HC Deb 14 July 1913 vol 55 cc977-83

Order read for resuming adjourned Debate on Question [27th June], "That the Bill be now read a second time."


I beg to move, as an Amendment, to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words "upon this day three months."

When the Debate on the Second Reading of this Bill was adjourned, I was endeavouring to show the House that the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. J. A. Pease) by proposing to make the Act of 1899 compulsory was really entirely disregarding the recommendations and the Report of the Royal Commission on the Feeble-minded. The Royal Commission stated quite clearly that the Act of 1899 should not be made compulsory. They went further than that, and recommenedd that the existing special schools should not remain under the Board of Education, but that they should be handed over to a new Board of Control for the mentally defective which was to be set up. Under the Mental Deficiency Bill, which is upstairs at the present time, we are setting up a Board of Control for the defective. We are handing over to that Board of Control all persons who are idiots and imbeciles, and also all persons over sixteen years of age who are feeble-minded, but the feeble-minded under sixteen are to remain under the Board of Education. The right hon. Gentleman, in the speech which he made the other day, gave us no good reason for setting up this dual control. He did not even tell us why local authorities should be forced to provide two sets of residential institutions, one set under this Bill and one set under the Mental Deficiency Bill, which has already had a Second Reading. The right hon. Gentleman told us that he proposed to make the present system universal and uniform. He also said that under the proposals of this Bill he would only be using existing authorities which have already got their machinery at work. The only machinery which is at work at the present time is in the large towns, where special day schools have been set up. There is no machinery at work in country districts. Therefore, it is absolutely impossible to make this Act universal and uniform all over the country. It is impossible, because in country districts day schools would not meet the case; you would have to set up residential institutions. If this Bill is passed, local authorities will clearly be forced to set up two kinds of residential institutions, and that must involve an enormous charge upon the rates.

8.0 P.M.

All we ask for is that the Report of the Royal Commision should be followed, that we should have one central authority and one local authority, and that the county schools should be asked to set up one residential institution for all grades of mentally defectives of all ages. When the right hon. Gentleman introduced the Bill he said that he hoped he would get the Second Reading on that very day. He spoke of the Bill as if it were some small departmental measure, and he actually asked us to give it a Second Reading in half an hour. This Bill is not only going to impose an extremely heavy charge on the local ratepayers, but it is also going to impose a heavy charge upon the taxpayer. This small Bill, which the P.M. right hon. Gentleman hoped to pass in half an hour, is going to cost the taxpayer an additional £155,000 a year, because the President of the Board of Education stated that the Grant at the present time amounts to £45,000, and he is going to increase it to £200,000. Before the House gives the Bill a Second Reading it ought to be satisfied not only that the object in view is a good one, but that, by passing the Bill, we shall accomplish our purpose in the best and most economical manner. One of the points which I understood the right hon. Gentleman to make was that a parent would probably not object to sending his child to a school or institution under the Board of Education, but that he would object to sending it to one under the Board of Control. Let me assure the right hon. Gentleman that, to the ordinary parent, it makes no difference whatever whether the institution is under the Board of Control or under the Board of Education. The special school at the present moment is known as the "silly" school, and I do not think that it makes any difference to the parent whether the "silly" school is under the Home Secretary or under the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Education. Why is the right hon. Gentleman opposed to handing over these special schools to the Board of Control? I believe the only reason is that they are at the present moment under the Board of Education. The right hon. Gentleman, like most Ministers, is in the hands of his official advisers, and we know perfectly well that once the officials have got a thing under their control they are not very willing to give it up. They have these special schools now under the Board of Education, and they are not willing to hand them over to any other authority.

Only a few days ago we passed a Money Resolution for the Mental Deficiency Bill, and we discussed, at great length, the new Commission that is to be set up. We agreed to create a new Board of four paid Commissioners with a large staff of expert advisers, and it is only reasonable that, having created this new expert Commission for the mentally defective, we should hand over mental defectives of all ages to the new Commission. I should like to ask the right hon. Gentleman two questions: "Why is this Bill called the Defective and Epileptic Children Bill?" In Clause I there is no duty imposed on the local education authority to make provision for epileptic children, and it does not deal with such children. A little lower down, in Clause 2, however, a parent is to be fined or punished for not sending a child to a school for epileptics, yet, apparently no schools for epileptics are to be provided, and why should a parent be fined for not sending his child to such a school when we are not asking the local authorities to set up schools for such children. The other point is an extremely serious one. It is contained in Sub-section (2) of Clause 1, where it is provided that where, in respect of any mentally defective child, the Board of Education are satisfied that the local education authority have failed to make suitable provision for the education of the child, the Board may make a deduction from any Grant payable to the authority under Section 10 of the Education Act, 1902, to such amount as the Board of Education think just. That introduces an entirely new principle in regard to Grants. So far, when the Board of Education have made special Grants, either under this Act or for any other special purpose, they have only been allowed to deduct. the amount of that special Grant from the Grants which are made to the local education authority. But under this Bill, if the local education authority does not come up to the standard, whatever it may be, of the Board of Education as regards schools for children mentally defective the Board may come down on the local authority and say, "You have not done what you ought to do under this Act. You have not done that which you are required to do, and we are going to punish you by taking whatever we think just, and deducting it from the ordinary Aid Grant under the Education Act, 1902." That is an entirely new principle. It is one which has not been contained hitherto in any Bill or Act of Parliament, and, surely, we are entitled to have an explanation from the President of the Board of Education on this matter as well as on other matters. When he introduced this Bill the right hon. Gentleman did so in a very few words Practically, he did not explain it at all, and I submit that the House is entitled to a full explanation, because this is not a small departmental measure, but it is a Bill which is going to impose a very heavy burden on the ratepayer and a very heavy charge on the Treasury. It is for these reasons that I move that this Bill be read a second time this day three months.


I rise to second the Amendment.

The right hon. Gentleman, in introducing the Bill, did not put forward any case whatever for making it compulsory, and it is to its compulsory character that I object. At the present time these special schools are voluntary in all senses of the term. No education authority is forced to provide them. Only those educational authorities which care to provide schools of this character need do so. To compulsion of that nature, however, I have no objection. I do not think it is outside the scope of a centralised authority to compel the various local authorities to make suitable provision for these unfortunate children. It is against the other sort of compulsion introduced in this Bill for the first time that I wish to enter a protest. At the present time there are some of these special schools for mentally defective children in many of our big towns. It is easier to have schools like these in towns than in country districts, because one school does for a whole town. At the present time it is absolutely optional with the parent whether he should send a feebleminded child to the special school or not, and he cannot be fined or punished in any way if the child does not attend. But now, for the first time, and without any argument in its favour being put forward by the right hon. Gentleman, he is going to change that and to say that the parent must, whether he likes it or not, send the child to the special school. Many parents think it a slur on their children that they should be sent to "silly" schools. There is a certain amount of feeling against these schools at the present time, and that feeling will in future be very largely enhanced when it becomes understood that these schools are to be the ordinary channel for the passage of the child to some sort of asylum. I do not view with any sort of satisfaction the very determined opposition that will arise to the compulsory character of this Bill when parents begin to realise that when they are sending their children to what are called "silly" schools, they are also sending them to imprisonment for life.




Yes, where the educational authority so decide, it may, when the child reaches the age of sixteen years, draft it to a home under the Mental Deficiency Bill. What was the main argument for compulsion in regard to ordinary education? I am against it in that respect because I believe parents are sufficiently anxious for their children's welfare to send them to school whether the education is compulsory or not. But the main argument put forward for compulsory education was that if it were not compulsory some parents, instead of taking their children to school, would send them out at a very early age to earn their own living. That was no doubt a good argument in favour of compulsory education so far as ordinary children are concerned. But these mentally defective children at the age of seven are not fitted to earn their own living, neither are they at the age of twelve, and the very fact that they are mentally defective withdraws them from the possibility of being sent out to work; therefore the main argument in favour of compulsion so far as ordinary children are concerned does not apply to these mentally defective children, as even if they are not sent to the school compulsorily there will still be every incentive for the parent to send them there, especially if the schools are known to be places where the children are kindly treated, and well educated, and well looked after. Undoubtedly ninety-nine out of every hundred parents would, under such circumstances, send their children to the schools voluntarily, and it is not fair that they should all be put under compulsion because the hundredth parent may have a passion for looking after his child himself.

The real difficulty arises in connection not with town schools, but when you come to deal with the country districts. It is proposed under this Bill to set up residential schools to which every poor parent is to be compelled to send a child from the age of seven onwards, that may be mentally defective. If the local education authority thinks a child is not as bright as an ordinary child it is to be sent under compulsion to one of these residential schools. Hon. Members of this House do not send their children to a boarding school till they are nine or ten years of age, and working-class parents do not send their children away to boarding schools at all. They have got accustomed to sending them to day schools, and to many parents it is a terrible thing to send a child entirely out of their charge, yet under this Bill you deliberately go to these people and compel them to send away permanently a child which, it may be, is the favourite child, for mothers often feel more affection for a feeble-minded child than for one which has all its wits about it. At the age of seven years a mentally defective child of parents living in the country has, under penalty of imprisonment for the father, to be sent away to a residential home. I do not even believe that it will be allowed to return home for the holidays, while, when it reaches the age of sixteen, it will be sent to some sort of asylum. What will parents say when put in such a position as that?

It being a Quarter-past Eight of the clock, and there being Private Business set down by direction of the Chairman of Ways and Means, under the Standing Order No. 8, further Proceeding was postponed without Question put.