§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ The UNDER-SECRETARY of STATE for the HOME DEPARTMENT (Mr. Oliver Stanley)
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
In moving the Second Reading of this Bill, I am conscious of one great difficulty with which I have to contend, and that is the critical time of the country. The memories of hon. Members are full of the great issues we have been discussing during the past week. Their minds are centred on the even greater problems which they will have to face during the coming months, and I think it is true to say that those problems not only overshadow but envelop the proposals with which we are dealing to-day. The object of this Bill is to make, we believe, beneficial alterations in the social life of the country and we hope to reduce our criminal population; but it is the decision which the House will take on these greater problems which will fix for a generation our social life, and will for a generation regulate our criminal statistics. Prosperity is prison's worst enemy. I think that, provided this great decision is neither discarded nor delayed, the House may well spend a few hours in discussing the proposals in this Bill, which we believe will be of benefit to thousands of those who will be the future citizens of this country.
In asking the House to support this Bill, I have a choice of two appeals. I can appeal to their sentiment or to their reason. An appeal to sentiment in these days is easy. There is not an hon. Member who knows children of the range of ages to be dealt with in this Bill but who will agree that he looks upon them as immature, as unformed, and that he would not for a moment he prepared to have to apply to them the standard which he applies to adults, to expect from them the same standard of conduct which he is entitled to expect from adults, or to apply to them the same penalties that he applies to adults. An appeal of that kind, natural as it may be, is not necessarily the best guide. To be hazily 1168 or lazily sentimental is often to be kind only to be cruel, and so I hope to appeal this morning not so much to the sentiment as to the reason of hon. Members, and to show them that these proposals will not only satisfy the natural instincts of the individual, but will also be good business for the State. The habitual and persistent criminal is not good business. He is, I think we are agreed, anti-social and uneconomic. He himself adds nothing to the life of the State, but causes his neighbours anxiety and loss of property and life; and, finally, he imposes on the State a painful burden— the burden of supervision and control, which is uneconomic in its character. But the habitual criminal is often not born but made. His persistence in crime is fat less due to inherent vices than to the circumstances of his life, and it may well be that a mistake in early treatment rather than inherent vice has turned him to a life of crime. In such a case the argument as between humanity in penal treatment or severity in penal treatment becomes superfluous because you may reach a condition where neither humanity can reform nor repression can deter.
The recognition of the necessity for a different treatment of the young offender has been a matter of slow growth during the last century. We have progressed step by step from the year 1849, when the full majesty of the law sentenced more than 10,000 children under 17 to imprisonment or transportation, to the Act of 1908 where that sentiment, that view, received its present legislative expression. Gradually we have come to realise that it is absurd to treat the child as an inevitable criminal, that it is unfair to him and bad from the point of view of the State to launch him without effort on a life where fear is the only motive, where capture is the only deterrent, and the vigilance of the police the only gauge of his honesty. We recognise that other conditions than mere inherent vice may have entered into an offence; that the child's upbringing at home, the discipline he receives in the home circle or the lack of it, the economic conditions under which he lives, the squalor and misery of his life, even the com[...]anions with whom he associates in school[...] or out of it, may have had much more to do in turning that child into an offender [...]han any spirt of natural evil. If that be [...] we have come to realise that 1169 the prison, the fine, the whip and all the instruments and paraphernalia of the law are useless if they are followed by the immediate return of the offender to the very conditions which caused the offence. The recognition has grown up of the necessity of eliminating those conditions which come before the punishment of the offence.
The 1908 Children Act was moved and piloted through all its stages by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary. It must be a matter of gratification to him that 24 years after, almost to the day, when once again this House is asked to consider the subject matter of that Bill, they are asked not to cancel or to abrogate the principle which is there established, but to extend it still further. I can only hope that the right hon. Gentleman's more recent excursions in even less charted seas will receive the same approbation of the coming generations. This is, at any rate, one of the occasions on which we can agree to agree.
The 24 years' experience which we have gained since that day has, I believe, been unanimously in favour of the principle enshrined in that Act. It is not easy on matters of this kind to prove a statement of that nature by fact or figure, but I do not believe anybody who has been interested in this work, whether from the magisterial point of view or as a social worker, would like to see that principle reversed or be prepared to go back to the condition of affairs before 1908. The system set up in that measure was largely experimental. A great deal was necessarily left to the initiative and the progressive instincts of those who had to work it, with the result that its application over the country is neither universal nor uniform. Twenty-four years' experience of its working have shown us many defects and certain ways in which it can be improved.
Besides the experience which we have gained, we have had the assistance of the report of the committee which was called, conveniently but rather ambiguously, the Young Offenders Committee. That committee was by no means revolutionary in its character, and included among its personnel a Metropolitan magistrate as well as two Members of Parliament— the late Sir Edmund Turton and the hon. Member for Westhoughton 1170 (Mr. Rhys Davies) whose knowledge and interest in these matters is so deep. That committee clarified and tested the system and indicated certain changes. To a great extent the Bill, the. Second Reading of which, I now move, is based upon the recommendations of that committee. An opportunity has been taken at the same time to include in it certain amendments, many of a minor character, of the various laws relating to children and young persons. The result is this rather voluminous document of 82 Clauses, and four Schedules.
It would be wearisome if I went through the Bill Clause by Clause, if we had a sort of journey round the clock in 82 Clauses; and I hope that I shall be allowed merely to put before the House a general outline of the Bill. I can best do it by taking the various blocks of subjects and comparing the system as it is and the system as it would be after the passage of the Bill in this form. I shall be forced to omit minor qualifications and extensions which, though they may to some extent modify the main principles, do not affect their fundamental character. I know that hon. Members are opposed, and rightly opposed, to legislation by reference, but I am afraid that I must confess that this Bill is one of the worst examples of that that I have ever seen. The fact is that it is intended that it shall be followed by a consolidating Bill which will gather together all the provisions dealing with children and young persons. I had hoped to have available for hon. Members a draft of such a consolidated statute as it might appear if this Bill were passed, but the pressure of time has made that impossible. Though I am afraid that the form in which the Bill is set out must inevitably cause certain inconvenience to Members of the Committee which will discuss it, I hope that hon. Members will feel reassured that when the consolidating Bill is passed, there will be no real injury to the public.
I will first turn to those parts of the Bill which deal with the constitution and machinery of the juvenile court. The setting up of a different court to deal with the offences of children and young persons from the court which deals with the crimes of adults was one of the novel features of the 1908 Act,. It was in prin- 1171 ciple revolutionary, but in form it was rudimentary. The only practical difference that was made was that the juvenile court should sit either at a different time or in a different place from the ordinary adult court. They were the same magistrates in the juvenile and the adult court. It was the same procedure in the two courts, and in many cases it was the same place. In addition, the rights of the juvenile court were by no means unlimited. It was possible for the parent of a child charged before a juvenile court on an indictable offence to claim the right to have the child removed to an adult court, and it was the right of any young persons between 14 and 16 to claim the same right on his own behalf.
Under this Bill the following changes will be made. They will not be the same, but different magistrates, different in the sense that they will not be chosen from the ranks of the ordinary magistrates, but from a panel of those magistrates who have been selected for their knowledge and interest in work of this kind. It is essential that that should be done, because the success of the system largely depends on choosing whether the right treatment for a child is school or probation; and the magistrates should have a real knowledge of the opportunities which the various classes of school offer and of the benefits that can be got from probation in various cases. It will be left to the Lord Chancellor to prescribe rules for the selection of a special panel of magistrates to sit in juvenile courts and a special chairman to preside.
We shall have a different precedure. The present administration in a court of summary jurisdiction is, as we know, complicated, long and, to some of us, not easily intelligible, but we recognise that in the case of the adult that rather cumbrous form is due to a real desire to offer every possible safeguard to the accused person, and, at the same time, to combine the solemnity Which is the proper accompaniment of a criminal trial. In the case of the juvenile the conditions are different. There is no real safeguard in a form of procedure which the accused person cannot understand, and I believe that in many instances the effect of this cumbrous form is to produce in the child not a sense of the solemnity of the occasion, but a feeling of fear. We propose 1172 to ask the Lord Chancellor to prescribe rules for the juvenile court which will aim at retaining all the essential safeguards of the present court, but, by an increased simplicity, will make it much more intelligible to the young person, and by being more intelligible, less frightening.
§ Mr. STANLEY
I have a long explanation to make, and I think it would be better if I were allowed to go on.
§ Mr. STANLEY
Well, the hon. Member is no doubt a better judge of old maids than I am. We have altered the provisions as to the place where the court is to be held. As the law will stand, a juvenile court will not be held in a building which is either mainly used for a police station or for an ordinary adult court, or in a room which is ordinarily used for such a purpose; but, to take a common instance, where the ordinary court of summary jurisdiction is held in the town hall it will be possible to hold the juvenile court also in the town hall provided it is held in a different room. It is recognised, of course, that there are many cases in which the provision immediately of alternative accommodation would be an undue burden and unduly difficult for a local authority, and the Secretary of State has power, therefore, to dispense with those provisions in circumstances where he feels that there really is no alternative. We attach great importance to this separation in venue of the juvenile from the adult court. Not only has the effect on the child to be considered, but also the effect on the parent. If this new treatment is to succeed we want the co-operation and not the hostility of the parent, and we believe we are much more likely to get it if we take them away from the atmosphere of the ordinary police court and from the ordinary police court penalties and make them realise that the desire is not so much to punish, or not only to punish, the child for his offence as to give him a fresh start and a chance of making good in the future.
We have done away with the right of objection by the parent on behalf of the 1173 child. We are convinced that in cases under 14 there really are no circumstances where it is better that the child should be tried by the adult court than by the juvenile court, and, on the other hand, the right that was given to the parent, although theoretically it might be justified, has not in practice been a great success. The ordinary parents of the class from which a large number of these offenders is drawn do not understand the subtleties of the law; the difference between a juvenile court and an adult court, between quarter sessions and petty sessions, is not easy for them to understand. We feel that no real damage will be done to the interests of the child by withdrawing this' right. We retain the right of the young person himself to object and to claim to be tried in another court.
Those are the facts with regard to the position and the machinery of the court. The provisions I have detailed apply to courts outside the metropolis. Inside the metropolitan area the position is complicated by the participation in these courts of the metropolitan magistrates, who preside at juvenile courts, and there are special arrangements, which will be found in Clauses 3 and 4, for the metropolitan courts.
Let me pass to those provisions which regulate the power of these newly constituted juvenile courts to deal with young offenders. As the law stands, the juvenile court has jurisdiction over young offenders; over the child up to 14, and over the young person between 14 and 16 in every case except where such young persons are charged with an adult; and in respect of every offence except the offence of homicide. The powers which a juvenile court possesses for dealing with offenders are: probation, committal to school, either industrial or reformatory, committal to the care of fit persons, fines and whipping.
By this Bill we make certain changes in jurisdiction and in these powers. First of all, we extend the jurisdiction from 16 to 17. I know this raises a matter of some controversy. There are a good many who say that the age should be raised from 16 to 18, or even 21; an almost, equal number say that it should not be raised at all; and there are some, though not 1174 many, who say that it ought to be lowered. Those who want the age left where it is are afraid that by raising it we shall bring into the atmosphere of the juvenile court young persons who are not only adolescent but who are practically adults—of a different character from the younger children with whom the courts have dealt hitherto. It is said that that will spoil the atmosphere of the court, that it will be difficult for the magistrates to deal with such offenders and that they will spoil the use of the juvenile courts for those to whom it appropriate now. On the other hand, those who wish the age raised feel that 16 does not necessarily represent the beginning of maturity, that there are a good many boys and girls between 16 and 17 who are still immature and can benefit from the provisions of an Act such as this. There is still a third set of people who say that neither of these courses is right, and that the only thing to do is to develop some kind of intermediate or co-extensive system to deal with the whole range of ages. That last proposal is put forward in sincerity by a number of people, but I cannot think it would be workable in practice either to have three courts— a juvenile court, an intermediate court and an adult court—or else to have some kind of concurrent jurisdiction whereby people between 16 and 18 should be sent, at the will of somebody, either to a juvenile or an adult court. Whoever had to decide could decide only after having heard all the facts of the case, in fact after the ease had already been tried, and it seems to me that that procedure would be both cumbersome and unworkable.
On the whole, I believe that experience shows that the age of 17 is best and is most workable. That age will bring within the juvenile court a large number of immature boys and girls of 16, but it will not bring in exceptional cases of a very advanced type, which it is undesirable to associate with the juvenile courts. On balance I think the course we have chosen seems to be the best and it was one of the recommendations of the Treatment of Young Offenders Committee.
We have made no alteration in the provision relating to young persons charged together with adult offenders. It is true that the Committee recommended that these cases should be tried 1175 in the juvenile courts, but we feel the disadvantage of bringing these adults, some of them hardened cases, into the juvenile courts, and we have given power to the adult court when the case has been heard to remit the young offender to the juvenile courts for treatment.
We have made certain alterations in the remedies which the court can apply. I will deal later with the changes we have made with regard to committal to Schools. We have raised to 17 the age under which there may be a committal to the care of a fit person instead of, as now, 12 or, in the case of first offenders, 14, and we now recognise the local education authority as "a fit person" for these purposes. This will entail financial assistance by the Treasury for the maintenance of children committed to the authority's charge.
We have made a most important change, one, to which I am sure the House will wish me to refer, and that is the abolition of certain powers of the court to order whipping. Despite this important change, hon. Members will not find the word "whipping" in the Bill at all. Clause 14 deals with juvenile offenders and Sub-section (3) of that Clause provides that the Summary Jurisdiction Act, 1879, shall have effect as if the provisions of this section were substituted for the provisions of Section 10 of that Act. Perhaps I ought to say a word or two on the present power of administering corporal punishment to young persons. First there is the power derived from Acts of Parliament applicable alike to adults and juveniles, under which flogging is imposed for certain indictable offences. These are offences of a different character such as incorrigible rogues, garrotting, shooting at the King, and the irregular slaughter of horses. There are Acts applicable only to boys under 16, such as acts with reference to malicious damage to property, offences against the person and larceny. Those powers are not exercisable by a court of summary jurisdiction. There is also a general power to whip boys given to courts of summary jurisdiction by Section 10 of the Summary Jurisdiction Act.
In future there will be no power to whip a child under 14. In the case of 1176 boys over 14 it will be possible to send a boy to quarter sessions to be tried on any charge for which Parliament has ordered whipping as the statutory punishment. I know that many hon. Members disagree with this proposal, and that in adopting it, I confess we have departed from the majority report of the Young Offenders Committee. My first reason for doing so is a practical one. I would like to point out that whipping as a punishment has fallen into disuse. The figures relating to whipping show that the number of cases in which this punishment was administered has fallen from 2,079 in 1913 to 130 in 1930. Nor is it possible to classify these cases and to say that in respect of these cases opinion favours its continuation in regard to any particular crime or type of offence. The hon. Member representing a Lancashire constituency who objects to the recommendation in regard to this punishment, will be interested to know that in 1930, in the whole police area of the county of Lancashire, there was not a single case of whipping: you can throw in the areas of Manchester and Liverpool without making any difference. It is clear that magistrates as a whole have not found this type of punishment effective. But the question arises: are they right?
I quite understand the attitude of hon. Members on this question. They have had experience of it and they offer themselves as shining examples of its effectiveness. Why, they ask, should the general community be deprived of relief which is available to the financially more favoured but physically less protected sections of the community. Another of their invidious class distinctions which divide the country. I have had the same experience both objectively and subjectively, as donor and recipient. I have learned, in contradiction of the old clich, that it is both more blessed and less painful to give than to receive, but I have learnt, too, that it involves no degradation, no brutality and no lack of effect. I do not quarrel with hon. Members' example: what I quarrel with is their analogy. The example they have in mind relates to circumstances and to offences which are quite different from those with which we are dealing. There is all the difference in the world between being whipped by a schoolmaster for idleness or by a parent for unruliness and being whipped by a policeman for 1177 theft. In the case of a school the atmosphere is favourable, the punishment forms part of the tradition, of the code accepted by the boys, while the offences for which it is given are offences against discipline not against morality. I would point out that when grave charges are involved the penalty is almost invariably not whipping but expulsion.
How different it is in the case of a police court whipping. The boy may very probably have been whipped already at home for the same offence, and he feels, therefore, an injustice in being twice dealt with for the same offence. It may happen, and often does, that the parents are angered by this punishment, and they forget the original offence in their dislike of the punishment administered. Therefore, at home, the boy becomes a martyr. It may happen that the offence was merely a piece of showing off, of trying to become a hero to his school companions, and the whipping administered, though it may be painful at the time, puts him much more effectively on a pedestal than would the offence that he has committed. Finally, in the case of an offence against morals, this whipping is accompanied by no other penalty; it ignores the conditions and circumstances which may have caused the evil, makes no attempt to alter them, and he merely returns to those conditions.
This argument is really a contest between the two types of discipline— discipline imposed from outside and discipline imposed from inside, between authority and morality. I believe that whipping is effective as an aid to external discipline and authority, and an aid to constant supervision, and in the Home Office schools we have not abolished corporal punishment as an aid to such discipline. These conditions, however, applicable as they may be to home life or to the school, are conditions which are impossible for ordinary every-day life. The whole population of this country cannot be guided by rules of discipline or supervision as they can be at school. Their only protection is, not discipline imposed from outside, but discipline from inside, and it is there where I believe that this punishment is less effective.
I was reading the other day the Life of Dr. Johnson, who, as hon. Members will agree, was not a sentimentalist, even 1178 by the not very sentimental standards of his century. In one of those interminable and rather one-sided conversations between Dr. Johnson and Boswell, as it might be between the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) and the hon. Member for North Paddington (Mr. Bracken), they were discussing a recent case in the House of Lords dealing with a case of flogging in Scotland. Lord Mansfield, in the course of that case, was reported to have said:My Lords, severity is not the way to govern either boys or men.Dr. Johnson's comment was as follows:Nay, it is the way to govern them, but I know not whether it is the way to mend them.It is because we believe that the interests of the State, at this age of the young offender, lie more in trying to mend than to govern, that we urge this alteration on the House.
Let me turn from the case of the young offender to that of the neglected child, which forms the other branch of the duties of the Juvenile Court. It was one of the most revolutionary proposals of the Act of 1908 which for the first time allowed a court in this country to entertain and consider cases in which no offence had been committed, but in which the circumstances made it desirable that the child should receive protection. The right was given to the Court in respect of children up to 16, under specific categories of home circumstances—begging, destitution, drunken parents, sexual offences, prostitution, or being found wandering without any parental control—to look into the circumstances of such children, and either send them to an industrial school or commit them to the care of a fit person. By this Measure we extend that principle. In the first place, we extend the age from 16 to 17, and we abolish these special categories, substituting one wide definition which we believe will be sufficient to bring in a number of cases which to-day are brought in only by greatly straining the law. I should like hon. Members to realise that when we are dealing with cases of this kind there is no question of ignoring the facts as regards substituting the State for the parents, or breaking up family life, because the fundamental basis in a matter of this kind is that parental control should be adequate, and that such action is legitimate when the proper parents or 1179 guardians are either unwilling or unable to exercise that parental control which we, as well as hon. Members in all parts of the House, recognise to be the best guide for the upbringing of children. A certain number of other alterations are made under this procedure, but I have already trespassed a great deal, and I must trespass still further, on the time of the House, so I will leave those matters for more detailed examination in Committee.
Let me turn now to the question of the approved schools, as they will in future be called— the schools which are known to the public at present as reformatory and industrial schools. The growth of these two types of school started from two different origins, and has proceeded on two distinct but parallel lines. The reformatory was started, over 100 years ago, purely to deal with the young offender. It was a voluntary home, and it got its first connection with the State by a practice which had grown up of granting a pardon to a young convicted criminal on condition that he entered a home of that kind. The industrial school, in its origin, bad nothing to do with crime whatsoever. It originated with the ragged school, the object being to provide some kind of education, not for the criminal, but for the poor. The position as it stands to-day is that both these types of school are connected with the State, and both can be used in connection with juvenile treatment. Industrial schools can be used for neglected children, for offenders under 12, or for first offenders under 14. The reformatory must be used for all other types of offenders. That distinction between the industrial and the reformatory school is now largely artificial; the type of training, the education given, and the life inside are very much the same in the one or in the other.
After all, both classes of children, the neglected and the offenders, have had to suffer a withdrawal of their liberty, in the one case as a species of punishment, in the other purely for their own protection. The fact remains that they are both inside and, when they are inside, the object is the same in dealing with both, namely, when they get outside, to give them a good chance of making decent citizens. We have decided to 1180 abolish the distinction between these two types of schools, and to put them together in future under one heading of approved schools, to which the distinction which now exists will no longer apply.
I know that some people feel that it is unwise, and perhaps unfair, to mix up in the same school those who are there as punishment for an offence and those who are merely there for their own protection— that it means that the poor neglected child is contaminated by the bad young offender. The fact is that the distinction between the two is largely accidental. The neglected child may only just have been lucky enough not to have been caught in an offence. The character of the child who has been suffering from a long period of neglect at home, or a long period of evil surroundings, is much more likely to have been seriously affected than the character of the young offender who is perhaps in the school as the result of one short lapse into crime. We do not believe that either will suffer from being in the same school. We shall adopt, instead of the old classification of reformatory and industrial schools, a new classification—a classification by geographical situation, by religious teaching, by the different opportunities of training different types of people, and, of course, by age; only to a lesser extent shall we take into account character.
We have altered, too, the period for which children can be sent to these schools. As the matter now stands, a boy may be sent to an industrial school for a period at the discretion of the courts, but not above the age of 16. As a matter of fact, in almost all cases the discretion of the court is not exercised, and it is the practice for a boy to be sent there till he is 16. Detention in reformatory schools is for a period of not less than three or more than five years, and in any case not above 19. We have abolished the discretion of the court. In future it will be unnecessary for the court, when committing the boy to an approved school, to specify a period of detention at all. The period will be automatic. If he is under 14, it will be for three years, or in any case until the child reaches 14, the school-leaving age. In the case of a young person it will be three years, but not in any case beyond 19. In the case of both children and young persons it will be possible, with the assent of the Secretary of State, to detain them 1181 for another six months only if they require further vocational training before it is possible to find them employment.
One good result of this automatic period of committal will be to do away with the kind of headline one sometimes sees in the newspapers to-day— Five Years for Stealing Five Shillings. When you look at it, you see it means that a boy has been sent to an industrial school for five years. We want to get away from that sort of cash value of crime, a kind of tariff, one year for one shilling, two years for two, three years for three. We want to make the public realise that it is no good sending boys to a school at all except for a period long enough to turn them into decent citizens when they leave. This automatic period will give a chance for an experiment in short-time detention schools, and we intend to send the most suitable type of cases for a short period of training in schools for six months or some period of that kind. That disposes of Parts I and II of the Bill.
Part III deals with voluntary homes. They are described as beingfor the boarding, care and maintenance of poor children or young persons being institutions supported wholly or partly by voluntary contributions.The position is this. The Home Office at the moment possesses the power of inspection of these homes, but, as there is no register of them, it does not know where to inspect them, and the inspection is not very much good as it has no compulsory powers. This part remedies those two mistakes. It provides for a register of voluntary homes and gives the Secretary of State certain powers of application to a court in case the inspection is unsatisfactory and the required alterations are not made.
Part IV deals with the employment of children and young persons. It is largely reprinted from the Education Act, 1921, with minor drafting Amendments. It deals with employment during school age, entertainments and dangerous performances. There is, however, one alteration of some importance to which I want to refer, and that is the question of street trading. As the matter stands, under the Act of 1921 street trading is prohibited up to the age of 14 and is regulated by the local education authori- 1182 ties between 14 and 16. Under this Bill we propose to raise the prohibition to 16 except when a young person is trading with his parents, and to raise the age of regulation from 16 to 18. I think most Members will agree that street trading is in itself an undesirable occupation for a young boy or girl. It is bad for the health, and it means long hours of standing about in the cold wet streets— obviously, hours in the street like that are bad from the moral point of view— and finally it is a blind alley occupation. There has been a large decrease in street trading at these ages during past years, partly owing to the action of local authorities and partly to the fact that commercial conditions have altered, and they are no longer employed.
There is to-day practically no street trading under 16. Ninety per cent. of local authorities have already prohibited street trading by girls up to 16 and 80 per cent. by boys up to 15, and in a survey which we took a few years ago of 20 of the largest towns in the country we found that in 12 of them there were fewer than 20 boys under 16 engaged in street trading and in four there were only between 20 and 30. We believe, therefore, that this prohibition up to 16 wilt affect only a very small number of young persons. We have extended the age of regulation by local authorities to 18. We believe that between 16 and 18, especially in the ease of girls, street trading is perhaps more dangerous than it is 'between 14 and 16. Hon. Members will note that the by-laws by which local authorities regulate street trading will require the confirmation of the Secretary of State. They have to be, if so desired, the subject of local inquiry, and the expenses of that local inquiry will have to be borne by the local authority. We expect the local authorities will make every effort to ensure that the by-laws are in consonance with public opinion before they send them to the Secretary of State.
I should like to say one word upon something that is not in but out of the Bill, and that is the question of unregulated employment. The hours of labour of boys in shops are regulated under the Shops Act and the hours of labour of boys and girls in factories are regulated under the Factory Acts, but there is a large number of boys and girls, probably some 400,000 in number, who are in what 1183 we call unregulated employment, who enjoy neither the benefit of the Shops Act nor of the Factory Acts; and there has been a demand that their conditions shall be regulated. There will, no doubt, be some disappointment in certain quarters that this Bill does not include such regulations. It has been a matter of much debate. It has been the subject of several private Members' Bills, including several brought in by the late Lord Henry Bentinck, whose recent death has been such a great loss, not only to the many friends who loved him but to the many causes which owed him so much. It has received expressions of sympathy from various Governments. I need hardly say that very careful consideration was given to the matter before a final decision was taken, but my right hon. Friend has come to the definite decision not to include such a provision in the Bill. For one reason, they are not related in any way to the purposes of the Bill.
It is true that there is a Clause dealing with employment, but hon. Members will notice that the employments which are dealt with are those which are in themselves bad and dangerous for children. It is not the case with regard to the van boy, the page boy or the errand boy. There is nothing harmful in such a vocation. The harm, if it comes, comes in the conditions and the hours of employment. Street trading, acrobatic performances, entertainments, may be, and sometimes are, dangerous in themselves quite apart from the hours of labour.
I do not believe that you can isolate this case of the so-called unregulated employment. It sounds all very well in theory to say, "Everybody else has got some regulation, and you must close up the gap by regulating these." Suppose that we were to accede to the desires, say, of the Noble Lady the hon. Member for Sutton (Viscountess Astor) and we were to introduce some regulation of the hours of employment of this class of young person from 14 to 18 and we were to accede to what, no doubt, would be her wish, a regulation in the neighbourhood of 48 hours. What would be the position of boys and girls engaged in shops whose hours of employment there are regulated, but regulated by a maximum of 74,hours? Would there be any immediate demand? How can you 1184 let the errand boy or the van boy be regulated to 48 hours while the regulation behind the counter is 74?
§ Mr. STANLEY
The Noble Lady says, "Include them." You may say that you have regulated employment in factories. It is regulated, it is true, but regulated to as much as a maximum of 60 hours under conditions which are much more dangerous and unpleasant than those in shops or many of those unregulated employments. The Noble Lady says "Include them all." Oh, yes, and you can go from unregulated employments to shops, and from shops to factories until you have a vast system of legislation which entirely overshadows the purposes of this Bill. They are entirely different from them and are of much greater importance. They raise bitter controversies and have no connection with the object of this particular Bill and will have to be decided, when they are decided, on considerations which are quite alien to the other parts of the Bill which I am to-day proposing. My right hon. Friend reminds me that proposals of this nature were not included in the original Bill in 1908.
I would point out to hon. Members the fact that the whole way through the discussions upon this Bill there will be many controversies. Many things will have to be considered, but at no stage will you have to consider the financial difficulties or the economic position, which are not in any way prejudiced by the proposals of the Bill. They have nothing to do with the Bill, but everything to do with such a vast range of proposals as would inevitably follow upon the inclusion in the Bill of those unregulated employments. The problem, if and when it is tackled, must be tackled—it cannot be tackled in this small way— as a whole, as a problem of juvenile employment covering the whole range of the country. To attempt to include it in the Bill would be to alter the character of the Bill and to embitter the conflict, and, possibly, to delay its passage.
I apologise to the House for taking up so much time. There is little else I need say. The Bill is to apply to Scotland by a special application Clause which my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland will explain to the House 1185 later. Part V contains various recommendations of the Child Adoption Committee referring to infant life protection. The Schedules deal with the rules of approved schools and with certain minor amendments which will be necessary to consolidate them. Finally, although I shall be able to say a few words on the question of the Financial Resolution, hon. Members will be gratified to find that the Bill, far from costing money, is estimated to save us £8,000 a year. The Bill, of which I have given these details, is not revolutionary in its character, but will, I believe, be salutary in its effect. The principles upon which it is based have already been decided by this House and, I believe, are agreed to by all. The details which it contains are the result of the experience of 20 years and the constant work which has been performed. It does not mean to say that they cannot be improved, but all the knowledge which hon. Members may bring to this matter can alter and improve those details. I hope in moving the Second Reading of the Bill that the House, while agreeing with these principles, will give to one of its own Committees an opportunity of approving and improving its details.
§ Mr. RHYS DAVIES
I hope that it may not be regarded as presumption on my part if I congratulate the hon. Member upon his excellent presentation of the case. At any rate, we have harmony on the Government benches to-day, and my task, I hope, will be a very easy one in carrying that spirit of harmony a stage further by welcoming the main provisions of the Bill on behalf of the official Opposition. It is indeed a very important Measure, and only those who have been in intimate association with the problem know how important these provisions will be when they are put into operation. The Bill may be regarded, I think, as the Children's Charter and a shield for the young offender against being forced out of decent society. There are, however, one or two critical observations which I must make. In spite of the fact that there is harmony in the Government on the Bill and that I am having to add to the music this morning, I must offer some comments indicating the disappointments felt as to provisions which ought to be included. The hon. Gentleman I feel sure will agree that it would indeed be a remarkable Measure 1186 if it had no criticism offered upon it at all.
I came in contact with the problem of the young offender as the hon. Gentleman has said, through being a member of the Departmental Committee which inquired into this question. I was very much impressed indeed as to the extent of the problem and also as to the extent of the, reforms that ought to be carried out in dealing with young offenders. It is unfortunate that there are some recommendations which were made unanimously by that committee which are not referred to at all in the Bill, and I regret the omission very much. Before proceeding further, I should like to say how much' we ought to congratulate ourselves on the diminution of offences by young persons in this country. I have always thought that the improvement made in the environment of the people has a great deal to do with the decline in the number of offences in this connection. I connect the decrease in the number of young offenders with the increase in the facilities for education. After all, I think that it may be said that crime disappears when boys, and girls in particular, are taught the difference between right and wrong.
The House will pardon me therefore, if I give a few figures to show the improvement which has already taken place. The number of young offenders brought before the courts in this country in 1917 was 51,323, ten years later, in 1927, 25,478, and in 1929 the figure had fallen to 23,787.
We must remember for this purpose the wave of unemployment that has come over the country, and that a good many young people have never found work and have had nothing to occupy their minds. In view of the fact also that the population has increased, it is a remarkable feature of the figures I have quoted that they have declined almost in proportion to the increase in our population. That emphasises my point that we are making progress in this connection. More remarkable still is the decline in the number of convictions recorded against young offenders. There is a vast difference between bringing a young person before the court and recording a conviction in respect of his offence. In 1917 the number of convictions recorded was 27,290, but it is startling and pleasing 1187 to know that the figure had declined in 1927 to 6,789 and in 1929 to 5,936. That is an amazing result and it shows a remarkable improvement in the habits of our young people.
I should be glad if the Under Secretary would inform the House whether the recommendation made by the Departmental Committee, that convictions for petty offences ought not to be recorded in the case of these young persons, is included in the Measure. The information brought before the Committee on that score astonished me. It was to this effect, that when a young man in this country desires to join the Navy or to emigrate to our Dominions or Colonies he could not do so if, by telling the truth, he stated that he had been convicted of any offence. It might be that at the age of 10 he had stolen apples from an orchard, a common thing for young boys to do, and had been fined say, 2s. 6d. The conviction was recorded against him, and when in later years he wishes to join the Navy or to emigrate to the Dominions or Colonies he is asked whether or not he has been convicted of any offenc— he is not asked the nature of the offence—and if he replies in the affirmative, I am informed that it deprives him of the opportunity of entering the Navy or of emigrating. That is a ridiculous situation, and I should like to know whether there is to be provision in the Bill that convictions shall not be recorded in the court for these very petty offences.
Although the figures that I have quoted show a great improvement in the number of convictions I am informed that the improvement, has not continued since 1929. The national figures are late by the very nature of the case, but I have the figures for Manchester, where I reside, and I find that the number of offenders brought before the Manchester juvenile court in the years 1928 to 1930 does not show the progressive improvement. In 1928 the number was 461, in 1929, 332, but in 1930 it went up again to 458. I sincerely hope that the latter increase in Manchester is not a picture of what is happening throughout the country. I feel some confidence that it will not be so, because I have information from the industrial capital of Wales, Cardiff, given in the Chief Constable's 1188 report for 1931, which shows that during that year 105 juveniles were charged with stealing and kindred crimes, as against 143 in the preceding year, a decrease of 38. That is a very pleasing feature of the report of the Chief Constable of Cardiff, but I am not going to say that what happens in Wales must always happen in England, especially regarding crime.
I come now to what is fundamental, and I am glad that the Home Secretary is in his place. The Bill fails, really, to come up to the standard of expectation, because it contains no provision for the establishment of observation centres. That, I think, is the greatest disappointment of all. There are other disappointments in regard to the Bill, but not so important as that one. With another member of the Departmental Committee which inquired into this problem I was asked to proceed to Belgium to visit the observation centre established by the Belgian Government in the village of Moll. The other member of the Committee and I were so impressed with what we saw at the Belgian observation centre that we convinced the Departmental Committee, and they unanimously reported in favour of the adoption of the same principle of observation in this country. The proposal is this. Each child is a case on its own. No two children are alike for the purposes of treatment. In this country children are brought before the court and their destination is decided by the court irrespective of the mental capacity of the child, its education or its inclination. In Belgium all such children are brought into the observation centre. They are under medical care and there are eminent psychologists to study the children before it is determined what training they shall receive. In this country we apparently determine upon the training of the child without any inquiry as to its history.
In view of the fact that the Bill will save the State £8,000 a year, I suggest that that sum ought to be used to establish an observation centre. I have been very much disturbed that such a provision has been left out of the Bill and I hope it will be possible yet to induce the Home Secretary to include it. There is a great deal of study to be done on the question how these children ought to be treated. In many cases the young 1189 offender is an offender because he is a neglected child, and it is grossly unfair that a child who has committed an offence because he has been neglected should be punished and put away for three or five years, without anything being done to inquire as to his antecedents. I remember well the records that were shown to us by the gentleman in charge of the observation centre in Belgium, and it was certainly astonishing what they had found out as to the antecedents of the children there. The environment of the child at home ought to determine largely how the child should be treated later.
I am very glad that there is provision in the Bill to abolish whipping, but I am informed by those who know better than I do that in spite of that provision whipping will still be allowed under the Larceny Acts of 1861 and 1916. I am not conversant with that point, but my attention has been called to the fact. If I can be assured this morning that the Government will abolish whipping entirely in respect of children, I shall be very happy. I agree entirely as to the effect of whipping on boys. May I put this point in favour of the abolition of whipping. I have known cases of this kind, and if the Under-Secretary will turn up the records he will find similar cases. A child committing an offence will be put on probation in one part of the country, but a child committing a similar, or even a less offence, will be ordered to be whipped because the magistrates in one part of the country are not so intelligent as magistrates in other parts. It is grossly unfair that a child can be whipped in one part of England for committing an offence and in another part is able to get away with it. I am glad therefore that we are doing away with whipping.
Another provision which gives those who are interested in this problem great pleasure is that it is proposed to raise the age of criminal responsibility from seven years to eight years. I am in favour of raising it a little further, and I will tell the House why. As we have extended the average age of life of the individual in this country by 10 or 12 years, so we ought to regard the child as being a child longer than we used to do when the average age about 40 instead of 50 years. I wonder whether any one of us at nine years of age could have told whether when we 1190 were committing an offence we were doing right or wrong? I should like to see the age of criminal responsibility raised one year more, to nine years. Let me revert again to the question of whipping. I am very glad that the Bill is clear on that point. The figures given by the Under-Secretary have enlightened us a great deal. An eminent writer on these problems has said:There is a danger in regard to whipping, especially for the public school man"—There are a considerable number of them in the House of Commons—of jumping to the conclusion that because corporal punishment is on the whole useful in schools, therefore birching of juvenile delinquents is a good form of punishment in juvenile courts. The fallacy we suggest lies in the fact that the schoolboy is punished by a person with whom he has other and more friendly ties and interests, and in whose judgment and authority he has confidence. Generally speaking, there is no resentment. The juvenile delinquent is sentenced in unfamiliar surroundings by a person he does not know and with whom he has no other connection, and then is flogged by an officer whose sole appearance in his life is as the executioner of the sentence.That puts the case very fairly, and I hope we shall see very shortly the complete elimination of the whipping of boys in this country. There is already a provision against the whipping of girls, and, as we now have sex equality in other respects, I think we should have equality in this respect too.
Let me now turn to the case of the neglected child. We have progressed not only in education and in environment, but above all we must pay a tribute to our social services. The growth of social services in this country is largely responsible for the decline in the number of neglected children coming before the courts. I know nothing more pathetic than the case of boys who are sent to our industrial schools for begging, wandering and being destitute, whose parents are in prison are of criminal habits. The figures of these cases have declined from 183 in 1925 to 94 in 1929. I agree too with the extension of probation. To put the matter in another form which might appeal to some hon. Members, it costs £ 100 per annum to keep an adult in our prisons, but to keep a young person under the supervision of the probation officer costs only about £ 10. I do not, however, appeal 1191 for the extension of probation solely on grounds of economy, but because I think it is good business for society as a whole.
There is one word which should be said about probation, and perhaps the Secretary of State will bear in mind the complaints that have been made in this connection. Probation officers complain that they should be present during the preliminary proceedings before the court hands over a young person to the probation officer, that is to say, that the officers should come in earlier, when these cases are being dealt with, and not after it has been decided to hand over the young person to the probation officer. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will look into that point because probation officers regard it as important.
With regard to capital punishment, there is a provision as to the age at which the capital sentence shall be inflicted, but I hope the House of Commons will rise to the occasion when an amendment is put forward, as it will be, to raise the age still further to 21. That amendment will, I think, be allowable within the ambit of the Bill. The proposal in the Bill is to raise the age from 16 to 18, but I hope the House of Commons will agree to the proposal to raise it to 21. I am naturally very interested in the provisions — relating to the employment of young children, and I should like to say a word as to the disappointment which is felt on that score too. Before I come to that however, there is one point which has been brought to my notice to which I must refer. I gather that truancy cases are now almost invariably referred to petty sessions, and it has been suggested to me that these cases would be much better dealt with if they were transferred to the juvenile court. I hope the Under-Secretary will be good enough to look into that point. I am not familiar with such cases, but that consideration has been brought to my notice.
My last point is this. The Under-Secretary has tried to show how difficult it is to amend this Bill and put in any provision in regard to young persons employed in unregulated occupations. There is a strong feeling on this side on this matter. We have had some experience since the National Government was formed as to what can be done in carrying legislation in this House of Commons. 1192 I shall not believe a single word again as to any difficulty in carrying any proposal through this House. If the Government wants to do anything at all, they can do it without any difficulty. That is our experience. That was the only jar I felt when the Under-Secretary was speaking. He said how difficult it was to do this and that, yet the other day we passed in about 10 minutes all that the Government required for the whole week. If that can be done in relation to tariffs and banking, trade balances and luxury articles, grapes and tomatoes and turnips, surely we can do something for the little ones of this country just as easily.
The Bill raises the age for street trading, but it does nothing to redeem the promise made by successive Governments to regulate the hours of labour of boys and girls over school age, many only 14, engaged in occupations not covered by Statute. It has been stated that a large number of these young children are employed in shops. I can speak on this point with a little knowledge. I see opposite an hon. Gentleman who was along with myself a member of the Select Committee on Shop Assistants. I think he will agree with me that the time has arrived when these children ought to have the protection of some law. The position has become worse since that Committee reported, and it reported only last year.
It is nearly 40 years since I began to take an interest in these matters. I am informed that 35 and 40 years ago there was in operation in some shops a system whereby girls were taken in to learn the millinery and drapery trade as apprentices for three and four years, without receiving a penny in wages. The conditions have changed since then, and boys and girls entering shops, particularly since the War, are being paid wages, even when they enter at 14 years of age, irrespective of the department in which they are employed. I am told, however, that in the last year or two some shops have slipped back to the conditions of 30 and 40 years ago, and there is no protection for these children at all. Some hon. Member will say "Where is the trade union movement?" These boys and girls cannot join a trade union.
§ Mr. DAVIES
The law prohibits boys and girls under 16 being members of trade unions. However that may be, there are considerable numbers of these young children, and those travelling about the country for entertainment purposes, who ought to have the protection of the law. We welcome this Bill and its main provisions, but we reserve the right to table Amendments in Committee, without, I hope, damaging the chances of the Bill passing into law. We ought really to make an attempt now to secure the establishment in this country of observation centres in order to prevent future crime by these young offenders, and we ought to include in the Bill too, irrespective of what the Under-Secretary said, some provision to safeguard the interests of the thousands upon thousands of young children who enter these occupations— about 400,000 of them— without the protection of any law whatsoever. I am sorry to say that in this country, where the conditions of labour, I admit, are better probably than in any country in the world, in this relation, in respect of these children, we are behind a goodly number of countries; and I am not willing when I go abroad to have my attention called to the failure of my country to bring the law in relation to these little ones up to the best standards of other countries. Having said that, I repeat that we shall support the Bill right through, but we do reserve the right to put forward Amendments in Committee.
§ Mrs. TATE
The diffidence with which I rise to make my maiden speech is slightly mitigated by the fact that even the most die-hard misogynist in this House will admit that the matter under discussion is one upon which a woman has a right to speak. I have given considerable time and study to the matters dealt with in this Bill. It should embody the knowledge gained by practical experience in the working of juvenile courts and the probation system which were in their infancy when the law of 1908 was passed. Juvenile courts have proved their immense value in dealing with the young offenders, but no one who has had experience of them can fail to agree that there is immense scope for furthering their activities. Under the 1194 present Bill it is set down that no juvenile court is to be held in a building mainly or exclusively used for police or adult court proceedings, except with the permission of the Home Secretary. I should like to see the Clause extended, where such permission is given, to ensure that these courts are held either on a different day or at a fixed time, and that they should in no case follow directly upon the hearing in the adult court.
I stress those points for two reasons: Firstly, it is very undesirable that the children should be kept waiting long hours before their cases are heard; secondly, it is making an undue call upon our magistrates to expect them to wait long hours hearing evidence in an adult Court and then to go, very often with no interval, straight to the juvenile Court, where the psychological atmosphere should be entirely different. The success of juvenile courts depends so enormously on the magistrate who deals with the cases. I think that London is to be congratulated in that it has a special rota of magistrates to deal with these juvenile cases, and I am very glad to see the recommendation that this system should be extended to the rest of the country. But I would like to suggest that some stipendiary magistrates, who have had years of experience in the adult courts in London and other large cities, should be set free for duty entirely in the juvenile courts. I know that this suggestion has not had the recommendation of the Departmental Committee which has been largely responsible for the framing of this Bill, but I also know that it would have the approval of many of the magistrates in this City.
I wish very strongly to deprecate the practice requiring police officers to appear in plain clothes when attending the children's courts. I fully realise that that is done with the intention of making things easier for the children, and that is exactly where I think it entirely fails. Our children are not frightened by the police. They do not regard the police as their enemies. They go to them to be helped across a road. The Very rightly look upon the police as their friends. Our police have magnificently earned this tribute from the children. I think that everything possible should be done to encourage children to regard the law as their friend and protector. I do 1195 not believe that by bringing policemen in their ordinary uniform, to which the children are accustomed, into the juvenile court, you will engender in the child any sense of fear. On the contrary, I believe it would be easier for these children to be natural and to tell the truth in front of officers whom they recognise in their uniform, than it would be if they saw what must appear to them a strange man bringing charges against them.
Before I leave the subject of juvenile courts I would like to say that I thank that everything possible should be done to urge on the parents, on the children and on the police, the view that these courts might be applied to when guidance and help are desired and that there is not necessarily any disgrace attaching to the fact of having been there. It is because I feel very strongly on this subject, with regard to the little children, that I am sorry that no provision has been made in the Bill to allow for three courts. I think it would have been possible to arrange for children's courts for little children, up to the ages of 15 or 16, to be held in the juvenile courts as at present constituted. I believe, then, that young people from 16, say, to 19, could have had charges against them heard in the adult court, after applications for summonses, without the public being present, and before the holding of the adult court proper.
I do not wish to urge this change if there is any danger of wrecking the Bill by doing so, but I feel strongly upon the subject and if it is not possible to incorporate such an arrangement in the Bill, then, with very great regret, I should be compelled to oppose the raising of the age in these courts. Much as I dislike the idea of trying young people of over 16 in the adult courts as at present constituted, I think that if we raise the age we shall spoil the atmosphere of the children's courts. It will be very bad for little children to come into close proximity with young people of 16 or 17 who may very well have begun to become hardened offenders. The influence of those young people on the children may be quite as disastrous as the influence of the adult offenders upon the young people. I am against raising the age from another point of view. I believe there may be a real danger of older 1196 criminals approaching these young people and endeavouring to influence or train them to do part of their work for them by saying, "After all, if you are arrested you will only come before the juvenile court and you have not much to fear." I do not think the treatment meted out to the child who is, in many cases, only naughty, or only mischievous, is suitable to these young people of 16 and 17.
With regard to the approved schools, I deprecate the provision that all children shall be sent to these schools for a period of three years. In many cases of neglected children the parents have not been able to look after the children. They have perhaps fallen into very low circumstances and the child is neglected in consequence. If the child is sent to an approved school for one year, during that year the father may get employment or the mother may get into a better state of health, and the parents may then be in a position to look after the child. I think it is a pity that, in such cases, children should have to be sent away for the whole period of three years. The old idea of revenge against the criminal is dead. We now wish to help the criminal to reform, but you will not help young people of 16 to reform by lack of discipline. You will not teach them by those means to become free and happy citizens. On the contrary you may render them for all time the slaves of their own ungovernable impulses.
There are just two other points in the Bill on which I wish to touch. The first is with regard to that part of it which deals with infant life protection. I think that those Clauses are most inadequate There are societies in this country at present into which it would be of very great advantage to have exhaustive inquiries made as to how they look after homeless and illegitimate children. The Home Secretary yesterday in reply to a question was kind enough to ask me to supply him with information with regard to these adoption societies and I expect a heavy increase in my postal expenses within the next week. There is one admirable adoption society. The National Children's Adoption Society of Sloane Street is quite beyond praise, but I wish to see Clauses which would protect those unhappy little children from other societies which are much less particular and much less disinterested.
1197 In conclusion I regret the omission from the Bill of any provision for the examination and observation of young offenders on remand in special remand homes. This was one of the strongest recommendations of the Departmental Committee which suggested that at least three such homes should be provided by the State. The need for such homes is widely recognised, and in the Bill which was introduced in July, 1930, it was provided that every person up to the age of 21 convicted in a court of summary jurisdiction should be sent to an observation centre while awaiting trial or sentence. The advantages of such a course must be obvious to everyone. If this provision has been dropped for reasons of economy I hope that His Majesty's Government will find it possible to reconsider the matter because I think that the economy is a false one.
§ Mr. CROOM-JOHNSON
I feel it a great privilege that it should fall to my lot to congratulate the hon. Member for West Willesden (Mrs. Tate) on a maiden speech which was full of sound observation and good sense. It will, I am sure, be of great assistance to the Committee which will have to consider this Bill, and all those who are interested in children's questions, and indeed in other questions, will look forward to hearing the hon. Lady on many future occasions. My criticism of this Bill is intended to be friendly and constructive. I desire to offer a few observations on one point in regard to which I venture to think this Bill is likely to cause real mischief. I, like the hon. Member for Westhoughton (Mr. Rhys Davies), believe that there is a deficiency in our present method of dealing with young people. I believe that to fix the age of 16 is to fix it far too low. I believe also that to raise the age of possible offenders before the juvenile courts to 17 is calculated to do considerable injury to those persons whom we desire to be protected from permanent contamination or permanent contact with the criminal law by being tried before juvenile courts.
The object of the legislation of 1908 was largely of an educative character. We desired to see that young people, who very often, as the last speaker has said, by reason of the fact that from their environment, faults in education, faults very often in the opportunities of life, 1198 had got into trouble, should not be made permanent members of the criminal classes, and the result of those courts, to all of us who have had any sort of experience or have attempted in any way to acquaint ourselves with the position, has been wholly satisfactory. But there is the danger that by raising the age to 17 or 18, or whatever the ultimate age is to be, we shall be bringing these very young people in contact with people who are no longer young, and I should very much like to ask the Under-Secretary of State for Home Affairs, whose presentation of this Bill has, I think, been a model and an example to all of us, what are the views of the metropolitan magistrates who have acquaintance with this subject on this matter.
The one great object is to see that there is no promiscuity among the offenders. At the moment it is suggested to me that in the children's courts already there is some degree of danger in the older offenders being brought into contact with quite young people, and if education is to be the thing at which we are to aim, it occurs to me that if we drew the line at the school leaving age for the juvenile courts, we might be able, by co-ordination of all our educational advantages and of the various forms of reformative schools which we possess in this country, to do something really to educate these young people and bring them up so that they might have a better chance from every point of view.
But to bring before a juvenile court, as we shall do— and one must speak plainly about these matters— young women over 16, the young prostitute, the young motor bandit, and people who are guilty of all sorts of offences which cannot be described as merely the ebullition of young animal spirits, is to raise the possibility that these people, when they come before the large children's court in London, will be brought in close contact with the very young people whom we are most desirous of protecting from any such contact. The whole aim and object of the Act of 1908 was to see that young children were kept away from the criminal courts, from the atmosphere of people who were criminals or likely to become criminals, and that we should segregate them as much as possible; and those for whom I speak are terrified at the prospect that if you are going to 1199 raise the age first to 17, then to 18, and ultimately to 21 in these juvenile courts, you are merely going to put back the clock and to undo a great deal of the valuable work which the children's courts are doing.
There is one other objection. In London the probation officers are, I think, entirely with me. Is it solemnly suggested that these probation officers are to take charge of young men—because that is what they are in London—nearing their 17th birthday, and are we going to follow that up in a year or two by increasing the age to 18, 19 and 21? [An HON. MEMBER: "Why not?"] For the simple reason that unless you are going entirely to reorganise the system of probation officers, you will put a task on these ladies, who are doing their work admirably, which they are wholly unfitted to do and which I think they do not seek. It is suggested to me that some of them already find difficulty in dealing with people over 16.
There is one other thing. Under Clause 12 the duty will be cast on the probation officers of visiting, advising, and befriending the young person. It is open, of course, to another objection. At present the young offenders visit the probation officer, and that is wholly desirable, but if you turn it round the other way and have the probation officers visiting these people in their own street, everybody in the street will know that the individual has been in trouble, and you will cause as much mischief that way as almost any other way. It seems to me that these matters deserve consideration and examination further than they have had up to now.
I should not like my criticism to be wholly destructive on this point. I have said that I think there is a deficiency in the criminal law, and I think the deficiency is this, that we shut our two lots of people into two compartments, as it were. We say that up to 16 there is hope for them, but that over 16 they are to go to the ordinary courts, that there may be hope for them, but not much. Those of us who have seen much of the criminal law and taken some small part in its administration know that it is very often the border-line case 1200 which demands real consideration and attention—somebody who is neither white, as the under-16 people are supposed to be, nor black, as the over-16 people are supposed to be.
I agree that the age might be raised far beyond 17. I should not shrink at 21, but certainly to raise it to 19 would be quite a possibility. I should not shrink at the age being raised to that height if we are going to see that these persons are given some different form of treatment and are dealt with in a slightly different way. Probation to such people very often will make the task of the probation officer impossible, and I doubt whether in the long run it will do them a great deal of good. That they should not be subjected to the possibility of some form of punishment is, I think, also wrong, but that they should be treated up to 18 or 19 as young people and treated in the same way as we ought to treat the others, as naughty children who only want to be taught better, is an impossible thing.
I am told that this would mean that we should have a third court. I see no necessity for anything of the sort. It is obviously possible that cases of offenders over 15 or 16 or up to 19 or 21 might be put into a separate list. There is no difficulty at all in their being dealt with at a totally different time, if necessary in a totally different building, and I am told that the only real difficulty about that is that perhaps in country districts there might not be sufficient magistrates available. That brings me to this point of view. It by no means follows that excellent magistrates, well accustomed to dealing with young people up to 15, understanding the child mind, and having sympathy with young peccadilloes, are equally suitable to deal with offenders of 16, 17, or up to 21. Therefore, the ordinary law modified, it might be, but with separate lists, dealt with, possibly, by separate magistrates, is a conceivable way of meeting that particular difficulty.
I am told that one other difficulty may arise, and that is that the number of magistrates with experience in these matters is not sufficient. That seems to me an objection of little worth. We can soon ensure a due supply of persons with a right view both of children and of 1201 young persons if we increase the number of magistrates, and there are plenty of persons ready and willing to serve, I am informed, and out of the increased number we shall now, no doubt, get a large number of people who are well qualified to undertake the duties. This seems to me to be a serious blot upon the Bill. There are many little points in it which it is indicated to me might be reconsidered. I confess I am not interested in little points. It seems to me that here we are running a real danger of destroying, to some large extent, the value of the work which children's courts are doing already, and I do beg the Government, when the matter goes to Committee, to give this further consideration, and see whether this particular question is not capable of a better solution than that in the Bill.
There is just one thing we care about, and it is this: We have an opportunity this morning of giving a Second Reading to a Bill which a great many of us think contains a vast number of provisions which will be of real service. That opportunity may not recur again for a long time, and, that being so, the possibility of introducing the reform which I have indicated for the intermediate court as it were, may be postponed for very many years if the opportunity is not taken here to introduce it by Amendment upstairs, and I do beg my hon. and gallant Friend to give further consideration to this, in order to see that the defect which I have indicated may be taken out of the Bill, and that the Bill may be improved by going still further on that road which, I hope, we all desire to see, of real reform in the criminal administration of the country as far as children and young persons are concerned.
§ Major JESSON
As a new and hitherto silent Member of this House, may I be permitted to crave the indulgence that is so generously extended to those who find themselves addressing it for the first time? I am venturing to make one or two observations upon this Bill, because it is a subject in which I have always taken a keen interest, and after many years of experience of public bodies and of practice in the courts I realise the advisability of having a new code in connection with the important subject of 1202 juvenile welfare. To-day, parental control is not so powerful, I fear, as it used to be. There is far more latitude given to-day to the young children; in fact, I might almost say that this is the latch-key age, and I think it most important that we should do our utmost to influence the welfare of the young and unprotected who, to use an Irishism, have their future before them.
My sympathies are with the Bill, and let me assure the Under-Secretary that my remarks are not to be made or taken in a spirit of destructive criticism, but with a view and a sincere desire to help forward this Bill which the Under-Secretary himself has admitted is loosely drawn, and I hope to make it a little more explicit, definite and understandable. There is evidence in this Bill of a warm heart, but whether it will accomplish its intentions, I have some reason to doubt. In the first place, the setting up of the juvenile courts is, I take it, primarily a principle for preventing children and young persons from associating with adults who are charged with offences, and that they may have their cases and the matters relating to juveniles dealt with away from the atmosphere of the ordinary petty sessional court. Under the Bill, as the Under-Secretary has pointed out, special rules are to be made by the Lord Chancellor, there is to be a special panel of justices, a periodical revision of this panel, and separate buildings provided, or, at all events, separate rooms apart and distinct from the ordinary police court atmosphere. In view of the special organisation, it is difficult for me to understand why the Bill does not provide for the juvenile court only and exclusively to deal with all cases, except, of course, where a child is charged jointly with an adult. Clause 1 (2, [...]) says:Where in the course of any proceedings before any court of summary jurisdiction…it appears that the person to whom the proceedings relate is a child or young person''the court may, if they think fit, do certain things. Whether that may be where proceedings have been instituted in the wrong court, I know not. If that be so, then that is not of much importance. But Clause 8 says 1203Any local authority, poor law authority or chief officer of police and any authorised personmay do so-and-so. Then, in Sub-section (3), any court may do so-and-so, andif satisfied that the material before them is sufficient to enable them properly to exercise jurisdiction, may themselves make any order which the juvenile court might make.Clauses 16 and 18, and various other Clauses also deal with this. The point I wish to make is: Would it not be possible that where a juvenile or a young person does come before an ordinary petty sessional court, an order could be given to those courts at once to remit the case or the cases to the juvenile court? No doubt that of the various persons who are authorised to bring the child or young person before a juvenile court, the police, in the majority of cases, will he the first persons to become aware of the circumstances, proceedings will be initiated by them and they will have to give notice to the local authority. It does seem to me that in this Bill there is a certain amount of competition between the Home Office and the Ministry of Health as to who is going to administer it. If the majority of cases are brought by the police, then I say that the juvenile court, although held in a separate building, will, after a time, become an anemic reflection of a police court. All the elements will be present. There will be the special bench of magistrates, the police, the solicitor, counsel and finally the Press representatives. That defeats the whole object of the Bill. One does not desire secrecy, but one wishes to avoid publicity. A stigma in youth, as the hon. Member for Westhoughton (Mr. Rhys Davies) said, continues throughout life and time can never eradicate a conviction.
I remember a case in which I was personally interested. After defending a little boy, the magistrate came to me and said that when he was a young boy he picked a flower in the public park, was taken before the magistrates, and fined Is. Now that he had succeeded in life and obtained a position as one of the great unpaid, that stigma continued, and it was known though-out 'his district that he had been convicted in the days of his youth. That is the kind of thing we want to avoid. May I throw out the suggestion that 1204 there will not be many magistrates sitting at the same time in a juvenile court. It is very awe-inspiring for a child to go to a court. I have seen 10 or 12 magistrates, as you can sometimes see in the country juvenile courts, all arrayed like the panel of a jury. That strikes strangeness and awe in the breast of the little child, just as, when standing up here for the first time and addressing the serried benches of this House, there is a strangeness which strikes a little awe in one's breast.
I remember another case which I had of a little girl who started going into hysterics when she was brought before the magistrates. After we had stopped her, we asked her what she was afraid of. She said, "I cannot stand that bogy man." She referred to the chairman of the bench. True, he was not a Valentino, but the point is that where there are a lot of people in a position of authority, it frightens the young child, and it is an ordeal which we ought to try and avoid. There are many other points in this loosely-drawn Bill upon which one could dwell, but, as the Under-Secretary has said, they are probably more suitable for the Committee.
I want to draw the attention of the Under-Secretary, however, to Part IV. Clauses 48 (3) and 49 (3) make an exception to the employment of children in the theatrical profession, and I would like to ask why such an exception should be made. They are occupations in which the hours are very late and the work is a strain, and, although I am not a relative of Mr. Stiggins or Mrs. Grundy, I do not consider that there is any need for children of tender age to be employed in this occupation. I remember some time ago seeing a play called "Peter Pan", in which people of older years took the part of little children. It is possible to dress them up and make them look like young children.
§ Major JESSON
Sometimes they call me Tom Thumb. My point is that you can make mutton look like tender lamb. My last point is that of finance. In the Financial Memorandum, the Under-Secretary has told us that it is anticipated that there will be a saving of £8,000 per annum to the Exchequer. Is there, however, to be no expense incurred 1205 to the local authorities? Just as we have been returned to enforce strict economy, so it is necessary in the local districts which will have to administer this Bill. There are grounds for thinking that by the extra duties that will be cast upon the education committee, the magistrate's clerk, and by the rent and incidentals of new magistrate's rooms or buildings, considerable expense will be incurred. I have no doubt that the Under-Secretary has considered these matters, and probably they can be better dealt with when the Bill goes to Committee. I thank the House for the very kindly hearing which they have granted to me.
§ Mr. BRIANT
The House, I am sure, will join with me in congratulating the hon. and Gallant Member for Rochdale (Major Jesson) who has obviously spent a considerable amount of time in considering this subject. The hon. and learned Member for Bridgwater (Mr. Groom Johnson) seemed to think that probation would be the fate of young people and complained that probation officers would be calling at children's houses. Any probation officer worth his salt does pay visits to children's houses, and he cannot do his work unless he does. May I congratulate the Under-Secretary on his extremely lucid and sympathetic speech. He had to be lucid, because, as he himself said, so much is done by reference in the Bill that, if he had not been exceptionally lucid, it would have been difficult to follow. I feel strongly that this Bill is a great step. It does not go nearly so far as many of us want, but we welcome any step in the recognition of the importance to the nation of the preservation and appreciation of young life. After all, it is better to catch the juvenile young, because it is better to help the improvable boy than to hang or flog the unimprovable man.
It has been my lot to be associated with young people all my life— perhaps the better part of my life—and I have necessarily met a number of young criminals. I hope that the House will not be suspicious of me when I say that I was once invited to speak in a prison, and the invitation was accompanied by a letter which said: "I know that you are very popular with many of the inmates." I thought of having inscribed on my tombstone the words, "He was popular with many of the inmates of 1206 prisons." I know the conditions that make for crime, particularly juvenile crime. Those who are opposed to the age of appearance before juvenile courts being extended to 17, do not, I think, fully realise the psychology of the young person. Apart from any other reason, there are a large number of lads from 15 to 17 to whom the atmosphere of an ordinary police court is very evil for one particular reason. The lad is very liable to feel a spurious kind of heroism, and the public at the court, the undesirable public, consisting of his friends and mates, to a large extent regard him as a hero, as I have seen on many occasions. In that position the boy himself very often puts on a kind of peculiar side, almost thinking he is a hero. After the court, too, he receives almost personal congratulations from his friends, and if gets off a little lightly may be openly congratulated on the way he has deceived the magistrate. All that kind of atmosphere is entirely evil for the young and we want to keep them from it.
I do not agree with those who say that they have no objection to policemen in ordinary clothes. The whole object of the juvenile court is to keep away from children everything associated with a police court. I am delighted to find that the whole tendency of this Bill is to put the educational authorities instead of the police in touch with as many cases as possible, because the less these young people become associated with police courts or the police system the better. It is undoubtedly of great assistance that they should have no connection whatever with the police until it becomes absolutely imperative. I also suggest that in many cases observation homes might be extremely useful. I believe I am stating what is a fact when I say that I do not think the Minister is entirely responsible for the omission of that aspect of the matter from the Bill. I am rather afraid that a body with which I am connected is partly responsible. I have heard on good authority that the London County Council do not wish for them. If the Minister has yielded to them I hope he will resist them, and allow a provision for such homes to be reinserted in Committee.
Psychologically a child is very difficult to deal with. No two human beings are alike, and children differ enormously, and 1207 until one has had the opportunity to observe them very closely it is quite impossible to know how to deal with them. One cannot prescribe until one has diagnosed, and the opportunity for diagnosis in the case of these children is very small indeed in existing circumstances. I am not saying that the police themselves are not excellent; indeed, I am almost surprised at the kindness and sympathy shown by the police to children, and it is not because I feel the police are lacking in those qualities that I have stressed the desirability of keeping children free from association with the police; but the child ought to understand that his small peccadillo is not going to stain his character for life through an association with the police courts or what we ordinarily call crime.
The Minister is quite wise, also, in removing whipping as a punishment. Those who are familiar with juvenile crime will know, I think, that the majority of cases come from homes where the moral persuasion exercised is very small, from homes where, unfortunately, the mother and father have exercised very little real moral influence on the child. In those homes the resort is always to corporal punishment, and the danger is that the children grow up with no idea of moral values. I have seen a child receive corporal punishment because he has dropped a cup, and if the same child tells a lie he gets the same punishment. The whipping does not convey to him a sense of the nature of the offence; the same punishment is ladled out for every offence, trifling or serious. The whipping does not convey that there is such a thing as a moral and an immoral action. Therefore, it is quite wise to get rid of whipping. I have never known a boy who has been improved by it and I have known many who have been hardened.
Then, this Bill seeks to divert the child from a home, whether an industrial home, a Borstal institution or a reformatory, and to endeavour to deal with him elsewhere. It is no disparagement of industrial homes, or those who manage them, or of the sympathy and kindness which is extended to boys there to say that I do not believe that, as a rule, boys are reformed in reformatories. The reformatory ought to be the last resort. One knows, and I am speaking from personal 1208 knowledge, that, as in the case of older persons, the very things which are tried in such homes in order to make life a little better for those who are confined there may lead to great evils. I have known a boy who was an innocent kind of boy, who had committed only one small offence, sent to such a home, and there became associated with another boy who, unfortunately, is conversant with crime and vice, and he has come out worse than when he went in. I fully agree that there are cases which it is possible to deal with only by taking the boy right away from his old surroundings, and perhaps such cases could be dealt with by extension of the probation system, or by boarding out the boys in order to keep them from contact with an institution.
Such a boy needs discipline. The danger just now is the increasing lack of discipline in the home. One of the greatest evils we have to contend with is the fact that boys and girls have much more liberty, and often more licence, than used to be permitted in the past, though a boy or a girl does not really resent discipline if it is imposed in. the right way. So far as boys have been neglected it is necessary sometimes for them to be put in a reformatory for a short period to enable them to understand that they have not only to obey their ordinary instincts and desires but must obey laws, which is an excellent thing for all of us to learn. At the same time, I quite agree that it is perfectly futile to send a child to such a home for three months. If a child has to go to an institution it should be kept there for a much longer period, because a short term is perfectly useless; it gets only all the evil effects of an institution without an atom of the good which may be accomplished by a longer stay.
I am sure the Minister will not think I am anxious to be critical, because there is much in this Bill which I warmly welcome, and if I do not dwell on all those points which I welcome it is not because I do not appreciate them, but because I wish to devote the short time permitted to me to developing the one or two points of criticism which I have to make. I join with all that has been said about the extreme regret that is felt that all the boys and girls, numbering nearly 500,000, who have no legislative protection at present still remain unprovided for. If 1209 it is true that that side of the work cannot be incorporated in this Bill, then it is quite time that a separate Bill was brought in. It is a scandal for this nation to allow 500,000 children to be working—some of them 12 and 14 hours a day. Many of the [...]lads work in very undesirable clubs, and in a not altogether desirable atmosphere in some hotels. They are not overworked in the sense that they work too hard, but the hours are prolonged, although during part of the time they may be hanging about with nothing to do. What time off they get is generally in the middle of the afternoon, when all their mates are at school, and sometimes they do not get home until one or two o'clock in the morning. How we can endure this kind of thing I cannot understand, and it is to the everlasting shame of men and women that they have never organized themselves to protect these people.
In this country we congratulate ourselves upon our educational facilities, and on the London County Council we talk of our splendid evening continuation classes At the same time we are saying to these 500,000 children, "Here we have these evening classes, but we will take good care that you can never attend them." It is quite time that we had a definite promise to deal with this question, and, if a Clause cannot be inserted in this Bill, I hope the problem will be dealt with in some other way.
In the year 1921 I raised the question of sexual offences against children, and only two women Members followed me in that discussion, and one of them was Mrs. Wintringham. A departmental committee was appointed to inquire into the subject of serious assaults upon young children. That committee reported the following year, but their report was, practically speaking, treated as a piece of waste paper. When we are talking of the protection of children, surely there is no more important protection than to protect them from this filthy outrage which is allowed to occur all over the country. What I regret most is that, while we endeavour to protect children from working long hours and dangerous occupations, we have taken no steps to protect them from an offence which is disastrous to a child, body and soul. I think it is quite time that we came to a unanimous decision to provide better protection for our children. A man may be sent to prison for six 1210 years for committing burglary, but frequently a person convicted of assaulting a child will receive a sentence of only three months' imprisonment. The kind of protection. I am asking for is something which is far in front of the offences which are dealt with in this Bill. I do not mean any disrespect to those who have promoted this Bill. On the contrary, I commend the promoters for the many excellent things contained in it, but I hope the Minister will put a finishing touch to this Measure by protecting these young children who have been so much neglected in the past.
§ Sir JOHN WITHERS
I recognise that the Government must make every effort to save money, but I believe that the establishment of more observation centres would, in the long run, be the means of saving a great deal of life. I would like to point out that juvenile offences are psychological, and they cannot be judged in a few minutes before a magistrate. To do that is like going to a doctor and telling him that you have a pain in the head, and he replies, "Take such and such a pill." I think it would lead to a tremendous saving of money if more observation centres could be established. I ask the Government to reconsider this matter before it is too late, and incorporate a provision to that effect in the Bill.
Mr. CADO GAN
I congratulate the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department upon the admirable manner in which he has introduced this Bill. I am also pleased that its reception has been extremely favourable, and that it is not likely to encounter much opposition. The points of criticism which, up to now have been made, seem to me to be more appropriate to the Committee stage. The hon. Member on the Front Opposition Bench spoke not so much as a critic, but as one who was disappointed, and spoke more in sorrow than in anger. These reforms are long overdue, and I reg[...] that the recommendations of the departmental committee were not accepted in their entirety some years ago at the time the report was presented when the nation was more prosperous than it is to-day. I think it is a matter for congratulation that at a time when the Government might be justified in occupying the time of the House almost exclusively with other material concerns 1211 our moral interests are not being overlooked.
For some years now we have been sufficiently prudent in these matters to realize that prevention is less costly than cure. If it is incumbent upon us to concern ourselves with the economical bearing of these reforms, we shall discover, if we examine the records and statistics of the reforms under the new system which have so far been implemented, that these new efforts which make the potential criminal an asset rather than an incumbrance will cost the nation considerably less than the initial outlay involved. I must anticipate any criticism which anyone may make in this connection by asking them not to take the last one or two years as a fair test, in view of the fact that a wholly abnormal condition of the labour market prejudices a delinquent's chances of making proper amends.
I do not, however, wish to discuss the economical aspect of the question on this Occasion. I would only say that it is a subject for congratulation that a Measure which is going to make our system more efficient and effective is going also to make it less costly. That is an achievement so unique that it engenders a certain amount of suspicion, and I find it difficult to resist the conclusion, on examining these numerous Clauses, that the Home Secretary has confined himself to a selection of those recommendations of the committee which are the least costly, and they happen to be, unfortunately, those which only concern the youthful offender under the age of 17. Those of us who have concerned ourselves, as I have, with the youthful offender over that age, must presumably possess our souls in patience for what we regard as the necessary and essential sequel to this Bill.
The Bill divides itself naturally into two divisions-that which deals with neglect and that which deals with the young offender. It is fitting and right that these two separate questions should be combined in one Measure. They are too often cause and effect; they are complementary, as everyone knows who has concerned himself with the treatment of young offenders. I myself, in an official capacity, have had to examine the records of countless young offenders, and I have 1212 no fear of contradiction when I say that 50 per cent—I should think that that is an under[...]estimate—of the offences committed by young persons are attributable, either directly or indirectly, to neglect, using the term with the wide and comprehensive me[...] that is attached to it in this Measure. I must not be understood to be saying that 50 per cent. of the parents of young offenders are wilfully neglectful. Far be it from me to make myself responsible for so sweeping an indictment. It is more often than not that they are the victims of circumstances. In this 20th century there are many parents who are living in such a condition of destitution and overcrowding that they are not able to give proper atteintion to the mental and physical education of their families. In one year, of 783 lads in the Metropolitan area who were convicted, no fewer than 400 were either homeless or vagrants or had what is called a subnormal home—in other words, they had one or both parents missing. These figures indicate how essential it is to link up the two questions of neglect and juvenile delinquency in one comprehensive Measure.
In recent years we have made very rapid strides in connection with the reform of the young offender. Certain expressions in the opening paragraphs of the Report of the departmental committee reveal from what a different standpoint we approach this subject. Perhaps I may be allowed to quote this short passage, which appears on the first page:We are glad to be associated with an inquiry the object of which is to consider the best means of helping those young people who, starting in life with a handicap of moral weakness or unhappy influences, especially need the protection of the State.This quotation briefly comprehends the whole nature of these reforms. Help, protection, training—these are the ideals which are reduced to practice by these provisions. What an advance in the administration of justice we have made upon the crude ambition of W. S. Gilbert's Mikado to make the punishment fit the crime. We have, after all these years, made the amazing discovery that the same offence committed by a variety of youths, of a variety of ages, in a variety of circumstances, with a variety of motives, does not necessarily need the same treatment. We have discovered that what is highly reprehensible in one 1213 case may be perfectly venial in another. That is a great discovery, and it has done more than anything else to revolutionise the treatment of the young offender.
A new type of mind altogether has been brought to bear on this subject. Let us do some justice to the so-called psychoanalyst, who has come in for more than his fair share of criticism and ridicule. I think it is possible that in this matter the pathologist is on the side of the detractors, but, while I am not prepared to subscribe unreservedly to the idea that crime is a, disease, I think I must demur somewhat to what appears to be the view of the Home Office authorities, that the average youth of 16 is not perfectly conscious of his obligations as a citizen. While I am not prepared to trace or attribute all juvenile offences to a deficiency of some gland with an unfamiliar name, and its general effect upon the metabolism of the body, at the same time I am prepared to concede that these physical discoveries, and particularly those which correlate adolescence with crime, are invaluable to those whose business it is to concern themselves with this most intricate problem.
There is one point which I should like to emphasise, and on which I am sure those who have had the same experience as I have in the treatment of young offenders will agree with me. It is a, point that our ancestors failed to appreciate altogether, namely, that some of those very qualities which drive youths and young persons to commit offences are, if only properly directed, instead of being misapplied, just those very qualities which will make them good and useful citizens. Courage, enthusiasm, energy, and even loyalty to a friend— these are the things which will make a young man go wrong. It is noteworthy that these qualities— regarded by the way as cardinal virtues on active service— are very often responsible for making youths over-step the boundaries of the law.
I have served for years on visiting committees in Borstal institutions. These committees have power under the Statute to investigate charges against the conduct of lads and to award punishment, and I have more than once found myself in the intriguing position of sitting in judgment on one whose good qualities I cordially envied. I am thankful that the opportunity is now afforded to us of directing 1214 these particular qualities out of the wrong channels into the right ones. We have at last discovered that a great deal that our Victorian forbears looked upon as shocking and despairing is magnificent material to work upon. We all of us, or, at any rate, those who read the English classics, love Dickens's Charlie Bates as much as we detest the sanctimonious little humbugs whom his contemporaries held up to us as models of childish virtue. There are many Charley Bates's under the care of the Home Office to-day who have a far better opportunity than the original of making good and of making the best of whatever qualities they possess.
What are the principles of the Clauses of this Bill which deal with youthful offenders? They are education rather than punishment, and individual rather than mass treatment. But I would make bold to say that none of these Clauses will be of the slightest avail unless the greatest attention is paid to the selection of those whose duty it is to translate these Clauses into practice. Nothing is more important than that magistrates, the headmasters and teachers of approved schools, probation officers, governors, house-masters and officers in Borstal institutions, should be of the right type. This is evidently recognised by the Home Secretary, because in Sub-section (2) of Clause 2 and Sub-section (3) of Clause 3 it is laid down that a, panel of justices in juvenile courts shall be formed consisting of those with special qualifications for dealing with juvenile cases; but it is of supreme importance, as I am sure the Home Secretary recognises, that not only magistrates, but everyone else who has anything to do with the administration of this Bill, should be people of the right type.
We have made, I admit, an enormous advance from Bumbledom, but there is still room for improvement. In the old days such appointments were frequently given to men who had retired from professions which in no way qualified them for this service. They looked upon such appointments, perhaps, as a means of livelihood, as an addition to their pensions, or as a pleasant retirement, rather than a social service and a high calling. I would say at once that it does not matter in the least what social class people come from, or what their education may be, so long as they possess the rare qualities—and they are rare enough 1215 —of character and experience and sympathy with youth which are essential in the interpretation of these duties. On the other hand, it is some satisfaction to note that those who are going into these branches of activity concerned with this Measure are being increasingly drawn from the public schools and universities. I might mention that the President of the Probation Association—one who has concerned himself intimately with the probation service—is Lord Feversham. He is still young and, when he was younger than he is now, he made a thorough study of the probation service. I would also mention that the Governor of Rochester Borstal Institution is an old Wykehamist, and the Governor of another Institution is an old Etonian, and none the worse for being the brother of a Member who sits on the Government Benches.
I do not want to overstress public school education, but I want to stress the importance of getting the right and duly qualified men for this service. The human element is of supreme importance. Only a short time ago Mr. Speaker took the Chair at a notable gathering at which the Prince of Wales made an eloquent appeal to the youth of the country to help in social welfare. What finer response could be given to that rallying cry than that the youth of the country should interest themselves in callings which concern the subject-matter of this Bill? Not long since I made a suggestion to the heads of one of the Oxford colleges that a certain amount of judicious propaganda might be effective in the universities, the idea being that some enthusiasm should be kindled for this service. There are a great many young men at the universities who have not made up their minds what profession they will engage upon and do not know into what channels their energy is to be directed. I suggest that much could be effected in the way of judicious propaganda by those who are qualified to do so.
I wish now to turn to a matter of criticism. I, like other Members, am disappointed that the Home Secretary has not made it more difficult for any youth to experience confinement within prison walls. I hope I shall live to see the day when the recommendation on the subject of the departmental committee will be ful- 1216 filled in its entirety and no young person under the age of 21 will be sent to prison unless there is a certificate to the effect that the case is one not suitable for treatment under the Probation Act or the Borstal Act. I should like to see probation and all kinds of institutional treatment supersede prison as far as possible. I do not mean institutional treatment in overcrowded institutions, as they are to-day. Overcrowding prejudices institutional treatment. Of course, the initial difficulty is one of expense. We should have to embark on a formidable building programme of observation centres, remand homes, and so forth. Individual treatment and classification are, of course, essential, and these are very costly. But I would urge the Home Secretary to do everything within the four corners of the Measure to ensure that prison should be employed as sparingly as possible in the administration of this Act, if it reaches the Statute Book.
Last year two or three thousand lads who were on remand, that is to say lads who had not yet been proved guilty, were received into prison. That is such an outrageous scandal that I raised the subject on the Adjournment a few weeks ago. Under this Bill that scandal is obviated for persons up to 17, but it does not go further than that. After that age there is no provision, and it is a scandal that boys and girls who are not even proved guilty should become familiar with the inside of a prison. The Lord Chief Justice himself said a few weeks ago that there are few surer ways of manufacturing criminals than sending youths to prison. Prison has two effects upon youth. It either makes them hopelessly despondent—and psychological experts will tell you there is nothing worse for a youth than to brood upon the past—or, on the principle of familiarity breeding contempt, the youth finds the experience no deterrent. In fact, the very circumstance that we have improved our prisons encourages such a type in making him quite indifferent to his situation. Both these effects are deplorable. There is contagion in prison walls. The best experts will tell you that there-is no such thing as complete and entire segregation. Also, the very nature and construction of a prison precludes its value either for education or for training. Last but not least, there is no sequel of after-care, and after-care is the very essence of the whole 1217 of this new treatment. Perhaps the best formula that could be adopted is the fuller use of probation for those who do not need institutional treatment, and the fuller use of institutional treatment instead of prison for those who need training under shelter. I tender my good wishes for the safe passage of the Bill on to the Statute Book and my sincere praise for the manner in which these complicated problems have been dealt with by the Home Secretary and his colleagues and those who have assisted him in his beneficial task.
§ Dr. SALTER
I understand that great efforts are to be made during the later stages of the Bill to secure the repeal of Section 120 of the 1908 Act, which prohibits the admission of children to public-house bars. I would ask the right hon. Gentleman to resist to the utmost any amendment of the law in that direction. I have in front of me a pamphlet called "True Temperance Notes" for February 1932. It is issued by the True Temperance Association, which is one of those bogus bodies which are financed by the drink trade.
§ Mr. M. W. BEAUMONT
On a point of Order. Is it in order for an hon. Gentleman to refer quite erroneously to an association with which many hon. Members of this House are associated as a bogus organisation?
§ Dr. SALTER
I am afraid that I am not able, in view of the information in my possession to modify my remarks in that particular respect. There is a paragraph in the pamphlet which runs as follows:The Children Act of 1908 has apparently been found so effective that the Government is introducing a new Children Bill in large part to amend it. But it has omitted to delete the section in the old Act, since incorporated in the Licensing Consolidation Act, which forbids the presence of children in the bars of licensed premises.It goes on to say that the bureaucrats who have compiled the new Bill have not yet realised the desirability of repealing this Section, and adds:We hope it will be done in the course of the Bill's passage through Parliament.1218 I understand that a group has been formed in this House to move Amendments and to secure the repeal of that particular Section. I understand further that during this last week in one of the Committee rooms upstairs, a meeting was called—it was attended by a number of Members of the House—in order to organise support for that procedure, and, further, to put pressure upon the Home Office to accept those Amendments.
I have only risen in order to beg and implore the Home Secretary and the Government absolutely to stand firm and to resist any change of the law in this particular respect. The Royal Commission on Licensing made certain references to the position in regard to the prohibition of the admission of children to public-house bars. In paragraph 681 of their recommendations, they said:We believe that as the standard of conditions in licensed premises advances there will be justification for a progressive, though carefully guarded, extension of the facilities at present allowed by law in respect of the admission of children.It goes on to say:The general prohibition contained in Section 120 of the Children Act, 1908, should be maintained.I implore the Home Secretary to maintain the position. I can assure him that it will gratify an overwhelming volume of public opinion outside if he holds to the present position in that regard.
§ The UNDER-SECRETARY of STATE for SCOTLAND (Mr. Skelton)
I rise to say a few words on the Bill in its application to Scotland, because it was decided that in this matter we should proceed by application Clause and not by a separate Bill. The foundation of the position is that the principal Acts of which the Bill is a development are not specially Scottish Acts, but are Acts for the United Kingdom, and it was thought well to continue that practice. While following the course, not only of the previous Acts but of the present Bill as applied to England, there is one main difference upon which I must say a word or two. Whereas when the Bill passes, the juvenile court which has been so admirably described by my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department., will immediately be set up, in Scotland it will not be practicable to 1219 set up similar courts throughout the length and breadth of the land at once.
It is only right that Scottish Members and the House generally should know why this is so. The reason is that South of the Tweed, with the exception of London, where there are stipendiary magistrates, the work of summary criminal jurisdiction is at present carried out by justices of the peace. The House, of course, is familiar with the main proposition in the Bill with regard to juvenile courts, which is, that in future there shall be a panel of special justices of the peace and so on. In Scotland the position is different. Only 10 per cent. of the summary criminal work in Scotland is done by justices of the peace courts, and of that 10 per cent. something like half is confined to the county of Lanark. Therefore, we have not the foundation in Scotland upon which the provision of the Bill proceeds in England, namely, a grid, if I may use the phrase, of existing justices of the peace courts exercising summary criminal jurisdiction. In these circumstances, it seems to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to be impossible to carry out the two stages at once. It is not possible to hand over to a special panel of justices of the peace the juvenile work in Scotland at the same speed as in the case of England.
What is proposed with regard to Scotland in the matter of juvenile courts is that when the Bill passes into law, the Secretary of State may order the provisions with regard to juvenile courts to be applied to any district in Scotland in which the-situation is ripe for the change. I may say, on his behalf, that there will he no delay in putting the new scheme into operation in regard certainly to Lanarkshire, where the justices of the peace are already functioning in criminal work, and in other districts where such a course is possible. But it would be impossible, however anxious one might be, to have the new system introduced in Scotland immediately. That is by far the most important matter to be mentioned to the House with regard to the Scottish aspect of the Bill.
There are certain other matters upon which, if the hour were not so late and the number of Members who, I know, are anxious to speak, was not so great, I should have said a word or two. There 1220 is, however, one other matter about which I should like to say a word. Clause 50 of the Bill prohibits street trading under an employer or otherwise below the age of 16. In Scotland for the last 10 years the age has been 17, and we are certainly not going, however much we may be attracted by the oratory of my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State, to give up the year's advantage, and I am bound to say that he has not made any suggestion to me that we should do so.
There is one other matter which may need perhaps more elaboration and explanation than I propose to give now. With regard to the general administration of the Bill, in England it would be under the Home Office. In Scotland, as the House knows, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is, as it were, the Prime Minister of a sort of administrative Cabinet, and he proposes not to put the Measure under the central administration of the Scottish Office, but under the Scottish Education Department. I will not go into the reasons which have led him to do that, but I think that if the question is discussed at any future time, the House will agree that my right hon. Friend had done the proper thing. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary to the Home Office said that he regretted that so much of the Bill was legislation by reference. There is one matter in regard to which I think the opportunity has been very usefully taken so far as Scotland is concerned, and that is to get rid of legislation by reference with regard to the employment of young persons. We have at the present time a complicated mass of legislation, stretching over a large number of years, but now that has been got rid of and a code put in its place. That is a real advantage, and it will be welcomed by all who have to deal with these matters in Scotland.
The only general observation I should like to make is that in Scotland, as in England, we are happy in the very great number of private organisations and publicly-minded individuals who interest themselves and spend a vast amount of their time in looking after the interests of children and young people. It is impossible too highly to praise the motives and results of their efforts. I am hopeful that when this Bill passes into law they will find that it expresses and puts into legal form many of the things for which 1221 they have hoped, and that it will make their work easier and give them good reason to believe that one of the most, if not the most, important of the social services and the social efforts, namely, giving the best and the highest possible chance to the youth of the nation, has definitely advanced and made progress by this Bill. We are greatly indebted in Scotland for the work and report of the Scottish Young Offenders' Committee and to the chairman, Sheriff Morton, and other members of the committee. Although we have not been able to put all their recommendations into the Bill, I hope they will recognise that the work that they have done has not been in vain, and that its fruit will be seen for a very long time.
§ Mr. LAWSON
I must apologise for intervening in the Debate, but I wish to draw attention to one particular point. It seems to me, if I may put it this way, that the most important thing in the Bill is the thing that is not in it. The facts and figures given by the Under-Secretary and the hon. Member for Westhoughton (Mr. Rhys Davies) with regard to the decrease in crime are a very great tribute to the youth of this generation. We can congratulate ourselves and the country can congratulate itself on the fact that, in the light of the growth of integrity and stability among the youth of this generation, the country has received not only a return but more than a return for the money that it has spent on education in past years. The point to which I wish to draw attention is the sending of young persons to prison. There is very grave need for the Home Office to keep a very strong hand on this matter. They ought not to allow anything to be done under which youngsters of 16 or 17 are sent to prison without official consent being given on their part. I am not going to criticise the magistrates—I have had the wisdom to keep out of that line myself—because I understand the difficulty of their duties, but here is what the Commission said on this particular matter:We have been impressed by the unanimity with which those best qualified to form an opinion—prison governors, chaplains, medical officers and voluntary workers—condemn the policy of sending lads and girls of this age to prison.That is, the ages to which I have referred. They go on to point out that the lad or girl should be saved from the pre- 1222 sentation of the whole picture of prison life and its dreary view of failures. We know that boys see cinema pictures or read in books about a certain gentleman named Raffles, who becomes their hero. They admire him and the result of their admiration is that they get into the hands of the police authorities. In one particular case with which I am familiar they have not only got into the hands of the authorities but they have landed into the big house, where they have come into contact with types and characters and where they are apt to get another hero. I have raised in the House the question of three boys who have been sent to prison and, although I do not intend to deal with it to-day, I do say that, in the light of the evidence in the case, it is regrettable that three 16-yearold boys should have been sent to a, great, central, gloomy prison where they come into contact with hardened criminals for several months.
With all due respect to those who are responsible for a matter of this kind, I think the Home Secretary or the Home Office ought to keep a strong grip upon such cases, and even if it has been admitted that they have been involved not only in one case of theft but in others, if they are first offenders so far as the court is concerned, the Home Office ought to make it clear that their approval is necessary before any penalty of that kind is inflicted. I trust that during the Committee stage the Home Office will give some undertaking that regulations will be issued providing that permission is to be given by the Home Office before boys of this age are sent to prison, to come into contact with hardened criminals.
§ Mr. LECKIE
I should like to ask for that indulgence of the House which is always so generously given to a new Member speaking for the first time. My only excuse for intervening is that I have for many years been closely associated with social and educational work among young people and children, and also in connection with probation work in the constituency with which I am associated. I heartily welcome the Bill and would like to join in the praise which has been given so heartily to it. We must remember that the conditions vary greatly in different parts of the country. In London, for instance, the conditions are 1223 very different from those which exist in Midland towns and other parts of the provinces. Moreover, the children are very different in various parts of the country. It will be generally admitted that the children in London are more precocious than the children in other parts of the country.
Offences by children are treated with great tact and discretion by the magistrates of Walsall. Our probation officers —we have a man and a woman—are consulted by the magistrates very closely before they come to any decision, and the home environment of the children is always reported upon by our education officers. Therefore, so far as the work in the police courts in Walsall is concerned, I feel that they are doing it in an enlightened manner. The provision in the Bill that juvenile courts shall not be held in a building mainly or exclusively used for ordinary courts, is a very good one, but I hope that it will be administered with due discretion, In my constituency the children's court is held technically in the same building as the police court, because it is in the room used by the magistrates, but there is a separate entrance and the children, their parents and those connected with the case use a separate door and are not compelled to go through the ordinary police court or come into contact with the police court in any way. I hope the Home Office will not object to an arrangement of that kind. We must be careful not to make child offenders too much at ease in these courts. There is a feeling of awe which should be cultivated where children are concerned, and if you make a child feel too much at home, that nothing very serious has been done, you do not improve that child's outlook. Therefore, I think it would be a mistake if children were made to feel too much at home in these courts.
I am in entire approval with the raising of the age for juvenile offenders from 16 years to 17 years, and I agree with the hon. and learned Member for Bridgwater (Mr. Croom-Johnson) that it would be a mistake to raise it higher. At the same time, I did not agree with him in his reference to the work of the probation officers. In my constituency the probation officers deal not only with juvenile offenders but with people of all 1224 ages, and they have been especially successful in the case of young women between 16 and 20 years of age. There is, therefore, no reason why they should not deal with the cases—they are actually dealing with them at the present time—of young men and young women over 17 years of age. I also approve of the raising of the age of criminal responsibility from seven to eight, but I would not go so far as the hon. Member for Westhoughton (Mr. Rhys Davies) who desired to raise it still further. Children are much more precocious now than they were in the old clays. We have infant schools and nursery schools, and my own experience in education work is that children of five and six know very much more than we did when we were children of ten and eleven. A child of seven or eight years is quite able to know the difference between right and wrong just as well as a child of 12.
The proposals in Part II for abolishing the distinction between reformatory and industrial schools and forming them into a single group are very well thought out, and I am sure they will be approved by all who know the work of these schools. There is also the provision to detain children until they have reached school-leaving age. I was closely associated with one of these schools, and my experience has been that the children are often more sinned against than sinners. The important thing is to take these children out of their environment, which is often very bad, and keep them away from their home environment until they have reached an age when they can earn their own living. May I conclude these few remarks by saying that it must be most gratifying to the Home Secretary and his colleagues to hear the widespread support which the Bill has received, and I am sure that there is an almost universal desire that it should speedily become law.
§ 2.30 p.m
We have listened to some enlightening speeches this afternoon and I join in the congratulations to the Home Secretary for bringing in this Bill. At the same time I am a little disappointed because the best of all Governments—we have the best of all parties—should have brought in the best of all Bills. I have been reminded that I ought to congratulate the hon. Member for Walsall (Mr. Leckie) on his maiden 1225 speech. I congratulate him on the part of the speech with which I agree, but there is a part of his speech upon which I cannot congratulate him. At the same time I congratulate him on having got it off his chest. This is one of the most difficult Parliaments in which I have ever sat, not because there is any anxiety about the Government but because so many hon. Members are anxious about their maiden speeches. To-day we have got over some of the anxiety, and I congratulate the hon. Member for Walsall on having made his maiden speech. I think the Under-Secretary of State is under-estimating his own eloquence and his own strength and the Home Secretary under - estimating his own powers and the powers of the National Government; otherwise they would have brought in a Bill incorporating all the findings of the committee which has been considering this question. This Bill is long overdue. It is a long Bill, but it is not long enough for some of us. I want to deal with one or two matters, and I will try not to be too controversial. I am not at all frightened by that group of Members who want to make it possible for children under 18 years of age to enter public-houses. They are the same old group, they never change, and they have no effect whatever on any Government. On a previous occasion the argument of this band of people was that if the children did not learn to drink they would lose the profits of their trade. Such an argument is not going to appeal to hon. Members in this House.
We have had the Report of the Departmental Committee on Sexual Offences against Young Persons. This is not an easy matter to discuss, but it is deeply disappointing that the Home Secretary has not seen fit to incorporate some of the findings of this committee in the Bill. The cases of indecent assault on young children are increasing, but we do not hear much about them. I suggest that if one of these assaults was made upon a child of any hon. Member there would be a great outcry. These cases are happening all over the country—and what do the men get? There was a case which was fought twice, and the man got six months. Surely we value the lives of our children more than our property. Month after month these cases occur, and 1226 the offenders are let off with light sentences.
The departmental committee said that one of the things to be done was to increase the vigilance in the parks, by increasing the number of women police. The Home Office has stopped recruiting for the women police, a very dangerous step, because in the meantime assaults on young people are going on. I am convinced that if the Home Office said that more women police were needed the House would grant them without any question. There is not a single Member who does not want to do everything to prevent the most heinous and filthy of all crimes. I believe that men feel much more on this subject than even women, but these cases very seldom appear in the Press. My husband was made an ardent suffragist—can a man be a suffragist?—through reading the reports of two cases before the courts. In a case for ste[...]ling the man got two years, in the other an offence against a child, the judge said, it was liable to happen and gave him six weeks. He said that if that was the way men administered justice it was time the women took a hand. We have now passed beyond all that. I beg the Home Secretary to act on his own Department's report.
Then there is the question of observation homes. In this respect the Bill is very disappointing. The Under-Secretary made a most delightful and lucid speech in moving the Second Reading of the Bill, and I know that his whole heart is in the subject. We have now two of the best men who have ever represented the Home Office in my days, and, if we do not get needed reforms out of them and a National Government, I shall despair. These observation homes are absolutely essential. It has been said that the magistrates should know exactly what treatment to give to young offenders, but they will not know unless the young offenders are observed. One child needs one thing and another child needs another thing; one wants mental training and the other training with the hands. The system has been tried in Belgium and has helped enormously. We have heard that the Government are saving £8,000 on this Bill, but we ought not to boast in this House of saving and economising on the children. We do not 1227 want and cannot afford to do it. I understand that the London County Council are against observation homes. They are a lot of reactionary old people, and we have some of them in this House. I hope we shall make a fight against the county council until we get at least one observation home.
§ Sir GEORGE HUME
I deny that the London County Council is against the Bill. It is supporting the Bill.
But it is against observation homes. The hon. Gentleman who has interrupted me can make amends now and go back to the county council and convince them on the subject. We want at least one observation home. Clause 4 of the Bill deals with the restrictions on the employment of children. It is an extraordinary thing that here we are legislating for the hours of work of everyone except the children between 14 and 16 years of age in unregulated trades; yet if we look into the casual labour ranks we find that those ranks are generally made up of poor children who have gone into unregulated occupations between the ages of 14 and 16. They are the children who cost the country so much later on. They go into the blind-alley occupations. It has been stated already that there are over 400,000 children in unregulated industries. We know that in some cases they work as long as 72 hours a week. It is a big question and there is a great deal of opposition to reform. Let us fight the opposition of those who want to make these children work 72 hours a week. We have a National Advisory Council for Juvenile Employment and it reported only last year. This is what it said:In view of the facts elicited from the inquiry further steps should be taken to regulate the hours of employment of boys and girls in unregulated occupations. The maximum working week for boys and girls in unregulated occupations should be fixed by Parliament within limits set by Statute. Power should be given to local authorities to make by-laws prescribing shorter hours and conditions of labour.That is a recommendation by a majority. Here is another extract from the report by a minority of employers:We submit that there is no justification in the majority report for the recommendation which it puts forward, and we venture to add that any proposal that this country should divert its attention from urgent 1228 national issues and embark on legislation of this nature strikes us with a complete sense of unreality.I think it will strike the House with a complete sense of unreality if we are asked to sit still and to let children between the ages of 14 and 16 work 72 hours a week. The hon. Member for Westhoughton (Mr. Rhys Davies) said that these children did not belong to trade unions, and I interjected "Thank heaven." My reason for the interjection was that I do not want them to get into trade unions with all their political agitation. We want to save people from having to agitate. If we do not care and feel about these things it is obvious that the children and parents will go to those who do think about them. There is not one of us who would allow our children to work 14 or 15 hours a day, but I could give case after case where children are so worked. We have been refused a Board for the catering trade. In that trade children work sometimes from 7.30 in the morning until 8 and 10 o'clock at night. That is not in the big establishments. Of course, these young people have hours off, but no decent employer wants them to work such long hours and no decent employer asks them to do so. All legislation of this kind is really for the people who are trying to do what is wrong.
If it is said that the Government cannot bring in a Bill embodying the findings of the National Advisory Council for Juvenile Employment because the country cannot afford it, I reply that I do not believe for one minute that such an argument would influence this particular House of Commons. Someone asked, "Why not get the Government to promise to bring in a Bill dealing with these matters? "We all know what Government promises are. A Bill was brought in by the late Lord Henry Bentinck, and no man ever cared more about social legislation than he did. Even in memory of him it. would have been a good thing to have introduced such a Bill. A former Conservative Government promised to pass such legislation, but they did not find time. The Socialist Government did not find time, and no Government will ever find time for any of these things unless hon. Members make them find time. Let us as a House of Commons insist on the Government regulating the hours of employment of children between 1229 the ages of 14 and 16. I am certain that the Home Secretary and the Under-Secretary will be delighted if we did that, and the country would be delighted too. I appeal, not to them, because they want to do it, but to other hon. Members who have come into this House on a patriotic wave which is worthy of this country, to do something that is worthy of the House, by making it impossible for children in unregulated trades to work longer hours than their parents work and under conditions which are really horrible.
Many hon. Members go to hotels and see the wretched little page boys. I saw one yesterday walking down St. James's Square. He was very smart. He took a comb out of his pocket and began to comb his hair. There was something tragic in that little fellow all dressed up. No doubt he was associating with all the "toffs." His hours might have been anything. What will be his future? I will not dwell on it, because I feel too strongly about it. I say to the Home Secretary and to hon. Members: Let us give to all the children of the country the same care that we would give to our own.
§ Mr. DENMAN
I thank the Noble Lady the Member for Sutton (Viscountess Astor) for a speech which saves me a certain amount. of trouble, because she has said, far better than I could, certain things which needed to be said. If I use the time at my disposal in constructive criticism of Part IV of the Bill the Under-Secretary to the Home Office will not misinterpret that as showing any lack of appreciation of the brilliant speech with which he opened the Debate and the efforts which he has made to advance this, on the whole, admirable Measure. The House welcomes the Bill. It is the first Parliamentary child of which the hon. Gentleman is responsible. He asked us to adopt it, and I myself gladly do so, more especially if he will help in a preliminary washing of its face and in providing it with the pair of sound boots, which it needs.
One of the interesting features of this Bill is the conclusive proof which Part IV gives of the success of the operation of by-laws. It was in 1903 that we first began to treat the employment of children by means of by-laws. There is a school of thought which always wants to fix definite limits and precise ages, but the House, in its wisdom, did not attempt, 1230 in this matter, to make rigid demarcations. It gave the local authorities liberty to make their own by-laws in regard to street trading and other matters. Now, after a generation of experience, so successful have these by-laws been, that we are in a position to make statutory the age-limit of 16 which for 30 years has been the limit set by local by-laws. Those by-laws were not imposed by compulsion from the Home Office. The Home Office stimulated the local authorities with circulars, while private societies, like the Committee on Wage-Earning Children, assisted in the formation of public opinion. The process has operated successfully just because the by-law invariably represented the considered judgment of the local authority in whose area it operated. The process was one which appealed to decent local feeling. There was no attempt to lay down an ideal standard which might not be administered. Instead we went forward on the sure path of local acceptance and general approval.
The success of the by-law making power is the basis of the argument of the Noble Lady the Member for Sutton. It is time that we went further; and I recognise, gladly, that this Bill does allow by-laws to be made regarding street trading with a higher age than before. That is a gift for which we thank the Home Secretary but I wish to emphasise what the Noble Lady has said, that the Bill is a profound disappointment in that it does not apply the by-law making power to the ordinary unregulated occupations. The Under-Secretary used a phrase which, I think, said rather less than he meant, to the effect that the assertion that the Home Office would some day draw up a Bill extending the by-law making power, had received expressions of sympathy. We have not merely had expressions of sympathy about this matter but the most definite list of pledges that I remember in my Parliamentary experience.
A long series of Acts has committed successive Home Secretaries to the introduction of these by-laws, and very definite pledges have been given, particularly in the last couple of years. I propose to go through that series because, if I tell the House the facts, and if the House still thinks that the Government is justified in not including this increased power in the Bill, then I give up my case. In 1913, the Under-Secretary for the Home 1231 Office introduced a Bill providing local authorities with the power to make these by-laws apply up to the age of 18 for unregulated occupations. In the following year, the luck of the ballot placed in my own hands a Bill containing that provision and a great many other things. That Bill had a Second Reading and a prolonged Committee stage, but unfortunately, it came back to this House in July, 1914, and then legislation of all kinds had to be scrapped. In 1918 most of the provisions of that Bill were included in a new Measure, but not that particular provision relating to unregulated occupations.
In 1919 the Home Office again produced a Bill and in 1920, from time to time, private Members in this and the other House introduced Bills and received assurances from the Home Office. The name of Lord Henry Cavendish Bentinck has been, several times mentioned in this Debate and it is impossible for me to speak on this subject without recalling his magnificent work. Youth has never had a better friend in this House than he was, and I deplore his absence to-day more than I can tell the House. But I must recount the pledges which Lord Astor received in the other House in respect of the Bills introduced there. In 1926 Lord Astor was assured by Lord Desborough who was answering for the Home Office in these words:All I can do is to assure the noble Viscount that as soon as the state of business permits the Home Office intend to take this matter up and deal with it as they promised.The Noble Lord who answered for the Home Office in the Debate of last year was much more specific.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
I think these Debates in the other House are rather too recent for the hon. Member to refer to them here.
§ Mr. DENMAN
This was just a year ago, and, if I am not allowed by the Rules of Order to refer to the most recent pledges of the Government, it is rather unfortunate. In the circumstances I can only refer the House to the report of the Debates in the other House in March of last year. There they will see the mast definite pledge by the representatives of the Home Office that the provision allow- 1232 ing these extended by-laws was being included in the Home Office Measure and would shortly be introduced. That was confirmed by Lord Brentford, an ex-Home Secretary. He asserted that he had had this thing before him; he had been at work upon it, he knew it was going on, and this matter was going to be dealt with in the Bill which the Home Office was about to introduce. This is the Bill, and those are the pledges. But let me add some further pledges given by Leaders of parties at the General Election of 1929. The Committee on Wage-earning Children took the trouble then to ask the views of Leaders of parties on this particular question, and the message received from the private secretary to the present Prime Minister was this:You know the interest he has in the subject of your Bill, and he will do anything possible to advance it.That refers to the right to make these extended by-laws. Then there is a letter which I may quote a little more fully:Mr. Lloyd George is strongly in favour of reasonable steps being taken to safeguard child life in the interests of young persons, and would certainly be prepared to extend his sympathy and support to legislation of this character.But the pledge on which I rely above all the others is that given by the Prime Minister of the day, the present Lord President of the Council. It is never fair to give undue weight to pledges casually given or given, it may be, by a private secretary without undue thought, but the Prime Minister has his responsible private secretaries, and in this case it is clear that trouble was taken to draft an appropriate reply. The request for a pledge was acknowledged on the 10th May, and on the 17th May this letter was sent:The Prime Minister wishes me to refer to your letter of the 9th May and, in reply, to inform you that he recognises the need for legislation to regulate juvenile employment in occupations not covered by the existing law, and that it is the policy of the Conservative party to deal with this question at the earliest suitable opportunity.Well, we had in 1929 the pledges of the Leaders of the three parties, but when they come together as a National Government those pledges are altogether neglected. That is not the treatment that I expected from the National Government, 1233 and it is not worthy of its reputation. Is there anything on merits, is there any reason on merits, why these by-laws should not be extended to a higher age? I could give, had I the time, a very long series of examples of the known and admitted evils that exist under the present law. Committee after Committee—the Noble Lady opposite has referred to one of the most recent and most authoritative—has dealt with this question, and I would give one figure only. Out of the 127,000 cases that they had before them, there were some 14,000, or one in nine, who were working between 54 and 60 hours a week, exclusive of time for meals and rest—mere children of 14 to 18 years of age. Is it surprising that they recommended regulation and control, and pointed out that boys and girls under the age of 18 are still in the formative age of their lives and that they should have leisure to devote both to continued education and to healthy recreation?
All of us who have ever made any examination of this problem know both the gravity and the urgency of it. We have been waiting for 20 years, as I have said, and we are now told that it must be put off. For how long? If we accept this Bill from the Home Office, it is just 24 years since the last Children's Bill was introduced. Must we wait for another 24 years?
§ Mr. DENMAN
This is the time to fulfil their promises, and I have sufficient faith in this House to believe, as the Noble Lady thinks, that the Government in this matter are not realising their own strength and are suffering from fears that are not worthy of them. I know very well the sort of objections that are brought to this proposal. They are objections that you do not hear in the House, but you hear them in the room of the Minister, and in the Lobbies, and wherever they can be expressed in private. The sure weapon of the Minister who wishes to deal with these things is to bring the opponents out into the light of day, out into the open, and to make them express their opposition before us all. I wonder whether any Member of this House can be found to bring before us any child, not his own, who he is glad to know is working 60 hours a week. I 1234 invite him to do so. This Bill will be going on for some time, perhaps until the summer, and I should be glad if such a Member would bring this child to the Terrace. I should be delighted to give him a good plate of strawberries and cream, and I could assure that hon. Member of all the publicity he wants. The papers next morning should have pictures of the child who works 60 hours a week and the Member who is proud of the fact.
The fact is that this opposition to by-laws to extend to a higher age will disappear directly the matter has to be debated in public. There is plenty of evidence that the difficulty which the good employers have in the absence of regulations is that they are in competition with those employers who are less conscientious and more willing to employ child life at cheap rates, and it would be a relief to good employers to be freed from that unfair competition. The plain fact is that the existing system is a cruel and even a wicked wrong. It is a misuse of child life, and at every stage of this Bill I shall invite the Government to implement the most solemn pledges that they have given over a series of years and to put an end to this evil, or to give the local authorities the opportunity to do so.
Duchess of ATHOLL
I wish to speak on a class of children who have not been mentioned to-day, namely, the children who are taking part in theatrical performances or who are being trained in acrobatic dancing. In this respect, I do not think the Bill is sufficiently strong, and I regret to have to draw the attention of the Secretary of State for Scotland to what I think is a retrograde step in this matter. In regard to the training of children, the Bill proposes to raise to.12, instead of 10, the age below which children may not be trained for occupations of a dangerous nature. So far so good, and so far good also that the Bill describes "dangerous occupations" as including
all acrobatic performances and all performances as a contortionist.I want to ask whether that definition includes what is known as acrobatic dancing, by which I mean doing what is familiarly known as "splits;" or the cartwheel, or high kicking. If the Home Secretary does not understand what I 1235 mean by splits, perhaps he will kindly look at this photograph of a child doing a thing of this kind. It is extremely important that the Home Office should be absolutely sure as to what they include in this definition, because I do not suppose they are aware that a considerable and, I believe, an increasing number of children in some of the poorer parts of London are being trained in this form of acrobatic dancing from the age of five or six. That photograph is of a child of six in an elementary school in the East End, and I myself have seen another child of the same age doing the same thing when I visited an East End school a[...] year or two ago. It is said that the number of dancing turns by children in troupes in cinemas and other exhibitions is increasing, and that dancing teachers, of whose qualifications nothing is known, are naming forward and getting graceful looking children from elementary schools at this terribly early age and training them. Previous Acts and this Bill require licences to be given for any children to be trained for dangerous acrobatic performances. These children are being trained without any licences at all, that is, without any guarantee as to whether they are physically fit for this rather severe form of training, without any guarantee that the people training them are properly qualified, and without any inspection of premises. These children are being trained long hours on top of their school work.
We have heard a great deal about long hours for children over 14, but here you have children at the tender age of five attending schools for dancing of this strenuous character, perhaps on three days a week in addition to doing their school work—an hour or two of this kind of training at the end of school time, and perhaps a considerable part of Saturday. I hope that the Home Secretary will be good enough to look into this matter and ascertain whether the definition he has given will cover this form of training, and if it be established that it is unnecessary and undesirable that such training should be given before the age of 12, then that this form of training will be stopped below that age as well as other things recognised hither-to as dangerous.
1236 The second point I wish to make, I think, more concerns the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Education, and that is that there is much evidence that the Education Act, 1921, relating to children below the age of 12 occasionally engaged in public performances is being abused. I am sure that the word "occasional," which also appears in this Bill, was meant to be really occasional, but I have evidence of children giving performances of this kind below the age of 12 for a whole week or a fortnight. I think it is extremely desirable that some check should be put on that, and that such a definition should be added of the word "occasional" as to make it impossible for abuses of that kind to occur.
Then I wish to say a word to the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland. I fear that, no doubt by inadvertence, a very serious change will be made in the law if the Education Act, 1901, is repealed as proposed in the Fifth Schedule. As long ago as 1878 the Scottish Education Act of that year laid down that no child of 10 and under 14 was to be employed in casual labour after 9 p.m. in summer or 7 p.m. in winter, and casual employment was defined as employment for which the lawful period had not been regulated by Act of Parliament. That provision was extended by the Education Act, 1901, so that no child over 12 or under 14 was to be so employed. Then came the Prevention of Cruelty to Children Act, 1904, which allowed the licensing of children in theatrical performances in the manner laid down for England.
Under this Act local authorities in Scotland began to license children for theatrical performances. In 1921, however, the Association of Education Authorities inquired into the matter of performances of children in theatres on account of the observations of head masters who had had a good many theatrical children through their hands and had reported upon the adverse effect of theatrical work upon their education and general welfare. It was discovered on application to the Dean of Faculty and the Law Officers of the Crown that the 1901 Education Act still stood and was still the law of the land, and that therefore no child could be employed after 7 p.m. in winter. That, of course, ruled out any possibility of children appearing 1237 in theatrical performances. That ruling of the Law Officers was communicated to all the education authorities in Scotland, and the education authorities of Glasgow, Edinburgh, Lanarkshire and several other counties thereupon gave up granting licences for theatrical performances.
That, I consider, has been a great protection to Scottish children, and a protection also to English children, who have not, I am told, come as much to Scotland on tour as was formerly the case. I took part in the inquiry of the Association of Local Education Authorities in 1921, and saw as much as I could of children in theatrical performances in Scotland. I visited lodgings to which some of the children went, and I became quite clear in my mind that theatrical performances were a very serious addition to the fatigue of a school child's life. They had not only performances every night after school, but a matinee and a performance on Saturday, together with a journey on Sunday to the next place. It meant also a child spending time when she was on tour in rather crowded lodgings with, possibly, insufficient food. I was not favourably impressed with what I saw, and I noticed what seemed to me indications of children having been doped in order to keep them small, because when a girl begins to get too big she becomes unsuitable for a childish troupe.
The impressions I then formed have been confirmed by others who are more experienced in these matters. There are very few of us, I think, who reflect on this matter who would not admit that the stage is a very undesirable atmosphere into which to bring a child. In England this practice of having children on the stage is more established than ever it was in Scotland, and I do not venture to suggest that no child of school age should be licensed in England under the regulations of the Board of Education, which, of course, give considerable protection, but I should like to suggest that the Bill would be very much improved if it would put a limit on the period in each year during which a child might be licensed for theatrical performances, and that it should ensure that a child must be examined every time before a licence is re-issued. I am told that these would be safeguards. I do ask, however, that the protection that Scottish children have enjoyed in the last ten years shall not be 1238 taken away from them, and that the Under-Secretary will undertake to look into the matter and maintain the existing law.
§ Mr. MORGAN JONES
The whole House will agree that we have had a series of most delightful speeches in this Debate. Some of them have been maiden speeches, and the one in particular to which I should like to make reference, is that of the hon. Member for West Willesden (Mrs. Tate), who made one of the most delightful maiden speeches it has ever been my fortune to hear. Many points for the Committee stage have been raised to-day, and I do not propose to follow them. At the outset I should like to offer hearty congratulations on the nature of this Bill to the Home Office, to the Home Secretary and to the Under-Secretary, particularly to the latter, for the brilliant speech he made in the opening of the proceedings. I am sure that they will not begrudge the Home Secretary's predecessor some measure of praise and acknowledgment for the considerable amount of attention which he gave to the subject before he left office. I know that Mr. Clynes attached the greatest importance to the passage of this Bill, and that he eagerly anticipates seeing it become the law of the land.
With the indulgence of the House, I propose to raise what I consider to be a matter of general principle. From time to time in our own lives we look back upon certain events and ask ourselves whether, if we had the opportunity over again, we would act in like manner; and so it is, it seems to me, with society. From time to time we review our social problems and inquire whether the time has not come to change our method of treatment of this or that particular subject. We could not have a better illustration of the change coming over the public mind in relation to the subject under discussion than is disclosed by the attitude of this House to-day. From all parties, without distinction, a cordial welcome is offered to the general principle embodied in this Bill.
Summarising things as they strike me, the public opinion of this country seems to have come to the conclusion, guided by the findings of distinguished people sitting upon committees, that to deal with children as though they were delinquent children, as though they were inherently 1239 bad or inherently evil, is a method that is undesirable and deplorable according to present-day views. If we divide these children into two groups I suppose we could classify them thus—those who, shall we say, are sinned against, and those who sin. The underlying conception of this Bill in regard to both classes is that if particular cases are investigated it will be found that, in the main, the delinquency, whatever it may be, be it voluntary or involuntary, is due to certain considerations not personal to the individual, that the delinquency arises from a whole series of considerations which we connote when we use the word "environment." This Bill, it seems to me, lays down the proposition that the way to deal with that type of delinquent is not by applying penal methods but reformative methods, and that the chief instrument for reform is education.
That brings me to the point I wish to make, a point with which I am sure my hon. and gallant Friend who is my successor at the Board of Education is not unacquainted, because the records would be available to him, and that is to ask whether the time has not arrived for gathering together all the various avenues through which education is being given in this country. Take the different types of children. There is the child who is mentally deficient, and in regard to whom an offence has been committed. We should all agree that the appropriate thing to do with that child is to transfer it to some appropriate place, and, in my opinion, the type of body for dealing with that child and being responsible for its education and treatment is not a body connected by the Home Office, but it ought to be, in the natural course of things, the Board of Education.
In saying this, I am not in any way making the slightest reflection upon the education authorities or the Home Office. My complaint is not against the individuals in charge, but rather with the system employed through the medium of this Bill. I think the time has come when we ought to correlate all the educational activities of the State through the same vehicle. The Board of Education has had ample experience of this type of work. It has its special schools and residential schools, and its staff is composed of people who are permanently qualified by day-to-day experience for 1240 dealing with this type of child. If the fundamental argument behind this Bill is that education is the right instrument to use, then it ought to be exercised under the Board of Education rather than under the aegis of the Home Office.
I turn to the child who is himself an offender. Here, again, we are dealing with a child in possession of his full normal faculties, or at any rate we ought to take that for granted. Let us assume that a child is possessed fully of its mental faculties. If we assume that education is the proper instrument, that child should be placed in some school under the aegis, supervision, and control of the Board of Education as the appropriate education authority rather than have two or three separate departmental bodies dealing with the matter, like the Ministry of Pensions, or the Home Office. All these departments should be concerned with one point alone, namely the problem of education. I know from my previous inquiry that there is a sort of liaison officer between the Home Office and the Board of Education, who has to conduct negotiations between those two bodies.
I believe I am right in saying that, while there is an inspection by the Board of Education, there is an officer seconded for this particular purpose of inspecting these schools on behalf of the Home Office, although I think it is true that he can only make recommendations, and there is no authority behind him. This officer has no mandatory power, but merely acts in an advisory capacity to the Home Office. I think that the point which I have raised is one of some substance, and it is of real moment to us, because, as the hon. and learned Member for Bridgwater (Mr. Croom Johnson) quite truly said earlier in the Debate, we shall not have a chance again for perhaps another generation of discussing this type of subject in this House. The House is becoming so congested with public business of all sorts that it is not reasonable to expect that within another generation we shall be called upon to make such a big transformation as we are to-day beginning to undertake, and, therefore, we ought not to miss a chance of reorganising this question of educational opportunity for this type of child. At the present time, as my hon. Friend knows, a measure of reorganisation is in progress 1241 for other children under the aegis of the Board of Education.
I merely wanted to put that general principle before the House, and I hope that the House will consider it to have been worth while to do so at this stage of the Bill. I wish I could have done it better, but the time is rather limited, and I am anxious that my hon. Friend the President of the Board of Education should be able to rise precisely at half-past three, according to our understanding. I close with this observation. My hon. Friend the Member for Westhoughton (Mr. Rhys Davies) indicated the general attitude of our friends on this side of the House. We desire that this Bill shall become law as speedily as possible. There will be occasions in Committee when we shall feel called upon to move Amendments, but our desire will be rather to improve the Bill than to destroy it, or, indeed, even to hamper its passage into law. For my part, if the Bill went through even unamended, exactly as it now stands, I should infinitely prefer this Bill as it is, critical as I am of some parts of it, rather than that we should do without a Bill altogether. Therefore, I offer to the Home Office, on behalf of my friends, our cordial co-operation in the matter.
§ The PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY to the BOARD of EDUCATION (Mr. Ramsbotham)
My hon. Friend who moved the Second Reading of this Bill referred to the fact that the present Home Secretary introduced and carried through the Children's Charter some 24 years ago, and the House will also be aware that the Home Secretary is a Member of the Board of Education, so that the two Departments are fittingly combined on this occasion. Indeed, if there were any question of division between myself and my hon. Friend in our relation to children and young offenders, it would only be that, broadly speaking, I look after the lucky and good ones, and my hon. Friend looks after the unlucky and naughty ones. It is almost as though, on this occasion, the functions of the Angels of Darkness and Light were happily combined in support of a universally beneficent Measure.
My predecessor in office has suggested that this matter of education, so far as industrial and reformatory schools are concerned—they are now to be called 1242 approved schools—should really be a function of the Board of Education rather than of the Home Office. The hon. Member will forgive me if I do not go into that beyond saying that, of course, I am familiar with the suggestion, but I cannot help thinking it might sometimes be said to be characteristic of bureaucrats that they wish to extend their functions, and I have not yet been sufficiently long in the office to imbibe that characteristic. Generally speaking, the criticism that the Bill has had—it has not had criticism of a very discouraging nature—is of two kinds. Some hon. Members say it goes too far and others that it does not go far enough. I am sure my hon. Friend would like me at this stage to pay a tribute to Mr. Clynes for having provided him with a great deal of the substance which has enabled him to receive the commendations of the House. The Financial Resolution will have to be moved before we rise, so the House will forgive me if I do not deal in detail with all the points that have been raised. I do not suggest that they are not points of substance, but many of them can and will be dealt with in Committee. The hon. Member for Westhoughton (Mr, Rhys Davies) asked whether the Bill contained any provision that convictions should not be recorded. It does not. It was not thought suitable or practicable to do so. On another point that the hon. Member made, the Statute to which he refers can only be applied, as I understand it, by a court of summary jurisdiction. Under the Bill a court of summary jurisdiction would have to send children to juvenile courts and in actual practice the Statute cannot be applied to them. The hon. Lady the Member for Willesden (Mrs. Tate) raised a point as regards the practice of constables attending the courts in plain clothes. There is nothing in the Bill to enact that that shall or shall not be done. It is purely a matter for the decision of the court.
I come to the main points that have been raised. Attention has been drawn by many Members to the absence of observation centres, there is the point of raising the age of jurisdiction of juvenile courts to 17 and the absence of regulations for certain unregulated employment As regards the first, it has been suggested that the reason for their not ap- 1243 pearing in the Bill is economy. That is quite correct. It is a matter of finance. But under the Bill, children can be transferred from school to school, and that may well prove a useful provision. If a child can be more suitably trained in another school, it may be transferred. Then there is the question of the raising of the age. A boy between 16 and 17 is not a very mature person. Those who know boys of that age would hardly go so far as to say that they could be in any sense mature. The age in many foreign countries is 18, but we decided to adopt 17. As regards the point that difficulties may arise through boys of 17 associating before trial with children of more tender years, steps will be taken to keep them separate. There is no reason why the courts should be any worse than good parents. They can be lenient on some occasions and stern on others. In 1929 nearly 1,900 boys and girls over 16 for one reason or another were dealt with by juvenile courts without any deleterious results at all.
I come to the question of the absence from the Bill of regulations for certain employments. I could not refrain from thinking when I heard it put forward from the Opposition that they had had two years and a half in which to do something here and yet they preferred to attempt to regulate other matters such as the Representation of the People and so forth, but I sympathise with some of the points which they have made. I should like to congratulate the Noble Lady the Member for Sutton (Viscountess Astor) upon the restraint with which she put her case, which I know she has very much at heart. Let me put to the House a few points on the other side. First of all, as my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department pointed out, it would not be exactly appropriate legislation for this Bill, which deals mainly with children and young persons from the aspect of delinquency and neglect. The Bill is largely a re— enacting Bill. It clarifies and makes the existing law easier to administer. It does not contain any drastic change. I do not think that it was intended to be drastic. It is an evolutionary Bill rather than a revolutionary Bill. If such a change were to be enacted, it would take a better shape in some factory or shop hours' Bill. 1244 We must take account of present conditions. Reference has been made to the Minority Report. In these times we cannot disregard it. British industrialists, rightly or wrongly, have attributed to past Governments many of their misfortunes. They have complained that the rigidity in our legislation has contributed to their costs of production and so forth, and that they have already received a great deal too much interference. At this time, whether they are right or wrong, they are going through a very lean period. They have to contend with very great difficulties, unemployment is rife, and profits are non-existent. I think that there would have been some grounds for complaint if the present Government, which was elected to help to try and revive industry, had in one of its first Measures introduced something which would have imposed elaborate regulations upon industrialists and traders.
§ Mr. DENMAN
It is not imposing but empowering local authorities to make bylaws. May I refer to a mistake, the only mistake, in the speech of the Under— Secretary of State for the Home Department? He described the Bill as having 82 Clauses. There are 84, and the eighty-fourth is in some ways the most important. The concluding words are to the effect that he shall have power to bring the Act into force whenever he likes, or any portion of the Act.
§ Mr. RAMSBOTHAM
The answer is that if by-laws are not passed there is no point in making legislation at all. If legislation such as has been suggested were included, a system would have to be set up involving the appointment of a staff, and overhead charges. Inspectors would have to be appointed, and it would have to be a fairly elaborate form of inspection. It would be costly and difficult and might involve considerable cost upon local rates and a charge upon industry. These things must be borne in mind. Hon. Members should also recollect that in the report no evidence was taken from employers as to the effect on those various occupations.
The committee say:We are not unmindful of the present economic and industrial position of the country, but we feel that it is beyond our function to advise as to whether immediate action should be taken on these recommendations.1245 We find that 130,000 children in Occupations are dealt with, representing a very large sample, about 75 per cent. of the total number of van boys, errand boys and so forth. Of these, nearly 80 per cent. do not work more than 60 hours a week, including meals, 57 per cent. not more than 48 hours, excluding meals, and 84 per cent. not more than 54 hours a week if you exclude meals. I am not arguing whether these hours are excessive or not, but they do represent an immense improvement since 1913, when the last report on the subject was published. In those days a working week of 70 to 80 hours was common and even a working week of 100 hours is quoted in some cases. To-day, without any legislation on the subject in the majority of cases, the young people affected work 60 hours a week. I am sure that the House will agree with me that progress by consent and voluntary action is, in the long run, although it takes longer to bring about, preferable to progress by compulsion. The fall in the birth rate during the war years and since and the ordinary law of supply and demand will render the position of these children more economically favourable in the future.
In regard to the point raised by the Noble Lady the Member for West Perth (Duchess of Atholl) as to dangerous performances, if and when cases are taken before the courts, it will be necessary to establish the case whether or not such performances are dangerous.
§ Mr. RAMSBOTHAM
I think there will be provision in the Bill so that if a performance is thought to be dangerous the local authority and the police can take the case to court. Generally speaking, on the question of juvenile employment, I hope the House will not think that I am out of sympathy with the aspirations of those who, like the hon. Member for Central Leeds (Mr. Denman), take the view that employment should be regulated here and now in these particular trades, but I do suggest that it is no good for me or for others who would like that to be done to have our heads in the air. Reformers must have their feet on the ground as well. I would not like to say that at no time and in no event will it be necessary to regulate these trades, but one must hope 1246 that as great improvements have been made since 1913, without legislation, the improvement will continue. At the moment, in my judgment., and I believe in the opinion of the majority of the House, it would be inopportune to impose further regulations and cost upon industry. At an opportune time the matter can be considered. There is a season and a time for every purpose under the sun, and although it may be impossible to go further at the moment it is, at any rate, something to which hon. Members can look forward. They will recollect that the nemesis of all reformers is finality. I am unable to give them a more comforting answer. At the same time I hope the House will give a Second Reading to the Bill.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read a Second Time, and committed to a Standing Committee.