Skip to main content

Clause 4—(Miscellaneous Amendments)

Volume 499: debated on Thursday 24 April 1952

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

I beg to move, in page 3, line 18, to leave out "replaces," and to insert "takes the place of."

This will be one of the briefest speeches of the evening. The wording of the Amendment is not dictated by any sense of the particular niceties of the English language. It is for a technical purpose. As the Clause is now drafted, it will allow bridges to be fixed only where actual teeth have been extracted, and the purpose of the Amendment is to provide for those cases where, owing to a congenital fault, the teeth have never actually been there. Therefore, it will allow work to take place which would otherwise not be allowed under the Bill as it stands.

Comment has been made once or twice during the course of our discussions on the absence of Scottish Ministers from the proceedings today. I think the Committee will agree that I have been sitting here very patiently for the purpose of moving two Government Amendments and replying to any Scottish Amendments which were moved. Unfortunately the Guillotine intervened and those were not reached.

I am glad that the hon. Lady the Member for Lanarkshire, North (Miss Herbison), is in her place, because I should like to tell her that my right hon. Friend and my other colleagues in the Scottish Office were very grateful for the obvious preference which she showed for us. On the other hand, I should like to say that as a Government we like to see things nicely balanced and we feel that many hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite would much prefer to see the hon. Lady the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health standing at this Box. My first appearance in this Committee stage is welcome because I have the greatest possible pleasure in accepting the Amendment.

In connection with this Amendment, I should like to put to the Minister a point on drafting which relates to almost exactly the same matter. It appears to me that if a dental bridge may replace one tooth only, the wording should be "which takes the place of any tooth or teeth," otherwise it would be necessary for at least two teeth to be replaced by a dental bridge in order that the desired result should follow. I ask my right hon. Friend if he will look at that point in connection with this Bill.

Amendment agreed to.

9.45 p.m.

I beg to move, in page 3, line 23, to leave out subsection (2).

I do not want to detain the Committee for very long. The Amendment is designed to exempt from payment the people who send children to day nurseries. I move the Amendment because of representations made by the National Society of Children's Nurseries. Anyone who is acquainted with the work of these day nurseries knows full well that the children who attend them are, in the main, children from difficult homes. I will cite the example of the County of Hertford, which will convey the point adequately.

In the County of Hertford, they have 19 nurseries with just over 1,000 children. Of that number, 11 per cent. are illegitimate children, 17 per cent. belong to 168 deserted wives, and there are other such difficult cases—divorced parents, parents suffering from chronic disease, temporary emergency, bad housing, the father being in the Forces, a difficult financial situation at home and that kind of thing. The same thing applies in the county of Kent. There, the nursery of 42 children is likely to be closed. The same thing applies to the London County Council. For the nurseries of the London County Council, I could give a series of figures which show the tremendous hardship which would be caused if payment were demanded from these people.

It has been suggested by the various societies that the power of the local authority to make a charge should be curtailed to a maximum of 2s. a day, but I feel that the sum involved here is minute. The Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland said that these measures would make a contribution to our balance of payments problem, and apparently the Government intend to ask the parents of these children to contribute towards the solution of that problem by taking from them purchasing power—and they do that in order to help to solve a balance of payments problem which runs into hundreds of millions of pounds. If ever there was cheeseparing, here it is in essence. It is for those reasons, necessarily being brief, that I have moved the Amendment.

I want very strongly to support the Amendment. As my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, West (Mr. Hamilton), pointed out, this subsection empowers local authorities to make a charge for accommodation in day schools. Up to the present they have had power to make a charge for food. I only know what has happened in London, and I think I know that quite well.

The London County Council charge the mothers 2s. a day, which, of course, is reduced in cases of necessity, for the food of the children. There is very little difficulty in paying that, if the woman has any money at all, because she feels that the food she would have to provide for her child at home would cost very much about that. If, however, we add charges for accommodation, then the mothers will be much less ready to pay. Besides, the people who use these nurseries in London are very carefully "vetted." They are the poorest of the poor—people who would have the greatest difficulty in bringing up their children were it not for these nurseries.

Let me extend the figures which were given. At one, at any rate, of London's nurseries, 28 per cent. of the mothers are women deserted by their husbands; 17 per cent. are unmarried mothers—and it is so important, where it can be aranged, that the unmarried mother should be able to have her child cared for while she goes to work, as she must, to keep herself and her child alive. Then there are the children of mothers in hospitals, and the children whose fathers are in the Forces or in prison, and there are the children of mothers who are widows.

I feel that it would be a great disaster if we asked these very poor people—and remember that they are "vetted" most carefully before they are allowed to use the children's nurseries—to pay for anything else except the food which the children have in the nurseries.

Let me add my plea to that of my two hon. Friends. I did address myself in some detail to this matter on the Second Reading of the Bill. I would ask the Parliamentary Secretary to look at the figures, some of which have been given by my hon. Friends. I had hoped that the Minister himself would have been here, because I have noticed that he is a little more receptive tonight to some of our arguments. I do not know whether his heart is becoming softer, or whether he is physically exhausted, or whether he finds it more expedient to accept our Amendments. However, this is one which ought not to be rejected immediately. I am hoping that it will be accepted.

There is a curious idea prevailing that the day nurseries are used by women who are neglectful of their families—by women who have well-paid jobs and who, on the way to their jobs, leave their children at the day nurseries. That, of course, is a complete fallacy. My hon. Friend has pointed out the evidence of the Day Nurseries Association, and there is overwhelming evidence that the day nurseries are used by the mothers of illegitimate children, by women whose husbands have left them, by women whose husbands are disabled, and so on. I invite the Parliamentary Secretary to examine the figures of these day nurseries, and she will be convinced that this is so.

I think it is a little curious that this Bill was thrust upon the Minister of Health by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who, many months ago, said he was not going to be manoeuvred out of it. We have watched the poor Minister of Health face up to the barrage of attack from this side, and, frankly, at times I have been quite sorry for him. I find it a little inconsistent in the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who prides himself on the Education Act, 1944, to allow this kind of thing to happen under this Bill, which will inevitably mean that children who are in need of care and attention will be sent to minders. I say that it is inconsistent in him to be proud of educating the children of the country and at the same time to put this handicap in the way of children who are in great need of care and attention. I ask the Parliamentary Secretary to think about this very carefully, so that the Government will realise—before, perhaps, it is too late—this to be, as it is, a very stupid and retrograde step.

The right hon. Lady referred to my right hon. Friend's absence from the Chamber at the moment. I think the Committee appreciates the very long hours during which he has stayed here without any break since we commenced the Committee stage today. I do not think the right hon. Lady can have meant her remark in any slighting manner.

He has been here all through the day. I do not think he is exhausted, but he certainly requires something to eat.

I appreciate the great sincerity with which the case for this Amendment has been put forward, but I would point out that local authorities themselves have asked for this charge, and I think that, to a great extent, disposes of what the right hon. Lady said about the Chancellor. The local authorities have good reason for asking for this charge to be imposed, because it places a very considerable burden upon them. The average cost of keeping a child in one of these day nurseries is £2 5s. per week, and in many nurseries the charge is much higher than that. The average amount recovered for meals, on the other hand, is 7s. 6d. per week, so there is very good reason for local authorities asking for permission to make this charge.

There are here two cases, which are quite distinct from each other. There is first the social case, which has been alluded to by all those who have spoken to the Amendment—where there are deserted mothers, unmarried mothers, and widows to be taken into account. In this connection, the charge is purely discretionary and, from my own knowledge of local authorities, I am sure that no local authority would impose a charge on people whose circumstances were such as have been described by the right hon. Lady. Local authorities will consider each case on its merits; I am sure that is what will be done if this Bill is passed.

The other case consists of what I would call industrial cases, where married women, either from choice or because their husband's incomes are small, desire to go out and supplement the family income. There, I think, a reasonable charge may well be made. I see nothing unreasonable in that, remembering all the time that these powers are discretionary. I think it is right that discretion should be granted to local authorities, and I am sorry that on this occasion I must resist the Amendment.

Could the hon. and gallant Gentleman tell us approximately how many of those who use these nurseries are married women who go out to work to earn extra money and are not compelled to do so by their economic circumstances?

I must say that the attitude adopted by the hon. and gallant Gentleman is a pretty mean one, and I am sorry that he has had to make a reply of that kind on behalf of the Minister of Health. When he says that it costs £2 5s. a week to keep a child in one of these nurseries, he ought also to bear in mind what it costs to keep a boy or girl in a Borstal institution, or to keep an inmate of one of Her Majesty's prisons. To complain about the niggling expenditure of keeping a child in decent conditions, is mean and contemptible, and I cannot understand why the Parliamentary Secretary herself does not rise and say that at least the Government are prepared to have another look at this Amendment before rejecting it out of hand.

10.0 p.m.

I realise that there is a good deal of force in what the Minister has said. From his point of view and that of the council administering, there is, no doubt, the case of the woman who goes out to work to supplement the rather small income of her husband. On occasion it does happen that the authority is hard put to decide whether or not, when the joint income perhaps amounts to £8, £9 or £10 a week, they should admit the child.

If they are able to make a charge, I do not think that the problem arises so harshly, and, therefore, I would say myself that there is a case for this and would not look askance at it. What I am afraid of—and I hope that the Minister may be able to give us some satisfaction—is that there will be authorities who will take advantage of this and, if the Minister will give an assurance that he will watch the position very carefully, I should be grateful.

I wonder if the Joint Under-Secretary could tell us which local authorities agreed to this charge of £2 5s. I would draw his attention to the figures, particularly in Kent. The Joint-Under-Secretary made great play upon the social problems involved here and the social cases. I do not know how he distinguishes the social cases from others, because it seems to me, on analysing these figures, that they are all social problems.

I believe that every local authority takes great care that the children who, go to these nurseries are, by and large, the product of social problems. The Kent nursery that is likely to be closed now has in it 42 children. In the case of three of these children, the mother has died, and in respect of 21, the parents are divorced or separated through the courts. The mothers of two of the children are widows, there are 14 whose mothers are unmarried and two whose mothers are crippled. They are all social cases.

If we analyse the cases in the 19 nurseries in the County of Hertford, we find exactly the same position. They are all social problems, and for the Joint Under-Secretary to try and distinguish between cases which are social problems and others seems to me to be ridiculous. I would also ask him the total saving that is supposed to be obtained by this mean Measure. Lastly, how many of the parents of these children, in the cases which I have cited, will be able to pay £2 5s.? The Joint Under-Secretary should know very well—we know very well on this side of the Committee—which local authorities will charge up to the hilt. It is the Tory Government passing the buck to the Tory local authorities.

I have listened with great care to the debate. I want to put a different slant on what has been said tonight, on the effect of these charges to be imposed on these unfortunate people. Every week Her Majesty's Government have been asking for more production, and we have been told that without it we are sunk. For unmarried women, married women and widows these charges will mean a complete disincentive to go out to work.

Why do the Government expect that people will be persuaded to go to work when they know that as a result they will have a charge placed upon them which bears no comparison to what they will get if they go to the National Assistance Board. I suggest that the Government are doing the very thing they are asking the country not to do. This is creating a disincentive for married women, unmarried mothers and other unfortunate women to go to work, and the loss of production together with the expenditure of the National Assistance Board will more than outweigh the miserable pittance that will be saved.

I wish to put a question to the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland. Earlier I tried to emphasise that there were certain fundamental differences between the Scottish and the English Acts. Unfortunately, the Guillotine descended on my innocent head and I was unable to finish what I had to say. However, I think that we might have a little more information about the sum of £2 5s. Is that a United Kingdom figure? I should like to be told what the English figure is and what the Scottish figure is. As the Joint Under-Secretary knows, there is a wide difference in the use of day nurseries between England and Scotland, and that information would be useful.

I very gladly give the assurance for which the hon. Member for Peckham (Mrs. Corbet) asked.

The situation will be carefully watched. There is some misapprehension on the part of the hon. Member for Fife, West (Mr. Hamilton). It is not a question of a charge of £2 5s. That is the average cost over the whole of the United Kingdom to keep a child in one of these nurseries.

Does not the Clause give local authorities full authority to charge the maximum of £2 5s.?

It leaves the matter at the discretion of local authorities. The hon. Member for Fife, West, told us of the nursery in Kent accommodating 42 children that was to be closed down. He said very considerable hardship would result. We should all regret that, but surely the discretion allowed in the Clause to the local authority might well have allowed that nursery school to be kept open. I emphasise once more that the three local authorities associations have asked to be given this discretionary power.

The hon. Gentleman also asked what the total saving was. The saving is estimated at £500,000 in regard to the national Exchequer and £500,000 in regard to the rates.

The hon. Member for Tradeston (Mr. Rankin) knows that originally two Acts were introduced, one for Scotland and the other for England. By reason of the organisation in Scotland, particularly in regard to the teaching hospitals, we desired to have something different from the English Measure. However, since that date two further Acts have been passed, one in 1949 and the other in 1951, and I cannot remember that he or any of his colleagues took any exception whatsoever to Scotland being included in a United Kingdom Measure. So we are following precedent. When charges are applied to the whole of the United Kingdom, there is no reason whatsoever why we should have a separate Measure for Scotland.

On what basis does the hon. and gallant Gentleman make the calculation for his saving, if it is, as he says, a purely discretionary power in the hands of the local authorities?

Amendment negatived.

Clause ordered to stand part of the Bill.