Orders of the Day — Debate on the Address.

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 4th December 1935.

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Photo of Sir Francis Fremantle Sir Francis Fremantle , St Albans 12:00 am, 4th December 1935

I should like to say a few words on a part of the Gracious Speech about which we have not heard much in the speeches to which we have been listening. A right hon. Gentleman on the front Opposition Bench a short time ago spoke as if our armaments were intended purely and solely for destructive purposes. One has to realise that there is another side to the question of armaments. We recognise the great difficulty of employing our young men usefully. There are very few ways in which you could so usefully employ the time of young men between 18 and 23 as by allowing them to serve in the armed forces. Although the expenditure on our defence forces is a heavy burden, incidentally it is probably as good a form of physical recreation and education as could be devised. We are all considering the question of the difficulty of providing physical education and training for unemployed young men. We are all agreed as to the difficulty of finding some form of physical and educational improvement which does not actually sicken them by its repetition, its routine, and its apparent meaninglessness. In the Army as it is nowadays, with its educational trend, or in the Navy, and not least of all in the Air Force, with the great enterprise and courage that is involved, you have really a discipline and an object which is invaluable for these men and which, I believe, helps to relieve the unemployment situation as well as, if not better than, all the other definite physical training systems, which are obviously very much desired on both sides of the House.

It is obviously a great advantage that we have in the Gracous Speech a very definite promise of attention to the physical education of the people. Those who are concerned with the physical improvement of the people know how very difficult it is to get an improvement in these matters from the very fact that it is dull work and it is difficult to interest people for any length of time in what is called physical education. However, new ideas are being brought forward. There is one started by and in the name of a former Member of the House, Sir Hugh Lucas-Tooth. There is a Lucas-Tooth gymnasium in Tooley Street for the benefit of unemployed men from the Northern coalfields and unemployed areas. I am told that the improvement in these men is something extraordinary during the time that they are there. This is bringing a new phase of educational training into the field. Instead of being a mere dull system of gymnastics it is work that is amusing to them and really recreative, and as they get used to it during the months they are there it is of enormous value. I hope that will be taken in hand, and that it will be of advantage to our educational system. I believe that the approaches between the educational authorities and that gymnasium up to the present have not been very helpful. I hope that the Board of Education and the local authorities may be able to make use of that extremely valuable new enterprise in Tooley Street.

There are other paragraphs in the Gracious Speech which deal with the health of the people, and from our point of view that is a notable improvement, for in most Gracious speeches there has been little if any reference to these important matters. I hope that in the general improvement of the school medical arrangements the greatest possible care will be taken to co-ordinate the system of school medical work in the general medical provisions for the health of the people, not merely during school age but afterwards, and that we shall get a continuity of inspection and assistance. The gap before school life has now been largely filled, and I hope that the other gap between school life and the employment age will now be filled.

There is one point I was sorry to see not included, and which I hope will be included in effect. It is an appalling sight to many of us to see how enormous areas of the countryside are being covered with street after street of the same kind of houses, and that no consideration seems to be given to putting them on a proper town planning basis. There is no allusion here to the bringing of town planning schemes into force at once, while all this building is going on. In my own constituency, where the electorate has increased by 21 per cent. during the last four years, hillsides are being covered with ordinary houses and yet there is not a single hall or place in which men may meet—still less for a meeting, as we found during this Election—or for community purposes. That is very bad for the people. There is nothing to bring them together where they are being housed and there is no community life. You are simply repeating the gradual growth of suburbs which has been the bugbear of the growth of London outwards during the past century, and which with all the legislation we have had should have been prevented. Why are these great areas of housing going up without being properly planned?

I hope the Ministry of Health will be able to get a move on with the local authorities and see that a plan is arranged and quickly brought into action while there is time and that in any case they will be able to see to it, either by circular to local authorities or otherwise, that whenever any large estate is being developed provision should be made, or some site reserved in advance of town planning areas, for community buildings of one sort or another. Churches, chapels and schools are, by degrees, being erected in these places, but often it is not until after the land has gone up in price and the developments have taken place. I hope that the efforts now being made by the churches to meet the needs of new housing areas will be effective, and that they will be helped more than has hitherto been the case by local authorities responsible for the planning of their district.

I want to add my voice to the hopeful expectation of the Measure to be introduced with regard to an organised service of salaried midwives. It is a very difficult subject. It is easy enough for us all to assent to that pronouncement, but the difficulties will be before us when the Measure is introduced. I had the privilege of helping to put into operation the first Midwives Act, 1902, and consequently for 33 years I have watched the difficulties, and the advantages of the working of this provision, which is so vital to the whole community and requires considerable strengthening and helping, as is proposed in the Gracious Speech. The subject raises many thorny issues including the whole question of a salaries service and how far the State is to support any one profession however useful. How far will it be possible to get an arrangement partly under the local authorities and in co-operation with the voluntary associations so as not to spoil voluntary effort? I know that a certain section of political opinion is adverse to the use of voluntary effort and considers that voluntary effort or private enterprise is not the solution of these problems. I hope, at the same time, our hon. Friends on the opposite benches will recognise the necessity, from the point of view of expediency, of using the organisations which are in existence at the present time.

Maternity is an extraordinarily difficult and intricate matter and of great importance to the nation, and especially at the time of confinement the intimate and personal service of private voluntary associations is of the very first importance. I hope, therefore, that we shall manage to make every effort, quite apart from our political principles, to secure co-operation between the local organisations and local authorities on the one hand, and private organisations, such as county and borough nursing associations, which have done excellent work. If we can get that co-ordination, I hope that all parties in the House will join in giving an unopposed passage to the Bill, so that it may become law before we rise for the summer holidays.