Education (Scotland) Bill.

Part of Supplementary Vote of Credit, 1941. – in the House of Commons on 16th December 1941.

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Photo of Mr James Maxton Mr James Maxton , Glasgow Bridgeton

I want to associate myself with the appreciations that have been expressed about this Measure and also to add my congratulations to the hon. and gallant Member for West Edinburgh (Lieut.-Commander Hutchison) on his maiden speech. I congratulate him not merely on the form and content of that speech but on the fact that when he could have waited some months in this House, preserving silence, watching the antics of all the rest of us and allowing great opportunities to pass by, when he could have spoken on international affairs and world-shaking events, he chose to speak on a matter which, I imagine, in the long run may be much more important than any other of the things in which he has not participated. I congratulate him on his choice of occasion to break silence, and I hope he will be heard more frequently in the Debates of the House of Commons, as is right and proper a Scottish Member should he heard here, even though he comes only from Edinburgh.

As I was listening to the speeches which have been made, I thought to myself how terrible it was that some of us have had to wait 40 years for this Measure. There is an old gentleman still living in Glasgow, Mr. William Martin Haddow, whom the Secretary of State and my hon. Friend the Member for Springburn (Mrs. Hardie) know very well, who will be very pleased at this happening to-day. I think he may take some share of the credit for having pioneered this idea and worked on it when it was met with great hostility and antagonism. I cannot understand why this self-evident and important aspect of education has been so long neglected in Scotland, which always prides itself on being a great country of education. While the hon. and gallant Gentleman opposite was speaking, I thought it was surprising that during all these years we have always felt it was necessary to see that our Navy was fed. It was recognised that the Navy's job could not be done by people who were starved. Yet, at a more formative period in life, schoolchildren who, as adults, would go into every phase of life, were completely neglected in the matter of nutrition. I can remember that when I was an assistant teacher in an elementary school in a slum quarter of my own Division, my lords of the Scottish Education Department, in their wisdom, brought forward a new scheme of physical training. It was to be operated very energetically and earnestly by all the teachers. Up to that time, the physical training in schools had usually been done by some ex-Army sergeant-major who walked in once a week or once a month and made the youngsters form fours, and so on.

Then the great new scientific system of physical training, based on Swedish principles, was made compulsory in the schools of Scotland, and all the teachers in elementary schools had to acquaint themselves with those methods so as to be able to take their own classes and put the children through their paces. In the school in which I was teaching in the Bridgeton Division of Glasgow, I had a class of 60 boys and girls of about 11 years of age. I took them down to the drill hall of the school, and when they had to take the erect posture—which I had great difficulty in taking myself— required in the Swedish exercises before beginning, 36 out of 60 youngsters could not bring both heels and knees together because of rickety malformations. Even at that time it was known that rickets was a disease of malnutrition, and yet no attempt was made to attack this problem in a concerted, organised way as a matter of serious public importance. Throughout the East End and the poor quarter of Glasgow there is still a very large proportion of adults who have malformation of the legs.

I do not want to delay the passage of the Measure in any way—and the right hon. Gentleman may have explained this point before I came into the Chamber, as I was two or three minutes late—but I do not see in the Bill any provision for bringing pressure to bear on a recalcitrant authority which says, "We are not going to bother our heads about this." There are some county authorities in Scotland who take their responsibilities very lightly. I have not any doubt that in the four big cities and in the big industrial counties the authorities will jump at the opportunity to put their educational system in this respect on a sound basis, but there are other authorities of which we know that will look at costs, at one thing and another, and at the trouble and bother, and who will require to be pushed and driven into doing this job properly. I do not see anything in the Measure that gives the Secretary of State in the ultimate the power to do here what he has the power to do in other branches of education—to compel an authority that is not doing its job to come up to the necessary standards. I do not find anything in the Bill which seems to me to give the Secretary of State power to compel in this respect, and I am very dubious about moral persuasion having an influence on the type of authority of which I am thinking.

There are one or two other little points that I want to make. The Minister referred to the cheap rates at which some of the cities are already doing this work, and he mentioned 3d., 4d. and 5d. I have in mind, as I imagine the right hon. Gentleman has, the feeling that we do not want to have too cheap a meal; that is to say, we do not want a meal that is so cheap as to be neither agreeable for the children nor have the nutritional value that we want it to have. We do not want to make cheapness the great aim which the authorities are to have before them in operating the Measure. Admittedly, we do not want to run expensive meals, but we want to see that the meals have all the elements of nutrition and are such that the children will enjoy them. I think that is a matter to which attention ought to be paid.

Another aspect of the matter is that a very large proportion of Scottish parents, particularly if they have three or four youngsters attending school at the same time, will find that a meal at 5d.—for four children, seven days a week—will run up to a pretty hefty bill by the end of the week. I hope that the authorities, in laying down the scales as to who is to receive the meals free and who is to pay, will not impose any disagreeable means test, and that a very broad view will be taken and the position looked at generously in regard to the person who is neither so necessitous as to require to have the meal for nothing or so well off as to be able to afford anything that is asked.

I can foresee tremendous difficulties in some of the smaller schools—and again with some of the county authorities that I can think of—in putting this job on to teachers as an additional job. I think it would be a mistake for highly paid and specially trained teachers to neglect their ordinary educational work for the sake of getting the dinner ready. There are teachers who would do it, and would take to this sort of thing enthusiastically, to the neglect of other work, which, I am afraid, during these 2½ years of war has been very badly messed about already. I do not neglect at all the educational aspect of a meal in school. It might be from some points of view as important an educational period as that devoted to the multiplication table. But "man shall not live by bread alone," the multiplication table is a painful and necessary part of a child's education, and the teacher is there primarily for the training of the youngster's mind rather than the filling of his stomach. I hope authorities will be instructed to see that special staffs are engaged in the preparation and the serving of the meals and that the teacher's ordinary work will not be cut into by the necessity of making preparations for the meal. The other week-end my wife was indisposed, and I was trying to be the angel of the home, and I found that to run a small home meant an interference with the ordinary work that I wanted to do. If that is true for one or two persons, it is far more true particularly in some of these preposterous one-teacher schools that we have dotted all over Scotland, where one teacher has to do the educational work of from 15 to 30 pupils at all ages and all stages; and if, in addition, this work is thrust upon him, I am afraid that poor old Scottish education is going to be in a bad way. I hope the Secretary of State, in issuing his instructions, will give some indication to the authorities that special staffs should be employed for doing this work.

Another thing that has been brought to my notice by a correspondent is that the school management committees could be a useful agency in this matter. It is not referred to in the Bill at all nor, as far as I can remember, in the basic legislation. There is no need to refer to it, because any education authority can remit to the local management committee any of its duties that it cares to. A large proportion of them have not remitted very much to these committees, but this is a matter in which they can be brought into activity, particularly in the rural counties, and when the right hon. Gentleman is sending out the necessary instructions, some reference might be made there to the part that these committees might play. I thank the right hon. Gentleman for taking the necessary steps to bring this Bill before us, and I express tremendous regret that it takes two great wars and a whole lot of difficulties about food supplies to convince the people of Great Britain that it is worth while looking after the health, the growth and the development of our youngsters.