Orders of the Day — Colony Holidays Schemes

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 23 July 1969.

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9.28 a.m.

Photo of Mr Charles Haseldine Mr Charles Haseldine , Bradford West

I am glad to have had the opportunity to catch your eye at this time, Mr. Speaker, following a very long night's vigil, to raise the issue—which, I am sure, is of wide interest and appropriate at this time—of the wider provision of colony holidays for schoolchildren.

Virtually the whole of the school population is now on the long summer vacation and, undoubtedly, the children are feeling extremely delighted at being liberated from normal school activities for anything from six weeks to two months. I am quite sure that although today we live in a much more affluent society, with wider provision for family holidays, even yet, unfortunately, there will be hundreds of thousands of young people, probably from the larger families, who will be in a position to take a holiday of only one week and, perhaps, many schoolchildren—it would be interesting to be able to find the figures—who may have no holiday at all.

In recent years, as my right hon. Friend is most certainly aware, a good deal of attention has been paid to the problem of occupying—I think that is the word—young people, little ones and those of junior school age, during the long summer vacation, and we have become aware of the tremendous efforts of enthusiasts—volunteers—who through the local authorities have assisted play groups in the summer period. I would like to congratulate my right hon. Friend upon the contribution which has been made by the Department—£150.000—to help with these.

I am sure many people are looking at the problem of the summer holidays, a problem because so many young people are free and wanting to be able to undertake something of interest and to be occupied in a useful way and in an environment new to them. I am sure those who saw the recent announcement in the Press that an L.S.E. student had organised holidays for 115 children whose parents could not afford a holiday would applaud him, especially in view of the fact that many students these days are rather subject to criticism. Here indeed is an excellent and worthwhile effort as a result of which 85 children will go into camps in Germany due to the efforts of that student at the London School of economics. This is the sort of encouragement which we like to see.

I think my right hon. Friend will bear with me when I put another aspect of the problem which is found in our great industrial cities. In my own City of Bradford, for instance, I find that of the working women 60 per cent. are married, and a mother's problems are accentuated during the summer period because she is working for most of the long number of weeks, and will have only one or two or at most four weeks' holiday, so that for four or more weeks the young people of her household are largely left to an empty house.

I am sure that my right hon. Friend has very wide knowledge of the provisions which are made in other countries in Europe and in Canada and the United States, arrangements known as holiday colonies or, in France, as colonies de vacances. It is a system which also operates very widely in Italy and Germany. As I understand the position at the moment, in France alone, to take one example, about 1½ million French children will be spending three weeks in colonies de vacances. I understand from the history of the organisation that it goes back to the 1890s. There has been a continuing organisation from 1918 onwards. I am sure the whole House will share the great sorrow we felt when we learned of that very tragic accident on the Loire last week when the children were attending one of those very many colonies de vacances.

There is, I feel, a lesson which Great Britain can learn, not only from the Continental countries but also from America and Canada, in making a much wider provision than that which already exists. Normally, holiday colonies in Europe are provided by a variety of oganisations—Churches, political organisations, trade unions; but, above all, they are helped centrally by the ministry of education, the idea being that children should have a change of their environment and of climate, so that those who live on the coast go to the mountains, and those who live in the countryside go to the sea. This is, I am sure, something we in this country would welcome. Many parents welcome the facilities which are provided.

This matter has not been overlooked in this country. I pay tribute to the Council for Colony Holidays for its work and to the Department of Education and Science for the rôle it has played and for its grant. I also wish to congratulate Mr. George Taylor, who is an ex-director of education for Leeds, and Mr. Christopher Green, who have played prominent parts in development colony holidays in residential centres.

I would also pay tribute to the work of the voluntary organisations, the Boys Scouts, Girl Guides, Boys' Brigade, and many others who provide interesting camps for young people in the summer. I wish them well. I also pay tribute to the Youth Hostel Association.

In spite of the work of all these organisations, I feel that we could be a little more forward-looking in encouraging wider use of facilities. Following experience in the Council for Colony Holidays, I wonder whether the right hon. Lady would consider looking objectively at existing provision in many of our schools. In an answer to a Question which I recently put down, the Secretary of State said that the use of school premises for commuity purposes was on the increase. I hope that such use will continue to expand.

It is not inconceivable that many of our modern schools could be used in summer by turning classrooms into dormitories; use could be made of the catering and sports facilities. During the summer period the use of schools for these purposes could be organised on a cross-city basis with young people using facilities on an exchange basis. One would not expect children in Bradford and Leeds to be particularly interested in the use of school premises in their own area, whereas they might well be keen on using school facilities in a completely different area or city.

Local authorities could run pilot schemes to see what modifications or adaptations would be required in order to provide camp-bed accommodation, sleeping bags, and so on, so that holiday colonies could be development in many of our modern schools.

I hope that the Department will be able to say that during the winter it will encourage the training of responsible people as directors of such camps during the summer, and that university students and students from teacher trainer training colleges could be given the opportunity to be trained as monitors and helpers in such camps and be paid for their services. Such a system is widely followed in Europe. The children of, for example, Bradford could have a change of environment by staying at a colony in, say, Lancaster, and the children of Lancaster, being used to the sea, could enjoy the Yorkshire countryside. The public are very much aware of the expense involved in providing schools and would be pleased to know that school accommodation was being utilised throughout the year.

I hope that my right hon. Friend will not reply by saying that this is not a job for her Department, particularly in view of the imagination which that Department has shown in support of the Council for Colony Holidays and the use of school accommodation out of school time. We are debating an important topic, and, having spoken about it with my local director of education, I am sure that, with a little push, the ball would really start rolling. Perhaps my right hon. Friend will consider conducting a small inquiry, comprised of people with knowledge of colony holidays of this type abroad, to examine the matter in detail.

Colony holidays of this sort need not be free. I am sure that parents would be willing to pay a reasonable sum to enable their children to spend two or three weeks away from home at a colony. The capital expenditure involved in establishing the camps need not be great, considering that, apart from purchasing camp beds, which are mass produced and are not expensive, and curtains or venetian blinds, little would be required.

Many children unfortunately do not have regular holidays. We in Britain have not caught on to the colony holiday idea nearly as fast as the people of many other countries, and I hope that we shall now start the ball rolling in an imaginative way.

9.43 a.m.

Photo of Miss Alice Bacon Miss Alice Bacon , Leeds South East

I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Haseldine) for his interest in a matter which is most worthy of support.

My Department has been interested in, and associated with, the Council for Colony Holidays since its inception in 1961 and has paid a grant of £3,000 per annum for the three years since 1965, with smaller grants for the two following years. This financial assistance has been viewed by the Department and the council as an initial pump-priming grant made with the intention that the council should be financially self-supporting as soon as possible.

In 1961 the first all-British colony was attended by 15 boys. I understand that about 2,500 children are expected to attend the council's colonies in 1969. This expansion alone has justified the Depart- ment's support. There is no doubt that the council's success so far is due to the ability and energy of its founders and the loyalty and enthusiasm of its officers and organisers.

I agree that holiday schools or colonies provide excellent opportunities for children of all backgrounds to come together on equal terms and through active participation in a balanced programme of activities can extend the children's horizons and broaden their outlook. They are not just holidays but have a strong educational bias, not in the form of set lessons perhaps, but by introducing the children to new interests and hobbies and encouraging them to make their own amusements.

There is room for further expansion in this field. The council puts its target as participation by 10,000 children a year. We need also to remember the contributions made by other youth organisations in providing holiday activities for their younger members, which, although they are not on precisely the same lines as the colony holidays, have similar objectives.

The cost of such provision is an important consideration, particularly when local authorities are having to keep a careful rein on their spending. I could not urge local authorities to incur very great additional expenditure by setting up their own colonies, or sending more children to those run by the council, much as I endorse the view of the hon. Member. I will look at what my hon. Friend says about this being self-supporting. Some authorities operate these schemes already, and I hope that they will continue to do so.

I recently visited schools in the mining area of the West Riding around Doncaster. I found that at Rossington, in what was traditionally the "pit week" when the collieries close, a lot of the children were preparing to go to Grassington, in the Lake District, on a school camp. The well-known Mexborough College is to exchange, not for a holiday, but work, with the Dartington School, which is a great innovation. In Mexborough they are thinking of taking over some kind of accommodation for the Dartington pupils.

The Government have set aside a sum of money to be spent in the next few years on the urban programme to be used in specially deprived areas. For the second phase we asked local authorities to put in bids for any worthwhile objective. Most of the money was used for nursery schools. This was certainly true in Leeds and Bradford, but two local education authorities applied for money to be used for a camping holiday of this kind. They will be receiving a 75 per cent. grant from the Exchequer. If a local authority under this programme wanted to spend £1,000 in the coming years, £750 would come from the Exchequer. This would apply to areas of great social need. Some of the areas in my hon. Friend's constituency could qualify.

The Nuffield Foundation has made a generous contribution to enable children from educational priority areas to take part in the council's activities. My hon. Friend has suggested the greater use of existing schools and this is something we must consider. There are practical difficulties to be overcome and of course it is primarily a matter for the local authorities. I have been interested to see that a few comprehensive schools have boarding facilities. That is something which needs greater encouragement. In areas where this is so it would be very easy to put into operation the suggestion that my hon. Friend has made.

To sum up, I agree that the colony holidays schemes for school children can perform a very useful social and educational function, particularly if the courses cater for a good cross-section of young people. Some might consider that other educational matters should have a higher priority. But I am sure that local education authorities and other bodies will take note of this debate. In particular, if authorities can give children in deprived areas a chance to take part in these holiday schemes, they will have performed a very useful service.