Education (Scotland) Bill.

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

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Reverend James Barr Reverend James Barr , Coatbridge

I was very interested to hear the account given by the Secretary of State for Scotland, in which he went back to his earlier days when he stood almost alone in public life in fighting in favour of school feeding. He left out one incident which I think is of interest. I was standing in 1903 my first contest as candidate for the School Board of Glasgow, when he came along in order to take a canvassing card and canvass on my behalf. That was one of the great honours I received in early life. I remember the first years of my membership of the School Board of Glasgow. There were then 15 members; they were increased to 25 later. Only four of them were in favour of feeding schoolchildren on any terms. One of them was Mr. Martin Haddow, to whom the right hon. Gentleman referred. Another was Dr. Dyer, who rose to be chairman of the Board. I remember that, in 1906, after its election, the Board's first act was to send a representative to London to oppose any idea of feeding of schoolchildren, cither for England or for Scotland. In some respects England was ahead of Scotland at that time. I remember a remarkable occasion in the House of Commons when a Resolution was carried in favour of the proper feeding of schoolchildren. Since then, I have lived to see all parties contending one with another which can go furthest in providing milk and proper feeding for the schoolchildren. What was once a battle, and a keen battle at that, has become a race, almost, as to who will do the most in this regard.

The main objection against the feeding of schoolchildren, as it was then proposed, was that it would undermine the responsibility of the parents, and interfere with the sanctity of the home. We did not then realise sufficiently, as we realise now, that you must have a material as well as a moral basis for the home. I am the last to seek to undermine, and would rather emphasise, moral values as the foundation of a happy and healthful home; but a good, solid, material foundation is needed also, on which to build. The whole attitude has changed from those times to the times to which we have now come. The first idea, which will be found in the Act of 1908, was: Here is a child suffering from malnutrition and lack of food and clothing, and unable to take advantage of the education offered to it. The first thought that came to them then was prosecution.

Due warning was to be given, and then it was to go, if need be, before the Sheriff to find out whether it was due to gross neglect by the parents. If it was so found by the Board or by the Sheriff, the case was to be reported to the Procurator Fiscal for prosecution. Emphasis was laid on the heinousness of the offence, which was to be punishable as an offence under the Cruelty to Children Acts. In conformity with the Act of 1904, it was defined as "wilful neglect likely to cause a child unnecessary suffering" within the meaning of that Act. Then if it was discovered that the child was unable to take advantage of the education because he was really suffering from lack of proper food and clothing, the next thought was that voluntary agencies should provide what was lacking—everything to stave off the day when the public authority would step in with any responsibility. That again proved to be quite inadequate, and only then did the Board provide—indeed, they were bound to provide—the necessary food and clothing.

I think the scheme outlined in this Bill and explained by the Minister is a real advance. The moral aspect of the question still remains, and if there is gross neglect, it can still be dealt with under the law. Here, however, we have the whole subject on broad, humanitarian and universal scholastic grounds. Attention is to be paid to the nutrition not only of those who plead poverty but to all, whatever may be the condition of the child and the parents. We are looking forward to a time when education will be on a broader basis altogether. We have come now, in a city like Glasgow and in many parts of the country in Lanarkshire, to treat all children on an equal basis. We have free elementary education and, generally speaking, free higher education in our secondary schools. It is one of the elements of this Measure which appeal to us that it puts the nutrition of the child on a broad humanitarian basis and treats all children alike. It makes us think of the time towards which we are always, I trust, travelling forward, when poverty itself will be eliminated, and when the fullest provision will be made for all, regardless of their social conditions. There is a verse in Deuteronomy, Chapter XV, verse 11—I am not sure if it is correctly translated in the Authorised Version; I rather think not—which has been often quoted: For the poor shall never cease out of the land. It was often quoted in support of the continuance of poverty, and as an excuse by those who maintained that the helping of the poor was a field for the resources of the rich. But those who quoted that verse did not note that almost alongside it, in the same chapter, verse 4, was this better time coming: Save when there shall be no poor among you; for the Lord shall greatly bless thee in the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee for an inheritance to possess it. We are looking forward and, I trust, struggling to the time when that discrimination of rich and poor shall have passed away; we shall have none— Save when there shall be no poor among you. Seeing that I am quoting Scripture, I will close with another verse. When Zechariah is describing the better Jerusalem which is being rebuilt in his time, he pictures it as a Jerusalem in which there are seen old men and old women in the streets of Jerusalem, and every man with his staff in his hand for very age "; and alongside of them the fulness of young life: and the city shall be full of boys and girls playing in the streets thereof. That is a picture to which we would look forward—happy, tended boys and girls, full of energy. I notice in the report of the experiment to which the Minister referred in Lanarkshire that one of the teachers, speaking of the new energy of those who had partaken of this experiment, said it had gone too far, and that they were becoming rather too boisterous for his teaching purposes.