HC Deb 05 May 1914 vol 62 cc161-5

When a child is discharged from a special school or class on the ground that he is no longer mentally defective the local education authority shall return to the parent of the child any certificate certifying that the child was mentally defective, and such certificate shall not be received in evidence ill any legal proceedings without the consent of the child or its parent.

Clause brought up, and read the first time.


I beg to move, "That the Clause be read a second time."

The object of the Clause is that when the local education authority shall have decided that a child is no longer defective, the certificate shall not be in any way used adversely to his interests. The suggestion at first was that it should be cancelled, but, on further consideration, it was considered that the interests of the child would be better served by its being landed back to the parents, and not allowed to be used in evidence against the child, except by consent of the parents or the child's personal desire. As this proposal is in the interests of the child, I trust the President of the Board of Education may be willing to accept it.


I beg to second the Amendment.


I take no objection to this Clause, and propose to accept it, but I think its right place in the Bill would be after Clause 4.


I believe I am right in saying that the certificate which is issued when a child goes first to a special school is annulled when that child is returned to the ordinary elementary school. Under the present law, if a child is returned from a special school to the ordinary elementary school, then before the child can be sent to a special school again a new certificate has to be issued. I do not quite see the object of this new Clause. It will not do away with the record that the child has been to a mentally defective school. I take it that under the Regulations which the Board of Education has framed, there is going to be a register of the mentally defective. Under the Regulations which the right hon. Gentleman has issued to the local education authorities in the country, the education authority is asked to notify to the local authority under the Mental Deficiency Act every child in its area, that not only comes within the Act but which may come within the Act. This proposal is going much further than the Mental Deficiency Act really intended last year, and I should like to point out to the right hon. Gentleman that it is really not of much use to accept this Amendment moved by the hon. Gentleman behind him, because it means absolutely nothing, I think the right hon. Gentleman knows that perfectly well. I want to know from him whether he means the local education authority to report to the authority which was set up last year under the Mental Deficiency Act, and which has to report all children which are and may possibly be mentally defective in their area, and I should like to know, further, whether that authority which was set up last year is going to have a register of defective persons or persons that may possibly become defective? That is the first question.

If that be so, the right hon. Gentleman will agree with me that it is not of much use returning this certificate to the parent. The second point I wish to put to them is this: The right hon. Gentleman says that if this certificate is returned, on no occasion would it be possible for it to be brought up against the child as showing that it was ever at a school for the mentally defective. That is the object of this Clause. I should like to point out that it would involve a really great hardship that it should never be possible for the certificate to be brought up. It might happen age in after life, the person might commit a crime, and it might be that the defence that at the age of eighteen, twenty, or any desired to bring up, as a mitigating circumstance, that the accused, when a child, was at one time considered mentally deficient. Therefore we may be going too far if we say that under no circumstances whatever shall the certificate be brought up against a child who had once been admitted to be mentally deficient. The right hon. Gentleman is very often too anxious to accept amendments because they get him out of a slight or temporary difficulty; he wants to get his Bill; but I urge him, before accepting the Amendment, to consider very carefully what it really means.


With the indulgence of the House I will say a few words to show the real bearing of this proposal. It is often found that these apparently defective children, after they have been in the school for some time, are only sufferers from dullness of faculties and from their having been under improper conditions, and the experience is that, after a little training, they become normal. It seems to us, who have considered this matter very fully, that in the case of those children who have developed after being trained and taught in some of these special schools, and it has been proved that they are only backward children and not really mentally defective, it would be very hard upon them if in after life they were going to be marked as mentally defective, although they had been discharged from the special school as normal children. Therefore we suggest that the certificate of mental deficiency should not be brought up against the person in after life, because at one time he was backward and sent to one of the mentally defective schools for a period in his early life. It is solely in the interests of these children that I accept this Clause, and I think no danger is likely to ensue from it. In the event of a child developing into a perhaps dull individual in after life, it might be desirable in his interest, at the wish of the parents, that the certificate should be brought up, and, in that event, with the consent of the child or the parent, the certificate could be alluded to. I might give an illustration of it, namely, that of a child who, having become a young man, is brought up for some particular crime. It was thought, in the interest of the person, that allusion should be made to the fact that at one time he was a dull and backward child, and in that case it would still be open for the certificate to be referred to, but only with the consent of the individual or the parents. I believe it is in the interests of backward children that a provision of this kind should be included in the Bill, and I hope the House will accept it.


Will the right hon. Gentleman explain the manner in which the certificate is to be got after it has been returned to the parent of the child should it be required for production in a Court of Law? Will a register of it be in the hands of the local education authorities?


No doubt there will be a record of the certificate in the hands of the local authority.


The right hon. Gentleman assumes that the return of the certificate to the child's parent wipes out all record of the child having been at a mentally defective school and that that certificate may not be brought up against him again. I quite admit that is true if you read the Bill as it stands alone, but it must be read in conjunction with the Regulations under the Mental Deficiency Act of 1913. Under those Regulations it is laid down that a dossier shall be kept of each individual case. I should like to point out that the mere keeping of a dossier is in itself very repugnant to a great many Members of the House, and if we had known on Standing Committee C that a Regulation of that sort was going to be grafted on to this Bill, then I venture to think we would have taken a very-different view of the position of the mentally defective child. I would also like to point out that the Regulation which practically enacts the keeping of a dossier is contrary to the intention of Parliament. It was originally brought forward in the Mental Deficiency Act of 1912, and it was suggested that a dossier should be kept. Such was the feeling expressed in all quarters of the House with regard to the keeping of a dossier of this sort with regard to mentally defective children, that the provision in that Act was struck out by the Government themselves. It did not reappear in the Bill of 1913, and we all thought that this question of the keeping of a dossier was dead for good and all. What hap- pened? The Mental Deficiency Act of 1913 was passed by this House on the assumption that this question of a dossier was dead. This present Bill is brought forward with no mention of a dossier, and we pass it through Standing Committee C on that assumption. After the Bill has passed through Standing Committee C, and when it is no longer possible for us to consider this point, these Regulations are brought forward.


The hon. Member is now speaking of Regulations made under an Act of last year. He must bring his observations into relation with this Bill.


My point is that the Regulations issued under the Act of 1913 cover the child contemplated under this particular Section. The right hon. Gentleman suggests that by passing this Clause we obliterate once and for all any record as to the child having been mentally defective. I submit that the mere fact of this dossier, which is bound to be kept under the Regulations, stultifies the whole of the proposal with regard to the record as contemplated by this new Clause. I think that this Clause does not meet the objection we have got with regard to the permanent record of a child having been mentally defective.


If I may say so, I will take care that the matter shall be so framed as to meet the views expressed by the Noble Lord.


Do I understand the right hon. Gentleman is withdrawing his proposal, or does he say that the Regulations regarding a dossier under the 1913 Act do not apply to children contemplated in this particular Clause?


It is not intended that they should apply. It is, of course, a little difficult to deal with these Regulations which are not before the House. I believe the matter is going to be raised to-night after eleven o'clock, and I shall be very glad to deal with the subject then, when it will be in order.


Surely I understand that those Regulations are now in force from 30th April?


was understood to dissent.

Question put, and agreed to.

Clause read a second time, and added to the Bill.