HC Deb 02 July 1940 vol 362 cc699-760

Motion made, and Question proposed, That a sum, not exceeding £38,830, be granted to His Majesty, to complete the sum necessary to defray the charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1941, for the salaries and expenses of the Department of His Majesty's Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs." [Note:—£17,500 has been voted on account.]

Mr. Mander (Wolverhampton, East)

On a point of Order. Am I right in assuming that it will be in Order on this Vote to discuss the scheme with reference to the United States of America as well as the Dominions, as we were informed the other day it would be?

The Chairman

I think that the matters to which the hon. Member has referred are intended to be dealt with by the Dominions Department, and under those circumstances it will, of course, be in Order.

3.58 p.m.

The Under-Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs (Mr. Shakespeare)

I would like to start by thanking hon. and right hon. Gentlemen for not pressing me last Tuesday to give an account of my stewardship when my department was only five days old. The new staff was working under great pressure, and I explained that if we then had to go through a Debate there was a risk of the whole organisation breaking down. I, therefore, do thank hon. Members for their indulgence. Let me remind Members of the origin of the Children's Overseas Reception Board, or, as we propose to call it, C.O.R.B., which is charged with the duty of the Children's Overseas Reception Scheme, shortly to be called C.O.R.S. An Inter-Departmental Committee was appointed early in June to recommend a practical scheme for sending children overseas. The Committee will remember that a number of offers were received from the Dominions to welcome our children. It is very moving and inspiring to reflect that families who are within the safe sanctuary of the Dominions overseas, within the British Commonwealth of Nations, consider that their fortunes are so linked to ours that they are eager to welcome our children, to receive them into the family circle, to care for them and to maintain them at their own expense for the duration of the war. I should like to express, on behalf of His Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom to the whole Empire, our deepest gratitude for the generosity of these offers and for the spirit which has prompted them.

The Inter-Departmental Committee, which met for the first time on 7th June, made its final report late on the night of Saturday, 15th June. On Monday, 17th June, the War Cabinet approved of the recommendations in the committee's report and I was appointed chairman of the new executive body. On the same day, that is, on the Monday, I gave the High Commissioners for the Dominions, copies of our report for their consideration as the basis of a practical scheme. On the same day, sanction was received to open negotiations with Messrs. Thomas Cook & Sons, the well-known travel agency, with a view to the new department being housed in their premises. My first task, naturally, was to engage a staff. I was fortunate indeed in securing the services of the head of the Department of Overseas Trade, whose gift for organisation and whose drive, had impressed me when I was a Minister at that Department. He therefore became Director-General. Meanwhile it had been arranged that the report of the Inter-Departmental Committee should be published on the following Thursday, 20th June, and we announced our intention of moving into our new premises on that day.

During the final sittings of the committee a circular was drafted at the Board of Education ready to be sent out when the Government approved of the scheme. These circulars intimated to all local education authorities that the report would be published on the following Thursday and asked for their co-operation in establishing forthwith, machinery to deal with the large number of applications which might be expected. It was arranged on Wednesday, 19th June, the day before we moved into our new premises, to meet a number of voluntary societies with knowledge of migration and child welfare. This meeting took place, and I asked them to nominate one representative each, to report next day at our new premises and to be the nucleus of an Advisory Council. Lord Snell had consented to be chairman of that body. On Wednesday night we had a dress rehearsal with the small nucleus staff which had been collected in two days. This was in order to make sure that the various tasks were properly allocated and that every one understood his task. The hon. Member for East Islington (Miss Cazalet) and Mrs. Clifford Norton offered to assist the Board and their services were gladly accepted and they have already proved themselves a valuable aid. On 20th June, the staff was at work tackling our task. Within three days, in a broadcast, the Committee will remember, I was able to announce that all the Dominions had accepted the scheme outlined in the report and would co-operate with us in making it a practical success. So it was that the Children's Overseas Reception Board came into being.

It will be convenient if I explain at this stage, as briefly and as simply as I can, the main elements of the scheme which we are charged to administer. In the case of all children who have reached the age of five but have not reached the age of 16, parents can make application for their children to be sent overseas, to the Dominion of their choice. The benefits of the scheme are open to school children within those ages, wherever the children are now situated, or whatever the circumstances of the parents. For easier administration, we have divided all children into two categories, namely, those who attend State grant-aided schools such as elementary and secondary schools, and those who attend other schools. No mother is eligible to accompany her child overseas, but an exception may be made in the case of the widow of a man who has lost his life in active service in the present war. If parents are excluded, it is clearly necessary to organise a system of escorts or helpers, to look after the children on the journey. No charge will be made for the railway journeys or voyages, to the parents of children from grant-aided schools but they will be asked to contribute, week by week, the same amount as they are now contributing, or as they would contribute under the United Kingdom evacuation scheme.

Colonel Wedgwood (Newcastle-under-Lyme)

Who will get that money?

Mr. Shakespeare

That comes to my Department. The parents of children at other schools are to be asked to contribute at a higher weekly rate.

Mr. Cove (Aberavon)

Are those "other schools," private schools?

Mr. Shakespeare

"Other schools" are any schools which are not grant-aided schools. This sum has since been fixed at £1 a week and the amount of the fare may be adjusted to the circumstances of the parent.

The Committee will, I take it, wish to know four things. First, what is the composition of the executive body; secondly, what is the machinery for the selection of the children for evacuation; thirdly, what arrangements will be made at the other end to receive them, and, fourthly, what is the composition of the Children's Overseas Reception Board?

Mr. Lipson (Cheltenham)

Is no provision being made for children under five?

Mr. Shakespeare

That is not in the scheme which has been agreed between the Dominions and ourselves. I have, personally, chosen to keep the size of the Board as small as possible. I have secured the services of very experienced civil servants who will bring to this problem the specialised knowledge of their various Departments, such as the Departments of Education and Health; the Dominions Office and the Foreign Office. In addition, I have appointed from outside the Civil Service two officers. One is a woman who will be charged with welfare problems. The other is a business man from the largest travel organisation in this country, who has spent all his life dealing with problems of transport. With the Director-General, his deputy and myself as chairman, the Board is thus limited to 10 members. We shall be assisted by an adequate subordinate staff, but I have purposely avoided building up a hierarchy. The Board will, of course, have a secretary, and we shall have two advisers. I have appointed Mr. George Gibson, so well-known in the trade union world for his knowledge of migration, to advise me on all labour questions associated with migration, and I have appointed Mr. Tom Henderson, who is equally well-known in Scotland, to act as liaison officer between our Board and the Scottish branch.

Colonel Wedgwood

Will all these people be unpaid?

Mr. Shakespeare

The civil servants are paid, and the Council is unpaid.

Mr. Silkin (Peckham)

Will the hon. Gentleman consider appointing to the committee, representatives of local education authorities who have had considerable experience in dealing with evacuation?

Mr. Shakespeare

Much as I would like their services, my difficulty there is that if we started to make appointments on that basis, there would be no limit to the size of the Board. I can, however, always get their advice. I think I have secured a first-class Board and one which will deal quickly with the many novel problems associated with our scheme. We meet normally in the morning, and again late at night to try to solve difficulties which have arisen in the course of the day. If those difficulties cannot be settled there and then, we establish immediate contact with the Government Departments concerned, and here, I should like to thank other Departments for the speed with which they have given decision. Particularly, does this apply to the Treasury.

After consulting my Director-General, I laid down two guiding principles to govern the conduct of the Board. In the first place, no minutes or files must pass between directors for the time being. Every question must be solved by personal contact. In the second place, as speed is the essence of dealing with our problem, if a director has to make an urgent decision in connection with a particular matter with which he is associated, and a mistake is made in circumstances that he could not envisage owing to the necessity for quick decisions, he shall not be held responsible, but the responsibility shall rest upon me. This, then, is the new Government Department which we are trying to run on business lines to cope with a scheme of unusual complexity. If larger questions of policy arise, it will be my lot to take them up with the appropriate Ministers or to submit them to a higher authority. I would like to express my gratitude to the staff. During the last 12 days they have worked very long hours and no distinction has been made between Saturday and Sunday. They have responded enthusiastically to every demand made upon them.

I have now given the Committee the lay-out of the Board which is the executive body and takes all decisions. I am advised, as I have said, by an Advisory Council under the chairmanship of Lord Snell, composed of persons of proved experience nominated by voluntary societies in touch with these problems. Apart from my Government colleagues and the Scottish branch, which meets at Edinburgh, there are 25 members of the Advisory Council for England and Wales. This Advisory Council is adequate in size and no more than adequate to deal with the many questions which arise in regard to evacuation in this country, the welfare of the children and the problems peculiar to each of the four Dominions. Let me emphasise, however, that it is only an advisory body and that the ultimate responsibility for decision rests with the Board. I have referred to this Advisory Council many questions, such as what should be the quota from grant-aided schools and from non-grant-aided schools; what are the best arrangements which can be made for the welfare of the children during the voyage, and what scale should be fixed for payments by parents of children from non-grant-aided schools. I have asked them, also, to lay down the appropriate scales for doctors, nurses, teachers and helpers, and to advise me on the important question of the priority of selection. This Council has been in almost constant session, and I am doubly blessed in having the advice of this very competent body.

So much for the Board and the Advisory Council. I come now to the machinery for the selection and evacuation of children overseas. With regard to the machinery for selection, the local education authorities have been notified by circular, first, that they must choose only children who are suitable, and, secondly, that they must utilise the machinery of the school medical service so that a very careful report can be made in respect of each child before the final report of my Committee is drawn up. I have asked the High Commissioners for the Dominions to agree to appoint a doctor to confer with Sir Arthur MacNalty, the Chief Medical Adviser to the Board of Education. They met and agreed upon a reasonable standard for a medical test.

Mr. Lunn (Rothwell)

May we be told what it is?

Mr. Shakespeare

It is confidential. I should like to thank the High Commissioners and their staffs for the help they have given in this respect. Hon. Members will be gratified to learn that the medical test in this country is final and conclusive. Children will not be rejected at the end of the voyage by any medical examination that may be considered necessary there. It is not our intention to send any difficult or problem children to the Dominions. They have asked for a cross-section of British children, normal, fit and healthy, and we shall send selected children according to this plan.

Mr. McGovern (Glasgow, Shettleston)

With regard to the medical examination, will it be in the area from which the children come or by the Board? Is there a question of any children being turned back at the port?

Mr. Shakespeare

There will be a medical examination by the school medical service, and then there will be a check by a doctor appointed by each High Commissioner in respect of each Dominion.

Mr. McGovern

Will that be done locally?

Mr. Shakespeare

It will be done centrally. As regards the quota, we have decided on a fair quota in respect of the two kinds of schools. In England and Wales, 75 per cent. of the children will come from grant-aided schools, and 25 per cent. from other schools. In Scotland, 49 out of 50 children will come from what are termed local education authority schools, and one out of 50 children from other schools. These quotas follow roughly the proportions of children existing to-day in the respective kinds of schools. It may well be that if we cannot satisfy the quota in respect of either category, we shall be forced to select children on some other basis. Hon. Members will see that there is no ground for the constant reiteration by Lord Haw-Haw that the benefits of the scheme are exclusively for the rich. The next important principle we have decided upon relates to the priority of selection. After taking the advice of the appropriate authorities, we have chosen vulnerable zones the children living in which will rank for first priority. In the course of time the date of the application made by parents will be a factor that may influence our decisions on priority. The Committee will be interested to learn that up to date we have received applications from local education authorities in England and Wales in respect of just over 40,000 children now attending grant-aided schools, and applications in respect of about 12,000 children which have come direct to us at our head-quarters from the parents of children at other schools.

Mr. Pethick-Lawrence (Edinburgh, East)

Does the second figure include those children who are going to Canada, and possibly elsewhere, under private arrangements?

Mr. Shakespeare

No, Sir. They are children who are going under our scheme.

Mr. Kenneth Lindsay (Kilmarnock)

Are we to understand, in respect of children going to the United States of America, that every child now comes under the scheme, or at any rate has to be notified under the scheme?

Mr. Shakespeare

I am not talking about the United States of America.

Mr. Lindsay

Is it the case that a notification has to be made in respect of every child who goes?

Mr. Shakespeare

It is not compulsory. Every child does not come under our scheme.

Colonel Wedgwood

Is the hon. Gentleman referring to America as well as the Dominions?

Mr. Shakespeare

There is no scheme operating in respect of America. I am talking about the scheme which has been agreed upon between the Dominions and ourselves and I am dealing with the num- ber of children in respect of whom application has been made to us, whether from grant-aided schools or other schools.

Mr. Lunn

Has the hon. Gentleman given us the total figure?

Mr. Shakespeare

That is the total. We have had continuously working at our office representatives from the offices of the High Commissioners for the Dominions, and they have carefully checked medical reports. I come now to the machinery for evacuation. By to-morrow, Wednesday, some of the parents will have been notified that their child has been provisionally selected, and they will be asked to give their consent by signing a document of acceptance. It will be made clear that parents send their children at their own risk, and naturally, they will balance the risk of the voyage against the risk of staying in this country. In the same letter, parents will be notified of the necessary clothing which the children should take. When the letter of consent is returned to us, and steps have been taken to ensure that it has been signed by both parents, or if only by one, at least the consent of the other parent has been obtained, we shall be in a position to notify the local education authority where the children live and to make arrangements for their evacuation. The local education authority will also be given a list of the necessary clothing to be taken by the children in their area. They will be told also of the collecting stations and asked to co-operate in order to ensure the safe arrival of the children in good time at these collecting stations on an appointed date.

We are also securing the services of teachers from the schools in these areas who will travel with the children to the port of embarkation, and further, we are securing the services, both centrally and locally, of those who belong to the Women's Voluntary Services Organisation. I should like to thank the Dowager Lady Reading for the continuous help which that organisation has given us. The children will be detrained in the vicinity of the port of embarkation, and will sleep for at least one night in hostels there provided. We have already provided suitable hostel accommodation near enough to the ports of embarkation but far enough away to ensure the children's safety. The escorts and helpers who will take the children on the voyage will join the children at these hostels. Hon. Members will be interested to know that we are working to a scale of one helper to 15 children, in addition to nurses and doctors. It will be possible at this stage to arrange at the hostels that those children who have not been properly equipped for the voyage shall be so equipped. I have received a cheque for £500 from a Canadian lady who has returned to Canada to be used at my absolute discretion for the welfare of all children going overseas. Therefore, I have asked the Dowager Lady Reading to spend this sum in purchasing clothing, games, toys, books and knitting gear for the voyage, and this equipment will be stored at the hostels, and the final check will be made to see that the children are properly clothed. During the time the children are at the hostels, doctors appointed by the High Commissioners for the Dominions will have an opportunity of making a final medical check, and when these preliminaries are completed, the children will be embarked. We are making arrangements for them to embark rapidly; the usual formalities have been dispensed with, and there will be no passports. In the meantime, each child will have been given a luggage label with its C.O.R.B. number and as each child embarks it will be given an identity disc with its C.O.R.B. number. There will be an expert staff to check the final list of the children that embark on any ship; one copy of the document will go to the Dominion, another copy will come back to us at headquarters, and the third copy will go to another place of safe keeping in this country, in case our records should be destroyed. We shall know actually and absolutely the number of children that embark on any one ship.

As to the voyage, the Admiralty, the Ministry of Shipping and my Department have been conferring as to the best means of providing protection, and I will say no more about that. During the voyage, the escort leaders and helpers will get in touch with the children and talk to them about conditions in the Dominions to which they are going. There will be doctors, nurses, and a chaplain on each ship. I should like to emphasise that children, from whatever school they come, will proceed in the same ship without any distinction. It will be, as it were, a boys' club or a girls' holiday camp proceeding overseas under the proper supervision of experienced persons who have done this work all their lives.

Let us now imagine that a ship has reached the safe haven of a friendly Dominion. There the children will be received and will remain in hostels or other accommodation serving purely as clearing stations. They will be received by representatives of the same organisations as are now on my Advisory Council. The reason I asked well known voluntary bodies to nominate representatives to my Advisory Council was that I knew that all these bodies had organisations at the other end in the Dominions, so that the supervision and care of the children may be continued under the same auspices here and overseas. During the few days the children spend in the hostels in the Dominions, the lists will be checked by those in charge of the reception machinery, and then the children will be despatched, conducted by suitable escorts, to their appointed homes. Those who have been earmarked at this end for a nominated home of a relative or friend will so proceed. Some children will find that the nominated homes have been designated at the other end. A process of nomination by parents can be made here, or at the other end, so that it will be possible to consider the wishes of parents on a variety of points. School friends may go to the same town, and if parents desire that Roman Catholic children should be received into Roman Catholic families, that can also be arranged. If there is a preference in the case of any other denomination, attempts will be made to satisfy the wishes of parents.

Mr. James Griffiths (Llanelly)

Will it be possible, within the ambit of this scheme, for Welsh communities in Canada to receive Welsh children?

Mr. Shakespeare

Certainly. I imagine that there will be a good deal of nomination of that kind. The same will also apply in the case of Scotland. The children will proceed and will be absorbed into the family circles anxious to receive them. They will be given the education available in the district free of charge, and if they pass the school-leaving age, special arrangements will be made to find them employment. I am appointing liaison officers, and attaching them to the staff of each High Commissioner in every Dominion, to advise the Dominions on problems like these. A liaison officer will send continuous reports on the welfare of the children in general, and notify us of the homes where the children are placed, so that parents can get into touch with them by letter.

The Committee will have noticed that a strong committee for the care of refugee children from Europe has been set up in the United States under the presidency of Mrs. Roosevelt. To that committee will come the offers from generous American homes for the reception of our children. I am in touch with the American Ambassador on the application of our scheme to America, but I am not yet in a position to make any announcement. I have already devised adequate machinery within my organisation to deal with applications from parents who wish to accept the offers of American hospitality. Thus, in a short time, we have devised machinery which, I hope, will cope with our problems. As the Committee knows, our immediate problem is to find places for the 20,000 children in respect of whom offers for maintenance and care have been received from the four Dominions. Members will naturally desire to know at what pace this process will proceed. Obviously, there are two limiting factors. Firstly, there are the shipping facilities available, and, secondly, the absorptive capacity of each receiving country. I have pointed out that we have now received offers from the Dominions to receive and find homes for 20,000 of our children. We shall proceed with the work of selection from those who have applied, and send that number overseas as quickly as possible, subject to the shipping accommodation available. But, even when the American scheme operates, Members, I know, will appreciate that the offers of homes for children in the Dominions, or the United States, will apply, and must apply, only to a very small proportion of our child population. It is necessary that this should be realised, so that the country can view our scheme in its proper perspective.

To take advantage of these generous offers, we can proceed on one of two methods. Firstly, we could try to evacuate children from this country at the same speed as that at which the British Expeditionary Force was evacuated from Dunkirk. This is not our policy. There is no comparison between the conditions in our island fortress and those which confronted the British Expeditionary Force at Dunkirk. The B.E.F. were confronted on all sides by overwhelming forces of the enemy. They were short of food, water and ammunition, and they were continuously bombed, confined as they were on the narrow beaches. They had no other alternative but to escape at all costs by sea in any kind of shipping or meet with destruction or capitulation. I am sure hon. Members will agree that these are not the conditions under which our children should go. It is true that we are a fortress, but it is a fortress under our own direction. We have unchallenged naval superiority, an incomparable Air Force, likely to be still more effective because it will operate from home bases in defence of its native shore, and at this moment as strong an Army as we have ever had in our country, stronger because of the veterans who have been evacuated from Dunkirk. Behind our own Forces we have all the machinery of Local Defence Volunteers, and of Civil Defence. Moreover, we have made provision for the civil population against air attack, and we have provided for the evacuation of children from dangerous areas to places of greater safety. I have spent some time stressing these points to show the essential difference between what I might call the "Dunkirk method" of evacuation, and the method that we intend to pursue.

The Committee will have noted comments from certain quarters that we should proceed at the speed of Dunkirk. My view is that if in our eagerness to proceed as quickly as possible in this task, we dispense with all provision for the welfare and safety of our children, sending them overseas without selection or medical tests, rushing them to the ports and herding them like cattle into any ship we may find, we shall be guilty of a gross breach of trust. So long as my Board and I are administering this scheme, we shall not countenance anything of that kind.

Mr. Cocks (Broxstowe)

No one has ever suggested that you should.

Mr. Shakespeare

I have seen the suggestion made, not in this House, but outside. I shall regard myself in lōco parentis—[HON. MEMBERS: "Lōco!"] Those who have studied Latin at school will know that the "o" is short. Anyhow, whether it is lōco or lōco, I shall regard myself as such in respect of these children. I want to conclude my observations on the pace of our operations by repeating that our method is to proceed as quickly as human ingenuity can devise, but not to dispense with precautions which are considered necessary for the safety and welfare of our children.

It will be realised that, independently of our scheme, a mother or an adult, who has a child, can obtain permission to go overseas, if they go as fare-payers, and make their own shipping arrangements. The Canadian Government, however, have pressed us very strongly that permission should be given to certain schools, which have made arrangements with schools in Canada, whereby the children of the school here can continue their education overseas. There are not many schools of this nature in Canada, but some of them have close links with similar schools here. It will be possible in such cases to arrange for parents, here, to pay into a trust fund the equivalent of the schools fees to a Canadian school, and such sums will be blocked for the duration. It will be for the Canadian authorities, of course, to maintain and educate these children with this potential cover, and to make all financial arrangements in respect of the children they have absorbed in their schools. [HON. MEMBERS: "What are these particular schools?"] They are a limited number of private schools. Clearly, these schools which make these arrangements cannot come under our scheme, because the essence of our scheme is that there should be no discrimination, and no special facilities for a privileged few. For these reasons we are opposed to the evacuation of public or private schools within the framework of our scheme. Apart from this limited concession, which was pressed very strongly by the Canadian Government, who are acting as our hosts for all the children under our scheme—

Mr. Lindsay

Does this scheme come under the 25,000?

Mr. Shakespeare

It is outside the scheme altogether. The Canadian Government, as I have said, have strongly pressed for this concession, and this will enable schools to continue their education with a particular school in Canada which has an historic link.

Mr. Mander

How many children are involved?

Mr. Shakespeare

We do not know. Apart from this limited Concession, I wish to emphasise the attitude of the Government on the whole question of evacuation. It will be remembered that the recommendation of the Inter-Departmental Committee never contemplated the application of this policy of evacuation oversea to whole schools of any character. The Government accepted its report, and the maintenance of that principle was endorsed by the Government as vital, if we are to have a balanced migration, representing a cross-section of British children. I have seen it suggested in some quarters that it would be a good policy if some of our public schools, whose names are rich in tradition, tore up their roots here and settled down overseas. That has been urged even in respect of schools situated, as the majority are, in the less vulnerable areas of this country. The Government are fundamentally opposed to such a policy. Even if such a method was desirable, which it is not, there can never be, in time of war, the available shipping capacity. Nothing would so undermine public morale as to grant such facilities to a privileged few. Such a policy would militate against the spirit of resolution and tenacity with which we intend to prosecute this war to a final conclusion.

I hope to secure all the necessary shipping facilities for all the children under our scheme, and, thanks to my right hon. Friend the Minister of Shipping and his Department, I am so doing, to enable me to solve my problem within a reasonable period of time. Members will appreciate that shipping facilities are restricted in war time and are governed by military considerations, and these must come first. If, however, I find that the children who are outside my scheme, whether they go as individuals with their mothers or under the arrangements that I have outlined, impinge on the space that I require for the children under my scheme, I shall not fail to intervene. I must have, and the Dominion Governments are anxious that I should have, the shipping capacity necessary to carry overseas the children under the balanced migration policy which they have so generously accepted.

There is one other justification for the scheme which is in no way associated with the war. It may perhaps be one of the blessings which will flow from the war. It is still true in our national economy that exports should balance imports. We are importing into this country the fighting men of the Dominions, and we are exporting back to the Dominions the best of our children, and for this double blessing the Mother Country will be for ever in the debt of the daughter Dominions. This plan for evacuating children overseas is really an invisible export, because who can tell what will be the far-reaching consequences of it and what the value of it will be? It may well be that it contains within its breast the germ of a wise emigration policy for the better distribution of the population within the territories of the British Empire. That is what so many of us have been urging for so long and have prayed for. The dream is in sight of realisation. These children will form friendships, contacts and associations in the Dominions, and the silken cord which binds the Empire together will be strengthened beyond all power to sever. When the war is over, these children will come back inspired with fresh visions. It may well be that some of them will return to the Dominions, and in other cases their parents will visit them there. Is it too much to hope, as part of our Commonwealth policy in time of peace, that there will be this constant flow of older children proceeding overseas with their faces turned towards these broader horizons and guided by the faith and courage of those pioneers of British stock who won these lands for British civilisation?

4.49 p.m.

Mr. Ammon (Camberwell, North)

I think the Committee will agree in congratulating the hon. Gentleman on having given us a very explicit and detailed statement of the scheme that he has in hand, although he did somewhat confuse it, I think, by apparently preparing in advance some excuses for not proceeding at a rapid rate and, further, by putting up dummies of arguments which have not been raised and proceeding to knock them down. However, the Department is to be congratulated to a certain extent on the unexampled speed with which it has proceeded so far. On the 19th ultimo the Lord Privy Seal announced that the Inter-Departmental Committee's report was in the Vote Office and that it would be more or less adopted by the Government, and on the 26th the House was somewhat startled by the tremendously lengthy list that the hon. Gentleman read out of those who were to be on the Advisory Council. One was certainly tempted to say that, if in a number of counsellors there is wisdom, in a crowd like that there is certain to be confusion. When he went on to say that representatives of all these associations would be gathered on the other side to welcome the children, one can imagine the kind of crowd that will be there and the sorting out that there will have to be. This Advisory Council is certainly open to some amount of criticism in respect of its personnel, and there is one organisation which has at its head a very prominent Fascist, and we do not know how far other persons within the same ambit may have been included. [Interruption.] Miss Mary Allen's association is certainly included.

Mr. Shakespeace

What association?

Mr. Ammon

The Women's Voluntary Service Association.

Mr. Shakespeare

To make a statement like that is really not fair to the Advisory Council nor is it fair to the work done by the Women's Voluntary Service Association. I asked them to nominate a representative, and they have nominated a very good one.

Mr. Ammon

That does not dispose of the point that I made, which has been raised again and again in the House. It has some association, whether direct or indirect does not matter, with the Advisory Council to which the hon. Gentleman has referred. I want to ask how far the plan has been worked out as regards fitting-in with the reception on the other side. The actual planning of the evacuation sounded very good, added to which we have the advantage of the experience we have already had of the evacuation of children with the assistance of various education committees. But the Committee would be interested to know what definite arrangements have actually been made on the other side. It is one thing to say we have a certain number of invitations and a certain number of people are willing to receive them in their homes. But we should like to know whether it is properly organised and whether arrangements are being made and care will be taken that the children are watched and followed up, so that there may be no doubt that when they get to the other side many of them may not be stranded and there may not be a hasty rush round to place children here, there and everywhere without any due regard to circumstances. I am not saying this by way of hostile criticism, but they are some of the points which have to be observed, and, as far as I know, they have not yet been mentioned.

I am a little doubtful even now about the dividing of the two categories of children. Is there going to be any differentiation made on the other side in regard to social strata, the sort of homes that they come from—those who have come entirely from State-aided schools as against the others? The Minister himself confused us a little as to what exactly he meant by the 25 per cent. He told us that 75 per cent. of an ungiven number were to be chosen from the State-aided schools and 25 per cent. from other schools. He went on to suggest that certain schools, public schools "and others," will be outside that scheme. How far do the "others" extend, and what exactly is covered by the 25 per cent.? The number of 52,000 does not represent the whole. It represents those who go through the scheme, but there is a number of others, as he admitted, who will go through various other agencies, children of whom he can have no cognisance and who cannot be included. There are one or two other categories for which local authorities act in loco parentis, such as orphans, children who have been deserted, children who have been neglected and taken away from their parents, and some of these have been sent to approved schools. Are all these children outside the ambit of possible evacuation? I hope it will not be thought that these are all children of criminal tendencies. It often happens that a child found homeless and taken from the streets and sent to an approved school—

Viscountess Astor (Plymouth, Sutton)

Is it not of vital importance that we should be very careful in selecting really our best children? Once the Colonies got hold of the idea that we are sending that kind of children, it would wreck the whole thing.

Mr. Ammon

That is the sort of thing I feared would creep in. The children that I have referred to are not of necessity any worse than others. Proper safeguards, no doubt, will be taken on both sides as to the selection of them. Deserted and orphan children may be as good as any others. It does not follow that they are going to be bad or are unfit to go into homes. With proper selection, and given proper care, they may prove to be the best emigrants, and they may settle there because they have no natural ties on this side. In addition to that, the hon. Gentleman has told us that some arrangements have been made with the Ministry of Shipping and, I presume, with the Admiralty. He explained, I thought at a good deal of length, that this could not be treated on precisely the same ground as the evacuation from the beaches of Dunkirk, but, with an enemy such as we are engaged with, you cannot even rule that out, for nothing would be more tempting to a Nazi than the possibility of blowing up a shipload of children. It is necessary that there shall be no long delay and that steps shall be taken before the bad weather comes and before the real offensive against this country comes. The United States might not be above helping in this connection with its own fleet and endeavouring at least to give protection to ships carrying children across the Atlantic.

The Under-Secretary has touched on medical supervision. There are all sorts of cranky people with views about that, and I have seen a letter from someone who wants to know what is to happen to those who have conscientious objections to vaccination if that is insisted on. People with such views are a considerable element in the country, as every justice of the peace knows, and some consideration may have to be given to them. There are some things that will have to be made plain to the parents. They will have to understand clearly that the children go away for the duration, and as parents have largely messed up evacuation here, there should be no suggestion of their applying for their children to go backwards and forwards. They must under- stand that the children are 3,000 miles away and that it is no good worrying and harassing officials on this side for the return of children until such time as is thought proper. They must be told, too, that there can be no suggestion of sending out parents. Anybody who has been in touch with evacuation at home will tell you that nothing has demoralised the whole scheme more than the fact of parents visiting the children. It will be as well to make it clear that if parents want to go, they and their children must do so at their own cost apart from this scheme.

We wish the scheme well, but there are certain things one would like to know, especially with regard to contacts on the other side. It may be, as the hon. Gentleman said at the end of his speech, that as a result of this tragedy we may be knit much closer to our overseas Dominions and realise, what I think has been slipping away from us to a large extent, our responsibility to our overseas Commonwealth. A German publicist, writing in America, said that one of the things which makes us unfit to continue is that we have lost all interest in the overseas part of the Commonwealth and that we have grown so soft and used to luxury that we were no longer the people we once were. In that matter I think there may be some grounds of criticism. A good deal of slackness, inertia and indifference have grown up in the country, and that is, to a large extent, the reason why we find it rather difficult to get people to realise the grim facts with which they are faced in the present situation. This scheme may be one of the things that will bring us closer to them. In this scheme I hope there will not be any extension of differentiation on class lines. I do not know what is to be done with regard to people who pay extra sums of money, but that should be a private matter as between the Board and the persons concerned. Nothing should be known which will indicate any caste or financial difference between the children who go out, and this difference should not determine the sort of homes in which the children are received.

The House should be informed as soon as possible about how and when it is proposed to send over the first party of children, and we should be assured that they will go over on a fully worked-out scheme as to contacts and the homes to which they are to go. I have a little fear from what has been put before us that, while there is an admirably planned scheme on this side, nothing definite has been worked out with regard to reception which, of course, is vital in a scheme like this. I hope that the scheme will not be marred by the neglect of that side of it. I hope, too, that this is not after all a window-dressing scheme but that there is an intention that it should be a really effective and far-reaching scheme. The Under-Secretary himself roused such a suspicion, but I hope there will be no grounds for it and that before long he will be able to give fuller information of the arrangements made on the other side.

5.6 p.m.

Mr. Kenneth Lindsay (Kilmarnock)

I wish, first, to cover a few points about which, I think, most hon. Members feel in common, and then to raise some criticisms of the scheme and of the Minister's speech. We are on common ground when we express publicly our gratitude to the Dominions. Theirs is a generous gesture, spontaneous and magnanimous. We are equally grateful for the offers which are coming from the United States of America. We were impressed with the speed with which the hon. Gentleman got to work. That does not necessarily mean that we approve of each step which has been taken. I would like to congratulate him on his attempt to get rid of red tape and to cut through the normal obstructions which one often meets in Government Departments and which are really designed for peace-time policies. I find it difficult to understand what the Government really mean. This doubt has been expressed by various people in the Committee and outside. Mr. Spencer Leeson expressed his views in the "Times" the other day about the migration of older children, and suggested that some of those between 14 and i6 might well remain in this country. I thought the Minister's Dunkirk analogy a little unfortunate, but if this is an island fortress and if we are intent on getting the children out of the country as fast as possible, obviously under proper arrangements, I am not convinced from the questionings which the Minister himself has introduced that we are going as fast as possible. This is no reflection on the work put in by his Department and those gallant men and women whom the hon. Gentleman has gathered round him. I am not convinced that we have exhausted the shipping space. I speak without any authority when I ask whether we are certain that this is the limit of shipping space. Are there not a number of ships constantly returning from this country to the West Indies and elsewhere which might be used? Who suggested the limit? Did the Ministry of Shipping fix it?

I am not clear, as I have never been clear with regard to the whole of our evacuation policy, what our policy in the present scheme is. I say this speaking as one who had to bear responsibility for the effects of evacuation at home in the reception areas on the educational side. I was never clear in my own mind—and I said this from that side of the House—that the artificial division of the country into evacuation, neutral and reception areas had much meaning. At this moment it is proving to have less meaning than ever. It was never properly thought out. I do not think that the policy in regard to evacuating children overseas has really been properly thought out. It is important that it should be from the point of view both of the parents and of the Dominions and from the point of view of real safety. In any given year about 700,000 persons cross the Atlantic, backwards and forwards. Many of these travel on luxury liners and on ships which carry a much smaller number of persons. We were not told to-day what numbers were to be sent per ship and I am not clear that we cannot send a larger number than those at present being taken. What does the £15 represent? I am told there is a cheap rate of £15, but does it represent a return ticket?

There are those who say that this scheme is defeatism, and there are hon. Members who do not like it. I do not know how many they represent. I have heard Members say, "I would not like to go down to my constituency and address meetings when my children are safe on the other side." I have heard others say that they have put the facts to their children and that they have decided against evacuation abroad. It should be borne in mind that the decision to send children is a personal decision in every case. I have tried to weigh the matter, for many friends have written in the last week, because I once had some connection with this problem, asking what they should do. I have frankly had to say that it is a personal question. I would ask, however, whether, if it is part of national policy, it is still a personal question. That is the way evacuation has been conducted from the beginning. There was never any compulsion on children to go. We were presented with the arguments against compulsion by the Minister of Health a week or two ago, but they did not convince some of us. Those who protested in many cases had themselves sent their children away. In this case, however, it seems to me that it must be a personal decision.

With regard to the machinery, as far as I know there is only one person on the Board with any experience of the Dominions. I do not say that there must not be representatives with knowledge of education in this country, but that fact makes me as doubtful as my hon. Friend the Member for North Camberwell (Mr. Ammon) about the reception side of the scheme. While there are on the Board representatives of every voluntary organisation which has ever had anything to do with migration, I would point out that these children are not being sent by those bodies. It is true that in the case of churches, and especially of one church, they have looked after their children well. The Y.M.C.A. are not sending children out, but by far the most successful scheme in Canada was that of the Y.M.C.A. because they had people looking after the children and people on this side with whom there was a constant interchange, and there were reports every month about the children.

If that is so, it is no good my hon. Friends saying, "We therefore see that all these problems are represented on the other side." Incidentally, while I am on this point, I would ask why he has the Countess of Bessborough, Chairman of the Council of the Oversea Settlement of British Women, Miss Gladys Pott, ex-chairman of the Executive of the Society for Oversea Settlement of British Women, and Miss Edith Thompson, C.B.E., Chairman of the executive of the same society on the Council. It does seem to me to be an attempt to get in every known person. It was my business for two years to rationalise all the voluntary societies and bring them down to about one-sixth, so that we could get some proper proportion, and I am glad to see that such persons as Colonel Culshaw, of the Salvation Army, and Mr. Gordon Green, who has a real practical knowledge of this subject, are included on the Advisory Council. I do not wish to say any more than that. I do not share the criticism that there is too large a number. I think we have to carry the main voluntary societies, and that if we carry representation of one denomination, as regards the churches, we must carry representation of the others. Therefore, I only hope that the arrangements on the other side will be equally well made.

With regard to the machinery for selection, the hon. Gentleman told us that only children who are suitable will go. Does that mean there is to be a certificate from the headmaster of each school, that there is to be something more than a medical report? If we send difficult or problem children, a whole host of questions will be raised. We have had to get rid of the idea in the Dominions that the Dominions are places to which to send children who are under the care of the Poor Law or from orphanages. That idea is very much resented in Canada. It is not the case that the children from orphanages or the Poor Law schools are any worse than others, but there was that conception not very long ago, in the days of "Darkest England," and there are societies existing for the purpose of getting out to the Dominions the children we least want here. I hope that idea is completely outside this scheme: indeed I am sure it is.

When we come to the percentages I still am not clear about the position. Of those who are going from England 75 per cent. will be from the grant-aided schools and 25 per cent. will cover all the rest, the public or private schools, as they are called. In Scotland, I gather that 49 out of every 50 children will come from the State schools. A point was raised at the end of the hon. Gentleman's speech about the marrying-up of the different schools. I was not clear how that was going to work. He said there were historic links. I do not think there are, except in one or two cases. There are in Canada, New Zealand and Australia about 50 schools in all of the type which we call public, and it is a perfectly good part of the migration scheme that there should be a link between such schools. When my hon. Friend says that it is preposterous that those schools should go out as a whole, I say, "Of course it is," because a large number of the children are over 16; and as I do not agree with sending out children over 14, I should much prefer that there should be a marrying-up of the preparatory schools in this country and similar schools in the Dominions. If we are to do that, there must be somebody, on the Board or in Canada who has some knowledge of that question, and I am not sure who has. At the present moment there is nobody unfortunately—not even the Headmasters Conference—who has a really comprehensive knowledge of those schools in either Canada, Australia or New Zealand.

Many parents have been very anxious to know where their children are going. There are about 5,000,000 school children in this country, and I should say, offhand, that about 50,000 attend the public schools, although I know there is also a lot attending private schools. My hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede), who is sitting opposite, was one of those who looked into this question, and it was then decided, I think, that there were perhaps 300,000 or 400,000 attending private schools, but we are thinking of the better known schools, I presume. Therefore, 25 per cent. is a pretty high proportion of the total. We are dealing mainly, I take it, with children attending the State schools in England and Scotland who will go to State schools in the Dominions. I cannot help feeling that it would be to the public interest if a sufficient number of children went from a particular school or from the schools of a particular area to find a link with some similar area in the Dominions. This is an old idea. It was put forward in relation to towns and townships linking up, and it ought not to be neglected, because there may be something in it.

With regard to the other limiting factor, the absorptive capacity of the Dominions, I am not clear in my own mind what the present position is. I understand that a series of schemes for taking children has been put forward by provincial Governments, by provincial bodies of banisters and others, by the Eugenics Society, by doctors and professors. I understand that those will all come within the scope of the scheme.

Mr. Shakespeare

If they want to.

Mr. Lindsay

I put the question to my hon. Friend when he was speaking because I was not clear who were outside the scheme except the children going to the United States of America. I understand that, in order to be quite certain about the balance of migration, if any child is going to the Dominions notification has to be made to the Children's Overseas Reception Board. If I am wrong, perhaps I shall be corrected.

Mr. Shakespeare

We hope to get knowledge of all children who are going. The hon. Member will realise that there may be a child between the age of nothing and five going out with its mother and having nothing to do with our scheme. We want to know the total number going, but we are concerned only with those going under our scheme.

Mr. Lindsay

I am not concerned with children under five but with those between 5 and 16 who are going out in one of these ways. Do they not have to notify?

Mr. Shakespeare


Mr. Lindsay

Then there are still children who can go out outside the scheme? It is important to know that. I should say that several hundred or thousand children have already gone out because their parents could afford to send them. There will be still more going out because their parents can afford to send them, or some arrangement can be made outside the scheme which my hon. Friend is conducting. That, at any rate, is new. On the money question, do I understand that children from the ordinary State schools will go free, that the parents will pay money to the British Government and that this will go into a fund, and that on the other side funds will be made available by the Canadian Government for the maintenance and the education of the children there? I know that it is not our business to inquire about the arrangements of the Canadian Government, but before long somebody will want to know how much the foster parents in Canada are to receive.

My hon Friend said, "There will be waiting on the shores on the other side members representing all these voluntary societies who are going to look after the children, and that is why I put them on the Advisory Council," but that is not the whole story, because a great many of the children will be looked after by those who best look after children, apart from one or two organisations like the Y.M.C.A., and that is by the provincial Governments. They have no opposite number here. As far as I know, the best after-care work was done by the Manitoba Government and the Ontario Government and, in Australia, by the New South Wales Government, who sent round their welfare officers, men who knew the job. There must be a close connection between the schools where ordinary children are coming from and the parents and the schools in Ontario, Manitoba, British Columbia and elsewhere. How is that contact to be made? My hon. Friend said that he was going to attach to the High Commissioner's Office in the Dominions some person who was going to look after that side of the work. What sort of person? Is he to be a civil servant?

Mr. Shakespeare

indicated assent.

Mr. Lindsay

I do not wish to say a word against civil servants, but what I want to be certain about is that the liaison between the children in these homes in Canada and in these schools will be a human one, and that the parents here will know how their children are getting on, just as they hear from their children who are in Somerset or Dorset. An hon. Friend has said that the visits of parents to children upset the evacuation scheme. I do not agree. Properly organised visits to children from time to time did not upset the evacuation scheme. In many cases the visits were a great solace to the parents. They often said they missed the children in the evenings between five and seven and were glad to go to see them at week-ends and the children were equally glad. Even children who are at preparatory schools occasionally go home or get visits from their parents. Therefore, we cannot neglect to keep touch with the homes in Canada, and I want to be absolutely certain that there will be a really effective liaison. In the past, when boys who were between 14 and 16 went out to work, we had, I will not say scandals but a very bad problem arising because some of them had walked back to Montreal and got into doss houses or were lost temporarily for several months simply because after-care was lacking. Now we are dealing with younger children, and it is most important that this side of the question should be thoroughly examined, because we have not heard much about it this afternoon. It may be that my hon. Friend felt that this was a matter for the Dominions and that he could not very well enlarge on it, because he trusted those who were going to receive the children.

A further point I would like to make is this: If we evacuate 7,000 children a month, we shall be sending to the Dominions about 84,000 children a year. That is about 1 or 1½ per cent. of the child population we are embracing in this scheme. What is the policy of the Government in this matter? If the policy is to send overseas mouths that would otherwise be eating food here, this is not to my mind a considerable scheme. If it is an attempt to revive migration, why not say so? Nobody could be more pleased than I should be. Moreover, I would stress the educational advantage of a child going to the Dominions during these preparatory school years. There is a great deal to be said for it, and all who have had the privilege of travelling in those years have remembered it as a vital part of their education. So I do not mind reviving migration.

I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman that the race is soft, and all the rest of it. I do not think the experience of the last two months bears that out. We do know that there was no chance for children to go abroad until this scheme came about. None of the Dominions would take them. It is only comparatively recently that the Fairbridge scheme has been started. Therefore, as we have had this generous gesture from the Dominions, I am strongly in favour of accepting it to the full and of calling it by its proper name. If I am told by the hon. Gentleman that this is the limit of shipping capacity—suppose, for instance, instead of having had 45,000, or whatever the figure was, of applications, in the last few months, he had had 100,000—I would say, Let him not be afraid of enlarging his scheme or let any other schemes about which we mean business stand in the way. If the Government do not mean business about this scheme, but want just to get a reasonable flow month by month, very carefully organised and within the capacity of the Dominions, let us look at it in that light. The Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Education will no doubt look at it with his particular eye, with regard to its educational significance. He will see that proper justice is done to the various local education authorities in the country and that proper educational arrangements are made, so far as possible, in the Dominions, so that children get the full advantages of the scheme.

I look upon this scheme as one method of preserving the children who are to carry on the English-speaking race and to keep them in safety. I do not look upon these children as refugees. If we want a large number of the children of this country to get the great advantages of the scheme and complete security—as we think it will be—overseas, we should certainly not talk in Dunkirk terms; we should, to the limit of shipping capacity and of absorptive capacity in the Dominions, bearing in mind the excellent arrangements that have already been made in regard to welfare in trains and shipping, go forward with the utmost speed. I am glad to see that Scotland is getting a slightly smaller advisory council and I hope that, as in the past, Scotland's contribution will be a very considerable one.

The Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Westwood)

This scheme aims at providing security, for the time being, in the hope of speedily getting victory.

Mr. Lindsay

I hope that Scotland will take its full part in the scheme. I should like to have specific answers to the questions which I have put. I would ask the Minister whether he considers that he is trying to get the maximum number of children out of the country or is just taking advantage of an interesting development by removing children from this country to the Dominions for a limited period.

5.35 P.m.

Mr. Mander (Wolverhampton, East)

I hope that one question put to the Minister by the hon. Member for North Camberwell (Mr. Ammon) will not be answered, and that was as to the precise date on which the first batch of these children will be sent. I do not think the hon. Gentleman really meant that. I hope they will be sent at the earliest possible moment, and that the Minister will take advantage of the shipping that must be in the ports of this country, owing to recent events. There is no reason why we should be held up an account of shipping. The hon. Gentleman explained the scheme very lucidly, and I think he acted with great rapidity and decision in setting up the organisation to deal with the matter. Judging by results at the moment, he has certainly shown an example of how to "go to it." He got to it with great rapidity, and I hope that he will continue successfully doing so.

I should like to deal with one question of principle, relating to the view taken by some people in this country that this scheme is altogether wrong, and that we should live here in our island home, not being disturbed or moved from our usual habits, but carrying on in all circumstances. People who take that view have not thought the matter out. They have not grasped the position. They are living in a world of illusion if they imagine that anything if that kind can happen. It has been said that this country is a fortress, but it is a mild fortress at the present time. Heaven knows what sort of a fortress it will be before long, and it is clearly in the national interest that as large a proportion as possible of unproductive units of the population who have to be fed should be removed to safety overseas. I imagine that the idea of the offer arose, and that persons living overseas made this generous gesture, because they felt that, as they were living at some distance from the seat of action, they were not enduring, or were likely to endure, savage attacks, suffering, mutilation and death such as is happening to people in Europe. They naturally felt—and this is fully understandable—that if they could do some little thing by relieving parents here of anxiety, caring for the next generation, and assisting the war effort too, they would very much like to do it. That feeling is not confined to people in the Empire, but exists in the United States of America.

If we had unlimited space to send large numbers of children the question of compulsion might arise, but, at the present time, as has been pointed out, the whole thing is necessarily on a very restricted scale. This is only the beginning. It is an experiment which we think may lead to further and greater developments. It is not anything more at the moment than an attempt to deal with a minute percentage of the number of children in the schools of this country. I agree with what the Minister said about the indirect effects. The scheme may have very far-reaching effects, in the sense that children who have spent part of their lives overseas will never forget the experience. They may make contacts and friendships which will last through their lives. Many of them may settle overseas, and they will be united in sentiment with this country. The scheme will certainly link together what appears to be the only stalwart constitutional structure in the world, created by the Anglo-Saxon race and the races associated with it. The scheme will have far-reaching effects in that way. Offers have been made, not only through the Governments but, as has already been said, by different organisations. I notice that an offer has been made by the Law Society of Upper Canada to take the children of judges and barristers and place them in homes in Canada. I suppose that will be apart from the main scheme, and will be arranged directly.

The Minister made it clear that he proposes to select a cross-section of the whole population. It is important that it should not be thought, either in this country or abroad, that we were specially selecting one section, either rich or poor, to be treated in a favourable way. We want good, healthy, normal children, who come up to the standard agreed upon and who can be looked upon as proper representatives and ambassadors—as they will be, little ambassadors—overseas, representing this country. We must make a good impression to begin with, and we must keep it up. I should have thought there would be no difficulty in sending good, healthy children of the type required in the Dominions coming not only from rich homes—if there are any rich homes left, and, at any rate, there will not be many much longer—but from poor homes too. I am glad the Government are not pursuing a policy of sending whole schools as such, because obviously there would be, not the intimate contact and co-operation on the other side that is wanted, but little communities isolated by themselves, which would be contrary to the spirit of the scheme.

The question of sterling has been raised. A great many people in this country have been exercising their minds—those who have sterling—as to whether or not they can send their children abroad and make use of their money in maintaining their children. In explaining the scheme, the hon. Gentleman came to the point in reference to the Canadian Government about blocked sterling in connection with certain schools. I notice that the Canadian Government are not altogether satisfied with that scheme, and that Mr. Crerar, the Minister of Mines, speaking the other day on the subject said that the Canadian Government were giving every encouragement to the scheme and that they had instructed Mr. Massey, the High Commissioner, to urge the British Government to loosen the present severe restrictions on British funds available for such child migration. No doubt he will have to take up that point and discuss it. There is a great danger in extending a scheme of this kind. It is possible that the poor will be displaced by those who have money, in which case a feeling would grow up that for those who can pay it is easy to send their children abroad and that poorer people are at a disadvantage. I hope that the Government will adhere firmly to the decision that they have come to not to allow the slightest difference beween one section of the community and another.

I hope that the Minister will have no hesitation in exercising his veto, as he said he would, if he finds that too many places in ships are being taken by people who have made private arrangements—and who are naturally very anxious to do so in their own interests—and that he will stop it. Whether this can be done, can be judged only with regard to the time and the numbers involved. This matter of sending children abroad is one of the most difficult that parents have been faced with since the war started. It will make people realise more deeply than anything which has happened what the war really is, and what is happening, because they have to part, perhaps for years and, in some cases, for ever, from children to whom they are absolutely devoted. They are called upon to take this decision, and it is important for them to know that the children will be properly looked after and cared for while they are away.

One or two speakers have raised a question to which I do not think we have yet had an answer. On page 3 of the report there appears this passage: In future, parents who are able to make their own arrangements for the evacuation of their children overseas should be required to obtain permission of the executive body referred to at 3a before they are allowed to leave the country. It is not clear to me that anything has been said so far as to whether that principle has been adopted or not. I understood the Minister to say that he thought and hoped that they would have to do so. But are they to be compelled to do so? We ought to have a clear declaration of the views of the Government with regard to that passage in page 3, because it is not clear to a great many hon. Members. There is another question that I would like to ask. Assume that parents have given their consent to their child going. Suppose, when the day of parting comes, as I know has happened in a certain number of cases under private arrangement, and the parents go to see the child off, their hearts are so wrung that they will not let him go. What is the position? Have they surrendered their right to the child? Would the child be compulsorily taken? If not, it means that in spite of the parents' authorisation for the removal of the child, at the last moment the parents have the right to say, "We have changed our minds, and we would rather, after all, that the child did not go." In so far as that is done, it is rather upsetting, because it means that the space on board the ship is not to be used unless you have certain children held in reserve to deal with such a case, and I understand that that is what is going to happen.

Viscountess Astor

Might I ask a question? Does the hon. Member think that parents ought to be allowed to do that after the Government have taken all the trouble?

Mr. Mander

I was not proposing to answer questions now.

Viscountess Astor

But I would like to know.

Mr. Mander

I was putting certain questions to the Minister, and I hope that in due course I shall get an answer. There is one other point. One wondered what would happen to the money contributed by these various parents under the two schemes. I understand that it goes to the British Exchequer, that it is not paid over at any time to any Dominion or other Government, but that it remains here to our credit. I am glad to have confirmation of that fact. In conclusion, I wish the scheme every success. I think it has been well conceived and thought out. It is a great adventure for the parents, the children, the country and the Dominions, and I hope it will have tremendous success.

5.49 P.m.

Mr. Woolley (Spen Valley)

I feel some comfort at this moment in the knowledge that hon. Members display a considerable tolerance towards anyone who may be making a maiden speech. There are, perhaps, two especial reasons why I may ask for the indulgence of the Committee. First of all, the former Member for my constituency was a very eloquent and eminent statesman, and is now the Lord Chancellor; secondly, I have not gone through the turmoil of an election, which has been the experience of so many hon. Members, and, therefore, I have not had the opportunity of preparing material in my election addresses to retail to the House. I have been, as it were, thrown into the water without having previously learned to swim.

There are various reasons which constrain me to speak at this particular moment. The first is that I am convinced that the scheme is well conceived, and, secondly, I wish the scheme every possible success. The three factors, any one of which may determine the extent of this scheme, are, firstly, the number of applications which are made by parents for children to be evacuated. We have learned from my hon. Friend that that number is in the region of 52,000. There is another determining factor, and that is the capacity in the Dominions and other countries overseas for receiving these children. I am very glad that reference has been made to the generosity of the Dominions in the way that they have spontaneously responded to this scheme.

The third point is the available shipping space. We have been told that it is this available shipping space which is the determining factor in this evacuation scheme. I am sure that we all appreciate the responsibilities of the Minister of Shipping and the great demands which are made upon his Department at this time, but I am certain the Committee will agree that the Minister should make every possible effort to see that the maximum amount of shipping space is made available for these children. The reasons for that are obvious. For every 10,000 children we send from these shores, there are 10,000 fewer mouths to feed, and the shipping space which was previously utilised in bringing the food and provisions for these children will be available for the bringing into this country of essential war materials. In like manner, for every 10,000 children who are now here and who may be evacuated, there is so much less money being sent abroad for the children's food and provision. Thereby the Chancellor of the Exchequer has so much less money to find, and it consequently follows that he has so much more money available for the purchase of essential war materials.

It has been said this afternoon that there are those who feel that there is an element of defeatism in this evacuation scheme. Surely, if we can see in the scheme a contribution to the general war effort, then the charge of defeatism falls to the ground. I feel that in the two ways that I have mentioned, namely, the creation of shipping space for increased war materials and the freeing of money for their purchase, there are definite contributions, quite apart from other considerations which might be taken into account. Therefore, I feel that the charge of defeatism is not one which can be levelled at this particular scheme. The right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Agriculture, in his broadcast last Saturday night, said that this war may well be won by those who possess the last week's supply of food. It may be said with equal truth that it may be won by the country which possesses the last gallon of petrol or the longest purse, and it is conceivable that the margin between our victory and a condition of stalemate may be comparatively small. It is, therefore, up to the Government to accept with both hands every scheme which will make any contribution whatever to the war effort. This scheme definitely does that.

Dealing for a moment with the scheme itself, it has been laid down almost as a primary principle that there shall be no class distinction. The country as a whole would not tolerate any such distinction whatever. The whole scheme would be frustrated by class distinction, and we should have unrest in the country if such were to obtain. But it is quite obvious that if there are more parents desirous of sending their children abroad than can be accommodated, while there must be no class distinction, there must be a selection. It has been suggested this afternoon that various methods of selection should be applied. One method of selection was to take the best type of child, but that is a very wide term, and it is difficult to understand. What is the best type of child? The hon. Member for East Wolverhampton (Mr. Mander) mentioned the ambassadorial value of the child, and I feel that this is perhaps what the Selection Committee should keep in mind more than anything else. Ambassadorial value in no way depends upon the class from which a child comes. I feel that the ambassadorial value of a child will be a very good method of selection, realising that these children have a great opportunity of further uniting the ties which bind the Empire together and strengthening the bonds of friendship which exist between this country and certain foreign countries to which our children may go.

There are one or two other points which I would like to mention. Our United Kingdom evacuation scheme proved one thing, that very often we did not send a type A child into a type A home, and that is a very important point. We should take every possible care to see that a type A child goes into a type A home. Otherwise, one can well foresee the potential dangers to these children, taken away from their parents and sent overseas into new surroundings and new educational facilities and new homes, unless those homes have some relation with the type of homes from which the children have come. Otherwise the lives of those children are going to be made much less happy. If the right type of child is not put into the right type of home, the novelty which may be at first experienced in these reception homes will quickly wear away, and I think that would spell disaster. I hope this point will be borne in mind. At the moment this scheme envisages children being evacuated up to the age of 16. Probably some of those children will shortly be entering industry. The parents who are signifying their willingness to allow their children to go overseas are virtually handing over to the Board the parental control of these children and the parental interest. We must be perfectly certain that not a single child who goes overseas shall be exploited when he or she arrives at the age of industry. That is a point which I feel the Board must definitely take into consideration.

May I now come to what I feel is perhaps the weakest link in a very well-forged chain? The principle has been laid down that this must not be a class scheme, and I feel that there is something in what I am going to say which might endanger that principle. We have been told that this scheme is for school children who have attained the age of five and who have not yet attained the age of 16. But we have tens of thousands of children in this country of the ages of 14 and 15 and who are working. Is there any reason why those children should not be afforded the same opportunity as their more fortunate brothers and sisters who are remaining at school? It perhaps strikes at the very root of the principle of "no class distinction." The Board should make representations to the Minister of Labour to see whether he can free those children, so that they may have an equal opportunity to participate in that scheme particularly those who are not employed in any essential war industry.

Finally, I should like to pay my humble tribute to the industry with which the Board has gone about its business. It seems to me that perhaps some good will come out of this evil. We are contemplating taking our children away from the physical and mental dangers which the modern type of warfare brings. We shall be bringing to thousands of children an opportunity which is normally given to few. We shall be strengthening the fibre of resistance and determination of the people who are left at home—a very vital point—and I believe that the manner in which the Board have gone about their functions, cutting through red tape, augurs well for the future success of the scheme. If they pursue their policy with the same determination, they will make a real contribution to the war effort.

6.2 p.m.

Viscountess Astor (Plymouth, Sutton)

The hon. Member for Spen Valley (Mr. Woolley) spoke so fluently that it was almost impossible to believe that he was making a maiden speech. It is no good telling us that he has had no practice. We know that he must have had a good education in speaking, to be able to plead his cause so well, and I congratulate him not only on the manner in which he delivered his speech, but on his knowledge of his subject—which is something very rare. I do not want to be a critic of the Government. I had hoped that with a new Government, we should get new methods, and get rid of a lot of the bad methods of the old Government. I hoped that the new Government would have a new way of doing things. I would have preferred that they should not have turned this matter over to a Departmental Committee. They should have asked, "Who knows most about the Dominions and about children?" Then, they might have got a committee with a chairman who already knew his subject.

I am not saying a word against the chairman of the committee, but I doubt whether he has ever been to the Dominions, and I know that children and education have never been his subjects. Good as he is, I feel that to make him chairman of the committee was wrong. The Government ought to have got a chairman who really understood both the Dominions and education, and to have had a small committee of members who understood the subject. I know that the hon. Gentleman has done his best, but, in spite of that speech about how smoothly the thing is working and how wonderfully everything is being done, I feel that the Government have adopted a bad policy. Surely the hon. Gentleman who spoke just now ought to have been on the committee. He spent years studying education; it is one of his chief subjects. We are still working on the old party lines. That is all wrong, and the country is tired of it. If you had got a chairman who knew the subject and a small committee, things might have been done differently—for instance, in connection with the shipping companies. I will not go into that, that is not my affair; but every one of us who knows anything knows that an advisory committee of that size is not practicable.

Mr. George Griffiths (Hemsworth)

I thought it was a public meeting.

Viscountess Astor

I thought, as somebody else said, that it was a meeting at the Albert Hall. I know someone who was asked to be a member of the committee, and who said, "I am much too busy." They said, "Then give us your name." That is not good enough in war time. We do not want a chairman who has to learn the subject. After all, the hon. Gentleman knows that this was not "his cup of tea." I think the House of Commons should protest about such a procedure. I have no doubt the hon. Gentleman is doing very well, and the whole thing sounds very well on paper; but I have heard many things from the Front Bench about schemes which sound well on paper, yet are not working well at all.

Many people are very unhappy about this question, particularly in regard to selection. The hon. Gentleman said that there would be so many who wanted to go, that they might have to select the children of the mothers who applied first. The mothers who apply first may not be the best mothers, and may not have the best children. The whole success of our evacuation plan depends on the children who are selected first. Somebody asked, "How can you tell which children are the best?" I do not say that the school teachers can necessarily tell which are the best. I do not want any class basis. I can go down a row of houses, where every man is earning the same wages, and show one child who is a credit to the country and another who is not. Somebody referred to the question of environment. If the Dominions think for one minute that we are sending our Poor Law children it will wreck the scheme. The other day two Canadian ladies, very representative people, said to me, "Do the Government realise how much has been written in the Canadian and American papers about your evacuation?" One of them said, "If these children are not properly selected it will wreck the whole scheme." One of the first people who applied was a mother who was bored with her children, and wanted to get rid of them. She came to me to help her, and I said, "I will do nothing of the kind." We want the children of parents who are either serving in the Forces or are working so hard that they cannot give the children the care that they would like to, though they have brought them up in a good fashion. The way to get good selection is not by this enormous advisory committee, but by small local committees, and by giving them more time.

What makes me suspicious is that on the committee there are two women who are not in the least interested in children. They are very good women in their way. I am not criticising them because they are maiden ladies: some of the best work for children is done by maiden ladies, but these two maiden ladies do not happen to be interested in children. I hope that the next time the Government undertake something of this sort they will not palm off on us such a committee as this, but will have people who know their job, and have not to learn it from others. We have seen so many people on the Front Bench who have had to learn their jobs. We have seen men doing well at one job, popped into another job. We see the present Minister of Agriculture: he is a very good man, but he had never heard of agriculture before he was put into that Ministry. That system is not good enough. I am not criticising the Minister personally, but I am criticising the new Government's method of doing things exactly as the old Government did. They talk about the "problem child," and about the "good child." I should like to know what is their standard. If you take a child of five who has been properly trained from the age of two, that child will be far better fitted for evacuation, even if he comes from a slum home, than a child who has been spoiled from the age of two, though he comes from the best of homes. We want the best of children, particularly in Canada and, even more, in the United States.

The Minister said that other children might come into the scheme. Does he realise that by the time they get their visas and passports none of those children could get there under £30? There are people who have homes waiting for children in Canada and the United States, but cannot send them because the cost is so enormous. I have here a document which was brought to me by a man today. He asks what arrangements are being made to take advantage of the many offers that are coming from the United States? He understands that several of these offers involve no transfer of currency whatsoever, and that groups of mothers and children are to be entertained by similar groups in the United States. These offers, he says, seem to have many advantages, but he understands that at the moment the Board are not in a position to give such schemes their blessing. For instance, there is a headmistress, a remarkably capable woman, who is ready to organise a group system here, and there is a headmistress in America waiting to receive the children. The children are all picked out, but unless the Government help with the visas they cannot get there.

I want to know whether the Government are going to do anything about group migration particularly to the United States, and probably later, to Canada? A certain American business man who has worked over here in a factory is going over to see a group of his associates in America who want to offer hospitality to children of parents in that particular industry over here. He is going out to look over the homes and is expected to come back and offer to take too children to America. He wants to know what help he will get from the Government for these children? There are American professors and other educationists, business men, lawyers and similar groups of people who are willing to take the children of parents belonging to similar groups over here, so that they may go to America and settle there. I think that this is the best way to do it. We do not want an A1 child to go into a C3 home. I think that children of lawyers would be better in the homes of lawyers, and children of soldiers and sailors and even of butchers would also be better in the homes of similar people over there. There is even an offer of hospitality to the children of butchers.

Dr. Albert Mansbridge, a great educationist, who has travelled much in America, would be willing to go to America and get into touch with all the groups of people that he knows there, the university professors and so on, and organise a scheme from that point of view. He would be prepared to be a liaison officer between the professional people in America and the professional people here. If the Government had a little imagination, that is the kind of thing that they would do. It would be far better for the children and for us. It would be fatal to get children into homes of the wrong kind for them. I ask the Minister to consider that and to see whether he could not put a few other people on to his advisory council. I might say that I was very anxious to get on to it but no doubt I was very well kept off because I am not a very good member of committees where red tape is concerned.

Mr. Shakespeare

There is no Member of Parliament either on the Council or on the Board.

Viscountess Astor

It is a great pity. That is all I have to say. I do not think that they ought to have drawn it up in that way. If a Member of Parliament knows something about the subject, why should he not be on the committee? He is as important as a person who knows nothing about it. I do not want a Member of Parliament to be chosen just because he is a Member of Parliament if he knows nothing about it, and I do not want a Minister just because he is a Minister, if he knows nothing about it. I know that Mrs. Roosevelt will not allow red tape to interfere with the reception of children in America. Professional people, particularly, ask whether red tape is going to interfere with getting group children over there. This would not cost the country a penny as these people are prepared to take children for the duration and to pay for them. I want an answer from the Minister on whether red tape is to be allowed to interfere.

It has been said that it is no use getting too many children into the scheme because they will not let them in, but Americans are longing for English people to come. We have been getting into this country from Europe people we do not want. If hon. Members had watched the arrival at Plymouth last week of people evacuated from France, it would have made their hair stand on end. I am not blaming the Government for that. We do not necessarily want our children to stay there for ever, or to keep the people who come here, for ever. I hope that the Minister will give us an assurance that red tape will not be in evidence on this side. I can assure him that red tape will not be in evidence on the other side. Will he also tell us how many of these people, beside those of the Salvation Army and the rest, have been to the Dominions or to America? That is most important. I hope that the Minister will not think that I am too critical, but I really feel that it is time we said to the Government, "Now that we are at war there is no time for departmental committees." We want the very best representatives and we want them to get to work quickly. A lot of us are growing rather impatient. We are not as happy as we might be about this and although we believe that the council will do their best, we are not at all certain that we could not have obtained a better body.

6.21 p.m.

Colonel Wedgwood (Newcastle-under-Lyme)

I hope that the Committee will permit me to refer once more to that admirable maiden speech that we have had from the hon. Member for Spen Valley (Mr. Woolley). I do not say that I congratulate him, but I congratulate Spen Valley. His speech is the best we have had this afternoon, and I hope that he will make a point of repeating speeches in this House equally well thought out and prepared and equally well given, without reading and without notes. My first reference to the scheme that has been put before us to-day is that I want a little more elucidation about the number of people who have applied. As I understood from the hon. Member 40,000 people had applied from State-aided schools for passage overseas and 12,000 from non-State-aided parents. Is that the number of people who have applied to go to the Dominions or who have applied to go overseas?

Mr. Shakespeare

Every parent is asked to express a preference either for one Dominion or to say whether he will let his child go to any Dominion, and whether America is mentioned in that matter.

Colonel Wedgwood

So it includes all who want to go either to America or the Dominions?

Mr. Shakespeare

indicated assent.

Colonel Wedgwood

I have sent 500 cases to the hon. Member, and of these I am afraid that more than half will not come within the scheme. They were from people who wanted to go to America or from parents who wanted to accompany their children or children under five. Do I understand that the 12,000 include all these, in which case there can only be about 4,000 or 5,000 of the non-State-aided school category which come within the scheme? Am I right in that?

Mr. Shakespeare

No. All those who apply presumably are eligible, because they have already been seconded by the local education authority.

Colonel Wedgwood

That covers the whole of the 40,000 and the whole of the 12,000? The next point upon which I was not clear was with regard to payment. I understand that from the State-aided school the parents will continue to pay to the Government here what they have been paying in the past and that the Government will pay to the Canadian Government some unspecified sum—whether the whole of what parents pay I do not know. I will presume for the occasion that they are paying over to the Canadian Government in Canadian dollars the total contributions of the parents on this side, both the State-aided school parents contributing 6s. and the other parents who are paying £1 a week. That sum will be passed over to the Canadian Government, and the Canadian Government use that sum, with any supplement required to pay the foster-parents over there. Am I wrong?

Mr. Shakespeare

We have agreed to pay over to the Dominion Government a sum as a flat rate to be agreed upon in writing, and they can use it for the general welfare of the children. I understand that with regard to Canada there is no arrangement, and never will be, to recoup the individual parents for maintaining the children. They are entertaining our children at their own expense.

Colonel Wedgwood

That is very important. If children are maintained at the expense of the foster parents, they will be infinitely better looked after than if they were farmed out, as has been too often the case in the existing evacuation scheme. It is very important to get that out. The parents in this country have their greatest security in the fact that their children are being looked after for nothing and are not being made part of a commercial venture.

I now come to my fundamental objection to the scheme as it has been adumbrated to-day. The Minister has his heart in the old Empire migration policy. This is essentially an extension of that policy—children from the Mother Country being sent to the Dominions to increase the connection between the centre and the Dominions, which has for many years been the policy of a great many people on the opposite side of the House and of some on this side who believe that the best way of building up the British Empire is by an interchange of population. That may be all very well, but that is certainly not my reason for desiring the present emigration of children in this country. It may be a very desirable policy in times of peace, but it has nothing whatever to do with the war that we are carrying on at the present time.

When the hon. Gentleman made his broadcast the other day he gave a second alternative point of view, not so much the building-up of the Empire, but appealing to parents to send their children because they might be bombed. He was appealing through fear for the safety of the children. I do not think that that is a fair appeal to make to the parents. I do not think that it is the real background of this movement to-day. People who are anxious to get their children away from this country to-day are not running away from this country; they are hoping to win the war. The essence of this movement is not the safety of the children; it is not even the safety of the race, though that bulks more largely than safety from bombs. If we are defeated here, do let us have at least a nucleus of free peoples to carry on the traditions. The danger that I fear is that if they remain here, and we are conquered, they will be perverted, and against that we may well take every precaution. Do not let us imagine that it is a question of getting rid of the children of parents who are frantic with fear. Far from it.

The object of this scheme, I am quite certain, should be to give us a better chance of beating the Nazis, because, as the hon. Member for Spen Valley pointed out, the fewer mouths we have to feed, the more munitions we can afford and the longer we can hold out if the importation of food to this country becomes difficult. That is not all. The more our fighting men are relieved of anxiety for their wives and children, the better the fight they will be able to put up. I have had a letter from a Scotsman who says he wants to get his children away solely in order that he may be free to give his life without knowing that if he does die, his wife and children will be as those wretched refugees. To free our men from continued anxieties ought to be the object of the hon. Gentleman. It is not only that we want our soldiers to be better soldiers, and our men in the villages who will have to fight to fight with a better spirit; we want to keep our roads free from streams of fugitives. You are talking about getting rid of 7,000 children a month. How can you relieve in that way congestion on the roads in the Eastern counties if the German devils do get a landing?

When I wrote to the Prime Minister on the subject, nearly three months ago, I put forward the plea that America should be asked to take, not a few children between 5 and 16 years of age, but our useless mouths, so that we could hold the fort for ever and fight with our sword arm free. It was a scheme which would have been accepted and welcomed in America, which would have taken not merely the children between 5 and 16, but all little children, expectant mothers and, possibly, the aged. There is no limit to American hospitality and generosity, but this Government rejected the proposal as inopportune. The very appointment of the Committee over which the Under-Secretary of State for the Dominions presides is almost an insult to America. If you expect real live-hearted generosity from America, do not work through the Dominions. Work through the Foreign Office. The Foreign Office is not even represented on the Committee. The Government continue to turn down something which would really help to win this war, and have substituted for it a mean little scheme that—

Mr. Shakespeare

What offer is the right hon. and gallant Gentleman referring to?

Colonel Wedgwood

When I wrote to the Prime Minister I asked him whether he would ask America if she would take 5,000,000.

Mr. Shakespeare

I have had no offer.

Colonel Wedgwood

America has been offering ever since, and has been cold-shouldered by the hon. Gentleman. She has offered millions of dollars and thousands of homes, and nothing has been done.

Mr. Shakespeare

This is so important that I want the right hon. and gallant Gentleman to get it in its proper perspective. A few days ago I was asked to see the American Ambassador and discuss with him practical details of the scheme. He asked me for a copy of the report, so that he could communicate with his Government, and I am now waiting to hear from him. I have not the slightest doubt that what the right hon. and gallant Gentleman says will be ultimately true, knowing the very generous nature of America, but it is not fair to me to suggest that I held up the scheme.

Colonel Wedgwood

You went to see the Ambassador a few days ago—

Viscountess Astor

When you come to this American scheme, does it mean that the same Advisory Council will operate, or are you really willing to take the advice of people who know America, have lived there and were even born there?

The Temporary Chairman (Sir Cyril Entwistle)

The hon. Lady must not interrupt.

Colonel Wedgwood

I think the offers from America have been far more generous than we could have reasonably expected, but America has not been asked to do anything, and there has been a definite refusal to approach that country in any way. The hon. Member for Blackpool (Mr. Robinson) has been over there for nearly a month and has been cold-shouldered, as has been all the work done by the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Buckrose (Major Braithwaite), who has not even been put on the Committee. No sort of notice has been taken of anything to be done in connection with America, all because the hon. Gentleman has in the back of his mind, and in his soul, this passionate devotion to the Empire and the idea that children must only go to the Empire. I do not think the Empire has anything to do with the case before us to-day.

The case before us to-day is the effective prosecution of this war; and we should take every opportunity that might be offered, and ask for any help we might obtain, towards reducing the number of useless mouths in this country, thereby increasing the efficiency of the people able to fight and produce munitions. That is the way to put the scheme to the people of this land if you really want them to let their children go. You should point out that they will not be funks and cowards, but will be doing the best service to the State by allowing their children to be taken care of by American or Canadian people.

When I originally proposed this scheme, I was thinking of something more than help in the prosecution of this war. I was thinking also of the enormous ambassadorial value of our children and their propaganda value—a propaganda for that closer friendship and union between the British and American people which may be our safeguard in this war. There is nothing like the children of this country to advertise this country and to draw America and ourselves closer together. The other day, when France was at her last gasp, we offered her union with this country. The time may come when America may make a like offer to us, or we may make a like suggestion to America. That day, when it comes, will be for the winning of this war and the salvation of the race. In the scheme which I hoped for, that day might come soon. I hope I may be excused in considering the scheme put before us to-day as trivial, valueless, and a grave disappointment to the people of this country.

6.42 p.m.

The Lord Privy Seal (Mr. Attlee)

I propose to intervene for only a moment and not to deal with the details of the scheme, about which questions have been asked. My hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Education will answer those points, but I want to say a word on the subject of policy. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman who has just sat down is perfectly right. This is not an emigration policy; it is a policy which is part of the defence of this country. Because some of our children are going overseas, it is not an emigration policy any more than the evacuation of some of our children from dangerous areas to rural areas is a "back to the land" policy. You may have an advantage in one case, that you get a closer unity between Britain and the different parts of the British Commonwealth, and in the other case there may be a better understanding between town and country. But that is not the object of the scheme. The object of it is that it is part of our defence policy and, just as here at home children have been moved from dangerous places to safer places, so to a limited extent we are able to send children overseas. It is important, however, to remember that the amount that can be done under this or any scheme is necessarily limited.

There is talk as if it were possible to send away all the children from this country, but the scheme is strictly limited by the amount of shipping available. That does not merely mean the ships available, but also the ships for the protection of the vessels carrying children. That is the first thing which must be in the mind of any Government in considering a scheme. It is useless to suggest that there is not some risk. Parents have to judge between the different risks which have to be taken at home and abroad, and the important thing is not to over-estimate or underestimate either of those risks. To hear some people speak you would think there was no safety at all for children here—

Colonel Wedgwood

It is not a question of risk. If the right hon. Gentleman really thinks it is a question of military policy and the relative risks of stopping here or going overseas, then the opinion of parents has nothing to do with it.

Mr. Attlee

That may be the right hon. and gallant Gentleman's opinion, but that is the kind of thing which has been discussed quite a lot in the newspapers and occasionally you get the idea that, somehow or other, you must clear everybody except fighting men out of the country because it is so dangerous. I do not take that line because I quite firmly believe we will defeat invasion. The Government and the country are not facing this question in any sense of panic at all, but it is necessary to have a sense of proportion. Whatever is done needs very careful selection and I think extremely good work has been done by this body in the selection of children. I think it absolutely right that there should not be privilege for one lot of people as against another. I think it is right that a fair sample of the population should be sent overseas. Where I do agree with the right hon. and gallant Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Colonel Wedgwood) is that this is part of a fighting policy. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman asked why we are dealing with the Dominions only, and why do we refuse an offer from the United States of America. A little later on he said, "Why do you not ask the United States?" There is really some difference between refusing an offer and not asking.

Colonel Wedgwood

The Government have had an offer of a limited amount. I want to know why they, not only did not accept that offer, but did not ask for more.

Mr. Attlee

I am informed that there has been no direct offer. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman asked why we did not accept that offer and when challenged, he said, "Why not ask?" He cannot have it both ways. The suggestion that the whole idea of going to the United States is being turned down is quite incorrect. My hon. Friend has been in contact with the American Ambassador. But there again, it is a limited contribution that can be made to the solution of this problem, and this is what I really rose to say that we must view this thing with a sense of proportion. It does make a valuable contribution, but I stress the point that it is only a limited contribution.

Mr. Lindsay

Does the right hon. Gentleman consider that the removal of 1 per cent. of the children in one year is a valuable contribution?

Mr. Attlee

It makes a certain contribution. I do not think it is a very big contribution, but I do not know what number the hon. Gentleman thinks we can remove, given the shipping conditions.

Mr. Buchanan (Glasgow, Gorbals)

With this limited proportion of 1 per cent. of the population who are to be selected, those who are left behind may think that they are not good enough to go. Does not the right hon. Gentleman think that there may be created among those who are refused a great feeling of annoyance and irritation?

Mr. Attlee

The hon. Gentleman might be quite right if that were being done, but what is happening is that applications are being made and taken up. At the present time, we have applications enough to fill the vacancies at the present moment, and after that the matter can go on again. I did not suggest that we are making an arbitrary selection. As a matter of fact, if we take a proportion of the various applications made, we take a certain proportion of the population.

6.50 p.m.

Mr. McGovern (Glasgow, Shettleston)

After listening to the statement made by the Minister, and having disagreed on so many occasions since 3rd September last, with the policy of the Government, I am glad that to-day I am able not only to agree with the Government, but with the general feeling of the Committee on this question of the partial evacuation of children overseas. Like many other hon. Members, I should have preferred a scheme on a very large scale, but I am prepared to admit that it may be that those who know the amount of shipping available have had to limit the scheme accordingly. I should have liked also to see the most dangerous areas of the country treated as an urgent problem and given preference over all other areas. It is an accepted fact that there are some extremely dangerous areas, such as the coastal towns nearest to France, towns on the North Sea coast, and certain areas where there are very large munitions works on which the enemy may be tempted to make a very vicious attack in the near future.

The Government have laid down that the scheme is to be based partially on the policy of the national defence of the country. I regret to hear it said that that is the main basis of the scheme. If I were asked what was the main basis of the scheme for sending children out of this country, I should say that it was being done on humane grounds for the purpose of taking the children away to a place of safety. Although I would have liked to have seen a larger scheme, I am humane enough to welcome the fact that even a moderate number of children will be sent away. I rather suspect that the main reason for taking children out of the country is to give to those who may be most nervous an opportunity to go away, in order to keep up the morale of thee country. One may talk on the wireless, on the platform, through the Press and in the House of Commons about carrying on the war to the last man and the last shilling, but if one has screaming women and children in this country in tremendous bombing raids—

Dr. Edith Summerskill (Fulham, West)

Screaming women? Has the hon. Member ever heard them? They do not scream.

Mr. McGovern

I have heard them in the House.

Dr. Summerskill

Do not make that remark.

Mr. McGovern

I will, because I have had experience of them and heard them.

The Temporary Chairman

I ask the hon. Member to address the Chair.

Mr. McGovern

I apologise, but I was led off by the hon. Lady.

Dr. Summerskill

The hon. Member has had an unfortunate experience of women.

The Temporary Chairman

I must ask the hon. Lady not to make these continuous interruptions.

Mr. McGovern

I will only say that the morale of the population can be kept up only if there is an absence of that sort of thing. The situation could get to the stage where the suffering of the women and children would be so great that the men would be compelled to take a hand in demanding the cessation of the war. [Interruption.] The hon. Lady is now very insulting. I saw bombing raids in Madrid, and screaming women and children were brought from the nearby streets into the hotel in which I was staying. The children had been dragged from their beds and were in their nightgowns and pyjamas. The din was so great that I am satisfied that if that sort of thing became general in any great population, it would have a tremendous effect upon the morale of the people and the conduct of the war. From expressions which I have heard in various parts of the country, I have the feeling that many people welcome the scheme from that point of view. I do not mind whether that is their point of view or not. As an anti-war individual, who is unrepentant for his point of view, I welcome the scheme in that it gives to human beings an opportunity to get to some place of safety in a war-mad world.

I have to-day heard of the value, in an ambassadorial sense, of these children going to America, Canada, New Zealand and Australia, and I have heard it said that we must be particular about the children we pick for this scheme. I hope that we are not to get a repetition in the overseas scheme of what we got in the home evacuation scheme, when children were condemned on every hand because they came from unfortunate and overcrowded environments, where there had been a lack of proper facilities and training, sometimes on the part of the mothers and the children were spurned in every part of the country because of those failings. We ought to consider the fact that children are human beings first and foremost. I am not particularly concerned whether they belong to the middle class or the lowest stratum of the working class. I would like to see every opportunity given to them in order that they may enjoy life in some other part of the world until this war is over.

I am satisfied that there are golden opportunities to be had in various parts of what may be termed our own Empire. I have spent nearly two years in Australia, travelling from Melbourne right up to North Queensland, and staying in many towns for a week at least, and I know that there are tremendous opportunities there for children. It must be remembered that the average house in Australia is much larger than can be afforded by people in this country. The ordinary artisan in Australia pays a greater proportion of his income in rent than is done in this country, and usually the people have very roomy houses. Many of them could take these children. I am sure that the people in that part of the world are so entranced, if I may use that term, with the struggle that is being put up for what they regard, from their angle, as the benefit of humanity as a whole that they are prepared to make their contribution one of sustenance to those who are putting up this struggle in the Mother Country.

I want also to refer to the matter from the point of view of the serving men. When men are serving in the trenches or in some foreign part, it may be in India, Egypt or the Near East, putting up a struggle on behalf of this country, it would be a tremendous consolation to many of them who have motherless children at home if they felt that these children were removed to a place of security. If that were done, their minds would be eased of the thought that their children might be victims of bombing raids. I regret that there is talk of only 7,000 children going each month. The grave danger from bombing raids will come probably in the next few months. If one supposes that great bombing attacks do not take place for three months from now, then even if the scheme is running smoothly, it will mean that only 21,000 children will be taken out of the country during those three months.

It is not a very great contribution. In the absence of evidence and knowledge on the subject, I cannot imagine that the scheme can only find room for 7,000 children per month. But if I am told that is all the shipping space that can be found, then I must be satisfied. Frankly, I would say that the question of shipping should be reconsidered to see whether it is not possible to take more children. I have heard it said that we must not dump orphan children on the Dominions. It must be remembered that orphan children have a lack of opportunity, and that the opportunities offered in the Dominions are very much greater than in this country. Unfortunately for us we have a harder struggle to attain a higher standard of living than is the case in some of those other countries. It would be a welcome and humane act to send orphan children, especially those of soldiers who have died during the war, to good families in countries where they would have better opportunities.

Several hon. Members have referred to the age limit of five years, and I think consideration should be given to extending the scheme to children under five years of age. Terrible tragedy can result when child-bearing mothers are bombed. On the first evening of my arrival in Madrid, I saw a tenement at the corner of a street bombed. The following day 57 bodies were taken out—legs, arms and heads—and sent to the morgue. I would not like to see the same thing happen in this country if bombing raids took place. While we are taking younger children into places of greater security in this country, I hope that this other aspect will be discussed to a greater extent.

No doubt, considerable knowledge and thought has been applied to the question of looking after children on the journey. I remember when I went out to Australia on the "Largs Bay," there were 130 boys on board from Dr. Cossar's home. A man and woman were in charge, but, unfortunately, the boys were in continual trouble because of lack of proper supervision. The persons in charge were more interested in enjoying themselves than looking after the children allocated to their care. In the case of children going to New Zealand and Australia and on other long journeys, it is essential, for their care and happiness, that they should be properly looked after. I do not know whether this has been discussed, but I suggest that there should be with every party of boys and girls, apart from those looking after them, tutors who could teach the children the problems of citizenship, and physical training instructors to give drill and so forth. Recreation and games of all kinds should be provided to occupy their minds.

On the question of the safety of the children during the voyage there will probably be a great difference of opinion in this Committee on the suggestion which I would make. I believe that we might expect the United States to devote a part of their Navy to escorting these vessels across the Atlantic to America, because they would not be taking part in the war, but in solving a great human problem affecting humanity as a whole. I would be prepared myself to suggest, though it might seem like rank heresy, that in spite of what the Germans have done we should intimate to the world that these vessels were sailing. We should illuminate these ships and depend even on the Germans, not to do anything to the children on their journey across the ocean. I would be prepared to put that trust in humanity although it may be at a very low ebb. The safety of the children must be considered. It is right for parents to consider when sending their children away, probably for a long stay abroad, that when the children reach the ages of 10 to 13, in places like Australia, with eternal sunshine, open life, easy living and pleasant surroundings, the parents may be faced with the problem of the children being reluctant to return to this country. There are, however, many parents who have made sacrifices in the past, and who would be prepared to make them again in the future. They will be delighted to know that their children are developing into good citizens in those parts of the world, and are perfectly happy and contented in their surroundings.

I endorse whole-heartedly this scheme. The young people must go out of the country because of the faults and failings of the older people who have brought civilisation to its present stage. The system of greed and plunder and conservatism has brought humanity throughout the world to its present state. We are thinking in terms of dispersing the population, and everywhere people are fleeing from the on-rush of armies and bombing planes. I only trust that these evacua- tion schemes will live in the minds of men and that after this war is finished they will act as an incentive to establish a civilisation in which crudities and barbarities of this kind will never again take place. I compliment the Minster, in spite of the discussion and criticism, on his lucid statement, and I wish the children who go on this journey Godspeed.

7.9 p.m.

Mr. Lunn (Rothwell)

I have listened to many Debates on the migration or transfer of people from this country to the Dominions overseas. The Debate to-day has been on traditional lines, and I, like the hon. Member for Shettleston (Mr. McGovern), would like to congratulate the Minister on his very lucid statement. I have very little criticism to make on it regarding the departure of these children. Nearly go per cent. of the hon. Gentleman's speech however was devoted to the evacuation of children in this country, and not to their reception over-seas. I think it is something to our credit that so few are willing to go overseas. There are some parents, no doubt, who are obsessed with the fear of the possibility of the Hitler régime coming to this country. I wish it had been possible to drop a huge bomb on that dining car the other week when he was reading the preamble to that shameful peace treaty for France. I think the man who did it would have been the saviour of mankind. Anyhow, that did not happen, and so, we are discussing the possibility of sending quite a few children overseas for their safety, and their parents, no doubt, will be very pleased if it can be arranged.

I think the Minister will find himself wrong in his calculations if he imagines that all the children will be able to go overseas who have been nominated by their parents up to now. In these cases of emigration to the Dominions, as we know, the children have to pass through a very close sieve. Though I would agree with the last speaker that the children ought to be taken without so much selection, I know that the same argument does not apply to this form of emigration as to evacuation within this country, I know that there are Dominion Governments which will lay down their own conditions. After all, children will not be selected unless they are physically fit from every point of view and, as we have always said and heard said in these De- bates, those who pass the medical officers and go will be the pick of the basket. There are one or two things on which the Minister ought to be clear. One is whether there is to be compulsory evacuation. For another, the report says that they are not expected to be turned back at the ship. I have seen persons turned back after they had got on board emigrant ships because they were wearing spectacles. I hope the paragraph in the report which says they are not to be turned back at that late stage will be insisted upon and that, when they get so far, the children will be able to go. It will be a great disappointment and will do great harm in the country if they get so far and are then turned back. It is not a very big scheme even if it were to be carried out to the full. We have 5,000,000 school children in the country and only 52,000 are nominated. At the same time, I feel that if the Minister gets 10,000 children away he will be fairly lucky.

That, however, is not the part of the scheme with which I want to deal. I agree with earlier speakers that the main point, which has been dealt with in so few words, is the question of the reception overseas. We have no right to take children from good homes and dump them overseas without every consideration for their care and welfare. The Minister has not said very much upon that matter and I want some one to deal with it. I have grandchildren who are nominated to go overseas. My son has nominated them to go to his wife in Canada. The best system of emigration is nomination. If you can take steps to encourage nomination by relatives and friends in the Dominions, I believe there are thousands of good homes available there. They want searching for and finding, but I believe that the few children we are about to send, could be found good homes. But it is the Government here who will have to take the first step, not only to get nomination of the children from here but to see that every Government overseas, federal or provincial, is brought into the scheme.

I have not much faith in leaving these matters in the hands of voluntary societies. I have seen so much of that. I have had a long experience in trying to weed them out. I know there are good volunteers who do good work in every direction but I do not think that the care of children should be left absolutely in the hands of voluntary societies. You must set up in each Dominion which is to receive the children, organisations under the authority of the Government who will not only look after the reception of the children but their care and after care. We hope that before very long there will be a change which will enable the children to come back to their homes. I feel that we can get as many as we wish to leave the country, but this scheme is not going to populate the Empire. If you do not get the Governments into this matter, to organise it and manage or direct it in every way, using voluntary effort wherever possible in the interest of the children, I have little faith in its success. I have been interested in this subject for many years. When we sent children to Canada I sent a commission there to discuss and consider what was being done. They were unanimous—and the Governments of this country and of Canada agreed—that, because of conditions overseas, the scheme was to come to an end and no more children were to go unless accompanied by their parents. I do not insist upon that, though I believe it is the best way, but I do insist that the Government cannot expect this Parliament to support them at all, if they do not see that everything is done by the Governments overseas to ensure that the children are cared for, have an opportunity of leading decent, good lives and are able to come back as soon as possible.

7.19 p.m.

Major Braithwaite (Buckrose)

I should like to say how glad I am that this opportunity has been given to Parliament to consider the problem of evacuating children. I also want to say how grateful we are to the Under-Secretary for the vigour and courage with which he has tackled the enormous task that has been given to him. I was a little alarmed at the size of his Advisory Council, but I assume that he has taken the best advice available on a very big problem. I should have thought, in war-time, a smaller committee would be advisable, because all our war effort should be as concentrated as possible. We do not want to have more people doing a job than are absolutely necessary, in order to get a quick decision. On the other hand, I believe the hon. Gentleman has got together a good Council which will do useful service and give him sound advice.

We are discussing this problem at the most serious time in our national affairs. It anybody has illusions about what is to happen, they might as well dispel them at once. We are the front-line trench of civilisation to-day. We are the most vulnerable country in the world. We have the most concentrated population in the smallest island. We are face to face with the largest war machine that has ever been created, and in some parts we are only 20 miles away from an air force which some say numbers about 12,000. We have to use this island as the frontline trench. What is the best way of making it a substantial front line? When we were fighting in France in the last war we would not have brought the women and children into the trenches alongside us to fight. We would not even have brought the old or decrepit. We cleared the decks so that we could get down to business properly and quickly. That is why the problem of evacuating children from this country is of paramount importance. I regard it as one of the greatest military objectives that we can have in order to put our house in order. It does not concern only the soldiers and the military people, but the people who are working in the factories. They want to know when they are at their lathes, in the coal mines and on the munition plants, that their loved ones at home will be reasonably safe.

I was disappointed with the hon. Gentleman's broadcast the other day. I do not know whether he was having a tip at me when he said it was dangerous to talk about evacuating large numbers of people and that it was stupid to discuss it on those lines. We shall, however, have to do this before the war is over. Whether it is done now or later is a matter for the Government to decide. When the Lord Privy Seal this afternoon passed it over as a small matter I disagreed with him. We have to face the fact that women and children and non-effectives in this country must not be allowed to hinder the war effort in any way. The Minister of Shipping has no right to send one ship from these shores unless it has its quota of women and children aboard. This is a policy not of funk, but of getting ready to beat Hitler at his own game. We can- not do that unless we have some real vision. We live in strange times and we have to think on different lines from those of pre-war days. The policy that would do when we were approaching the war will not do now. I disagree with my hon. Friend who agitates sending these ships lighted up. Any airmen or soldiers who would deliberately machine-gun women and children on the island of Guernsey or when they were refugees in France are not to be trusted on the high seas. We must, therefore, provide every defence for the children.

I want to say something which I hope will go to the United States of America. I have spent a considerable time looking at this matter from the American point of view. With our island in the front-line trench of civilisation the United States have a responsibility to us, and they fully realise it. It is paramountly obvious to me that if they are our friends—and I believe they are—and if they desire to see this country retain those elements of strength that will preserve civilisation, they must immediately come to our rescue by sending their fleet and their boats to take our women and children away from this island.

Rear-Admiral Beamish (Lewes)

We are not in want of rescue.

Major Braithwaite

It is in the best interests of this country that America and ourselves should work closely together in this matter. Any attempt to belittle what America is doing or to disunite us is not good for this country or anybody else. We want to have the maximum help from that great continent. I say to them that it is their bounden duty to send their ships and boats to take our people across to their country.

I am sorry that the Government were so tardy about this question up to the time when my hon. Friend undertook this duty. It always seems that before taking any action the Government have to run up against the inevitable that has been standing out a mile. We have to do everything in such an infernal rush because things were not planned when there was time. If it was clear that evacuation from dangerous areas had to be carried out, it ought to have been taken in hand in time instead of being brought on at this stage and plans made in a rush. We are indebted to the hon. Gentleman in charge of this Department for the speed with which he has gone to work. The rapidity with which he and his committee and the staff have got together and the way in which they are dealing with correspondence are a credit to the Civil Service and the Department, and we owe the Under-Secretary a debt of gratitude. Everyone would like to express our great appreciation of the generosity and affection which have been shown to this country by the Dominions and by the United States of America. The hon. Gentleman told the Committee that he had no offers from America, but he knows well that the homes are there by the thousand when he is ready to deal with them. There are some difficulties about restrictions on emigration, but I believe they will be swept out of the way.

When we are considering this matter we should look at the possibilities. There are 150,000,000 people in the United States as against 14,000,000 in Canada. We have the opportunity of getting our children into homes which, I can say from personal experience, will look after our children. America is a children's country. They think and work for their children in a way that sets an example to the world, and they will give affection, consideration and help to our children which every parent will realise if any of their children go there. The possibilities of this scheme are tremendous. The only limitation to it is shipping. We have not only our own Mercantile Marine, but the Dutch Mercantile Marine, large sections of the Danish fleet, a lot of the Norwegian fleet and a substantial number of the French. Surely, with all these ships we ought to deal with this matter in bigger figures than the Minister has talked of. I hope that the Government will see that every parent whose children are now in a reception area will have the opportunity of seeing them before they go away. I understand that a large number of the children under consideration are in reception areas and they are a long way from their parents. I should like the Board to consider the question of setting up care committees in each of the Dominions to which the children may go. I feel sure—

It being half-past Seven of the Clock, and there being Private Business set down by direction of The CHAIRMAN OF WAYS AND MEANS under Standing Order No. 6, further Proceeding was postponed without Question put.

Mr. SPEAKER resumed the Chair.