HC Deb 27 June 1913 vol 54 cc1439-48

Order for Second Reading read.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."

The PRESIDENT of the BOARD of EDUCATION (Mr. J. A. Pease)

There are two broad reasons why we believe this Bill should become law. The first is that we have had an experience of fourteen years under the Defective and Epileptic Children Act of 1899, and we are convinced as a result of that experience that this Bill ought to pass so as to make the application of its provisions universal and uniform. The second reason is that we believe that the solution of the problem of the feeble-minded adult is really based on the essential preliminary stage, namely training the feeble-minded child. I feel myself that the magnitude of the problem will be very materially reduced by proper attention being given to the training of the feeble-minded child, if only the education authority will undertake to distinguish between those who are educable and ineducable. This Bill is really the corollary and complement of the Bill that has been already sent upstairs and that is now being considered in Grand Committee. Clause 29 of that Bill places upon the local education authority the duty of ascertaining which are the mentally defective children and which the sound children. This Bill will enable special schools to be created with three objects—one to enable all doubtful cases of feeble-minded children to be properly diagnosed in those schools secondly, to determine which are educable and which ineducable; and, thirdly, to provide industrial and manual training suitable for the varying capacities of the children, and also to train them in habits of good conduct and self-control. The duties imposed by this Bill on the local education authorities we believe should be imposed, because they have already proved themselves to be in the best position, through their established school medical service to train and educate and care for the educable feeble-minded children.

Mental incapacity is only one of the very many incapacities with which the Board of Education has to deal. There are cripples, blind, deaf, and deaf and dumb; there are those with heart disease, and those who suffer from consumption; and all those defects we have to treat in a special way. Mental deficiency, backwardness and dulness, is only one of the many types of disease we have to combat. There are in this country 318 local education authorities, and they are all handling this question through their school medical service. The machinery already exists and is in working order. There is a staff of expert medical men employed by the education authorities, and we have at the Board of Education a competent staff of medical inspectors who go round those schools. There are 176 authorities who have actually taken some steps under the Permissive Act of 1899, 52 maintain schools of their own, 173 schools are already established, and 100 authorities contribute to these schools situate sometimes in areas outside their own. We admit that there may be still something to learn and the work to-day, which is voluntary and partial, is not so effective as it might be if this Bill became law. A child, if it is not capable of receiving education, is notified to the new authority that will be established under the Mental Deficiency Bill which is now upstairs, and, so far as the Board of Education and the local education authorities, are concerned, these children will remain with their parents until such age as the authorities think it necessary to take charge of them and look after them themselves. In the event of any child under treatment appearing to be normal, that child will be transferred to an ordinary elementary school.

The Report of the work done in these special schools is most encouraging. When I state that about half the feebleminded children are already in special schools, and that half of those, are proved to be almost self-supporting when they leave the schools, the House will realise what a grand work has already been done in the direction of helping these children to become useful citizens in afterlife. Let me take one or two illustrations. There were six special schools for elder feeble-minded boys in London in 1909, and 45 per cent. of the boys were found good positions or promising employment. In 1910, from eight special schools for elder feeble-minded girls, 51 per cent. were found on investigation after they left the schools to be in good work or promising employment. I could give the House other figures to show that good employment depends very largely upon the amount of supervision given by those kind people who serve upon the employment and after-care committees. Where proper attention is paid to these afflicted children, we find that over 50 per cent. can obtain employment. I have a Return here from special schools showing that the wages obtained on leaving the schools amount to 14s. a week in some cases. Of course, sometimes they are only able to begin at 5s. or 6s. The very fact that half of those who enter the schools can be sufficiently trained under the expert teachers of the local education authorities to earn Dart or all their living is a full justification for trying to do something more for the children who are not attending these schools. The Royal Commission thought that there were about 150,000 mentally defective persons in the country, of whom 48,000 were children under sixteen, and that 36,000 of these children were educable. As a matter of fact, since the period of that Report a school medical service has been established throughout the country, and we find that the number of these children has been rather over-estimated. We believe that there are about 24,000 children who ought to be sent to these special schools. There are 12,000 already in the 173 schools established throughout the country, and 12,000 at large with no prospect of becoming useful citizens owing to the neglect they have suffered.

I must explain that while we are going to impose a fresh obligation upon local education authorities, we realise that they ought to be helped out of the Treasury, and we propose to increase the Grant of four guineas hitherto paid in respect of each of these children to £6 per head for all those who will be treated in special schools in the future. That will apply, not only to the 12,000 who are not in the schools at the present time, but also to the 12,000 already in them.


Voluntary training?


Is the right hon. Gentleman going to pay the same or a higher Grant for the children in these residential schools?


Yes; I want to explain that 36s. is the additional Grant that will be paid on the 12,000 already in the schools. In regard to the residential schools we recognise that there will be increased expense placed upon those concerned for the children that reside therein, or are boarded out so as to be in close connection with the school at some distance from their own homes. We propose, therefore, in respect of these children that have to be sent away, to increase the Grant from £4 4s. to £12. That will mean that in the course of a few years instead of the State giving £45,000 to the local education authorities which at present we are giving, we are going, not merely to double the amount, but to give £200,000—for that is the amount we expect to be able to contribute eventually to the local education authorities who are carrying on this good work. There are two objections which have been taken to the proposals. One is that we are establishing a large number of new authorities. We are not doing anything of the kind. We are only using the existing authorities, which have already got their machinery at work. The next is in respect to the residential schools. It is suggested that they in some cases produce a feeling of resentment on the part of the parents who desire to keep their weak-minded children in their homes, and do not want to send them a long way from home. I am most anxious that we shall meet any legitimate views and arguments in Committee upstairs. I recognise that it is absolutely important that we should secure the confidence of the parents of the children in connection with the treatment that is given in these residential schools. We already have eight of these in the country, one of which is for the blind, who are also mentally defective. The result of that experiment has been wholly satisfactory. I myself have not received a single complaint in regard to the treatment of the 400 children already established in these residential special schools.


Are these residential special schools compulsory at the present time?


No, they are not. A number of parents who had rather hesitated to send their children to these schools were invited to visit them, and they realised how well their children are in these schools and what a good thing it is for them. It is obvious that it is for the interest of the child that it should be trained and not be allowed to be a wastrel in the community, it is obvious also that in the interest of the State that we should give every opportunity for improvement to these children, who unfortunately are scattered about in our rural districts and give them exactly the same opportunities as those in our urban areas. The expense may be considerable, but I am satisfied in my own mind that in no direction can this money be better spent than in the improvement of these children, many of whom only want a little time, care, and personal attention in order that they may improve and develop into useful citizens. I hope that the House will pass the Second Reading of this Bill this afternoon; in the event of any reasonable Amendments being suggested upstairs we shall be glad to try and meet them.


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."

At the outset I wish to make it perfectly clear that I agree that permissive legislation has not been successful, and that some provision has to be made for the case of these mentally defective children. The right hon. Gentleman in his statement alluded to a great many-things which are not in the Bill. I wish to deal with the Bill as it stands. This Bill proposes to make the Act of 1899 compulsory, or, rather, the Bill really only proposes to make part of the Act of 1899 compulsory, because it does not propose to deal with physically defective children, and apparently it does not deal with epileptics, because although this Bill puts the obligation upon the parent of an epileptic child to send such child to a suitable institution, there is no duty put upon the local authority to make suitable provision for epileptic children. Therefore, for all practical purposes, this Bill only deals with children who are mentally defective under the Act of 1899. As the House is aware, and the right hon. Gentleman has pointed out, under the Act of 1899 the education authorities were empowered to provide special schools and classes for the education and training of mentally defective children within the meaning of the Act of 1899. Under the Act of 1899 mentally defective children are defined as children not being imbeciles, and not merely dull and backward, but who are by reason of that mental or physical defect incapable of receiving proper benefit from the instruction in ordinary public elementary schools, but are not incapable by reasons of such defect of receiving benefit from instruction in such special schools as might be provided under the Act.

It is perfectly clear that this Act was passed in order to make provision for the children mentioned in this Bill—that is, for children of a special degree of mental defect. These special schools were not intended for and ought not to contain children who are merely backward, nor ought they to contain children who are imbeciles or idiots. They are simply intended for children who are suffering from that degree of mental defect specified in the Bill. Anyone who is acquainted with these special schools and classes knows that in these schools at the present time there are a considerable number of children who are merely backward and who ought to be in backward classes, wherever such classes can be established. They also contain a very considerable number of children who are practically imbeciles and idiots, but who have been given the benefit of the doubt and have been classed as capable of receiving benefit in these schools simply and solely for the reason that at the present time no institution exists where these idiot and imbecile children can be sent. This is going to be altered by the Bill to which the House has already given a Second Reading—the Mental Deficiency Bill. Under that Bill institutions and homes are to be provided for idiots and imbeciles. The right hon. Gentleman gave certain figures. He told us that at the present time fifty-two education authorities have provided special classes in schools under the Act of 1899, and that something like 12,000 children are provided for in these special schools. There seems to be some doubt in regard to the actual number of mentally defective children who ought to be provided for in special schools. In the Report of the Royal Commission it is estimated to be 48,000. The right hon. Gentleman to-day tells us that there are only 24,000.


The 48,000 included epileptics and the ineducable as well as the educable feeble-minded.


I should like to remind the House that all these schools have been established in urban areas. I do not believe that a single special school has been started in the country districts. What is more, all the special schools, with very few exceptions, are day schools. The right hon. Gentleman told us there are only seven residential schools for mentally defectives in the country. I think everyone will agree that the day schools where a child spends thirty hours a week only is not the proper place for children who require constant supervision. Most of the children in our special schools certainly do require constant supervision, and you ought to look after them in residential homes or custodial institutions. The day school is only the proper place for slightly defectives who can be made self-supporting in after-life, and children who are really defective ought to be in custodial homes. You are going to establish this sort of home under the Mentally Deficiency Pill for imbeciles and idiots, but not for feeble-minded and mentally deficient under the age of sixteen.

Let me point out the position if both the Mental Deficiency Bill and this Bill become law. You will have two sets of institutions dealing with mentally defectives, one set under the Board of Control and another set under the Board of Education. The idiot and imbecile children are to be sent to the institutions under the Board of Control and the feebleminded under sixteen are to be entrusted to the Board of Education. If the House will look at the Mental Deficiency Bill they will see that an idiot is a child who is "unable to guard itself against common physical danger." The definition of an imbecile is a child" incapable of being taught to manage themselves or their affairs." The Mental Deficiency Bill says an imbecile is a person in whose case there exists from birth or early age, mental defectiveness, not amounting to idiocy, but so pronounced that they are unable to manage themselves and their affairs, or, in the case of children of being taught to do so. I would like to know how it would be possible to say that a child of seven will be in after life able to look after its own affairs or not. That is absolutely impossible, because you cannot say that at the age of seven. Under this Bill you are required to say whether you will be able to teach the child to be able to look after itself.


That refers to existing affairs. A child might not be able to button up its clothes.


It all depends what construction the hon. Member puts upon the phrase "able to manage their own affairs." The two classes I have mentioned, idiots and imbeciles, are not to be sent to these special schools because they are too bad for them, but they are to go to the institutions under the Board of Control. The children who are incapable of receiving proper benefit from the instruction in ordinary schools, and are therefore to go to special schools, are classed in this Bill as feeble-minded persons, and a feebleminded person is described as a person who requires care, supervision, and control for his own protection or for the protection of others. I really defy anyone to draw a hard and fast line and to say this child belongs to this class and that child to that class; this child is a mentally defective child which ought to be handed over to the Home Secretary; that child is a mentally defective child which ought to be handed over to the Board of Education. As far as local administration is concerned, one set of institutions is to be under the Local Education Committee and another set of institutions is to be under a new committee for the care of the mentally defective which is to be created by the Mentally Deficiency Bill. It seems to me absolutely clear and obvious that all mental defectives, of whatever class and of whatever age, ought to be under one local authority and under one central authority. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will agree that in the country districts it will be absolutely impossible to send children to special day schools. You have probably got one mentally defective child in every village, and you cannot possibly set up sufficient day schools to enable these children to attend. You have got to have residential schools. Therefore you are asking your local authority or county council to erect two sets of residential institutions—those under the Mental Deficiency Bill and those under this Bill, with two sets of officers, inspectors, and teachers. Under the Mental Deficiency Bill you are already putting a very heavy charge upon the local authorities, and under this Bill you are putting an additional charge upon them. The right hon. Gentleman tells us that he is going to increase the Grant to local education authorities. The Grant so far, I believe, has varied from £4 4s. to £4 10s., and it is now going to be increased to £6. Does the right hon. Gentleman know what is the actual cost of these special schools?


The approximate average cost of maintenance in day special schools is £11 per child.


I have the Report here from the London County Council, and they state that the gross cost is £17 per year, or £13 after deducting the Grant from the Board of Education. This Bill contains a new financial principle. If the local education authority do not come up to the requirements of the Board of Education under this particular Act, then the Board of Education can not only withhold the Grant under this Bill, but they can make any deduction they think fit and proper in the aid Grant under the Act of 1892. That is an entirely new principle. If the Board of Education paid the whole of the cost of those mentally defective children, or practically the whole, then certainly they might have the right to make that deduction, but as they do not propose to pay the whole of the cost, as they propose to saddle the ratepayers with the greater part of the cost, I certainly think that they have no right to withhold from the local education authority Grants which are entirely unconnected with anything they are asked to do under this Bill. The whole of this question was carefully considered by a Royal Commission which reported a few years ago, and recommended not only that this Act of 1899 should not be made compulsory, but that all existing special schools should be transferred to the Board of Control, and should not remain under the jurisdiction of the Board of Education. I think the matter is of such importance that I ought to read the exact words used by the Royal Commission:— Therefore we do not propose that in order to Increase the number of special classes for schools the Elementary Education Act of 1899 shall be made compulsory. We believe that by itself, without any modifications or changes in other directions, that can meet the needs of the mentally defective. We propose accordingly that where there are special schools they shall he used primarily for teaching those who, later in life, will in all probability he able to look after themselves and to do useful work under supervision, and, secondly, for the purposes of observation. Such classes or schools would, however, pass under the control of the Board of Control and would not remain under the Board of Education. Thus the Royal Commission reported that these classes or schools should be handed over to the Board of Control. The right hon. Gentleman, however, now recommends not only that they should remain under the Board of Education, but that similar schools or classes should be erected all over the country—in town and country districts, where they have not yet been started. What are the reasons which the right hon. Gentleman has given us in favour of this Bill? He says that a large number of children in these schools become self-supporting in after life, and that many return to the ordinary schools. He gave us some figures. I think he Stated that 50 per cent. of the children in mentally defective schools become self-supporting. But here is a Report from the chief medical officer of his Department—


What is the date?


1912. Page 207. He is dealing with cases at Liverpool, and he says:— Of these 170 are in employment—equivalent to 24 per cent. as compared with 28 per cent. last year. This result cannot be considered other than as very unsatisfactory. He also points out that although a large number of these children—a considerable number have got employment, it is absolutely impossible to say for certain that that employment is permanent.

It being Five of the clock, the Debate stood adjourned; Debate to be resumed upon Monday next.

The remaining Orders were read and postponed.