetime advantage may result. That peacetime advantage, I believe, is of great importance in view of our problems of reconstruction.

The right reverend Prelate mentioned housing. I myself was going to mention housing. We want after the war to provide the best possible standard of housing for all our people, but I am afraid that no conceivable standard of housing is going to give to every child nursery surroundings in its own home. The right reverend Prelate also mentioned the fact that most of us who have children have entrusted them to nurses and have chosen the nurses most carefully. I sympathize with what he said about the qualities and qualifications required. As I understood him, what he wished to say was that as the necessities of the case were so urgent some means must be found of using less highly trained people who should, none the less, be under the closest supervision of highly trained people at a central nursery. I believe the question of nurseries is essential to the solving of the housing problem. I believe that general appreciation of the importance of the health of the nation has been enormously enlivened by the stresses of war and the necessity of finding fit men for the Services. The care of the child should begin, not when he goes to school at the age of five: it is essential that the State should oversee help and assist in the care of the child from the earliest possible moment. I have myself in your Lordships' House spoken of the care of women in pregnancy and after childbirth. Care must be taken of the child before birth and must continue until the child is in a position to take his or her position as a full citizen of the State.

I am not going to labour the peacetime point, though I think it is fundamentally important. The war-time aspect of this problem presents two facets. There are two types of war-time nursery, the residential and the whole- or part-time nursery. The provision of residential nurseries, I submit, has been most regrettably neglected. It provides an essential part of any evacuation scheme. I know that certain authorities have protested against orders to provide nurseries in their own areas, because they believed that their areas were target areas and therefore unsuited for that provision, and that the evacuation of children should be facilitated by the provision of residential nurseries in safe areas. The whole problem of evacuation has been discussed in your Lordships' House. At the moment it is in a peculiar state of flux. Therefore I am not going to stress the need for residential nurseries in order to promote the evacuation of small children. I need not tell your Lordships how unsuccessful has been the evacuation of mothers with children. The result has been that a far higher percentage of children under five than of children of school age remain in danger areas.

The immediate pressing question arises from the labour problem. It is a problem of providing nurseries for the children of women who are at work. The last time this subject was debated in your Lordships' House it was raised by my noble friend who introduced the Motion to-day. Since that time there has been a new factor in a joint circular issued by the Ministry of Health and the Board of Education. It is a circular to which a great many people take the strongest possible objection, because it seems to stress the employment of minders rather than the provision of nurseries and nursery schools. It seems to show a definite preference for the finding of voluntary minders by the parents themselves. It is, I understand, the experience of those who have to do with employed married women who have children that there is a great loss of working time because the women find that the people to whom they have entrusted their children are unsuitable, that the children are being neglected, and that they cannot conscientiously leave their children in such circumstance. That is the first objection, and a fundamental one in my view.

The second objection on the part of persons who are interested and engaged in child welfare work is that children who are handed over to minders are thereby removed from the care of clinics and health visitors. That, I think, is entirely deplorable. If we are to have minders it is essential that they should be registered and that they should be supervised; and I suggest that they should be paid. But I believe that this system of minders is a pis aller. It is thoroughly unsatisfactory, it has already been found not to work, and I believe that the only solution is the provision of good nurseries in sufficient numbers. Suggestions have been made that there should be nurseries at factories, but I think everybody who has had any experience of this matter is opposed to that proposal. I think it is entirely undesirable. It hardly needs argument that nurseries run independently by the State are necessarily better than nurseries attached to factories which would be within target areas.

There have been repeated complaints of the cutting down of plans by the Ministry concerned. I have here details of a surprising number of cases where nurseries have been planned with considerable facilities but without sufficient accommodation, the accommodation being lacking because the Ministries have cut down the funds allowed for the establishment of the nurseries. The trouble, in the opinion of most people who have to deal with the subject, lies very largely in the division of authority. There are three Departments concerned, the Ministry of Food, the Ministry of Health and the Board of Education. This considerable division seems likely to be responsible for much of the delay, and it is certainly responsible for the fact that those who wish to press forward with these nurseries find it difficult to know where to aim their criticisms and their encouragements. Recently, I understand, there has been set up in the Board of Education a child care division and in the Ministry of Health an Advisory Committee on child welfare. Perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Snell, when he replies, will be able to tell us what are to be the functions of these new divisions. I submit that the whole problem should be under one authority and that authority should be the Board of Education.

The Board of Education has inadequate experience of running nursery schools. I do not mean that it is inadequate for dealing with this present problem; what I mean is that the scale on which the Board of Education was running such schools before the war was inadequate. However, such experience as there is in this country is in the Board of Education. The tiny toddlers, the small children below the age of two years, I suggest, may well be left to the care of the child welfare committees. I do hope that we are going to have from His Majesty's Government a clarification of this problem, and that we shall receive an assurance that the Government will press forward with the construction of these nurseries. I believe that nothing is more essential to the mobilization of our nation at the present time, and to the welfare of the coming generation.


My Lords, I would like to say just a few words about this question. I shall be very short. I have had twenty-five children in a nursery in my house in the country for the last three years, so that although I am not an expert I do know something about the matter. I agree, generally, with what the right reverend Prelate has said about the value of the home, but I do not go all the way with him on the question of the advantages or disadvantages accruing to children from the experience they get in consequence of a change in their surroundings. Without belauding my own house, I am quite certain that the twenty-five children I have there have immensely improved. They are better in health, in speech, in manners and in those ordinary attractive features which children usually have. I cannot think that to separate a child entirely from its own parents for occasional periods is not a good thing. After all, most of us here were separated from our parents for considerable periods during our upbringing, and, personally, I think that we probably benefited from the separation.

These children at my home are all under five years of age. I do not think it can be regarded as being to their detriment that they lead a kind of life which is different from that to which they are accustomed, and are under some sort of discipline. Of course there is difficulty in getting efficient helpers. The helpers usually serve under a trained matron and they are generally young girls. As a rule they are under the age of sixteen, and the tasks which they have to perform are tasks of the type which they probably have to carry out in the ordinary way in their own homes. They attend to the cleaning, to the washing and to the soothing of the children. My children, I may say, cry a great deal less now than they did three years ago. The difficult task, of course, is to look after them when they are out of doors. One helper, if she is intelligent, can take out as many as ten or twelve children in a park or garden, but not in London streets, for there they would be all over the place at once. That is one of the reasons why I believe that a country environment at that time of children's lives is of benefit to them.

The noble Lord who opened the debate spoke of the salary of the helpers and mentioned a figure of £120 a year. That seems to me a Utopian salary. Helpers in my nursery, I believe, get £12 a year, and of course their keep. They are quite content, and I have never heard any suggestions that their pay is too small. The fact is that you want to get young women who like children and who are attracted by the nursing profession. That, I believe, is the future to hold out to them —that they should become members of the nursing profession. If you get young women who want to be nurses and who realize that they will benefit from experience, in the first instance, in these nurseries, they are the sort of people who are likely to do this work efficiently.

As regards the Ministry, I may say that all my dealings with it, which, of course, have always been carried out through the county council, have proceeded in a reasonable manner. The people at the Ministry are quite as generous as people ought to be who have to deal with public funds. They are not always, of course, so expeditious as one would like everybody to be, but then that is not to be expected of Government Departments. Generally speaking, I believe that the system of sending children into the country—I cannot speak of institutions for I have no knowledge of them—is a good one. It is beneficial to the children, and it helps them to get an outlook on life that they will probably remember and that they would otherwise have been unlikely to experience.


My Lords, His Majesty's Government do not question at all the importance, or indeed the urgency, of the question to which the noble Lord has called attention in his Motion. The Government welcome the opportunity which is given to them to make a further statement regarding policy and progress. Your Lordships will note that the terms of the Motion standing in the name of the noble Lord deal particularly with the present and prospective position as regards war-time nurseries. But what he is really interested in, and what interests your Lordships I am sure, is the provision made for children as a whole—that is to say, the adequacy of the arrangements for the care of young children whose mothers are at work in present circumstances. There are indeed other services than wartime nurseries to be taken into account. There are many services of organizations and of individuals doing work that is very much appreciated in this field of endeavour, and the part to be played by each varies considerably in different localities according to local habits or preferences. For example, private arrangements are encouraged in some districts, and those private arrangements are, on the whole, welcomed by the Ministry of Labour which has established a scheme of registered daily guardians under which assistance is given to women who undertake work of this kind. These guardians operate in twenty-four districts. At the end of April last 2,433 guardians were registered, and 1,592 children were cared for under that system.

Perhaps it would be useful at this stage if I were to deal with the question of the number of nurseries provided. The aim of the Government is to establish, in each district where women are at work, nurseries in sufficient numbers to ensure that whenever women with young children go to work, a place for the children will be available in nurseries; but the number of women with young children who are actually at work determines, of course, the number of nurseries required. The Government do not wait until a demand for nurseries has been made; they assume, upon advice, that nurseries will be required in certain districts, and they urge the local authorities to provide them. The estimates of the need may vary, because there are so many uncertain factors to be taken into account; but the estimate upon which the Government work is based upon the judgment of the Ministry of Labour, which has more information on the subject than any other body.

In the provision of nurseries there are certain practical difficulties to be overcome for which I think my noble friend Lord Nathan did not make sufficient allowance in his interesting and somewhat challenging speech. A decision to produce nurseries does not result in their immediate production. For instance, in the early months of this year there were considerable delays owing to severe weather. There were also difficulties about sites, which had to be overcome and, above all else, although nurseries were given priority for labour and materials, there are competing priorities for tasks which are equally urgent, and that results in a certain amount of inevitable delay.

My noble friend Lord Nathan did not quote the whole of the figures, probably because they were not at his disposal; so that I hope that I may be forgiven if I go over the figures again. At the end of April there were in operation, as he said, 453 nurseries, but by the end of May that number had become 540. At the end of April, 539 had been approved; by the end of May that number had risen to 576. At the end of April, 276 were in preparation; at the end of May, 216 were in preparation. At the end of April, the total number provided for was 1,268; at the end of May, it was 1,332 and those, it is estimated, would provide places for 52,114 children. During May, and not included in those figures, there came into operation 87 new nurseries, and there were 124 new approvals and 64 new proposals. It is expected that during June and July that number will steadily, and we hope largely, increase. The increase is indeed going on. In the Northern Region two have been opened; in the North-Western Region ten; in the Southern Region two, with seven about to be opened; and in the Midland Region it is expected that fifteen will be opened during the present month. It will be seen, therefore, that a certain amount of progress is being made.

Your Lordships will forgive me if I also give the Scottish figures, although these were not referred to in the noble Lord's speech. The position on June 19 in Scotland was that 25 nurseries were in operation, providing 990 places; 54 nurseries were under construction, providing for 2,450 places, and 12 nurseries had been approved, although work on them was not yet started, providing for 490 places. In addition, some 35 to 40 nurseries, with accommodation for 1,800 children, are under consideration.

The noble Lord, Lord Nathan, urged that the target in the initial instance should be 5,000 nurseries, to provide for 200,000 children, and figures were quoted to suggest that the provision at present is insufficient. The whole matter is governed by the difficulty of obtaining labour and materials for the purpose of these nurseries. It is no use suggesting that because Germany has 23,000 nurseries providing for a million children, we can provide them in due proportion. The circumstances may differ, and they certainly do differ in this respect, that in this country women with children are not compelled to work; it is thought that the taking care of a home and the bringing up of children is itself a proper contribution to national service. But the chief difficulty, and the difficulty which cannot immediately be overcome, relates to the scarcity of labour and materials, and to the pressure of equally urgent priorities for the men and materials that are available.

I have quoted figures to show what is being done and what it is hoped to achieve in the near future, and the question naturally arises of how far all this meets the need. The actual need is not very easily ascertained. For example, in one district in the London area the Minister was advised that 69 women would volunteer for work if their children could be cared for, but in the actual result only four women sent their children to the nursery, and only seven women volunteered for work, while 41 decided not to undertake work. It should also be remembered that the average attendance at the available nurseries amounts only to some 70 per cent. That may be due to illness or other circumstances which always occur in regard to child life.

But the Ministry of Health on the advice of the Minister of Labour presses for the establishment of nurseries where there is likely to be a substantial demand. On the list which has been formed about 300 districts are concerned, and in all but 30 nurseries have either been established or are in preparation. They vary from small villages to large towns, and in Birmingham, to which the noble Lord referred, already 70 nurseries are in operation or have been approved. In 250 other districts individual nurseries have been established through local initiative, without having been ordered by the Ministry of Labour. The situation is an expanding one and the provision is gradually and continuously expanding. The arrangements have to be elastic, so as to meet needs as they arise, and it should be noted that the average time it takes to fill a nursery after it has been opened is three months, which does not suggest that at every nursery there is a long queue of children waiting for admission.

Then there is the problem of the women who work half time. That is being dealt with, and the Ministry of Labour is finding places for a thousand half-time women workers each week; there are 10,000 in London alone; and in the Midlands the number is gradually growing. So that war-time nurseries are only one of the methods in operation at the present time. There are, for instance, nursery classes, which have been referred to. These, run by local authorities under the guidance of the Board of Education, have made considerable progress, and provide for children between two and five years of age. More than 200, providing for 8,000 children, are now open and great extensions are expected. The Board of Education have also pressed that these centres should be kept open on Saturdays and holidays and provide also for breakfasts, teas and dinners. Then there is the problem of the over fives. That is an additional responsibility which the Board of Education have urged upon local authorities. These play centres with meals have been established in more than 217 centres, and again a considerable expansion is expected.

I have only time to deal with the question of staffing to which the noble Lord referred. The difficulty centres in two main points: first, the size and quality of the staff; secondly, how to secure this service. For a nursery open from twelve to fifteen hours a day the number of staff, as mentioned by the noble Lord, is one member of the staff to every four children. One serious aspect is that you must provide for something more than the easy day-by-day running of the nursery. You have to provide for emergencies and for possibilities of sickness. You therefore need an adequate, a watchful and a competent staff, and the staff must vary with the type of nursery concerned. For instance, children of two require more attention than older children; at least that is my belief. Your Lordships who know me very well will realize that my acquaintance with nurseries is not my highest qualification, but I believe it is true that young children require much more care. Then there is the provision of child care reserve, to which Lord Faringdon referred. This consists of women and girls who have received a short course of training, arranged by local authorities. In each case you have to have a trained nurse for supervisory duties. You would never be forgiven if fire or some other tragedy occurred in a place full of children that was inadequately staffed. All administrative precautions require that your staff should be equal to what may be considered the greatest emergency. The Government venture to hope that women and girls will increasingly take up this duty—girls between sixteen and nineteen, women over thirty, or between twenty and thirty who are not being called up. These courses of training are given by local education authorities. There are at present 120 courses, attended by 2,800 students, and the number is rapidly increasing.

The question of the use of factories as nurseries has been mentioned. That system has, of course, been widely adopted by Germany, which is no reason in itself for our adoption of it here. There are, indeed, serious reasons against it. For instance, if a factory is large enough to require a nursery it is large enough, as it were, to attract bombers to secure its destruction; and to have children in such places at a time of high emergency would impede civil defence. Although the establishment of such nurseries in factories does not require approval, yet the advice given to the Government by the Ministry of Labour and the Factory Welfare Board is against this type of service being provided.

I dare not enter into the interesting discussion opened up by the right reverend Prelate, the Lord Bishop of Derby, expressing his preference for the home as a training ground rather than a public institution of whatever kind. It was later mentioned that most of your Lordships have suffered from the disadvantage of being taken away from your homes and educated in strange places. I would not dare to say that your Lordships are any the worse for that experience. While, on the one hand, we must regard the home as the centre of our British life, yet we must, on the other hand, remember that the home must be fit for the child at the same time. There are homes that are not entirely suitable as a training ground for children. I would not like to quote Rousseau against the right reverend Prelate, but I think it was Rousseau who said that the worst people to bring up children were their parents, for one or the other of them always spoiled them. I do not know whether in public schools they are spoiled. I just limit myself to this remark, that what we are doing now is not a matter of choice; it is a matter of dire necessity to have mothers, as far as possible, where they can help in a direct way the need of the State. If in that event the children suffer, we shall all be deeply sorry, and we shall owe them some recompense at a later time in the way of better education, better housing, and other things.

I have tried hurriedly to answer most of the questions which have been asked. The nurseries at present existing will teach us a very great deal which, if we are observant, will be most useful to us at a later day when some of our ideals have a chance of being put into practice. I am able to say that the criticisms and suggestions which have been made to-day will be very carefully considered by the proper authorities. The Government hope that what I have been able to say will reassure the nation that the protection of its young life is not being neglected, and it is an additional hope of the Government that one result of this useful discussion will be to induce many more women and girls to offer their help in this most valuable form of national service.


My Lords, the noble Lord will not misunderstand me if I say that I regret to find that my quotation from Mr. Greville was as apt as I could have imagined it was likely to be. The noble Lord has certainly been urbane, but on some of the main points he has certainly been evasive. On the other hand I recognize that in this matter my noble friend has no direct departmental responsibility and that he is merely the voice of the Ministry. Before I seek leave to withdraw this Motion, there are two or three points to which, perhaps, I may be permitted to refer.

My noble friend Lord Faringdon drew attention to the Committee recently set up by the Ministry of Health and also to the child care division set up by the Board of Education. My noble friend opposite (Lord Snell) was somewhat confused between the child care division and the child care reserve. It is a very natural misunderstanding. My noble friend Lord Faringdon was referring to the child care division recently set up by the Board of Education with a set of functions which would appear to overlap to a certain extent those of the Committee newly appointed by the Minister of Health. In that respect, as in so many others in connexion with these war-time nurseries, there seems to be a multiplication of authorities, and considerable confusion not only in nomenclature but also in finding out who is responsible for each particular activity. The noble Lord in his reply gave certain figures additional to those which I gave. I wish to protect myself against any suggestion of inaccuracy, though I do not think my noble friend made any such suggestion. My figures were up to the end of April, whereas his were supplemented by additional figures to the end of May which were not at my disposal. I am bound to tell your Lordships I was profoundly disappointed by the figures given by the noble Lord even to the end of May. I understand that, even as late as this very day, in the great City of Sheffield, there is only one nursery school for 40 children as against twenty nurseries, which is the minimum required.

My noble friend in his reply, speaking as I understand the mind of the Ministry, showed an approach to this problem and a mental attitude which I regard with the utmost alarm. It indicates, as it seems to me, an incapacity, which is applicable not only to this problem but to many others, to visualize in time the dimensions of a problem, and a tendency to deal in a rather pettifogging way along peace-time lines with the great dynamic problems which confront us, and which demand dealing with matters on a far larger scale by the exercise of imaginative processes to an extent never perhaps necessary in times of peace. My noble friend said that the number of women at work determines the number of nurseries required for the children. That statement embodies in one sentence the whole of my complaint—I will not call it "accusation"—against the Ministry. It is starting the wrong way round. It is not a question of the number of women determining the number of nurseries; it is a question of the number of nurseries determining the number of women.

It is essential—and I say this in terms which brook of no misunderstanding—if the bottle-neck is to be avoided, that there should be a number of nurseries available in the immediate future far in excess of existing requirements and sufficient to meet any requirements we can reasonably envisage (I have indicated the extent of that) by the end of the year or a little after. My noble friend did not fully appreciate the fact that the reason there has been no overwhelming demand for accommodation in nurseries is that married women to-day go to work as volunteers whereas, after December, they will go as persons directed into industry. In other words, the mothers who go to work to-day go out of patriotic motives as volunteers; in future they will be directed into industry. The noble Viscount, Lord Mersey, suggested that girls might well take on the work of child training reserves. and of serving in those nurseries because by so doing they might gain an entry into the great profession of nursing. If that were the case it would be a strong argument, but I think the noble Viscount will find upon inquiry that in fact that is not the case, that the training and the work in the day nursery, unhappily, is not, as I wish it were, a qualification for entry into the nursing profession. If it were, an entirely different situation would emerge.

It is six months since I last introduced this subject. I must confess the progress reported now at the end of that period, is profoundly disappointing, and I believe it will be disappointing to those who correctly appreciate the urgency and dimensions of the problem. I recognize that the noble Lord can say no more to-day than he has in fact said, but I wish to make it quite clear that, after a reasonable interval, the same subject will be placed upon the Order Paper again, and that I and my noble friends hope profoundly that on that occasion the noble Lord, or whoever else may be answering for His Majesty's Government then, will be able to say far more clearly and definitely than he has said to-day that the requirements as stated by no less an authority than the Prime Minister, and by the Lord President of the Council, will be more fully complied with by the Ministry of Health. I beg to withdraw the Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.