HC Deb 06 March 1872 vol 209 cc1500-7

Order for Second Reading read.


, in moving that the Bill be now read the second time, said, its object was to provide for the education of a class of children who, though they had a special claim to consideration, had hitherto suffered neglect. England was the only civilized country which had not, in some way or other, made provision for the education of blind and deaf mute children, whose parents were too poor to make the provision themselves. It was true that the Poor Law Acts contained a few clauses in reference to the care of such children; but they were dealt with under those Acts in a very perfunctory manner at best. What he now sought to do was to make the Government responsible, and to undertake a wider duty than that indicated in the Poor Law Acts. The existing benevolent institutions had the care of but 10 or 12 per cent of these children; so that as many as 90 per cent received no education whatever. The case of these unfortunate children was the one omission of our recent legislation for national education; but when the Education Act of 1870 was passed, the Government said it was to provide for the education of every child in the kingdom. All, therefore, that he now asked them to do was to carry the announcement into complete effect by passing this supplemental measure. And he maintained that he had a good case; for if it was right to provide for the education of children who were neither deaf nor dumb, how much more ought they to provide for those who suffered from those infirmities, and who, without education, were but mere waifs and strays? The principal clause of the Bill made it compulsory upon either the Poor Law guardians or the school boards, on the application of the parents of any deaf-mute or blind child, to send such child to any fitting school, and to defray the expense of its maintenance, clothing, and education; or in case of no such application, the guardians or school boards were empowered to do so at their discretion. The power was thus mildly expressed, since it was not desired to deprive the child of its every reasonable chance of maintenance and instruction at the hands of its national guardians. The objection would probably be raised that a burden would thus be thrown upon the ratepayers, which they ought not to bear. That was easily disposed of; for, except in large towns, the number of such children belonging to poor parents would be comparatively small, and their maintenance would incur a cost so slight that scarcely a single ratepayer would think it worth while to raise any objection. The Bill also provided that wherever a parent or friend was willing to pay a part of the expense of such children, the institution, the guardians, or school board may defray the residue. There were also provisions for the appointment of Inspectors—which perhaps the managers of existing institutions might not approve; but they were necessary measures, which he hoped the House would agree to. With regard to the Government taking charge of the Bill, he should be only too happy to give it up to them, if they would but consent to carry out the principle it embodied. He hoped, indeed, the day would come when the Government would feel it their duty to deal with these unfortunate children as children of the State. He did not claim entire credit for having first introduced this question. Several years ago, a noble Lord in the other House induced the Government of the day to enable the Poor Law Board to exercise a power, which they however appeared reluctant to use. He hoped that the Government would, at least, not oppose the Bill going into Committee, as they were likely to obtain a vast amount of statistical information on the subject, which would astonish many hon. Gentlemen in that House.

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


said, it had been his duty last year to oppose a similar Bill of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Leeds, and he felt it his duty to pursue the same course with reference to the present Bill. He sympathised very much with the object of the promoter of the Bill, that education should be given to deaf-mute and blind children; but, at the same time, he could not but see that the plan which his hon. Friend had submitted to the House was open to grave objections, for it would introduce into our Poor Law administration an entirely new principle—that of maintaining and educating out of the rates persons who were not paupers. If the principle for which the hon. Gentleman contended with regard to the blind and to deaf-mutes were sound, why should it not be extended to other unfortunate classes of children, such as idiots, cripples, and lunatics, who were quite as much entitled to commiseration? He asked the House, then, to reject the Bill, as being based on a new principle. The 1st clause of the Bill proposed to make it compulsory on the guardians to send these poor children to school; and this he objected to. It would not be safe to compel the guardians or the school boards to enter on the large field proposed by the 1st clause, and the 2nd was as objectionable, inasmuch as it actually proposed to give them power to take away from its parent any blind or deaf-mute child and send it to one of their schools. This was another new principle to which he could by no means give his assent. However desirable it might be to assist the education of those unfortunate children, he did not think that the proper mode of doing it had been proposed. So long back as 1862 an Act, the 25 & 26 Vict., c. 43, was passed, which provided that guardians might secure education and maintenance for poor children by sending them to certified schools; but there was a limitation that the expense should not exceed the cost of maintaining the children in the workhouse for the same period. In 1867 another Act enabled the guardians to make a like provision for blind or idiotic children. The provisions of these Acts were extended by the Poor Law Amendment Act of 1868, so as to meet the wants of all poor persons. His hon. Friend (Mr. Wheelhouse) also proposed that the children sent to the school should not in consequence be regarded as paupers. In all other cases at present relief pauperised the recipients. Although he sympathized very much in the object which the Bill had in view, he could not see that the Bill proposed any advantage, nor could he see that it could be far improved in Committee. On those grounds he moved that it 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.)


wished to point out that, although the Bill purported to extend to the whole United Kingdom, it would be inapplicable in Ireland, owing to the absence of school boards in that country; and he would suggest the propriety of striking Ireland out of the Bill. The Bill was not in harmony with our institutions. Making provision for the deaf-mute and the blind without converting them into paupers was contrary to the principles hitherto adopted, and would tend to introduce the mischievous practice of parents who were not paupers shifting the charge of their children from themselves to the State. He thought that the hon. Gentleman had sufficiently discharged his duties to his clients by bringing the subject before the notice of the House.


said, there were two principles involved in this Bill—one was that blind children and deaf-mutes should be educated by the State and local rates, in the same manner as children who had not those misfortunes; the other was that those children should be fed and clad and educated in all respects by the State, irrespective of the condition of the parents. On the first principle he was entirely in favour of the Bill; on the second he was entirely against it. The largest school in the United Kingdom for the blind existed in the city which he had the honour to represent—the largest and the most successful in training and educating blind persons; and it had been found that the plan of maintaining them in the home was not advantageous, and it had been abandoned. When the Education Bill was passing through that House, he put on the Paper an Amendment providing for the education of those children, and the Vice President of the Council said he would consider the question, and look at Clause 8, and see whether it was not sufficient for the purpose; and, if not, he would endeavour to make it so. When Clause 8 came to be discussed, he said he had considered it, and was satisfied that the words did cover the education of the blind and of deaf-mutes. If that were so, it would be satisfactory to know how far that object had been carried out by the various local authorities and by the schools. The mere words of an Act of Parliament were of no value unless they were acted on; and he should like to ask what had been done by the Privy Council in directing the local authorities to carry this portion of the Act into effect? He desired to mention another thing in connection with the institution to which he had referred. It had been found that blind children being sent to ordinary schools was the best way of educating them. They gave the teacher of an ordinary school perhaps £5 a-year for educating a blind child, and he kept that blind child perhaps half-an-hour or so after the ordinary school hours. The teacher took a great deal of trouble to teach him; and the child, by associating with other children, was sharpened up—he learnt more rapidly, and it was found that he was educated more quickly and more efficiently than by being sent to an institution exclusively for the education of the blind. It would be useful to inquire what steps, if any, the Privy Council had taken to establish a system of that kind. It would not be an expensive system. He hoped that the Vice President of the Council would favour them with his views, and would inform them whether anything had been done to carry into operation the clause which he stated two years ago was sufficient for the purpose.


said, he was afraid he could not say that the Committee of Council had taken action on this question. His hon. Friend (Mr. M'Laren) had rather misunderstood what he had said two years ago. In answer to an indefinite Question whether the Act would enable school boards to provide for the education of these poor children, he (Mr. W. E. Forster) said that he believed it did: but when he was now asked whether the Department had taken steps to insist on the school boards carrying out these powers he could only say that in reference to no question whatever had the Department adopted, or prescribed to the school boards in what particular manner to discharge their functions. It would, he thought, have been establishing a very dangerous precedent if they had prescribed the manner in which these classes of children should be dealt with or the expenditure that should be incurred. The difficulty in the present case was this—that the education of these unfortunate children cost much more than the education of ordinary children. His hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh (Mr. M'Laren) said that in Scotland it frequently happened that such a child was sent to an ordinary school, a special fee being given to the schoolmaster. That arrangement might work well in many cases, but he feared that to be thoroughly successful it would be necessary that the schoolmaster should possess exceptional abilities and patience; and he should require a good deal more information upon the point before he could recommend the adoption of that course throughout the country. There was nothing in the Elementary Education Act to prevent the school boards from increasing the special cost of educating these children if they thought it proper to do so; but he did not consider that the Department ought to force that action upon them. The House most naturally sympathized heartily with the object of his hon. Friend who introduced this Bill (Mr. Wheelhouse), who had shown not a mere Parliamentary interest in the subject, for it was one in which he had actively and practically worked for many years; but his proposal to enforce the payment of public money for the purposes contemplated by the Bill was a serious one. At the present moment authority was given sanctioning such expenditure where deemed necessary, and farther than that he thought it would not be advisable to go.


said, that he objected to the Bill on principle, because the leading clause in it would enable the authorities to take any deaf-mute, whoever it might belong to, and send it to a special school, whether the parents were rich or poor, and whether they wished it to be done or not. Now, it was his own opinion that for such unhappy children education with others who could see and speak was the best education that could be given to them. Another section in the Bill proposed that in case of any dispute respecting the religion of the child it should be decided by the Board of Guardians. It struck him that such a provision would be the occasion of a good deal of religious difficulty and discord. It reminded him of an anecdote illustrative of the times when it was supposed that persons applying for admission to the workhouse were better or worse treated according as to whether their religion did not agree with that of the majority of the guardians; so once, when Pat came before the board to apply for an order, and a Roman Catholic member said to him, "Sure you're a Catholic?" he replied, "May be there's better than them;" and when a Protestant member, making sure he belonged to his faith, said, "Ah, you're a Protestant," he answered, "Sure there's worse than them." The result would be that the board rooms would become the arena of polemical strife, in the course of which the child would be torn to pieces before the question was satisfactorily settled.


, in reply, said, that there seemed to be in the mind of the hon. Member for Dublin some confusion between the Boards of Guardians, as local administrators, and the Poor Law Board, or, as it was now termed, the Local Government Board, and that the section referring to the action of the latter in the event of there being a difficulty as to the religion of the child, was almost a verbal copy of a clause in an existing Act passed nine years ago and which had worked extremely well. He should not object to omit Ireland from the operation of the Bill if it was so desired. As for the cost of educating these poor children, it must be remembered that their number was extremely small in proportion to the whole population, and what he wanted was, that they should be taught to earn their own living while children, so that they might not, when adults, come upon the public funds or be dependent on their friends for their support. Much as he regretted that the Government opposed this Bill, he hoped they would agree that it should be sent to a Select Committee, in order to settle once for all whether the administration of the country was to take upon itself the instruction of these children, who would not otherwise be educated, and whose wants the provisions of the Poor Law most inadequately met. If the Government would give him the necessary funds he would in 10 years time secure to every one of these children a complete and thorough education.

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.