§ (1) A local education authority, before deciding what provision shall be made for the education of a mentally defective child, shall endeavour to ascertain the wishes of the parents, and shall, so far as possible, give effect to their wishes.
§ (2) A local education authority, in the exercise and performance of their powers and duties under the principal Act and this Act, shall have regard to the existing supply of certified schools and classes, and shall, so far as possible, co-operate with other authorities or persons providing certified schools and classes.
I beg to move, in Sub-section (1), to leave out the words "endeavour to" ["shall endeavour to ascertain the wishes of the parents"].
There can be no difficulty in ascertaining what the wishes of the parents are. It is only fair to a parent that, at any rate, the attempt should be made—that every effort, in fact, should be made—to ascertain what those wishes are, if this Clause is to be a reality and not a mere sham. If the parent is entitled to express an opinion, then the local education authority should be compelled, as a matter of course, to ascertain what that opinion is, and not merely to rest upon an alleged endeavour to do so.
§ Mr. GOLDSMITH
I beg to second the Amendment. The President of the Board of Education did not accept the Amendment of the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme that the consent of the parents should be obtained, and I think, at any rate, that it should be made clear now that the local education authority should ascertain the wishes of the parents. Therefore, I hope, if the right hon. Gentleman will not accept this Amendment, my hon. Friend will press it to a Division.
§ 8.0 P.M.
I think I can show very good reason why the Amendment should not be pressed to a Division. If the parent is unwilling or is obstinate, the best thing you can do is to endeavour to extract the opinion of the parent. You cannot force an unwilling parent, and all the authorities can do is to do their best, and the words "endeavour to" are really inserted and required to indicate that where, for instance, the parent may not even be in existence the local authority shall then 229 endeavour to get the information. You cannot force information when it is not forthcoming and, therefore, the words "endeavour to" really carry out the intention.
§ Mr. WEDGWOOD
I think on this principle the drafting of most Acts of Parliament should be altered and the words "endeavour to" should be inserted before all the compulsory Clauses. If in some cases the parent is non-existent and cannot be found, it will devolve upon somebody to give the information. Surely that cannot be the reason for inserting these words. As long as the words "endeavour to" remain it is within the power of the local authority to practically disregard this Clause altogether. The endeavour may be a very slight endeavour indeed. It may resolve itself into a mere inquiry by the teacher whether they know the parent has any objection or not. "Endeavour to" is a typical piece of Board of Education drafting. It shows an utter disregard for the opinion of the parent, and it is introduced into this Bill as a sort of sop to "unreasonable people" who in this House try and see that the parents shall have fair play. They know perfectly well that parents need not be visited at all and that the only persons to be convenienced are the persons who run and manage machinery like this, and draft Clauses like this, which they believe can do all they want, at the same time causing as little inconvenience to inspectors of the Board of Education as possible. I hope my hon. Friend will press this to a Division. It seems to me that to leave in the words "endeavour to" almost stultifies the voluntary nature of the Bill.
§ Sir P. MAGNUS
I think the reasons given by the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Education are good. I do not see how we can compel the local education authority to ascertain the wish of the parents unless the parents are willing to express their wishes, and I think the words "endeavour to" must or ought to be sufficient to require that the local authorities shall do their best, or shall use their best endeavours, if that is a Parliamentary phrase, to ascertain the wishes of the parents. But what I think is more important is that there may be cases in which it may be impossible to obtain the wishes of the parents, but they should endeavour to obtain the wishes of the surviving parents, and I think the words should be inserted "the wishes of the parents or of the surviving parents." 230 I do not think the words could be stronger than those in the Clause.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Amendment made: In Sub-section (1), after the word "parents" ["to ascertain the wishes of the parents"], to insert the words "of the child."—[Mr. Wedywood.]
§ Mr. WEDGWOOD
I beg to move, in Sub-section (1), to leave out the words "as far as possible, give effect," and to insert instead thereof the words "not enforce a system of education contrary."
The Clause would then read:—A local education authority before deciding what provision shall be made for the education of a mentally defective child shall endeavour to ascertain the wishes of the parents of the child and shall not enforce a system of education contrary to their wishes.I can quite see that the wishes of the parents might on certain occasions be unreasonable; that you could not compel a local authority to accede to the wishes of a parent who wanted a child to be sent to an expensive school or to a school a long way off. But I do not think that the local authorities should have power to enforce a system of education contrary to the wishes of the parent. The child is feeble-minded, but I do not think you ought to enforce a system of education of which the parents do not approve. There are many things the parent may not approve of. A great many parents have objection to vaccination and to children being used experimentally. I can imagine a number of reasons why a parent should object to some particular system of education. You do not know what doctors may be up to. They may have some wonderful scheme for improving the development of those children, and the parents, may have a strong objection to that particular form of mental education. I do not think the authorities ought to be in a position to compel poor parents to have their children educated in a particular way, whether they object or not. People object to have their children educated in many ways, and even in the normal way, and when it comes to the treatment of mentally defective children we might reasonably allow parents the option of saying what form of education the children ought to have in particular schools. There is another thing. Parents may have very bad ideas of certain specific schools. Some schools may be good, others may be mere 231 child asylums, and I do not think you should compel a parent to have his child sent to a particular asylum with a bad reputation, which he may know. It seems to me the parents ought to be able to bar out certain schools which they may have reasonable ground to believe are badly conducted. The parents should be allowed to say, "You take my child compulsorily, and at any rate I bar that particular school." I do not think it is unreasonable that so much should be granted to the parent.
§ Amendment not seconded.
§ Amendment made: In Sub-section (2), after the word "providing" ["with other authorities or persons providing certified schools and classes"], insert the words "of having power to provide."
§ Mr. C. BATHURST
I beg to move, at the end of Sub-section (2) to add the words "within their area or contiguous thereto."
The object of this Sub-section is to enable the local education authority to co-operate as far as possible with other authorities or persons providing certified schools and classes. It must be clear to those who have experience of local government that it is evidently desirable that they should join forces with those who have similar work in hand within their areas, like borough or district councils, or some adjoining administrative county area. It would never do to have a variety of special schools dotted about the country to which various authorities or areas were not contiguous or had not some interest in joining in their support. I think it goes without saying that it is a matter of common sense that there should be as much co-operation as possible, but that is not what the Bill says.
It is very obvious that local authorities will always endeavour to deal with those in its own neighbourhood rather than those further remote, but at the same time I do not think it would be wise to place the limitation on the authorities, which the insertion of these words would mean. For instance, an adjacent authority might have an establishment or school which is quite full, and it would be necessary for the authorities if the Amendment were carried, to make an arrangement within their own areas, or within an area adjacent thereto. They would not 232 be able to do so, and would have to go a little further afield, and in that case it is obviously desirable that the authorities should have that opportunity. Then again it is quite possible an authority contiguous thereto might have a very expensive school and not a very efficient school, and therefore it ought to have latitude. I think the words the hon. Member desires to insert would have a restraining limiting effect which would be found undesirable by the local authorities themselves.
§ Amendment negatived.
§ Mr. WEDGWOOD
I am afraid that Members are more anxious to get to their dinner than to put any provisions into the Bill to safeguard those unfortunate children, and it is therefore useless for me to move my Amendments when nobody will second them.