HC Deb 28 June 1948 vol 452 cc1888-915

Amendments made: In page 52, line 25, leave out from "subsection," to "in," in line 27.

In page 53, line 31, column 3, at end, insert: In section one hundred and two, in subsection (1) the words from '(f) in the case' to the end of the subsection."—[Mr. Younger.]

5.53 p.m.

Mr. Ede

I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read the Third time."

I have to express to the House and to hon. Members of all parties who served on the Committee upstairs, my thanks for the way in which they have facilitated the progress of this Bill and for the many helpful suggestions which have been made, a great number of which I have found it possible to incorporate in the Bill. I should like especially to thank the hon. and gallant Member for Pollok (Commander Galbraith) for the way in which he conducted his side of the Committee upstairs so that, though on two or three occasions we had quite strong clashes of opinion, we were able throughout to keep the matter off party lines and to discuss the Measure solely from the point of view of what was to be best for the child.

The hon. and gallant Member for Horn-castle (Commander Maitland) upstairs attempted to introduce an Amendment defining the ages at which people might legitimately take some interest in the work of this Bill after it is passed into law. As I found myself outside the prescribed age, I felt some embarrassment when I intervened in the presence of the hon. and gallant Gentleman. Therefore, I left the greater part of the discussion upstairs and here today to my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary whom I must thank for the way in which he has dealt with the Bill and for the efforts he made to master the whole of its proceedings. Of course, he is under the great advantage that his name will always ensure that, no matter what the discussion may be about, he cannot be ruled out of account on the ground that he has ceased to be young, for he will always be "Younger" no matter what the subject of discussion may be.

I believe that this is a very necessary Bill. It enables the country to deal with a subject which has stirred it most profoundly. It is, I think, some tribute to the work that may still be done by enlightened people using the more respectable parts of the Press for the ventilation of public grievances, that this great Measure has virtually flowed from a letter that was written to "The Times" by Lady Allen of Hurtwood. It is true that it was reinforced by certain very practical difficulties which arose in the administration of the law with regard to the care of deprived children. I am sure that all those who have been closely connected with this work for any length of time will pay a tribute to the inspiration given to this cause by Lady Allen of Hurtwood and those associated with her.

This Bill places new and heavy duties on local authorities. We have every confidence that they will realise the strength of public opinion that there is behind the Bill and that they will see that cases like the Dennis O'Neill case, and some of the revelations that have been made since the publication of the Curtis Report by discussions at local authority meetings, will be relegated to the past and will be merely unhappy memories.

The Bill also brings into being the very important position of the children's officer. Both in Committee upstairs and in the discussions today there have been indications of how great an importance this House attaches to the due performance by these ladies and gentlemen of the duties that this Bill and their local authorities will place upon them. I have no doubt that in the years that lie ahead much unhappiness will be avoided, much happiness will be created, and many promising lives will be preserved through the skill, the affection and the attention of these officers. I reiterate the sense of obligation which I feel to the House. I had to ask both the House and the Committee upstairs to deal with the matter as one of urgency so that this Measure might become law by 5th July. I am exceedingly grateful to every hon. Member for the way in which he or she has co-operated with me in managing to get the Bill through in time.

5.59 p.m.

Commander Galbraith

As the right hon. Gentleman has said, this Bill has now reached its final stage. It is a Bill which has been thoroughly considered and discussed, and very many admirable Amendments have been made. I am sure that every Member of the House agrees with me when I say that it is now an even better Bill than it was when we received it from another place. From the very outset, there has been complete agreement on the main object which this Measure sets out to achieve, which is to provide, as far as is humanly possible, that these deprived children shall have all the advantages which normally accrue to a child which is living with its own parents.

As the right hon. Gentleman said, there have been disagreements, but those disagreements have been due to opinions sincerely and honestly held as to the best means to achieve the ends which all of us have had in view. To a greater extent, it has been possible to resolve this disagreement through discussion and as a result of give and take on the part of the Minister and his Under-Secretary and hon. Members of this House. I think it would be quite unnatural if all these differences had been cleared away. Where administration is concerned, views have been expressed which have been formed over a long number of years and are likely to be held with a considerable amount of tenacity. But I think the Home Secretary can justly claim that this Bill will pass to the statute book with almost complete unanimity and with the greatest good will from this side of the House.

I think it would be wrong to claim too much for this Bill, because what we have done has been merely to provide a skeleton which we want to see provided with an opportunity of life, and, if that is to be possible, those to whom we are entrusting the operation of the Bill will require to clothe it with flesh and blood. They will have to go further than that. If our high expectations are to be fulfilled, the local authorities, the voluntary organisations, the children's committees, the children's officers and the foster parents will have to try to inspire in the administration of this Measure the spirit which has been so evident throughout all the discussions which have taken place at every stage. I wish—it may be that I am wishing too much—that those who are to operate the Bill might find the time to read the proceedings which have taken place on this Bill, for, if they were to do so, they would realise that it is the spirit that underlies the provisions of the Bill, rather than the actual words themselves, to which we here attach by far the greatest measure of importance.

I believe that we have succeeded, while setting up a central authority, in retaining a very large degree of flexibility, and in leaving both to the local authorities and the voluntary organisations a real measure of independence. I hope that these two systems, the local authority system and that of the voluntary organisation, will continue to work in friendly rivalry, that they will be willing to learn from each other so that the benefits of any successful experiments may be available to and be adopted by both. While I express that hope, I trust that no attempt will be made on the part of the central authority to impose standardisation, for I feel that that might well be fatal to progress.

The hon. Member for Coatbridge (Mrs. Mann) reminded us very pertinently during the Committee stage that the aim here was to provide happy homes, to give opportunities for happy childhood and the development of an independent and self-reliant spirit in these children. That aim we must keep constantly in view. Academic qualifications, as I have said on an earlier occasion, do not necessarily produce good mothers, and do not necessarily provide good guardians for those children, whether as children's officers, managers of homes or foster parents. I think that affection, sympathy and a real understanding of children should be the qualities most insisted upon when selecting people for these appointments.

The hon. Lady also reminded us that order and a high degree of cleanliness are not of practical importance to a happy childhood, and I know from my own experience that children who are constantly inspected and reprimanded when their hands are not sufficiently clean or their clothes seem a little dishevelled, go through a kind of purgatory not very far distant from that described by Dante in his "Inferno." Therefore, I would hope that these children will be given the freedom which the average child enjoys, and, indeed, will be treated as normal children and not, if I may relapse into the Scottish vernacular, as "step-bairns" in any way. The translation, in English, is "stepchildren."

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for what he has said, not only about myself, but all hon. Members of the Committee, who, I know, have done their best to help him, and I would express to him our appreciation on this side of the House of the manner in which he and his Under-Secretary received the criticisms which we offered and of the large measure to which they found themselves able to meet those criticisms. We give this Bill our full support. We send it on its way hoping that, through it, means may be found of remedying the very unfortunate conditions recently brought to light, which created such uneasiness in the public mind. We hope that the measures provided in it will give to the deprived children the benefits of the same happy life and that feeling of belonging and being wanted, which we ourselves endeavour to secure for our own children.

6.6 p.m.

Mr. Dumpleton

I am conscious that there are a number of hon. Members who wish to take part in the discussion before we pass this Bill, and, therefore, I shall be brief. I am glad to have the opportunity of expressing my gratification for having been allowed to take some part in the proceedings on the Committee stage. This Bill is a most important Measure, dealing with a vitally important matter which, as the Home Secretary has said, was first called to our attention by the letter which appeared in "The Times," and by the stirring of public conscience regarding the care of these unfortunate children deprived of a normal home life. We all realise, I am quite sure, that the mere passing of this Bill will not necessarily meet the need which it has been designed to meet. On the administrative action which will follow the passing of the Bill, will largely depend whether that need is to be met or not.

There are one or two matters connected with administrative arrangements upon which I should like to comment. The Home Secretary has stressed the great importance of the place which the children's officer will fill. It has been said that the children's officer is the linchpin of the whole administrative arrangements under the Bill. I am not so certain myself whether the children's officer is necessarily more important than the qualities of the people who will comprise the membership of the children's committees. I think there is a great need that those chosen to be members of these committees should be people who really have a sympathetic and experienced understanding of the needs of these children. It certainly is true that a great deal will depend upon the quality of the person who is chosen to be the children's officer.

I agree with the hon. and gallant Gentleman opposite in regard to the need for not too much emphasis on academic qualifications in choosing people for this work. I think that, as one reviews some of the appointments already made, there is cause for apprehension that undue emphasis is being placed upon academic or paper qualifications rather than the attention which should be given to experience, character and personality. While we want young people to do this work, young people with merely paper qualifications are not of the same value as older people who have perhaps brought up families of children themselves and have gained a wide experience. I hope that my right hon. Friend will take care to review retrospectively some of the appointments that have been made. This is a new field; we are experimenting; and it would be very valuable to look in a few years' time at some of the appointments now being made to see whether they have, in fact, worked out successfully.

One great need in the successful working of this Bill will be to see that there are not too frequent changes of staff in the children's officers' department, in the children's homes, and so on, because too frequent changes of staff will lead to unsettlement and disturbance of the children. What these children need, perhaps above everything else, is continuity of experience and settled environment. If there is competition between authorities for qualified children's officers—of whom not too many are available—there may be a very undesirable frequent change of personnel, which will not be good for the service. That rather stresses the need for standard conditions of pay, training facilities, and so on, and the reduction of competition between authorities to a minimum.

Finally, a few words about the children's homes. In Committee I indicated some hale apprehension about the difference of treatment provided in the regulations to be made, as between the local authority homes and the voluntary homes—as between Clause 15 and Clause 31. It would be a great pity were there to grow up two differing standards of child care. I agree with the hon. and gallant Member for Pollok (Commander Galbraith) that we do not want too much standardisation; there should be variety and individuality in the different homes; but it would be a pity were there two standards of child care, one not so good as the other. I hope that will be avoided in the administrative arrangements made under the regulations.

I regret that on Report stage the Home Secretary has not thought fit to deal with one point in connection with Clause 31. In Committee we discussed the power to withdraw a child from a home where the arrangement turned out to be not very satisfactory. I then said that possibly, in those circumstances, there would be nothing unsatisfactory about the home itself, which may comply with all the regulations, but for some reason peculiar to the child—a physical handicap, or some other reason—the child may not fit particularly well into the home, rendering removal desirable. The Home Secretary recognised that there may possibly be such situations, and said he would consider the question before the Report stage to see whether there ought not to be put into the Bill power to make any necessary readjustment in connection with such a child.

No doubt such a readjustment, when found to be necessary, will normally be arranged amicably between all concerned, but it seems to me that in the background there ought to be in the Bill a sanction to enable the children's officer, or the local authority acting through the children's officer, to insist that a child needing readjustment should be withdrawn from one home and put into another home, where such a change is found to be in the interest of the child. I hope that will be given some attention Mien the administrative arrangements are made. I am glad to have this opportunity of congratulating my right hon. Friend and the Under-Secretary on introducing this Bill, which I hope will lead to the meeting of the great need which has been shown to exist for the care of these children.

6.15 p.m.

Mr. K. Lindsay

I should like to associate myself and those who sometimes sit in this part of the House with the remarks that have been made about the spirit and the competent way in which the Home Secretary and the Under-Secretary have dealt with this Bill. I think we have all learned a little more about a problem of which perhaps even we now know but little. The hon. and gallant Member for Pollok (Commander Galbraith) hoped that those who have to operate the provisions of the Bill might read our Debates. Well, they might get some enlightenment by so doing; but I am surprised to find how ignorant we have all been about this question.

This is a problem affecting all the war-devastated countries; yet, curiously enough, the 5,000 children who come under the Ministry of Pensions, the War Office and the Admiralty are left out of this Bill. A leading article in "The Times" today suggests that there is another problem almost as great as this, which this country has hardly tackled yet: the 100,000 children who come under the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children. This Bill, far from being a "Children's Charter" is but a competent piece of administrative structure to deal with one aspect of the problem.

There are 120,000 of these children, and I was glad to hear the Home Secretary say specifically that he does not wish to see the 60,000 who come under local authorities treated in any way differently from the 60,000 who come under, say, over 1,000 different voluntary homes. Many of these children are quite normal; quite a number of them have got parents—a fact we are rather apt to forget; thousands of other children are blind, deaf, epileptic, subnormal physically and maladjusted, and are in the care of local education authorities, who have nothing to do with this Bill at all. So do let us keep a sense of perspective, now that we are passing the Bill. Moreover, we have given to this new children's committee 2,000 children once in the care of the local education authorities, in approved schools.

Presumably, all the other agencies of the local authorities—particularly the educational and medical—will be utilised to give these children the social services which are open to all others. If some of us remain unconvinced about the administrative structure—and I shall certainly not flog that again—let me add a few constructive words. When the Education Act was in its Committee stage, I suggested that it was time there were two Under-Secretaries for Education—as there are for six other Government Departments. I should like to see—and I think the day will come—another Under-Secretary, preferably a woman, who will have charge of this vast and important job.

I regard this Bill as a transitional measure, pending a more enlightened conception of public and educational responsibility. It has been said that we are all agreed about the objects of the Bill. I hope we are. I think the object of this Bill is to bring these children back into the main stream of normal life; and I devoutly hope that for the good of the child the children's committee and the children's officers will work as a team with other committees, with the education, medical and probation officers, and also with other social workers, such as the school attendance officers. Today, the functions of the local authority are becoming much more intimate; they are much more devoted to social welfare, now that their public utilities of gas, electricity and transport have been transferred to the State.

Therefore, as was said by the hon. Member for St. Albans (Mr. Dumpleton)—and I agree—we shall require on local authorities men and women who have a very special understanding of these social problems, and I am not sure that we are getting them at the present moment. I am not yet sure whether young men and women have the time to give up, or whether it is made easy for them to give up their time. I remember going round when we had on the local authorities in the old days distinguished Quakers and Liberals, for many years chairmen of our local education authorities, and later men like Alderman Wright Robinson—

Mr. Dumpleton

I hope the hon. Member realises that Quakers and Liberals do not necessarily go together.

Mr. Lindsay

I did not say they did. We have men like Alderman Wright Robinson, of Manchester, in recent days. It is not an easy job for young persons to get on to local education authorities and, unless co-option is to be used, not in any party sense—because in some of the biggest authorities round the corner it is the next man on the party ticket who is co-opted on to the education authorities, on to the governing bodies, on to the management of schools and so on—we shall not get them. If we are to bring into that kind of work men and women with experience, we have to tap a new part of the public spirit within the country.

I believe there are some positive benefits which were conferred on this Bill by the Committee stage upstairs. I have rarely known a more friendly Committee. I think we have drawn from the Home Secretary one or two new admissions, and one is that, whether children are under the legal care of the local education authority or under the legal care of the head of a voluntary home, they belong to one family and have comparable rights. I want to thank him for the concessions, particularly in Clause 31, about the right to be visited, the obligation laid down about clothing, the obligation about training, after care and all the rest. This is a great advance. Let us not underestimate it. We have not secured observation centres as a right yet, and we have not specifically secured—although there was a tentative promise by the Home Secretary—that boarding-out shall be always operative. That was strongly recommended by the Curtis Committee.

We have still to deal with adoption, which does not come in the Bill. Nevertheless, I welcome the spirit in which the Amendments have been made and I will say no more of the administrative set-up, except that in three years we may see some change. What is now required is a change in the spirit in the administration. Let us remember that grouped cottages were publicly condemned as long ago as 1893, in the days of Canon Barnett. I hope we shall see no more artificial villages, shut off from the outside community. I hope that the Children's Committee will be composed of men with imagination, men and women imbued with some of the radical spirit which made the Board of Guardians alter the old Poor Law schools 25 years ago.

Above all, I hope that observation centres, modelled on the Caldecote Community in Kent, will become realities, and that they will be the determining factor in the placing of the child and not the body snatching which has gone on for many years in this country. Once more I plead with all the force I can that there should be continuity of care and attention instead of the loss of confidence and the breakdown which follows constant changes in environment. From the national point of view we cannot afford to lose 120,000 children, or to have their lives wasted. From the human point of view those children are a challenge to our social consciences, and if this Bill enables us to re-establish thousands of broken lives and families, I think it will be one more mark for this country in its care for the helpless minority—in fact, in these days, a good deed in a naughty world.

6.26 p.m.

Mr. Royle

As one who has been associated with the Bill in all its Stages, perhaps I may say a few words on the Third Reading. The hon. Member for the Combined English Universities (Mr. K. Lindsay) and myself were fairly closely associated on the Committee stage, but I do not share the pessimism which was displayed in his speech this evening. I have a much larger and wider view of the Bill than he appears to have at this moment. While I agree that there are still very many things to be done, I would say that in my view this Bill is a "Children's Charter" of a sort that we have not had since the "Children's Charter" of 1908. I believe we are taking a step forward which is of far greater importance than any Measure on the subject that has been before the House since that year. I am quite certain that most of us, at all events, are very happy about the aims and objects of the Bill. Its action implements the recommendations of the Curtis and Clyde Reports, and I believe it is welcome not only to hon. Members but to our people as a whole. The Reports of those Committees stirred public opinion as it had never been stirred before about the children of our country.

While I agree that the body, the aims and objects of the Bill are ideal, I am not quite happy about one or two of the organs of that body. I wish I could feel as satisfied with the details as I am with the Bill as a whole. Very briefly, I want to make two points. In the Committee stage, and again to some degree on Report today, the question has arisen of the relationship between education committees and the new children's committee. It was very evident in the early stages of the Bill that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary had made up his mind that the children's committee was not to be a sub-committee of the education committee. We have all been torn asunder by this matter and by this difference. After due consideration, I have come down on the side of the Home Secretary. It is much the better way that a new children's committee should be established completely independent of the education committee.

That does not prevent any of us from thinking that there should be, particularly in the transitional stage, a very close relationship between the existing committees and the committee which we are now establishing, and I think that can be achieved in two ways. I hope my right hon. Friend will take the opportunity of sending out adequate circulars to local authorities so that the spirit which has been shown in the Committee and the later stage of this Bill will be transmitted to the local authorities and they may see what we have in mind in this direction.

The second point is the employment of people with experience. That has been touched upon already by my hon. Friend the Member for St. Albans (Mr. Dumpleton), and I expressed myself rather forcefully in Committee when I said that we must not establish, by this Bill, a new intelligentsia, but that we should use the knowledge and experience already in existence, such as that of school attendance and welfare officers, with years and years of experience behind them. I will not develop the argument again now, except to express once more the hope that those people will be used to the full and that they will be available for the appointments that are being made by the children's committee.

We failed in Committee to carry an Amendment about the rehabilitation of homes. I hope the local authorities will take upon themselves the duty, within the terms of the Bill, to deal with that question. I conclude by hoping that the Bill will be more successful than the hon. Member for the Combined English Universities seems to think it will be, and I hope it will improve the conditions of the deprived children of this country.

6.31 p.m.

Commander Maitland (Horncastle)

It is a measure of the agreement that has existed on all sides of the House during the passage of the Bill that I find that the hon. Member for St. Albans (Mr. Dumpleton) and the hon. Member for the Combined English Universities (Mr. K. Lindsay) have between them said almost exactly what I had decided to say. Therefore, I shall be very brief. There are, however, certain things which they said that I want to underline. The first of these is about the children's officers.

When the Bill was first introduced in another place, I was very much in favour of the contention of the Curtis Committee that great importance should be attached to the academic qualifications of the children's officers. However, as the progress of the Bill has continued, I have found considerable anxiety lest too much emphasis should be placed on the academic requirements. I think the reason why the Curtis Committee placed so much emphasis on the importance of the academic qualifications was that they desired that the children's officers should have the same status as other senior officers of local authorities, and that the children's officers should be on the level of directors of education. I think they feared that there was not much hope of achieving this unless the children's officers had certain academic qualifications.

That very important consideration—and it is an important and proper consideration—should not, however, be allowed to make things more difficult in the appointment of children's officers at this present time. I do not think that the Ministry have done a very good turn to local authorities by the circular they sent out in September. That circular seems to me to have been given the wrong emphasis, and I think it is due to that that it has got about that these academic qualifications are essential. One part of the circular is based on paragraph 446 of the Curtis Report. That paragraph, however, is a summary of very carefully considered recommendations and conclusions which run throughout the Report. I think that particular paragraph is a little unfortunate. It starts: The Children's Officer should in our view be highly qualified academically, if possible a graduate … and should have had some"— some, if you please▀× experience of work with children. Then it goes on to say: Her essential qualifications, however, would be on the personal side … She should be able … to set both children and adults at their ease. I think that that is putting the cart before the horse. It has been discovered, I think, since the circular was sent out, that there are not very many people who are fully qualified to carry out these duties. I know of two people who seemed to me to be admirably suited for the work, but who are not regarded as qualified. One was put on a short list of candidates, and then selected for the post by a very large local authority, and then disqualified by the right hon. Gentleman because she had not the necessary academic qualifications. I know of someone else whom the local authority are not likely to put forward because the local authority believe that without those academic qualifications, the person will not be selected for the post.

I am all for having those qualifications at some future time. The right hon. Gentleman said that in the course of a few years we shall establish a series of qualifications. That is quite true; and that is what ought to happen. In the meantime, do not let us have any nonsense about putting too much stress on the necessity for having academic qualifications. It is quite wrong to have a sort of "iron curtain" between people who have been doing the work, and doing it proficiently, and the posts to be filled, preventing them from being appointed unless they happen to be among the few people who have taken degrees. After all, what does a degree signify? Learning obtained out of books or from lectures which other people have obtained from experience. The right hon. Gentleman ought most carefully to consider this.

Then there is the question of the children's committees. The selection of the people to form those committees will be of the utmost importance in the administration of the Bill. What my hon. Friend the Member for the Combined English Universities said is absolutely true—young people of tremendous keenness and with knowledge, who have studied this problem, cannot afford the time to get on to local authorities to do this work. It will require very careful thought and a great deal of tact to see that people filled with proper civic pride on first obtaining the approval of the community to serve on local authorities do not consider themselves so good, so self-sufficient that they cannot make use of the best assistance available from others round about them. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman, in watching the working of the Bill when its administration is begun, will keep an eye on that question.

Finally, I should like to pay my tribute to all the people who have been responsible for the Bill from the very beginning—to the members of the Curtis Committee, to those who considered it in another place; and, in particular, I should like to pay my tribute to the Under-Secretary of State, who took this Bill through Committee in the most admirable way, and whom I have found, on all occasions when I have discussed points of detail with him outside the Committee, to be extraordinarily helpful in every way. I do not think all junior Ministers are all that good. He, at least, is a rose among daisies.

6.39 p.m.

Mr. Tolley (Kidderminster)

This Bill will soon be placed upon the Statute Book; and in course of time, in all probability, it will be forgotten by most Members of Parliament. We pass on the responsibility for its administration—and rightly so—to local authorities. Their duty will remain. It is in that respect that I show my concern. We are today entrusting the local authorities, through this Bill, with one of the most responsible tasks ever passed to them through legislation by this House in all the centuries of its history. On both sides of the House this Bill has been welcomed, and rightly so. In giving it a good send off, we would say to local authorities that we hope that they will face up to their responsibilities under the Bill, because it entrusts them with the means of doing some of the most important work that anyone could do for anybody.

We are dealing with unfortunate children, unwanted children. Some of us know from experience what it means to have the administration of these children. We have not been happy in the past about the method and manner of that administration, and, because of that, we welcome this Bill in every sense, for we feel today that we are giving these children a new chance. We have travelled far since the days of Dickens, when it was his responsibility to expose to the world the conditions of the unfortunate children who became unwanted, unknown and uncared for. This Bill abounds in humanism. Men and women of good understanding and good intentions, out of love for children will, I believe, volunteer in this service to help and assist those who, because they are motherless or fatherless, or because they are not wanted, become their care and responsibility.

I would like to say a word about the children's officers who are to be appointed. Here again, I believe that the officers, whoever they may be—and I see no reason why both men and women should not be appointed—will have an enormous responsibility. How much will depend for the success of this Measure on the children's officers? They will be in supreme command, not merely administratively, in the sense of direction and control. It will be their charge to see that the children, once they are placed in the hands of the local authorities and in charge of the children's committees, receive the full benefits under this Bill.

Like the hon. Member for the Combined English Universities (Mr. K. Lindsay), I hope that too much attention will not be paid, in appointing these officers, to academic qualifications. The great essential for the members of the local authorities and especially the children's officers will be the ability to understand and appreciate the nature of these children. I said in Committee, and I repeat in this House, that it will not be an easy task. It will not be easy to bring under control these various types of children, and I hope that in making the appointments the greatest possible care will be taken to see that the human side of the individuals appointed stands out prominently—that they will be men or women of whom it can surely be said: they have love and admiration for children, and especially the unwanted children.

I was also glad that in Committee there were discussions as to the method and manner—which may be small in some respects but which to me is a great thing—in which in the future, local authorities and children's committees will have instructions on how to clothe these children. What a tragedy it has been in the past. We have seen these children being taken out for a walk—perhaps for a day's outing; we have seen them going down the street, and we have been ashamed that we have dressed them all alike, with a tinge of the Poor Law about them. They stood out prominently for everybody to see, as the unwanted children of Britain. It was the best that we could do for them. The Home Secretary, with the great heart which he possesses, was moved to suggest that these children should be given by every authority the right to be dressed in the school tunic of the school they attend, or, at any rate, that there shall be no distinctive feature about the clothing they wear. They will, in every sense, be regarded and be given the opportunity of being regarded, although without parental control, with love and affection.

I welcome this Bill, and I congratulate the Curtis Committee on the report which they presented, which, I believe, is the foundation of the Bill. I should also like to congratulate most sincerely the Home Secretary and the Under-Secretary for the way in which they piloted it through Committee. It may not be out of place also to congratulate those Members of the Opposition who sat on that Committee. We were, in every sense of the word, a united body. We had only one thought in mind. We were all agreed that these children needed this new charter. We wanted to see them provided with something different from that which they had in the past. We were unanimous in our general opinion, and our only differences were in the direction of trying to get a good Bill made, if possible, a better Bill—and in that we succeeded.

I welcome the Bill, and I say to the local authorities who will be entrusted with the task of operating it, "Elect to serve on your authority and committee the right type of men and women." If they do that, I have no fear for the future of these unfortunate children. I believe that at last Britain has recognised the necessity for giving them this charter, and my hope is that, as a result of it, they will live happier lives and become even better men and women for Britain.

6.46 p.m.

Sir T. Moore

This is a good Bill, and it has become a better Bill because of the atmosphere in which it was discussed during all its stages up to date. There were no discordant voices in Committee. Why? Simply because, as many hon. Members have said, there was only one aim in the mind of every Member of the Committee. There is another factor about it which I like. It does not need any capital expenditure. [Interruption.] Hon. Members may have different views about that, but when we compare it with the Criminal Justice Bill, with the necessity of remand homes, etc., this Bill, when it becomes an Act, can be put into operation straightaway, and the benefits for the children will be almost immediately felt. That is a tremendous factor in its favour.

On Second Reading, I said that the Bill was complementary to the Criminal Justice Bill. I now know, after the experience of the Report stage today, that that is not quite an accurate description. If this Bill is a success—as I believe it will be—it will cause many Clauses in the Criminal Justice Bill to be unnecessary. It is a big step forward, although it might have been bigger; but time and experience will show in what direction it can be improved. I hold in my hand a letter which tells me that the Bill is not perfect. It is a letter from a nurse engaged in one of these homes, and she heads it, "England's forgotten children." She speaks as one who has considerable knowledge, but I feel that in our Debate today, and in our discussions in Committee, we have made a great step forward towards meeting the various charges she has made in her criticism of the many homes in which she has served.

As I see it, there are three essential factors necessary for the success of this Bill when it becomes an Act. One is the Home Secretary; the other is the local authority; and the third is the children's officers. The Home Secretary must, I think, exercise his functions with discretion and yet with firmness, bearing in mind always that some local authorities will need the whip and some will need the brake. I think that the local authorities must be energetic and yet restrained in interpreting their own powers under the Bill. I think that, most of all, they must be careful in choosing the children's committees and children's officers. We are all agreed that the children's officer is the linchpin, the centre stone of the arch, the one factor on which the whole Bill can fall to the ground or become a success. Therefore, I trust that the qualities of character, sympathy, tact and understanding will take precedence to academic distinction.

It is a great enterprise on which this country is embarking through this Bill. It is an enterprise to bring love, guidance and the happiness of a good home to children who might otherwise have been deprived of them all. We all wish the Bill well, and we thank the Home Secretary and the Under-Secretary for the way in which they have assisted and guided us in moulding the Bill to its present shape. Like everyone else, I hope and pray that it will be a success.

6.51 p.m.

Mr. Hector Hughes (Aberdeen, North)

One of the points I wish to make in warmly supporting this admirable Bill is that it is part of a series of very useful Bills which have been recently introduced and passed, affecting children and young people. They are many, and I shall mention only three. There is the Education (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill, the Employment and Training Bill, and this Children Bill. It is part of a scheme, and I think that all the Bills together form a whole of which any Parliament might be proud. They are an inspiration, for that indeed is the true word to describe today's insistence upon the right of youth to fullness of life, opportunity and happiness. It recalls Longfellow: How beautiful is youth! how bright it gleams With its illusions, aspirations, dreams! Book of Beginnings, Story without End Each maid a heroine, each man a friend. Too often is youth deprived of its aspirations and dreams, and the present series of admirable Bills tends to give back to youth the opportunity of realising its fullness, its full stature and its beauty. This Parliament takes a leaf out of the poet's book. It shapes laws to coach the child in health and robust citizenship, to enable him to live in wisdom and enjoy in leisured old age his retirement pension.

Blessed always have they been who had good mothers and fathers to nurture them in their youth. Parliament says: Now and for evermore shall these blessings be afforded to the children of today. This Bill cares for them up to 18 years of age, whether they be orphans, abandoned or lost, or whether the parents be unfit or unable to care for them. These are categories of sorrow for children, leading to hopeless and often tragic adolescence and manhood and womanhood. These are the dark clouds which this and the other Bills which I have mentioned are designed to chase away.

A particularly good feature of this Bill is that it turns its back on outworn institutional formulae, because it is agreed on all hands that children who are brought up in institutions do not stand up to life in the same way and with the same robustness of character as children who are brought up in family life. The Curtis Report makes this point, and this Bill implements it. It is generally accepted that there are various ways of getting over the difficulties involved in the case of children of this kind. There is adoption, which is easily the best. There is boarding out, which is a good second best if well supervised, and there are other methods such as residential communities and family groups, and this Bill also includes assisted emigration. However, there is, I regret to say, no mention in the Bill of the ineducable child—a sad and pitiful child whom nobody wants and for whom there seems to be, in this Bill at any rate, no provision.

Turning to another point, on Second Reading a doubt was expressed—I think it was by the hon. and gallant Member for Horncastle (Commander Maitland)—on Clause 2 (1). That is the Clause which deals with the assumption by a local authority of parental control. The hon. and gallant Member for Horncastle, in his admirable speech on Second Reading, seemed to express a doubt about that Clause.

Commander Maitland

rose

Mr. Hector Hughes

I will let the hon. and gallant Gentleman speak in a minute. That Clause provides that a local authority may resolve that the rights of a parent shall vest in the local authority in certain cases. Such cases are set out in paragraphs (a) and (b). They are:

  1. "(a) that his parents are dead and that he has no guardian; or
  2. (b) that a parent or a guardian of his (hereinafter referred to as the person on whose account the resolution was passed) has abandoned him or suffers from some permanent disability rendering the said person incapable of caring for the child, or is of such habits or mode of life as to be unfit to have the care of the child."
Subsections (2) and (3) provide that in the case of dispute, it shall be settled by the juvenile court, or in Scotland by the sheriff. If I read aright the admirable speech of the hon. and gallant Member for Horncastle, he seemed to think that in that provision there was something so difficult as to be almost insuperable. I do not agree with him. I do not feel at all pessimistic about the machinery provided by this Clause, because I think the Bill is aptly framed to meet this difficulty. Clause 1 clearly defines the duty of the local authority to provide for children. It also defines the classes of children who are to be so provided for, and provides the manner in which that duty is to be discharged. Then we come to Clause 2 which clearly shows how these duties are to be carried out. It seems to me that this Bill skilfully and scientifically links up with the Employment and Training Bill so as to bring the child to what Emerson called: The high prize of life, the crowning fortune of man, which is to be born with a bias to some pursuit which binds him in employment and happiness. To get to that stage the child must live, and must have parental care. In the absence of parents, this Bill will provide a means whereby he can get that parental care. For those reasons, I warmly support the Bill.

6.59 p.m.

Mr. S. Marshall

I am very glad that the Bill will very shortly reach the Statute Book in the shape in which it leaves the House today. I cannot but have a tinge of regret that this Measure does not come under the Minister of Education. I say that, not because the Minister is with us today, but because during the discussion of this Bill, both in this House and upstairs, we have sometimes tended to lose sight of the enormous amount of the child's life which is subjected to the education committees.

Listening to some of the speeches, one would almost imagine that we were back to the days of Dickens. That is not the truth of the matter at all, because the children are not so deprived as some Members would lead us to believe. This Bill is a coping stone to our existing child legislation. This is a field which has been covered for years by local education and poor law committees, although, perhaps, not quite in the way that some would have wished. The fact of the matter is that the poor law committees have been very limited in their sphere of work and in the money they could spend, which has meant that they have not been able to do all that they would have liked, and not that they did not wish to do these things. It must not go out to the country that by the passing of this Bill, we are providing a "Children's Charter." It is not so great a measure as that. Members are apt to forget, or are not fully acquainted with, the provisions of the 1944 Act, otherwise they would know that there is little in this Bill which is not already in that Act, and that there is practically nothing the local authorities cannot do under the existing provisions.

I have said that I feel a tinge of regret that this Bill has not been introduced by the Minister of Education. I cannot dissociate myself from the idea that the Home Office are concerned with such things as penal servitude and capital punishment, but as far as the children are concerned they will not know from which Ministry these benefits will come. I regret that the Home Secretary has not allowed those authorities which have fully recognised their special duties under the 1944 Act to continue their present setup, provided he is satisfied with it. Many local authorities have been doing this work satisfactorily for years and have set up a new administration on the lines of the joint circular issued by the Ministers of Health and Education and the Secretary of State for the Home Department. The right hon. Gentleman must have forgotten the parable of the talents, otherwise he would have seen that the good authority got its reward.

In legislation we must bear in mind not only the delinquents but also those who have done the right thing, and we should see that their efforts are recognised and that they are rewarded. There would have been no hardship if the Minister had seen fit to allow these authorities to carry on with their present set-up. I speak as a practical administrator in this field for a number of years, and I have no hesitation in saying that 75 per cent. of the work will still have to be done by the local education committees, and that a very small percentage of fresh administrative work will have to be done by the children's committees. I do not want to diminish by one iota the importance of the children's committees. But I would point out that the chief education officer in my county is responsible for something like 200,000 children, whereas the children's officer will have only something like 1,200—I agree that the work of both is equally important and that to a certain extent the work is not quite the same.

I agree that some benefit will come from this Bill, and I welcome it. It certainly focuses much more attention on what we call the "deprived children." One thing I hope it will do is to direct more attention to the importance of foster parents. One of the greatest difficulties which local authorities have had is that they have not been able to pay enough to foster parents. Undoubtedly it is with foster parents that these deprived children will find the happy home life we wish them to have. I agree with what has been said on the way our work was conducted during the Committee stage. Undoubtedly our work was very valuable in focusing attention on this problem. This Bill will be welcomed by local authorities and will, I am sure, be welcomed by my local authority. I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that we shall do our utmost to implement it in the fullest measure. The hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for North Aberdeen (Mr. Hector Hughes), who left the House so quickly after making his speech—

Mr. Hector Hughes

Is the hon. Member referring to me?

Mr. Marshall

I apologise to the hon. and learned Member. I did not notice him, as he has changed his seat. He mentioned that children from homes did not have the same privileges and advantages as are enjoyed by other children. I can tell him that for years we have had children from Poor Law homes who have taken scholarships and university degrees through the local education authority arrangements. Therefore, in that sense they are no more backward than the children who come from happy homes. Some of these children are very clever and are able to take advantage of all the provisions made under the 1944 Act. I welcome the Bill and join in praising the Under-Secretary for the very nice way in which he has piloted it through its stages. I can assure him that everyone in the country, and especially the local authorities, will do their best to see that it is a live and active Measure for many years to come.

7.10 p.m.

Mrs. Mann

I think this Bill is unique in that it has been entirely free from party controversy. For the first time since I came into Parliament, I have thoroughly enjoyed my work with Members opposite. We have all been of one accord; no one has suspected another; there has been no suspicion of motives; none have been for party, but all have been for the children. As a result, we have a very good Bill indeed. I can remember that when my own children were very young, I had great difficulty in getting them to bed in the Summer evenings. They usually demanded a story, and I may say with due modesty, Mr. Speaker, that I was always able to tell a very good story. Probably that was my apprenticeship for being a politician. I always began these stories with these words: Twixt the dusk and the twilight, When the night is beginning to lower, Comes a pause in the day's occupation, That is known as the children's hour. When this Bill was introduced, I think Parliament stopped her usual occupation, and there came into it the children's hour, during which we produced this Bill.

There are two points to which I would like to draw the attention of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, although they are not in the Bill. Since the Second Reading, many of us have been worried about the choice of a home and guardian for the child, which is a very important matter. I notice that nothing is said about this matter in the regulations for boarding out. It is not always advisable to choose a home for a deprived child where the parents already have children of their own. I hope that will be remembered, because, try as we would, it would be very difficult for the fairest of us here to give the same treatment to a deprived child which we had taken in, as we would give to our own children. My local authority have always been very careful to see that they did not hand over deprived children to parents who had children of a similar age at home. A deprived child might feel that there was a distinction,. even if it did not exist.

I have had a great many letters from people all over Great Britain who want to adopt children. I have one from Glasgow, some from the South of England and some from the North of Scotland asking where they could get a child to adopt. I referred the writers to their own local authority, whereupon many replied that their particular authority had not, for instance, got a boy of eight. Similarly, someone else would write to say that their local authority had not got a baby girl. I therefore want to ask my right hon. Friend whether he could set up some kind of a central bureau which would enable the North of Scotland to be linked with the South of England in this matter, so that if one local authority did not have a particular child, another could meet the need.

With others, I join in congratulating my right hon. Friend and my hon. Friend who have piloted the Bill through this House—the younger and the old. The older is still young in heart and sound in experience, wisdom and good common sense, and I think the Ministerial combination on this Bill has been ideal. We now pass it on to the generosity and good-heartedness of the people of this country, because with them rests the last word in looking after our deprived children.

7.15 p.m.

Mr. Younger

The Debates on this Bill have been so harmonious from start to finish, and there has been such a wide measure of agreement, that I do not wish to take up much of the time of the House in finally commending it to Members before we part with it for the Royal Assent. I would like to add my thanks to those of my right hon. Friend for the very helpful way in which Members on all sides have co-operated, and for the very kind words which have been spoken today. I would particularly like to thank the hon. and gallant Member for Horncastle (Commander Maitland) for the flowery compliment which he paid to me, and to say how glad I was that he chose the flower he did with which to compare me. I was nervous for a moment lest he might have chosen another.

I think it is a good thing that in this Debate Members have been looking ahead, and that no one has tended to over-estimate the amount of work which has already been done. The real work is still to come. It all depends on the type of training we are able to give, on the wisdom of the advice and supervision which the Home Office staff can supply, on the quality of personnel we are recruiting, and perhaps especially in the quality of the children's officers and the success of those officers in greatly extending the system of foster homes. A good many hard things have been said about the handling of this problem since the Curtis Committee made their Report. People have been apt to talk as though all the failings had occurred at ground level in the local authorities. We must realise, however, that the standard must be raised everywhere, including that of supervision, duties and inspection such as will be supplied by the central Departments in London. I can assure the House that the Home Office are very conscious of their responsibilities in this matter.

One of the things which Members have referred to frequently in the Debate—some with misgivings—has been the question of the qualifications which are being demanded for some of the staff, notably for the post of children's officer. I agree, and I am sure my right hon. Friend will also agree, that we cannot be completely hidebound in this matter. At the same time, I would like to emphasise that we are trying to raise standards. We are trying to get something new, something better. While we cannot regard academic qualifications as being a substitute for experience, we hope to be able to add such qualifications to experience. It may be very difficult at first, but we hope that the mere institution of the system we are setting up by this Bill, together with the other innovations by means of other social legislation, may provide a stimulus to the study of social questions generally, and may greatly increase the supply of people who, in addition to their other personal qualifications, have academic qualifications.

I do not think I need say much about the main controversy over this Bill— about the education committees or ad hoc children's committees. My right hon. Friend said a good deal about this on an Amendment earlier today. I will offer only two brief comments: first, we are all looking for a new departure in this question of child care, and I believe that the mere fact that we are creating a new set-up in local government areas will tend, as I think the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam (Mr. S. Marshall) said, to focus attention on this problem. I believe there is some advantage merely in the fact of change, quite apart from other arguments to which my right hon. Friend referred.

The second point is that, however wide the educationists, the education authorities, the education officers and the schoolteachers may cast their nets—and we all know that, very rightly, they are interpreting the word "education" ever more widely—they always leave a big place for the parents of the normal child. It is that place which the children's committees and the children's officers seek to fill. They do not seek to encroach upon the legitimate work of education authorities. Indeed, they will rely upon that when they are seeking to fill the gap which is bound to exist, no matter how wide the educationists cast their nets.

We have learned that many different types of body are concerned with the care of these children—central and local authorities, voluntary organisations, religious communities, and so on. That is merely an indication of the fact that the child, like any other human being, is many-sided, and, while we want to focus responsibility for this work on one Ministry in London and one committee in the local authority area, I should like to emphasise that we cannot possibly do it without the widest co-operation from all local authority services, from the health services, from the education services and from many others. It would be quite wrong if we were to put the whole of the work exclusively upon the children's committees and the children's officers because they could not possibly provide all that the children need. I should like to make a strong appeal to everybody who will be called upon to co-operate to refrain from any kind of sectarianism or Empire building in this matter.

I should like to mention the voluntary organisations. The hon. Member for the Combined English Universities (Mr. K. Lindsay) voiced a fear which others have voiced, that there might not be parity of treatment for the children who come under the auspices of the voluntary organisations with those who come under the local authority. We have got to remember that the voluntary organisations are, as one would expect, highly individualistic. They have many merits and some defects. They cannot be put into a pattern, nor would we seek to do so. Moreover, while often pioneers, they are still responsible for the care of very large numbers of children, and the service they give could not possibly be satisfactorily replaced even if we wished to do so in a short space of time. It is right that, while increasing, as we have done, the degree of supervision and, I hope, the degree of advice and help that we can give to these organisations, we should still leave a good deal of initiative to them.

Like other social legislation, this Bill is being launched at a difficult time. It may be difficult to implement some of the things that one would like to see implemented. The hon. and gallant Member for Ayr Burghs (Sir T. Moore) suggested that, unlike the Criminal Justice Bill, this Bill would not be hampered by current shortages. It will be hampered less, but nevertheless we all know that there are many unsuitable homes, a great lack of sites, and that it is going to be a long time before we get rid of the large institutional buildings in which the children are at present housed. Nevertheless, the hon. and gallant Gentleman was quite right in suggesting that there are many reforms under this Bill which will not be affected by shortages. If this is a time of difficulty, it is also a time for the spirit of change and for high endeavour. The House, in parting with this Bill, will earnestly express the hope that all concerned in the shaping of it will strive to realise at the earliest possible moment the benefits to the children for which this Bill can do no more than provide a legal framework.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill read the Third time, and passed, with Amendments.