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 Sir James Henderson-Stewart Sir James Henderson-Stewart , Fife Eastern

I agree with the hon. Lady in deploring the speech of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for East Renfrew (Major Lloyd), with whom I am very often in agreement. On this matter I think he expressed a thoroughly reactionary view. To provide free meals for school children is surely no more a Socialist measure than to provide free education. To-day nobody regards free education as Bolshevism, and I feel that we are boggling at a real problem by attempting to continue making parents responsible for paying sometimes and not at other times. Therefore, I find myself here in agreement with the hon. Member for Dumbarton Burghs (Mr. Kirkwood), which is not always the case. I feel that it would be infinitely better if we laid it down now that a part of free education is a free midday meal for all children. I say that with some little experience of the need for it in a country district like Fife. There we have not only ploughmen's children but often the children of farmers going long distances to school each day. In the case of the ploughmen's children, and sometimes also in the case of farmers' children, they go off in the morning having had only little to eat, and if there is no meal for them in the middle of the day they are left for 12 hours with no proper nourishment in their stomachs, and that does real harm. It costs the State far more in recovering their health, and it causes a gradual fall in the standard of man-power in the country districts. Therefore I should like this Bill to be amended in such a way as to make the provision of a free meal part of the educational system.

I wish to say a word in reference to some observations which were made about the Act of 1908. My right hon. friend referred to some of its provisions as being, I think he said, "intolerable," and said their efforts had been "cabin'd, cribb'd and confin'd," and somebody else described that Act as a public scandal. I feel the references to that measure have been a little ungrateful. After all, 1908 was 33 years ago, and a Liberal Government 33 years ago was progressive enough to make those provisions. Let me read them: Provided that it shall be shown to the satisfaction of the School Board that such parents… are unable by reason of poverty or ill-health to provide sufficient and proper food and clothing for the children… in such a case, if the Board is so satisfied, it shall make such provision for the child out of the school fund as it deems necessary. We ought to pay a little tribute to our predecessors of 33 years ago for being so advanced as to make that provision. It is true that it was hedged in with a number of conditions which we now wish to sweep aside, but it is slightly ungrateful to speak as though nothing had been done when, in fact, a big advance was made.