HL Deb 10 February 1948 vol 153 cc913-83

3.11 p.m.

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, I rise to move that this Bill be now read a second time. I am very proud of the fact that it has fallen to my lot to move this Bill. In its main outline, I believe, it will prove entirely uncontroversial—and that is a welcome change. It is quite obviously a matter which demands the support of all sections of opinion in this House and in the country. I myself have had the opportunity of seeing how much good there was in what we are doing for our children, for during the first year of the war I had the benefit of having a nursery school of forty-seven children in my own house. They were children of from two to four years of age, and I had them for some nine months; I lost them only because the position of my house after the fall of France made it impossible for us to continue the work. That experience made me realize that of all the people who deserve well of their country, and who deserve to be covered with decorations, pride of place should be given to those women who devoted themselves to the care of these small children, not only for all periods of the day but during many periods of the night, without ever complaining and without ever losing their tempers.

I would not like the House to think that everything is bad about this matter of the care of children. By no means. But what is true is that there are bad spots. As I see it, the problem is, how can we so arrange matters as to save those children who have not the benefit of a normal home life from suffering that disadvantage throughout their whole lives? I take the view, in common with most of your Lordships, that for a small child there is no real substitute for a happy home life. As we cannot adequately compensate the children there is all the more reason for us to do the best we can to make that handicap as small as may be. I saw the purpose of this Bill well defined the other day as "an effort to make nobody's child somebody's child." That is what I want to talk to your Lordships about. We do not claim any verbal inspiration for this Bill. It is in essence such a good Bill that we shall welcome the assistance of your Lordships from all parts of the House. We shall be only too glad to consider the various Amendments which may be put down during the Committee stage, because we know that all your Lordships will be actuated by one desire, to make this Bill as good as it possibly can be. At the end of the Second Reading debate, my noble friend Lord Morrison, who is prepared to deal more particularly with matters which concern Scotland, will deal with other general matters which arise.

I feel that it is due that some tribute should be paid to Lady Allen of Hurt-wood, who brought this matter before the public eye in the year 1944. Perhaps I may, for a moment, trespass on dangerous ground. It occurs to me that if, as a result of reforms which are now being discussed, we should at some time have ladies sitting in your Lordships' House, we might have matters of this nature brought to our notice earlier and more forcibly than was the case in regard to this particular subject. Lady Allen raised the matter in the Press and published a pamphlet calling attention to the unsatisfactory nature, in some cases, of the care and attention which was being given to children under the care of local authorities and voluntary organizations. That pamphlet, I think, caused some public disquiet. That was a good thing.

Shortly afterwards, or about that time, there was the case of the boy called Dennis O'Neill. Your Lordships will remember that case. The boy had been boarded out by a local authority and, to put it crudely, died through the cruelty of the foster-parents with whom he had been boarded Cm:. There was an inquiry into the case by Sir Walter Monckton, and he reported that: the administrative machinery was adequate, but it should be informed by a more anxious and responsible spirit, which, to my mind, means that whilst there were many people who had administrative responsibility, there was no one really concerned in the personal welfare of that child. And so we appointed the Curtis Committee in March, 1945. At the same time we appointed the Clyde Committee for Scotland, to inquire into the existing methods of providing for children deprived of normal home life, and to consider what further measures should be taken to compensate them for lack of parental care. Historically the care of children has developed in this country on diverse lines. There have been different Government Departments dealing with this matter, and when it came down to the local authorities there were different committees of the local authorities dealing with the care of children. Speaking broadly, so far as England and Wales are concerned, the Ministry of Health are at the present time responsible for destitute and homeless children who are dealt with under the Poor Law, for infants' care and for the supervision under the child life protection provisions of the Public Health Acts of children taken for reward. The Home Office, however, are responsible for neglected and delinquent children under the Children and Young Persons Acts, and there are the special groups of children who are now, and under this Bill will remain, under the change of the Ministry of Education or the Ministry of Pensions. Thus it would be true to say that, in the main, central responsibility is divided between the Home Office and the Ministry of Health.

The other day I came across a saying of President Lincoln which may be known to your Lordships. He said that one bad general is better than two good ones. I think there is a good deal of force in that remark. I do not suggest that the Home Office is a bad general but, as I see it, to have one good general avoids the disadvantages of divided authority. To whichever Department you entrust this matter, there is a great deal to be said for entrusting it to one Department. Just as we have these two Departments centrally, so we have various committees under the local authorities. There was machinery for delegation under the Local Government Act of 1930, and in some cases the care of children has been entrusted to one Committee; but even here there is overlapping. In Scotland, of course, centrally the care of children comes under the Secretary of State for Scotland, but in practice it is shared by three different Departments, and the local administration in Scotland, as in England, is divided between various committees of the local authorities. The first recommendation of the two Reports, which run very much on similar lines, is to have this central responsibility unified.

I should like, in a very informal way, to pay a tribute to the work of the Clyde and Curtis Committees. Those of your Lordships who have read these Reports, and I presume that nearly everyone has, will agree with me that in part they make very unhappy reading. For instance, anyone who can think that the trouble of bed-wetting by small children, great nuisance as we know it to be, should be dealt with by administering the cane, to my mind deserves to have the cane administered to himself. Those two Reports make recommendations designed to give all children who are deprived of a normal home life, all the advantages which, as near as may be, make up to them what they have lost:. They recommend, as I have said, central responsibility, in England, Wales and Scotland; centralization of local authority responsibility; and they deal with methods for securing adequate care. As between the various Departments, there is much that might be said. I have always much regretted the view, which is somewhat commonly held, that the Home Office are a Department dealing only with crime and criminals. That is a complete misapprehension. In fact, the Home Office have very large protective functions in regard to children. Let us not forget that the Home Office were responsible for the Children's Acts of 1908 and 1933, commonly called the "Children's Charters," and they have provided for the welfare and training of children who were in need of care or protection, or who were offenders against the law.

The general experience—I am sure your Lordships will agree with this—is that the child's environment is the primary factor leading to appearance before the court, whether it be a case of neglect or whether it be one of delinquency. Remember that the court's function is to prescribe the treatment which is best suited to the individual requirements of the children. The Home Office deal with guardianship, with protective measures, such as regulation of employment, with international questions, and with the law of adoption. Let me pause here to say, in parenthesis, that we do not pretend in this Bill to deal with the problem of adoption. It is realized that there are problems, and they have to be dealt with, but they are dealt with in another Bill. The Home Office also deal with the probation service and the inspection of voluntary homes. Its Children's Department is experienced, and has had tribute paid to it by the Curtis Committee who said: It has developed to a considerable extent the study of the substitute home. In Scotland the position is comparable. The Bill provides that every local authority is to have a children's committee, unless the Secretary of State, for special and exceptional reasons, considers that that requirement should be dispensed with. That children's committee are to deal with the care of children removed from their homes by order of the court; child life protection under the Public Health Acts in England and Wales and under the Children and Young Persons' Act in Scotland; the registration of adoption societies; supervision of children placed by their parents in the care of persons other than their parents; and provision for children received into care under this Bill.

The children's committee are to appoint a children's officer for the area of each local authority, with a possible right of combination of more than one area. The children's officer is to be employed on no other duties except looking after children, save with the express consent of the Secretary of State. It is for the local authorities to give the children's officer adequate staff. I should suppose that in many cases—I think I might say in most cases—the children's officer would be a woman, and she would require not merely academic qualifications, skill and administrative capacity but, beyond everything else, enthusiasm, fondness for children, and the type of personality which would enable her to be looked upon by the children as a real friend. Then she will be able to restore to the children the sense of being real members of the community and not unwanted members, as these children are so apt to feel they are. Of course, she cannot know all the children in care, and she must, therefore, have officers under her who will be allocated to specific groups.

The third section of the Committee's recommendations, dealing with the' methods to secure adequate care, are dealt with in various parts of the Bill—in Part I and II and, I think, in Part IV. Part I replaces the provisions of the Poor Law as respects children. It defines the responsibility of a local authority to receive the child and to keep him in care; and it safeguards the rights of parents or guardians. It enables a local authority, by resolution, to assume parental rights in specified types of cases. Clause 2, which was a difficult clause to draft, tries to draw a happy mean between interference with the rights of the parents—which experience leads me to say should be very seldom undertaken—and the responsibility of the local authority to see that the children are not neglected. Accordingly, the duty of a local authority under Clause 1 is to receive into their care those children under seventeen who are being—to put it crudely—neglected, if they are orphans, abandoned or lost, or children whose parents cannot for any reason provide them with proper and adequate accommodation, maintenance or upbringing. Your Lordships will notice that the local authorities are not entitled under Clause 1 to remove the child from the care of the parents against their wishes.

Having taken the child into their care, they must keep him until he is eighteen. If they can find a suitable parent, guardian, relative or friend, that person should take over the care. And to preserve the essential contacts, your Lordships will see that under Clause 22 it is provided that the local authority may pay the travelling expenses of those people who, by reason of their circumstances, find it difficult to pay. Clause 2 is the clause which enables the local authority by resolution to assume parental rights—that is to say, if there is no parent, or if they regard the parent as permanently unfit. That follows Section 52 of the Poor Law Act, 1930, so far as England and Wales is concerned, though I think it is new to Scotland.

We have given what I hope and believe are: adequate safeguards to protect the position of the parent. The parent or guardian is to be notified of his right to object within one month, and, if he objects, the resolution then lapses unless application to the juvenile court is made within fourteen days and the juvenile court affirms the resolution. Once ratified, the resolution stands until the child reaches the age of eighteen, although the local authorities may at any time rescind the resolution if they think it to the benefit of the child so to do. The court may at any time, on the application of the parent or guardian, discharge the resolution or allow the child to be temporarily placed with the parent or guardian for a period of trial. A resolution can be made only in specified cases. If the child in care under Clause 1 should be removed by the parent to unsuitable surroundings, then further action would have to be taken by way of an application to the court under the existing powers of the Children and Young Persons Acts. The power of the local authority to act as a fit person becomes a duty if the child is committed to their care by a court, although the local authority may make representations to the court if they think it undesirable.

Part II of the Bill sets out principles to guide local authorities as to how they should best consult the interest of the child and best bring out his character and abilities. It stresses their obligation to use all facilities, educational and otherwise, which would be available for the use of a child in a normally happy home. It sets out various methods of care and maintenance. I am glad to say that the conclusion has been reached, which I feel sure is right, that, of all the methods, the best is that of boarding the child out, if only a suitable home can be found in which the child can become a member of the family. So long as a suitable family is found, I feel quite certain that that method is a better one than placing the child in even the best form of institution. But if such a home cannot be obtained, then the local authority can use either their own residential homes or the homes of voluntary associations.

As things are to-day, I am afraid that residential establishments will remain necessary for a long time. I think it regrettable, because I do not believe one can do better than arrange for the children to become members of an ordinary family, sharing the normal life of the community. But I must not let myself go about the use of workhouse premises, although, having read the Curtis Report:, it would be easy for any of us to do so. Of course, when you are dealing with the under-threes, and you have a nursery set apart from the institution, that is another matter. Here it is fair to say that, although the environment is often poor, yet I do not think it is harmful. I feel strongly that it is desirable to separate nurseries from institutions of that sort. Where institutional nurseries exist, they may under the Bill continue for the under-threes if they are approved, and only if they are approved, by the Secretary of State.

Unhappily, the use of the workhouse was not restricted to the under-threes. Although the English Poor Law prohibited this for periods of more than six weeks, numbers were retained for months and sometimes longer. Often there was no special ward or place for them to live in and nowhere to play, and the children were not sent to school. The Curtis Committee reported cases of children living for months in wards, in company with senile people and those who were sick with all sorts of diseases. We should have liked absolutely to bar all children over three from being admitted into an adult institution, but we realize that their admission may be necessary in a case of emergency as things are to-day, and, therefore, the Bill makes it permissible to take in children under three for a period of fourteen days only, unless that period of time is enlarged by the Secretary of State. For the rest of the adult institutions, we must substitute either homes provided by the local authority which have facilities for the temporary accommodation of children, or a children's home for the accommodation of children to be put in a place of safety. Your Lordships will find that provision in various clauses of the Bill.

Then there are powers given to the Secretary of State to make regulations to secure the welfare of children boarded out or maintained in children's homes. Those regulations cover medical care, and it is contemplated that they should also deal with the facilities to be given for enabling a child to receive religious instruction in the religion of its parents, because that is a matter to which we all attach importance. Sometimes it happens that children are in care for very short periods—perhaps the mother is ill, having a new baby or something of that sort. Sometimes it happens, however, that there are no parents who can care for children properly, and in circumstances such as those the children must be in care throughout their whole childhood. The duty of care ends at the age of eighteen. But we do not desire the children to be unnecessarily penalized, and just as a good parent looks after his child after eighteen, so we provide that the local authority may continue to look after these children after the age of eighteen. The local authority may provide hostels for the accommodation of children up to the age of twenty-one, and they may contribute to their maintenance in other hostels or suitable lodgings near the place of employment or the place of training. Evidence shows the great value of that work.

We provide further that persons who have never been in care may be accommodated at the local authority's hostels. I am sure that is right, because I think it is very undesirable to segregate these children and to mark them, as it were, as children who have been in care, and keep them aside from all other children. The local authority may also make grants for the education and training of persons in their care on reaching the age of eighteen; in other words, to give them the same opportunities as normal children. Then the Secretary of State and the Minister of Education—or in Scotland, of course, the Secretary of State—may make regulations dealing with the various functions of the local authority on the one hand, and the local education authority on the other, where there is any danger of an overlap. In short, the local authority are to be entitled, if need requires, to behave to the children in their care as a normally good parent would behave to his own children.

Part IV of the Bill provides for the control of voluntary homes and all the work of the voluntary organizations in boarding out children. It extends slightly the definition of voluntary homes to include those supported wholly or partly by endowments. There are 1,049 voluntary homes in the United Kingdom, and now that we bring into that category those dependent solely on endowments there will be some slight increase. Under the Bill, the Secretary of State is to have power to make regulations for the welfare of children boarded out and for their supervision either by the local authority or by a voluntary organization. He may make regulations for the conduct of voluntary homes and for the control of emigration, which is dealt with to-day largely by voluntary organizations.

May I say at once that these steps do not imply any general distrust of the work which these voluntary organizations have done? Very much on the contrary. They have done magnificent work; they have been pioneers in this matter, and it would indeed be grudging of me were I not to pay a tribute to the work which they have done. But as is almost inevitable, of course, they have not all attained an equal standard of excellence: some of them, indeed, have lagged far behind. And what we want, by our powers of inspection, is to see whether we can bring the bad homes more nearly to the level of the good ones. So we provide that all homes are to be registered and are to become liable to inspection. The Secretary of State may refuse to register a home. He may remove the registration of a home; and if he so desires, after notification of his intention to remove the registration of a home, he may remove children from that home and place them under the care of the local authority.

Many of these small homes are in difficulties owing to lack of funds, and the Curtis Committee went out of their way to pay a tribute to them. We have taken power under this Bill to enable grants to be made for the special case of these small homes. There is one other question. When you undertake the care of a child, and the child has passed out of your care and goes out into the big world, sometimes that child will fail. It is then most important that the child should have someone in the position of a parent to whom he can turn for advice and for help. We are placing that on the shoulders of the local authority. They may do it themselves, or they may obtain the assistance of the voluntary societies in seeing that that work is done.

Part V of the Bill, deals with the extension of the child life protection provisions of the Public Health Acts and, in Scotland, the Children and Young Persons Act; and, putting it quite shortly, we are extending these provisions from the age of nine (at which they now end) to school leaving age. So, also, we extend the provisions of Section 7 of the Adoption of Children (Regulation) Act, 1939. We also bring in orphaned children, on whose behalf a guardians' allowance or family allowance is being made to a person who is not a parent or a relative. Such children are to be deemed as being placed for reward and so brought within the child life protection provisions. Provision is made for the appointment of guardians by a court, including magistrates' and county courts. The Curtis Committee believed it right—and experience may well prove that they are right—that if provision could be made for guardianship applications to be decided in the lower courts, many people might be willing to accept guardianship where they would not be willing to go the whole length of adoption.

Then, of course, provision has been made for inspectors appointed by the Secretary of State to visit children under care, and to visit all children boarded out, whether by the local authority or by voluntary associations. This means that the inspectorate must be expanded and we expect that at a later stage they will be regionalized. In Scotland too, additional inspectors will be required. At the present time we have in the Home Office inspectorate persons who are qualified to conduct medical investigations, and also persons who are specialists in child welfare. Of course, everything depends on the type and quality of the inspectors we have. It is all very well to provide for inspection, but we must have the right sort of inspectors. Local Government inspectors may visit voluntary homes in their area, or may visit them in another area in which that local authority have boarded out children.

It is obvious that there is urgent need to provide workers trained in child care. We above established a Central Training Council in Child Care. It was established last July, and your Lordships will be glad to hear that one hundred women have been accepted by the Council for training as house-mothers. The first course of thirty students started in London last month, and we also have sixty women who started training as boarding-out officers at four universities last October. The Bill provides for the appointment of an Advisory Council in Child Care in England and Scotland. So far as the finance is concerned, the Government will pay 50 per cent. of the local authority's expenditure. Your Lordships will remember that up to the present there has never been any direct Exchequer grant in respect of Poor Law expenditure. Equally, we provide that grants to voluntary organizations, and of money expended on training, shall be shared fifty-fifty between the Government and the local authority.

I am deeply conscious of the fact that it is one thing to pass an Act of Parliament and quite another thing to get effective work done under it. The most we can do by Act of Parliament is to provide a scheme on the strength of which the individual may give his work and his enthusiasm to the task. Everything, therefore, will depend on the way in which the children's committees of the local authorities function, the way in which the children's officer serving that committee docs his or her work, and the way in which other officers work. In short, it depends on the enthusiasm of all sections of the community to see that the Bill which we have drafted—and which I have no doubt will be improved with your Lordships' assistance—does not become a dead letter, but does provide an opportunity and an incentive to all those people who work in what is perhaps the noblest cause of all—looking after our children.

Although this is going to cost money—make no mistake about that—yet it is surely an investment which we are well justified in making. We are not dealing with small numbers. I think on Page 27 of the Curtis Report your Lordships will see mentioned the figure of 125,000 children. If we can do something to restore to those children as nearly as we can the benefit of a happy home, to make those children feel that they are wanted members of the community, to restore to them the self-confidence which comes from that knowledge, then I claim that this Bill will have been as important as any of the Bills I have ever introduced into your Lordships' House. I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time.

Moved, that the Bill be now read 2a—(The Lord Chancellor.)

3.39 p.m.


My Lords, I am certain that we are all indebted to the noble and learned Viscount for the way in which he has introduced this measure this afternoon. I am glad that the Government have seen fit to introduce the Bill in this House. It enables us, as the Lord Chancellor himself said, to turn away from some differences that we had last week, and to settle down to a Bill which I believe will have the unanimous support of us all. The fact that it has been introduced here seems somewhat to settle one of the matters in slight dispute last week, because surely it establishes that we are something more than a mere revising Chamber and something more than a Chamber of an advisory character. Here is an important Bill which, as the noble and learned Viscount said, has the advantage of being introduced for its first time in this House. The Bill owes its birth and its original conception to a Committee appointed in the days of the Coalition Government. The Clyde Committee were appointed by Mr. Tom Johnston in April, 1945, the Curtis Committee were appointed jointly by Mr. Herbert Morrison, Mr. Henry Willink, and Mr. R. A. Butler. We all agree that it was a good thing to appoint those Committees and that they have produced first-class Reports. I am sure that we should all like to join in the tribute which the Lord Chancellor has paid to the Chairmen of those Committees and to all who served as members, for there is much guidance in these Reports.

This Bill sets up the framework within which advantage may be taken of such guidance. However, when all is said and done, as indeed the noble and learned Viscount said in his concluding words, it is the way in which the Act is administered and worked which will really count. What we seek to provide for these unfortunate children cannot be the best, because the best, of course, is living in a happy home with one's own parents—in the way in which, I suppose, most Members of this House had the advantage of being brought up. I certainly was extremely fortunate in that respect. We have to give these children, not quite the best, because we cannot, but the very next best thing. Therefore, there is a great responsibility laid upon those who undertake to try to provide that which each of these children lacks and which each of these children was meant to have—that is, a good home. Whether those doing this work are members of the local government committees or are children's officers, they have a big responsibility; but at the same time they have a wonderful opportunity of doing really great work.

I am extremely glad that the opportunity has been taken to set up as separate entities these children's committees. In the county in which I live there have been three committees dealing with this general body of work. There has been the children's care sub-committee of the education committee, there has been the children's sub-committee of the public assistance committee and there has been the maternity, child welfare and nursing sub-committee of the health committee. Each of these three sub-committees has been doing work which is now, quite properly, to be absorbed into one committee. I believe that it is absolutely right because I care even more to see that there is just that one authority in the localities than I do to sec that there is one authority at the centre. Although I believe that it is important to have only one Ministry responsible here, I believe it is even more important to have only one committee of the local authority dealing with these children, in many cases from the cradle, to the time when these children can properly fend for themselves.

I am particularly glad of the provision in Clause 38 (4) which continues to allow co-option to these committees, because not everyone elected to a council has either the knowledge or the inclination to do well a job like this. The noble and learned Viscount, the Lord Chancellor, said that there has been a great deal of success in the recent past in this field. A great deal of that success has been due to those voluntary workers who have given their time to helping those in charge of children's homes. We should pay a great tribute to most of the matrons of these children's homes, but it is a good thing that they should have somebody to come and help them in their difficulties, somebody who will sympathize with them, and who on the committee will put their point of view which otherwise might be lacking.

These voluntary workers, moreover, give much of their time to visiting the children who are boarded out. Visiting these homes is an equally important task. Indeed, in many cases of which I know, these voluntary workers have these children out to their own homes and do a great deal to get going what I believe is called the "uncles and aunts" scheme whereby somebody outside the home will have these children to their own individual home on a Sunday afternoon or for a day or two, or perhaps even for a period in the holidays. I am not in any way running down officials, but I think that tasks of that kind are best done by voluntary workers who have not their eye on the clock to see whether this comes within their official working hours, because these are jobs that cannot be measured by the clock or the time they take; they must be done at the most convenient times, when the children can be found at home. Therefore, I hope that in: he case of every one of these new committees those who have already given themselves to this task will still find a place.

As I have said, a job of this sort is not done merely by attending committee meetings. All these people should know all the homes under their jurisdiction. They should have visited in their immediate area the homes to which they are sending children, and they should be prepared to go to visit children boarded out in their immediate neighbourhood and to get to know both the people with whom those children are boarded and the children themselves. Like the Lord Chancellor, I believe that boarding out in a good home is almost invariably the best method, provided that it is a good home, especially the kind of home where there are parents with perhaps one child of their own who would like to have another child, so that they can bring up the two children together. But a great number of these children's homes are most admirably run. At the nearest home to the place where I live an offer to take one of the girls for the Christmas holidays was received' from a very kind lady who, thinking to be helpful, added at the end of her letter, "I am prepared to take rather an unattractive child if you have one." The matron was indignant at this and said. "There is no unattractive child in my home at all." That attitude of the matron towards her children is rather borne out by the fact that, although a number of neighbours and people in the district around offered to take some of the small girls for a week or so at Christmas, not a single child volunteered to leave the home to go, as it were, for a holiday elsewhere.

This leads me to say that I agree, and I suppose all your Lordships will agree, that the last thing one wants; to see is the housing in the workhouse of children who are no more than tiny infants. I was rather glad to hear the Lord Chancellor use the term "workhouse." We get all sorts of phrases nowadays which cover the word "workhouse." The institution near my home is called "The Longfleet Gardens," and has been so called for some time. The; Bill speaks of providing accommodation and maintenance for the child "in premises in which accommodation is being provided under any Act of the present Session to terminate the existing Poor Law." That is a delightful definition, and is summed up in what was better called "the workhouse" by the Lord Chancellor. I hope, as I know that he and the Government and all forward-looking local authorities hope, that we shall soon be able to dispense with having these children in the workhouse at all.

I have spoken about the active members of the Committee and the way in which they ought to look upon their job if they are going to serve on these committees. Now I come to perhaps more important persons than those—namely, the children's officers. I am glad to think that every authority will now have a children's officer. That person ought, of course, to give practically the whole of her thought to and have her whole outlook concentrated on the children—how they are being fed and housed, how they are being generally looked after, in what: sort of way they are being brought up, and whether the environment of each of them is such that he is given the best possible chance of becoming a good citizen and of leading a happy and healthy life. I believe it will be possible in small counties for the children's officer herself to know a great number of the children in the county. I do not believe that she need have very many assistants. She can get round and do a lot of the outside work, subject to one small criticism of the Bill that I intend to make in a moment or two.

I would like to see it established as a regular thing (it would help her to visit boarded-out children as well) that every children's officer should herself go and live in one of the local authority's homes for a night or two, because a casual inspection when those running the home know that you are coming is nothing like so good as living on the spot and", in fact, eating the same meals that the children are given. That is a very good test. The children's officer should live in the home for three or four days at a time, although perhaps not spending the whole of the day there, and should take the opportunity while living there of going round and visiting the boarded-out children in the neighbourhood. Then she will really get to know what happens in the home and what it is necessary that the Committee or she herself should do for the home. In that way such a measure of confidence in those running the home will be established that they will treat one another as friends, as indeed one treats anybody who comes and stays with one in one's own home. If this measure is to be a success, the service must be and must remain a human service, and neither the committee nor the children's officers should have their minds directed to matters of red tape, unless those matters are very subsidiary ones.

This brings me to my only real criticism of this Bill. I feel that in it there is too much central control, and that the children's officer will not give of her best if she has to keep her eye most of the time on the Home Office and on seeing that various forms are properly filled up. Nor do I think you will get the best people to serve on the local authority committees if they are, in effect, mere agents of the Ministry and have no great responsibility left to them. I really look with some horror at clause 15 (4) of this Bill which says that the Secretary of State may make regulations about these homes. Subsection (4) (c) says that the regulations: require the approval of the Secretary of State to the construction of buildings with a view to the use thereof for the purposes of homes, to the making of additions, diminutions or alterations to or of, or to or of the grounds of, buildings used for the said purposes or to the putting of a building, or of any land, into use for the said purposes. Thinking back—and it is so long ago that I have no doubt your Lordships will not mind my quoting what happened—I remember that my brother, who for some years has been trying to improve Borstal boys, was starting a new Borstal home at Lyram Grange near Nottingham, and he thought it should be a much more homely and pleasant-looking place than was the old-fashioned prison. But, rather naturally, as it was being built by the Home Office everything had to be referred to them. The struggles that my brother had to get a suitable, pleasant building for carrying on work for the reform of boys were tremendous. He did not have them with the Home Secretary of the time, but with people in the Lands Department and Buildings Department, who had their minds very much set on one type of building. If it is sought to put this in so that the buildings may not be of the workhouse type, and the Home Office are to have this provision to ensure that they are not, then that is all to the good. But as the result of that experience of the Home Office, I would just as soon leave it to the local authorities to see that these places are not uniform as refer the design of all these buildings back to the central office. So, I think, there is a case for us to look into some of this overriding authority from the centre, and see whether we cannot get some agreement to have it rather lessened.

I would not, however, lessen the power of the Home Office to inspect what the authorities are doing. What I think should be followed much more are the lines upon which the Ministry of Education work. I do not know whether it is appropriate in this case, but it seems to me that it would be a sound idea to have a scheme, to start with, which would be sent by the local authority to the Home Secretary. Then if he approve the authority would go ahead. That, as your Lordships doubtless remember, was the procedure under the Education Act, 1944, with which, indeed, my right honourable friend the Home Secretary, had something to do. I am not at all sure that that is not the best way to proceed—get the local authorities to submit a scheme, as under the Education Act, and once a scheme has been approved let them get on with it, rather than insist on having all sorts of little bits approved in meticulous detail by someone in the Home Office. I certainly believe, also—as do the Ministry of Education—in having inspectors going round. I would not suggest that they ought to see every child, but I think they should look at most of the homes, whether they are voluntary institutions or whether they come under a local authority. It should be for them, I suggest, to discuss in general with the children's officers and other officials, how matters are going.

Inspectors can do a lot of good, so long as they are the right people and so long as they pay their visits in the right spirit. The spirit I mean is that which finds expression in saying: "Well, it is interesting to see that you are doing it this way, but I found what I thought was the best way of doing it in such and such a county." These inspectors will be able to take advantage of their invaluable experience of the way the work is done by all these authorities, and they can bring up the backward authorities to a better standard by giving advice on those lines. I do hope that the Home Secretary and the Home Office will not try to work this service, which must be an individual and human service, too much by meticulous direction from Whitehall. County councils, and county borough councils, are bodies of sufficient capacity and responsibility to cope with these inciters without such supervision. Indeed, many of the officials of those authorities have, naturally, far more practical experience of dealing with these matters on the spot than officials in Whitehall, or even in Edinburgh, can possibly have. So I very much hope that the Government will consider matters of this sort with an open mind.

I would now like to say two things about the voluntary homes and the bodies which run them. As the noble and learned Viscount who sits on the Woolsack has said, those bodies have been the pioneers in much of this effort, and almost universally they have done extremely good work in this field. Many a man and many a woman owes his or her success in life to such institutions as Dr. Barnardo's Homes—I pick that out as an example merely because I happen to know it well. The various bodies running these voluntary homes have had excellent training courses. These were referred to, I believe, in the Interim. Report of the Curtis Committee. In paragraph 8 of that Report it was recommended that on the Central Training Council, which it was suggested should be set up, there should be representatives of the Council of the Associated Children's Homes, a body representing 85 per cent. of the voluntary homes in England and Wales. I am told that No 1nvitation has yet been given to that body to serve, and I would like to ask this": Are they to be asked to send representatives to. sit on the Advisory Council to be set up under this Bill? I welcome the formation of that Advisory Council, but I do not want a council merely of officials. I want to see a council of people who have taken an interest in this subject, and who have themselves done this good work in the past. If the noble Lord can tell me at the end of this debate that they are, then I am certain that everyone who has taken an interest in this matter will warmly welcome such an assurance.


I can tell the noble Lord now, that the answer to his question is "Yes."


I am extremely obliged for that prompt answer. I am quite certain that the Government will be doing the right thing in this. I know that these associations, and a lot of the voluntary organizations which are running these homes, will be extremely glad to hear of the answer which the noble Lord has just given to me.

The only other point I wish to make in regard to voluntary homes is this. I do not wish to see any home of this kind continued if it is not giving good service. I wish to make that clear to all right away. In Clause 29 (3), which says that the Secretary of State may take action, there does not seem to be any way in which a home can make representations or can be heard in public—at a public local inquiry or something of that sort, for instance. If that home has been in existence for some considerable number of years I do not think that it should be stopped quite suddenly. There will probably have been talks in the home itself, but in a case of this kind—that is, a case where a home may be struck off the register, for that is what it amounts to—I think the home should be able to appeal, and that people in the neighbourhood, at any rate, should know just what is happening, and why. The home should not be closed merely by some file coming up in the Home Office—I do not know even whether the Home Secretary sees it—or in some such hole-and-corner way. It is just as well there should be some right of appeal. We shall be able to raise this at a further stage. I do not know why we do not keep the provision that local authorities may take the first steps in getting rid of such a home and have the matter come before a tribunal to decide whether or not it should be shut down. Those are the provisions which have obtained up to date. I believe that matters of this sort should be done in the open. Homes which may have been going on for a long time should not be suddenly shut down in twenty-eight days.

After these slight criticisms, let me come back to commendation. I am glad that provision for hostels has been made. Quite a number of good local authorities who cannot find homes in which to board young people to-day have provided hostels. I am glad that this is to be encouraged. I am glad, too, that the child life protection service is to be continued beyond the age of nine. That is all to the good. Here again, I have one slight comment. Why boys of the age of 18, who in a year or two may be fathers themselves, should still be called children, as they are in the Bill, I do not quite know. Although this kind of wording in the Bill may not seem important to many, it does irk a young man who has been earning his living for three or four years to find that he is still referred to as a child. I hope that we may be able to use the term "young person" to describe them when they get beyond the child age.

I end on the note on which I began—that we on this side of the House welcome this Bill. It is one of the last great measures of social reform which I think we can claim were conceived in the days of what Mr. Churchill, in his generous present to everyone who served with him, has termed the great Coalition. We on this side of the House, therefore, will help this Bill in every way we can. We shall examine it in the same spirit that animated all of us—the noble and learned Viscount who sits on the Woolsack and myself—when we served together in the same Government. I think it is a good Bill. I hope that in a few particulars, during its course in this House, we may be able to make it an even better Bill. If we approach it in this way, as I know from past experience the noble and learned Viscount is always inclined to do, I am quite certain that this Bill will go through this House, welcomed by all and in some respects improved. I only hope that it will be the foundation for a great service for those unfortunate children who, unhappily, number far too many in our country to-day.

4.14 p.m.


My Lords, the noble Lords, Lord Beveridge and Lord Amulree, are to speak later on behalf of noble Lords on these Benches, and if I venture to ask your Lordships' leave to intervene for a few moments at this point, it is because, by coincidence, it so happens that to-day is the fortieth anniversary of the introduction in another place of the first Children Bill. It was on February 10, 1908, that, as Under-Secretary at the Home Office, I had the privilege of presenting the first measure of this character to be placed upon the Statute Book. It was a Bill of over 100 clauses, consolidating and amending more than twenty Statutes, establishing the system of juvenile courts and abolishing imprisonment of children, and effecting many amendments and extensions of the law relating to the prevention of cruelty to children and to what were then called the industrial and reformatory schools, as well as a great number of miscellaneous provisions.

That Bill was welcomed by both Houses of Parliament and passed into law without controversy. Twenty-five years went by and I again found myself at the Home Office, as Secretary of State, at a time when the hour was fully ripe for a further measure of the same character. I therefore invited the Under-Secretary in that National Government, Mr. Oliver Stanley, to draft and conduct through Parliament a further measure, another Children Bill, following the same lines as, but superseding in some parts and supplementing in others, the original Act. That he did with great efficiency and success, and it became the Children and Young Persons Act of 1933. Another fifteen years have elapsed and new circumstances and further experience render the time apt for a third measure in the same chapter of our law. As I find myself, to my surprise, still extant on the legislative scene, I venture to offer these few words of grandfatherly welcome to this excellent Bill.

4.18 p.m.


My Lords, on behalf of those who sit on these Benches, I have great pleasure in welcoming this Bill, which, as the noble and learned Viscount who sits on the Woolsack rightly said, is not controversial but very important. May I assure him that the more Bills of this nature that he can persuade his colleagues to send to this House, the better we shall be pleased—even if, in a congested Session, by doing so it may mean stealing a march on steel! This Bill deals with deprived children, children who are not enjoying the normal home life. But the Bill deals with only two classes out of three. Those children who have not the normal happiness of home life can be found in three places—in their parents' homes when the parents are not doing their job properly, in the public institutions and in homes managed by voluntary organizations. This Bill is concerned only with the last two classes and in that sense it is narrower than the legislation to which my noble friend Viscount Samuel has alluded, which covered children generally, and protected them in their homes as well as when they were under the care of somebody other than their parents.

I think it is important to realize that the children who may need protection although they are in their homes are at least as numerous as those who are in local authority institutions or in voluntary organizations. This Bill will not make unnecessary or less important the work of such great voluntary organizations as the National Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Children. This Bill is non-controversial, but its meaning needs to be made clear. Indeed, I am not sure that a certain amount of amendment will not prove necessary to make that meaning clear.

I want to illustrate that by referring to Clause 1 of the Bill, which imposes on local authorities an obligation (I do not quote the actual words; I put them into ordinary language) to take into their care any child which either has no parent or guardian or whose parent or guardian is considered unsuitable. The term "guardian" is defined in Clause 56 as "a person appointed by deed or will or by order of a court." The question I want to ask is: Where do the children who are now in homes managed by the voluntary organizations stand in this matter? Are; they children without parent or guardian, so that they automatically come within the scope of the local authority, or are they not? I do not think that it will be easy for anyone to explain the exact effect of the Bill on that point. Yet it is vital. Are the authorities the: legal guardian of the children in Doctor Barnado's Homes, in the Foundling Hospital Schools, or in the Church of England homes? Of course, they can be made the legal guardian if before they take a child they get a deed signed by the person who gives them the: child. But if they do not do that, then those children still fall technically within Clause 1, as coming into the care of the local authority. I suggest that the point: as to whether or not a child is in the care of the local authority should be made: clear, because if you look at other clauses in the Bill that affects the powers of the local authority, and the purposes for which they can spend money.

I would ask the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack, or the noble Lord, Lord Morrison, to look at Clause 19 (1) (b), which authorizes a local authority to provide money for hostels, after working age has been reached, for people who have been in the care of the local authority. Will the local authority, under that clause, be able to provide hostel accommodation for people who have been in Doctor Barnado's Homes or similar voluntary homes? Look at Clause 20. That clause provides similarly for expenditure on educating the child who has been in the care of a local authority. It is obviously vital to define exactly which children are, and which are not, in the local authority's care. Look at Clause 22. That is a clause to which the noble and learned Viscount referred, dealing with travelling expenses. That also is limited to children in the care of a local authority. I suggest that the Curtis Committee did not make up their mind, and the Government, apparently, have not made up their mind, on the matter of whether this formal obligation which they impose upon the local authority, of taking into their care every child who has not a parent or guardian, is or is not intended to cover the 60,000 children (I think that that is about the number) who are now in homes run by voluntary agencies. If His Majesty's Government have not made up their mind, they should make up their mind; and if they have made up their mind, I suggest that they should make it clear in the Bill. I do think the position of the voluntary homes is a point that needs clearing up.

I would now like to say something more about the voluntary organizations. I do not feel that the powers given to the Secretary of State by Clauses 30 and 32, as to making arrangements for the voluntary homes, are wide enough. It will be noticed, for instance, that in Clause 32 the Secretary of State may make regulations as to the conditions under which children shall be boarded out, but there is no power to make regulations requiring the adoption of boarding out by a voluntary home as the normal method where-ever it is possible. Remember that the whole policy underlying this Bill and the Curtis Committee Report is that the best thing to do with the child is, if possible, to board it out. Under the Bill every local authority are compelled to board children out, but no power is taken to require the same thing of a voluntary organization.

Coming to another matter, Clause 1 (3)—it is surprising that one has to dodge about so much in this Bill to find things that are related—protects the right of the parent, and takes steps to make certain that a local authority do not break the contact between the parent and the child. Steps will be taken to see that the parents can see the child, even though it is in the care of the local authority. So far as I can see, that clause does not apply to a voluntary organization, and there are voluntary organizations which are based upon the principle of breaking completely all contact between the mother and the child. I feel that is a dreadful thing, but it can still go on under this Bill. I went back from Clause 13 (1) to Clause 1 (3), and I would now like to go forward to Clause 40. In Clause 40 the qualifications of a children's officer are laid down. Every local authority must have a children's officer, and the Government axe careful to see that the qualifications of that officer are prescribed; they are very anxious about that. But there is nothing to say that the people who look after children in the voluntary homes should have any qualifications, and no power is given to the Secretary of State to prescribe qualifications.

Finally, I dodge back to Clause 15 (2). That looks to be unimportant, but it is rather important, because it says that every local authority who provide homes for children shall provide at least one home which is in the nature of a reception and qualifying centre, where children can be examined by experts who can then decide what kind of home they ought to have. I think that is a very interesting suggestion indeed. It is a highly expert business, and probably quite a few of these centres will be needed all over the country. There will have to be such a centre for every local authority in the country. So far as I can see, there is nothing to require or encourage children to go to that reception centre before they are placed, as they might otherwise be placed, in a wholly unsuitable voluntary home. I just give these illustrations of cases in which the excellent regulations which are being applied to the local authorities are not being applied to the voluntary homes.

Of course there is control of the voluntary homes, they can be shut up altogether, but that is a capital penalty. It may sometimes happen that it would be be much better just to withdraw the particular individual child, but there is no power to do that under this Bill, as I read it. I hope that in making these remarks about voluntary organizations I have not given anybody the impression that I doubt the supreme value of voluntary action and voluntary agencies in dealing with children. I have no doubt about that at all. In dealing with these deprived children, what we are trying to do is to supply something which no money can provide. That is the real difficulty in dealing with the problem. We cannot, by paying people any amount of money, make certain that they will really look after the child as its parents would look after it. It is true that the only persons who can really do the job of replacing the parent of the deprived child are the people who have a sense of vocation. I think you are more likely to find that sense of vocation in a voluntary agency than in a local authority, and for this reason: a local authority does something because it is their duty to do it; but the voluntary agencies would not exist had not somebody conceived it was his vocation to rescue children. Therefore, I think it is most important that we should keep the voluntary organizations and use them.

But equally—and this is vital—all voluntary organizations should be steadily brought up to the level of the best, and I am not sure that this Bill gives the necessary power for that purpose. Remember that some of these voluntary organizations have a good deal of history behind them, and they have charters and outlooks which in some cases are to-day completely antiquated. The idea of forcibly separating the mother from the child if the child is illegitimate is one of the antiquated ideas still possessed in some places, and it is one which should be got rid of. There is also a tendency in any organization, whether it be public or whether it be voluntary, to establish a ves[...]ed interest in a particular way of doing a certain thing. We do not want in this manner to weaken the spirit of voluntary service to the children; we want to use to the full the voluntary organizations. This Bill, to my mind, is one of the most important Bills that could be introduced. It is not merely dealing with children but it is making a new experiment in the relations between public authorities and voluntary agencies. I believe it has not gone quite far enough in strengthening the powers of the Secretary of State over voluntary organizations as well as over local authorities. That is a point to which I would ask the Government to address their minds.

There is one; other point to which I would like to refer and which is quite different. I am not sure that I agree with what the noble Lord who preceded me said about the children's committee. I hope the Government will keep their minds a little open on that matter. Should there be an ad hoc committee for these deprived children, or should looking after these deprived children by the local authorities be made the function of a special branch of the Education Department? That matter was considered by the Curtis Committee, and your Lordships will see that the Report deals with the discussion upon that issue of whether there should be a special committee for the deprived children, or whether they should be dealt with through the education committee. That matter is referred to in paragraphs 439 and 440. I will say only that I do not feel convinced by the reasons given there. One reason refers to the fact that children under two are, of course, looked after by the maternity and child welfare committee. On that point, I would like the spokesman for the Government to tell me whether the noble Lord, Lord Llewellin, was right in saying that the Bill means that there will be only one committee for all purposes for all children. Will the maternity and welfare work in respect of children who are not deprived be taken away from the welfare committee and be given to the children's committee? I think not. He spoke of having three committees which will now become one committee. I do not believe that that will happen, but I want to know whether it is the intention to do that under the Bill or not.

The whole object of what we are doing with deprived children is to make them as completely like the undeprived children as possible, and to bring them back into the general body of children who possess parents. Now the body which is dealing with children who have parents is the Education Department, and if you set up a separate department to deal with children who are deprived you will be continuing the one thing you want, if possible, to avoid—namely, the segregation of the deprived children. That is my reason for doubting the suggestion which has been made.

The ground the Curtis Committee had for making the recommendation is that the education committee are concerned mainly with the things of the mind and, therefore, may neglect the deprived children. There is something in that point, but, after all, the local education committee are also concerned, and have to be concerned, with children with special disabilities of all kinds. They have to look after them, and I am not sure that the same body ought not to look after deprived children who need special care, not because they are crippled, feebleminded or suffer from various diseases, but because they have no parents. I would ask the Government to consider whether it is really right to set up an ad hoc committee which will treat these children as different from other children. Those are all the points of criticism and comment that I want to make. After hearing the customarily lucid and attractive exposition of this Bill from the noble and learned Viscount who sits upon the Woolsack, we may feel sure that the Government will sympathetically consider all proposals made in this House to make this excellent Bill, if possible, more excellent.

4.39 p.m.


My Lords, when this Bill, amended a little in detail, and the promised Bill concerning adoption have become law, then the recommendations of the Clyde and Curtis Reports will have been very fully covered, and the legislation concerning children—which, as we have heard, owed a great deal to the initiative of the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel—will have been very well supplemented. We are rightly proud in this country of our concern for the care of children, and of the provision for that care. Possibly that pride is one reason why we are reluctant to face the black spots which still exist. Yet there is no manner of doubt that, especially in certain parts of the country that I know very well, there are more children suffering from persistent neglect than we care to recognize. A good deal could be done even without new legislation if the will to do it were there. It is well to remind ourselves of that fact when we are busy with new legislation. Legislation does not go far, unless there is a strong public opinion behind it to see that it operates.

It is also well to remember in these days that a great deal of child neglect is not now due to poverty but to such things as mental deficiency, parental irresponsibility, illegitimacy and sometimes, of course, sheer vice. This legislation will make it possible to rescue children from degenerate parents. But we ought to consider whether we cannot do more to prevent parents getting into that state—whether it might be possible by some statutory provisions to help mothers to do their job more objectively and so forth, and so make it unnecessary to deprive children of their home life. Many with whom I have a great deal of sympathy would like to see this Bill amended on that point. The whole case for this Bill, of course, is that at the present time a good many children are not being saved quickly and effectually from quite shocking neglect. The Bill tacitly recognizes, I think, that these children have suffered not only from bad parents and from the loss of parents, but also from a certain amount of departmentalism. One is glad to see, therefore, that the Bill concentrates the care of children upon one Department; and, happily, that Department is the Home Office. If it is not presumption so to do, I would say that many of us realize that the service rendered by the staff of the Home Office during many years has been quite beyond praise.

I find myself in disagreement—somewhat reluctantly—with the noble Lord, Lord Beveridge, in what he said about the children's committees. It does seem to me, if the Bill is to do what we want it to do, that these children's committees should have executive powers and should be directly responsible to the county and borough councils, and not be sub-committees of the existing committees. I hope the Government will stand firm in that matter. I also hope that when it comes to administering the Act the Secretary of State will never allow, as a special and exceptional circumstance which may excuse the setting up of a new children's committee, the very natural desire of existing committees and their officers to keep as much as possible under their own umbrellas. After all, these bad patches in our country in regard to the care of children are partly due to the fact that this sort of matter falls between the stools of the health committees and the education committees, both of which at the present time are very much overworked.

I hope that it will be possible where an authority represent too small a population to have a full-time children's officer of their own, or even a children's committee of their own, that something regional may be devised. It seems to me, also, as has already been said by several speakers this afternoon, essential that the children's officers should be persons of the right sort. They should be full-time, and they should really care for children themselves and, what is so important, they should be going out and about and not sitting with their feet under desks all day. If an officer can really be a friend, not only of the children but of the matrons and of the homes, and of the foster-parents and so on, then she will do a most invaluable work. There will always be the danger, owing to the pressure of forms and what-not, from local authorities and from the central authority, that she may be driven into becoming an administrative officer sitting at a desk. That, I think, would destroy one of the main purposes envisaged by this new legislation.

It has been pointed out that the Bill follows the Curtis Report and, I think, the Clyde Report, in preferring good foster-parents and guardians to institutions. Those for whom I have a right to speak entirety agree. At the same time, one must recognize that there are not enough good foster-parents to go round, and therefore there must inevitably be a number of institutions. In our experience it is usually best to encourage unmarried mothers to keep their babies. But to make this possible in some cases there is a very real need for hostels where unmarried mothers can live with their babies, and from which they can go out to work. Of course, if, owing to a lack of that provision—and there is an almost complete lack of it—an unmarried mother is driven to part with her child it is a real tragedy. The placing of the child with a foster-parent should surely always come to the notice of, and be done with the approval of, the children's officer or the appropriate person acting with the children's officer. Unless I have misread the Bill, it does not seem to me to pay quite enough attention to paragraphs 449 and 450 of the Curtis Report. And the use of the very good word "friend" in line 21 on page 2 of the Bill, in this connexion has a rather ominous sound,

It is worth pointing out, and it links up with something which the noble Lord, Lord Beveridge said, that those unhappy children who have been brought up and are living under filthy conditions will have to be house trained. They will have to be studied from the psychological point of view for a time, in an institution, before they are fit to go to a foster-parent or, as the noble Lord well said, before we can be quite certain what is the best kind of home for them to go to. But I hope the point will be made that these temporary places of training shall never be the same places as the institutions in which children are living more or less permanently. Such institutions are there to fulfil quite a different function; and one reason why we are held up so much on this subject at the present time, of course, is that there is such a shortage of homes of that kind that children are: left with parents who sometimes are not able to look after them. I would point out that, unless I am wrong again in my reading of the Bill, there is nothing in it at present to prevent a parent or a guardian from removing a child from a home without notice when that child reaches an age at which it might be an economic asset to the parent or guardian. A careful balance has to be struck between the rights of the parent and the rights of the child. I feel that the Bill can be strengthened by a clause requiring parents or guardians to give some notice of withdrawal unless the children's officer considers that the period can safely be reduced.

I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Beveridge, when he says that, broadly speaking, this Bill expresses the right sort of relationship between the statutory authority and the voluntary society. It provides for consultation; it provides for the continuation of voluntary institutions; and, quite rightly, it brackets grant aid with supervision and advice and provides, where necessary, for more severe action to be taken. I think I am speaking for the voluntary organizations, and certainly for the religious communions, when I say that we would welcome that measure of oversight. The representatives of the Home Office in the past have rendered us a great service in that way, and if the kind of spirit which has animated their service is continued under this new legislation, we have every reason to welcome with both hands this oversight and supervision. Voluntary organizations, Church as well as State, need to be preserved from those whose ideas of homes still hark back to the time of Charles Dickens, though happily such people are not very numerous these days and bad homes are being rapidly reduced in number. However, in that connexion I think we have to take note of the fact that some institutions—I am not just referring to workhouses—whose atmosphere may be reasonably good, are, by modern standards of social work, far too large as well as being very unsatisfactorily house. One would like to ask the Government whether they are prepared to give any kind of priority to building for this kind of purpose.

There are a certain number of references in the course of this Bill to religious instruction and upbringing, and I think members of your Lordships' House would expect someone speaking from this Bench to make some reference to the clauses concerned. So far as I can see, the provision made is fair and satisfactory in principle. If one or two minor Amendments may be moved in Committee, that will be an advantage. Let me take one example. Clause 14 (2) (c), on page 10 of the Bill, might, from our point of view, be strengthened. We agree that it may not always be possible to board out a child with a foster-parent of the same religious persuasion as the child. For myself, I would say further that it would be better to have a good foster-parent of another persuasion than a bad one of the same persuasion. I would go on to say that possibly in such cases there might be consultation with a religious authority before an order was made removing the child. We of the Church, and I think all councils of social service and similar bodies, are grateful for subsection (4) of Clause 38. May I just read it? It says: The children's committee may include persons specially qualified by reason of experience or training in matters relating to the functions of the committee, nowithstanding that they are not members of the local authority. We hope that that provision will be exercised, for there are a great number of people engaged in this work who are not members of authorities. It would, I think, strengthen the work of these committees.

I would like to make one final point. I wish to try and distinguish, if I may, between religious instruction and religious upbringing. Educational authorities have a pathetic belief in the efficacy of religious instruction just by itself. Some of us feel that it has comparatively small value unless at the same time a child is brought up within the fellowship of believers. This is specially the case with neglected, homeless children and orphans. During childhood they need a friendly community within which to grow. How often one has met adults with no background or relatives, battling with life, solitary in a crowd, lonely and embittered. They might never have got into that state of maladjustment with society if, in their childhood, they had really had the experience of integration into a fellowship, such as a religious communion should be when it is true to its essential nature. I should like to persuade your Lordships that that is the real reason, and not any narrow ecclesiastical reason, why we wish to ensure, so far as possible, that guardians and foster-parents should be of the same religious persuasion as the child, and why we wish to add to those rather bleak words "religious instruction" the word "upbringing" which calls up a more homely and family-like vision.

In conclusion, let me say what has been said by every speaker this afternoon: that we who have some claim to represent the religious communions in the country do indeed welcome this Bill. Its intention is so obviously charitable in the very best sense of the word. If it is amended here and there, as speakers have suggested, and if it is continually put into effective operation, then we may feel fairly confident that the considerable number of children who are grievously neglected at the present time and therefore very liable to grow up into inadequate citizens, will have something like the experience which so many of us shared in our early life. They may then know that happiness, that confidence and that wholeness of life which is one of the irrepayable debts which we owe to parents who have given us happy memories. My last word is simply this: that we of the Churches—and I think this applies to all religious communions and all voluntary organizations—would be glad to have the opportunity of making the provisions of this Bill fully and deeply effective.

5.0 p.m.


My Lords, for a number of years (longer than I like to recall) I have been closely associated with certain organizations which are intimately concerned with the provisions of this Bill—namely, the National Association of Probation Officers and the National Mental Health Association. In respect of the former, I represented the interests of social workers of the courts when the Children and Young Persons Bill of 1933 was under discussion in your Lordships' House. Therefore I intervene in this debate to pay my tribute, together with other noble Lords, for the timely introduction of this Bill, and for the way in which the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack has presented it to your Lordships' House this afternoon. I particularly welcome the intention of the Bill to provide the good environment and sense of security which are essential foundations for the healthy outlook of any child.

The Report of the Curtis Committee clearly shows: ha: in many present-day homes run by local authorities or voluntary organizations, insufficient care was given to the personality of individual children and to the necessity of giving them the feeling of security which children fortunate enough to have a normal home generally enjoy. I was glad that the Lord Chancellor made reference to that point and explained, as the Report of the Curtis Committee explained, that that deficiency was largely due to lack of staff and lack of training, as well as to other causes to which the right reverend Prelate has just referred, such as out-of-date Victorian buildings of the barrack type. My Associations recognize that the very circumstances in which a child stands in need of the care of the State are potentially threatening his ordinary healthy development because he has not had the opportunity of enjoying the natural security which he would otherwise have had in his normal family home. We therefore feel that there is a big field for the prevention of an unhealthy mind and personality, if the enlightened and imaginative care provided for under the provisions of this Bill is not overlooked either by local authorities or by voluntary organizations.

Among the children who come under the parental care of local authorities under this measure there are a proportion who surfer from handicaps recognized under the Education Act of 1944—I refer to the blind, the deaf, the epileptic, the subnormal, the physically handicapped and the mal-adjusted children. We are very concerned to see that full advantage shall be taken for those children of the provisions of this Bill, conjointly with the provisions of the Education Act of 1944. In this respect I regret that certain clauses of the Bill appear to me to lack clarity and definition, and understanding of the Bill is, accordingly, as the noble Lord, Lord Beveridge, said, seriously hampered. I entirely agree with Lord Beveridge in almost all the points of criticism he made in respect of the Bill, and at a later stage I think it will be necessary to obtain from the Government information in greater detail upon the way in which the Bill will co-ordinate with the National Assistance Bill, the Education Act and the National Health Service Act. I stress this point because all social workers will, I think, agree with me that there is an ever increasing tendency for more and more officials, either employed by voluntary organizations, by local authorities or by the central Government, to invade families and homes either on their ordinary visits or under the machinery of inspection. It is one of the curses of the present day that we have not sufficiently organized our machinery of social service administration so as to reduce to the minimum the number of trained persons qualified to enter any particular home.

The references to the regulations under this Bill that have been made previously by noble Lords are, I think, most important. The noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack said that the Bill would remove the grave disadvantages of divided authority, and, in many circumstances, it will succeed in that accomplishment. I suggest, however, that, apart from what the noble and learned Viscount said about the success of the Bill being dependent upon the children's committee of local authorities, upon the appointment of the children's officer, and upon public enthusiasm, it will, to a far greater extent, depend upon the regulations that are to be made under the provisions of the Bill. There are many clauses in the Bill which state that the right honourable gentleman the Secretary of State for Home Affairs may make regulations.

That occurs in no fewer than seven clauses of the Bill—clauses dealing with the real sinews of the Bill, such as boarding out by local authorities, the conduct of homes by local authorities, the allocation of functions between the education authority and the children's committee, and the conduct of voluntary homes. But there is all too seldom in the Bill a sufficient directive of the form in which the regulations should be framed. Together with Lord Beveridge, I feel, for instance, that the provisions of Clause 12, under which a statutory obligation is placed upon the local authority to carry out many of the duties referred to by the right reverend Prelate, must be incorporated with a similar provision under Part IV of the Bill. It appears to me that although this Bill goes a long way to eradicate the disadvantages of divided control and authority it still allows children of this category to be dealt with under three broad headings, and I question whether those three broad headings could not be more closely aligned under the provisions already provided for local authorities. The first of the three headings is the specific statutory obligation of local authorities to be in guardianship of, or have care and protection of, the children affected by this Bill. The restrictions on, or rather the means of control of, the voluntary organizations, are not so specifically delineated in the Bill as are those for local authorities. Further, there is left out from the terms of reference of the Bill a group of children who are now administered by the Ministry of Pensions as war orphans, and also a number of children who come under the aegis of the Admiralty and the Secretary of State for War.

I understand, from advisers of the Home Office, that that method is administratively convenient because the children administered by the Ministry of Pensions are a non-recurring element. But can any of us say that we are not going to suffer a further burden of war orphans in the future? Even if we do not wish to embark upon that fundamental argument on this occasion, there are sufficient numbers to warrant the privileges of this Bill being extended to them during the next twelve or fifteen years. Therefore, I submit to the Government that further re-consideration should now be given to the possibility of their incorporation, so that these children who are now outside the provisions of the Bill will have exactly the same opportunities as are envisaged under the powers given to local authorities.

In respect of the desire for a clear definition of the type of regulations that will be provided to govern the main aspects of this Bill, I would say that I am in accord with the exact view point of the noble Lord, Lord Beveridge, and I trust that at a later stage I shall be permitted to associate my name with his in the formulation of certain Amendments. There are certain principles involved in the provisions of this Bill, or surrounding the provisions of this Bill, which I consider to be of fundamental importance. They digress, in some respects, from what is included in the Bill, and, therefore, I would ask your Lordships' permission and indulgence to substantiate my point by referring to them shortly. We recognize that the 125,000 children to whom the noble and learned Viscount who sits on the Woolsack referred, who will come under the provisions of this Bill, have, in the majority of cases, parents. Distressed, neglected, and mismanaged children though they may be, they have, in the majority of cases, parents.

I suggest that we have to address ourselves to two main questions: first, are the numbers of parents of such children on the increase; and, second, how can we best assist the parents with their responsibilities towards their children? The present rate of breakdown of marriages indicates that an ever-increasing number of children will fall under the provisions of this Bill. In the two years 1946-48, there were no fewer that 90,000 petitions for divorce. There were, further, 20,000 cases brought for legal separation. Marriages in this country total roughly 300,000 a year, so that if this rate of breakdown of marriages continues it means that one marriage in very five is going to end in disaster. It does not, I think, take a very vivid imagination to realize what the effect of that is going to be in terms of personal misery and social disruption. We can estimate that in a generation's time there may be no fewer than 4,000,000 men and women in this country who will have failed in marriage.

There will be many children concerned, but, fortunately, the number does not work out at more than 1.2 for each divorce at the present time. But even that means that about 72,000 children last year saw their family life broken up, and if we take the period during which children are dependent upon their parents as sixteen years, then by 1963 there may be well over 1,000,000 children of 16 years of age and under whose parents have failed to provide them with a normal home background. Workers with whom I am associated in my mental health organization know well what that will mean in terms of neurosis, delinquency, general personal insecurity, and social maladjustment. I recognize that the figures which I have quoted, although they are provided by those who are most qualified to express an opinion, are, undoubtedly, unreliable estimates, owing to the fact that so many varying factors may come in. However, I think they are sufficient to emphasize to your Lordships in broad terms the extent of this particular problem. And this is just one illustration showing the likelihood of more and more children requiring State care in the years that are to come.

I think your Lordships will agree, and all agencies concerned with the care of the young will confirm, that the children of to-day are, on the whole, becoming less disciplined. The influences of. the cinema, of such undertakings as dog racing, of unsavoury stories in the popular Press, of disrespect for the authority of the father, of the lack of influence of the Churches, and the general lowering of moral standards have all contributed to this deplorable fact. For instance, many young people go forth on their depredations straight from drinking their tea—if it is such a mild beverage—from a cup marked "G.W.R." or "R.A.F." The Southern Railway have estimated that no fewer than 7,000 cups a week are either broken or lost. If children drink tea in their homes from stolen cups, who is to tell them that it is wrong to take things from the open counter of a shop? Almost any group of teachers will confirm that sad story of too many ill-disciplined children, bordering on being out of control. They will also, I think, tell of an increase in the number of children insufficiently cared for, or mismanaged, through lack of knowledge.

All this is an indictment of our standards of parenthood and it brings me, if your Lordships will bear with me for a moment or two longer, to the second question of how we can best educate and assist parents in their duties and responsibilities towards their children. Your Lordships may think that my view is advanced, but it seems to me that science to-day is providing knowledge about the working of the mind and the emotions of the individuals at the same rate as it provided knowledge about the physical side during the course of the last century. It is becoming increasingly realized that the rearing of children is a task requiring a Special knowledge. If it requires special knowledge to guide and service a tractor, or to organize a piece of machinery in a factory, how much more does it require knowledge to guide and control children. People are trained for the first two tasks, yet: not for the last, which surely is of so much greater importance.

In and out of your Lordships' House much stress is laid on the hardship of poverty, whilst the hardship of ignorance is all too often overlooked. Yet the waste and disorder of ignorance surely aggravate poverty, which knowledge would alleviate. If there are two houses of equal income in one street and one is found comfortable, clean and full of contentment and the other is dirty, disorderly and full of discontent, this difference is not due to any equality of worldly goods, but to the difference in knowledge, organization and interest of parents. I submit that family allowances will not alter this. The child of indifferent, uninterested parents will receive little benefit, for we cannot turn ignorant careless parents into lovers of children by giving them extra money. I would say that we merit the title of a plutocracy if we think that everything can be righted by money. Happy and successful families are surely those in which the parents have prepared themselves by study to rear the children. Often, we know, this education is obtained unwittingly in their parents' home during childhood; but it is wrong that others should be denied such teaching because their homes are unable to supply it.

In a land where education is compulsory, it is surely farcical that children, particularly girls, should be sent into the world ignorant of their most important, certainly their most usual, life work—that of bringing up children. The single act that would do most to safeguard the basic right of children, which is happiness, would be the institution of training in parenthood for all adolescents so that their own future families could be happier and better citizens. I submit that a comprehensive educational policy is needed, with sound family life as its objective. Sex education is not enough. Marriage preparation is not enough. The guidance of young people in their relations is not enough. Parentcraft and homecraft teaching are not enough. All these things need to be gathered up, integrated and welded into a planned and carefully thought out policy under the title of education for family life. I further submit that this policy must be accepted and carried out by four agencies—the home, the school, the Churches and the community. Only when we tackle the job in that spirit shall we have addressed ourselves seriously to our task.

The noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, referred to the two previous measures dealing with children, in which he played such a distinguished and prominent part. The popular Press has referred to the Bill now under discussion as a Children's Charter. It does not begin to be a Children's Charter. It is a Charter for only a limited number of children, those deprived of normal family life. The day has yet to come when we shall see the real Children's Charter, which will assist parents so to educate their children that their children's children will be in a better position to meet the demands of the twentieth century conception of citizenship. May I remind your Lordships of the words of the great educationalist, Sir Richard Livingstone? This generation has a double task: to create the New Order, of which we are always speaking; or, more accurately, to guide the nation through one of the greatest social changes in its history; but also to train human beings fit to live in that New Order. I want to express my deep appreciation to your Lordships' House for having borne with me in this digression, but I think that we in your Lordships' House should take our fall share in considering measures which will be far more permanent and effective, and on a far wider scale. Curative this Bill can be, but prevention from the root cause does not enter into the provisions of this Bill. I hope that by amendment of the Bill in a few instances we shall at least be able to give great benefit and lasting assistance to the children covered by the Bill.

5.30 p.m.


My Lords, with your Lordships' permission, as one who has had some experience of youth welfare and who has considerable interest in that subject, I would like to make a few observations in welcoming this Bill. I would have liked to answer the attack made on parents, but I do not now propose to do that, since it has been so ably done by the noble Lord opposite. I would, however, like to say that the fact that the Government need to bring in this Bill at all is, in a large measure, due to the failure to educate parents, both with regard to the ethical values and the responsibilities of parenthood. I would remind your Lordships that in America there are universities which have courses through which people can learn of the value of practical parenthood. It may be that one day in this country it will be considered advisable to establish such courses.

Passing to the main provisions of the Bill, I would like first (it has already been admirably done by the right reverend Prelate, the Lord Bishop of Sheffield), to welcome those regulations dealing with the religious care of children, both in the selection of foster-parents and the homes and hostels in which the children are boarded. I think it is impossible to over-emphasize the importance of these regulations, and I hope that the local authorities will do all in their power to see that they are carried out. All children, whether with foster-parents or in homes, should be brought up in the religion of their parents, so far as it is known. I am sure that a religious background is essential for the future operation of this Bill.

I would like next to make a few observations on voluntary homes. I naturally welcome with all my heart the inspection which they are now to undergo. I think all who have had anything to do with hostels have been keen on their inspection and will be glad that this is now to take place. Naturally, the corollary to that is the power to be given to the local authorities, with the consent of the Secretary of State, to make contributions to any voluntary organization which itself contributes to the welfare of children. As has already been pointed out by the right reverend Prelate, I think there is a lot in this question of the withdrawal from a voluntary home of a child by a parent when that child is able to earn his or her own living. I have studied this with some care, and I think the possibility of the removal of a child from a voluntary home, because he is capable of earning his living, should be stopped. I would suggest that the parent should be required to give three months' notice of withdrawal of a child, in order to enable inquiries to be made by the local authority as to the suitability of the home to which the child is going. I think, also, that a voluntary home might have the power to get a resolution from the local authority to enable it to retain the child when the home to which the child is being returned is considered unsuitable. That is a very important point, and it is clearly wrong that a child should be removed from a happy voluntary home to be exploited by undesirable parents.

I should now like to say a few words about hostels. I am happy to see that under Clause 19 local authorities will be able to provide hostels for children, after the compulsory school leaving age, up to the age of 21. But here we must be careful to bear in mind that the homes cater for the entire lives of children, while the principal object of a hostel is to provide them with lodgings from which they can. carry on their daily work. Many young persons have been deprived since childhood of their parents, and obviously at the age of sixteen in many cases they still need guidance and supervision. There is one point about which I may be wrong, but I do not see that voluntary hostels are to receive support from local authorities. If that is so, I very much regret it. I think local authorities should support them, as they have proved of great value in the past. It seems to me, also, that the experience of those people who run voluntary hostels should be very useful to the local authorities who are now to set up voluntary hostels of their own. I regard this, provision of hostels by local authorities for person:; under the age of twenty-one as one of the most necessary and vital parts of this Bill.

I would say in this connexion that I think there can be only one general objection against this Bill—I do not raise it, but it could be raised. That is that under the Bill more and more children will come under the control of local authorities in the future, and therefore will come under the control of the State. Undoubtedly children of dead, unknown or unworthy parents will come under the control of the State. I also share the view which other noble Lords have expressed, that a good parental home is of far more importance in the bringing up of a child than any foster-parents, or voluntary home or hostel, however excellent they may be—and they are indeed excellent. We all know that a good parental home depends on the sound religious and educational background of the parents, and a Bill which provides some home life, and, therefore, increases the happiness of many thousands of our young fellow citizens, should receive great support in your Lordships' House. My final word is that this is, above all, a Bill inspired by Christian principles, and I am sure that the subject will fully commend itself to your Lordships.

5.38 p.m.


My Lords, it is a great advantage to speak at the end of a debate, and there is nothing that I enjoy more than crossing out item after item from my notes. Let me, therefore, briefly say how much I welcome the speeches which have preceded mine in this debate. Perhaps it is important to say how fully and completely I agree with the speech of the right reverend Prelate, the Lord Bishop of Sheffield, Like the noble Lord, Lord Holden, I feel very strongly on the point of consultation with appropriate religious authorities on boarding-out matters, and I trust that that will receive sympathetic consideration during the Committee stage of this Bill. May I try to carry a little further the: complaint uttered by my noble friend Lord Llewellin about the definition of "children"? It may be present in your Lordships' minds that the age of marriage: is now legally fixed for both sexes at sixteen. Presumably a number of these deprived young persons, as I prefer to call them, will be married at sixteen, and many more at seventeen. It is somewhat surprising, in the middle of the twentieth century, to be confronted with a Bill which, through its definition clause, appears to legalize child marriage.

A very important point has been alluded to by the noble Lord, Lord Beveridge, with regard to local authority arrangements. In Clauses 39 and 40 of the Bill the Home Secretary seeks wide: powers to make exceptions to the general rule of law in regard to the appointment of children's committees and the appointment of a children's officer. I cannot: see that there is wisdom behind this demand for power to make exceptions. I 1 have had some conversations with a person well experienced in the affairs of local authorities, and my informant anticipates that the situation which will arise on the passage of this Bill will be in the nature of a struggle between the existing maternity and child welfare services and the existing education authorities, each anxious, if I may so express it, to "muscle in" on the new territory of the children's committee. I put it to your Lordships, for your consideration, whether the children's side of local government will not require all the protection that the law can give it. I feel that the Home Secretary himself would very much regret it if he were bombarded with requests from all sides to make the exceptions for which he asks power.

As regards the inspection of homes, under Clause 27, there is a proviso which enables the Home Secretary to exempt certain homes from inspection. That is really contrary to the recommendations of the Curtis Committee, and I think that it would be advisable to challenge that proviso on the Committee stage. Surely, no one wants to create a privileged class of home which is excepted from that inspection which is so necessary and generally welcomed by all respectable voluntary organizations. Much has been said of the time that must elapse before this Bill can be of real benefit to a great number of children. It will take an immense time before the many buildings that are required can be erected. I can only hope that the Home Office will receive a large measure of priority for that purpose. I am asked by the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children to stress the great importance of giving a wide measure of priority to the provision of places of safety to which children may be committed by children's courts. It is not wholly satisfactory that remand homes should be used for this purpose.

Finally, I would comment briefly upon the exceedingly powerful and valuable speech of my noble friend Lord Fever-sham, with which I am in a great measure of agreement. If I do so, it is only to suggest that there lies within the hands of local authorities a power which would, I believe, do much to maintain family life. It is a thing which need not be left to our children's children; it is comparatively simple, and well within the powers already possessed. I refer to the power given to the local education authorities under the 1944 Act to maintain children in boarding schools. The Curtis Committee have commented on the point that it would be very much easier to obtain good foster-homes if the foster-parents could be given to understand that, for the greater part of the year, those children who were old enough would be in boarding schools. I think that is a point which need only be mentioned to obtain general agreement.

I would carry that a little further if I may. The strain of family life, especially the strain of family life in a small house where there is a big family, must necessarily be very great. There are a great number of families who need some relief from that strain. After all, most of your Lordships have known the case of a turbulent little boy of eight or nine years of age, living at home, unhappy himself, because he has not the scope for his energies, and reducing his mother to a nervous wreck. Have not your Lordships often given the advice that it is time that that little boy went off to a boarding school, where he will be much happier after the first day or two of home-sickness, and from which he will return to be warmly welcomed in the holidays? If I am a democrat, I hope that I am a true one, and I believe in levelling up and in giving to all the advantages of boarding school education which wealthier people now enjoy. I very much hope that local education authorities will do what is immediately in their power to relieve the strain on very many homes by implementing the provisions of the 1944 Act to send these children to boarding schools. I much regret that so many local education authorities—including, I am afraid, the greatest of all, London—have taken so negative a view of their powers under that Act.

5.48 p.m.


My Lords, I can claim no great experience in the problems with which this Bill deals—that is to say, the care of children deprived of normal home life. My experience, such as it is, is limited to one particular form—namely, the emigration of children to the Dominions. That subject has its place in this Bill, and I would like to say a word about it in a moment. It seems to me that the problems which confront those who have to deal with the emigration of children are very similar to the problems facing those many people responsible for the care of the children who remain in this country. Therefore, perhaps I may venture a few observations on the main provisions of the Bill. My observations will be curtailed because a good many of them have already been taken by previous speakers.

The main point about this Bill, as it appears to me, is that it marks the emergence in statutory form of new standards of child care, and makes an attempt to provide a framework upon which those standards can be developed. In that main purpose I have no doubt that it will be warmly welcomed, and not least by those persons who have devoted their lives to the care of these children, many of whom have been reaching out towards these newer standards for some time. In fact, I expect it is true to say that for some local authorities and for some voluntary organizations this Bill will not make a great deal of difference, because some of them will already have attained those standards which the Curtis Committee have advocated and which this Bill seeks to set up. But for others, of course, this Bill will assist them, and, I hope, prod them to reach those higher standards.

As for the details of the Bill, I was struck as I read the Curtis Report by the complexity of this subject. So many Government Departments have a finger in the pie. By so many avenues do these children come within this fold. There are different methods of caring for them, and for each of those methods there are innumerable and very exacting problems to be dealt with. All those features present us with an extremely complicated problem, and I have no doubt that the provisions of the Bill will go some way to simplify the problem and to make things easier. But I find myself wholly in agreement with some observations which fell from the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack when he said—I paraphrase his words—that it was not legislation nor regulations which would achieve what we all desire out of this. Bill. The really vital thing, if these objects are to be achieved, is the quality of the persons who will be engaged in this work, not only the staffs who will be in daily contact with the children but the people on the committees, whether of local authorities or of voluntary organizations. I agree entirely that the really successful people who deal with these problems are those who have a calling for it, and not those who look upon it merely as an occupation. I do not think it is going to be very easy to find sufficient numbers of people who will have that calling.

In the Curtis Report there is sufficient stress on this difficulty of finding suitable staff. We find it in such phrases as shortage of the right kind of staff" and "unsuitability of the staff." It is not going to be easy to remedy that defect. A great deal depends upon the members of the committees of local authorities and of voluntary organizations, for on them, I imagine, will fall the all-important task of choosing the members of these new staffs which will be set up. I would like to mention one other point concerning staffs. It was mentioned by the right reverend Prelate, and concerns these children's officers, who will be appointed by the local authorities. I hope that they will be given an adequate clerical establishment to deal with the large amount of correspondence involved, to enable the children's officer to move about all over the local authority's area.

The only other point I wish to touch upon in the general provisions of the Bill concerns the problem of boarding out. I agree with the views of the Curtis Committee up to a point, that at its best this is far and away the best method of caring for these children. But I think that "at its best" is a very important qualification. Once you begin to get below the best, you are exposing the child to very serious dangers. I have a certain amount of apprehension that the emphasis that the Curtis Committee place on these new committees' taking a great deal of trouble to find more people to take children who are boarded out will lead to families who are not of the best being chosen for boarding out. I do not place very great hopes on a sufficient number of the right type of families being found; and I would like to support that contention by just a few figures which come from the county authority of the West Riding of Yorkshire.

At the end of 1944, at the suggestion of the Ministry of Health, an attempt was made to find out how many of the most suitable persons who had received billeted children during the war would be willing to continue receiving these deprived children in peace time. A total of 284 persons were selected as being suitable for this canvass, and every one of them was visited individually. Over 220 refused to go on with it. In the end, only ten out of those 284 are actually now carrying on. Subsequently, advertisements were inserted in the Press to try to get more people to take these children for boarding-out purposes. Only thirteen applications were received, and only four of them were considered suitable. My contention, therefore, is that it would be unwise to place too high hopes on finding a large number of suitable families to receive boarded-out children.

I should like to turn for a few minutes to the question of the emigration of children to the Dominions as one form of care. Perhaps I ought to say that for some considerable time I have been connected with one of the voluntary societies which goes in for the migration of children—namely, the Fairbridge Society; and that for the two months at the end of last year I absented myself from your Lordships' House in order to go to Australia on its business. Under the provisions of this Bill, the voluntary societies who go in for the migration of children will be subjected to regulations to be made by the Secretary of State for Home Affairs. Speaking for myself, I can see no objection in principle to that: on the contrary I should warmly welcome it. So far as I know, most voluntary societies of that kind would take the same view, and for this special reason: people sometimes talk rather too easily about child migration; they know of some successful instances, and they would like to see them multiplied a hundredfold. Some even go so far as to press for the mass migration of children.

I am quite convinced that mass migration of children is quite out of the question, and that it can be carried out on only a very limited scale, because if there is one type of care for deprived children which more than any other requires the greatest attention to the individual child, it is this migration of children to the Dominions. In my view, this form of care will always be limited in numbers. I would therefore welcome the regulations governing the migration of children, if only to prevent the possibility of enthusiastic persons entering upon a field of which they have not had great experience. Of course", one would like to know what will be the contents of the regulations which may be made. I suspect that one may find a clue in one of the observations of the Curtis Committee. They expressed a view, with which I entirely agree, that, if children are emigrated to the Dominions, care should be taken to see that they are given at least the same sort of care and attention as would be provided for them if they remained in this country.

Basing myself upon that view, I should like to make just a few brief suggestions as to what these regulations might contain. In the first place, I should like to see them contain a provision that any voluntary society which sent children to the Dominions should retain a continuing responsibility for them when they had gone overseas and for so long as they remained under a grown-up age. I think it would be disastrous if any voluntary society were allowed to get into the position of being a mere recruiting agent for children, and for handing them over to someone else in the Dominions over whom the parent society would have no control or for whom it would have no responsibility. For that reason, I would place first in importance insistence that the parent society in this country should continue to have a continuing responsibility when the child goes overseas.

Next in importance I should like to see a provision in the regulations that every possible endeavour should be made to give each one of the children emigrating abroad an education and opportunity to follow its bent. In years gone by, some of the Dominions were, for very good reasons, prepared to take children only if they were going to be trained as domestic servants or as farm labourers. But those days are gone, and I believe that, at any rate in Australia and in Canada, there would be just as warm a welcome for a provision of the kind I have mentioned as there would be in this country. Another item which I hope will figure in these regulations is that great attention should be paid to after care. After care may be of importance to these children in this country; it is doubly important in a country like Australia, where children go for employment in sparsely settled districts. Finally, I would like to see in the regulations some limitation on the numbers who would be in any one farm, school or home, because I believe that experience has shown, both in this country and overseas, that if too many children are put in one place it renders the head of the school, for instance, incapable of giving personal attention to each child. Therefore, I hope that some limiting provision will be contained in these regulations.

There is one further point about these regulations to which I should like to draw your Lordships' attention. The regulations are to be made by the Home Office. Admirable as the Home Office are, I think I am right in saying that they do not as a rule have to deal with Dominion Governments, whereas the Commonwealth Relations Department are continually dealing with Dominion Governments. I expect, and I take it as a foregone conclusion, that the regulations would not be finally drawn up until there had been very careful consultation with the Commonwealth Relations Department; because although I believe that the authorities in the Dominions would be very ready to agree to regulations which may be made under this Act, a great deal does depend upon how they are presented to authorities overseas. The Commonwealth Relations Department are naturally more experienced in this matter than the Home Office could be, so I hope and expect that the consultation upon this subject of regulations for the voluntary society dealing with emigration will be constant.

I join in the general welcome which your Lordships are giving to this Bill. More than anything else, I hope that the awakened interest which the Curtis and the Clyde Reports have aroused, and which perhaps the passage of this Bill through Parliament will maintain, will lead to more people finding that they have a calling to engage in this work, and that, therefore, the thing which matters most—finding people of the right quality to do this work—will be forthcoming as a result of this Bill.

6.8 p.m.


My Lords, the reason for my intervention now is that I have lived with this problem for many years of my life. As a matter of fact, I have lived in the same street with it, if I may put it that way. It is seventy-one years this week since I escaped by the skin of my teeth (only I had not got any!) from going to what the noble Lord, Lord Llewellin, calls the workhouse, but which we called the Bastille. It was intended that I should be shipped off, but my mother—I hope your Lordships will permit this personal note—refused to allow me to go, and I was looked after by kindly neighbours until she could get out of bed a:: ter the traditional ten days in order to go back to her looms. She used to feed me then at six o'clock in the morning before going to the mill. Then she would come back to breakfast and come home again to lunch.

I mention this matter because no sooner could I think for myself than I began to take an intimate interest in this problem. When I reached the age of adolescence, I visited the Bastille, and I saw fifty or sixty children herded together in what was called a ward. They were looked after by elderly inmates. The walls were whitewashed, or rather lime-washed, a dirty dark blue. I resolved that, if ever I had the opportunity—which I did have as a local administrator—I would have a better colour scheme, not only in our public institutions but also in our day schools. I personally am to-day most grateful that we have the opportunity to discuss this Bill. I am most grateful to the Curtis Committee. At the same time, I would say in passing, I am rather proud that one of my own Members, the Member for North Bradford, has spent part of her leisure time gladly in helping Miss Curtis and her colleagues to prepare their Report.

I would remind your Lordships that the cause of the Curtis Report was a glaring example of two boys being farmed out to what was supposed to be a foster-mother'. Certainly, the old system of child welfare, especially for abnormal children, was spotlighted. But I would remind your Lordships that even the much maligned Board of Guardians tried to do something. I would point out that in 1897 my old Board of Guardians, as it was then called, decided that they would abolish the herding together of children. They were able to acquire a detached house with grounds, and they made a start with children three years of age and a little older. They then went on to acquire what they called scattered homes, and appointed house mothers for only eight children.

I believe that was a great advance, and it was started over fifty years ago. It was referred to again in 1910, when that gracious lady, Mrs. Beatrice 'Webb, blazed the trail in the Poor Law Commission. I noticed in the evidence that another lady, Mrs. Greenlees, paid a testimonial to the good work which was being done in Bradford, Leeds and Sheffield. I am rather proud that to-day we have these homes. We collect the children, and they are screened so that we do not have misfits. Naturally, we also have a nursery for children who are taken from a few days old up to the age of three. Therefore, I want to touch on the positive side and show that something has been done, although I quite agree that much more must be done. Most of these children come from bad home surroundings, but there are abnormal children, mentally defective children, and so on, who come from homes that are good and who are under the education authority. I am proud that my authority was able to raise a memorial years ago to the late Margaret MacMillan, by having such a school built and naming it after her.

Only a few weeks ago I visited the ideal children's school in Golders Green. There I saw seventy children. They were not poor children, but children of people coming to this country—even an Ambassador's children—who had no room for them in flats or so on. This was the ideal place because there was one attendant for each three children, and that attendant was being trained to go to other parts of the country to take up work in what we call our children's homes. We do not call the heads of those homes foster-mothers; we call them the home-mother. We try to emphasize the word "home" as much as we possibly can. I agree that to-day we are going to make a much greater step forward.

When I looked at the Bill, having always associated this work with the Board of Guardians, afterwards the P.A.C. and now, of course, the Health Committee, I was a bit startled when I saw that it was going to be under the Home Office, because most of us associate the Home Office with the police and prison. But, when I pondered over it, I thought what a splendid idea it was, because some of my friends and I on our visits to our approved schools have said, especially of the junior schools, "How dreadful this is. We have had boys here for eighteen months or two years and they are now going home. What sort of a home are they going to? They will simply deteriorate once more." Knowing the splendid work the Home Office has done with the approved schools, we are now going to get, shall I say, the missing link—the whole scheme for the care of children in distress, short of a parent or parents, or with parents who refuse to look after them. So I am glad that this scheme is going to be coordinated under the Home Office.

But I hope that when the Bill goes into Committee, Clauses 38 and 39 will be carefully considered. After all, local authorities have done splendid work. I know the Association of Municipal Corporations—not only county boroughs, but also non-county boroughs—want to be kept in touch with this work, which will grow rapidly in the near future. Much has been said this afternoon about the human touch, and certainly when you get in a non-county borough of perhaps 20,000 inhabitants, interested men and women who are ready to work voluntarily—and one of our greatest assets in this country has been the number of voluntary workers, both on local authorities and in private bodies—I trust that the Home Office will not be allowed to crowd out the smaller authorities which have great civic pride.

I was sorry to see the word "may" in Clause 45. I have always regarded the Home Office as a mandatory authority, but Clause 45 says that the Home Office "may" pay up to 50 per cent. of the expenses to carry out the policy of this Bill. They may, or they may not; so local authorities and local committees are going to be in the position of not knowing where they are. The Home Office is going to call the tune and play the pipes, but the authorities will not know what sort of a dance they are expected to perform. I trust that Clause 45 may be looked at and that the financial clauses will be drafted in such a way that we shall know what we are to receive from the Home Office via the Treasury.

It has been said—and I can testify to this, having lived in one room up and one room down for half of my life—that the size of the home does not matter and that it is the greatness in spirit of the home that really counts. Whatever we may say, we shall not be able to conquer or solve the problem of the delinquent child by a cold code of ethics. I am not going to apologize, therefore, when I emphasize that there must be a dynamic spiritual force behind what we are trying to do; that we must always stress the value of home life; and that we must emphasize that it costs little to keep a home clean and that the failure to do so is one of the real causes of the creation of slums and of unhappiness. I am glad to have this opportunity of giving my little benediction to this Bill, and wishing it Godspeed.

6.20 p.m.


My Lords, the local authorities are so closely concerned in this Bill that it is expedient, perhaps, that I should say a few words in order to put forward their views. As the hour is late, I will confine myself mainly to doing that. I have first to express their general agreement with the Bill and their trust that it will be for the real benefit of those handicapped children with whom it deals and will provide for them the advantages of a sound home life and the affection of persons who will take a deep interest in their welfare, their careers and their future. I am sure, so far as we are concerned, that we shall do our utmost to carry out the intentions of the authors of the Bill and those of the Curtis Committee, on whose Report the Bill is so largely based. But there are certain general principles to which I desire to call attention and which seem to me to have a wider significance than the Bill itself. First, there is the degree of central control and the extent of the powers given to the Secretary of State. The local authorities can do very little without his approval, and they are thus placed in an administrative strait-jacket. The regulations under Clause 15 (4), to which the noble Lord, Lord Llewellin, has already referred, and those under Clauses 19 and 21, may require the approval of the Secretary of State not only to the use of buildings for the purposes of children's homes, but to additions and alterations to buildings and to the grounds of such homes, as well as to any subsidiary building that may be placed in those grounds or gardens, and to the appointment of persons to be in charge of any such homes.

It seems to me that such detailed regulations would cause endless correspondence between officers of the local authorities and the Home Office, and would hamper and delay local authorities in the performance of their duties. So, if His Majesty's Government really want—as I believe they do—to reduce the staffs of both the local and the central authorities and to release as many persons as possible for constructive; effort in this country, they should keep down to as few as possible the number of occasions on which local authorities will have to refer to the Home Office. I suggest that the principle to be followed in such matters should be for the central authority to draw up standards and lay down general principles, and then to encourage and assist the local authorities in applying them in the individual circumstances with which they have to deal. But more important than the actual wording of the regulations—as I think has already been pointed out—may well be the spirit in which they are carried out.

With regard to the Advisory Council to be set up under Clause 42—to which reference has already been made—surely it should include representatives of the local authorities who have to take so large a share in the care of the children themselves. Secondly, the provisions of Clauses 38, 39 and 40—which have already been spoken of—with regard to the setting up of children's committees, the appointment of children's officers and the laying down in very considerable detail of the functions to be performed by each, seem to me in some respects to be most unnecessary and most undesirable. I believe that the more usual procedure—this, too, has already been mentioned—which was followed under the Education Act of 1944, and, I think, under the National Health Service Act of 1946 and the Fire Services Act of 1947, was for a local authority to make their own proposals and submit their own scheme showing how they proposed to carry out the duties allotted to them under any of these Acts. Then, when approval had once been given, they were entirely free to arrange the work of their own committees and their own officers. Surely they should be treated as trusted partners in this great project for the welfare of children. I fully appreciate that there are special reasons—as set out in the Curtis Report—why separate committees and special officers should be appointed to deal with the care of children. As has been pointed out, that is to avoid these duties falling between different committees or different local authorities—a situation which caused so many regrettable incidents in the past, which called for the Curtis Report and which was, indeed, the main reason for this Bill. The point I want to make clear is that these circumstances are quite exceptional and should not be taken as a precedent. I hope that some of the detailed provisions of these clauses may perhaps be modified at a later stage.

Again there is the matter of the wording of Clause 45 of which the noble Lord, Lord Calverley, has spoken—regarding the grants. It seems most unsatisfactory that the amount should be unspecified and left entirely to the discretion of the Secretary of State. It is suggested that these amounts should be fixed in the Bill itself or by the provisions of Parliament. The granting of a power whereby the Secretary of State may deduct from grants to local authorities 50 per cent. of the expenditure incurred by him in grants for training in child welfare under Clause 43, or to voluntary organizations under Clause 44, is, I believe, wholly without precedent. Surely representatives of the local authorities should be consulted regarding the payments which are to be made at their expense, and these training services should be regarded as a sort of joint venture upon which they should all be consulted and in which they should all take a share.

Finally, as has been pointed out by the noble Lord, Lord Calverley, it is urged that there should be some provision for delegation of the duties under this Bill to non-county boroughs and to other local councils. It is most important that we should take the fullest advantage of local interest and local knowedge in dealing with these matters, and some of the duties under the Public Health Acts and the Children and Young Persons Acts, which now come under this Bill, were in the past undertaken by those authorities. No doubt, as has been indicated, there will be a good many detailed points to be raised at a later stage of our consideration of this measure. They are points which, I believe, should be raised in this House, which is an eminently suitable body for that purpose. One looks forward to this Bill, before it leaves your Lordships' House, being made even more efficient and more workable than it is at the present time.

6.30 p.m.


My Lords, I do not wish to take up much of your time at this late hour by welcoming the Bill. I am sure that in many ways it is an admirable Bill which will serve to right a very great wrong that has existed in the past. But there are one or two points about which I would like to speak—points concerning the general principle behind the Bill. It seems to me that this measure will tend to increase the difference in the relations between the unfortunate children concerned and their contemporaries who are leading normal lives, because a separate administrative machine is to be set up to deal with one particular type of child, whereas children in happier circumstances will be dealt with by existing machinery. Children living under normal conditions are the responsibility, first, of the maternal and child welfare committee of the local authority, and, later, of the education committee. I wonder whether it would be possible, when we go into the Bill in more detail, to see that the children's committees are so linked with the existing committees as to be more or less a branch of them, rather than a separate committee. I think that may be possible under the Bill as it stands, seeing that in Clause 12 (2) the local authority are encouraged to make such use of the facilities and services available for children in the care of parents as appears to the local authority reasonable. That means these children will be able to attend the maternity and child welfare clinics, and any other general service provided by the local authority, and children's committees will not be engaged in making a service by themselves.

The next point I want to raise is that the children's committee are to take care of the rest of the unfortunate collection of children who have been, through no fault of their own—perhaps because of unsatisfactory homes, bad parents or loss of parents—unable to live a normal home life. Among these are to be children from remand homes and approved schools. Those of us who know anything about remand homes and approved schools know what extremely good work they do and that the vast majority of children have gone into these homes through no fault of their own. But in the eyes of a large number of the public, the remand home is associated with some kind of crime, some kind of punishment, and I feel that it will make the position of these children possibly more difficult, more complicated, more unfortunate, if they are to be classed together under the same part of the authority which deals with children from approved schools and remand homes. I do not know whether it is possible to make any provision for this, but I think it is a real danger.

I am very pleased to see in the Bill that local authorities are to be encouraged to place children in a series of homes and grouped together in fairly small communities. This is very important. These children should be kept in fairly small groups, nine or ten at the outside, of both sexes and of all ages, so that they may get a simulacrum of normal family life. It is more fitting that young people of all ages can come into these groups, from young children in arms to the eldest of sixteen. I think that is better for the young children. At present there is a strong tendency to aggregate them in nursery accommodation from which they are moved at the age of two and a half or three years. That, from a medical point of view, is not wise, because where there is a collection of from forty to fifty children, extremely susceptible to infection, they have to be kept together very carefully. There are a large number of children's infections—in summer, gastric intestinal attacks, and in winter, chills and pneumonia—which are extremely dangerous. Your Lordships will have seen in the papers accounts of a number of homes which have had to be closed because a number of children died. I think these deaths could have been avoided if the children had not been collected together in large numbers. I hope, when the Bill is being discussed, that it may be possible to come to some arrangement about that and not to encourage authorities to establish residential nurseries. I am also delighted to see that the voluntary homes and societies are to be recognized. They have done a great and good work in the past. Nobody will object to them being subject to inspection. That seems to be absolutely essential, where the welfare of children is concerned.

I should like to ask one question about emigration. I think no child should be advised or compelled to emigrate unless the advice of the children's officer has been first asked. His advice should not only be asked; it should be taken. It is simple to have people in an advisory capacity, but in many cases there is no obligation on the person seeking advice to take it. No child should be asked to emigrate unless it is thought by everybody concerned that he is a fit person; and if a family wish to emigrate there should be no question of their being separated. It is extremely important that they should be kept together. Going back to what I said about residential homes, I think there again it is important that the family should never be separated. That should be a cardinal point of the Bill. When these children are being trained in residential schools, they should be trained to take up some occupation. One of the saddest parts of the Curtis Report is that in which visitors say how quiet and depressed the older children are because they have nothing to do and are not being trained. For instance, girls are being trained merely to be domestic servants. I admit that domestic servants are very valuable people, but some girls do not take to that form of service, and there is no reason why a girl should be compelled to do that because she is under the care of the local authority. I welcome this Bill. It is important that the lives of these children should be made as normal as possible by bringing them into every activity that normal children have.

6.38 p.m.


My Lords, I think it would be true to say that whenever the subject of children and young persons comes up for discussion in your Lordships' House, a keen and lively interest is invariably displayed by noble Lords who speak with great knowledge on all and every aspect of child welfare, It seemed to me that in the course of the afternoon noble Lords in all parts of the House warmly welcomed the Bill which the noble and learned Viscount, the Lord Chancellor, introduced. I would add my welcome to the measure and also the hope that in view of the vast number of important detailed Committee points which have been made, the Government will give perhaps a little longer consideration before we reach the next stage of the Bill. That at any rate will give your Lordships interested in this measure some time to consider the Amendments which we intend to put on the Paper. It will also give the Government a little longer time to digest the remarks which have been made this afternoon. As was said by my noble friend Lord Llewellin, the Committee which were presided over by Miss Curtis were appointed during the lifetime of the Coalition Government, and as Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department at that time I strongly supported the decision of the Lord President of the Council, when he was Home Secretary, to set up such a Committee. Accordingly, I feel a close and personal relationship to the Bill which we are now discussing.

My remarks at this late hour will be very brief, and I wish to deal more with matters of administration than with any detailed criticism of the Bill. The Bill amends a good deal of the principal Act—that is, the 1933 Act—and should provide, as I read it, a wider and more comprehensive service for children who are deprived of a normal home life. I attach considerable importance for the full development of the scheme as outlined in the Bill, to the fact that, except in certain minor instances, the Home Secretary will henceforth be the Minister who is primarily responsible for child welfare. The existing law, except where interdepartmental arrangements have been made otherwise, provides that the safeguarding and looking after of these children is undertaken by no less than six different Government Departments. That procedure, certainly in the days when I was at the Home Office, caused a good deal of overlapping and a vast waste of time. We all know that for good administrative control the division of ministerial responsibilities for similar classes of work ought, whenever possible, to be avoided.

Now that it is intended to transfer to one Minister the duties which are set out in this Bill, and the duties under the Act of 1933 which will still remain, I believe the whole problem of the care of homeless children will be much simplified. In common with other noble Lords I therefore attach considerable importance to the appointment of the Advisory Council of Child Care. A body of this nature can far more easily advise a Minister than a number of Ministries which are all performing the same class of work but in different ways. Indeed, whether it concerns the neglected or the homeless child, or the child suffering from one form or another of cruelty, or the question of juvenile delinquency, the Minister can be advised by those who are most competent to judge. And I venture to think that their judgment will not infrequently broaden his mind and improve many of his ideas. I wonder if the noble Lord, when he comes to reply, can give us some further information about the composition of this Council. I believe it is important that the numbers should be limited, so that the Council does not become unwieldy or top-heavy; but, at the same time, those associations which we know so well, many of which were examined by the Curtis Committee, should be well represented on that Council. I wonder whether it might be possible for some annual report to be made to Parliament on the proposals which this Advisory Council put forward to the Home Secretary. I would not ask the noble Lord to give me a reply to that question now, but perhaps he will consider it between now and the Committee stage of the Bill.

It is not infrequently suggested—I think I heard it mentioned this afternoon by the right reverend Prelate—that our general approach to the subject of homeless children in the past has been very casual. It is sometimes said that Government Departments and local authorities have been carefree in the operation and fulfilment of their tasks under the 1933 Act. I always think that it is necessary, in obtaining a balanced view, to remember that the Act of 1933 brought some very desirable and commendable changes of outlook and approach to this whole subject. But it has been in operation for a period of only fourteen years, during seven of which, as we all know, we have been engaged in a struggle for survival. Government Departments, local authorities, and voluntary institutions have all been labouring under acute difficulty. Some homes and institutions were damaged, and others were destroyed by enemy action; and the difficulty of obtaining competent staff, or indeed any staff at all, has added vastly to their burden. I understand from inquiries I have made that since the end of the war the position in regard to staffs has somewhat eased, but the shortage is still very severe. Far more hands—or should I say bodies?—are now needed for the proper working of all the details under the 1933 Act alone, before we even consider the new proposals which are outlined in this admirable Bill.

Whilst I welcome the duty which the Bill places on local authorities to receive children into their care, I beg His Majesty's Government not to allow local authorities to put the cart before the horse. It is, in my judgment—I hope the noble Lord will agree with me—utterly futile to buy and equip a home, however luxurious it may be, unless you have sufficient trained staff to run it. To rebuild a child's shattered early life, and to arrest the disintegrating process which began at home, can be achieved only by those men and women who are well versed in the work of child welfare. It is not easy—it never has been easy—to find the right people for this highly skilled task, and the proper selection of candidates, as I see it, is even more important than their subsequent training. If any of them should lack those human instincts and qualifications so necessary for this work, then no amount of training can redeem that omission, and it is quite certain that no Act of Parliament can instil those instincts and qualifications.

The same argument applies, I believe with even more force, to the appointment of the children's officer who, as the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack said, will in most cases be a woman. Upon her shoulders will rest the foundation and the structure of the whole of the children's committee, and she must, by her skill and her aptitude, be the sympathetic interpreter of official decrees and rulings. In addition, she must be the principal person who, at any hour of the day or night, can be called upon to give helpful advice and useful assistance to those who stand in need of it. In subsection (6) of Clause 40 of the Bill the remuneration and tenure of office of these children's officers are safeguarded. The noble Lord will know, as I do, that most local government employees generally continue to hold their employment until they reach the age of sixty-five. I cannot really believe that it is the intention of the Government that these children's officers should retain their posts until they reach, shall I say, that semi-advanced age, and I should like the noble Lord, if he can, to give me some indication of the age at which the children's officer will be expected to resign her position or be transferred to another post.

In addition to the other obligations which have been imposed upon the local authority, I was very glad to observe that: there was one to board out children whenever possible. My noble friend Lord Scarbrough referred to the difficulty of finding good foster-parents, and I need not emphasize again the views which he expressed. I wholeheartedly concur with him, and I have seen from personal experience that that is perfectly true. Indeed, it is of the utmost difficulty to find the right and good foster home into which one of these children can be put, having regard to the child's age, character and history. The difficulty of finding these foster homes will, I suppose, fall in the main upon the children's officer and will be another burden which she must carry. I would only mention in passing that I hope the Statutory Orders and Regulations which were made under the Act of 1943, and which can be made under Clause 14 of this Bill, will be just as strict and just as severe as the original Act, for we require no more scandals to-day.

I come finally to the question of voluntary homes. Here, in common with the noble Lord, Lord Amulree, I welcome the: extension of the Bill to include in its scope those homes supported wholly or partially by endowments. I am perfectly certain that such homes will not object to being included in the Bill. Indeed, in my days at the Home Office, some of the largest: welcomed the Government inspectors and indeed profited by their advice. The converse was equally true: many new methods and useful experiments which were operating, or did operate, in local government institutions, were in many cases begun at a voluntary home. I am a little unhappy that there should be no appeal to any competent authority if the Home Secretary declines to register or decides to close any voluntary home. I believe it is wrong for a Minister of the Crown—in this case the Home Secretary—to be both the judge and the jury in his own cause, and more especially in cases where hundreds of people—it may be one or two thousand—have been interested by their donations and subscriptions in the proper conduct and running of the institution. In any event, if the Home Secretary does insist upon holding these powers, then I feel that he should give more information to Parliament when he has exercised them in the manner which I have described.

Under Clause 30 of the Bill, the Home Secretary can make regulations as to the conduct of voluntary homes, and I presume, as was said by other noble Lords, that it is the intention that the less good homes shall be brought up in standard to the better homes. Indeed, no one can object to that provision. But I wonder if his powers are sufficient in all cases. I want here to quote to your Lordships a case which for a long time has caused me considerable concern—I refer boldly to the position of the Foundling Hospital. I think I am correct in saying that under the Royal Charter under which it functions, every member of the Privy Council is automatically a Governor of that Hospital. The qualification of a child's entry into the Foundling Hospital is that he must be illegitimate, and once a child has been in that Hospital the fact of his illegitimacy is known for ever to the world. Once the child has been placed in the care of the Governors, the mother is never permitted to see it; in fact there is a complete parting of the ways. In order finally to break any link which there may be between the mother and the child, the child is always given a new surname, and very often a new Christian name, and it is frequently said that on admission to the Foundling Hospital the child is re-baptised. In any event, the child is given a special birth certificate in his or her new name, and upon that birth certificate appears the name of the institution.

Now the child, having been once given this substitute birth certificate, cannot ever obtain a new and shortened certificate such as was made possible by the passing of the Act of Parliament which your Lordships recently approved and which was meant to conceal the fact of illegitimacy. That fact alone, as the House will see, makes it difficult for any future identification of the parent by the child and of the child by the parent. I have only to-day received a letter dealing with a child who was put into the Foundling Hospital at an early age of its existence. The mother is now happily married with a good husband, and she is anxious to have the child back in her care. But even now the governing body of the Foundling Hospital decline to allow the mother to see the child, and in all their dealings they refer to the child as a male or female child, X, Y or Z. I frankly admit that for a long time the procedure adopted at that Hospital has caused me very serious concern. The scheme which I have outlined is, to say the least, medieval or even barbaric, and I hope—I am not asking for a reply now—that the noble Lord will see whether the powers which the Home Secretary has under this particular clause can be exercised in the case of the Foundling Hospital. Let the noble Lord remember that a local authority is under an obligation to keep the parent in touch with the child. For the life of me, I am unable to see why exactly the same thing should not happen in the case of the Foundling Hospital.

There are a number of other points upon which I should have liked to obtain further enlightenment, but the time is getting on and the noble Lord has many questions to answer. I hope that when this Bill becomes an Act the Secretary of State will use his powers carefully and discreetly when he is dealing with local authorities. The man on the spot is, in all cases, the best person to undertake the day-to-day management of the homes which are to be set up under the terms of the Bill. And whilst I am quite certain that some powers must rest with the Home Secretary at the centre, it is a matter for consideration—and perhaps for discussion on the next stage of the Bill—whether the powers which he possesses are too severe for amicable relations between the centre and the provinces. I have said quite sufficient on this Bill, which I feel will do a power of good to those who are in any way interested in or concerned with the homeless child, or the child in need of care and attention. I welcome the Bill, but I hope that between now and the next stage the Government will carefully consider all the points which have been made to-day and will give us a little longer time than usual before we reach that next stage.

7.1 p.m.


My Lords, this has been a long and very important debate. It has now gone on for four and a half hours and at this late hour I feel sure your Lordships will forgive me if I do not go into a detailed reply to the multitude of points that have been raised, much as I should have liked to deal with some of them. A Bill of this character takes one's mind back. Particularly did the speech which the noble Earl, Lord Munster, has made, take my mind back to my first election to a local authority, well over forty years ago. I was elected from that local authority to a truant school committee, where the first discovery I made was that they had had twelve cooks in twelve months. It was quite a recognized thing that one cook stayed only one month—and most of them would have stayed only one week if they had been able to get away. I remember the youthful enthusiasm I had. Then I found myself appointed a member of a committee before which several poor boys were dragged up every week by the Governors, who waited to know why the boys had been so misguided as to try to escape from this "very kind home" that had been given to them.

A multitude of points have been raised, and I can promise that every opportunity will be given to noble Lords between now and. the next stage. I will do my best to see whether the period before that stage can be extended, and I will see that noble Lords have every opportunity of private discussion and consultation. The Government bring this Bill forward not as a last word, but as an invitation to your Lordships to co-operate with them in making it a better Bill than it is. Just before I came into your Lordships' House this afternoon someone drew my attention to an alleged poem that had appeared in a weekly magazine, apparently written by someone who anticipated what would happen in this debate. I will weary your Lordships with only one verse of this poem—or doggerel: The children's homes of England, how scandalous they were, How sure to warp and undermine the infant character, Now more enlightened counsels will end this ancient ill, And England gives approval to the Homeless Children's Bill. I think that is a very fair summary of the discussion that has taken place.

I cannot attempt, as I have already indicated, to cover the whole ground raised this afternoon. The Bill has had an excellent reception, and it can be said that a good job of work has at least been begun in connexion with this problem. As the discussion has shown, there are still a number of minor points that will require further discussion, elucidation and, possibly, amendment. Points raised by noble Lords will be fully considered by the Government, before and during the next stage. This Bill comes before your Lordships as a contribution towards the solution of an urgent problem and as an invitation to your Lordships to co-operate in improving the situation. Many suggestions have been made in that direction and I promise careful consideration to all of them.

The noble Lord, Lord Beveridge—if he will forgive my fastening on him and ignoring others—together with the noble Ea:: l, Lord Feversham, raised many points. I am sure he will forgive me if I do not deal with them to-night; he will not, I am sure, expect me to deal with them now. Most of them are points that cannot be answered off-hand. But I will give my careful consideration to the points and will do my best to provide the information for which the noble Lord asks. He raised one very pertinent question, whether there will be one children's committee or three. The short answer is that the education and maternity and child welfare committees of the local authorities will continue in their own spheres. The children's committee will take the part of the parent, so far as possible. The committee will deal with all the difficulties in the lives of deprived children and will use the facilities at present available through the local authorities—health, education and other services—to adjust the position.

I gather from the noble Lord, Lord Beveridge, that in co-operation with the noble Earl, Lord Feversham, some Amendment will probably appear on the Order Paper; therefore no good can be done by my attempting to discuss the matter further at this point.


Would the noble Lord allow me just to put one point? It is the question of the interpretation of Clause 1. Are the 60,000 children in voluntary homes, if the Bill passes as it now stands, to be in the care of the local, authority or not? Are they children with guardians or not? If, after taking advice from the people who have drafted the Bill, it were possible for the Government to give us their opinion upon the meaning of the Bill on that point, it would help us greatly in drafting Amendments. I am not asking the noble Lord to answer now.


I will certainly see that all the information I can give will be given to the noble Lord in plenty of time for him to consider and put down Amendments.


I am most grateful.


The noble and learned Viscount, the Lord Chancellor, in opening this debate said (and I regret that he did say it!) that in winding up I would state the position of Scotland in regard to this Bill. If the noble and learned Viscount had not made that unfortunate remark, I was hoping that I should be able to let your Lordships get away, for you have been here a very long time. But having said that, I must add that if I were to break my promise to Scotland I should have rather a bad time in future. But I promise your Lordships that the statement I have to make in regard to Scotland's position under this Bill will be a very brief one—always provided that I can find it!


Would it not be briefer if you could not find it?


I have abbreviated it to such an extent that it has completely disappeared!. The House is already aware that, at the same time as the Curtis Committee were appointed, a similar Committee for Scotland were set up under the chairmanship of Mr. J. L. Clyde, K.C. The recommendations from the Scottish Committee follow substantially the same lines as those of the Curtis Committee, and in the Bill which we are now considering effect is given to practically all the recommendations which require legislation. I would also add that, as recommended by the Committee, the general responsibility for the care of children deprived of a normal home fife has already, by administrative action, been concentrated in the hands of a single Department, the Scottish Home Department. The uniform set of regulations and single staff of inspectors which the Committee desired have thereby been secured. The local authorities under the Bill will be the county councils and town councils of large burghs. These authorities are to exercise their functions through a children's committee unless the Secretary of State is satisfied in special circumstances that they can do so better without appointing such a committee.

If the noble Lord, Lord Amulree, will allow me to say so, I am afraid that I cannot quite agree with him with regard to the difficulty about the proposed committees. I regard that as one of the most important parts of the Bill. I think that the local councillors and those who are co-opted on to these children's committees will have to deal with something for which there has been a very great need—certainly in every local authority on which I have served. They have an important problem which they can tackle and with which they can get to close quarters. Those who have been on local authorities for a long time know that frequently there is a woman of not very high education, a motherly sort of woman, who has been elected to a local authority. She is largely at sea with figures and accounts and things like that; she is not interested in those things; but give her a problem like this, looking after homeless and motherless children, and she will take a very keen interest. I think that from that point of view the noble Lord will find, as I would have said to the noble Lord, Lord Llewellin, had he been able to remain in your Lordships' House, that the children's committee will have a very important task to perform. I am sure that noble Lords will forgive me for departing from Scotland for those few sentences.

Local authorities in Scotland will also be required to appoint a children's officer and any staff necessary for his or her assistance. It will be open to local authorities, with the approval of the Secretary of State, to appoint the same person to be children's officer for more than one area to meet those cases where the volume of work is insufficient to justify the employment of an officer of sufficient standing. May I add, finally, that one of the fundamental provisions in this Bill is new in Scotland, though not in England? That is the provision in Clause 2 enabling a local authority to assume parental rights over children who have no parent or guardian, have been abandoned by their parent or guardian, or have a parent or guardian who is incapable of caring for them by reason of some permanent disability or is of such habits or mode of life as to be unfit to have the care of them. In Scotland, as in England, the Bill should enable a great advance to be made in securing the welfare of children who require special provision for their care.

I am sure that at this late hour your Lordships will not desire me to say anything further, particularly as the Bill has had such an excellent reception from all members of the House. Most of the points are Committee points, which can be dealt with again in Committee. There have been many excellent suggestions put forward. I think that this has been one of the most interesting debates I have listened to in this House. I would like to thank all noble Lords who have taken part in the debate for the useful contributions which they have made. Their suggestions will receive the close consideration of the Government. I. will endeavour to ensure what the noble Earl, Lord Munster, has asked me, that a somewhat longer time should elapse before we undertake the Committee stage. I am perfectly sure that this will be another Bill which will leave this House in an even better form than that in which it entered it. I should like to thank all those who have contributed to the debate.

On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.