HC Deb 08 March 1871 vol 204 cc1593-9

Order for Second Reading read.


, in moving that the Bill be now read the second time, said, that whether the second reading was agreed to or not, he was sure the object of the Bill was one which would obtain the sympathy of every hon. Member in that House. The object was to secure, so far as it was possible, education for every deaf and dumb, or blind child in the kingdom. He believed that every other country in Europe and America recognized the claims of this unfortunate class; in England alone, to her great scandal, the State did practically nothing for them. Yet in England one person in every 1,600 was deaf and dumb, and one in every 1,000 or 1,200 blind. Such of these unfortunate persons as belonged to the pauper class necessarily shared in the provision made for the relief of the poor; but the State had practically made no provision for them beyond and apart from that class. There were, indeed, one or two Acts of Parliament which enabled Boards of Guardians to send pauper children to voluntarily supported institutions; but it was not the duty of those officers to spend the money of the ratepayers in seeking out persons so afflicted; nor could they attempt to do all that was possible for such persons. Even, however, if they did all they could, there would still be a wide space left unoccupied. Suppose a poor man, with eight or nine children—and he (Mr. Wheelhouse) knew unfortunately too many such cases—one of whom was deaf, mute, or blind, would it not be a gross injustice to the others that the father should spend more than a fair share of his money upon educating that one? The whole cost of such education ought not to fall upon the parent in that case; but the child should be treated as it would be in other countries, as the child of the State. There were in the three kingdoms 40,000 or 60,000 individuals, one-sixth or one-eighth of whom were of an educationable age, of the afflicted classes for whom the Bill sought to provide, who, with a few exceptions, where the Guardians were zealous in their duty, received no education whatever. Why, he would ask, was no provision made for them in the Bill of last year? Surely if it were necessary to legislate then for the education of children who were not deprived of sight, speech, or hearing, it was much more necessary that provision should be made for the education of these poor creatures. If a blind child were educated, it could do much for its own assistance; and an educated deaf and dumb person often made a better workman than one who was not under any such deprivation. They were very easily taught certain trades, and it was not only for their own advantage that they should be educated in fit branches of industry, but it was for the benefit of the State. It might be said that the measure would not work, and that it was inopportune; but precisely the same thing had been said against the Factory Acts, which were now the law of the land. The House would deal with the Bill as they thought fit; what he wanted was not so much the passing of this Bill as to secure the immediate recognition of the claims of this class. He, however, thought that the Bill was adequate for its object. The 1st clause rendered it compulsory on the Guardians, on application from the parents, with the approval of the Poor Law Board, to send any such child to some suitable school, whether certified or not, at an expense not exceeding £24 annually; the 2nd clause enabled the Guardians to send the child to school in the same manner, in cases where no application is made by the parent; and the 3rd clause authorized the Guardians in cases where the parent, or other person, should offer to pay a portion of the support of any child in any such school or institution, to pay the residue of the expense; the selection of the institution being left with the Guardians. There were certain subsidiary clauses; one providing that the child shall be sent to a school established for the reception of children of the religion to which such child shall belong; another enabled the Committee of Privy Council to appoint a special Inspector for deaf and dumb schools; and another that the school, on being certified by the Inspector, shall receive for each pupil specified payment. He might be told that there was nothing in the Education Act, or the Revised Code, which could prevent the instruction of these children; but still there was no positive provision there for teaching them, though surely there might at least have been a provision that books with raised type should be provided for the use of the blind in the ordinary "sighted" schools, under the recent Act, a matter which would have done much towards ensuring the spread of education among them, since it might be taken to have been proved, by experiments lately tried in Scotland, that many, if not most, of such children could be thus effectively instructed. Would it be believed that even now—in 1871—there was only one single institution throughout England for the education of the blind sons of gentlemen, an establishment of which he (Mr. Wheelhouse) could not speak sufficiently highly, but it was quite right and only due that it should be named—the College at Worcester—but beyond this, there was not the slightest provision, save such as was made by voluntary effort alone, for the education of any person, either blind or deaf, mute, above the rank and class of a pauper. Surely some remedy for such a state of things ought to be at once provided by the State. He (Mr. Wheelhouse) could assure the House that by affording such instruction, the rates would be lessened, not increased, by following out the course he indicated. He moved the second reading of this Bill.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Mr. Wheelhouse.)


said, he regretted that he was obliged to oppose the Bill, because everyone must sympathize with the object the hon. Member had in view. There was, however, a good way and a bad way of effecting the object, and he conceived that the hon. Member had taken the very worst way. It might be supposed, from the speech of the hon. Member, that children of the class included in the Bill had hitherto been entirely neglected by Parliament. That was not so. In the year 1862 an Act was passed, giving power to Boards of Guardians to send deaf and dumb or blind children to certain schools certified by the Poor Law Department. A number of such schools had in consequence been certified—namely, 11 schools for the blind; 9 for the deaf and dumb; 1 for idiots, and 19 as industrial schools, and a number of these afflicted children sent to them; and in 1867, at the instigation of the Poor Law Board, a Bill was passed extending the Act to adult persons. Therefore, to induce the House to pass such a Bill as the present, the hon. Gentleman ought to snow that the Boards of Guardians had failed in their duty. Last year the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Wheelhouse) brought in a Bill for a similar purpose, which compelled the Boards of Guardians, on the application of the parents of an indigent blind or deaf and dumb child, to send such child to school—it also authorized the Guardians, where the parents neglected their duty, to step in and provide the necessary education; and that the expense should be borne in part by the Guardians, and in part by the parents. The measure of last year referred, to the children of poor persons; but in the present Bill the word "poor" was omitted; and the 1st clause referred to the children of all classes; so that under its provisions Boards of Guardians might be compelled to send to schools of the description mentioned in the Bill the children of well-to-do people, and the expense of their maintenance there would fall on the ratepayers. If the Bill passed, the Poor Law Department would be placed in a position it had never occupied before—that of controlling the Guardians in the amount of relief to be given in any individual case; and that was one of the grounds on which he opposed the Bill. The 2nd clause empowered Boards of Guardians to take the afflicted children from their parents, and to send them to any schools fitted for their reception; and though pauper children were at present maintained and educated for £14 or £16 a-year in workhouse schools, the Bill provided that whenever the Guardians exercised that power they should pay a sum of at least £24 a-year for every child they sent to school. The provisions of the Bill would very soon add another grievance to those already complained of by those who objected to the heavy burden of the local rates. He trusted the House would not break through the principle of Poor Law relief—namely, that the Guardians were the persons to decide what was the proper relief to be given, and that it should not be left to the central authority to decide matters of this kind. If the Bill applied to the pauper class only, there was a provision already for the pauper class of such children; if it did not apply to the pauper class alone, then the whole duty should be referred to the Educational Board. He moved that the Bill be read a second time that day six months.

Amendment proposed, to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words "upon this day six months."—(Mr. Hibbert.)


opposed the Bill on the ground that there was no reason whatever why the cost of this compulsory education of the deaf and dumb and blind should be thrown on the local taxation rather than on the Educational Department. The hon. Gentleman who had moved the second reading had failed to show that the machinery at present provided was ineffective. Moreover, he seemed to be unaware that the Act of 25 & 26 Vict., which was the basis of his present Bill, did not extend to Ireland. But the Poor Law Boards there had power, under a special law, to send such children to special institutions and to pay for them.


said, that in Scotland the practice of sending blind children to school and giving the teachers a little gratuity for teaching the children to read by means of raised characters had worked well. Such a system was well worth trying in this country, especially when it was recollected how very small a proportion of the blind were educated at all.


opposed the Bill. It was one which would certainly fail in practice. He was not prepared to say that some amendment of the existing law might not be made; but with regard to the afflicted children of the class that were not paupers, the effect of the Bill would be to give a right to relief to persons who otherwise would have no claim. One evil effect, therefore, would be its tendency to pauperize persons who, at present, had neither the necessity nor the wish to ask for public relief. Moreover, he thought it would introduce a very dangerous principle of legislation, by imposing on the public a duty which properly attached to individuals. Again, the 7th clause appeared to him very objectionable. It provided that the children should not be sent to any school which was not conducted according to the religion to which they might be supposed to belong. This could only be carried out by the foundation of a great number of schools for a comparatively few children who were deaf or dumb, at an expense quite out of proportion to the necessities of the case.


admitted the advantage of educating these unfortunate children; but that was a duty which was better performed by good and charitable institutions than by Boards of Guardians and by public rates. He maintained that the purpose of the Poor Law was simply to relieve absolute destitution; to relieve unavoidable cases of misfortune and distress was the legitimate office of the humane public. With regard to Ireland, he would point out that the Act for disestablishing the Church of Ireland provided that a portion of the surplus property of the Church should be applied to the relief of this class of persons. His principal objection to the Bill was that it overrode entirely the authority of the Boards of Guardians, and added further power to the Poor Law Board.

Question, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question," put, and negatived.

Words added.

Main Question, as amended, put and agreed to.

Bill put off for six months.