‘The Hope is in Children’ (The Times, 6.7.1908)


At the time, the Children Act of 1908 was welcomed in many quarters as a charter that marked a new era in the way in which children, especially vulnerable children, were to be regarded and treated.  However, others characterised it as not much more than a consolidating piece of legislation that brought together an untidy mixture of Acts going back to the 1850s. Indeed, that now seems to have become the accepted view; but, in the centennial year of its implementation (April 1909), it is worth re-considering the ‘charter’s’ significance. Certainly, it did achieve a consolidation of previous legislation, particularly that which dealt with reformatories and industrial schools. But it also introduced new provisions that, I would argue, had not only practical implications for the manner in which children were treated but which also possessed a symbolic importance that signalled a turning point in the way in which children were regarded and in the way in which, henceforth, the State was expected to respond to their needs. Furthermore, although the welfare reforms introduced by the Liberal government between its election in January 1906 and the outbreak of war in 1914 were less far-reaching than those of the Labour government after 1945, there were sufficient of them for this period to be regarded as a landmark in the evolution of ‘state welfare’ in Britain.1  Indeed, as we shall see, even in the children’s field, the 1908 Act did not stand alone.

Let us begin this by outlining briefly its principal features, its progress through Parliament and, after that, consider why it was introduced when it was and in its particular form. That done it will be easier to assess its significance in the history of British child welfare.


The 1908 Children Act was a large document, covering 92 pages and containing six parts and 134 sections. The first part dealt with infant life protection; that is, with the regulation of those (other than relatives) who were engaged in minding children under seven (previously under five) for reward. Whereas, hitherto, anyone looking after a single child was exempt from regulation they too were now included. Having taken a child the childminder was obliged to inform the local authority within 48 hours. If the child died whilst in their care they had to give notice to the coroner within 24 hours. Except in certain circumstances he then had to hold an inquest. One other important provision was that the childminder was forbidden to have an interest in any insurance on the child’s life. The local authorities too were given specific responsibilities. They had to appoint infant life protection visitors; they were allowed to fix the number of children that could be taken at any one time and, if the home were unsuitable, they could remove the child to a ‘place of safety’ on an order from the court. The new Act replaced all previous infant life protection legislation and clearly strengthened the protection that the privately placed child was now to be offered.

Part two of the Act covered cruelty to children and although many of its clauses incorporated what had already been included in the 1889 Prevention of Cruelty to Children Act, as well as subsequent legislation, several sections were new. One dealt with suffocation by the overlaying of children in parents’ beds, a matter that had already caused considerable concern after having been publicised by the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) at Christmas 1903.2  Henceforth, if this occurred when ‘at the time of going to bed’ the parent was ‘under the influence of drink’ they would be deemed ‘to have neglected the child’ and charged accordingly. It was now also to be an offence for a parent to leave a child under seven in a room with an open fire without a sufficiently protective guard. The penalty for that was to be a fine not exceeding £10. Some of the other offences against children were modifications of what had gone before; for example, that a parent would be considered to have caused injury to a child’s health if they had failed ‘to provide adequate food, clothing, medical aid or lodging’ or, that if they were reasonably unable to do so, that they had failed to seek the necessary poor relief. In these new measures we see a re-enforcement of  sanctions against neglectful or cruel parents but in the hope that, as a result, they would become more responsible.

The third part of the Act dealt with juvenile smoking and was quite new. It was now an offence to sell cigarettes, tobacco or cigarette papers to anyone under 16, and automatic vending machines had to be kept away from locations frequented by children. Furthermore, it became the duty of a constable (or a park-keeper in uniform) to seize cigarettes from anyone apparently under 16 who was smoking in a public place. Indeed, for that purpose they were authorised to search boys – but not girls.

The next part overhauled the law that applied to reformatories and industrial schools and the result was, indeed, a consolidation of a proliferation of previous measures (19 in all). However, there were some changes. The distinction between the role of the industrial schools and that of the reformatories became less pronounced and there were some novel additions. For example, children under eight in industrial schools could now be boarded out, albeit with the Secretary of State’s permission. Nonetheless, this part of the Act offered little that had not already been codified in earlier enactments.

Perhaps the most significant features of the 1908 Act were to be found in part 5 that specified how juvenile offenders were to be dealt with in future. Its best known sections heralded the mandatory introduction of juvenile courts; that is, separate buildings or rooms in which children (under 16) would appear if charged with an offence or were in need of care or protection.3 Furthermore, the public would henceforth be excluded and parents would be obliged to attend with their children. If the children were remanded in custody they could no longer be sent to a prison but only to special premises, the forerunners of the later remand Homes. Indeed, no child could any longer be sent to prison, although this prohibition only came into force fully in January 1910. Beyond that, execution was abolished as a possible punishment for capital crimes committed by those under 16. What replaced it was detention during his majesty’s pleasure. However, magistrates were also provided with a larger range of options than had been available to them before. For example, a child could be discharged to the supervision of a probation officer (the Probation Act of 1907 now made that possible) or parents could be ordered to give security for a child’s good behaviour. Likewise, parents could be ordered to pay any fine, damages or costs imposed on their offspring. Perhaps one of the unconsidered provisions was that alongside the twelve new and existing sentencing options (that still included whipping) which were at magistrates’ disposal there was also the clause that enabled them to deal with children in ‘any other legal manner’. All this marked a shift in the way in which juvenile offenders and those at risk of neglect or maltreatment were to be dealt with by the law – essentially as children having special needs that demanded special recognition.

Miscellaneous parts of legislation often go unnoticed, but in the case of part 6 of the 1908 Act it would be a pity to overlook it. For instance, there were a couple of extra provisions connected with juvenile court procedure; namely, that magistrates were given the power to clear their courts when a child or young person was giving evidence and that children were not allowed to be in court during the trial of another person. Then there was the prohibition on anyone purchasing old metals from those under 16 years of age. Similarly, it was to become an offence for pawnbrokers to accept pawns from children under 14 and for landlords to permit children in that age group to be in their bars during opening hours. Another provision was that medical officers were authorised to examine children considered to be in ‘a foul or filthy condition’ and, if that were confirmed, to require the parents to remedy the problem within 24 hours or have the local authority to do it in their stead. Finally, there was the issue of the education of the children of vagrants. If they were found to be preventing a child of school age from receiving education between the months of October and March they could be fined or their child could be committed to a certified industrial school. However, this did not apply to canal boat children (whose education had been dealt with by the Canal Boats Act of 1877) or to parents whose trade obliged them to travel and who had obtained a certificate showing that their child had made at least 200 attendances at school during the preceding period from October to March. Taken together these (and a few other) ‘miscellaneous’ provisions throw an interesting light on some of the ‘child problems’ that were causing disquiet.


Let us turn now to the immediate antecedents of the Act; namely, the debates in Parliament that followed the introduction of what, at first, was called the Children’s Bill – not Children as the title of the Act became.4  As we shall see, it was Herbert Samuel who played a leading role in the construction and introduction of the Bill.5 With the election of a Liberal government in 1906 he was offered the post of Under-Secretary in the Home Office led by Herbert Gladstone. It was in that role that he brought the Bill to the House of Commons for its first reading in February 1908. Most of his presentation foreshadowed what was to come, although some issues, such as whether child minders who looked after just one child should be brought within infant life protection legislation, had clearly not yet been settled.6  Describing the measure as ‘a thorough consolidation and amendment’ of 22 statutes, and parts of many others, the new Under-Secretary was anxious to explain that certain issues, such as children’s employment and education, had been excluded in order to achieve a smooth and rapid passage of the Bill through Parliament.7  The question of children in public houses was also omitted at this stage although, as we have seen, it was eventually dealt with in the Act that emerged. Clearly, Samuel was at pains to minimise opposition by representing the Bill as uncontentious, although he did spend a good deal of his speech on that part of it which proposed steps to tackle ‘the evil of juvenile smoking’ and which was to arouse a certain amount of opposition.

When the Bill returned for its second reading in March it was introduced by Thomas Shaw, the Lord Advocate of Scotland,8  no doubt because it was intended to apply to Scotland as well as England and Wales.9  In his opening remarks Thomas struck a somewhat different note to Samuel’s earlier presentation. The Bill was, he said, ‘of considerable complexity’ and many of its provisions of ‘a novel character’. However, like Samuel, he stressed that it was ‘not the development of the political ideas of one party, but the gradual development of a quickened sense on the part of the community at large of the duty it owes to the children’.10  Two of the major influences on this, he claimed, had been the 1903 Report of the Royal Commission on Physical Training (Scotland)11 and the Report of the Inter-Departmental Committee on Physical Deterioration12 the following year, both of which we shall be considering later. Amongst the ‘novel’ features of the Bill that the Lord Advocate listed were the strengthening of control over infant or baby farming and the prevention of child deaths from unguarded open fires. There were, he told the House, 1,600 children who had perished in one year from this cause (although he did not say which year). State action, in the form of fines on parents who failed to take adequate precautions did not, Thomas argued, constitute an unreasonable interference with the liberty of the subject.13 In London alone, he went on to explain, the same number of deaths had been caused by overlaying; that is, by parents accidentally suffocating infants who shared their bed. This too the Bill intended to see taken in hand by imposing penalties on those who were responsible. It was also to be an offence to allow a girl between the ages of seven and 16 to reside in a brothel.14

These were all provisions that were aimed at reducing risks to children by penalising their parents or other adults but, in the case of those who were recalcitrant, a next step could be the removal of the child, usually to an industrial school. Then there were the young offenders and how they were to be treated. It was not only in establishing juvenile courts that changes were to be made.  The way in which magistrates dealt with children coming before them was to change too. As Thomas stressed, in opening the debate, the object was ‘to treat these children not by way of punishing them – which is no remedy – but with a view to their reformation’.15  The ‘old harsh system is to be abolished’ he proclaimed. No child under 14 was to be imprisoned; no young person under 16 committed to penal servitude; remand to prison was to be ended and some offenders placed under the supervision of a probation officer – that being ‘an excellent new solution’.16  In short, the aim was ‘… to shut the prison door and open the door of hope.’17

The principal response to the opening address was delivered by Aretas Akers-Douglas, the Home Secretary in Balfour’s previous Conservative administration. The Opposition, he said, generally welcomed the Bill and was ‘delighted with the emphasis upon parental responsibility’.18  However, he continued, ‘over some of the children reared in crowded thoroughfares where the accommodation is extremely poor, it is very hard for the parents to keep sufficient control, and I must say you are creating undue hardship … in making them responsible as you do.’ Focussing in particular on the penalty for ‘overlaying’ he considered that it was ‘a very heavy one to impose upon an unfortunate mother who accidentally overlays her child  – largely due to bad accommodation.’ Indeed, he added, ‘… it may only be possible in winter to keep the baby warm by taking it into bed …’. Furthermore, the former Home Secretary pointed out, parents may be too poor to buy a cot or a bassinette.19  In any case, one of the London coroners, commenting on his experience of deaths through overlaying, had concluded that this was not the main cause – there were others. Akers-Douglas was also unconvinced that the clauses about juvenile smoking were practical. This was, he complained, ‘grandmotherly legislation …which would lead to a good many laughable scenes of constables pursuing small boys who would drop their cigarettes and run away.’ 20  Nonetheless, despite these and a few other semi-critical comments (such as his objection to the proposal that local authorities should have a right of entry to private Homes and institutions) Akers-Douglas promised that the Opposition would not place obstacles in the way of the Bill reaching the Statute Book.21

As the debate proceeded there was a mixture of comments from both sides of the House. For example, the Liberal John Ellis (who had chaired the select committee established to consider the question of the regulation of one-child private foster homes) emphasised that the underlying sentiment upon which the Bill rested ‘came from … [a] rising spirit of humanitarianism …’.22  Hugh Law, the Irish Nationalist, said that the Bill evoked ‘a warm feeling from all quarters.’23  Harold Tennant, another Liberal, characterised the measure as ‘the best Bill of the Session’ but regretted the fact that stricter controls over street-trading by children had not been included.24

Herbert Samuel, the Under-Secretary, wound up the first day’s debate and was at pains to emphasise that ‘the general measure of agreement between the two sides of the House’ had only been arrived at by the exclusion of those subjects that would have given rise to a division of opinion. What was included, he claimed, reflected issues upon which there was widespread agreement about the way forward, giving, as an example, the fact that a private members’ Bill dealing with deaths of children through fire and overlaying had recently been introduced and had been supported by both sides of the House.  In the event however it had been withdrawn on the promise that its substance would be included in future government legislation.

Samuel then turned to rebut some criticisms of the Bill that had suggested that parts of it were impractical; for example, those concerned with juvenile smoking. He pointed out that three committees of Parliament (those on physical deterioration, physical training and smoking itself) had been unanimous in concluding that smoking ‘was a real cause of physical deterioration in the child life of the country’ and that it was ‘a rapidly growing evil’ that had to be tackled despite the difficulties that might be encountered. What was proposed in the Bill was a start.25 Another kind of criticism that was levelled against parts of the Bill was that they gave the State additional powers to interfere in the private domain of family life, powers that might then be further extended later. A slightly different criticism was that the new penalties to be imposed on parents who failed to look after their children properly ignored the problems that poor families faced in doing the best for their offspring. For example, Viscount Morpeth (Liberal Unionist) was anxious that over-zealous lady inspectors might impose unreasonable expectations and standards on the foster parents whom they visited.26 And there was the Labour point of view expressed by Thomas Summerbell; namely, that innocent people who were ‘compelled to live amid miserable surroundings’ and who were ‘unable to take every care of their children’ should not be harshly punished when they fell short of what was expected of them.  Indeed, he continued, ‘the true remedy … was to tap the evil at its source, and afford to parents an economic opportunity to bring up their children as they ought’.27  On the other hand, Sir Henry Crait (Conservative and secretary of the Scottish Education Department from 1885 to 1904) was sure that ‘a great social reform of this kind could not be carried out without interference with personal liberty.’28  Samuel agreed: ‘the State must step in where the discipline of the home is absent.’29  This, perhaps, best captured a new determination to see the quality of children’s lives  protected and, indeed, enhanced.  On that note the Bill moved forward to the committee stage where, although many minor amendments were proposed, most were skilfully and diplomatically resisted.

In the House of Lords the second reading debate was held in October 1908 and was introduced by Earl Beauchamp (Lord Steward of His Majesty’s Household and a former governor of New South Wales). He expected, he said, that the measure would ‘go through’ with ease because matters concerning education had been omitted.  However, he admitted that outside Parliament the strongest criticism had been aroused by the measures to reduce juvenile smoking. Nonetheless, he did not believe that the Bill raised any great points of constitutional principle.30  Lord Alverstoke (Conservative, former Lord Chief Justice (1900-13) and Attorney-General before that) reminded the House that he had introduced a draft bill covering some of the provisions of the one being considered some four or five years ago, but that at that time ‘public opinion was not sufficiently ripe’ for it to be pursued. 31 However, he, like Beauchamp, was concerned about public opposition to the clauses dealing with smoking and suggested that they might be removed because it was ‘a controversial and difficult question’. The Earl of Meath, another Conservative, and president of the Church Army, emphasised the need to encourage greater parental responsibility, saying that ‘we should force them, if we can, to take charge of their children and train them properly.’ At the same time he was thankful that ‘the days of harshness … are gone for children’ but was concerned ‘lest we should now err in the other direction.’32  William Boyd-Carpenter, Lord Bishop of Ripon and a Liberal Unionist, believed that legislation could not go far ahead of public opinion, but because of that he was delighted that the Bill signalled the ‘immense advances’ in humanitarian sentiment that had occurred over the previous 25 years. Moreover, such a measure would help to counteract the dangers of a diminishing population and secure ‘profitable citizens’ for the British Empire’.33  The theme of the sympathetic state of public opinion was echoed by several other speakers; for example, the Marquess of Landsdown (Conservative, former Viceroy of India and Governor General of Canada, as well as Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs in the previous administration) concluded that the ‘tide of public opinion had been taken at the flood’ but nevertheless cautioned against ‘excessive interference in private life …’.34  Likewise, Lord Crewe, the Lord Privy Seal and Secretary of State for the Colonies, winding up the debate on behalf of the government, stressed that the Bill did not ‘go ahead of public opinion’.  He also pointed out how much constructive lobbying had been done by the NSPPC and by the State Children Association (SCA), of which he had at one time been president, as well as by a number of Lords, including himself and Lord Lytton (Conservative).35  Lytton had spoken enthusiastically in support of the Bill and had reminded the House that it owed much to the research that had been carried out over the previous 10 years, probably having in mind the surveys of Booth and Rowntree.36  All in all, the fact that the causes addressed in the Bill had already been embraced by such leading figures in both parties added weight to the case for its introduction and encouraged its wide acceptance.

The Bill, having passed smoothly through its various stages in the Lords by the end of November 1908, received the Royal Assent on December 21st although it was not implemented until April 1909 and a few of its provisions somewhat later. Having charted the Bill’s parliamentary progress, and seen the considerable extent of cross-party support that it obtained, we must now look back to consider why it was introduced when it was. Nevertheless, we shall return to the question of why much children’s legislation has secured the cross-party support of which the 1908 Act was an example.


In his memoirs Herbert Samuel claimed that the Children Bill originated in a visit that a Mrs M. R. Inglis made to him urging that ‘the Government should establish a new Ministry to be concerned with all matters relating to children’. She had pointed out that ‘there were many matters touching child welfare that were ripe, and more than ripe, for State action’ but because these were ‘scattered over a number of Government Departments it was no-one’s special business to press them forward’.41   He had, he wrote, accepted that this was the case but he did not see that a Ministry of Child Welfare was the solution. Indeed, the Home Office was already concerned with many issues ‘affecting the well-being of many classes of children’42 and it may have been a reluctance to forfeit these that led him to discount a special Ministry. Nevertheless, he concluded that legislation should be prepared bearing in mind the reforms that had already been proposed over a number of years, both by committees of inquiry and by philanthropic organisations.

Mrs Inglis’ visit may have prompted Samuel to turn his attention to the state of children’s legislation but it is too simple an explanation as to why the 1908 Act reached the Statute Book when and how it did.43  Indeed, we know virtually nothing about Inglis, except that she was interested in social reform, that she lived in one of the best streets in Edinburgh and subsequently wrote a pamphlet for social workers explaining the essential features of the ‘Charter’, as she termed the Act. In the pamphlet she also advocated the establishment of local councils of child welfare in order to co-ordinate services.44  Given the prominence that Samuel accorded to Mrs Inglis’ intervention in his memoirs (as well as writing a preface for her pamphlet) it is surprising to find no mention of her in his private papers in the House of Lords Record Office or in the relevant archives at the Public Record Office. Nor did the Scotsman newspaper carry an obituary.

So, although Mrs Inglis may have captured Samuels’ attention for child welfare in what was a very busy parliamentary session, one has to look elsewhere to discover the deeper origins of the 1908 Act.  We have seen already that, like the Lord Advocate of Scotland, Samuel too attributed a good deal of importance to the reports of two committees of enquiry when he spoke in the Commons’ debate. One, it will be recalled, was the Royal Commission on Physical Education (Scotland) that had appeared in 1903 and the other was the Inter-Departmental Committee on Physical Deterioration that reported in the following year. He might also have mentioned (but didn’t) the report of another inter-departmental committee whose deliberations were published in 1905 and which had considered the medical inspection and feeding of children attending public elementary schools.45  Let us consider the influence of each of these in turn.

The enquiry into the need for the physical training of children in Scotland went well beyond what might have been expected for it was obliged, first of all, to establish the state of children’s health and therefore whether or not it was desirable to impose upon them a regime of physical exercises that, on the face of it, would have seemed to have been a reasonable means of improving their health. It should be noted, of course, that an important consideration in appointing this committee (and others that were to follow) was the growing evidence of the unfitness of young men who applied to enlist in the army, especially as recruitment campaigns were launched during and after the Boer War. Here, for example, is one of the opening paragraphs in the committee’s report: ‘out of about 12,000 recruits examined for the army over 31 per cent had to be rejected for diseases or defects, and as these figures refer to young men not very much over school age they were considered … germane to our enquiry …’ (original emphasis).46

The committee began its work in April 1902, had 28 sittings and heard 127 witnesses; but it also commissioned a study of some 1,200 school children (both boys and girls) in Edinburgh and in Aberdeen. The children were medically examined with a good deal of attention paid to physical measurements. The results appeared in a mass of statistical tables in the appendices of the main report, the commissioners saying that it needed no great amount of argument to bring home the significance of these facts – particularly those concerned with the children’s ‘height, weight, pallor, bad health, bad nutrition, want of alertness and bad carriage …’ The results from Edinburgh were worse than those from Aberdeen but, it was concluded, both were disturbing by comparison with the rest of the British Isles.47  From further enquiries in the schools 10,500 children were reported to be in need of medical attention in Edinburgh and 5,700 in Aberdeen.48

Broadly speaking these worrying results were attributed to three groups of factors: inadequate feeding; the lack of medical inspection, and smoking. Giving evidence a Dr Tuke maintained that there was not the slightest doubt that the lack of adequate good food was at the bottom of the differences in health between one class and another. As others were also at pains to point out he stressed that physical exercise did harm unless the children were properly fed.49   Furthermore, before starting a course of exercise many witnesses emphasised that children should be medically examined.50 However, the committee’s recommendation concerning the need for medical monitoring went further than this. It was proposed that there should be regular medical inspections of schools too, in order to check on such things as ventilation, heating, lavatories and playground space. Furthermore, the report recommended that systematic records should be kept of children’s physique and health.51  When it came to the question of juvenile smoking (only boys being mentioned) the committee heard strong views expressed about its deleterious effects.  Colonel Napier of the Army Medical Service for example contended that all smoking interfered with physical training – but with youths especially. He also emphasised what damage it did to lungs and to the digestive system. Indeed, when asked whether he believed that smoking should be prohibited altogether for youths under 18 he agreed wholeheartedly.52  Other doctors were of the same opinion, a Dr Macpherson maintaining that no progress would be made without legislation.53

Thus, it is understandable that in the Commons debate on the 1908 Children Bill Herbert Samuel should have referred back to this report as an important influence on his decision to introduce it, even though it did not deal specifically with all the recommendations that the report contained. However, what was said about juvenile smoking did bear directly on one of the features of the Bill. The second report to which Samuel paid tribute as adding to his conviction that new child legislation had to be brought forward was that of the committee on physical deterioration, published in 1904. It is, perhaps, the best known report of the period and is often credited with shaping much of the subsequent social legislation, especially that concerning the welfare of children and their mothers. Though not hard to find, the reasons for this warrant elaboration, as do the reasons for the committee’s appointment and recommendations.

The committee was appointed in September 1903 initially with two main tasks. First, it was asked to investigate whether there had been a deterioration of ‘certain classes of the population’ and then to suggest the terms of reference of a royal commission if that were appointed. Although not made clear in this referral it was assumed that the deterioration in question was principally physical deterioration. Partly because of their vagueness the terms of reference were subsequently explained and enlarged. The committee was then asked
(1) To determine, with the aid of such counsel as the medical profession are able to give, the steps that should be taken to furnish the Government and the Nation at large with periodical data for an accurate comparative estimate of the health and physique of the people; (2) to indicate the causes of such physical deterioration as does exist in certain classes; and (3) to point out the means by which it can be most effectively diminished.

The committee was surprisingly small and drawn from the civil service, as was the chairman. He was Almeric William Fitzroy who, at the time, was the Clerk of the Privy Council.54  His fellow committee members included the inspector of physical training at the Board of Education; the inspector of reformatory and industrial schools; the inspector of marine recruiting; the principal assistant secretary to the Board of Education; the assistant secretary to the Scotch (sic) Education Department, and the senior doctor from the General Register Office. Their secretary was a barrister. They first met in October  1903 and held their last meeting in the following July, the report being issued a fortnight later. Thus, although sitting on 26 days and hearing 68 witnesses, the committee took just 9 months to complete its investigation. As well as the main publication there was a large volume of evidence and another of 23 additional appendices. All in all the report was a measured and convincing document that probably went further in its recommendations than had initially been envisaged. In his Memoirs Fitzroy points out that the London papers devoted some sixteen columns to the report and that The Times, the Standard and the Daily News were ‘the loudest in [their] praise’, adding that ‘perhaps the highest tribute came from George Murray [Secretary of the Treasury] for having done the work of a Royal Commission at a tenth of the cost’.55

The committee’s report began by emphasising that there was no information that allowed a conclusion to be drawn about whether or not there had been any physical deterioration in the population and, more specifically, amongst the working class, thereby showing the inappropriateness of a principal part of its terms of reference and the rather misleading title that the report finally bore. Nevertheless, the members forged ahead to describe the current state of affairs, highlighting the problems and their causes and then making important recommendations about what should be done to remedy the situation. Furthermore, according to my calculation almost two-fifths of the main report dealt either directly or indirectly with children, emphasising its significance with respect to the subsequent legislation. However, let us take a step back to consider why the committee was established in the first place.

There is little doubt that its origins lay in a growing concern about recruitment to the armed forces which sprang from the bruising experience of the Boer War,56 fears about German military expansion and German imperial aspirations,57 and from ‘the alarm felt about Britain’s Great Power status … that had been mounting throughout the late nineteenth century’58 But the concern was not solely, or even principally, about the number of men who were willing to serve in our volunteer army or navy but about their fitness to do so. Disturbing figures had begun to emerge about how many who wished to enlist had had to be rejected on health grounds. The issue had been propelled into the public arena by an article in the Contemporary Review in January 1902 written under the pseudonym ‘Miles’.59  Miles was, in fact Major General Sir Frederick Maurice, General Officer commanding at Woolwich (and a friend of Octavia Hill). He maintained that ‘out of every five men who are willing to enlist only two are fit to become effective soldiers’.60  This, he continued, was ‘a national danger’ which could not be met by ‘any mere schemes of enlistment’.61  Indeed, he warned that the country was in ‘a far more deadly peril than any that was presented by the most anxious period of the South Africa War’.62  It could only be confronted by an improvement in the health of the population and this, he insisted, required intervention at an even earlier age than that of Board school children:63 the provision of sufficient uncontaminated milk was important, as was good food and the education of mothers in the care of their infants.

A year later, at the start of 1903, Maurice wrote another piece for the Contemporary Review along the same lines but this time under his own name and with the title ‘The National Health: a Soldier’s Study’.64  He explained that the previous article had ‘excited so much interest’ that he was encouraged to undertake a more exhaustive study of the subject. Amongst other things he had consulted Charles Booth who had recently completed his social survey of conditions in London. Like Booth he called for a searching nationwide investigation, but in doing so he emphasised that it was ‘to the condition, mental, moral, and physical, of the women and children that we must look’ if the future of the country were to be safeguarded; and in this he believed that the medical profession had to take a lead.65

Of course, in between the publication of Maurice’s two articles the report of the Royal Commission on Physical Education had appeared, adding weight to his call for both more investigation and action, not least because of the similar claims (in his evidence to that committee) of the Deputy Surgeon-General (W.G. Don) who had been the senior medical officer for the London recruiting area. He too emphasised the need for improvements to be made in the feeding, care and environment of young children if fewer potential recruits were not to be rejected because of their poor health.66

However, perhaps the most influential contribution to the discussion of the issue was the memorandum that was prepared by Surgeon-General Sir William Taylor, the Director-General of the Army Medical Service, and circulated by the War Office in April 1903. This was a measured and detailed document that, although questioning some of Maurice’s contentions, nonetheless drew many of the same conclusions; for example, he wrote that
whether part of the physical deterioration is the result of unskilled labour flocking to the towns and there failing to find the means for properly rearing a family, or whether it be on account of causes which are attackable, such as early marriages and the ignorance of mothers; the result is that the rising generation of all below the artizan class includes a vast number of men of a very low standard of health and physique.67

The implication was that ‘no nation was ever yet … great and free, when the army it put in the field no longer represented its own vitality and manhood.’68  However, the memorandum was not merely rhetorical: it offered data drawn from the annual reports of the Army Medical Department and of the Inspector-General of Recruiting over the previous few years.  Between 1893 and 1902 the average rate of rejection upon medical grounds was 34.6% with another 3% having to be discharged later for the same reason.69  The majority were not accepted on account of poor physical development; for example, because of an insufficient chest measurement, because they were not tall enough or under weight, but also on account of problems with their feet and teeth. On the face of it this did not describe such a dire situation as that portrayed by Maurice who had put the rejection rate at 60% but, as Taylor pointed out, many men were turned away early on by recruiting officers because they were considered to have no chance of passing a subsequent medical examination. Taylor’s memorandum ended by suggesting that the Home Secretary might obtain the opinion of the Royal Colleges about the necessity for an inquiry, what grounds it should cover and how it might be composed – and this is what happened.

The Royal Colleges of Physicians and of Surgeons duly submitted their reports by the end of July 1903. These, as well as Taylor’s memorandum, were subsequently included in appendix I of the main report of the Committee on Physical Deterioration.70  The College of Physicians maintained that there was insufficient information for them to judge whether there was a need for an enquiry into the physical deterioration of those wishing to join the armed forces. In any case the results of an enquiry into only this section of the population might lead to erroneous conclusions about the whole. As to what remedies might be introduced the brief answer was ‘to diminish poverty’. Despite the various provisos the College did conclude however that an enquiry into the physical condition of the whole nation ‘would be of great value’.71 The Royal College of Surgeons sounded a similar note of caution. They were ‘doubtful whether trustworthy results would be obtained by instituting a special enquiry with respect to the class from which most of the recruits are obtained’. Nonetheless, they did recommend that ‘stricter attention’ be paid ‘to the health, feeding and training of school children.’72  Thus, both Colleges were at pains to set the problem in a much wider context than the reference to them seemed to have envisaged; and, again, emphasis was placed upon the need to take steps to promote the health of children if progress were to be made.

Thus, although the impetus for an enquiry into physical deterioration came from concerns about recruitment to the army and that, in its turn, grew from anxiety that Britain was in danger of losing her leading position as an imperial world power, the repercussions were such that the issue came to be seen much more broadly.  In that process the health and welfare of mothers and children became more prominent.  Indeed, of the 53 recommendations made by the committee 34 were addressed to issues concerning women and children directly (64%) whilst many others were aimed at improvements in the surroundings in which they were obliged to live; notably, overcrowding and poor housing.73  It is not difficult to see why, in framing and introducing the 1908 Children Bill, Herbert Samuel should have acknowledged his debt to the work of the Physical Deterioration Committee. Fitzroy, its chairman, made this clear in his memoirs, writing that in working with Samuel on the Poisons Bill in October 1907 he had taken the opportunity of congratulating him on his conduct of the Children Bill that, he continued, was
a very thorough attempt to give effect to most of recommendations of my Committee on the juvenile aspects of Physical Deterioration.  Samuel was very outspoken in admitting the obligations under which he lay to the Report of the Committee, for he declared it had been his constant reference and support throughout the proceedings in the House of Commons.74

So, what were the features of the committee’s report upon which Samuel drew when framing his Bill and later in steering it through the Commons? Indeed, what influence did the publication of the report have in deciding him that fresh legislation on children needed to be formulated?  In his Memoirs (as we have seen) he gave precedence to Mrs Inglis’ intervention, contending that it was only after her visit that he looked into the matter.75 This may well have been the case for two reasons. First, it may not have been immediately apparent to a newly-appointed Under-Secretary how many issues touching upon child welfare there were with which the Home Office was, or could be, concerned. Other departments of central government were also much involved, most notably the Local Government Board (LGB) and the Board of Education (BE).  Furthermore, and this is the second point, Samuel was already involved with several other major pieces of social legislation; for example, the Workmen’s Compensation for Accidents Bill and the Prevention of Crime Bill.

Mrs Inglis may have done no more, therefore, than alert Samuel to another priority (with which he was predisposed to be sympathetic) in the first flush of his reforming enthusiasm. It may then have been that the significance of the report of the committee on physical deterioration (as well as the others) became apparent to him. It was not so much that he foresaw including many of its recommendations in a Children Bill but that he recognised its value in providing the kind of supporting evidence upon which he could call in the parliamentary arena. Indeed, several of the committee’s recommendations concerned with the education and health of children had already found their way into legislation, albeit in a permissive form. No doubt others that also affected the welfare of children were omitted from the Bill because of their controversial nature or because they would have been regarded as trespassing upon the responsibilities of other central departments.

However, the more general influence upon Samuel of the report of the committee on physical deterioration, and indeed upon politicians of all parties, was to show, in no uncertain terms, the gravity of the poor health of the nation and its potentially damaging effects on the country’s imperial and economic fortunes. And, as The Times expressed it during the progress of the Bill through Parliament, and as many others had also concluded, ‘the Hope is in Children’;76 that is, if national decline were to be halted and reversed much greater attention had to be paid to improving the well-being of the next and future generations.  In that sense, the report synthesised a variety of anxieties, that had been growing for a number of years, in a way that brought the children’s ‘issue’ into greater political prominence.  It is noteworthy, for example, that the scouting movement was launched by Baden-Powell in 1907, with an emphasis on the moral and physical regeneration of boys that would serve, in its turn, to strengthen the British Empire. He too was a former senior army officer who had served in the South Africa war and was, presumably, acquainted with the problems of recruitment and with the poor physique of the troops in the field.


The deliberations and consultations that take place within government departments and between them and with outside interests before a bill is published often go unnoticed or unexplored. Yet that is when the shaping of bills, and therefore the subsequent legislation, occurs. The 1908 Children Bill was no exception and, as in the case of many others, the manner in which the pros and cons of this or that proposal were debated reveal not only the nature of that part of the contemporary political process but also something of the climate of the time and of the issues that had gained a particular prominence. Let us look, therefore, at what can be discovered about how the framing of the 1908 Bill evolved, especially in the Home Office under the general direction of its Under-Secretary of State, Herbert Samuel.

The issues with which the 1908 Act dealt, as well as some of those that were eventually excluded, had been raised and debated for many years. One example will serve by way of illustration; namely, the question of the imprisonment of children on remand where the subsequent disposal was likely to be their committal to an industrial school or, indeed, to a reformatory.  During the summer of 1895 several letters on the subject had appeared in The Times 77 prompting consideration of the matter in the Home Office, not least because one came from W. J. Stewart the Stipendiary Magistrate for Liverpool.  In it he explained that he very rarely sent a child who was remanded for enquiries (or pending finding a place at an industrial school or reformatory) to prison. Instead, they were sent to a poor law institution or a ‘proper person’ was bound over to bring the child before the bench at the expiry of the remand. ‘It has never been, and can never be,’ Stewart maintained, ‘expedient to commit any child, except in … isolated instances … to a gaol for any purpose whatsoever’. In fact, there had already been a circular letter issued by the Home Office in 1889 in which the ‘undesirability of allowing children who have been committed for trial … to remain in prison during the time which elapses before their trial’. Furthermore, the circular had continued, in almost all cases children under 14 should ‘be allowed out on bail.’78 Another circular to clerks to justices was issued the year after that, although it dealt only with boys who were potential candidates for a reformatory.  This advised that if a remand were necessary in order to gather further information boys should be sent to a poor law institution and not to prison.79

However, these practices, or that of the Liverpool stipendiary, were not being generally followed. Indeed, another letter to The Times in 1895 had painted a quite different picture. William Wheatley, the superintendent of the St Giles’ Mission in London, described the scene when a boy aged 11 years was taken away from a London prison to an industrial school with two other slightly older boys: ‘The whole of the three boys were handcuffed and chained together in exactly the same way as men are who have been found guilty of the gravest offences. Surely’, this correspondent maintained, ‘it is time that such an unwise and shortsighted method of procedure should be discontinued …’.  After all, children could be sent directly to an industrial school but, as others had pointed out, the problem was that most of these schools were in private hands and could pick and choose who they would admit and when. It was not always possible to secure a place when it was needed – it took time. The Home Office asked the Prison Commissioners to comment on this letter and to set out the facts, but there is no record of a reply. Nonetheless, a note on the situation was prepared by one of the principal clerks at the Home Office (H.B. Simpson) reviewing the legal provisions and suggesting that ‘it would be well to get some figures to give an idea of how many [children] are sent there [to prison] now and how far such a course is in practice avoided by the use of the Refy and Ind. Schools Acts.’80

There were, indeed, other matters which were to be included in the Children Bill that had also already been much debated, both officially and more widely. One other might be noted briefly as a further example. This was the longstanding concern about vagrant children and vagrant parents. Indeed, as the Webbs had pointed out, ‘… in 1904 the numbers [of vagrants] passed all previous records, and so unsatisfactory had proved the [Poor Law] policy of 1871-1904 that a Departmental Committee was appointed to find one.’  Although concerned with vagrancy in general the report explained that one of the most important questions referred to them was that of vagrant children because, as it pointed out, it had ‘largely occupied public attention during recent years.’81 What should be noted, however, was that this was a Local Government Board committee, not one appointed by the Home Office.

Another matter that, as we have seen, had already captured official attention before the possibility of a Children Bill was mooted was the deleterious effect of smoking on children’s health and development. Samuel himself had appointed a committee to establish, ‘once and for all’, the undisputed facts in order to be well armed if and when the question came before Parliament.82  Furthermore, of course, both the Scottish committee on physical education and the committee on physical deterioration had received and recorded powerful evidence of the ill-effects of smoking on children (although, throughout only boys were ever mentioned) and had urged that preventive measures should be taken.

However, as these last two examples of pre-existing issues show, it was by no means clear which government department should take the initiative for dealing with them. There was still no Ministry of Health (established in 1919). Most responsibilities in this field fell to the Local Government Board, as did those associated with the well-being of children who were in the care of local boards of guardians. There was a central Board of Education that, for example, was concerned with the schooling (or the lack of it) of ‘vagrant children’ and which, from 1906, oversaw the provision of school meals and, a year later, the emergent school medical service. In these circumstances the prospect of a Children Bill that addressed a wide range of the acknowledged problems being brought to Parliament by the Home Office was diminished by the existence of these different departmental jurisdictions, something that had to be dealt with cautiously, despite the fact that the Home Office was traditionally regarded as the ‘residual legatee’; that is, crudely put, the department to which anything that did not fit comfortably into another jurisdiction was delegated. 83


The first move in the Home Office to address the framing of a children’s bill seems to have occurred in the summer of 1907 when H. B. Simpson (one of four principal clerks) drew up ‘notes on the subject of the proposed Bill’ which, amongst a number of suggestions, included his opinion ‘that the only way of dealing with the difficult problem of juvenile delinquency is to recognise frankly that a child criminal is no criminal in the eyes of the law – to exempt them altogether from criminal responsibility and deal with them by a separate procedure …’84

These notes were circulated within the department for comment. Samuel’s response was to write that they illustrated ‘the difficulty of dealing in one Bill with as wide a subject as children.’85  M. Delevinge, another principal clerk, argued against including anything about the employment of children.86  A third principal clerk, W. P. Byrne, considered that
Regarded as a ‘Children’s Charter’ the Bill will be very defective if it is necessary to omit the statutory law as to the guardianship of children and their adoption by Poor Law authorities … I see no great inconvenience likely to arise from digging out from existing statutes, and transplanting such parts as the provisions as to employment, the sale of liquor to children, the adoption of children  (Poor Law Act 1899) and so forth.87

He went on to propose that  ‘a sketch’ of the Bill should be prepared for purposes of consultation and later printed. First, however, some idea of what such a draft might look like was required. That job was given to G. A. Aitkin, a senior clerk (the next rank down from the principal clerks).

Armed with his colleagues’ comments he set out a proposal in a five-page document that was then circulated to those involved.  Samuel’s more senior colleague, the other Under-Secretary of State M. D. Chalmers, suggested that inasmuch as they affected children the provisions of the Factory and Mines Acts should be excluded as well as those in the Licensing Acts, in any Poor Law Acts and in all Education Acts except those that dealt with industrial schools.  He also considered that legislation dealing with the employment of children should be omitted, adding that the proposals of the Committee on Juvenile Smoking were of doubtful value and that the question would probably have to be dealt with ‘on other lines’.88  Samuel agreed with these views, but stressed that it was only intended that those under 16 should be subject to prohibitions on smoking.89

Such extracts from the internal memoranda give a taste of the way in which the Children Bill began to take shape within the Home Office, much influenced, it would appear, by tactical considerations. This, indeed, was the burden of Aitken’s initial note where he had written:
No doubt the chance of getting the Bill regarded as non-controversial will depend on whether or not it can be stated that it merely consolidates the law, with certain minor amendments … but makes no radical changes. If new and contentious matter is introduced it is to be feared that the measure will be overwhelmed with amendments.

This cautious approach exemplified the attitudes towards change that were to be found amongst the senior civil servants in the Home Office.  It was not that they did not hold views about what should be done but that, as Pellew has put it in her history of the Home Office, they ‘usually reacted to stimuli from their political masters rather than stimulate those masters with their own ideas …’ They ‘struggled to try to work out acceptable and working compromises on individual clauses of … Bills; but the government accepted the need for legislative changes as the result of outside pressures.’90  However, these officials were, she continued, ‘a positive force for furthering change when this was apparently desirable and was promoted by their political chiefs; and they were open-minded and flexible when it came to working out solutions to problems which involved reconciling a wide spectrum of interests.’ 91  Indeed, Herbert Samuel was full of praise for the ability and dedication of the civil servants who were engaged in the preparation of the Children Bill.92 Pellew characterised these qualities rather neatly. ‘Theirs was’, she wrote,
a particular kind of  impartial ability, bred by an English classical education, which made them highly effective in analysing alternatives, at distinguishing points of value from irrelevances, at ascertaining the best way of carrying out a policy, but which excluded zeal for a cause or idea. 93

If one accepts this view, which seems to be borne out in the available archives, then the reasons for Herbert Samuel’s dominant role in initiating the steps that led to the 1908 Act becomes that much clearer; but it also explains the emphasis that was placed on consultation and therefore on canvassing the views of interested parties by circulating a preliminary draft of the Bill. In all, this generated 230 ‘representations’ (although many are now missing from the public record).

Some representations had to be taken more seriously than others; for example those received from the Scottish Office and the Irish government concerning the application of any new law to their jurisdictions and that from the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police. The latter, Sir E. R. Henry, indicated that he was substantially in agreement with the sentiment of the draft with respect to the reform of the law regarding the treatment of juvenile offenders but that more remand Homes would be necessary, especially in London.94  Likewise, the Home Office took care to obtain the views of other government departments. The Local Government Board, for example, was concerned about the possible inclusion of clauses to deal with the circumstances of canal boat children and with the problem of vagrant children, a subject with which it had tried to grapple for years. 95   However, many of the submissions from local governments and their organisations focussed upon financial matters: what funds would be made available to them from central government to meet the costs of any new responsibilities that might be placed upon them? But there were other matters as well. The London County Council, for example, gave its views in a printed report from a special sub-committee that had been convened to consider the draft Bill. Considerable attention was paid to the powers of managers of industrial schools and reformatories. They should have, it was contended, the rights and powers of parents invested in them until their charges attained the age of 21 rather than 18; parents should have no absolute right to visit and their consent to their children’s apprenticeship or emigration should no longer be required. Detailed drafts of clauses concerning these and other matters were provided. 96

As will have been apparent from the details of the Act that eventually emerged some of these views were accepted but others were not. That may seem surprising, but it has to be borne in mind that the very act of consultation may serve to moderate dissatisfaction with what is eventually done or not done. Nonetheless, the preoccupation of Herbert Samuel and his civil servants with the successful passage of the Bill through Parliament meant that telling evidence about what had to be put right, and why, needed to be on hand when it came to the debates; and although some of this was available from official and semi-official sources much was in the possession of the pressure groups with links to the ‘practitioners’.  It was probably for this reason that the submissions from two such groups in particular seem to have been accorded the closest attention in the Home Office. Indeed, in his autobiography and in his presentation in the Commons Samuel acknowledged their important influence. One was the State Children Association (SCA) and the other the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC).

The State Children Association (at first called the State Children Aid Association) was formed in November 1896 ‘to obtain individual treatment for children under the Guardianship of the State’ and owed its inauguration largely to the efforts of its honorary secretary, Henrietta Barnett, the wife of Canon Samuel Barnett (mostly remembered for their involvement with the Toynbee Hall settlement in London and her considerable influence on the creation of the Hampstead Garden Suburb).  She had been a member of the 1894 departmental committee on the condition of Poor Law schools in the Metropolis (the first woman to sit on such a committee) and, according to her husband, the fact that its report was unanimous was attributable to her efforts: ‘She has done most of the work, thought out the recommendations, executed the form, and then, more than all, by a mixture of tact and temper, has made the men sign’.97  Writing in her biography of her husband in 1918 Mrs Barnett recorded that Lord Peel was the first chairman of the SCA, Lord Herschell its second, followed by Lords Grey, Crewe, Burghclere and Lytton.98 These were significant figures, three of whom, as we have seen, took an active part in the House of Lords debates on the Bill. Indeed, the SCA had a strong parliamentary committee that had, for example, ‘annually engineered debates in the “House”, when the Local Government Board estimates are taken.’ Its first report had also explained that 17 pamphlets and leaflets had been prepared already, 21 public meetings held, a Bill drafted and that 13 of the recommendations of the committee on which Henrietta Barnett had served had been adopted. The Association’s work went from strength to strength, gradually attracting to its membership certain boards of guardians as well as notable political, religious and medical personalities. Here, for example, is an extract from a letter written by Canon Barnett in December 1896, soon after the Association was founded: ‘Her [his wife’s] Association grows, she has Archbishops, Bishops, Nonconformists and M.P.s.’ Another, written in May, 1901 records that his wife ‘met her Parliament men in the House of Commons’ and two years later, he wrote that she ‘had a very good meeting of eleven M.P.s in the House, who planned all sorts of attacks and measures for State children.’ 99  Although particularly concerned with improving the residential care of children, with their education and with the encouragement of boarding out, the SCA gradually widened its brief for children and it was in this capacity and as a significant lobby group that it responded to the measures proposed in the draft Children Bill.

One of the issues with which it dealt in its submission to Samuel was the quite inadequate protection being provided for infants placed out privately ‘to nurse’. Steps to safeguard the welfare, and indeed the lives, of babies placed with the so-called ‘baby farmers’ dated from the Infant Life Protection legislation of 1872.  However, the Act was, as Rose has explained, ‘a heavily diluted measure and represented the lowest common denominator its sponsors knew to be acceptable to the House’.100  As a result there were many loopholes: for example, only infants under one year of age were covered; registration was required only in the case of those who took more than one child and, in any case, the provisions for inspection offered little real protection against the many abuses that were known to occur. It followed therefore that ‘so long as a nurse had only one infant under 12 months, she could cram in as many more as she saw fit above that age without having to register; and she could allow a rapid succession of lone infants to die off without having to register’.101  Despite a catalogue of scandals surrounding child deaths during the years after 1872 nothing was done to strengthen the Act for 25 years. The execution of a number of baby farmers who had murdered their charges seemed to defuse what should have been a clamour for reform. It was not until 1897 that amending legislation was introduced, principally to raise the upper age for ‘notification’ to five instead of 12 months; but minders who took only one child were still exempt from any scrutiny. Although local authorities could appoint inspectors they were not obliged to do so.

The unsatisfactory nature of the rudimentary protection offered was exposed yet again in several reports of select and standing committees on the subject between 1890 and 1897102 but without progress being made except in a few areas (like London) by particularly committed and energetic local authorities.103  One of the questions that held up progress was whether those who took in only one infant should be subject to registration and inspection. The objection was that such a move would deter neighbourly women from looking after children of other hard-pressed women, especially working mothers with large families. It would, so it was argued, interfere with valuable local ‘community’ arrangements and would impose yet one further measure of state regulation where it was both unnecessary and counterproductive. As Samuel had pointed out in the committee stage of the Bill there had been a sharp division amongst those interested in the question of infant life protection. On the one hand there were the advocates of the inspection of one-child foster homes and, on the other, the objectors.104  Despite the former having ‘steadily gained ground’ Samuel had felt it necessary to appoint a select committee beforehand to consider the matter and make recommendations105 and, as he explained in the second reading debate, he had taken particular care before they were appointed to ‘see that no member nominated had pre-conceived opinions on the question.’ Nevertheless, the committee came to the unanimous conclusion (despite certain contrary views expressed by some witnesses) that those who undertook the care of one child, whether for a lump sum or a regular payment, should be made subject to the Act, being much influenced by examples of the suffering that many children endured. The committee also recommended that the upper age for registration should be seven rather than five.106

It is perhaps difficult now to see why this aspect of infant life protection was considered to be so sensitive, but it seems to have aroused two anxieties in particular: misgivings about the intrusion of the state into private and informal arrangements and concern that any such move would reduce the willingness of women to undertake such care and, if so, that that would affect the ability of mothers, especially those who were unmarried, to seek and to retain employment. One further explanation for the opposition to the inclusion of one-child carers in protective measures was noted by Miss Waldron Evans, the Local Government Board’s inspector of boarded-out children for the north and midlands regions. In a letter to the State Children Association that was then forwarded to the Home Office with their views about the draft Bill, she pointed out that it was
not only the children of poor parents[who] want protecting, but there are a number of illegitimate children of well-to-do parents who require inspection also … a good deal of opposition to the Act being amended arises from a class of people who have every reason to dread any knowledge of these children coming to light. 107

Indeed, the relationship between the problems associated with the failure to protect single infants looked after for reward and illegitimacy was clearly apparent.  For example, the West Derby (Liverpool) ILP inspector’s report for 1906-7 showed that 93% of the children ‘under inspection’ were illegitimate. Of course, none of these were one-child arrangements, although it is clear from the various reports that the bulk of the children needing protection fell outside any inspection because there were no other infants in the so-called foster or adoptive homes. Isabel Foard, an ‘honorary’ inspector from Southport, described the situation in another letter that the SCA sent on to the Home Office. ‘There is’, she wrote, ‘wholesale murder going on in this country on account of the law deciding the one nurse child need not be inspected’ and gave an example of what was happening:
The percentage of single nurse cases in the district of Southport and Birkdale, is I should say very large. A favourite mode of feeding these children is giving them flour and water, which looks like milk and they soon die, of what is called “marasmus” which is the usual form of certificate. As a rule the Baby Farmer receives a good percentage of the insurance money.  I have known a case of a single nurse child which was left in a perambulator in the back yard, the whole day, whilst the woman went out to work, and was left there without food to cry as it might.108

Another example from a report from the West Derby Union District illustrated one more aspect of the problem:
Some nurses (medical) keeping maternity homes report to the Inspector cases of infants placed out to nurse. [But] Maternity homes are also kept by women who hold no recognised diploma. These untrained, or unregistered nurses usually evade the I.L.P. Act by placing infants out to nurse singly.109

Of course, we do not know how representative such examples were, but the reports on the subject of infant life protection that the State Children Association had collected and sent to the Home Office would have been difficult to ignore, coming as they did from women with first-hand experience, many of whom had taken on the task of inspection on a voluntary basis. Furthermore, they undoubtedly strengthened Herbert Samuel’s resolve to defend his view that one-child minding should be brought under state regulation and inspection.

Although a large part of the SCA’s memorandum (which was sent directly to Herbert Samuel) dealt with infant life protection it also included views on other issues as well; for example, the treatment of children of vagrant parents. In this it was opposed to the recommendation of the LCC that such children should be sent to industrial schools, arguing that ‘a home and not an institution is the right place in which to rear children, more especially those whose inheritance and early suffering make the kindly influence and gentle restraint of home life a necessary factor in their reclamation.’ Boarding out or emigration, it was maintained, were the means of achieving this, particularly in the case of younger children.110

It is clear that the SCA’s detailed response to certain sections of the draft Bill were taken seriously in the Home Office, not least because of the organisation’s lobbying reputation but also because of the standing of many of its supporters, amongst whom, as we have seen, were numbered Lord Crewe who, at the time, was Lord Privy Seal and Secretary of State for the Colonies and, on the Opposition benches, Lord Lytton. In short, the SCA was sophisticated, well informed and well connected, always a powerful combination of attributes for the exercise of political influence.

The other organisation to which Samuel paid tribute for its helpful contribution to the framing of the Children Bill and for the part that it had played in drafting the unsuccessful private members’ bill the year before relating to the provision of fire guards and the deaths of children through over-laying, was the NSPCC. 111  Its director, Robert Parr, sent a memorandum to Herbert Samuel at the end of September 1907 in which he began by applauding the proposals in the draft Bill but then set out the Society’s suggestions for strengthening its provisions in ten respects. These were: (i) that local education authorities be no longer given the option of not taking proceedings to secure an order for committal to an industrial school when application was made to them; (ii) that anyone who brought a child found ‘wandering’ before the justices be safeguarded from then being held to be liable for their maintenance were they to be committed to an industrial school; (iii) that the terms of the private members’ Bill on deaths from burning and over-laying that failed to receive a second reading in 1906 now be included in the comprehensive Bill; (iv) that there should be government inspection of all independent institutions and orphanages; (v) that the provisions of the Infant Life Protection legislation should be strengthened, particularly by the inclusion of cases where only one child was kept; (vi) that there should be certain amendments to the Acts dealing with canal boat children; (vii) that the age at which boys could be whipped as a judicial punishment be raised from 14 to 16; (viii) that justices should be encouraged to enforce the legislation prohibiting the use of children for the purpose of begging; (ix) that there should be a single body responsible for taking action to safeguard the welfare of children of tramps (rather than it being split between education and the poor law guardians), and, (x) that juvenile courts (with children’s magistrates) should be established.

All these items were supported by additional papers giving examples of the problems to which these ten recommendations were addressed. These were all drawn from the Society’s experience, except the last. This was elaborated by Clarke Hall, the author of the still celebrated The Law Relating to Children.112

The material from the NSPPC was referred to Simpson, another of the principal clerks, for comment. Amongst other things he thought that birching for boys should be extended to non-indictable offences  (such as breaking windows or robbing orchards) and the fact that the NSPPC was not averse to this form of punishment would, he considered, ‘be sufficient answer to any allegation of cruelty …’. 113  Doubtless having in mind the likely reaction  of the Local Government Board  Simpson also cautioned against curtailing the discretion of poor law guardians with respect to their power to assume parental rights without recourse to a court.114

Thus, although not all of the NSPCC’s suggestions115 were accepted it, like the State Children’s Association, provided the Home Office with valuable case material and well argued grounds for reform. The proposals that were rejected were often those that would have raised difficult issues with other government departments. Nonetheless, it should be borne in mind that the Society, especially under Robert Parr’s direction, had established a good relationship with the Home Office and that there appeared to be mutual respect and trust.116 Constructive exchanges in the past had created confidence in the Home Office that the Society’s views were likely to be both well-founded and helpful.


Several different conclusions might be drawn from this account of why and how the 1908 Children Act reached the statute book when it did. However, there are also interesting comparisons to be made with subsequent legislation that dealt with vulnerable children, in particular the 1948 Children Act. Let us consider the conclusions first and then the comparison.

We began by asking whether the 1908 Act was as significant a piece of legislation as was maintained at the time and by some commentators since. Certainly, much of it was a consolidation of existing provisions and some of its requirements, such as the establishment of children’s courts, had already been met in some cities in Britain and, more generally, in other countries such as Canada and the USA.117  In this respect it might be contended that Britain was doing little more than what should have been done well before and that, in any case, an opportunity was missed for bringing in a comprehensive piece of legislation to improve the well-being of children; for example, by incorporating provisions that dealt with children looked after by the poor law; by including further control over the conditions of juvenile employment; by instituting a firmer regulation of the work of voluntary children’s organisations and freelancing individuals; by improving the care and support offered to unmarried mothers, and so the list might have been continued. Furthermore, of course, no consideration was given to providing systematic financial support to families outside the existing poor law, although parallel legislation did make it possible for poor children to receive meals at school. Yet first steps were being taken to provide old age pensions (also in 1908) and, soon after, to introduce a rudimentary scheme of national insurance (1911).

In all these respects the 1908 Children Act might well be judged a disappointing, unduly cautious and largely overdue measure; but that would be to remove it from the political and social context of the time. As has already been suggested, its significance lay not so much in its detail but in its symbolism; namely, in an acknowledgement that the State had a wider responsibility for child welfare than it had been customary for it to assume and that this responsibility could not be adequately discharged by granting discretionary powers to local authorities or relying on voluntary action. Moreover, the Act was a recognition that the status of childhood was to be distinguished from that of adulthood, although the question of the age at which that transition was made remained (and remains) a moot point. That said, however, certain details of the Act were notable at the time and still are.

Given today’s concerns about the dangers of smoking it is of more than passing interest to see that these dangers  – at least in the case of children – had been clearly recognised within the medical profession, and to some extent by others as well, a hundred years ago. Even so, it is doubtful whether the prohibitions introduced by the 1908 Act had much effect, given the widespread extent of the habit and the generally tolerant view towards youngsters smoking – whether in the public schools or in the streets of poverty-stricken areas. Nevertheless, the restrictions that were placed upon the sale of tobacco goods to children were a start:  the problem, as now, was one of enforcement. That notwithstanding, it is a sobering thought that so little progress has been made over a hundred years and that, in the case of girls at least, matters have deteriorated.

Two of today’s anxieties are, of course, concerned with juvenile drug taking and the consumption of alcohol. In 1908 the first of these was not an issue although the second was, but not in the same way, or to the same extent, as now. Certainly, the Act prohibited children from being on licensed premises during opening hours; but this was not so much because they would be drinking but because they would come to see pubs as places in which to spend their leisure or because they were liable to be exposed to corrupting adult behaviour. One unforeseen result of this prohibition was that children then sat or stood outside pubs for long periods whilst their parents indulged within. The other aspect of the effect of drinking on child welfare with which the Act was concerned was the danger of overlaying by drunken parents – although no other circumstance in which parental drunkenness specifically endangered children was included in the provisions. In some ways the question of death by overlaying bears a similarity to current anxieties about cot deaths.118 In both cases the culpability of parents has been difficult to determine – in the first case whether the death was an accident that sprang from conditions of poverty and in the second whether it was caused by a pre-existing medical condition, by neglect, or by deliberate criminality.

The 1908 Act also illustrated the mixture of attitudes towards the question of punishment. Certainly, it marked a significant shift in the way young offenders could be treated by the courts, although it should be remembered that there was a fairly general consensus that whipping (that is, caning) was an appropriate way of dealing swiftly, simply and cheaply with minor juvenile offences. Although the debate surrounding the place of punishment has moved on it continues to be heard. Just what should its justification and purpose be in dealing with recalcitrant children or, indeed, with recalcitrant parents? Is it intended to be reformative, and therefore preventive and, if so, is it effective?

Arguments about the value of punishment certainly found their way into the deliberations preceding the Bill, and the Act itself contained measures that reflected the assumption that it did dissuade children from further delinquencies; but a similar assumption was made with respect to the behaviour of parents. A considerable number of new penalties, principally fines, could now be imposed upon parents. The intention, it was claimed, was to make them more responsible in the care and control of their children. Of course, when it came to the more severe offences committed by parents against their children (such as cruelty or gross neglect) prison sentences continued to be available and in these cases there was generally no assumption that it would have a reformative and therefore preventive effect.

What all this reflects is that some issues of the day elicit political responses whilst others (perhaps unperceived or deliberately ignored) are disregarded, even when a problem is acknowledged. However, the likelihood that some action would be taken with regard to the ‘condition of children’ in the early part of the twentieth century was increased by the election of a Liberal administration in January 1906 with a large majority and able to rely upon the support of the 29 Labour members on many issues and of the Irish Nationalists in certain other circumstances. This gave the ‘coalition’ 356 seats as against the 157 Unionists (Conservatives). Nonetheless, the question of children’s welfare had to compete for ministerial and parliamentary time with a plethora of other initiatives that such a majority made politically possible. At the Board of Education the permanent secretary, Robert Morant, was an enthusiastic reformer, as was Sir George Newman the Board’s Chief Medical Officer; but it was not obvious that the Home Office would be equally keen to embark upon legislation in the children’s field. Indeed, at first Samuel was preoccupied with other matters and Herbert Gladstone, his Secretary of State, had not turned his attention in that direction either. However, as Wasserstein points out in his biography of Samuel not only was Gladstone content to allow him considerable freedom but Samuel ‘probably came closer to any other minister in having formulated a comprehensive legislative programme for social reform with an intellectual basis in Liberal doctrine.’ Wasserstein also considers that Samuel’s book, Liberalism – Principles and Proposals (published in 1902) ‘foreshadowed many of the 34 Acts  … that Gladstone and … [he] jointly shepherded through the House of Commons between 1905 and 1909′ and that, for Samuel, ‘these were not isolated pieces of legislation but building blocks of a larger whole based on the conception of the State as an organic community.’ Yet, of all the legislation for which Samuel was responsible his biographer concluded that it was the Children Bill  that ‘received his special attention …’ 119  Indeed, his other biographer, John Bowle, maintained that Samuel was so absorbed by it that he refused promotion that would have taken him to a different department.120  Even so, what emerges from such a commitment is never entirely predictable, but a comparison between the histories of the 1908 Children Act and that of 1948 may help to discern certain regularities.

War was, in both cases, a propelling factor, albeit for different reasons. The problems arising from the division of central departmental responsibilities also did much to shape what eventually emerged in both cases, although in 1908 conflict was avoided because Samuel decided to do nothing that seriously challenged the domains of other ministries. By contrast, the period leading up to the 1948 Act bristled with acrimonious and lengthy negotiations, particularly between the Home Office and the Ministry of Health, but later involving the Ministry of Education as well.121 At neither time, however, was it at all likely that legislation which embraced all aspects of child welfare and juvenile justice would be introduced.122 Each enactment was limited to certain spheres, albeit that they were somewhat different.

On both occasions the debates that surrounded the case for the introduction of new legislation deployed evidence that had been assembled by committees of enquiry: the ones that we have discussed already in connection with the 1908 Act and in the case of its successor in 1948 the Curtis and Clyde (Scotland) committees that reported in 1946.123  However, the ones upon which Samuel drew were not directly concerned with child welfare in the narrow sense whereas those that informed the 1948 Act were. In the latter case the two committees made detailed recommendations about reforms in children’s services, most of which were accepted (although both had been instructed that they should not make any proposals about which arm of central government should exercise overall responsibility). Despite their different emphases however the reports of the committees of inquiry that preceded the two Acts provided the government of the day with additional justification for what was intended. Of course, reports of committees of inquiry can be ignored when what they have to say runs counter to what governments do or do not wish to do; but in the case of these two Children Acts they helped to advance the political processes.

One interesting similarity between the measures of 1908 and 1948 was the importance that has come to be accorded to interventions made personally or orchestrated by women: in 1908 Mrs Inglis from Scotland and Harriet Barnett (together with other members of the State Children’s Association) and, in 1948, Lady Allen of Hurtwood as well as a considerable number of like-minded and equally determined women, many of whom were members of the Women’s Group on Public Welfare or the National Council for Maternity and Child Welfare.124 The considerable contribution that women have made in the political arena of child welfare, whether as lobbyists, elected members or officials, should certainly be recognised; but there remain intriguing questions about how and when they have been  able to do so.

However, what of the parts played by the politicians and their civil servants? In 1908 it is undoubtedly true that Herbert Samuel, as Under-Secretary of State at the Home Office, took a leading role but, perhaps because of that, no more senior political figure seems to have been closely involved except, perhaps, the Lord Advocate of Scotland. Nor is there any evidence that the issues at stake in bringing forward the Bill were considered by a cabinet committee, although, of course, the Bill obtained cabinet approval. This was unlike 1948 when, despite much of the inter-departmental negotiation being conducted by the most senior civil servants, the respective ministers were involved and regularly consulted. Furthermore, because of the intense departmental rivalry and the complexity of co-ordinating the children legislation with other moves to dismantle the poor law and lay the foundations of the post-war welfare state, questions about the future shape of services for homeless and vulnerable children were referred to a cabinet committee and eventually required the mediating involvement of both the Ministry of Reconstruction and the Machinery of Government Committee.125 No such prolonged and complicated disputes hindered the progress of the 1908 Bill. It is noteworthy, of course, that both measures (as with so much of the legislation aimed at ensuring the well-being of children at risk) secured cross-party support, partly reflecting the conviction that there was a favourable tide of public opinion. One other feature that the two Acts had in common was that they were regarded by their instigators as part of a programme of social reform rather than as isolated developments. Indeed, both Bills were introduced in an extremely busy period of parliamentary activity, indicating that they were considered to be important enough to be included. As it was, however, the 1908 Bill was delayed in the early stages because the parliamentary draughtsman was already fully occupied in the preparation of other legislation.126

Given the predisposing factors in accounting for each of these reforms how far, one might ask, were they ‘inevitable’? Had Conservative governments been in power at the time would they too have brought forward similar legislation? It is, of course, impossible to say, except that it seems likely that some kind of reform would have been introduced, albeit that the details, scope or timing would have been different. ‘Events’ had, in each case, built to a point where some form of political response was demanded.

How much more radical however might the two pieces of legislation have been had the political calculus been different? In 1908, for example, the responsibilities of the Poor Law for dependent children might have been included in the consolidation that occurred; but that would probably have necessitated reforms in the Poor Law system that were only sluggishly introduced following the recommendations of the Royal Commission on the Poor Laws that reported in 1909.127  In 1948 several additions to the Act might have been expected. The provisions of the 1933 Children and Young Persons Act that dealt with juvenile offending went almost wholly untouched. Likewise, the power given to local authorities in 1889 (the Poor Law Amendment Act) to assume parental rights by administrative fiat rather than by having to go through the courts was (again) allowed to stand and, indeed, to continue until it was abolished by the Children Act of 1989. The answer to the question of why such matters were not included is almost certainly to be found in the perceived political constraints of the time – only so much was thought to be possible without overstepping the bounds of political and practical feasibility as calculated by those responsible for framing the measures.128

How far, one might ask, are the factors that shaped the two Acts that we have been comparing to be found in the explanations of why and how subsequent children’s legislation reached the statute book? For example, will accounts of the progress to the notable 1989 Act show any similarities to the earlier measures? Or had other factors come into play by then that changed the political scene?  Certainly, there were new influences: the growth of professional social work; the considerably greater availability of relevant research; a more closely informed civil service; many more pressure groups, and the series of public enquiries into child deaths. Other suggestions could be added.129

Our opening question was whether or not the 1908 ‘Children’s Charter’ represented a landmark in the history of British child welfare. It was certainly considered to be so at the time and, perhaps with hindsight, that is the conclusion that might be reached today. Yet the key question is whether or not it did much to improve the lives of vulnerable children. Henceforth, the young offender was treated in a more humane fashion, although there remained local variations; infants placed out privately were better protected and considerable success was achieved in eradicating the scourge of baby-farming; a start was made on tackling the problem of child smoking; modest improvements were made in the reformatory and industrial school system, and the dangers of children being suffocated in their parents’ bed or burnt by open fires in the home were addressed for the first time. Nevertheless, the importance of the 1908 Act was to be found not in the detail of these provisions but, as we have said, in its political significance. It stood as a statement, albeit incomplete, that henceforth the State accepted a clear responsibility for securing the safety and well-being of vulnerable children.

1 See Hay, J. R. (1975) The Origins of the Liberal Welfare Reforms: 1906 – 1914, London: Macmillan.

2 See, for example, the letter to The Times from the London magistrate Dr Henry Willson, 3.1.05.

3 In a few places, such as Birmingham, separate courts had already been established, as they had in a number of states in the US since 1863 and in Canada since 1884.

4 See Samuel, H. (1945), Memoirs, London: Cresset.  ‘At a late stage I changed the title dropping the “s”, as more seemly for the statute-book, and it passed into law as The Children Act 1908′ (p.56).

5 For biographies see Bowle, J. (1957), Viscount Samuel: A Biography, London: Gollancz; also Wasserstein, B. (1992), Herbert Samuel: A Political Life, Oxford: Clarendon.

6 See, for example, OR (Commons), Children Bill, 2 R, 24.3.08, col. 1291.

7 Ibid. cols 1289-90 where Samuel explained ‘that the general measure of agreement between the two sides of the House has only been arrived at by our rigid exclusion of any subject … on which there is any considerable division of opinion in this House’.

8 Samuel, op. cit. Shaw had already worked with Samuel in framing the Bill ‘with much energy’ (p.55).

9 There were a few variations in the Bill however for Scotland and Ireland.

10 As note 7, col. 1252.

11 Report of the Royal Commission on Physical Education (Scotland), (1903), vol.I ‘Report’, cd 1507 and vol.II ‘Evidence’, cd 1508.

12 Report of the Inter-Departmental Committee on Physical Deterioration, (1904). vol. I ‘Report’, cd 2175; vol.II Evidence, cd 2210 and vol. III Appendices and Index, cd 2186.

13 As note 7, col.1253.

14 Ibid. col. 1255.

15 Ibid. col. 1257.

16 Ibid.

17 Ibid. col. 1262.

18 Ibid. col. 1264.

19 Ibid. col. 1266.

20 Ibid. col. 1269.

21 Ibid. col. 1270.

22 Ibid. col. 1284.

23 Ibid.

24 Ibid. col.1292.

25 Ibid. col. 1293.

26 Ibid. col. 1294.

27 OR (Commons) 2R Children Bill (Resumed) 1.4.08, col.584.

28 Ibid. col.588.

29 Ibid. col.581.

30 OR (Lords), 2R Children Bill, 28.10.08, col.214.

31 Ibid. col. 215.

32 Ibid. col. 220.

33 Ibid. col. 224.

34 Ibid. col. 234.

35 Ibid. cols 235-6.

36 Booth, C (1892-7) The Life and Labour of the People of London (10 vols), London: Macmillan; and Rowntree B.S (1901) Poverty: a Study of Town Life, London: Macmillan.

37 Samuel, op. cit. p.54.

38 Ibid. p.55.

39 Inglis, M. K (1909) The Children’s Charter, Edinburgh: Nelson.

41 Samuel, op. cit. p. 54.

42 Ibid. p. 55.

43 Although receiving the Royal Assent at the end of December 1908 the Bill was not implemented until April 1909 and some clauses later than that.

44 Inglis, M. K. (1909), The Children’s Charter, Edinburgh: Nelson.

45 Report of the Inter-Departmental Committee on Medical Inspection and Feeding of Children Attending Public Elementary Schools (1905), vol. I, cd. 2779. There was subsequent legislation in 1906: the  Education (Provisions of Meals) Act which was permissive and then, in 1907, the Education (Administrative Provisions) Act authorising the medical inspection of school children. For a fuller discussion see Dwok, D. (1987), War is Good for Babies and other Young Children: a history of the infant welfare movement in England, 1898-1918, ch. IV, esp. pp 180-207; London: Tavistock.

46 Report of the Royal Commission on Physical Education, op. cit., vol. I, para.100.

47 Ibid. para. 122.

48 Ibid. para. 145.

49 Ibid. vol. II, para. 1509.

50 Ibid. para. 7357.

51 Ibid. vol. I, ‘Summary of Recommendations’.

52 Ibid. vol. II, para. 8321.

53 Ibid. para. 10773.

54 See Fitzroy, A. W. (nd), Memoirs (2 vols), London: Hutchinson.

55 Op. cit. p.214.

56 Searle, G. R. (1990), The Quest for National Efficiency: A Study of British Politics and Political Thought, 1899-1914, Ashfield: London (paperback ed.), ch.2.

57 See for examples various journals around the early part of the 20th century: The Nineteenth Century, no. 339, May, 1905, pp 701-759 covering a series of articles under the general title of ‘Defence of the Empire’. Also examples in The Contemporary Review, 1902: no. 434, February; no.439, July, and no.440, August.

58 Searle, op. cit. p.33.

59 Contemporary Review, no 433, Jan. 1902, pp 78-86.

60 Ibid. p. 79.

61 Ibid. p. 81.

62 Ibid. p. 86.

63 Ibid. p.85.

64 Contemporary Review, no.445, Jan. 1903, pp 41-56.

65  Ibid, p.50.

66  For a fuller discussion see Smyth, A. Watt (1904), Physical Deterioration: Its Causes and the Cure, Murray: London; pp 7-11.

67 The memorandum was submitted as appendix I in the first volume of the Committee on Physical Deterioration’s report, op. cit. pp 95-7. This passage is at p. 96.

68  Op. cit. p. 95.

69  Ibid. table, p. 96.

70  Ibid. pp 98-9.

71  Ibid. p.98.

72  Ibid. p. 99.

73  Report of the Committee on Physical Deterioration, op. cit., vol. 1, pp 84-92.

74 Fitzroy, op. cit., p. 364.

75 Samuel, op. cit., p.55. Notable amongst the philanthropic bodies was the NSPPC. See HLRO, Samuel papers, A/24, Farr to Samuel, 2.6.09.

76 The Times, 6.7.08.

77 For example, ibid. 24.6.95 and 27.6.95.

78 Circular letter, 12.1.89 (no title), at PRO, HO 144/264/A51703/2.

79 Ibid. 8.10.90.

80 Ibid.

81 Webb, S. & B. (1963), English Poor Law Policy, London: Cass (reprint); p. 174. The report that was mentioned was that of the Departmental Committee on Vagrancy, with especial regard to Labour Colonies, 1906, vol I ‘Report and Proceedings’, cd 2852 and  ‘Evidence etc’, cd 2891. The quotation is from vol I, p.113, para.411.

82 I can find no evidence that the report of this committee was published. However, a Juvenile Smoking Bill (76) was unsuccessfully introduced by Macnamara (whose supporters included Will Crooks) under the private members procedure in 1906. It reflected the recommendations of the Physical Deterioration Committee.  Dr Macnamara became Parliamentary Secretary to the Local Government Board in 1907 and then Financial Secretary to the Admiralty.

83 See, Newsam, F. (1954), The Home Office, London: New Whitehall Series, for a discussion of the concept of the ‘residual legatee’ (ch. XVII ).

84 PRO, HO 45/10361/154821/4a, 5.8.07.

85 Ibid. 154821/1, 29.7.07.

86 Ibid. 27.7.07.

87 Ibid. 10.8.07.

88 Ibid. 27.8.07.

89 Ibid. 3.9.07.

90 Pellew, J. (1982), The Home Office 1848-1914: from Clerks to Bureaucrats, London: Heinemann; p.89.

91 Ibid.

92 Samuel, op. cit. p.  .

93 Pellew, op. cit. p.92.

94 PRO, HO 45/10361/154821/4b, Henry to Troup, 26.11.07.

95 Ibid. 154821/17. Conference, 2.12.07.

96 Ibid. 154821/13, 22.11.07.

97 Barnett, H. O. (1918), Canon Barnett, his Life ,Work and Friends, vol. 2, London: Murray; p.294. See also Creedon, A. (2006), Only a Woman: Harriet Barnett, Trowbridge: Phillimore; pp 94-6.

98 Ibid. p.295.

99 Ibid. p.296. It is not clear to whom the letters were written.

100 Rose, L. (1986), Massacre of the Innocents: Infanticide in Britain 1800-1939, London: RKP; p.110.

101 Ibid.

102 For example, the Report of the Select Committee on the Infant Life Protection Bill, 1890 and the Report of the Standing Committee on … Law … on the Infant Life Protection Bill, 1897 (details)

103 See, Rose, op. cit. ch.17 for the period 1890-1914.

104 OR (Commons), Children Bill, Order for the Continuation as amended by the Standing Committee, 12.10.08, col.109.

105 The Report of the Select Committee on Infant Life Protection, 1908, HC 99.

106 OR (Commons), 2R, Children Bill, 24.3.08, col.1291.

107 PRO, HO 45/10361/1554821/23; SCA to HO, nd.

108 Ibid. 10.11.07.

109 Ibid. nd.

110 Ibid. 10.12.0. It is quite possible that, in addition too all these submissions, Samuel and his civil servants  were aware of the strong criticisms of the services provided for separated children that were made by Sir John Gorst in his book The Children of the Nation: How their Health and Vigour should be promoted by the State that was published in 1906 (London: Methuen) even though it was dedicated to ‘the Labour Members of the House of Commons in token of my belief that they are animated by a genuine desire to ameliorate the condition of the people.’ Gorst, it should be noted, was an enthusiastic member of the State Children Association.

111 OR (Commons) 2R, Children Bill, 24.12.08, col.1290.

112  PRO, HO 45/10361/154821/6, Parr to Samuel 30.9.07. See, Allen, A. & Morton, A. (1961), This is Your Child: the Story of the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, London: RKP.  ‘By now the pioneer phase of the Society’s work was over and it was succeeded by a period of expansion during which Parliament passed a number of Acts which greatly strengthened … welfare work amongst children and young people. In particular the Probation of Offenders Act of 1907 and the Children Act of 1908 were noteworthy, and were in no small part inspired by the Society.’ (p. 35, emphasis added). For further details of the role of the NSPCC, and indeed of the SCA, see Behlmer, G. K. (1982), Child Abuse and Moral Reform in England, 1870-1908, Stanford, Ca: Stanford University Press; pp  220-4.

113 Ibid. 154821/6, 31.10.07.

114 Ibid. Aitken’s note, 11.11.07.

115 A parallel submission was received from the Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children but was accorded little attention by comparison with its English equivalent. Ibid. 154821/12.

116 See for an example of this relationship Parker, R. A. (2008) Uprooted: the Shipment of Poor Children to Canada, 1867-1917, Bristol: Policy Press; p. 240 where Parr writes that he has ‘complete confidence that the Secretary of State will act in the children’s interest’.

117 See, for example, Coulter, E. K. ‘The New York Children’s Court’, The Contemporary Review, no 472, Apr. 1905. In his Children’s Courts (1928, London: Allen and Unwin) W. Clarke Hall  pointed out ‘that although Massachusetts, New York and certain other States had arranged for the separate hearing of children’s cases before the year 1899, the credit seems to belong to Chicago, which established one in that year.’ (p. 55). Also in 1905 Henrietta Barnett had argued for ‘Special Courts of Justice for Children’ in an essay reproduced in Barnett, S. A. & H. O. (1909), Towards Social Reform, New York: Macmillan; pp188 – 205. Reprinted by BiblioLife (bibliolife.com/opensource). In it she remarked on how curious it was that, at certain times, ‘reform is in the air! A sort of microbe seems to start simultaneously the same moment in the minds of various people, often without previous communication or contact’. (p. 199). She noted that the NSPCC, the SCA, Barnardo’s, the Manchester Boys and Girls  Refuges and Homes and the Reform and Refuge Union had all been active in pressing for special courts for several years.

118 The tragedies of death by overlaying still occur from time to time, witness the cases of two such baby deaths in Doncaster and reported in the Doncaster Free Press on 6.4.2009. Baby BO5’s death ‘was attributed to sudden Infant Death Syndrome after he was found to have shared a bed with his mother and an older sibling … his mother had a history of drinking [and] smelled strongly of alcohol.’ A similar case of baby AO6 was also described in the same issue.

119 Wasserstein, op. cit. pp 87-8.

120 Bowle, op. cit. p.67.

121 See Parker, R. A. (1983) ‘The Genesis of Reform: the Children Act 1948’in Bean, P. and MacPherson, S. (eds), Approaches to Welfare, London: RKP.

122  However, the United Nations Declaration (1959) and Convention (1989) on the Rights of the Child have codified the comprehensive principles that States should observe in formulating law and policy with respect to children.

123 Report of the Care of Children Committee (Curtis), cmd 6922, 1946 and Report of the Committee on Homeless Children (Clyde), cmd 6911, 1946.

124 See Parker, (1983) op. cit. sect. II and Hurtwood, M (1975), Memoirs of an Uneducated Lady, London: Thames and Hudson, esp. ch 13.

125 Parker, ibid.

126 The Parliamentary Draughtsman was Frederick Liddell (afterwards Sir Frederick). For evidence of the delay see PRO, HO 45/10361/154821/1, Troup note, 15.8.07.

127 Report of the Royal Commission on the Poor Laws and the Relief of Distress, 3 vols, cd 4499, 1909.

128 See Hall, P, Land, H, Parker, R. and Webb, A. (1975), Change, Choice and Conflict in Social Policy, London: Heinemann for an analysis of the politics of changes or inaction in the field of social policy and law.

129 (Ref. to forthcoming volume)

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