§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn." — [Captain Waterhouse.]
§ 5.50 p.m.
§ Mr. Ede:
We have during the past few days seen the most remarkable movement of the civil population ever recorded in history, and it is desirable that the House should now have some opportunity of reviewing the circumstances in which the movement took place and the conditions that have been created in the areas that have been evacuated and in the districts to which the priority classes have gone. I think that the House and the country can congratulate themselves upon the general success of the movement, but it cannot be expected that so large a number of people as this could be removed, in circumstances which were very largely voluntary, without there being some misfits and some misadventures. I do not want to spend time in examining individual cases which can properly be adjusted best by the exercise of a little tact and discrimination in the districts where the difficulties have arisen.
There are, however, a few general observations which it would be desirable to make. I have seen in the Press and have heard at various meetings high praise of the work of the teachers who were concerned in that evacuation, and when I say that I accept that praise on behalf of my profession I can only add that they have lived up to what I expected of them. But as one who saw something of evacuation and reception, I would like, both as an administrator and as a teacher, to pay my highest tribute to all the other people who were engaged with evacuation, and especially those people who were connected with transport. I saw children being evacuated from Surrey on Sunday, 3rd September, 803 on my way home from the House. At that time the transport people, both road transport and rail transport, had had three days of this work, and quite frankly I was amazed at the sympathy, tact and consideration shown by men who were obviously tired after hours of duty in handling children and mothers and ensuring their safety. To see a London Passenger Transport conductor chasing a group of children with three different packets of food that had been left behind in the omnibus, and the care that he took to make quite sure that these parcels of food got to their appropriate owners, was an indication of the spirit that was behind everyone who had been associated with this movement. I am in a position that few people are in; I am a member of an administrative body which is both an evacuating and a receiving authority, and I have, therefore, had to give consideration from a practical point of view to the thing at both ends.
As far as I can see, on the whole the movement of the school children and their reception in the areas have been a far greater success than we could have hoped. There are some causes for complaint. That is admitted. There was one farmer who, on being offered three girls, said, I am not taking girls. I will have one big boy because he can work on the farm." I am quite sure that nobody is going to defend that attitude. These children are not sent out to be drudges in the homes or on the farms to which they have been evacuated. I have no doubt that they will be quite prepared, when approached in a proper way, to do the ordinary things that fall to the lot of any member of a community, but these children are not sent out to save wages, either as domestic servants or as workers in any other capacity. I want to make it quite plain that I believe that the instance I have given is one of the exceptional cases, but I want also to make it clear that I am sure no one is going to defend anyone who attempts to exploit these children.
There are difficulties with regard to the provision of school places for children. They have been sent into districts where, on the whole, the school accommodation is not the best in the country; they have gone to villages where the schools are in- 804 adequate and ill-ventilated, which one would not have justified as places in which schools may have to be worked under the two-shift system. A good modern school, well-ventilated and lighted, probably suffers very little by being used by one group of children from 8 to 12 o'clock, and by another group of children from 12.30 to 4.30, but some of the village schools require a very considerable amount of replenishment of fresh air before the second group of children are introduced, after they have been used for four hours by another group. I am sure that the Board of Education, in conjunction with the local education authorities, will have these difficulties in mind. I was very gratified by the circular issued by the Board of Education with regard to the opportunities for education that will be afforded in the conditions in the countryside. I am certain that the teaching profession will endeavour to carry out the wishes of the President of the Board of Education and to see that the new environment of the children is made the background for an education that must be both realistic and interesting to them in their new circumstances.
I come to a very different problem—the problem of the evacuated mother with young children, and of the expectant mother. I was myself always sceptical of the ability to carry through what was called in the early days by the Ministries "the mixed bag proposal." It is very difficult—and I say this in the presence of the Noble Lady the Member for the Sutton Division of Plymouth (Viscountess Astor) and my hon. Friend the Member for Jarrow (Miss Wilkinson) —on occasion to persuade two women to carry on their domestic duties in the same room. [Interruption.] It may be difficult for two men to carry on their office duties in the same room. But there are human problems involved here that require a very great amount of personal consideration and a spirit of give-and-take if we are to achieve anything like success. I suggest to the Minister that, as soon as possible, he should endeavour to relieve the cottages and the other homes of this difficulty as far as it is possible, and I hope that hon. Members will not think that I am trying to apportion any blame between the evacuated or the receiving population. There may be occasions on which there are faults on both sides, and 805 other occasions on which the circumstances may have been too great for human endurance to face. I hope that these people—the expectant mothers and the mothers with young children—will, as far as possible, be billeted in large empty houses on the hostel principle, or that the camps will be used for them in the first place. I am sure that this will be the best way of easing the present situation.
One has heard amusing instances here. There is an hon. Member of this House who has a daughter, a school teacher, and she has had two billets so far. In the first she was told, "I am so disappointed to have you, because I expected to have one of these mothers, who would have been useful in the kitchen." In the second billet she was told: "I am so glad to have you, because you are so much less trouble than an expectant mother." In all these matters there are problems of human adjustment that represent a new problem that this country has to solve, and I believe that in the main both sides are endeavouring to solve it. I would, however, point out that just as country people do not always understand town people, so town people do not always understand country people. I heard of one good lady in a village—the accent ought to be on the word "good"—who seriously reproved a mother for lamenting that there were no "pictures" in the village. I think it was also the same woman who complained that paraffin lamps were not safe. These are problems that would be very largely avoided if we could put the women who have been evacuated into the larger empty houses, on the hostel principle, or into the camps.
There are problems of finance also. There is an extraordinary financial problem in the fact that if a mother has a child of school age with her the householder gets 3s. in respect of that child, but if the child goes next door and ceases to be a child in charge of the mother, the householder gets half a guinea. [Hon. Members: "8s. 6d.!"] I am endeavouring to give the official information as far as I have it, and I believe it is half a guinea. [Hon. Members: "For the first child "!] Whether it is half a guinea or 8s. 6d. there is a difference, and the word is going round in some areas that if civil servants are billeted there will be a guinea, and for a land girl the payment 806 will be 15s. To put those figures side by side with 5s. and 3s. will in the very near future, if further evacuations of the other classes I have indicated take place, cause very considerable difficulties and jealousies in the various villages.
One further point. It seems to me to be futile to billet children in a house where the housewife regularly goes out to work, whether in a factory or outside domestic employment. The fact that not as many children have gone out as was expected, ought to enable us to at this stage to make some readjustment of that part of the problem. The billeting authorities, in the main, were urban and rural district councils. They were faced at very short notice with a very big task, and on the whole they rose to it manfully. My right hon. Friend the Member for South Hackney (Mr. H. Morrison) told me of a case that came to his knowledge, in his responsible position in connection with the London County Council. A certain vicar told the village policeman to put the children on the train and send them back to Paddington. To the astonishment of my right hon. Friend, who is only used to dealing with the Metropolitan Police, that village constable took his orders from the vicar. I hope that in that particular case the chief constable has had his attention drawn to the fact that the police in his area are not under ecclesiastical orders at the moment, and that steps will be taken in any future evacuation to avoid any contretemps of that kind.
There were some local authorities who professed not to know that they had compulsory powers, and there were a few who, knowing they had them, declined to use the powers against certain persons. I am sure that everyone in this House will say that as far as billeting is concerned, where a district has to accept persons to be billeted, whether they are children, mothers, soldiers or civil servants, the law has to be enforced without regard to distinctions of class or anything else. The common obligation that has been placed on the district must be fairly administered by the billeting authority. There is an appeal committee to which any aggrieved person may go, and the members of that committee should be regarded as the proper persons to settle all questions of dispute.
I hope that if my words can reach any parents outside this House, I may be 807 allowed to beg of them to leave their children where they are in the reception areas. As one who has had some experience in the past of being responsible for children away from their homes, I urge that as far as possible parents should do nothing to create a feeling of home sickness. I hope the parents will realise that in the great majority of cases the persons who have received the children are honestly trying to do their best for them. There is a story in today's "Schoolmaster" of some boys who were billeted in a village. The good man of the house and his wife produced halma, ludo, snakes and ladders and the other games which their children had used. After playing with these games for three quarters of an hour one of the boys said, "These are Cissies' games. Haven't you got a pack of cards." The man produced a pack of cards and after a couple of hours he had to borrow his train fare for the next day. Having had experience of cockney boys, I can well believe that that is true.
The people have done their very best in most cases to make the children feel at home, and needlessly to upset them is neither in the national interest nor in the interest of the children. I do, how-ever, want to put in a plea for one particular case. I hope that where a doctor says that it would be an advantage to a child in circumstances of illness or otherwise that the parent should see the child, and where the parent cannot afford it—I hope the means test, if any, will not be too severe—free railway vouchers should be given so that the parents can in those circumstances see the child. I am sure that that would do a great deal towards easing the minds of many parents in this matter.
There have been cases reported to me, as I anticipated there would be, where difficulties with regard to sanitation and water supply are giving concern to the local authorities. I feel sure that the Minister of Health will endeavour to keep in touch with such local authorities and give them all the assistance and advice that is possible. There are various problems relating to finance, especially in regard to some women and children who have gone out. These cases are very urgent, and I hope they will receive the 808 sympathetic consideration of those in whose hands they lie.
There is one final point which more concerns the Board of Education than the Ministry of Health, although both are concerned in it. Owing to the fact that the receiving authorities were in the main not education authorities very little regard has been paid in some areas to keeping schools together when they were evacuated. I have had a case brought to my notice of a secondary school that is spread over seven or eight villages, and I have also the case of quite a small school in Surrey, from which fewer than 100 children were taken, which has been spread between three parishes in Berks and Buckinghamshire—I do not think I am giving information to the enemy and I hope the Minister of Information will not be too hard upon me—the village of Sunninghill, in Berkshire, Burnham in Buckinghamshire and Dorney in Buckinghamshire, three most delightful villages any one of which could have accommodated all the children. There will have to be some reshuffling of the children to put that matter right. It is desirable that as far as possible school units should be restored. I know the difficulties which confronted the billeting authorities when they had these children placed upon their hands and had to find places for them. It was essential that they should be placed in billets as soon as possible, and I hope that any adjustments which have to be made will be made at as early a date as is possible.
I want to say on behalf of my hon. Friends that we desire to express our thanks to all those who have had anything to do with this great movement of the population. We know that it has imposed discomforts on some people in the receiving areas. We thank them for the spirit with which these discomforts have been borne. May I repeat something which was said by the Minister of Health, that in the weeks that lie ahead of us none of us knows whether he may not be evacuated from some place which at the moment appears to be quite safe. We have to meet perils which are common perils in the spirit of national unity which has been so largely exemplified, and I sincerely hope that no people who have been evacuated will unnecessarily come back. I hope that where discomforts exist which can be removed, the earliest opportunity will be taken of 809 removing them, because I am sure that there is a desire on the part of the receiving as well as the evacuation areas that this measure shall be one which will enable people to enjoy in as much safety as they can the life which lies ahead during the next few months. It may be that within the next few weeks detailed criticisms may have to be made. This evening I have tried not to elaborate criticisims which appear to me to be merely petty. I believe that the discomforts, I will not call them inefficiencies, which are being experienced at the moment, have been reduced to the minimum by the co-operation of all concerned, and I sincerely hope that that co-operation will continue and that the Minister will live up to the spirit of Circular 1871, which I welcome, so that we may be able to congratulate ourselves when the whole business is over upon having carried through this gigantic movement with the minimum of friction and the maximum of advantage.
§ 6.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Stephen
Last week I gave notice to the Secretary of State for Scotland that in the case of a particular evacuation, if the matter was not satisfactorily dealt with I should raise it on the Adjournment of the House. Yesterday I pressed the Prime Minister for an opportunity of discussing evacuation, and after I had done so I got a letter from the Secretary of State in which the particular case I put before him was dealt with and an assurance given to me that everything had been made right. If I had had the letter before I put the question, possibly I should not have raised the matter and the question of evacuation would not have been discussed in the House this week. At the same time I think that probably hon. Members will agree that it is just as well we should have an opportunity of discussing this question. We have to remember that there is to be a second move, there are to be further evacuations, and it is only right that we should profit from our experience of the first movement.
I do not raise this question in any petty or carping spirit. I think that the movement of the hundreds and thousands of women and children has been a colossal achievement, a tremendous operation, carried through without any previous experience. Like everybody else I pay my tribute to the teachers and to the people 810 in the reception areas, and also to the mothers. At the same time I do not think we should blind ourselves to the fact that there had been very many big mistakes. I should like the Secretary of State for Scotland to tell us what is the percentage of those who have come back from the reception areas. I am told that it is about 50 per cent., and if that is the case then, evidently, there is something profoundly wrong which has to be dealt with. We must see that in any succeeding movement these mistakes do not occur again.
The case which was brought to my notice occurred at Inverary, where 150 women and children were put into a hall. There had been expectation by the billeting committee that they would be able to get huts, but they were not able to get huts and no prospect of getting them, and instead of the billeting committee intimating to the education authority that they would have to reduce the number they decided to use the hall. Those 150 women and children were put in a miserable, cold hall. The bedding that was provided consisted simply of sacks of straw and a lot of dirty mattresses, with a broad arrow on them, that had been obtained from the gaol. There was something wrong with the state of mind which conceived that those arrangements were suitable ones. In the neighbourhood there is the residence of the Duke of Argyll, a residence having ever so many bedrooms. I understand there was the power of compulsion in existence. That castle was practically uninhabited, having in it only the Duke and his staff. There were all those bedrooms available, but instead of taking the castle and putting the people into it and using those bedrooms, they were put into that hall in the most degrading conditions. There were only two lavatories in the hall. In the Secretary's letter, it was stated that it was contemplated this was only a makeshift arrangement until billets could be found up country; but I was told by a member of the Glasgow education authority that he had been informed that it was contemplated that in the permanent arrangement there would be 70 in that hall. I think it shows a shocking state of mind for anybody to conceive that there should be 70 people in such a hall, which has only two lavatories
With regard to the Inverary case, I want to say that the people generally 811 were kind and anxious to be as helpful as possible.[Interruption.] There was far less sympathy and help from the castle than from the poorest members of the community. Ultimately the Duke did take a few children and made provision for them in the basement of the castle. That is very discreditable in the circumstances in which we find ourselves. On the other hand, many of the local people were worried and anxious about what had occurred and were ready to help. There were some condemned houses that had been shut up for possibly a year. They got the keys of those houses and opened them, and many of the mothers who had been sent to this place with their children set about washing the dirty floors and cleaning up the condemned houses which had been uninhabited so long. Anybody knows the condition in which a house gets after it has been uninhabited for a period of months or a year or so. Some of the local people, teachers and so on, went round the houses in the locality and made a collection of the kind that is made in connection with jumble sales, of which many hon. Members, I suppose, have had experience in the course of their political life. They collected a chair here, an old bed somewhere else, and I think somebody gave an old carpet.
The condemned houses were put into a sort of semi-habitable condition; but the conditions in the other place were so bad that afterwards the people who had been put into the condemned houses said that they would rather stay there. Having some misgivings as to future movements, they were prepared to stay in those houses. The secretary's letter indicated that those people were unwilling afterwards to leave the houses and go to the billets that had been arranged for them, because their first experience had been so bad. Some of the people in the district were as kind as they could be. The Episcopal minister there took in two teachers, but he took up the carpet from the room which he gave to them. The spirit of some of the people in the district certainly was not very good. I am told by the Minister that billets have been arranged, but I would suggest to him that in future the authority responsible for billeting in the district to which the people are to be sent should have an officer examine each billet and take account of the people who are to go to that billet.
812 In another town in Scotland, when the evacuees arrived at a hall the local people came and looked them over, and somebody said, "I will take those two children there." A friend of mine described it as being like a slave market in the old days. They looked round and said, "I will take those two there," or "I will take those three here." I suggest to the Minister that under the next scheme the people who are sending the evacuees out should, in conjunction with the billeting officer, have the billet examined—
§ Mr. Stephen
—and see that the billet is a satisfactory one for the people who are to be put there. The hon. Member for East Fife (Mr. Henderson Stewart) says that he thinks it is only fair that there should be an examination of the children. I have noticed that in the Scottish Press there has been a great deal of correspondence about dirty children and dirty people, and all that sort of thing. As a Member of Parliament, I have travelled about the country a great deal, and I make bold to say that the people in Glasgow are as decent, clean and respectable people as one finds in any country town or in any other part of the country. I believe there has been a tremendous amount of exaggeration in connection with this matter. I do not know why the hon. Lady opposite should carry on as she does when I try to say something in connection with this scheme in order to try to prevent in future such things as happened at Inverary.
The authority responsible for evacuating children should see that they are properly provided for when they go. I suggested to the Secretary for Scotland that these children have to take certain clothing with them and a lot of them would not be able to provide it and the teachers would find themselves in very difficult conditions with the children becoming ill without proper clothing, and I suggested that each party should have clothes provided. I give the right hon. Gentleman credit that it was done. So far as Inverary is concerned, a certain amount of boots and clothing was provided, but I believe the Government have failed in that they did not see beforehand that the children were provided with suitable underclothing and a proper rig-out. 813 I have heard of people who burnt the children's clothes because they were so bad, but those who sent them could not help it. Many of them are the children of unemployed people and, if they did not get a proper rig-out, it could not be helped. I know of one case in which an inspection of the children's parcels was suggested, and, when one was opened, it was found that there was not a change of underclothing and the child was told to tell his parents that he had none. That was a ridiculous thing for the teacher to say to the child.
I believe that this parsimony on the part of the Government is one feature of the scheme which has made it ever so much less successful than it might have been. Many of the people are coming back, and I believe that much of the trouble that has occurred has arisen from the fact that a lot of the children had not got the things they should have when going to stay in a strange home. [Interruption.] The Noble Lady shakes her head. I know that she is omniscient but the experience of people that I have met is that that is the case. Possibly the Noble Lady is so mean that she is afraid of money being spent on these children. Anyhow, it is quite apparent that there are many hundreds of thousands whose parents could not give them the things they should have had. A lot of the trouble that has arisen is due to the fact that the Government was not prepared to spend the necessary money to see that the children were properly provided for. I believe the scheme would have been ever so much more successful if the Government had provided those things.
There has been a lot of comment on the condition of the children. [An Hon Member: "It is true."] If it is true, it is a very bitter comment on the Department of Health. It means that the Department has failed, and the local authority has to take its responsibility and share in the blame. I believe that the people in the reception areas are kind to the evacuees. We are all very much alike, and, if people take others into their homes, it creates discomfort for them and it means that they are showing a spirit of generosity. It may be said that they are being paid, but it is not a profitable speculation for the people in the reception areas. They are not wanting it on that basis. They have done it out of a sense 814 of responsibility and duty to others. [Interruption.] The intolerable cheap sneers of the Noble Lady show the same sort of spirit as is shown in Inverary by the Duke of Argyll, which was responsible for so much of the trouble. It was quite apparent to people who went there that the feudal lordship puts people in such terror that they were afraid to do things because it would not be liked by the Castle.
Friends have told me how kindly their children have been treated and how well they are getting on. The spirit on the part of many of the people has been admirable, but the large percentage coming back shows that there is something fundamentally wrong, and I believe one thing is that there has not been sufficient care taken by the Government to provide the material things for the children and the necessary medical supervision and assistance. At Inverary, when they were put into the hall, the children had to go about a mile and a half for their clothes. I should like to pay a tribute to the man who looked after the catering. There was nothing but the highest praise for that man, who will probably lose a lot of money because of the way in which he sought to cater for the children and put himself at a great disadvantage because of the circumstances in which they found themselves. In any future evacuation it is not sufficient to say that each should have a change of underclothing, a pair of house shoes, an overcoat and so on. They should be provided for those who cannot provide them themselves. The parents of a family of four are told to provide four new pairs of boots. It simply cannot be done. They have not the income. There is provision under the Education Act, but it does not work out that way. If provision had been made for these things to be obtained many difficulties would have been avoided. I hope the Minister will see that each authority evacuating children will appoint a responsible official to examine all the billets and see that they are appropriate.
I would also ask what are the functions of the liaison officer? Dr. Biggar was the liaison officer at Inverary and when there was this general dismay among the people when they were brought into the hall, I gather that his attitude of mind was that it was wartime and that you could not expect what you would have in peace-time. It seemed 815 to me that such a state of mind showed that he certainly was not a person who ought to have been acting as liaison officer, and one would like to know what are the exact duties of these officers. Do not let us here delude ourselves. A very great work has been carried out. I admit all that. But it is also known to us that great numbers have gone back and will have to be evacuted again possibly, in the future, from cities like Glasgow. We have to make sure that we realise the mistakes that have been made, so that in future, after all the trouble of evacuation has been taken, we shall not have a recurrence of what happened on this occasion. I am glad that the Minister has made inquiries and has given an assurance with regard to Inverary. I hope we shall also have an assurance that the Government in future will see that the children are provided with the proper clothing, boots and shoes, for the district to which they are going, and that care will be taken to prevent anything like this happening again.
§ 6.43 p.m.
§ Captain Thornton-Kemsley
The House must be grateful to the hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) for raising this question and for the way in which he has raised it. He was right, of course, in saying that nothing of this kind had ever been attempted before in this country. We have not any precedents to look back upon; we have no records which we can search, no past mistakes from which we can learn. It is, of course, easy to criticise, and the hon. Member for Camlachie (Mr. Stephen) allowed himself to indulge in some criticism from the point of view of the people whom I like to call the guests. I hope that in anything I say, my criticisms, for I intend to make criticisms, will be designed to be helpful. I think we ought not to congratulate ourselves that the task is finished. As the hon. Member for Camlachie says, the trek back to the towns has already begun, and as long as there are no air raids on the big cities—and we must all hope that that will be as long as the war shall last—this trek back to the cities will continue. We have to be prepared for it.
I think one mistake has been that in some cases we have placed the evacuees 816 too near the cities from which they have been sent. Just as it is unwise to send a boy to a boarding school which is too near his own home, so it is unwise to send evacuees to places within a bus ride of the cities which they have left. The temptation to return is too great. Even if they are only making a return in order to pick up some extra garments or to see how the old man is getting on, still it is costing money which they can ill afford, and it has an unsettling effect upon them. If it is unsettling to the evacuees, it has also disadvantages which were felt by many people in my constituency this past week-end, when our Kincardineshire roads were full of motor cars bearing Dundee registration numbers, packed to overflowing with people who had come "for a hurl," as we say in Scotland, to see their friends in the country, an invasion which caused a raid on the larders of a great many people.
There is an advantage in occasional visits from close relatives which outweighs the disadvantages, for it does enable those who have been left in the cities to see that their friends are being well looked after and cared for, as I believe to be the case in the great majority of instances. Moreover, it enables evacuees to endure the very real hardship of separation from those whom they have left behind. It was said to my wife in my presence last Sunday, by a women whose children she had been looking after," It was hard for us last week to stand at our work not knowing where our bairns were, but now that I have seen them I can go back to my work with an easy mind," and I am glad to say that she added "and a grateful heart." It is so important, I think, to encourage the evacuees to remain where they are by mitigating the hardships of separation that I think it would be worth the Government's while to arrange for cheap fares for fathers and mothers to visit their children or for husbands to visit their wives at stated intervals during the period of separation. I think a gesture of that kind would be appreciated, and it might help to solve a very real problem which we may have to face, the problem of the trek back to the cities.
I now come to an aspect of this matter which is as distressing as it is distasteful. I have received a good deal of correspondence from my constituency, which I know to be true, because I know the 817 people who have sent it, and in many cases I have looked into the matter personally. I had a letter yesterday from someone who was a Member of this House, and who wrote to me and conveyed to me, at the request of the rector of an Episcopal church in my constituency, a complaint that children who had been sent from Glasgow had been sent in a verminous condition.
§ Mr. Buchanan
It is a terrible shame, this kind of thing, hurling things across in innuendoes. If the hon. Member is going to quote from a man, let us have the name of the man, and let us know who the children are. Do not let us have innuendoes flung across. You are taking the fathers to fight, yet you come here and make the most villainous, slanderous statements against their children. [Hon. Members: "Order."] I do not care about your "Order." I am not going to have my children slandered, and you will have to listen to me. [HON. MEMBERS: "Order."] I am not having the children whom I represent slandered, not even by an officer. They are as good as yours, and I am not having them slandered in a superior tone. They are my folk, and I know them, and they are the only folk that ever I knew.
§ Mr. Buchanan
Why not speak to the hon. Member who is slandering my folk? They are the only folk that ever I knew, the folk I was born among, and if he is to be allowed to slander them—
§ Captain Thornton-Kemsley
The last thing I want to do is to slander any children. If the hon. Member for Gorbals knew me better he would know that that is not what I want to do at all. This is a social problem which the House ought to face. I do not make accusations against the children. How can they help it?
§ Captain Thornton-Kemsley
I am not slandering the parents or the children. I am stating plain facts which this House has to recognise. This report which I 818 have received from the rector of an Episcopal church—
—says that these children are in a verminous condition and suffering in some cases from impetigo, and that in some cases bedding and mattresses have had to be destroyed. He makes the suggestion that if such children are to be included in evacuation, steps should be taken to place them in camps or communal billets.
§ Captain Thornton-Kemsley
I have another letter from a doctor who is a justice of the peace, and who writes on behalf of many people in his district. He says that the children and their mothers arrived in his district mostly in a very filthy and verminous condition and that many were very inadequately clad. Their habits were indescribable, and many cases had come to his notice where carpets, mattresses and bedding had had to be completely destroyed owing to the primitive habits of these evacuees. He also suggests a communal system of billeting and adds:I know everyone will be only too glad to help in the running of communal kitchens and dormitories.This is not a pleasant matter for anyone to raise in this House.
§ Mr. Buchanan
It is time they knew the condition of the places from which these people come. We have been telling them for years.
§ Captain Thornton-Kemsley
I believe these are things that we can rectify. I have been asked by mothers from the evacuation areas to see that their children are not allowed to go with others in that kind of condition. It is important that when we get on to the stage of further infiltration from the cities, the medical officers and sanitary inspectors should see that people of this kind are sent out in a clean condition, or, if not, sent into some sort of communal billets.
Another point I want to make is about the food allowances. It is true, I am afraid—and I hope the hon. Member for Gorbals will not dispute this statement, 819 for I have investigated it—that where people are sent to a village and make their own arrangements for feeding these children there have been cases in which the money has not all been spent on food for the children. There have been far too many in a district I know going up and down the village shops asking for red wine, a concoction which we know better under the name of "red biddy." I have met cases where the children have been deprived of food for that reason. I suggest that, where the hosts can report to medical officers that that sort of thing is happening and that these cases can be proved, instead of giving these people money they ought to be given coupons exchangeable for essential foodstuffs so that the children do not go short of food. Properly run this scheme can be of the greatest secondary advantage to everybody in the country. The hon. Member for South Shields said that country people did not always understand town people and that town people did not always understand country people. That is true. To overcome prejudice is not easy, but to get to know the other person is the first step, and it is half the battle.
§ 6.55 p.m.
§ Major Owen
I represent a constituency which is a reception area and not an evacuation area. I have in my hand a report, which reached me this morning from my constituency, signed by six of the billeting officers in a part of my county drawing attention to what has happened in that particular area. I know each of those billeting officers personally. One of them is the second master at the county schools in that area, and the others are headmasters of five village schools. The account is a perfectly fair one, but it describes what happened in that one area. Similar things have happened in other areas. I should like to place before the House the position of the receiving areas. We have heard the evacuation side from the hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) and from the hon. Member for Camlachie (Mr. Stephen), but there is another side. I think it is most important that the evacuation authorities should use a certain amount of discretion, and certainly use a great deal of care, as to the areas into which they send their evacuated population.
§ Major Owen
I did, in fact, mean this to apply to the Government. There has been a great deal of lack of forethought and care in selecting the areas to which people are sent. In my view it is ridiculous, impossible, to send people from Liverpool, for instance, into the far end of south Carnarvon. Aberdaron, a little village on the point of the Lleyn peninsula, is a beautiful village, but there are not many people who have been accustomed to town life who can put up for more than a week or a fortnight with a place like that. There are no public houses there—well, only two very ordinary, quiet country public houses, more in the nature of small hotels than anything else. There is no place of entertainment. On 4th September 424 mothers and children from the Edgehill district of Liverpool were sent there. What has happened? In the whole of the area there are not more than 50 left—I am not quite sure of the exact figure. The others have returned. Who, I wonder, is responsible for this state of affairs?
The children of school age belonging to these mothers have been sent to Wrexham. The mothers were told that they also were to be evacuated to the Wrexham district. The train stopped on the way, and the mothers got out, but then found they were not going to Wrexham. Eventually they were told to get back into the train and were taken a journey of 120 miles—in a non-corridor train. Who was responsible for that? I have a great deal of sympathy with these mothers and the condition in which they arrived, but at the same time the story is all in favour of the evacuees.
There is a tremendous lot to be said for the quiet country people in villages, such as we have in Carnarvonshire, who have received people speaking a completely different language and with customs and habits entirely different from those of the people living in those villages. A good many of these women visitors, when they were asked what they were going to do, said that they did not want to stay in those areas because there were no public houses. I do not say that this is the main reason, but 821 I do not agree with what the hon. Member for Camlachie or the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) says. These are facts.
§ Mr. Buchanan
Does not the hon. and gallant Member accept my statements as facts? Each of us speaks as he knows.
§ Major Owen
Nobody is stone blind but he who will not see. The hon. Member said that he was brought up in a certain area. I was brought up among the people myself. I am one of them and I am not ashamed of it. I have every sympathy for them, but I do not want to hear things thrown to other Members of this House as though they knew nothing about the condition of the poor.
§ Major Owen
I was brought up in almost the poorest household one could imagine. I do not think it is a disgrace. I am proud of it and proud to acknowledge the people from whom I sprang; but let us face the truth.
§ Major Owen
I do not want to read it. I was going to hand it over to the Minister, but I will read it—and I know all these men myself. On Tuesday I saw the clerk of the rural district council and I was present in Carnarvon when a large number of these people arrived. It is no good saying that everything was perfect or that the fault is in the areas to which they have been evacuated. This is what he said:From a health point of view we have the following observations to make:The majority of these evacuees "—the majority, note—were not in a fit state of cleanliness to be received in any clean home.I do not want to go on and read this document on the Floor of the House, but the hon. Member has challenged me. Here is another statement:In some cases, as a result of their filthy habits, every scrap of bedding, clothing, and even blinds and curtains had to be destroyed. 822 The district nurse who visited these cases in the Aberdaron district can testify to their filthy habits and verminous condition.Here are a few typical cases. They say:This has happened not merely throughout the whole of my constituency, but in places like Colwyn Bay, Anglesey, Montgomery and Cardigan—everywhere along that coast. We are told that the children needed clothes. I was present myself at the time of their arrival, and the people in that area gave them the warmest welcome, prepared food for them when they arrived, and lent their cars to take them to their billets. There was one case of refusal. A woman was fined £25 because she refused to take a verminous woman into her house. I know her, and I can sympathise with her.
- "(a) This case is pathetic. The poor woman, the householder, is nearly brokenhearted amongst the ruins of her home. The room which one woman and her two children had occupied for only two nights is dreadful and no words can describe to you the terrible state of the whole room. Every scrap of bedding, clothing, and even blinds and curtains had to be burnt immediately. It was really horrifying to set eyes on the scene.
- (b)Two other cases are reported, both having been visited; everything had to be burnt.
- (c)In plain words, the bedroom "— had been used as a latrine.
I am expressing what is the general feeling of that area. We wish to do all we can. The people there have bought new clothes and boots for the children. They have clothed them completely. They have had no benefit whatever from the amount allowed. It is hard that there is no compensation, so far as I know, for the losses endured by the people in those districts as a result of lack of care and attention on the part of the medical authorities in the City of Liverpool before these people were sent. I hope that some action will be taken. I saw a lovely little girl put on one side on arrival in Carnarvon. She complained of a sore throat. She had been sent, and she was suffering from scarlet fever. There have been cases of diphtheria and mumps sent to those districts, where there were none present before. There has been bad management somewhere. If these women have to be evacuated again, I hope that care will be taken to send them to places where they are likely to be comfortable, and that they are not sent among people with whom they have no sympathy, whom they cannot understand, who are 823 entirely different from them, who speak a different language, have different habits, and have different thoughts. We all want this movement to be carried out successfully, but let the Ministry try to arrange some better method than they have at present.
§ 7.9 p.m.
§ The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Colville)
It might be for the convenience of the House if I spend a few moments answering the questions that have been put, particularly in relation to Scotland. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Health will deal with the subject more generally when he winds up. Perhaps the hon. and gallant Member for Carnarvon (Major Owen) and the hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) will forgive me if I do not follow them except to re-echo their hope that in this immense effort that we are making we shall be successful. A very large number of people have been evacuated smoothly, from the point of view of their removal and their immediate reception. That, at least, will be recognised as a very great achievement, and as proof of our determination to let nothing stop us in this great effort. But I recognise that after the initial move some difficulties did arise and were bound to arise. It is impossible to conceive that it could have been otherwise. Let us now take the opportunity of sorting out the difficulties and learning from the experience we have gained, and not try to find the worst, and to see the worst, but rather to make the best of the situation that we have to face.
Let me deal with the specific case in Inverary to which the hon. Member for Camlachie (Mr. Stephen) referred. Perhaps I need not say much because I wrote to the hon. Member and explained the circumstances. In that beautiful Highland town the estimate of numbers to be received went wrong. The County Council of Argyll had estimated for 150 more than, in fact, they were able to take. Owing to a misunderstanding they thought that certain accommodation was available which was not available. Temporary arrangements —and I was assured that they were only intended to be temporary—were made for the children. I do not say that they were the most comfortable arrangements; I have told the hon. Member that all these children now 824 have found other billets. To mention one case, a mansion house further down the Loch has been taken over and helpers installed, and I believe that the children will be comfortable there. I would not like it to go out that the people of Inverary and of Argyll are less willing than other people in the country to do their part in receiving children. I do not think that the hon. Member would say that.
In the movement, in the case of Scotland, of 175,000 children I, as Secretary of State, have only heard of this specific instance of difficulty of this kind and apparent hardship for the evacuated persons owing to misunderstanding taking place, and I think that that is really rather remarkable. I do not say there were not other cases. Most grumbles come speedily to me as Secretary of State. I have heard many grumbles and difficulties of several kinds, but I have heard of only this one specific case of apparent hardship to evacuated persons. It was brought first to my notice actually by the hon. Member for Mary-hill (Mr. Davidson) in whose division, I believe, the school particularly affected is situated. The hon. Member for Camlachie wrote to me as well, and as soon as I heard of the matter I put investigations in hand, and if in any other cases investigation proves that matters can be improved, I will do my best to improve them.
I will give hon. Members figures to show the proportion of movements in Scotland. Of the total of 175,000 persons evacuated, the children numbered 135,000, and mothers 24,000. The unaccompanied children numbered 50,000 and the children who went with their mothers were rather more than 84,000, which is rather a higher proportion, I think, than in the case of England and Wales. The rest of the figure of 175,000 is made up with teachers and helpers, expectant mothers, blind adults and children from special schools. The hon. Member for Camlachie asked whether I could tell him how many have gone back. I cannot do that without calling for a special return. I cannot give him such a figure, and I would not like to hazard a figure which might be quoted as official. It has been stated in some 825 parts that it is as much as 50 per cent. but I am sure that is quite an exaggerated figure. I am looking at this matter and trying to get more accurate information on the subject. In some districts very few indeed have gone back; in other districts mothers have tended to go back and leave some of their elder children behind. It is not always because there is something terribly wrong perhaps that they have gone back. It may be in some cases the natural instinct of a woman to say, "I would like to go back and look after my husband." A number of wives may have gone back to look after their husbands.
§ Mr. Colville
The hon. Member will recognise that I am not making any contentious observation. I am stating what I believe to be the fact in a number of cases. In general, I would say that there have been many fewer difficulties in the case of unaccompanied children than in the case of accompanied children. I noted with interest the suggestion of the hon. Member for South Shields as to the best way to deal with the accompanied children and the mothers. I can speak from my Scottish experience, and I repeat that, generally speaking, unaccompanied children have settled down much better than the mothers. I have myself visited some of the reception areas. I visited some areas in Lanarkshire, where I found that the children were settling down contentedly and well. One of my hon. Friends said that it was a mistake to send children to reception areas too near their homes. I would not like to generalise on that, but certainly in regard to some of the cases I visited in Lanarkshire the Glasgow children had settled down very contentedly. It may be, as the hon. and gallant Member for Carnarvon (Major Owen) said, that people coming from a town and going to a remote part of the country, which is very unfamiliar to them, find it difficult to settle down. But the areas that I visited were scattered mining areas which had taken people in from Glasgow and they had settled down contentedly, though they were very near their homes. I do not say that some of the mothers had not gone back, but I was very pleased, on the whole, with what I saw there. I think it is therefore difficult to generalise on the question.
826 The question of medical inspection has been raised and stressed. I should like to believe that none of the stories was true about children arriving who were not clean, but I am afraid the evidence is that there were a number of such cases. There have been exaggerations. From some of the statements I have heard and some of the reports that one has read, one might almost have thought that no child had left any evacuation district in a clean condition.
§ Mr. Colville
It is just nonsense. At the same time, there is solid evidence, and I say it with the sense of responsibility which my office carries, that there were a great many cases where that was not so, and where, on account of vermin and infection, much was left to be desired in regard to inspection. Having said that, I want to give an undertaking, speaking for Scotland. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Health will underline the undertaking in his own way later on. The undertaking refers to both of us. Except in what I would call crash conditions, by which I mean in the event of serious air raids and burnings, when we should all do our very best in the circumstances to help people who had to be evacuated; except in such conditions, every possible step will be taken to ensure that no child will be transferred to a billet in a verminous condition. I am making arrangements with the local authorities in the sending areas—we have sent out a circular already—that they will take every possible step to have an efficient inspection and efficient treatment, if treatment be necessary, before any further move. If it becomes necessary for considerations of safety—I am not speaking of crash conditions, but the ordinary movement that we are trying still to carry out, by what I might call infiltration— to remove a child who is not free from infection or disease, I am anxious to make arrangements for the reception of such a child into an institution or other place where for the time being it can be properly attended to. That may not be a very easy thing to arrange, but I am certain that that is the way to go about it.
In making these remarks, I am casting no reflection on the parents of the children, or the children themselves, but I am merely stating facts. The hard facts are 827 that we have had billeted in the homes of many of our people a number of people whose condition, perhaps through no fault of their own—and on the proper occasion I could speak about the housing conditions of some parts of Scotland—makes them difficult to accommodate. We are anxious to do all we can to mitigate the difficulties, but do not let us exaggerate them; let us try to meet them.
What I have said about our future efforts will, I hope, give the House the assurance that we intend to make every possible effort to see that the children are properly cared for and inspected, and that in the necessary cases they will be sent to places where they can be properly attended. We propose that in any further movements we should transfer only unaccompanied children, and we propose to do this rather by way of infiltration to places where they can be comfortably accommodated in the country. We have been taking a registration during the last few days. It will go on until to-morrow night in Scotland, but the figures I have do not show that there is an enormous number who want to go out. The figures are relatively small. Between 11th and 13th September there were in Scotland about 10,000 names given in; 3,000 in Edinburgh, rather over 5,000 in Glasgow, and the rest in Dundee, Rosyth and Clydebank. To-morrow may show a few more, but that figure of 10,000 is one with which we can easily cope and for which I am sure we can find accommodation in the reception areas.
I have confined myself principally to Scotland, although I have made one or two general observations which show that my right hon. Friend and I are working closely together. I am also charged with educational problems in Scotland, and I am glad to say that in many of the reception areas the schools have now reopened, and it is having good effect on the children in those areas. There may have been some difficulties and in some cases double shifts, but the difficulties are not insuperable, and they will not be insuperable.
I should like to refer to rather a different matter. I promised the hon. Member for Shettleston (Mr. McGovern) to refer to a question he asked me last night but to which I was unable to reply because I did not speak. His question refers to public gatherings. He asked me 828 whether there was any general ban placed by the Government on the holding of meetings. As far as the Government's powers in this matter are concerned, the hon. Member is no doubt aware that under the Defence Regulations the Secretary of State has power to prohibit the holding of a meeting where he is satisfied that it would be likely to cause serious public disorder or promote disaffection. That power has not yet been exercised, and there is no question of a general prohibition of meetings at which Members of Parliament wish to address their constituents in the ordinary way. Of course, the magistrates have certain responsibilities to discharge in addition, and they have certain discretion in discharging them. I am confident that that discretion will be wisely used.
§ 7.25 p.m.
§ Mr. Pethick-Lawrence
There is one question I should like to ask the Secretary of State. In Scotland, some children have been taken a very long distance from Edinburgh to the region of Inverness. If the evacuation continues for a considerable time, the parents of these children would like to have an opportunity of visiting their children. Some of the parents are far too poor to pay the railway fare for the whole of that distance. I should be glad if the right hon. Gentleman would say whether the matter of assisting parents in such cases, either by free railway journeys or by assisting in the payment of the fare, will be given consideration.
§ Mr. Buchanan
When the right hon. Gentleman replies to that question perhaps he will be good enough to deal with a further point. There is some doubt in the minds of people about the costs involved. Could he issue publicly, for the guidance of people, some clear statement of what the costs are and who is expected to pay them?
§ Mr. Colville
I think it would be better if at the end of the Debate my right hon. Friend dealt with the general question put by the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan). As to the point raised by the right hon. Member for East Edinburgh (Mr. Pethick-Lawrence), while that is a matter which affects Scotland, it also affects England, and I think it would have to be considered as a whole. I can say no more to-night than that I will take note of it.
§ 7.27 p.m.
§ Dr. Haden Guest
I think that the Debate so far has concentrated rather too much on certain questions of vermin and so forth which may have been unknown to many hon. Members, but which are certainly not unknown to the medical profession. Anyone who will take the trouble to read the reports of school medical officers of such towns as Glasgow, London, Edinburgh—in fact, any town in this country—will find that unfortunately there is always a proportion of children who are verminous.
I agree. Therefore, there is nothing unusual about discovering that a number of the children who go into the country areas from the towns are actually infested with vermin. I do not believe there is more than the usual number. I may say that beginning on Sunday last, I made an inspection, as detailed as I could, of the conditions in certain reception areas—in Essex, a fairly detailed inquiry, and other inquiries in Hertfordshire, Buckinghamshire, Oxfordshire, Worcestershire and Kent—and in all cases the answer was very much the same. It was the answer which has already been conveyed to the House by different hon. Members who have spoken—that is to say, that as far as the unaccompanied school children are concerned, on the whole the evacuation has been an outstanding success. I must say that when the hon. and gallant Member for Carnarvon (Major Owen) mentioned that a number of children had travelled 120 miles in a non-corridor train, I was sorry that that should be the fact, but in view of the fact that we are trying to move 3,500,000 people from the towns into the country to save their lives in time of emergency, if that is the worst hardship they have to endure, I do not think it is very serious. One must not exaggerate. It has been a tremendous transport and organising achievement, an achievement which is, as far as I know, unparalleled.
There have been all kinds of difficulties in the reception areas that I have mentioned. I want to deal with the question which has been raised by one or two Members of rooms being fouled by people using them as latrines. I have had a 830 good deal of experience in very poor districts in the East End of London, in South Wales and also in Southwark and other parts of South London, and I have never known that particular thing happen in people's own homes. I have heard accounts of this not only from Scotland. I have heard one from an extremely responsible observer, a Fellow of an Oxford College, and an exactly similar account from a builder, a responsible man, in an Essex village, and I have heard it elsewhere. It seems to me that the explanation may have been a psychological disturbance due to the evacuation from the towns and people going into country areas, where the latrine arrangements are entirely different from those in towns, and the people not understanding and so misbehaving themselves in that way. It is very unfortunate that it should have happened, but it appears to me that these are abnormal cases which will be rectified as soon as people get to understand the usages that prevail in country districts. 7 do not think it can be held as a general accusation against any class of the population and I am sure it was not meant to be made in that way.
But, while it is agreed that the arrangements for school children have been good, it is also agreed everywhere I went that having adult women in the houses with other women will not do. They must have separate arrangements made. In fact, in a little Essex village where I am living at present people are discussing whether they can make separate kitchens. It is a very complicated matter and it is leading to a number of women going back to London. I do not think, from inquiries that I have made, that it is anything like 50 per cent. There may be, in special areas where there have been unfortunate conditions, a large proportion of a little group, but it is much more likely to be 5 per cent. than 50. It is impossible to give any definite figure. I asked for definite figures from the people I was interviewing and they were unable to give them to me.
There are, however, some other problems of a more far-reaching character which have not yet been mentioned. For instance, in Essex, which is partly an evacuating area—the town parts—and partly a reception area, the children are distributed over 17 different villages, and there are children taking various kinds of higher education dumped down in 831 villages where there are no facilities for that kind of education. Those are matters which will, of course, have to be rearranged. Then there is a further difficulty with regard to feeding. The different scales of payment for mothers with children and for unaccompanied children are bound to cause very great dissatisfaction. There is no reason why a child with its mother should be paid for at one rate and, if it is in a different house, should be paid for twice as much. That must be corrected in some way.
I am rather sorry that this Debate has occurred at such an early date after evacuation has taken place, because there has hardly been time to get the reports, but, as it has occurred, I should like to take the opportunity of saying that we ought to aim at giving every child from the town districts not only a good diet but the optimum diet necessary for its development. The children of the nation are its most important asset and we have an unprecedented opportunity now of dealing with those children under country conditions, where they can grow strong and well. With a little intelligence and organisation, we can see to it that they get, not only ordinary good diet but the optimum diet laid down by the medical authorities consulted by the Government. Under the conditions of evacuation, this would cost little if anything more than the Government are now paying.
I was glad to see that the Minister in the circular sent to local authorities referred, in particular, to this question of feeding, and suggested the importance of a mid-day communal meal. I hope that suggestion will be carried out. From inquiries I have made I am sure that if the mid-day communal meal is made of general application, it will have to be paid for by deduction from the billeting allowance. It should not be a voluntary arrangement, because then some people would not be willing to make that arrangement, while other people would, and you would thus fall between two stools. In fact that has already occurred in many districts where arrangements for a communal meal have not been made because many of the villagers were not willing, on account of money difficulties. If a certain amount could be deducted from the allowance for each child for billeting and food allowance, that could 832 be applied to the payment for a midday meal and would make it possible for that meal to be constituted so as to make it, along with the breakfast and tea meals which the children get, the optimum diet which they require. I carried out a feeding experiment on those lines many years ago and found that it was possible to concentrate the major nutritive foods in the mid-day meal, allowing also for the food which the children got at the beginning and the end of the day. It would be much easier to do this under the conditions of living in the country districts than it was in the case of the experiment which I have in mind, which was in the town.
Then with regard to boots and clothes. I speak as a Member for a London district which has been evacuated and also as a resident in a small Essex village to which children have been sent. There are some children billeted in the house in which I live. I know about this thing, as I think the Minister of Health also knows about it, from personal experience. The question of boots and clothes is very important and I suggest that the boots and clothes should be provided through the school authority and paid for by the parents in instalments. This will become even more important as soon as the weather becomes wet. I have still another suggestion to offer. In many parts of the country there are school gardens used for growing flowers and so on. It would be a good thing if every village school set out to have its own allotment and to grow food for next year. There is no reason why enough potatoes and vegetables generally should not be grown in a school garden to supply the needs of children next year. In that way the children would learn something practical about agriculture and it would be an extremely valuable work.
As regards education it will be very difficult, in present circumstances, to keep up the standard of education. Schools have been split up so that you have the junior teacher in one place and the head mistress in another, so far apart that they cannot keep in touch with each other. Very great care will have to be taken in order to keep up the standard of education. I want to point out also what a very large amount of work this is going to throw on the teachers. Everything should be done to relieve the teachers of 833 unnecessary work. I think it is quite right—and I know, because I have had talks with leaders of the teachers' organisations on this matter—that we should ask the teachers to do a good deal more in this time of crisis than they normally do, and I believe that, generally speaking, they are quite willing to do it, but I think it would be advisable, if we could, to help them by providing means by which some of the very heavy work which they have to do would be lightened.
In that respect I believe that nothing would lighten their work more than a very large extension of broadcasting in the schools. The B.B.C. put out an extremely good schools programme, and they are now I visited them yesterday at their new headquarters and discussed it with the schools department there— ready to put out very much more extensive schools programmes of an extremely good quality, specially adapted, as it were, to make the country come alive to the town child. They can do that if the schools have radio sets to receive the programmes. At the present time I believe that something like 20,000 schools only in the country as a whole have radio sets. In the county of Essex very few schools have them, and I think the Minister might consider whether he should not himself make an appeal to well-intentioned people of all kinds in the different villages and in the country areas to give radio sets to the schools in order that this excellent broadcasting for schools may be given attention. I will not refer further to the problem of the mother with the child under five and the expectant mother, except to say one thing, and I put it in the form of a definite statement, subject, of course, to challenge, but I do not think the Minister will disagree. I am quite convinced that the problem of the mother with the child under five and the expectant mother will not be solved unless they are put either into large hostels, as one hon. Friend says, or into camps, and I believe that the sooner we get on with the organisation of that, the sooner we shall be ready to meet the situation.
May I say a last word, which I hope may be taken as a word of warning, to people from towns who have gone to the country and who are now coming back because up to the present there has been no danger in the towns? I believe that it would be the gravest mistake in the 834 world for more people to come back from the country now than have already come back. I regret profoundly that people have come back. If they have to remove at some future time in a hurry, it may be extremely difficult. It is not because anybody is afraid of danger, it is not because we think women are less able than others to face danger, but because we think it is a wrong use of human life to have women and young children in a town which is liable to be bombed. For the sake, not only of themselves, but of the nation, they ought to be as far as possible away from the danger if they can get away, and if any words of mine can have effect, I do appeal to all mothers with young children not to come back from the country if they are already there, to take advantage of any arrangements which the Government may make to go to the country while things are quiet, and to stay away for a period in order to see what may come. I cannot believe that we have passed through the crisis of danger in this war. I hope that people will remember that this great evacuation scheme will fail if people, of their own volition, filter back from the country into the towns and, therefore, give us all the problem to do over again, under conditions which may be infinitely less favourable than they are at the present time.
§ 7.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Tree
As evacuation is now two weeks old to-day, it is perhaps possible to see some of its defects and to be able to draw deductions from them objectively, and perhaps it may be best to say a word or two about one's own experience. In Oxfordshire we made arrangements on the first day of evacuation to receive 800 children, on the second day to receive 800, and on the third day an odd lot of mothers and children. That was confirmed by telephone on the day of evacuation. The first day we received 900 children late in the evening. They were satisfactorily dealt with. On the second day, although a like number of children were expected, 900 mothers and children arrived late in the evening in a small rural area. No adequate provision had been made for them. Despite that, everybody turned out and worked magnificently. I think that one of the reasons for the difficulties that have since arisen is the fact that not enough workers came down on the trains who 835 were able to cope with the people and knew the type of people with whom they were dealing. As many hon. Members have stated, I have heard no complaints about school children. We have had a great many of them in Oxfordshire. Some of them may have been verminous. I do not know about that, but there have been no complaints and everywhere a great effort has been made to look after them suitably.
There is a difference of opinion with regard to mothers with children. A very unsatisfactory state of affairs has arisen, and I am told by the local billeting officer in Oxfordshire that already 50 per cent. of the mothers with children have returned to London. Undoubtedly, if air raids start in the near future a great many of these people will want to return to the country. It will be impossible to expect the rural householder who has already had experience of some of these people to take them again. I would, therefore, urge, as many hon. Members have already done, that some form of hostels or hutments should be prepared ready for these mothers when that moment should arrive. Every effort should be made to persuade those who have returned to London to part with their children on a nursery school basis. I would like to say a word about nursery schools because I have one in my own house at the moment. The children came down and settled in, and they have been completely happy. The hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) mentioned the uneasiness of mothers about their children, and I should like to state one example. A few days after the children had arrived a mother turned up, having cycled all the way from London to see her child. It had taken two days for her to get there. She expressed great satisfaction at what she saw, and said, "I wish other mothers and fathers could see the surroundings in which these children are, and it would completely satisfy them." I agree with the hon. Member for South Shields that if it is possible for mothers to arrange to see their children where the distances are not too great it should be encouraged.
But how are we going to deal with the children between one and five who have returned with their mothers to London, or else are still in London and the other big cities? I say we should deal with 836 them on a nursery school basis, that if possible large centres should be established, and that it should be made known to parents either now or when air raids start that children will be received in those areas. As many nursery school teachers as possible should be assembled and then drafts of 30, 40 or 50 children should be sent into the country. I know there is one difficulty, that, unfortunately, there are very few nursery school teachers available. Therefore, it may be necessary to do something else along these lines. To persuade householders to take small nurseries of four or five children into their homes, with an older person to look after them, and then establish in each area a day nursery school to which these four or five children from individual houses should go. I think it might be possible to work out some arrangement of that sort. What I would emphasise is that the Minister ought to do everything he can to persuade mothers in the big cities to allow their children to go into the country on the basis of being looked after on nursery school lines.
I have always been a believer in the nursery school system of education, but since I got to know more about it and the part it has played in this evacuation scheme I have become a far more ardent believer in it than ever before. I believe it is an answer to a great many problems that we have been talking about tonight arising in homes which perhaps have not had the chance to teach children habits which they should form when they are very young. Perhaps out of this war it may be possible that at least some good shall come by bringing to the attention of a great many hundreds of thousands of people the necessity for more and larger nursery schools.
§ 7.53 p.m.
§ Mr. McEntee
I was sent by the local authority of which I am a member into the areas to which children from our area were sent. I was accompanied by my wife, who happens to be the deputy mayor, and was deputising for the mayor, and by the director of education. We travelled into areas as far away as Rutland, and came back through Kettering, Rushden and many of the villages round there in Bedfordshire. The thing that struck me particularly was that the children are almost entirely happy. Almost 837 every one of the school children I met was happy, and the other children were too, but the mothers are unhappy, very unhappy indeed—not in all cases, but in many cases. I do not know how many have returned, and I should not like even to guess, but when it is said that 50 per cent. have probably returned I think that is a high estimate, very much exaggerated. I do not think that anything like that number is returning and I certainly hope that nothing like it will return.
What are the problems that we discussed with the mothers and the difficulties in which the mothers found themselves? We met mothers—some of them stopped us in the street because they knew us—and they told us of their difficulties and why they were being forced to go back, although they did not desire to do so. One mother said to me:My case is typical of several that I know. I came down here with my husband in work, and he would have been able to send me money week by week. I was here only a couple of days when I received a letter from him that he had been thrown out of work and that hundreds of others like himself were in the same position. He is now quite unable to send me any money at all, because he must pay the rent, because of the labour exchange. He feels that he must pay the rent or otherwise he would be put out there. I am told that I have to go to the labour exchange, but there is no labour exchange here within miles of me and I can't get to it at all, but I have heard of people who have gone there, and this is their experience. The officer said to them:' If your husband is out of work and signing, he is getting an allowance for you, and therefore, he must send to you that allowance that he is getting in Waltham-stow or any other area, and send it to you here so that you can live.'Said this mother to me:But suppose he does that. It is not possible to pay the rent at home and for me to live down here on the allowance that is given by the labour exchange. It is quite impossible for us to live in those circumstances. I am very happy in the home in which I am here, but I am compelled to go back to my husband because neither of us can afford to live and keep out of debt, and feed ourselves reasonably well.That is one of the problems, and it will have to be dealt with. It will right itself ultimately when all these men have secured, as I believe they will, other employment, but the position is in the meantime driving very many mothers back into the areas from which they came.
838 I went into Rutland, and I want to pay the highest possible tribute to everybody in the areas to which children from my area went. I found in every case the very greatest kindness to both mothers and children. There were unsatisfactory cases, but they were very small in number in comparison with the number which had been evacuated. Here is the position in Rutland. We interviewed the chairman of the county council and the medical officer. I did not see the medical officer myself, but he was interviewed. I saw the director of education also. They said:We should like to provide for your mothers all the services that you provide for them in Walthamstow, but we cannot possibly do it. We have not such services here and we never have had. We have no equipment with which to give them the facilities that they have had in Walthamstow.We said:These mothers have been in the habit of getting free milk and of being able to get cheap milk. They cannot get it down here, and they want to know the reason why.We have a contract which has run for many years for dried milk and other foods that have to be supplied to young children, and we supply to those children, and to the mothers for the children, dried milk, fresh milk and foods that they generally require, at primary or cost price. When they do as they did in Walthamstow, go into a shop and ask for some of these foods, they find it is impossible to pay for them. There was an experience in which a child of 12 years of age wanted repairs to his boots. The mother said:I sent the boots to be repaired and I was charged 3s. 6d. I cannot possibly live and pay the high cost of repairs and all the other expenses in an area like this.That is one of the greatest difficulties that we have and I hope that the House and the Minister will consider it. If it is not considered and improved I am certain that you will not only have the 50 per cent. that has been referred to, but a very much higher percentage of our people, coming back into the towns again. There is the question of the family where there are school children and a mother with a young baby, or perhaps an expectant mother, billeted in the same house. Take the case where there is a child under school age and, in the same house, two other children of school age. The occupier of the house is getting 5s. 839 for the mother, 3s. for the child under school age, and 3s. also for the other children. That mother knows of other places close by where people could get 10s. 6d. and 8s. for those two children. I know that in the one case the children have to be fed and in the other case they have not, but there is no relation between the two scales. Unless some better system is created you will have mothers going back by thousands to the places whence they came.
We went to see why they were coming back and to prevent them from doing so if we could, and we succeeded very well. We may have broken the regulations of the Minister; if so, I hope the Minister will forget what I am going to say. We have in Walthamstow a very good nursing service system. We sent the nurses to Rutland, as a present to the Rutland authority in return for the kind service they are providing for our children. We also sent down a midwife, because they have no such services in Rutland as we have. We are also sending this week a dental clinic, almost completely equipped, and the equipment for those nurses and the midwife to use. In Oakham a penny rate brings in £60, and over the whole county it brings in £2,000. We get far more than that in Walthamstow; and, of course, the authorities in Rutland are unable to provide the services that we should like to see given to our children. I think the Minister might advise larger local authorities to transfer their services where they can be effectively used for the children. And please pay some attention to the question of children who are over school age and children who are under school age in regard to billeting arrangements.
I believe I was the first Member in this House to sugest billeting of children when the question of evacuation arose. There has been a good deal of talk about camps, hostels and that kind of thing. I saw one house in the area where I went in which the owner had not lived for a long time, and he wrote to say that we could have the servants' quarters and use them for the children. There are scores of houses empty. If you look at the "Times," the "Telegraph," "Country Life" and papers of that sort you will see advertisements of beautiful houses for sale. Why not buy them? They have been up for sale in some cases for quite a long time.
840 Prices ought to be tumbling down by now, and it would be advisable to consider the possibility of buying some of these houses in these areas where mothers could be accommodated under some kind of social arrangement, so that they could keep their own privacy and have some system of communal living that would enable them to dine together.
There is another instance of a serious mistake being made. The children went away in charge of teachers, and there was a responsible person available in every case, but the mothers were handed over by one area to another and nobody was in charge of them. I met many London County Council mothers seeking somebody to whom to put their grievances and to obtain a remedy. I met women from Walthamstow in exactly the same position. They wanted some one to whom to tell their grievances so that they might get them remedied. They went to teachers, who said that while they were willing to do what they could, they had no authority, as they were sent to look after the school children. I went, with the authority of my local authority, to the reception area, and in company with the Director of Education, instructed a teacher, in places where there were mothers about, to look after the mothers and to forget the school children for the time being. These teachers were told that their job was to look after the mothers and to report to the authority from which they came. They were told that, where grievances could be remedied locally, they should be referred to the local officers and others concerned. If it could be arranged for somebody to look after mothers in the same way as the children are looked after, and to act as a sort of liaison officer between the sending and the receiving authority, somebody who would be kindly and considerate towards the mothers, I believe that it would do an immense amount of good.
I express the hope that has already been expressed by many people, that those who have gone away and are in reasonably good circumstances will stay away. I believe that by£and£by they will be very glad to do so, but we must make the conditions somewhat better than they are at present. We should remedy the mistakes which have been made. I do not believe that there have been many mistakes considering the magnitude of the 841 problem. I am sure that if a little time is given, and there is kindliness, consideration and toleration among all the people concerned, this thing will right itself. I would ask the Minister and the Government to be generous in their treatment of mothers, if they desire them to remain away. They should encourage them to do so by making their conditions tolerable and assuring them that while they are in the country their husbands at home are getting on reasonably well.
§ 8.10 p.m.
§ Mr. Clement Davies
I am sure that we all welcome the last words uttered by the hon. Gentleman the Member for West Walthamstow (Mr. McEntee) appealing for a little consideration and toleration. I should like to pay a tribute to the speech delivered by the hon. Gentleman the Member for North Islington (Dr. Guest) for bringing this Debate back to a sense of proportion, and for his most constructive suggestion, which, I hope, will be taken to heart. It looked as though we were going to develop into a state of assertion and contradiction between hon. Members. May I assure the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) and the hon. Member for Camlachie (Mr. Stephen) that if we make any statement in regard to these children and their condition it is not that we desire to cast any reflection upon them. It is rather out of a sincere depth of pity that such things should exist.
§ Mr. Stephen
From the statements made it seemed as if, generally speaking, the majority of them were verminous. That is not so. There are certain cases. I should like to say that we have never said one word against the people in the reception areas. It is always assumed that we were slandering and criticising them. We have nothing but admiration and respect for the kindliness of the people.
§ Mr. Davies
I am glad that I gave way to the hon. Member for Camlachie (Mr. Stephen). I do not think there has been any exaggeration. The fact is that attention will always be directed to something that is wrong, and one outstanding case will be repeated from mouth to mouth. Unfortunately, these facts do exist, but 842 hon. Members opposite, I am sure, will recognise that we have nothing but sympathy for these people. I was glad to hear the Secretary of State for Scotland and to learn that steps will be taken in future to avoid the difficulties that have arisen. More especially before the children are evacuated, there should be medical inspection. I have in mind one instance where a child arrived in my county suffering from diphtheria. That is a very serious thing and ought not to have been allowed.
§ Mr. Davies
Certainly. It is not only a serious matter for the children in the area to which the child was sent, but a serious matter for the child that has to travel when suffering from such a disease. It is also a serious matter for the mother who is left at home and may get a wire or some other message saying that her child is down with diphtheria, and perhaps she has not the wherewithal to enable her to travel. These things ought to be and can be avoided, except where some cataclysm comes and we have to evacuate wholesale. Another case where there was danger, was that of a child sent to Welshpool. On arrival it had to be taken immediately to a hospital and operated upon for appendicitis. I hope that as far as possible these things will be avoided in future.
I want now to come to other matters with respect to the future of the children. It is no good simply going over the past. Most of the children who have been evacuated have come from town areas where the conditions of life, the school life etc. are entirely different from the conditions in the districts to which they have been sent. Their food has been different. I was only able to go down for a few hours on Saturday night and Sunday morning to my own county and there they were saying, with sorrow, that the food to which they were accustomed and which they gave to these children, when they arrived, the children refused to eat; they were not accustomed to it. Apparently, they were accustomed to tinned foods, or it might be fish and chips, and when they were given soups, lamb, potatoes and beans, they refused them. Some of the mites thought that 843 the beans were little black potatoes, seeing them for the first time, and they rejected them as something which they ought not to eat. That shows the difference between the way in which they have been brought up and the circumstances in which they now find themselves.
More care will have to be exercised, More medical inspection will be wanted. I was glad to hear the hon. Member for North Islington (Dr. Guest) suggest that there ought to be a mid-day meal. I and others were responsible for a very long inquiry into housing conditions in Wales and the conditions that cause tuberculosis. In particular we called attention to under-nourishment and to the great value of a mid-day meal for children. These little children may have been having a mid-day meal in the towns, they may have been attending school where a mid-day meal is provided, but no such provision is made in my county at the present time. The children have been accustomed to take sandwiches and a bottle of milk with them. They have suffered and are still suffering, but it is going to be fatal to children who have come from the towns to have to undergo such circumstances. I hope that the meal question will be attended to and not left to the local authorities. I hope there will be some direction and assistance from the Government where assistance is needed. The hon. Member for West Walthamstow mentioned the difference in rateable value and he gave a figure of £2,000 as being produced by a Id. rate. That is wealth untold to some of our counties. It is more than three times that of my own county, and I could mention four counties which together do not get much more than £2,000 from Id. rate. How are they to provide for the influx of these children and to provide the meals which are necessary for their health?
The other important matter is that of shoes. The children from the towns are used to walking along the pavement; they have not got far to go and do not get wet. Their little shoes will do, but in the countryside they will need to have strong, heavy boots with nails. The little shoes which they wear are called slippers by the children of the countryside. If they are going to be out in the fields the soles will soon be off, and if they have 844 to go through the winter I hesitate to think what will be the effect upon them. There might be an epidemic which could be avoided with a little expense, and if expense has to be borne then the State should bear it. We are bearing a tremendous expenditure at the moment, but the State could not bear a better expenditure than that which will protect the health of these children who are the future generation. It is extraordinary that out of this cataclysm some good may come. For the first time in 100 years the little children of this country are being turned with their faces away from the horrid industrial districts towards the countryside. They will get a very warm welcome, the warmest hearts, every attention will be given to them, and I hope that they will bear the memory with them, and that there will be a drift back from the towns to the beautiful countryside.
§ 8.20 p.m.
§ Mr. Sorensen
Like the hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) I also serve on an authority which covers an evacuation area and a reception area. During the last 10 days I have taken upon my self not only to see evacuees off from the station and by omnibus, but I have also visited the villages in North Essex to which they have gone. That being so, I can perhaps speak with a certain amount of experience. Much of what has been said in the Debate about other parts of the British Isles applies also to my county. It may be a long way to In-verary, but it is not very far from my constituency of West Leyton to the villages in Northern Essex to which most of the children and mothers from my constituency have gone. It is quite useless to try to blame one section of the population, as though the country folk were all sinners, and the townsfolk all saints, or vice versa. There are difficulties in every section of the community, and I think we should approach the question in a social and humanistic spirit, recognising that this great evacuation of hundreds of thousands of human beings has been a colossal task. As far as the evacuation itself is concerned, it has gone off very well, but as far as the reception is concerned, there are still very great and serious difficulties indeed. I was very glad to receive from the Ministry of Health Circular 1871. I wish that it had been sent out before. Perhaps that 845 was impossible owing to the exigencies of the moment, but if only it had been sent out before the evacuation took place, I think that many of the difficulties would have been avoided or overcome.
This evacuation scheme has revealed that basically the problem of living together is a huge psychological problem. There are, of course, economic problems, but basically it is a psychological problem, and that is why we should be hesitant about laying blame here or there. There have been occasions when there have been serious human faults that could have been overcome with a little more human kindness, a little more insight, or indeed a little more charity. I know full well, for instance, that in some of the villages I have visited, sometimes the evacuees have been to blame and sometimes the people in the places where they have had to be billeted have been to blame. I know of one case in which a woman intended to return to Leyton because, although she was living in a very fine house, much more spacious than any house in which she had lived before, she did not like the way in which the butler looked at her.
§ Mr. Sorensen
The Noble Lady knows more about butlers than I do. Perhaps she also is frightened of her own butler, although I do not suppose she is frightened of anybody. However, that may appear a trivial matter, but really it is not so trivial. After all, one has to realise that although these working-class women may have been living in small and poor homes, they have been used to controlling those homes. They have had their own domestic and social happiness; they have arranged their own affairs in their own way; they have known the local institutions, desirable or otherwise; they have got into the habit of living in their own world. After all, a home is much more important to a woman than it is to a man. Then they are taken from their home and pushed into another little home, or it may be a large house, and naturally they feel like fishes out of water; and, try as they may, within 24 hours a strange homesickness comes over them. They have not always the necessary background which some alleged more cultural people possess. They find that habits to which they have been accus- 846 tomed cannot be pursued and even that work which they want to do cannot be done. I dare say that many women in large houses, for instance, would be much happier if only they could have some work to do, and that also obtains in smaller houses.
That being so, we should appreciate that whether women have gone into big homes or three-roomed cottages, there are psychological problems, and it is useless to try to place the blame here or there. They are human problems which we have to try to solve. One thing that is essential is that you should recognise that we are dealing not merely with a mass but with human beings each of whom has her own idiosyncrasies and characteristics. In all our plans and schemes for a new society we tend, perhaps, to overlook that fact, and it is essential that we should recognise it in this instance or, whatever our sincere desires, they will not reach fulfilment. We want to remove from the mothers who have gone into these reception areas any idea that we have shoved them out in the countryside and left them there like some dump. Some have that impression. Last week I met several women sitting in the fields and I talked with them. They said that in that weather it was very nice, but one said, "What am I to do? My hostess told me immediately I had had my breakfast that she could not have me in her house as it was too small and I must clear out. I have been sitting in the cemetery and sitting here, but I am wondering when I am going to bath my baby."
Stories have been told which each one of us could multiply indefinitely. We should appreciate that in some of these cases the best women in the world, whether the owners of little cottages or wealthier owners of large houses, or evacuated mothers, are finding a real difficulty in trying to adjust themselves to a new environment. I hope to go round the villages again and keep in constant touch with them. I believe all Members should try to keep in touch with their constituents, not merely politically but because we have a duty as human beings to other human beings. I hope I shall get my petrol ration increased in consequence. Perhaps the Minister of Health will take that into consideration. I will use it only for that purpose, if he will drop a hint in the right direction. One 847 could spend a great deal of time detailing a host of problems that one has come across in the course of one's human investigations. I dare say we shall have an opportunity of taking these problems, and perhaps suggesting solutions, to the Minister of Health and the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Education.
Whether the war is going to last three years or much less, as we all fervently hope, it will be monstrous to suggest that either the children or the mothers are to be pushed out into the countryside, sometimes miles away, and then be told they will not see their children and their husbands for months and months to come. That in itself has aroused a large number of real human difficulties. Think of the menfolk who may be serving and may come back on leave and perhaps find their wives miles away and their children scattered. What is going to happen in those circumstances? I strongly support the plea that special transport facilities shall be organised to enable fathers to visit their children and husbands their wives, and perhaps on occasion wives to visit their children in some other part of the country. I suggest that provision should be made for communal centres wherever practicable. I saw at Dunmow a disused post office taken over and roughly adapted for the use of the women in the locality. I do not know who was responsible for initiating it, but I compliment him sincerely. At the same time, this rather derelict building, festooned with cobwebs and smelling musty and fusty, with 20 or 30 wailing children, was hardly the place for women to get out of the pouring rain. I suggest that there should be a drive towards the establishment of communal centres, attractively fitted out, in which mothers could rest with their children, and so relieve the burden on the hostesses and also have opportunities to meet their kindred and friends from their own districts.
Much remains to be done in the provision of social services. Many of these women have been used to relatively adequate social services in their own areas and miss them in the rural areas. That gap ought to be filled. My hon. Friend the Member for West Walthamstow (Mr. McEntee) suggested that some large houses should be rented. I go further and say they should be commandeered, at least for the period of the war. In the 848 national interest we are commandeering human lives. Surely if there are large houses vacant in the country, or boarding-houses and hotels vacant along the sea-coast, they should be taken over by the nation for the nation's mothers and children and fitted up properly for the use of those who are bearing very heavy burdens at the present time. I, as the representative of West Leyton and my colleagues in that district, do not want it to appear that we have lost contact with the people who have gone away. Technically our responsibility is ended, but morally our responsibility remains. As a county councillor I recognise that in many of the reception areas co-ordination and co-operation are needed and I would urge the consideration and co-operation are needed and I would urge the consideration of a scheme by which the evacuating authorities and the authorities in the reception areas and the county council should collaborate, so that financial and other responsibilities could be shared and the highest results achieved.
In that way a great deal more could be done and unnecessary friction avoided. We do not want to set the country folk against the town folk. They are the same people, they belong to the same country and they share the same burdens. We want, if we can, to gain something of real value for our country out of this terrible tribulation. There are difficulties and sorrows almost indescribable at the present time and perhaps more are to follow, but, at least, let us resolve that something will be gained from it all for the coming generation. I believe that on the lines I have just indicated we can approach a solution of this problem.
§ 8.34 p.m.
This has been in some ways a very helpful Debate. It has shown that the whole House wants to settle this question and all the speakers have tried to be constructive. It has also shown us what a terrific problem this is. I agree with those who have said that the country has met the situation magnificently up to now. I do not propose to speak about bad cases or good cases. Like other hon. Members, I could give chapter and verse for appalling cases, some from the point of view of the hostesses and others from the point of view of the guests. All goes to show that this is a psychological problem and 849 can only be faced in the spirit in which we hope to win the war, the spirit of all working together and trying to see what is good, instead of trying to magnify what is evil. The more I see of human nature, the more I realise its great possibilities, and the more I know that it is a beautiful thing when it is touched by the spiritual. We have now a chance of making a better England out of this appalling tragedy through which we are passing.
I will not detail my experiences. Our home has been very happy, and we have had many children. The children are very happy, and we have a nursery school. When I was motoring the other day from London to Devonshire, I saw happy children in all the villages, having a. good time. The real problem is that of the mothers. The hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) opened the subject very well and said it was very difficut for women to share a kitchen. It was put to me very well the other day that two women cannot share a sink, and that is true. It is much more difficult for the women than for the men. The home means so much more to the woman, and there is the tragedy of having to go away and leave their husbands and not know what their husbands are doing, whether they are getting their food and so on. A girl spoke to me the other day—she was a proper Cockney—and said, "I am not going to stay down there, and if you knew my next door neighbour, you would not stay there either."
I am not blaming the men. I know of a case of a couple of women who will not even look after their children, but who go straight to the public house and try to get to know the soldiers. In many ways it is amusing, but it is also very tragic. I know what a home means, particularly when you are worried. I was only saying to-day to someone, "It is a curious thing that the more you are frightened the more you want to get back into your own home." It is an extraordinary thing that at this time I badly want to get back into my own home and stay there, and if I feel that, how much more will those women 850 feel it who have been sent to the country and do not know their way about. The women have been magnificent. I know a woman with a large house who had 60 blind people sent to her and 82 children, and she has been magnificent— a Christian woman trying to put her religion into practice. We could all quote beautiful cases, and we could all quote very horrible cases, but we want to help the Minister and to be constructive.
We have to realise that there are now in London—and I suppose this applies also to Glasgow, Liverpool, and other cities—something like 30,000 young children under five years old, and I want to ask the Minister a question about them. After an air-raid warning there may be terror among the mothers of these children. Only the other day, after an alarm, there came to one of my friends in the East End two mothers in a hysterical state, with two children, three and four years old. It is not my suggestion, but that of one of the ablest women in the country, a woman who has made a life study of children and how to deal with them, and she suggests that it would be a good thing if a room were provided, say, at a first-aid post, as a shelter for children in every borough. If there were an air raid the police could take the children to the shelter, and next morning, when matters had been cleared up, the mothers would know where to find them. I think that is a good suggestion. We ought to have these shelters for children in every borough, and food and someone in attendance should be provided.
After an air raid we shall find these women wanting to have their children back in the country, but, as hon. Members pointed out, people in the country will not want them. How are we to deal with those cases? I am concerned more with the children of from two to five. There are a great many women who will not leave their homes, no matter how bad conditions are. They want to stay by their men; and in many cases I think they are right. If I could get my children into the country I would rather be at home in order to keep the home going. What are we to do with these children? It is not really practicable to take a large house and put them in it as has been suggested. The difficulty about staffing is enormous, for the children must have some trained person to look after them. At our place now we have 82 children, and you never 851 heard such a noise. The zoo is restful in comparison. One mother told us that her child would not drink anything but strong tea and that it had outbreaks of bad temper. We put her under a trained person, and within 24 hours that child was drinking milk and did not lose its temper. That was because it was put under a trained person.
Whatever we do we must save the children because they are our most precious asset, but we have to be practicable. There are a great many people who would not mind taking four or five children if they were in the care of a responsible person. I suggest that we should appeal for hostesses who would take children between two and five with one woman to look after them. If we did that I am sure we should have plenty of people ready to take care of them. I was reading of an old lady who was so terrified about having a lot of children being billeted on her that she committed suicide. People are really very frightened at the idea of having children billeted on them. If we had hostesses who would be willing to take children with an attendant, emergency open-air nursery schools should be set up where the children could go during the day and have their midday meals. I hope that the Minister will consider this plan. It may be asked, who is to look after the children? There could be selected mothers, and one mother if she had a child could take three or four others with her. One of my sons has a policeman's wife billeted on him, and she has come down with two of her own children and five others. She looks after all of them and there is no trouble. There are a lot of women who have one child who are well equipped to look after other children.
Do not think that because a woman has got a child she is necessarily a mother. There are many mothers who never had a child, and many women with children do not know anything about being mothers. It is not a question of the working class or other class. A lady who was talking to me about the scheme said many women who have one or two children of their own are capable of looking after four or five children. Their husbands are going to be called up and they will have nothing to do, and they would be just the kind of people to look after 852 the children. To my mind it is the most helpful scheme put forward, and I think it would be accepted in all parts of the country. As to the women who want to get to the country with their children, I think the suggestion of providing for them in hostels which was mentioned by an hon. Member is a very sound proposal. Let us take big houses or hotels and put them in, with a matron or somebody to look after them. All the experienced people who have had anything to do with this business have come to that conclusion. It is no good trying to billet them on other working women, or in places where they will be frightened of the butler. When I was young and went visiting at various houses where there was a very smart butler I was never frightened of anybody but the butler.
Yes, but it is not such a long time since. If the scheme is reorganised I hope that the Minister will be able to get the children under school age into homes such as I have suggested. They ought not to be left with the others, because they are a completely different problem. There is enough good will in the country, there are enough volunteers, the desire is there, and what we have to do is to co-ordinate all our efforts.
I hope we shall also consider one other thing, the provision of nursery schools. There is the Deptford Training School for Nursery School Teachers. At that school there are 130 or so resident students, some of whom have had two years' training, some one year's, and others who are still in the entrants' stage. I went there to-day to ask the superintendent how many of those girls are going in for war work. She said only four, that all the others looked upon becoming nursery school teachers as their vocation and wanted to go on with it. This place is going to be a college. I offered our house for it, but as a matter of fact there is a large empty house next door which is much better. If we put the college there then hutments could be built around it and children of from two to five could be sent there and would be under the care of these trained girls. They are girls who are paying for their own tuition. It would not be an expensive plan, and it would be a good one. We might find 853 other colleges where we could put other children, and girls from this training centre could look after them and meanwhile would be completing their course at school.
I am sure that the Government are doing all they can and that the country is doing all it can, and I feel that it is a tribute to the House of Commons that we have had such a constructive Debate, with nobody trying to score points, but everybody realising the difficulties of the problem and grateful to those who are trying to deal with them so well. But let us always remember that war is hard on women; it must always be harder on women. We may be just at the beginning of our troubles and nobody knows what we are to go through, but if we realise what can be done for the young children of this country then I feel that the war will not have been fought in vain. All my public life I have striven for these open-air nursery schools, because I realise that there are certain mothers who will never learn how to look after children, and there are certain children who, if they are kept by themselves, will always be problem children. If you put them into nursery schools you will be able to build up a much better condition of things and we shall never hear again of the kind of children who have been referred to to-day or of the social problems about which we have all heard, but which we never face until a crisis comes. I hope that hon. Members will consider this Debate and will keep up the spirit of it. We all want to help the Minister of Health as much as we can, but we must get to work at once. I ask hon. Members to consider the suggestions which I have made for clearing stations; second, in respect of the children going to school; and, third, nursery schools. I apologise to the House for taking up so much time.
§ 8.51 p.m.
§ Mr. Buchanan
I rise for a few moments to say a word or two in this Debate and I trust I may be excused if I make a brief reference to an earlier incident. An hon. Member on the other side of the House made a certain statement about Glasgow children and their conditions. In this Debate I do not wish to attack or to criticise anybody in the country districts which have taken children in, but I resent remarks from any hon. Member in this House about Glasgow children, 854 made without differentiation, as though all those children were verminous and unclean. [An HON. MEMBER: "No."] Even if the hon. Member did not mean it he made to the House the statement, "Glasgow children come." There was no limitation or differentiation but just a bold sweeping statement.
I do not say that every child in Glasgow is clean or that every child in country districts is clean. If we were debating this matter in peace-time the best way in which to examine the facts would be to appoint a committee of inquiry to go into the evidence and get to know what has happened; but you cannot do that in the state in which we now are. I resent those statements, as I would resent the sweeping statements made here attacking the towns that have taken on the job. I resent deeply all the sweeping statements made as though the whole of my statements were unfounded. It may well be, too, that some of these terribly poor people were in that condition, but I would say to the right hon. Gentleman who is to reply that this is a thing that some of us have seen for years. You have no right to expect, nor have I, great people from the conditions in which they are living. If they were great people it would be an indictment of them. Back in the places from which I come, you can find 10 or 12 people living in a single room, and living in places in which country people would often not keep their cattle. What right have we to cast terrible reflections because in a moment, and without any notice or previous gathering together, these people were ordered to go to another town?
What are the facts? They are that almost within a day masses of people were asked to move. It is very easy for the comfortable people to criticise the others, but let them try, upon an income of say 32s. a week, to keep five people living in a slum. The clothes are bound to be bad and the whole thing is bound to be that way. I am amazed, not that some were bad but that so few were like that. I went round expecting to see numbers of people like that. I fully expected it, and I say frankly that I was staggered at the comparative few there were. I trust that we shall hear the last of the sweeping assertions made if this House, as if all big towns like 855 Liverpool or Glasgow were inhabited by dirty people.
I would say one Or two words on another theme. I agree with the Noble Lady; I do not believe that you will ever solve the problem by putting two married women to live together in the same house. When I got married, I could not at first get a house. My wife went to live with her sister. Both of them were kindly, decent women, but when I had been a month in the house I was glad to get out of it. They get on well together in the ordinary way, but, with them living in the same house, it was terrible. Nor do I think that you can get an elderly woman, who has already reared a family, to start looking after another family very easily. You cannot blame her for that. I have no objection to a medical inspection of children. The Socialist movement has stood for many years for medical examination of children. But I object to the suggestion that there should be medical examination of certain children only. I object to there being medical examination of the children and no examination of the houses to which they are to go. If there is to be an examination, it must apply to all children and to all the places to which they have to go.
There is one problem which I am afraid will arise, and it applies to England as well as to Scotland. Some of my folk are scattered over Aberdeenshire, and I have been to see them. This is the position. The population of a comparatively small town has been more than doubled. I am afraid that some kinds of disease will occur in winter, such as whooping cough, measles and so on. Epidemics may break out in these towns that are now over-populated, and there will be neither the hospitals nor proper medical equipment available. Then there is the question of payment. If it was a question only of the children, I think the problem could be solved comparatively easily, but when the women are away also there are special problems which will arise. It has been constantly happening that people who are taking the children are finding it difficult to make ends meet. It is not a paying proposition, and if they are doing the job properly it may be a losing proposition.
Take the case of a farm labourer. He is not over-burdened with money and he 856 has a wife and family to keep. Another family is put into his house. In some cases people are actually asking those who have been evacuated for extra money. The evacuated people do not know whether they should pay the money or not. I wish the Minister of Health would issue some clear instruction about the sums which are to be paid. Then there is this other question. Suppose there are five children living in a house and two of them have unemployed fathers. Two of the fathers are unemployed, and the other three fathers are working and are not badly off. The children of the fathers who are working are receiving 2s. a week pocket-money in each case. The fathers who are not working cannot send pocket-money. It would be illegal because they have only the Unemployment Assistance Board allowance. The children with pocket-money can buy oranges and extra things that all children like to buy. I used to like sweet balls when a boy. What child does not like to have a penny or two-pence to spend? There is nothing wrong in that. I have seen some children with pocket-money and other children with none. The Unemployment Assistance Board ought to make a small payment to enable these children at least to have a little pleasure in these terrible times.
I am not keen to keep mothers in other people's homes. I would much sooner that some other method with which to deal with them were adopted. The Minister of Health has carried out a big scheme. I know there are cases of women and children who have returned to their homes, but I heard of a case in which a mother and four children did not wish to come back again. They had found a good home with good food and clothes and did not want to come back to their miserable slum conditions. No one with good food and clothing would want to come back. Numbers of evacuated people were sent to the homes of old folk. An hon. Gentleman criticised the woman who had seven children to look after. The woman had an elderly daughter, but neither had any idea of looking after seven children. One of the women had a nervous breakdown and asked the parents to take the children home because they could not look after them. I am not blaming the Minister or the local authority in this matter. In moving millions of 857 people you are bound to have these kinds of things arising, and all that I ask the Minister is that he should allow sufficient for each child on which to live. At Brodick in Arran it was said that there was no cobbler to cobble the shoes. The Glasgow child gets his boots cobbled round the corner cheaply. Good boots are absolutely essential in the country towns, especially in view of the coming winter.
My complaint about the speech of the hon. Member opposite is that his statements were far too wide and sweeping. I do not deny that certain things have occurred, but that is not confined to any one section. When statements are made reflecting on this class of people, one ought to recollect that the fathers of many of these youngsters are on the march in France. It is bad enough to have children in that condition, without reading statements about them when you are on the march. Let the hon. Member be a little more tolerant, and let his constituents be a little more tolerant. Let him and other hon. Members come to Glasgow and see the conditions from which the children come. I hope that one result that will emerge from this business will be that people will get to know something more about the slums, and that they will seek to end the slums of Glasgow and other cities. I hope that people will take part in a drive to end the slums. I plead that something should be done about the congested districts, and I would ask the Minister to give these people some decent amount of money to live on. It is a terrible thing that the Unemployment Assistance Board seems to have learned very little in the last few weeks. An unemployed man is left with 16s. a week, out of which he has to pay rent and feed himself, while his wife and children are away. It simply cannot be done and the wife will come back.
I wish the Minister would look more into these facts and learn from them. Let him imagine himself in the position of two of these women. One says: "My man is soon to go. The country is going 1o take him. Surely, before they take him they might give my children a better chance than they have got." The second woman says: "Millions can be given here and there. Millions can be poured out, and people can be making millions. Surely, a little might be spared from those millions to raise my standard of life."
858 When I hear these pleas, I find it difficult to answer. I would urge the Minister to say at once that the financial arrangements will be made clear. Let every person who is evacuated know what they have to pay or what they need not pay, and let every person in a reception area who takes a child or a mother, know what they will receive in money from day to day and week to week. Let all these things be made clear, and let us see to it that every child is given food, clothing and shelter in the best possible form.
In all these things there are problems. If we have no air raids in the course of a few weeks or months, more people will come back, because they will think that they are safe. They are not to be blamed if they think that. If, however, an air raid comes, people will probably scamper here and there. I am not sure about these things. People react in a hundred different ways, and it may well be that in an air raid people will act differently from what we think. My appeal to the Minister is that he should not be parsimonious. Let him not be mean. There is a feeling among our people that if you are a munitions man, if you have anything to do with the making of munitions, you can get millions. If you are unfortunate enough to be outside you get nothing. The right hon. Gentleman has capacity. Let him use it and see that in this time of trouble the mothers of the land, who are wondering what is happening to their sons and husbands in France, have not the added problem of poverty which we can well avoid.
§ 9.11 p.m.
§ Mr. Roland Robinson
I too have just returned from a visit to an important reception area where I have studied something of the varied human problems of pressed by the untiring devotion to their evacuation. I have been profoundly in-work of those who have had to handle the problems of evacuation during the past fortnight. I must admit, too, that many of the people in the reception areas have been profoundly shocked by the condition of some of the children who have come to their homes, but out of evil may come good, and when the war is over I believe it will result in an improved social conscience which will result in the amelioration of the condition of these people. During the past fortnight there has been a real upheaval in the lives of all people 859 concerned in evacuation. There were bound to be many difficulties, but they can besolved by the spirit of give and take. I think that one of the problems was mentioned by the hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede), who said that people going into new homes in reception areas were not going as extra persons to do work. I quite agree. Equally, they are not going just for a holiday. They are going to join in a new home in a new life, and the problem can best be solved by everyone pulling his or her weight and looking after themselves.
There have been a large number of ill-assortments in the way children have been placed. I have come across a good many cases where perhaps unruly children have been placed with old couples who cannot look after them. I think we should try and arrange that children should go to the homes of people who can give them the care that they need. Some children may need a little more discipline than others. I have often wondered what progress has been made in the building of camps which were intended for the use of certain of these children, and perhaps the Minister will tell us what has been done, because I know some children who would have been much happier in camp than living with older people. One suggestion I would make is that the Minister should set up some scheme of co-ordination whereby the local authority in the reception area should be constantly in touch with the local authority of the area from which the children come. The authority is losing many of its children, and may have many things which it might easily pass on for the use of its own children in another town. I hope the Minister will consider whether such a thing is not possible.
Another problem that came forcibly to my attention was the amount of the allowances given for the maintenance of these children. I agree with the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan), because time and time again people have come to me and pointed out that the allowances were inadequate for them to maintain the children, and I believe that in practically every home the people, patriotically, are over spending the allowances which are given. We must face the fact that these children who go to the seaside or into the country for the first time are getting the benefit of fresh air and are acquiring 860 bigger and better appetites than they have had before. I have noticed a little unrest in cases where children coming from homes that were comparatively well off have been billeted on poor people who could ill afford to look after them. Last week-end some of the people from the evacuated areas came in their cars to see their children, and yet they are doing nothing to help to maintain the children in their new homes. I wonder whether it would be possible for the Minister to make an appeal to those who can afford to help their children in their new homes to do so.
There is another question that I want to raise about billeting which does not concern children. There is to be a great deal of billeting of civil servants during the next few months. At the moment the Government have large powers of requisition, and the requisitioning officers are taking away accommodation in large numbers of residential hotels. They are taking the whole of the accommodation, they are putting in civil servants who require a certain standard of accommodation, and they are doing this on what they admit to be a non-profit basis. I do not want to say a great deal about this, but the people who run the hotels are doing it as a business, and if their hotels are filled with non-profit paying civil servants, the whole of their living is gone, they will not be able to pay their rent and rates, and they will not be able to feed themselves and maintain their own families. To my mind, the powers of requisitioning have been used a little severely. Many hotels have been dosed at 24 hours' notice, and there has been no real reason for this because nobody has been near the hotels for a week, and they have been shut. There are many people to whom hotels are their homes. I know of people who have been living in hotels for 25 years, in the same place and in the same room, and they have been turned out at one day's notice and have had nowhere to go. I wonder whether the Minister could give some attention to this problem, for it is a very real one. These people have nowhere to-go in their own towns because all the hotels have been taken over and the homes and lodging houses are filled with evacuees. In cases where requisitioning is done, I suggest to the Minister that the Government should not close more of the hotel than is necessary. There are many 861 hotels which have restaurants, grills and bars which open on to the streets and are intended to serve residents of the town. I feel it is unnecessary that that portion of the premises should be closed down, because it could not be used for Government offices.
Another point I wish to make has reference to the education of the children who are moved into the reception areas. In a town such as my own, where we get 50,000 or 60,000 children, we shall be faced with a vast problem in education, and yet at the same time we find that the representative of the Office of Works who is responsible for requisitioning is taking away the technical colleges and some of the schools for use as Government offices. Surely, such a situation is impossible, and it must rapidly be realised that these technical colleges are needed. Although the Government may take them now, they will have to give them up a little later on. Would it not help if the Government would say definitely now that all these schools will be needed and that they cannot be requisitioned? I have made these few points as a practical contribution. It may be that the Minister cannot give a definite answer to each point to-night, but I have no doubt that he will bear them in mind and do his best.
§ 9.19 p.m.
§ Mr. Tomlinson
There are one or two questions which I should like to put to the Minister in connection with this matter and what I would call the associated matter to which the hon. Member for Blackpool (Mr. R. Robinson) has called attention. We are all familiar with the difficulties of evacuation, and one need not go over all the matters that have been raised to-night. If you took four Members from the House and compelled them to live together for a week, you would have the same sort of atmosphere as you are getting in some of the houses that we are speaking about. It is all a question of temperament. It seems to me that what we have to realise is that this, like all other wars, is developing into a war of anomalies and, unless we tackle them at the beginning, we are face to face with problems which will grow in intensity and make each more difficult to solve. In a small urban area what is the thing that is rankling most in the minds of those who are called upon to face difficulties as the result of evacua- 862 tion through the changed circumstances? It is that they realise that this is a job that has to be done in the interest of the country. They are attempting to do it under difficulties. They are making attempts to reconcile what is almost irreconcilable. They are coming into contact with two distinct personalities and they are attempting to overcome it because they know we are in a cleft stick. Next door to them is an individual who is engaged in Civil Defence, for the same purpose, and, for that reason, he is excused the responsibility of taking in children. Yet he is being paid a very good wage, and this person is having to put up with inconvenience at his own expense.
There are anomalies of that kind which spread right through the village and create in the minds of the people a feeling of dissatisfaction, and it is someone's business to straighten them out. I thought I knew a few of them, but I have learnt of a few more since I came into the House. I know something about anomalies with regard to the children in the home. I know something about a mother overcoming some difficulty by taking children, and because she has taken them, and is living with them, is penalised to the extent of 5s. 6d. or 7s. 6d., as the case may be, because she has gone to the inconvenience of living with her own children in another area That cannot be reconciled with reason. It might be reconciled with the Minister's circular, but that is another thing. Think of the difficulties that you place, not only in the way of the local authority in a reception area but of the education committee at the same time, and keep at the back of your mind this question of anomalies. Take the question of the teacher evacuated along with the children, planked down in a strange place. It is as difficult for a teacher to settle down in a country district as it is for the children. She gets 5s. billeting allowance. The billeting allowance for a civil servant is 21s. I am not arguing whether 5s. is enough or 21s. too much, but there is no reason on earth why there should be that discrimination. It cannot be justified and it is an anomaly which will have to be straightened out before you will get anything like agreement amongst the people that we are doing our best to overcome the difficulty.
863 What is the position with regard to education committees? I was interested to hear our Scottish friend talking of the steps that have been taken to send the children out adequately provided with clothing. That is due solely to the fact that the Scottish education committees have had the power since 1908 to provide footwear and clothing for necessitous school children, a power that we have been pleading in England for some years and been unable to get. The Government have refused it within the last six months. When the question of evacuation was under discussion it was asked whether, in the provision of the kit that would be necessary in case evacuation took place, local education authorities would be allowed to exercise the powers that are exercised in Scotland, and we received a negative reply from the Front Bench. Within the last six weeks that answer has been given to a question. I know scores of people in the most poverty-stricken village in Lancashire, men and women working in the cotton mills, who have gone out and bought clothes for these children. I could take hon. Members to little shops in Great Harwood which have been sold out of children's clothing for the first time since the slump began, because the kind-hearted weavers of that village were rigging out the children. The shops have had a boom, but it will not last for long. The local education authorities should have had the power to see to it that the children who were being evacuated, were fitted out decently.
A question has been raised about children being in an unfit condition. That is not unusual. Reference has also been made to verminous children. It is only to be expected that a percentage of children will be verminous having regard to the conditions under which they live. With the school medical service inadequately staffed as it has been for years was it to be expected that when a crisis of this kind arose we should be in a position to see that all the children were medically examined? It is a physical impossibility. Only four times during the school life of the child is there a compulsory medical examination. It is only possible to have that number of examinations with the existing staff. I say to the Minister: Do not ask the education committees to perform impossibilities. The 864 Government are putting upon the education committees in the evacuating areas and particularly in the receiving areas, problems such as they have not been called upon to face for years and at the same time, the authorities are being treated by the Treasury in an anomalous way.
The Home Secretary yesterday suggested that nothing had arisen in the last three weeks to make necessary a reconsideration of grants to education committees. It may be that in the mind of a distinguished civil servant, a war does not count for much, but to me it is a very serious thing and one thing that has taken place in that time is that war has broken out in Europe. I attended a meeting of the Lancashire County Education Committee at which there were instructions from the Board in regard to another part of the district, namely, the neutral areas. We are faced in Lancashire with an expenditure of £250,000 for the provision of shelters for school children in the neutral areas, and for that we get 50 per cent. That is another of the anomalies which will have to be straightened out. How can you expect the co-operation of education authorities, already faced with all the educational problems, if you confront them with a situation in which a shilling will have to be added to the rates not in one area, but in scores of areas to cope with the requirements of the Board? It just cannot be done.
Someone will have to begin to straighten out these anomalies at once. You have a man working all day in the mill and in the interests of the nation he goes on doing voluntary service until 12 o'clock at night. That man is earning 38s. a week if he is doing well. The man next door on Civil Defence all day is earning £3 a week. There is something wrong somewhere, and it is an anomaly that cannot be justified. Until you straighten out the anomalies, a good deal of the dissatisfaction which has become prevalent, particularly in the smaller villages, will remain. I, therefore, hope that an attempt will be made to straighten out these anomalies,
§ Commander Sir Archibald Southby
Much that I would like to have said has been said by others, but there are one or two points that I would like to submit. One thing has appeared from almost every 865 speech to-night, and that is appreciation of the wonderful spirit which has been shown by everybody concerned in this evacuation. I also would like to pay a tribute to the teachers who have gone down with the children for the wonderful work which they have done. The Minister and the Under-Secretary have been bombarded during the last three or four days, I suppose, with queries, complaints, and examples by Members on both sides of the House, and it would only be fair to pay a tribute also to their courtesy, patience, and approachability. This scheme of moving vast numbers of people, which, as has already been said will have great and beneficial effects in town and country knowing one another better, can only be really successful, in my opinion, if it is kept on a voluntary basis. The moment you bring in compulsion, as you may have to do, and as I would certainly deplore, you will undo a lot of the kindly spirit and good feeling which exist at present and which, in my opinion, it is essential to maintain.
Members of this House have given their experiences in either evacuation or reception areas. I would like to say a word about a reception area which I have had an opportunity of studying during the last few days when the House has not been in session. You cannot judge the whole of the reception areas on the same lines; the conditions are totally different. In this particular area, a small country town in a rather beautiful part of the country, the main livelihood of many people in the small houses and cottages is the letting of rooms to summer visitors and others, and it is their only means of livelihood and support. When this evacuation scheme came into operation many of the summer visitors were there, and although accommodation had been promised by the householders it was impossible in many cases to provide it because their premises were already taken. Owing to delays and other causes, there came down a large stream of voluntary evacuees, self-evacuees, who obtained a certain proportion of the remaining accommodation. In spite of that, loyally and most generously, these people maintained the accommodation which they had placed at the disposal of the voluntary committees for children and evacuated mothers and children. One thing emerges from this Debate, and that is that the 866 problem of the evacuated school child is hardly a problem at all. There are all sorts of cases of over-exuberance of spirit on the part of town children. I have had brought to my notice cases of great mischief and in some cases more than great mischief, but all these matters can be dealt with by a spirit of give and take in the home, and these children can well be assimilated into the different houses which are prepared to take them.
I cannot help thinking, however, that the experience of every Member who has spoken has been the same in this respect, that you cannot solve the problem of the evacuated mother and child by billeting them, either voluntarily or forcibly, upon people in the reception areas. The Noble Lady the Member for the Sutton Division (Viscountess Astor) said that two women cannot use one sink. That is true, and I believe the only way in which we can solve the question is either by taking hostels or big houses or, better still, by building suitable camps. Another aspect of the question is the home life of these people when they are evacuated. It is a serious problem which has to be dealt with. It may be that these mothers and children, when they are evacuated into the country, are put into a house which is already occupied, and when the husband, who may be at the Front, comes home on leave, he wants to take up some form of home life. It is essential, therefore, that wherever mothers and children are put it should be possible for the husbands to go home and visit their families and have some home life. No husband can go home and be a guest in an already overcrowded small house. It makes an impossible problem, not only for his wife, but for the family who have taken them in. If a voluntary system is in operation the difficulty might be got over, but once compulsion is imposed the situation when the husband comes home will be intolerable. The only way in which that problem can be met is by the provision of camps or by the building of hostels or the occupation of unoccupied houses.
Attention has been called to the refugees who are going back and the point has been rightly made that it is not in their interest to go back having once been evacuated. There is another aspect of the case which the Minister should note. In an area such as that of which I have 867 knowledge great efforts were made by people to take in mothers and children. They then found that a large number of them, dissatisfied perhaps with the conditions, with the intense quiet of the country, or the facilities for amusement and those things to which they were accustomed, decided to go home. The effect on those who had given them voluntary accommodation is disastrous. They feel that they and the community have had to pay for the evacuation of these people and that they have welcomed them and done their best for them. They then see these people go back, knowing that in the event of an air raid they will want to be evacuated again. The Minister will have to consider putting some time limit to the evacuation of children and mothers with children so that after a certain time they cannot expect to be billeted in rural districts. I pay my tribute to the kindliness, the tact and the real human sympathy that have been shown by people in the rural districts.
There are difficulties, and I give an example in the district of which I have some knowledge. Three mothers, each with a small child, came down from a certain part of London. They had always been friends and had lived in the same tenement dwelling. When they arrived they flatly refused to be separated. There was no billeting house big enough to take three mothers and three children, although there were people able and willing to take them in separately For the time being they had to be put with others, for whom no accommodation could immediately be found, in a large empty house sufficiently furnished for a temporary lodging though not a place in which they could settle down.
After great difficulty the evacuating committee found three cottages alongside each other in which these three women and their children could be taken. The dwellers in those cottages were only too anxious to help them. They made special efforts to provide a tea, so that when the visitors arrived they would find everything warm and friendly. At the moment when they were to change from their temporary dwelling to these cottages the women again flatly refused to go. I can understand their point of view and their feelings, but the effect upon the three cottagers who had offered hospitality was disastrous. They turned round and said, 868 "If that is the way our offer is to be treated it really is not fair." Upon their own volition the three mothers with their children have since gone back to London. That kind of thing is disastrous, and it is clear that the only way to deal with that class of case is by building camps where the mothers could still be together and where they could make their own small community.
I am sorry the hon. Member for one of the Leyton Division is not in his place, because he raised a very important point-Having once got these mothers and children into country districts where conditions are so different from what they have been accustomed to in the crowded cities the greatest possible care should be taken to help them. He pleaded for welfare committees to look after them. In the area of which I have special knowledge such action has already been taken. Every one of the mothers and children is visited every day by some lady member of the welfare committee. A reading room has been provided for the mothers, be cause it is obvious that they and their children will overfill these little houses and will want some quiet place to which they can go to talk and read and sew. I think an effort should be made to put one room aside for this purpose in every reception area. In the case to which I have referred a room has been most generously donated by the Society of Friends. It is also most important that there should be people who will go round among the evacuees to find out their difficulties and help the mothers with questions which may arise about their children and their divided home life.
Then there is the necessity to have careful medical supervision of the children. I do not want to quote instances of families from other areas who have been in a distressing and most disgraceful condition. That is something which everybody in this House deplores, but the effect upon the rural areas is something which must be taken into account. It is essential that so far as is humanly possible no child or mother likely to be suffering from a communicable disease should be put into one of these village homes. If they are verminous, well that is not their fault; their habits have been bad owing to the deplorable conditions under which they have to live. But in the case of disease the mother in the rural area will in defence of her own 869 child close the door. Voluntary effort will finish and then we shall have compulsion, and there will be many mothers in the rural areas who will say, "I would sooner be fined and sent to gaol than expose my children in my cottage to this risk." That is why it is absolutely essential that the greatest care should be taken over the medical inspection. Many cases of children who are verminous or of bad habits can best be dealt with by some form of camp, but you are running a serious risk of alarming the rural population and of their feeling that, whether they like it or not, people whose condition might be offensive might be forced into their homes to the danger and detriment of their own children, notwithstanding that they are only too anxious to help such people. That applies only to children with mothers, because in the main the scholastic system of this country ensures that children are well looked after and are healthy.
There is another point which I would bring to the notice of the Minister. It would be very dangerous to do too much centralisation of hospitals or maternity facilities because communication with the country areas may be difficult because of the shortage of petrol, and because of the strangeness of surroundings. It would be far better to have a larger number of maternity homes in reception areas than to have one or two large ones to which people can be sent. It is far better to get people split up and well looked after in the areas in which they have made their homes than to move them again, because already they will have been moved from their surroundings. That is something which is very difficult for them. If, upon the arrival of a baby, the mother is to be moved again, away from the friends she has made in the reception area, an intolerable strain will be created. There should be a number of small maternity homes in the rural areas so that further movement of the population can be avoided. In small cottages which were somewhat overcrowded before the evacuation took place a large number of mothers will be having babies of their own. It will, therefore, be impossible to give them other children to look after. The accommodation will not go round.
One thing which has stood out in this Debate has been that every hon. Member desires to help. We do not gain by 870 shutting our eyes or our ears to the difficulties which exist. There is no difficulty which cannot be overcome in this, evacuation scheme, but I believe that the rural areas would be reassured if some pronouncement could be made by the Minister that, so far as humanly possible, there would be a time limit to their liability. We are fighting this war for the preservation of liberty and we have to-give up much of our personal liberty, but in this evacuation scheme you touch something which is very near to the hearts of the people, particularly if the scheme becomes compulsory, and that is the sanctity of their own homes, however big or small the homes may be. That is. something very important in our national life. I suggest that a time limit should be put upon the Government's evacuation scheme. If there were a disastrous air raid, special provision would have to be made, by Government evacuation to a prepared camp, which should be got ready in time.
In the interest of the rural dwellers, who have done their very best to help and are continuing to do so, there should be some time limit to the scheme of evacuation. Another wave of school children can easily be assimilated, but for the mothers with children it is essential there should be some fixed point after which the Government can say: "If you do not take advantage of this scheme you cannot expect to be evacuated at the public expense unless there is a disastrous raid which will make it necessary to evacuate you." Questions have been raised as to the number of people who have returned. I can give the figures only for the small town near which I live. Sixty-seven mothers and children had come into that town, and 27 of them had returned. I think that is very bad. It has had a bad effect in-the town, and upon those who stayed behind.
§ Sir A. Southby: Oxfordshire
. I have tried, as far as I can, to go about among the evacuees and have done what I could to help them, and I have found that the mothers and children who have remained deprecated the action of those who have gone back, and expressed the view that, after the welcome which had been given-them, it showed a certain ingratitude. I 871 regret that this Debate has had to be carried on to such a late hour, but I think it has served a very useful purpose. The Minister and the Under-Secretary can congratulate themselves on having heard helpful suggestions from Members, who are not indulging in carping criticism but trying to make the difficult task of the Minister more easy of accomplishment.
§ 9.52 p.m.
§ Mr. McGovern
I agree that this evening has been well spent in the airing of grievances connected with the evacuation scheme. I do not attempt to condemn either those who have been evacuated or those who have received them, because I look upon the whole matter as a great social problem. There are people who are verminous. No one will attempt to deny that. There are properties which they come from that are verminous, and it may be that in addition to carrying their own burdens they have also carried the property owners' burdens from the bug-infested tenements of Glasgow. During 28 years' experience of the building trade, during which I have been going in and out of houses, I have always preferred working even in filthy drains rather than in filthy houses. I believe that cleanliness is one of the great things in life, and, whether one lives in the depths of poverty or on a lavish scale, personal cleanliness is something to which everybody should aspire.
I realise that in this evacuation scheme, the magnitude of which would have appalled us if it had been suggested a few years ago, there are bound to be many defects. I am not so convinced as some Members are that an air raid would at once cause a clamour on the part of those who have returned to get back into the country. I have had experience of air raids in Madrid. One of the great problems experienced there was that they could not get the people to go out of the most dangerous parts of the city during air raids. Even though the dead were counted by hundreds in the streets, the people persisted in sticking to their own homes. I have had personal experience in my own area. I suggested to my wife, who is of rather a nervous disposition, that she should go away with our young boy of 11, and her reply was, "If I am to be killed I will be killed in my own home." That is the attitude of many people in this country. I have 872 sympathy not only with the evacuees, but with the people who have to take them in. Another thing that I value greatly is the sanctity of one's own home. I would rather live, even as some people are doing to-day, in a condemned single-apartment house and have the sanctity of my own home preserved than live among a crowd of people with whom I might have nothing in common and in uncomfortable circumstances, with no privacy of any kind.
This Debate to-night, at a very early stage, showed, in the interchanges across the Floor of the House, that we were just as human as the evacuees and those receiving them in the reception areas. It may seem wrong to talk about it now, but in my opinion the authorities did not sufficiently tackle the question of underground shelters in the areas where the people lived. It is a different thing for people to leave their homes and go into an underground shelter or tunnel for a temporary period from leaving their homes for three or five years as the case may be. It is not a pleasant thought for a man and woman and their family to separate for that period, which may probably be during the most impressionable years in the life of the children, when the father and mother who are attached to them want to retain their association and be able to love and to teach them in the ordinary ways of life. To the people who have to face the problem of taking in these evacuees for three or five years, it is a horrible thought. These people in many cases occupy small houses and they have had a number of people placed with them. Some of these people recognise the difficulties and do not want evacuees. They want to retain the sanctity of their homes, and I have great sympathy with them in that desire. Try and place yourself in the position where someone says that you have to take four or five children into your home. You may have one kitchenette and one bathroom, and you have all these people, all perhaps with different ideas, clamouring to use the same facilities. I am not surprised at this trouble.
Something has been said about the evacuation of Glasgow children. Many of them, we have been told, were verminous. The hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton) remarked to me at the time that he had taught in the Glasgow schools for 12 years and that if any verminous child 873 was discovered in a class a quiet word passed to the mother had the complete effect of bringing about a change in the child's personal appearance in a very short time. If these children were sent into an area in a verminous condition it may be that the mother would be blamed for lack of attention, but certainly the local authority have a greater responsibility. When this evacuation scheme was conceived proper arrangements were not made to deal with this matter, and people with responsibility and knowledge were not selected to deal with such cases. If I were asked in Glasgow, "What would you do?" I would have gone first and foremost and consulted a man like Mr. Ramsay, the head of the public assistance committee, who has 2,000 children boarded out and has knowledge, extending over many years, of the treatment of these children. When they take three or four children from a drunken father and mother or drunken mother they take them because they are in a verminous condition and they have been ill-nourished. They do not send them right away into reception areas without putting them through a certain process, even if it is of a speedy character. The children are taken and immediately cleaned. They are medically examined and given complete equipment and are sent into selected homes. The homes have been selected by examination by inspectors and a large number of children are trained in these homes.
If there had been a man of that kind at the head of the evacuation scheme in Scotland, even as a supervisor, he could have immediately put his finger on the weaknesses. We are dealing with a problem on a vast scale. I have been round as a parish councillor visiting homes where there have been boarded-out children, and we have had to take the children away on the spur of the moment, because the people were not attending to them in the proper way. Old couples and old maids of 50 or 60 years of age, who have sent their children upstairs when the inspectors came, have tiraded against them. One claimed that a boy had stolen sixpence and had gone to the pictures. We discovered that the child had no criminal desires, but had never been able to get to the pictures, in fact, had never got out of the house. We saw the house was not suitable and the child was taken away to another home.
874 All these problems are bound to arise under an evacuation scheme. I could quote cases that have come to my attention; at my home during the week-end I have had scores of people telling me about the difficulties of evacuation. I told them I was not dealing with personal cases, but that I was prepared to raise the issue and suggest better supervision. Here is one case which shows lack of consideration. A poor, decent and hardworking woman undertook to have 12 children. She went away to the North of Scotland and the children were put in. an old house. That woman had to feed the children and up till last Saturday she had not a single penny to feed them. A boy's father complained to me last Saturday about the children being taken away. He is the head of the house-lighting department of the Glasgow Corporation and was capable of sending his child money, but he knew nothing at all about the whereabouts of the child. This woman was dependent on a local farmer to give the children she had in her care, milk, eggs, butter and potatoes and other food of that description. I say it is a shocking thing that a decent woman should be brought to that stage, and that 12 children should be brought home by parents because they have been half-starved during that period. I am not exaggerating. I can give facts. They are responsible people. They are not the type who can be described as verminous or anything else.
My complaint is that there should be greater supervision in these areas to see-that children do not suffer. It is said that it is only when the mothers are there that trouble arises. You do not expect children to cause trouble if they are not being properly attended to. I have a boy of II, and if he is given a piece of bread and jam he is satisfied. Very often the greatest difficulty is to get him to sit down and take a meal. Children do not complain, and they may suffer as a consequence. Supervision is absolutely essential. Here is a case from my own division which I saw in the "Daily Record" to-day. The statement is that two little Glasgow children who were evacuated a fortnight ago were drowned yesterday by the incoming Sol way tide. A girl of 11 years of age, the playmate of the children, made an heroic but unsuccessful effort to save her friends. The victims were Betty Brennan, nine years 875 of age, and Eric Brennan, seven years of age. Fancy that type of news coming to the father of children who have been evacuated. It is bound to arouse in the minds of every mother in Glasgow the thought that her child might be in danger, and it will have the effect that many children will be brought back from these evacuation areas into Glasgow.
Last week there were motors of all kinds being employed in bringing back children on the ground that some of them were sleeping in outhouses, on concrete floors, and in rooms without beds. These personal stories came to me. I did not take the complete details because I am pleading that in every case supervision should take place. Any person can picture what a home must be on hearing a tragedy of that description. Were the children drowned because there was a lack of supervision? You cannot throw children into an area and not have proper supervision. Boys and girls are bound to get into danger and trouble, and there should be complete supervision in these evacuation areas. All the problems about which we have been speaking to-night are the product of your war and your social system, and it is no wonder that people like myself say that nothing on earth justifies this war, nothing on earth justifies the loss of 20,000,000 lives, the wrecking of homes and the breaking of hearts in every part of the country. I believe that nothing justifies this war and the consequences of it are going to be tremendous. Here we are discussing the problem of the breakup of family life. We used to be told that Socialism would break up family life. Capitalism is successfully breaking up family life, breaking hearts and destroying the homes and the happiness in every part of the world. I have mentioned two evacuated children from my area who were drowned. I have said that the supervision over these children should have been more complete. I blame the local authority for lack of attention, lack of consideration and lack of business ability.
The Government have done many wrong things. Sometimes they have appointed the wrong people, busy people and tired people. I see people such as the right hon. Member for West Stirling (Mr. Johnston) being appointed to a responsible position. To begin with, I do 876 not know how that squares with the fact that nobody is to get a paid job in this country if he is a Member of Parliament. I hear that the right hon. Member for West Stirling has been appointed. He is the manager of a large insurance company in Glasgow, drawing —1,500 a year, I am told. He has his Parliamentary salary, he writes articles for the papers, he has his own home life to develop, and on top of that he is appointed to a job of this description. He simply cannot do it. I assume he is not a man who is prepared to take a salary of that description without doing something in return for the salary he is drawing, because his whole life has been spent, as editor of "Forward," in hammering everybody in the Labour movement, with the call of "One man, one job." He wanted even Cabinet Ministers to have £8 a week. The Government appoint this man to a job of this description when evidently he has not the time to devote to the job.
If the Government are going to appoint people to look after the interests of these evacuated people, let them appoint people who have the time, who are not tied up in a hundred different ways, and who can devote their attention to the job. If the Government want this evacuation scheme to be successful—and I would address this remark to the Secretary of State for Scotland—let them go to a man such as Mr. Ramsay, of the Public Assistance Department in Glasgow, who has supervision over and knowledge of 2,000 children who are boarded out. Such men will show the Government the basis of operation of a scheme which at least will send children out of Glasgow equipped, clean and decent, and give the scheme a proper chance of operating in a decent way. I do not expect the scheme to work properly. I think that tearing people from their ordinary routine and life and dumping them into another area, town-bred children with country children, can never be successful, quite apart from the question of the breaking up of family life.
I spent two years in Australia. There all the farming schemes went wrong because you took town-bred people and put them on the land, and all of them gravitated towards the cities. These people will come back as quickly as they can. The scheme will break down. I think the most sensible thing that has been said to-night is the suggestion made by one or 877 two hon. Members that only camps or hostels or houses of some kind, where people are allowed to develop their own life, will have any chance of success. The attempt to billet people in strange houses, where quarrels are bound to ensue, will lead to the people coming back to the cities. I plead with the Ministers responsible that, if the schemes are to operate properly, at least they should see that the children are examined in the proper way, that they are fitted out for the journey and for the life into which they are going, and that some form of development should take place even at this late period in the matter of camps or huts of some kind, for they would be preferable to the life that these people are having now. I have in my pocket a postcard which one woman sent to her husband in which she said that she was satisfied because she had got into a condemned house. Things have come to the state in which a woman evacuated from her own home is satisfied only when she can be accommodated in a condemned house. This proves that the question of their having their own home is the thing that is causing the greatest amount of trouble and will continue to do so to an increasing extent. I venture to say that before one month has passed most of the evacuees will be back in their homes in various parts of the country and all the Government's efforts have been in vain, whereas with a proper and reasoned scheme, having at the head of it men with some knowledge, instead of busybodies who have no knowledge, would have had some chance of being a success. I am sure that hon. Members, no matter in what corner they sit, have the greatest sympathy with the Ministers, with those who are taking the evacuees, and with the evacuees themselves, because they are all given an impossible task. The whole thing is wrong and unnatural and I cannot see it working out successfully in any shape or form.
§ 10.16 p.m.
§ The Minister of Health (Mr. Elliot)
We have had a long Debate and, I think for the first time since the outbreak of war, the House finds itself sitting at what a short time ago were its accustomed hours. Undoubtedly, as was said by the hon. Member for West Leyton (Mr. Sorensen), it has been to-day a very 878 human house, human in its passionate interest in the problem which is set before us, human in the waves of emotion which have swept it from time to time and led us occasionally to fear that the Debate was going to break down into unconstructive argument instead of the constructive suggestions to which fortunately it has generally rallied. It shows us the House of Commons at work ventilating grievances and bringing to the observation of those who, like my right hon. Friend and myself, have heavy responsibilities to shoulder, its devotion, its criticism and, I say with gratitude, its sympathy, because the task which we had to shoulder at short notice is one which undoubtedly would a few years or even a few weeks ago have caused a very great sense of impossibility to come over all our minds.
I do not share the pessimistic views of the hon. Member for Shettleston (Mr. McGovern). I think the descriptions that have been brought forward have shown that, in so far as the schoolchildren are concerned, the scheme on the whole has been not merely a success but a very considerable success. It is true that he brings forward the case of two children who by a regrettable accident have lost their lives on Sol way shore, but have no children ever lost their lives in street accidents in Glasgow? Have none lost their lives in accidents away from home before? Accidents happen. What we are trying to avoid is that the greatest of all accidents should not happen to the children and that the devastation which he himself has seen in Spain and elsewhere should not fall with its greatest effect on the child life of our own country.
I think it is true to say that the many criticisms which have been advanced have mostly concerned the problem of the adults—the problem of the mothers with children. The hon. Member for Shettleston suggested that all might have been avoided if we had worked on the lines of Mr. Ramsay of the public assistance authority in Glasgow, who had gone so far as to board out 3,000 children. We are boarding out hundreds of thousands of children, not over a period of one to three, four or ten years, but over a period of four days, and in those circumstances I do not think that the analogy of the patient, slow, methodical investigations which are possible in peace-time can 879 possibly be adduced in the crisis and emergency under which the country is labouring.
§ Mr. McGovern
I only suggested that verminous children, and that sort of thing, would have been avoided if proper preparation had been made.
§ Mr. Elliot
I do not agree with the hon. Member. Proper preparation involves many weeks of previous treatment and investigation. The circumstances in which we were working were not circumstances in which many weeks of preparation were available and it was impossible for the same process to be gone through in the case of this sudden movement as in the case of the slower movement to which the hon. Member refers. We had to deal with the problem of evacuation under conditions which were completely novel. Although we had some experience of the boarding-out of school children, it was on a small scale and we had no experience of trying to deal with the problem of the evacuation of adults, certainly not on the colossal scale which this country undertook at such short notice.
I frankly admit that we have had experiences from which we ought to learn and from which I hope we have learned. Many of the criticisms advanced during this Debate have been dealt with in the circular No. 1871 to which a good many references—on the whole friendly— have been made by hon. Members. For instance, there is the point about the careful inspection of the children which has been mentioned by many speakers tonight. In the circular the attention of the local authorities is drawn to that matter. I would repeat the declaration which was made by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland on behalf of the Government that, unless under rush conditions when no such inspection is possible, no child should be sent to a billet unless it has been inspected and found to be, so to speak, in a billet able condition. I repeat that declaration, on behalf not only of England and Wales but on behalf of the Government as a whole. Mention has also been made of the use of empty houses. In paragraphs 28 and 29 of the circular we have gone into that question at some length and made it clear that local authorities have the power, not necessarily to buy but to requisition.
§ Mr. Elliot:
That circular refers to conditions in England and Wales but a similar circular is going out as regards Scotland. I did my best to send it, with a personal covering note, to each Member of Parliament, but perhaps it was not addressed to the hon. Member. It may be that it would be wrong of me, as an English Minister, to address a circular to a Scottish Member. But it is a circular which deals with many of the points raised in this Debate. As I say, it points out that local authorities have the power to requisition houses and deals with the question of the expense of requisitioning these houses and fitting them up with the equipment necessary for the daily life of the home. The point about finance is met by the statement that such expenses will be a proper charge against the evacuation scheme. We have also drawn attention to the point which has been raised in the course of the Debate in reference to the distressing circumstances in which bedding and household equipment have had to be destroyed. There is a definite paragraph on that which draws attention to the fact that claims by householders may be made in respect of damage and that careful note of any damage of that kind should be kept, and we shall do our best to see that claims of that kind are properly considered. That certainly also would apply to damage caused by infestation of bedding or household equipment as well as to actual damage caused, as is caused in some cases, by the destruction of property, either maliciously or accidentally. It would be wrong for me at this late hour to go in detail into the circular, but I would commend it to hon. Members as an attempt which we have made already to meet some of the points that have been brought up in this Debate.
It is true also to say that we shall do our best to deal with other difficulties which have been brought out by hon. Members—for instance, the public health aspects of the case and the necessity for giving guidance to the local authorities as to dealing with infectious disease and with early hospitalisation of the cases of sickness which might cause epidemics to begin. We shall be sending out a further circular on the lines of Circular 1871 fairly soon, because it is desirable to give guidance to the local authorities and others on 881 such subjects. In all this we have to do our best to steer a middle course between snowing the local authorities under a snowstorm of circulars and papers which will give them no time to consider any of them, and standing back and leaving everything to their unguided initiative. On the whole, the reception authorities have dealt magnificently, by the use of initiative, with every aspect of the problems which have been hurled at their heads.
The hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) spoke with a little acerbity about a policeman who had taken orders from a vicar. It is true that orders may have been given by the vicar, by the policeman, by the social helper, by the worker who has gone out from London, by the swarm of individuals who have fastened on the problem and brought it into an orderly shape out of the great difficulties with which they were faced. These people have merited well of this country, and particularly of this House, because we put forward these schemes to the House, and the House passes them, but it is for the individuals to translate them into action, and, taking it by and large, the individuals have magnificently done so. Take one single fact. We have been speaking for hours on this great problem, the movement of 1,400,000 individuals, young children, mothers, expectant mothers, women in an advanced stage of pregnancy, and nobody from start to finish of the Debate has ever suggested that one of these people went hungry for a day. There are many people up and down the world to-day who would give much to be able to say that that was the the case with the refugees under their charge.
§ Mr. Elliot
I am coming to that. The hon. Member did say in one case that there had been a hitch in obtaining the money. I made inquiries as to whether one word of complaint about that case had been received by us in Scotland. There has not been a word. Such cases may arise, but in general the cases have not been very acute or we should have heard about them in the administration. Unless they are brought to the notice of the administration it is impossible to remedy them.
§ Mr. McGovern
I pointed out that the 12 children were brought home by their parents because of the treatment they received.
§ Mr. Elliot
The hon. Member pointed that out here, after the children had been brought home, without giving adequate notice to the Secretary of State for Scotland or bringing it to my notice.
§ Mr. McGovern
The right hon. Gentleman is not entitled to say that. I did not know about the case until I saw some of the parents on a bus last Saturday bringing the children home. I am only pointing out that there was a lack of administration. Surely I am entitled to do that when a woman looking after 12 children has no money with which to feed them. The right hon. Gentleman is too inclined to rebut things instead of dealing with them sympathetically.
§ Mr. Elliot
If the hon. Member would extend to others the courtesy which he rightly demands for himself he would listen to what I was about to say. I said that this case had not been brought to the notice of the administration. He himself admits that he has not mentioned it to anybody from Saturday night until Thursday evening.
§ Mr. McGovern
I told the Secretary of State yesterday, which was the first day Parliament met. That was the first occasion I could do so. The right hon. Gentleman must not be unfair.
§ Mr. Elliot
I do not wish to be unfair, but the hon. Member criticises very severely the conduct of those with whom he finds himself at variance. He has criticised the conduct of the right hon. Member for West Stirling (Mr. T. Johnston), and I do not think he should be so thin-skinned. I will, if the hon. Member likes, make an exception of his case, and say that except for that case which he heard about on Saturday and brought to the attention of the Secretary of State on Wednesday, no other case has been brought up on the Floor of the House of any evacuee who went hungry. The House is entitled to thank those responsible for the care which they exercised in making sure that such a statement could be made. I was asked by the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) whether I could make a statement about the financial position of the individuals 883 whose children have been evacuated and what the position was of those who ought to make some contribution towards the cost of billeting their children. It has been contemplated from the outset that parents of children who are evacuated in school units under the Government plan, and for whose board and lodging and general welfare the householder is made responsible, should be asked, where the family circumstances justify, to make a contribution towards the cost. That was made plain in a circular issued in May last, and has been on other occasions.
The Defence Regulations are so framed as to enable the Minister to recover the whole or any part of the cost, together with the cost of arrangements made for providing children with the necessary medical attendance, and these arrangements have been made with the most cordial co-operation of the British Medical Association. Any householder with whom an unaccompanied child is billeted may, without expense to himself, call in a doctor if he thinks it necessary. We in the Government feel that the general principle of asking parents to make a reasonable contribution, according to their means, towards these expenses is sound. I think it will be agreed in all quarters of the House that in war as in peace parents should accept the primary responsibility of maintaining their children. I cannot at the moment say more than that. The detailed arrangements are being worked out and the Government will keep in close touch with the representative associations of the local authorities, whose advice and assistance will be welcome and will, I am sure, be forthcoming.
I do not think it would be desirable or advisable for me, at this stage, to go through the numerous and most valuable constructive suggestions which have been made. The Noble Lady the Member for the Sutton Division (Viscountess Astor) and others dealt with the position of the children under five. The suggestion that they should as far as possible be treated on the crêche system, large or small, which is one which we welcome, and to which we called attention in paragraph 35 of the Circular I have mentioned. It would be difficult, also, for me to go into some of the criticisms of the billeting allowances, 884 but we have not neglected them. Sometimes I think hon. Members do not quite allow for the fact that certain billeting allowances make provision for food as well as for lodging, and some only make provision for food. It was suggested by, I think, the hon. Member for Farnworth (Mr. Tomlinson) that there was no justification for a billeting allowance of 21s. for a civil servant and 5s. for a teacher, but the 5s. for the teacher is a room allowance only and the 21s. is for room allowance and food as well.
Were these ordinary times I could go at great length into the criticisms; but they are not ordinary times, and I beg hon. Members to accept my assurance that the Government will take into consideration all the suggestions that have been made, and I hope that our previous actions and the instructions we have sent out to local authorities will be accepted as an earnest of the fact that this is not merely an empty phrase. We are very strongly aware of the size of the problem we are facing, and of the necessity under which we shall be to rest ourselves closely upon the advice and the support of the House in dealing with it. As has been said, we are dealing not with mere statistics, but with individuals. It is not enough to say that we have in England moved 673,000 unaccompanied school children and 406,000 mothers and young children. Each of them is an individual problem. The 3,000 expectant mothers whom we moved from London are not a mass of 3,000 people, but 3,000 cases, every one of which represents a human problem to all friends and relations. We shall do our utmost to allow for that in our future dealings with this question. This is the first of many Debates that we shall have on this subject, I have no doubt. We have had great support from the House in our first encounter with this matter and I hope that the Minister will continue throughout the future weeks, or months, or, it may be longer period for which we have to deal with this problem, to deserve the support and sympathy which the House has extended this evening, on again coming before the House.
§ 10.41 p.m.
§ Sir Henry Fildes
I have waited some time to have an opportunity to express the grievances of my constituency of Dumfriesshire, and I have been amazed at the complacency with which the Minister 885 has contemplated this action of his Department, by a system of fines and penalties, to force into the homes of Britain persons suffering from venereal disease, diphtheria, scabies and all sorts of infectious complaints. An instance was quoted here of a women, who refused to receive a child in a dirty condition, being fined £25. I tell the Minister that his Department will not be forgiven for the audacity of obtaining powers in this House to force unhealthy and diseased people into the homes of other people and for offering no explanation from that Box. I remember, as we all do, a day when, if there had been an indictment placed upon any Ministry like that which has been placed upon the Ministry of Health it would have been followed by the resignation of the Minister, but here we have the Minister getting up and without a word of apology to the community for the dreadful scourge that he has placed upon the homes of Britain.
I have made my protest. I have letters from responsible people in Dumfrieshire where alone over 27,000 people have been forced from the districts of Glasgow under the threat that if the people did not take them in the penalty was a fine of —25 and three months' imprisonment. What provision did the Ministry of Health make 886 to see that those people were in a healthy and safe condition to be placed in those homes? We have had no reply to that question, but we have had a measure of complacency which is an outrage. I do not think that the Minister appreciates at this moment the intensely bitter feeling that there is against his Department on this matter. I grant you that it is not the fault of the children, but what are you to say of a Department of Health which, having had months to get on with this job, has not made inquiry to see that the people whom they were forcing upon other districts were in a healthy condition and were not imposing a risk of plague on the countryside? I am disappointed more than I can tell at the speech to which we have listened. The right hon. Gentleman seemed to think that because somebody else, the people in the country, did the job, his Department are not responsible, but that Department cannot take credit for what has happened, and it has not had the decency to see that the evacuees were in a reasonable state of health.
§ Adjourned accordingly at a Quarter before Eleven o'Clock