§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ Mr. TILLETT
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
I desire to draw attention to the memorandum. The object of the Bill isto provide for the technical education of the blind by the establishment and equipment of technical schools where necessary, or by contributions to existing schools and institutions for the employment of the blind by the establishment and equipment of workshops where necessary; or by contributions to existing institutions providing work for the blind; for grants in respect of augmentation of wages earned by persons so employed; for the provision of the expenses of blind persons at institutions or hostels while under technical instruction; for the employment and maintenance of blind persons away from workshops, and for the maintenance of blind persons incapacitated from earning their livelihood.That comprehensive memorandum indicates what we desire. We do not wish to go beyond that, nor do we lessen in our desire to accept any compromise less than that. I owe an explanation or an apology to the House inasmuch as the Bill is backed purely from a Labour standpoint. I desire to assure the House that I want the help of every Member of every party and section. It would be presumption and the most insolent form of arrogance if the Labour party assumed that it was the only defender of the blind. God has not limited this affliction to our class. Whether He had done so or not it would be the duty of all classes to see to it that the blind were not handicapped by a want of interest. I hope that there will be no debauch of maudlin sentiment, but I feel sure that every Member of the House feels profoundly in the depths of his heart a great pity and charity for those who are afflicted by the disease or defect of blindness. I am going to take them into my confidence. I feel perplexed because I know everyone will be in sympathy. In my own experience of life, where we have had universal sympathy we have had the least support. I do not want, when we meet the Treasury, as we must meet the Treasury, to feel that my heart is sinking, nor do I want the Treasury to be the dead end of our last hope. I want them to appreciate that 1696 the realm of the blind is the kingdom of poverty. So at once I throw myself frankly on the goodwill of the House. If there should be and Members here who think that we should have consulted them and placed their names on the back of the Bill, please do not blame the Labour party but blame me. I take my full share of responsibility for that. Because I do that, I ask this House to consider the facts as they are. There are some 30,000, dependent blind persons. Out of this total of 30,000 there are 10,000 supported by Poor Law agency, there are 7,000 more or less industrially employed, and 2,000 directly industrially employed. We must accept the fact that their normal efficiency would be anything between 35 and 50 per cent. of the efficiency of the normal person, and that their efficiency depends not only on their own aptitude but also upon any technical instruction they receive. This Bill is not a Bill to pauperise; it is a Bill to give efficiency, to provide machinery, to give technical instruction and to give a great hope to the blind.
God's greatest gift is eyesight, and those of us denied that great privilege live in darkness everlasting. We cannot create eyesight like the Nazarene, but we can, at least, do something to inspire the blind in their work, and of all the great blessings we can offer to them it is to give them occupation. I have often thought if Milton had not written his great classic poem he would have lived in a purgatory of regret. We have gained because of the expression of his power assisted by his daughters. He was able to employ his mind and to give to us that poem which will be a classic as long as the English language lives. I want to give to the blind who cannot reach that level at least the very best chance possible. I do not claim for the Bill that it will be the inauguration of a new era, but it will be the creation of a better understanding of what blindness means generally and to the individual. It will give us a chance of appreciating that 40 per cent. of blindness occurs after the age of thirty-five. If the report on a C 2 nation had been analysed in minute particulars, the nation would realise that semi-blindness or impaired sight constitutes a very grave danger to the, community, and that in the period of the War defective eyesight was one of the most prominent among the defects. If this measure only gives us a scientific and natural sense of the 1697 meaning of blindness or semi-blindness, then it will not have failed in placing on the Statute Book a constructive capacity for organisation which will deal with the preventive, curative, and remedial side. I ask the House to regard this measure not as imposing financial obligations, but as a humane measure that may mean to us much more than pounds, shillings and pence can express. In the report of the Commission on Venereal Diseases we have disclosed a very tragic and serious condition of things. Maternal gonorrhea, if not promptly treated, causes as much as 25 per cent. of blindness. That is an indictment of the community itself. I am not here to indulge in any criticism that will contain any sort of cynicism. I want to thank the Government for what it has done, and to thank the Minister of Health and pay my personal tribute to his work. As to the voluntary institutions, St. Dunstan's and the old established bodies, God only knows what would have happened if there had not been heart and soul among the people to undertake this work, but even with that we have done very little for the blind. We owe our thanks to those people who have done their share. I desire to relieve the blind from the necessity of depending upon the voluntary associations and the charity of the generous. Probably the generous of our own nation have been exploited beyond those of any other nation. I would not ask for State assistance if I felt we could do without it, and I think that we have not been grateful enough to those who have rendered splendid service when the State has forgotten its duty. The State is alive to its finger tips to the four corners of the earth should danger come, but I do not want the House to pass by with the mere belief that 30,000 necessitous persons represent the whole case as to defective sight. If a thorough investigation were made, and if school clinics were appreciated, as I believe they will be appreciated better in the future, it will not be a case of 30,000 but of thousands or even millions affected more or less by defective eyesight. You must begin with the mother. How many poor little bairns have suffered a lifetime of darkness and torture through the incompetence and neglect or ignorance of a nurse or mother. Compulsory registration is a necessity not merely to save the State, but to save the women, for I know of no greater purgatory than that of the mother who croons over a blind bairn 1698 when she herself has been responsible for that child.
If only to relieve matters and to go back to what the defects of sight mean, then this measure will be of great benefit to us all. The Bill in itself does not eliminate any single voluntary institution, it does not cut across any form of voluntary aid, it does not impinge upon any vested institution. No voluntary agency has a right to adopt a dog in the manger policy towards this Bill. Ever since the country itself has assumed a fair share of responsibility, our voluntary associations have gone ahead in their usefulness. It docs allow the State itself, under the Health Ministry, to formulate and to create machinery, it does allow any municipal authority either directly or in co-operation with other municipal authorities to act as a responsible body. The language of the Bill is couched in the simplest possible terms, and it is not technical to any degree or legal in its formula in any manner, but it does give this protection to the blind and protection to the State itself. It asks of those who accept the assistance of the State the controlling supervisory right of a National Advisory Committee. The voluntary institutions cannot have their cake and eat it. If they accept State assistance, and I am sure they will, they will be assisted by the State, and the State department, I feel positive, will render not merely a magnificant service, but will contribute to prevent a repetition of the examples which were expressed during the war. I do not think any Member of this House will say I am a little Britisher. I believe in my own country to the very depths of my soul as being the best country on God's earth, but in this war our Colonial troops and the American troops showed a direct expression of the special benefit of the care of the young in the matter of sight and the general senses. It shocked me to think that by comparison we were very far behind our own Colonial troops and the American troops.
I am not thinking only of war. Damn war, and all those who make it. But I am thinking of health, and life, and efficiency, and I do not want a period of war to be the only period when we sit up and take notice. Physical deterioration should be a thing of grave concern to all of us at any period. It is not merely to the benefit of the individual that he or she may be healthy, it is of benefit 1699 to the whole country, and, after all, healthy brains are most healthy in healthy bodies. I am not pleading for pity at all. I do not wish any Member of this House to express the slightest quiver of sympathy unless he or she will be helping us in this measure. I want the technical instruction schools to be a feature of our administration of the blind institutions. I want us to see clinically. I want the doctor to come to our help, and I want the doctor even to be asked how much mal-nutrition is responsible for bad sight or the weakening of either of the senses. I want that sort of institution set up that can be scientific, and while we may be proud of the stamina of our countrymen in fighting, I believe the greatest test will be applied in the near future of what will be our stamina in the industrial, international fights of the world for not merely supremacy, but for existence. We are going to build up a nation of healthy human beings.
I do not want to occupy too much of the attention of this House, but I do want us to realise that glorious gift of sight. The eye is the greatest optical instrument ever invented, invented by a great Creator, invented by the power of the universe, the eye—for there was light long before sight—the eye's retina, that may take in the glorious expanse of son, of mountain, or of sky, may look closely into the molecule or the cell, may direct itself to the point of a pin, may be the skilled craftsman, may be the skilled lace-maker, may be the woman or the man at the machine, may be those manipulating a great microscope or a great telescope, whatever the colours of earth and sky and sea may be, the great power of sight is a blessing. We cannot imagine the loss of the power of sight when one remembers a sunrise or a sunset. One cannot live without misgivings if one had to lose the vision of a great sky in cloud or storm or sunshine, and all the glorious colours. One cannot think without great doubt and without great sorrow that one should miss their way to the great light of day, with the stars, with the sun, with the moon, withlights and shades of a sun on a harvest field, with all that comes to our glorious vision with the sight God created. That is one great side of the question that we must consider. When one considers that that is denied to our brethren and our sisters, that they must work for over in 1700 the prison of eternal night, that they must go on for ever without seeing as we see, let us use our good eyes for them, let us stretch out our arms in their darkness and support them, let us try to be brothers and sisters to them. What God and nature and accident and defect have denied them, let us try and make it up in our human sympathy, in our practical human sympathy.
I am perplexed and worried that there may be too much maudlin sentiment. I want real sympathy, that the blind of our community shall be honoured by it, that the State will come to our assistance, and that a great humanity will fill the souls of those responsible in great State Departments, that if the blind may not see with their eyes we shall put eyes into their finger ends. If they may not see with their eyes, let us give to their other organs a greater sense, and, realising that great miracle of the sense of sight, try to make up for the great loss, for, however cynical a man's nature may be, of all the curses that could come to him, his great fear would be blindness May that fear be an appalling sense of responsibility. In uttering these words I leave to the practical good will of the House this Rill, hoping that it may receive not merely their consideration, but their support, so that we may start an era of great good.
§ Mr. STEPHEN WALSH
I beg to second the Motion.
I am sure, after the moving and eloquent appeal of my Friend the hon. Member for North Salford (Mr. Tillett). little remains to be said from these benches. Most Members, I think, will be acquainted with the actual contents of the measure. The Bill is identical in every particular, save the commencing date, with that introduced by myself, under the Ten Minutes' Rule, last Session, and to which this House gave an unopposed First Reading. The objects, as my hon. Friend has explained, are very plainly set out. They are objects with which, I think, every Member of this House and every citizen outside this House, must be in agreement. That the blind, in so far as they can receive technical education, ought to be given the opportunity, is, I think, a truism; that in so far as they may benefit by employment, the opportunity should be given for such employment, I think may be taken for granted; that in those cases where they are incapable of employment, either by age or by 1701 other physical defects, that they need maintenance is, of course, common to us all. We all have to be maintained, and if we can maintain thorn in a state that preserves their self-respect, it certainly is the better thing to do so. I was glad to hear my hon. Friend press the point home that this Bill did not in any way traverse the useful work of those many admirable institutions which have for a long time been catering for the education, employment and maintenance of the blind. I know myself many excellent institutions, officered by men and women who have given long years of the most devoted service, and whose energy, perseverance, organising capacity, and, indeed, self-sacrince, are beyond all praise. In those cases, not only would such institutions and such devoted people be helped in their work, but their activities, I think, would be stimulated, and they themselves would be greatly encouraged to persevere in that kind of work.
There are other institutions which really do not reach the high standard of those to which I have just alluded. In many cases the motives are no less admirable, but the fortunes have not been so favourable. They have not been able to make so successful an appeal to the charitable public. They have in many cases poorer districts and greater numbers to deal with. The charity of the public has not been so pronounced. The needs of their clients have been more insistent. Often enough they try to maintain a good heart and a stiff upper lip when all the circumstances are against them. They are very seldom cheered by any real hope in the present, and there is no definite hope for their future. Those cases, indeed, where the motives are excellent, where the people themselves are fully competent to guide and to administer, would be helped by a Bill such as this. But there are other organisations which have not the slightest right to be included in the category of the two to which I have referred—organisations which masquerade in the guise of charity, exploiting the sympathies of the public and exploiting the necessities of the blind at the same time. Those organisations, under the operation of this Bill, would be ruthlessly swept away. But, noble as is the work of many of these institutions, the labours and the self-sacrifice of the individuals, they really do not touch the root principle which we 1702 are endeavouring to establish in this Bill, namely, the civic responsibility of all the people to the helpless blind. We have long passed the stage of the old economists who held that it was "Every man for himself, and the devil take the hindmost." We have seen in a very real sense that there is no individual, however humble, in the community but who, if left unattended and unguarded, reacts injuriously upon the fortunes of the whole community, and to-day there is, I am sure, a deeper and a nobler sense of civic responsibility than ever before.
Now I know perfectly well the admirable work which is being done at the Ministry of Health. I was very glad indeed to hear my hon. Friend's speech in terms of real appreciation of the work of that Ministry. I think this last half-dozen years there never was a Department that has deserved so well of the State, whether it be child welfare, maternity, clinics, a thousand and one things in which, day by day, and week by week, for years, that Department has shown a high and an increasing sense of responsibility for the public well-being. I am quite sure that in no Department were words of appreciation better earned than in the Department to which my hon. Friend alluded. I do most earnestly hope that the right hon. Gentleman will not take this Bill as in any sense reflecting upon the magnificent work that his Department is doing and is capable of doing. Its proposals do not in any way clash with the work of the Ministry of Health, or interfere with or warp the functions they have been so constantly exercising. I am quite conscious that at the Ministry of Health there is a very fine Advisory Committee representing the blind in every capacity—men of remarkable attainments and with a very fine record upon that Committee. I think it may be said that there are very few representative Committees which so truly stand for the whole of the blind as does that Committee at the Ministry of Health. It has done an exceedingly good work for the last couple of years. Its work is quite consistent with the objects of this Bill.
We are very conscious, indeed, that all the Parties in this House and all people outside should recognise that this is a matter in which the responsibility lies on the whole community. It is not in any sense a matter of party controversy.
1703 There is not the slightest ground for any man on these Benches to say that this is a matter which, if gained, has been gained by the Labour party. Not a bit of it! That would be too mean a conception altogether for any one of us to entertain. We are endeavouring to range the sympathies and activities of all the parties in this House, and people outside, on behalf of this great and overwhelming claim of the blind. We urge that the State should be responsible for them. We plead on behalf of those who are the victims of this most terrible affliction, that to some of us seems the most terrible that can befall humanity. We urge that in their case we should train them for employment, and if they cannot obtain employment it is necessary—and where they are hopelessly incapable—that we shall see that they are in receipt of a wage or some pension which enables them to maintain themselves under conditions of self-respect. These really are the underlying principles of the Bill. I believe they commend themselves to every man in this House.
§ Mr. SUGDEN
I rise with the very greatest possible pleasure as a humble Member of a certain political section in this House to support the very modest measure which has been introduced from the Labour Benches. In doing so I wish, with the hon. Members who have spoken, to express appreciation of what the institutions of the country on behalf of the blind have done in the past, and also to recognise what the Minister of Health and his Department have done for these people, deprived of that sense which some of us consider is the most important with which we are endowed. In joining in that meed of praise to both institutions and Ministers, I feel it is essential, in supporting this Bill, that there should be pointed out to the House why it has become so vitally necessary to have such a Bill, where the weakness of the administration of the Ministry of Health lies in respect of these afflicted people, and also to point out and exhibit the weakness of the institutions in the country; afterwards to show the responsibilities of the State and the civic authorities for every section and strata of these afflicted people. I should like hon. Members to understand that in presenting this measure we do not forget the vital consideration of the children who are not included in the Bill. If it be, as we hope it 1704 will be, that this House gives a Second Beading, and, subsequently, if it is at all possible, with the assistance of the Government, to have amendments introduced by them, or that we shall be given the chance of enlarging the scope of the Bill, we shall be very pleased so to do. I am also thinking in this connection of the necessitous blind children as well also of the blind infants under one year of age. One must first consider the extent of the problem. There are 33,965 blind people in the United Kingdom. Of these 26,000 are adults. Of that number, with all that the Institutions and Societies have done over many years in this country in the way of employment and helpful financial assistance—some of the latter coming from the Ministry of Health—not more than 2,500 of these blind persons are employed in workshops, and thus able to do something towards their own maintenance. There is no class of the community whose members are so keen, or so desirous of being able to fend for themselves as blind people. There is no section of the community so keen as the blind, in their sense of the national honour or of their own individual honour, and of being able to support themselves with that degree of comfort which every citizen of this great Empire has a right to demand.
When we consider the number of blind persons who are able to earn their own livelihood and take a practical part in our industrial and social life we find it is a small proportion, and I say that whatever intentions, whatever the splendid esprit de carps at the Ministry of Health, and in the Institutions, the result is not such as to warrant that these unfortunate people should be left without further means of help.
I should like to refer to the report of the Advisory Committee on the welfare of the Blind which was set up by the Minister of Health. I desire to call the attention of hon. Members to certain of its recommendations, then very shortly to refer to those recommendations and grants-in-aid with the suggestions that have come from the Ministry of Health; showing how although these have been accepted; still show the weaknesses both of the Ministry and of Institutions, and then point out how the Bill which has been introduced will do away with many of the weaknesses of our present system. Let me be perfectly candid. Some of us who 1705 are keenly interested in the welfare of the country feel that it will be essential in grand committee to introduce numerous amendments to makes quite sure of the efficiency required, and the changing of the retrogressive policy pursued by some civic authorities in regard to their responsibilities for the blind.
First of all I want to show what some of the recommendations of the Committee were. In respect to co-operation in the workshops, this is what the Committee says, and be it remembered that it was a Committee of the best minds that this House appointed to deal with this question;—We are aware that there is great room for closer co-operation between workshops for the blind, and that a number of the workshops where the methods of work are wasteful and the conditions indifferent could only benefit by close co-operation between their Committee and the Committees of the more efficient workshops.And farther on they say:A great deal remains to be done along these lines and along the lines of co-operative buying of raw materials and selling the finished product, of the proper classification of the articles to be made at our workshops in relation to local requirements, and of the standardisation of these articles, but competent inspection is a necessary preliminary to these things.Then they go on to make certain suggestions with regard to the registration of institutions, societies and agencies. They make suggestions in respect of the registration of the individual blind, and as to the augmentation of wages, and the continuity of employment, which, as hon. Members will remember, are vital necessities. These institutions have all the support which the right hon. Gentleman, the Minister of Health, has given—and I may say that the Ministry of Health has done more for the blind during the time it has been in existence than was done in any twenty years by any previous Governments, yet with all that practical sympathy—the kind of sympathy which the hon Member who introduced the Bill pleaded for-the only result has been that about 2,500 blind people have been provided with the means of earning their livelihood in workshops. If that is to be remedied, something more must be done than has already been accomplished. This very modest Bill, now presented for Second Reading, will do much to clear away existing absurdities and will give greater responsibility to local men and to the 1706 civic authorities, and if it be properly moulded and given sufficient statutory safeguards it will promote a high spirit of civic responsibility which can be used to the best benefit of the community. This Report also dealt with the question of the workshops accountancy, and it is really appalling when one finds the awfully insolvent condition of many of these institutions, due, largely, to the improper application of the funds which they have been given. And when I say improper use and application of monies I do not mean anything dishonourable, but rather that absence of high, efficient, technical and practical knowledge of how to use money in the special work of culture, mental, industrial, social and moral of the afflicted blind. Take the case of education, both technical and secondary. Hon. Members will be surprised to know that in this country there is only one school to give secondary education to boys who are blind. In respect of the girls there is no school whatever. While with the active co-operation of the Minister of Education in collaboration with the Minister of Health much good has been done in regard to education in these matters, yet there is not sufficient accommodation for technical instruction, which, after all, is practically the bread and butter type of education that will enable these men to carry themselves with the dignity and responsibility which is the right of every working Englishman. After all, most of the men affected belong to the poorer lower classes, and yet for them nothing practical has really been done to enable them to have an opportunity of earning their livelihood.
What has been done? That is a proper question to be addressed to the Minister of Health. Some of the grants are as follows: £20 per head is granted to workshops which employ these blind people, and £20 per head is also granted to homes where these people are of home employment schemes. There is, further, some grant towards the initial expenditure which may be essential and necessary to make the homework practical and efficient; yet we find the percentage of employment is very small. I therefore must press the argument that the result of our efforts in the past has not been such as we have a right to expect and desire. I want to bring to the notice of hon. Members in respect of the educational section of the question that there 1707 is no civilised country in the world which has such a poverty of method for teaching the blind as has this country. We have not specialised in the production of expert blind teachers of the blind. In the United States of America they have made special efforts to give specialised treatment for these people in respect to education, greater effort, indeed, than for any other section of the community in America. But where are we in this country' We have done something in regard to the higher walks of life, in university education, but this section of education in respect to the blind has been distinctly neglected. There are no sufficient teachers to teach the blind, and something more must be done. This small Bill presents an opportunity whereby it may be possible to introduce the type of training which I have suggested, so that there shall be collaboration and more efficient cooperation between the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Education, with the result that that section, which counts so much in industrial life, may have its opportunity.
It has been suggested that the work of some of the institutions may somehow be minimised if the course we propose is accepted. In my opinion there is not the slightest danger of this obtaining. I may go further and say that if all the endowments which have been given from time to time to these societies could be pooled in one central fund and administered with expert and scientific knowledge of the blind needs and with businesslike acumen and sound practical common-sense, in my opinion there would be sufficient money in these funds to do the whole of the work which it is proposed to undertake under this Bill. The word "charity" stinks in the nostrils of blind people, and I say that in full confidence having had many opportunities of meeting them. What they want is an opportunity to make themselves efficient and earn their own livelihood, and if they can only have that, they desire nothing in the nature of charity. If we can persuade and guide the minds of the leaders of these great institutions to give proper vocational training, under proper amalgamation, I suggest that little or nothing will be required from the Chancellor of the Exchequer. We all know that when the Minister of Health 1708 set up this subcommittee to consider this question it made definite recommendations which would have effected what we are trying to do under this Bill; but when the Committee's report was presented the Treasury with certain financial suggestions the Treasury turned it down with Very little sympathy. I believe this Bill will receive support from every quarter of the House, and if we can only present such a case as I believe we can to the leaders and guiders of these great institutions, they will be prepared to act on the lines we suggest, namely, to nationalise and pool their resources. Many of us are not willing to accept nationalisation in regard to a lot of things, but I believe that in this matter of the blind we are prepared to agree to nationalisation, and if we only put forward a case which will ensure the efficiency we require I hope the institutions will fall into line and permit their funds and endowments to be put into the hands of the Minister of Health and of the Minister of Education with a view to a satisfactory solution of the problem we have before us. They, of course, still retaining representation on the national committee advising and watching the affairs of the blind population. The Minister of Health made recommendations with regard to the subsidy, but we ask hon. Members to support us in pressing for a sufficient minimum wage for this labour. Otherwise Parliament will be traducing and prostituting all sections of these people. Pre-natal blindness and blindness at birth are not included in the scope of the Bill, but we are looking to the Minister of Health, when the measure gets into Committee upstairs, to give opportunities and facilities for us to deal with this matter. In conclusion, I ask that opportunity shall be given to all sections of these poor afflicted people to take their part not only in the industrial life of our country, but also in the professions, medical and legal. The electrical trade alone in its expanding future offer the possibility of utilising the whole of the employable blind of the country. This Bill, with such dressing and alteration as it may require, gives a splendid opportunity of dealing with this grave and deep problem, the problem of the men and women who live in the perpetual night, and who feel in sense and thought rather than physically the beauties and glories of our country and of our race.
I rise to support the Second Reading of this Bill. My sympathies, like those of every Member of the House, go out to the blind, whether they live in England, Scotland, or any other part of the country. I naturally turn, first of all, to the blind in my own country, who, I would point out, are in a very much less satisfactory position than those in any other part of the United Kingdom. I desire to testify my gratitude to the hon. Member who introduced this Bill (Mr. Tillott) for his reception of me when I approached him some time ago to have provisions inserted in the Bill for dealing with the elementary and secondary training of children in Ireland. The House will note that the Bill deals entirely with technical training. Up to the present there has boon no legislation conferring upon the blind in Ireland the blessings that have been conferred upon the blind of England and Scotland in the matter of elementary and secondary education. Those hon. Members who have taken an interest in the matter will know that there was legislation for the elementary and secondary education of the blind in England and Scotland as long ago as 1890 and 1893. Heaven only knows why Ireland was not dealt with in the same way at that tine. Probably the Members of Parliament of those days who asked for legislation for the Irish blind were told that they Were going to have a Home Rule Bill very soon and that they would be able to Settle the matter for themselves. That may be the answer that I shall receive to day when I ask for the same thing. It is a matter, however, which does not brook delay, and an opportunity of remedying it arises on this Bill. I ask the House to do their duty by the Irish blind, as they propose to do by the blind in other parts of the United Kingdom.
Every Member who has preceded me has complimented the Minister of Health upon what he has done for the blind. I am not going to waste time in complimenting anybody, because I feel, so far from anybody deserving compliments, that we all equally deserve blame. We should regret rather than be proud of the fact that it was only in 1890 and 1803 that Parliament dealt with this matter, and that we should be dealing with this phase of the subject at this late date. It is a matter for which we cannot claim any great credit. It ought to have been done 1710 long ago. I take my full share of the blame, because I admit that I paid no particular attention to he matter until the question of the blind was brought forcibly before me more or less by accident a few months ago. When I was brought up against the blind, I realised at once that it was a matter that should have been attended to a great many years ago, and I am sure that is the position of many other Members. I do not wish to blame anyone in particular. We are all to blame in the matter The blind in Ireland are in every way worse off than the blind in England and in Scotland. There are more of them in proportion to population. In England there is one in 1,400, in Scotland one in 1,300, and in Ireland, I regret to say, nearly one in 1,000. From that point of view, the duty of the public towards the blind is more imperative in Ireland than in the other countries. With the exception of one successful institution in Belfast, and two smaller ones in Dublin, institutions for the blind are non-existent in Ireland The exact number is not known, but probably there are 4,500 blind in Ireland Only 250 are able to obtain employment, over 700 of them are paupers, and a large number of the residue are engaged in the degrading occupation of begging, a reproach which the blind themselves feel very keenly.
This Bill proposes to give facilities for technical education for the blind in Ireland, but it is more or less like asking a man to do higher mathematics without having taught him the rudiments of arithmetic, because the Irish blind have not had any opportunity of receiving elementary and secondary education. The hon. Member opposite was good enough to consent readily and with pleasure to the insertion in this Bill of provisions bringing the position of the Irish blind, with regard to elementary and secondary education, up to the same level as that which obtains in England and Scotland. Since then, I understand that the experts to whom he submittted the proposal have expressed a fear that the introduction of matters dealing with elementary and secondary education in a Bill, which, according to the title, is to deal only with technical education, might cause it to be out of order atogether, and, therefore, the provisions which I had proposed to introduce are not in the Bill. My object is to obtain the sympathy of the House for the introduction by me subsequently 1711 of provisions which will bring the Irish blind up to the same level as the English and Scottish blind with regard to elementary and secondary education, first, because it is a good object in itself, and, secondly, because it will prepare them and make them ready to appreciate and profit by the provisions of the Bill dealing with technical education. This I shall endeavour to do when the Bill arrives, as I hope it will, at the Committee stage. I ask the sympathy of the House for those in Ireland who are blind, and the same help for them as for those who are blind on this side of the water. I particularly ask this because I believe that there has been an oversight on the part of some person or somebody, a derelection of duty, because there has been such a long time before the blind have received the attention which is due to them. It has been fully twenty years since action was taken, and the Irish blind have been left out and now occupy an inferior position to the blind in this country. I have great pleasure in supporting the Bill.
§ Mr. G. THORNE
; I desire very warmly to congratulate the hen. Gentleman who moved the Second Heading of this Bill. He has been doubly fortunate—fortunate in the Ballot and then in obtaining the opportunity to introduce the Bill this afternoon. I also desire to express appreciation of the words which came from the Seconder of the Motion to the effect that although this Bill emanates from the Labour party it is recognised that Members on all sides of the House desire to take their part in promoting so excellent an object. This is one of the oases that we sometimes find in the domain of political controversy that make political life worth living. We are dealing with the realities of life in a Bill like this, just as earlier in the Session we faced the problem of the children, one of the most vital questions that we could possibly deal with. Now we are facing a question of those who are quite helpless, and we equally desire to give the proposals the most earnest support. We have recognised through His Majesty the King and throughout the country the heroism of those men who have lost their sight in fighting for their country. I think that some of the men and women who have in other ways lost their sight and are battling against the 1712 terrible disaster of blindness are perhaps equally worthy of recognition from the King and the nation. I should like to see the Victoria Cross awarded to some of those who have so proudly fought against this hard fate. I recognise, and otherwise I should not support the Bill, that the Bill does not in the slightest degree attempt to do anything in the nature of charity. It is to help the helpless till they become helpful, and so far as I have been able to judge, the idea which they resent more than all else is anything in the nature of charity. They want the opportunity to become helpful and self-respecting members of society. Because I do not regard this Bill as tending in that direction I desire to give to its general application my hearty support.
We are not concerned with the details. We shall hear of that from the Minister of Health (Dr. Addison) who I hope will speak just now. I understand that this Bill in its essence is a legislative recognition, on the part of the nation and the local authorities of our responsibility towards the blind, and that the object is to give them an opportunity of living their own lives as they desire to live them, as helpful members of society. I think that in course of time, instead of this Bill being a means whereby a burden will be placed upon the nation it will, on the contrary, in the long run reduce our expenditure by making those who were dependent upon charity, as we call it, self-supporting members of society. Because I recognise this as the object in view, so admirably indicated by the Mover, and because the terms and proposals of the Bill are so good, I desire, subject to necessary amendments in Committee, to give it my most hearty support.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
Everybody in the House feels sympathy with the blind, but I hope hon. Members will not allow themselves to be led away by sentiment and sympathy from the consideration of doing something which will impose a large burden upon the local authorities and the taxpayers. If the clauses of the Bill are really what has been described, they will carry out its purposes either in the form of charity or of a dole. I have taken opportunities during the last few months of pointing out that, however good an object may be, we cannot afford at the present moment to spend money.
1713 This is the worst moment in which to bring forward a Bill like this, almost every line of which means a further expenditure of public money. We cannot do that until we manage to make both ends meet. What does this Bill propose to do I do not know whether every Member has read it. It reminds me of the Bill which we considered about a fortnight ago, the objct of which was dscribed as the extending of the franchise for women. Everyone, or at any rate the majority, of the Members of the House, thought the object of the Bill was simply to reduce the ago of qualification from 30 to 21. It was nothing of the sort. It has all sorts of other objects which were not found out until the Bill had passed its Second Heading. This Bill does exactly the same. I listened to the hon. Member who spoke a few minutes ago and who made a most eloquent statement about the necessity of paying everybody the minimum rate of wages. He said the labourer should receive the minimum rate of wages so that labour should not be injured. I cannot make out what that had to do with the technical training of the blind. This is not merely a Bill to deal with the blind; it is a Bill to maintain everybody who chooses to make out to the local authority that he cannot see quite as well as he should like to do. I am obliged to wear glasses, I may go to the local authority and ask to be paid the minimum rate of wages at the expense of the ratepayer and taxpayer. If the House will look at the Bill, Sub-section (4), Clause 12, it will be seen that that is quite possible.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
That is exactly what I was saying. Everybody is so desirous of doing good to all sorts of people that they come down here with misleading proposals, and without knowing exactly what it is that is being proposed. If you will look at Clause 13 you will see that it says:—The expression 'Local Authority' means the Council of any County or County Borough. The expression 'blind' means too blind, in the opinion of the Local Authority, to perform work for which eyesight is ordinarily required.That may mean anything, and a woman may go to the Local Authority and say: "I am too blind to thread a needle, my 1714 sight is not sufficient, and I cannot continue dressmaking. I am too blind to do my work, and therefore I demand to betaken over and maintained at the cost of the State." It is only necessary to do that. There is no provision for a certificate from a doctor, and it does not even say that there is to be any kind of appeal. There is no appeal on behalf of the ratepayer. If the Local Authority says that John Jones is, in its opinion, a blind person, and requires help from the ratepayers, under this Bill, nobody can come and say: "In my opinion John Jones is all right"; and there is no way in which the ratepayer can have any appeal. That person is too blind to do the work which he ordinarily would like to do, and I as a ratepayer have to keep him. I have no appeal. If the local authorty says he is not sufficiently blind to be maintained in this way tinder the Bill he can appeal. To whom can he appeal I Not to the Minister of Health, who may have or ought to have some expert knowledge upon the matter, but to a person appointed by the Board of Education. What on earth does the Board of Education know about whether a man or woman is blind? The Board of Education, as far as I have ever had the misfortune to have anything to do with it, are very spendthrift people, only too glad to spend money if they get an opportunity. It is true there is also "a Secretary of State." "A Secretary of State" is rather wide. I do not think the Minister of Health is a Secretary of State. I think "Secretary of State" means the Secretary of State for War. What docs he know about it? The First Lord of the Admiralty? I do not know that he knows much about whether a person is blind or not. The Secretary of State for India? I do not think he knows much about it. The people who have been chosen are people who have no knowledge whatever upon this special subject Whenever a Bill of this sort is brought in, we are told it is not going to cost very much. When the Education Bill was brought in the Liberal authorities of that day assured us that the rate would never be more than 3d. in the I remember when Old Ago Pensions were brought in we were assured by the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Asquith) that they would not cost more than £6,000,000. Now they cost something like £20,000,000, The same thing always goes on. Do not 1715 let us be misled by the idea that this is going to be a cheap thing. It is going to be very expensive, and it is going to lead to all the evils and drawbacks which result from indiscriminate outdoor relief, and this is nothing more nor less than indiscriminate outdoor relief.
The Bill, of course, is extremely badly drafted, and parts of it are quite unintelligible. Clause 3, for instance, imposes an obligation on local authorities to establish or acquire, equip and maintain within its area workshops to provide employment for the blind. It goes on:No expense shall be incurred or contribution granted under this section by any local authority until the approval of a Secretary of State has been obtained to the amount of such expense or contribution and to the terms, if any, on which the expense is incurred or the contribution granted.What is the local authority to do? The first part says, "You shall establish workshops." Then they find, under Clause (3), that they cannot incur any expense without the sanction of a Secretary of State. If the Secretary of State for War sanctioned it I suppose it could be done. I have read some funny Bills in this House, especially of late years, and especially from that side of the House, but this is the most extraordinary Bill I have ever read. The only good feature I see in it is that it will take a very long time in Committee. I earnestly hope that the House will not be led away by the idea that this is a Bill for the education, employment and maintenance of the blind. It is nothing of the sort. Under it practically almost anybody might be educated, employed and maintained at someone else's expense. I hope, therefore, the House will show a little wisdom and will also support that economy which we are always talking about but never acting upon.
§ Mr. DEVLIN
I congratulate the promoters of this Bill upon the very fortunate circumstance that it has secured the hostility of the right hon. Baronet. I do not think advocacy, however eloquent, of any proposal submitted to this House is so irresistible in its ultimate results as a speech in opposition to the proposal by the right hon. Baronet? have been in the House for over 20 years and I have never, through all the fortunes and vissicitudes of Parliamentary activities, heard the right hon. Baronet plead for a great 1716 human cause or support any of those great measures which tend to the advancement of the people.
§ Mr. DEVLIN
That is a fine observation from one who has his sight on a Bill to deal with the question of the blind. There has been just one gleam of humanity in his Parliamentary life, and that was when he carried on a propaganda against the vivisection of dogs. I remember how his heart and his soul flowed with human feeling and pity and mercy for dogs. I do not object to sympathy with dogs. I think it is a fine trait in human character and a very worthy cause to support. But I cannot understand the mentality of the right hon. Baronet, who might be my Parliamentary grandfather. I believe he has been here for about forty years. His voice has been raised in defence of dogs, and the only time it has been raised in other causes has been to oppose all measures that tend to sweeten life and make the condition of the people better than it was before.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
I raised my voice in opposition to the Home Rule Bill, which was done in kindness to Ireland.
§ Mr. DEVLIN
I am delighted, because next to the irresistable Irish eloquence which we suppose will one day win this cause, we trust the right hon. Baronet will live to oppose us long enough to get our measure carried. The greatest misery that can befall a member of the human family is the loss of sight. I do not say that sight brings wisdom, because the right hon. Baronet has good sight, but he does not see very far. Physical blindness is a personal affliction; mental blind ness is a curse to humanity. One causes great personal sorrow, and the other brings about universal trouble. Therefore, I think the right hon. Gentleman, though the affliction is different, ought to have that sympathy by which one touch of nature makes the whole world kin. He has stated that he is entirely opposed to this lavish expenditure; but he has not told the House what amount of money is going to be spent if this Bill comes into operation. I prefer the opinions of those hon. Members on the Labour benches, and some Conservative gentlemen of public spirit who are neither physically blind nor mentally blind. There are some 1717 Conservatives like that. I was surprised when I heard that these proposals do not mean any burden to the State; but that does not commend the Bill to me. If ever there was any problem which should be grappled with, whether it costs money to the State or not, it most undoubtedly is the problem of the blind. When I go through the streets of Belfast and see a man, in the fullness of his health and vigour, standing with closed eyes and bearing a label on his breast "Pity me, I am blind," I do not pity him, but I pity myself. I pity the community that lacks the spirit of practical sympathy and subjects honest, decent citizens suffering from this providential infliction to the degradation of standing at the street corner and appealing for pity. If there is to be pity, let the pity be for Members of Parliament, for members of municipal councils, and for men and women in positions of responsibility who make such things possible in the midst of a Christian community. The right hon. Gentleman is opposed to this scheme, but if you wanted Imperial expansion, if you wanted to increase military power, if you wanted war with Russia, if you wanted the Army mobilised for further conflict with Germany, he would stand with a Union Jack in his hand and would not in the least object to the expenditure of public money upon undertakings of that character.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
It was a pity we did not spend a little more money on the Army before the German War.
§ Mr. DEVLIN
My right hon. Friend, being a sound economist, may have opposed it when it was necessary. It is only when the money is necessary that the right hon. Gentleman opposes it. For the right hon. Gentleman to come here and denounce expenditure on education, upon the proper training of the people, upon the creation of public efficiency, upon the creation of a most perfect economic and industrial machine, and above all, in giving a chance to the most afflicted class and the most defenceless class in the world, is a thing I cannot understand from the right, hon. Gentleman who has always been overflowing with sympathy for dogs. I did not intend to do more than rise to say that I associate myself, as an Irish representative, with this Bill. There are 5,000 blind in Ireland, and of these 5,000 only 250 are employed. Upwards of 700 of 1718 these blind people are in Irish workhouses. I was asked the other day by a blind inmate of a workhouse to go and see him. He declared that he remembered me when I was a boy, and that he had followed with some interest my career, and was anxious that I would go and speak to him. I went, and I thought I should see a tottering old man, but I found a man 39 years of age, and he had been in that place over 16 years. I thought it was a most extraordinary circumstance to find this highly intelligent man, in the fulness of vigour and youth, compelled to live in an Irish workhouse, the most degrading and indefensible institution to be found in all Europe. There are 600 of these blind people in receipt of outdoor relief in Ireland.
The right hon. Gentleman says that this Bill will only be a case of giving those people oudoor relief. They are living on outdoor relief and indoor relief now, but the purpose of this measure is to divorce charity from right; to create security consistent with personal dignity. There are some things people will not endure for material things. There are people who would rather starve than go into a workhouse Therefore, any proposal that takes them out of the workhouse, and any scheme that would give them the relief to which they are entitled, is worthy of support port. Blindness is the one affliction of which by no possible distortion can it be said that the people who suffer from it are to be blamed for having brought it upon themselves. Therefore, for those who are fortunate enough to be blessed by Providence with health and sight, and the means of alleviating the sorrow of this most afflicted class, to refuse to discharge our responsibility to them, is a curious commentary upon the progress of humanitarian ideas. I congratulate those who have combined together to deal with this question and to grapple with the problem in what they regard as a satisfactory manner. I have had several interviews with these blind men upon the question of a special Bill for Ireland, and the striking thing about them is how uncomplaining they are. I know of no class which displays such tenderness, such patience, such good temper in the circumstances. They are overwhelmingly grateful to people who do the slightest thing for them. I suppose 1719 they reason that perhaps we are too busy with other things to attend to their interests. They are the one class that seems to be the least soured by the infliction which Providence has placed upon them, and because of that infliction and because it is our duty to come to their aid, I trust that this Bill will be accepted wholly, and that this Parliament will have to its credit the carrying out of a project which will do so much for a preeminently deserving class.
§ Mr. F. ROBERTS
I wish to join in the chorus of approval with which this measure has been received. The right hon. Member for the City of London (Sir F. Banbury) has used one or two ugly phrases in his opposition to the measure, which induce me to say something in support of my colleagues on this question. He says that the assistance of the blind can only be met by two methods, charity or dole, and that whatever we may call it, it simply means indiscriminate out-door relief. I am very sorry that the right hon. Gentleman in his criticism did not go to the later Clauses in the Bill, and tell us what the Bill really does. He would have found that it does not mean doles, charity or indiscriminate outdoor relief. What the Bill asks is that the blind people who have been so unfortunate in the past shall be given the chance of becoming something like decent citizens, fulfilling all the functions and rights belonging to every other section of the community, and in return for what they are receiving under this Bill they will only be asked to give some fair value from the work which they do. Though the right hon. Gentleman somewhat facetiously referred to his own deficient sight, yet if he were some day in the unfortunate position of coming before some of these committees who will determine whether he is entitled to assistance or not, I hope that he will no more be able to mislead them on this question than he has misled the House in the consideration of this Measure. No section excites more our genuine sympathy or demands more our practical assistance. Some of us have become firmly convinced that in the past Governments of the time have not shown that consideration for the blind or that keenness to place this measure on the Statute Book that they might have done.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
My chief objection to this Bill is that it is not a Bill dealing with the blind at all, but goes far beyond that. If it had been a Bill limited to the blind it would have been different.
§ Mr. ROBERTS
; The Bill says:The institutions far the blind now existing are insufficient to provide technical training and employment for all blind persons capable of profiting thereby; Many blind persons, in consequence of their blindness, are unable, when fully employed, to earn sufficient wages or remuneration for their proper maintenance, and many blind persons are completely incapacitated from earning their livelihood.
§ Clauses 1 and 2 go on to define what is to be the position of the local authority in relation to training and to the institutions which are created.
§ Mr. ROBERTS
It may be thought that there is no general desire for the passing of this Measure. During the past few months I have had the opportunity of addressing large audiences in various parts of the country, and there was an almost unanimousdesire that this Measure should be passed immediately. Whatever may have been the reasons which induced Governments in the past to pay no heed to the demand for the passing of this Measure, there seems no reason to doubt to-day the existence of the desire on the part of the general community that the blind shall be better treated than in days gone by. It has been established that Managers, Executives, and other bodies concerned with the administration of blind workshops and other institutions are all in favour of the passing of this or a similar Measure. Knowing that, there seems no genuine reason why we should not give whole-hearted support to it. This is a simple Measure, but it is a proposal to secure decent conditions of life for all sightless persons. Moreover, there is a definite provision for giving facilities for training and subsequent employment. That is an absolute refutation of the right hon. the Member for the City of London.
Those of us who have been associated in a more or less intimate capacity with the work of the blind, feel that this opportunity for the development of their latent faculties and rendering good service to the State has been denied to them far too long. We have never attempted to measure the position of the blind in this 1721 country by mere considerations of £ s. d. We want to give them the opportunity of exercising all their rights as citizens. I am glad to have heard the kind things which have been said with regard to the work already done, not only through Government channels, but also through various charitable agencies in existence, but notwithstanding all that has been done, the evidence and the statistics show definitely that the position of sightless people in this country is still very precarious. Charitable institutions have accomplished much, but they will never succeed in doing all that is required if the blind are to enjoy all that is necessary in this life. There has been a great lack of opportunity for the blind to exercise whatever faculties they may possess. Under clauses 1 and 2 there are definite proposals which will enable the fullest co-operation between existing institutions and local authorities. It is this spirit of co-operation and human sympathy which may be brought about between the existing institutions and local authorities which will do so much to remedy the bad state of things that has already been created.
I am sorry that the right hon. Gentleman has gone, because I was going to quote some figures in reference to the City of London, where the conditions obtaining, so far as blind people are concerned, are as bad as in any other part of the country, if not worse. The London figures are only typical of the large industrial centres of the country. There are 3,552 blind in London. Those provided for by industrial means are fewer than 300. A very big proportion of the 3,500 if they had had industrial training in the early part of their lives might have become useful citizens, rendering good service to the State. It is only the inherent hostility, or the supposed hostility to industrial training that has caused this unfortunate class to become chargeable on the Poor Law or on charitable institutions. In the East End of London there has only been created one small workshop for meeting the needs of this particular class. Moreover, most of these institutions have been relying entirely on charitable support, and have found it impossible to pay anything like a decent living wage to the people whom they employ. They have been forced into a state of semi-privation and destitution because subscriptions have not been sufficient to enable the institution 1722 management to pay a decent living wage, and that is the reason why so many managers of existing institutions and committees of existing organizations are willing to give their whole-hearted support to the proposals contained in this Bill.
In London there are 700 blind people at the moment who are said to be existing on incomes not exceeding 10s. a week. I wonder why the right hon. Member for the City of London has not ascertained these facts and told them to the House? If he had concerned himself with that side of the question he would have more sympathy with this measure. It has been pointed out by the hon. Member who introduced the scheme that so many of those who are blind become so after the age of 35 years. They are thereby compelled to seek assistance from some other quarters. If many of these people had boon dealt with prior to actual blindness coming upon them, if they had boon taken into one or other of the workshops when they first began to fear the loss of their sight, they might again have become more useful citizens and might have enjoyed the latter days of their lives. In addition to that, we find that in the case of people who have become blind after thirty-five years of age it has cost £150,000 from the Poor Law in order that they may be kept in something like decency. Properly dealt with they might become a valuable asset to the life of the community.
By this Bill we think that all sections of blinded people, the partially or wholly blind, might be better equipped to face the battle of life, and we would prevent life becoming an absolute burden to them. This Bill would give to each local authority responsibility for the proper care; and protection of the blind residing within the area of that authority. Every citizen, we are confident, would willingly become a contributor to this scheme, and such a system undoubtedly would claim many real advantages over the precarious state of things which exists now. It would be far less costly and infinitely more efficient. Those are the main points which influence us in giving our support unitedly to this Bill, because we feel that those are the advantages and that there are no disadvantages compared with the state of things existing at the present time. By ordering things as proposed we feel that there would be a much speedier end to 1723 the intense suffering and privation which blind people are now called upon to endure. There is another consideration. Many blind people who cannot enjoy all the amenities of life are very often called upon to pay taxes for things from which they never can receive any measure of benefit. That is if set-off to one of the suggestions made by an hon. Member on the other side of the House. Much magnificent work has been done for the prevention of blindness and for the cure of blindness. We appreciate that, and are glad of the enlightened spirit which has come over the various Departments in regard to this problem. We know that the young are being much better looked after. Care and consideration are now being shown where formerly there was neglect and indifference, and the work being done should certainly lead ultimately to a reduction in the number of those who are forced into a state of permanent blindness.
Apart from the provisions of this Bill for technical training, we claim that this preventive and rescue work should be proceeded with and developed on the widest possible lines, and that the best that science and invention can give should be devoted to this most sacred cause in the name of humanity. The same spirit which has animated those responsible for the prevention and the cure of blindness, the same spirit which has inspired those who have been dealing with young children and inspired us in the consideration of this measure, should be encouraged and developed. One point that has been raised is that the passing of this Bill might tend to decrease the flow of subscriptions from voluntary channels. I think we have sufficient evidence to show that nothing of the kind need be feared. On the contrary, we think that there would be the fullest human co-operation and sympathy between the charitably-minded and the local authorities. Much the same thing was said, I believe, before the passing of the Education Act for the Blind and Deaf in 1893. When that Act was being considered in this House it was freely stated that voluntary institutions would suffer as a result of State intervention. We are quite positive that such a fear has proved absolutely groundless, for the passing of the Act 1724 stimulated public interest and the 36 educational establishments are richer to-day than ever. I think exactly the same effect would be produced by the operation of this particular measure. I think we can claim that the blind have been very, very very patient. They have been a very long-suffering section of the community. They have striven for many years to secure this measure. It has in past years received almost unanimous endorsement from the various sections in this House. It is one of the most satisfactory features of our Parliamentary life that we have been able during the past few months to meet in one of the Committee Booms upstairs Members drawn from all quarters of the House and that all have been able to subscribe to the principles of this measure and to express the desire that it will be placed on the Statute Book at the earliest possible moment.
The blind have been long-suffering, and they feel that now they have a right to ask for something a little more real and tangible than the promises and ex-pressions of sympathy which have been so glibly preferred in days gone by. This measure will give real and tangible expression to our thoughts, and the blind will be immeasurably benefited. In a word, this Bill seeks to establish that the blind people shall become citizens in the best sense of the word. In passing the Bill I hope we shall never entertain the idea that we are going to set blinded people in competition with those who are in possession of all their faculties. That would be a disaster. We want to do something for them so that the monotony of their lives may be relieved, so that they shall not be compelled to live in perpetual night accompanied by almost perpetual poverty. The standard of existence has to be determined, not by the amount of money which may come in from the coffers of the charitable, but the measure of support, co-operation, and assistance which shall be given to them from such proposals as are contained in this Bill. I feel confident that all sections of the House would welcome the passing of the Bill. We have a right to ask that the blind shall be given a fair chance of enjoyment of life as the smallest possible recompense for their loss of one of the greatest possible benefits—the power to see.
§ Viscountess ASTOR
There is nothing really more to be said about the blind, but I would like to point out that the right hon. Gentleman, the Member for the City of London (Sir F. Banbury), in no way represents women. I believe I am right in saying that the right hon. Gentleman docs not believe in women having votes; and he certainly does not like seeing them in the House of Commons. It is exactly that attitude of the right hon. Gentleman which makes me rejoice that women have got votes. The thing about this Bill which appeals to me most is that it is not to encourage indiscriminate charity, but it is to give a real chance to the blind of working out their own salvation. Personally, I would far rather see the blind employed and given work and education than all the charity in the world. I promised the Minister of Health not to go on more than a minute and my minute is up, but I would like again to impress on the House that the right hon. Gentleman, the Member for the City, in no way represents women, and certainly not the women who have got the vote and intend to use it.
§ The MINISTER of HEALTH (Dr. Addison)
Although my hon. Friend has made a short speech, I am sure few more effective speeches have been made in support of a Bill which is designed to give assistance to a class of people who are peculiarly unable to help themselves in consequence of their infirmity. The hon. Member who moved the Second Reading stated, in eloquent and graphic terms, the disabilities and misfortunes of the blind. I was comforted, however, by what he said and what other hon Members acquainted with this subject said as to Government action. Those hon. Members gave the Government and the Ministry of Health credit for having really done something material in this matter. In this connection it would not be fair if I were to omit a reference to the very valuable work which my hon. Friend the Member for Ince (Mr. S. Walsh) has performed on this subject. It was largely in consequence of the practical recommendations of the Advisory Committee on the Blind that we have taken very considerable practical action during recent years. Before I come to the proposals of the Bill it may not be inappropriate if I ask the House to look at the subject as a whole, so 1726 that we may not simply content ourselves with dealing with ill effects, but consider a proper and comprehensive policy with a view to removing the causes which, to an unusual degree, happen to be preventable. I find, as the hon. Member (Mr. Tillett) stated, that a very large proportion of the blindness in the London County Council schools and allied schools, and amongst the general population, is due to a certain preventible condition. That preventible condition is venereal disease in one or other of its forms. Twenty-one per cent., for instance, of the blind are blind within six months from birth, and that blindness is almost all due to the condition to which my hon. Friend referred, and which is removable. That is one of the reasons for the expenditure which the House voted the other night by which we are giving increased assistance and providing better training for nurses, midwives, and so on to attend to the newly-born child, and it is another justification for that class of expenditure, because it is no exaggeration to say that in the case of those blind within six months of birth nearly all could have been prevented. This has to be linked up with other causes. It will be futile for the House simply to provide remedies for ill effects without at the same time securing a proper policy directed to remove the causes. There are other causes similarly preventible, and next in importance are those cases relating to industrial accidents. Nothing surprised me more in examining the reports of the Advisory Committee and others than the scrappy nature of our information on this subject. We have records from a few institutions here and there, such as the London County Council schools for blind children and the Glasgow Blind Asylum, but in the main our knowledge is of the scrappiest kind.
I am not at all satisfied, although we are developing our policy on this subject and with regard to the operation of venereal diseases, that we have yet covered ground. Therefore I shall adopt the suggestion made by the Mover that we should have a comprehensive inquiry into the causes and prevention of blindness of a scientific character, and I propose to set one up. I shall consult with my hon. Friends in the House on the matter at an early date. Some of the, ground has been covered already, though not, perhaps, in the form suggested in 1727 this Bill. An hon. Member pointed out that we were already giving £20perhead for blind persons in workshops, and by that, he said, we are providing for the efficient training of, say, 2,500 persons. This question relates to about 30,000 people. It would appear, as far as we can tell, that of that number from 12,000 to 15,000 are unemployable, in the main because there has been no provision made to train them, so that the next step is to provide that necessary training. The Board of Education, as the House knows, requires that local authorities should provide training and facilities for education and so on, suitable for blind children, and the Board of Education is proposing also to extend that form of training by giving assistance to properly considered schemes put up by institutions now aided by voluntary organisations as well as by public authorities, to some of which my hon. Friend paid a high and quite deserved tribute. Some of these organisations have acquired a wealth of experience and have managed very well, and the Board of Education proposes to assist them under suitable conditions to improve their training facilities. I agree with the supporters of the Bill that this is not enough, and before I pass from that subject I want to mention one proposal which the Government will wish to see embodied in any legislation adopted by this House, and that is this. There is a serious danger, I find, from a Report of the Advisory Committee, that a number of bodies appealing for subscriptions for the blind should not make as good a use as we should like of the subscriptions obtained, and whilst the promoters of the Bill recognise that we cannot afford to do anything but give the best help possible to those experienced and thoroughly trustworthy agencies which have given a vast deal of voluntary assistance to the blind, we must take care that the interests of the blind and the sympathies of the public are not exploited by those agencies which are not worthy of support.
Therefore, we shall propose as a part of this Bill that we shall have power to require the registration of agencies appealing for support of a voluntary character for the blind, and no doubt they could be registered in an appropriate manner, 1728 into which I need not now go, which would not involve any supervision in the obnoxious sense. It is essential that the workshop accommodation should be increasing, and therefore the Government are prepared to support proposals whereby county councils, county borough councils, and possibly other bodies may be authorised to provide and maintain or to contribute towards the provision and maintenance of workshops, hostels, homes, and other places for the reception of the blind. We are prepared to see that that is embodied in any legislation, and it goes a very long way to cover the proposals of this Bill. Also it is clear that that will necessitate some assistance to the capital provision of the necessary workshops. If the House will bear in mind the figures I gave, of 30,000, of which a large number are children and aged persons—and I am glad to say that blindness among children is diminishing—they will see that the problem is not of such a magnitude from the point of view of numbers that it would be reasonable and economical to expect that in every area, every authority should set up a separate organisation or workshop for the blind. It would be a wasted effort, and while I join issue with the movers of the Bill on that point, one point which I welcome in the Bill is that it provides that authorities may join together in the provision of such accommodation. But it is clear that the number of teachers to give training is very limited, and we shall find in this, as in almost everything else, that the lack of suitable competent persons to run them is the limiting factor. Therefore any appropriate scheme should provide for a relatively small number of shops and an adequate staff Also it is proposed that we should have a grant in aid, and that it should be 50 per cent. of the capital contribution.
In regard to the problem of preventing the able-bodied blind becoming unemployable, that must be done by the proper provision of a sufficient number of training places and workshops, or the support of those properly administered now, with the possibility of extension, but it is not a problem which requires the establishment of this kind of organisation everywhere. We only need them in a sufficient number of selected centres. This is the most difficult side of it, namely, the persons who are blind and who really have got past the age at which 1729 they can be trained or taught how to support themselves, and they are, of course, in large numbers at the present time in workhouses. But I am very anxious that we should not reform our Poor Law piecemeal by setting up in anticipation a number of hostels which would have to be scrapped afterwards, and we have been engaged, as the House knows, in accordance with the pledges given by the Government, on working at the necessary legislation on this gigantic subject for some time past. You cannot lightly introduce proposals relating to the complicated issues arising out of the reform of the Poor Laws. Therefore, I do not want to set up everywhere these county committees and so forth, as suggested here, for giving assistance to the indigent and unemployable blind. That would really be setting up a scheme, which I do not want to anticipate in view of the reforms we have to make for dealing with the Poor Law as a whole. It would be a great pity to deal piecemeal with reform. Consequently, I am suggesting, for the interim, to make use of certain machinery we have already got.
After going into the matter quite carefully, it appeared to me that blind persons, after the age of 50, cannot as a rule be taught anything. We propose, therefore, to make a special form of relief at the age of 50 for those who are blind and not able to support themselves according to the definition. We propose to use the same machinery that we have got now with regard to the administration of Old Age Pensions, and we propose that any blind person between the ages of 60 and 70, subject to the same disqualifications as to income and so forth, shall receive the same benefits and weekly allowances as old age pensioners get. That would mean that all these people would be able to receive 10s. a week, or whatever it is which they would be entitled to receive under the old age pension scale, with the same disqualifications as apply to the Old Age Pension. That would really meet straight away the case of almost all the 46 per cent. of the blind who are indigent and who are too old to be taught anything. We must rely mainly on the development of the workshops and training places to teach people to earn money for themselves, I think the promoters of the Bill will see that the Government have given 1730 very careful consideration to this matter. We want to meet the difficulties with them in a friendly spirit, and I therefore suggest that, while the House gives this Bill a Second reading, I will consult those who are interested in this subject, and either re-form this Bill, or introduce another to give effect to the proposals of the Government.
§ Mr. CLYNES
I rise to express in just one sentence with what pleasure I have listened to the right hon. Gentleman unfold his own story and his real sympathy with those who are the subject of this Bill, and the very practical and far-reaching proposals to deal with the difficulties which this Bill has tried to cover. The right hon. Gentleman has indicated the acceptance by the Government of the Bill, and we trust that, in giving practical effect to what has been outlined this afternoon, not a moment's time will be lost. That is really a great consideration to the blind population of this country who, for a long time, have agitated and struggled and appealed in vain, and who now, apparently, are to have many of their highest wishes realised. I hope, therefore, the Government, through the activities of my right hon. Friend, will lose no time in giving practical effect to what he has expressed to the House this afternoon.
§ Mr. HAROLD SMITH
I would like to join in congratulations to my right hon. Friend and the Government for the sympathy which they have extended to this most deserving Measure, and to add a very mild expression of regret that the Government has not yet made up its mind as to whether this Bill is to be the framework of the Government's proposal, or whether the Government is to re-draft the Bill, r think it is a pity that we are asked to agree to the Second Reading of a Bill which my right hon. Friend and his advisers think is in the wrong form. I would like to have a little more definite-ness, because in his final sentences the right hon. Gentleman said he hoped the House would give a Second Reading to this Bill, after which the Government would decide whether they would re-form it or bring in another Bill. I should have thought the Government might have arrived at a decision before my right hon. Friend made his speech.
§ Mr. McGUFFIN
I will not venture to offer to the House any remarks I contemplated, in view of the fact that the Minister 1731 representing the Government in this matter has met us in such a sympathetic spirit. I do not want to say more at the moment than to appeal to the right hon. Gentleman to give consideration to the claims of primary and secondary education for the blind people.
§ Dr. ADDISON
My right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary asks me to say that both these matters will be dealt with in the Irish Education Bill.
§ Mr. McGUFFIN
I beg to thank the right hon. Gentleman. He said in this respect the blind in Ireland suffered a very serious disability. It is no good talking about technical education to those who are perfectly ignorant in the matter of elementary education. Ireland has a special claim here, because proportionately there are more blind in Ireland than in England or Scotland. There are over 7,000 blind people in Ireland who, for the most part, are inmates of workhouses, or destitutes or mendicants, which is enough to sadden the heart of the representatives of that country. I am very glad to see that there is such a benevolent spirit in this House towards this Bill, and I would like to express my appreciation of the passionate and eloquent appeal that has been made by the Mover of this Bill on behalf of these unfortunate people. As a representative of labour, with my other colleagues here, I had the opportunity of interviewing some of these blind people with regard to the Bill, and I cannot help saying with what feelings of sympathy I listened to their appeal. I would impress upon the House that if these people are afflicted with regard to physical eyesight, they are, in many instances, splendidly endowed with intellect, and it would be' nothing but a misfortune if the proposals in this Bill were not carried into effect. I thank the right hon. Gentleman for the intimation he has made on behalf of Ireland, and my Labour colleagues and I propose to give our best support to the Bill.
§ Sir R. NEWMAN
I merely rise to get enlightenment upon one point. Is it the fixed decision of the Government that the 10s. per week shall be granted to blind people between 50 and 70, and, if so, is it to be brought in by a Bill, or in what manner? I should also like to know from the right hon. Gentleman if the Government have made up their minds that this is to be a hard and fast rule; 1732 if so, my experience of Poor Law administration makes me rather disappointed at that announcement. The average man or woman between 50 and 60 who is in the workhouse, and blind, is hardly likely to regain his freedom by the payment of this 10s, which is a sum perfectly inadequate for the purpose. In nine cases out of ten they will remain in the workhouse. I trust the amount will be reconsidered, for, I repeat, that 10s. is perfectly inadequate, in my opinion, to achieve the object which I am quite sure my right hon. Friend has in view—that is to enable these people to leave the workhouse.
§ Sir W. SEAGER
I rise very heartily to support the Bill. I am glad to know that the House has such deep sympathy and interest in the unfortunate people who are blind. It has been my privilege and, pleasure to work in connection with a very large institution, one similar to that referred to by the right hon. Gentleman, the Minister for Health, in Cardiff. I have worked for many years in it, and have also acted as chairman. We were able, by voluntary assistance, to give to all the men and the women we employed the trade union rate of wages. We found often that that was not sufficient, and we then raised a sum of money which we called an Augmentation Fund, and from that, even during the stress of war, we were enabled to increase the wages of these people 100 per cent. We realised, however, that this Bill goes very much further than voluntary effort, and it will enable those, and I am sorry to say they are many, who do not sympathise with these unfortunate brothers and sisters and are not willing to help in the voluntary efforts made to aid by spreading the burden over the whole community, thus going a long way to relieve the difficulties under which our blind people suffer. I was greatly interested in what my hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich said. It touched me deeply. I am sure the efforts of hon. Members in all parts of the House will combine to help in this matter, and with the assurance of the Ministry of Health, will put the question of the blind on such a basis that in the future they will be able to live brighter, happier, and fuller lives than ever before. All they want is sympathetic help and guidance. At Cardiff—and here I differ from the right hon. Gentleman—we have trained 1733 men over fifty years to work at making cork fenders for use on board ship. They are able to do this very efficiently, and they earn considerable money. We have also basket-makers, mat-makers, and men in other industries. I am sure that the they want is really loving and sympathetic help, and then they will do all they can to help themselves.
§ Captain REDMOND
Perhaps it is rather a unique experience for me, but I desire to join with the hon. Member for one of the Divisions of Belfast who has just spoken for the sentiments he has expressed in regard to this Bill. I regret exceedingly that this Measure has been introduced by a Private Member. That being so, however, I certainly welcome the statement made by the Government that it will be taken up and facilities given to it. The National League of Blind in Ireland suggested a separate Bill for that country only last year. They not only suggested, but drafted and printed a Bill. They hoped the Government would take it up. As in most matters, however, in which my country is concerned, the Government let it alone. As to the present Bill, I have no fault to find, but I would say that we in Ireland are in a very different position in regard to the blind from the people of this country. We have not got the great industrial institutions nor the same charitable sources on which to draw as in this rich land of yours. Therefore the blind in Ireland are certainly in a worse position than the blind in this country. There are no less than 7,000 blind people in Ireland. So far as I can ascertain, of that number a small proportion, only about 250, are employed, and certainly not more than 500. There are a great many in various institutions—400. There are 700 in the workhouses, 500 receiving outdoor relief, and, 3,000 roughly, depending upon their friends.
I think that a separate Bill would have been better for Ireland. Ireland deserves distinct recognition and differential treatment in this regard. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"] I am glad to find that in that observation I am in unison with my hon. Friends opposite. The Government, through their spokesman to-day, have informed us that they intend to facilitate the passage of this Bill, and I am very glad indeed of that decision. I would like to support the suggestion made by the hon. Member for Exeter. If the Government 1734 are willing to support these people, why not support them properly? What is the good of giving a blind person between 50 and 70 a sum that everyone knows to-day nobody can live upon, and a sum which will not keep the person concerned out of the workhouse or the institution which we do not wish them to go to, and which they go to through no fault of their own? I would appeal to the Government to make a more liberal grant to the people who are suffering from this awful disability. We know from the efforts at St. Dunstan's Homo that there is practically no limit to the capacity of blind soldiers in the matter of work for which they can be trained. But I should like to impress upon the Government that the frightful effects of the war and the legacy of the blind in the Army and of ox-Service men should be taken into consideration.
There is a very large percentage indeed of men who have been blinded by poison-gas and the other methods adopted by our enemies, and that special consideration should be given to their case. It is not proper for the Government to wait until these men reach 50 or thereabouts before they bring proper relief. These men, in the exercise of their duty, and while they were attempting to defend their country, were placed in this unfortunate position. Therefore I desire to support this Measure. It docs not go as far as I would like. It should be a Government Measure. This is a duty which should fall on the Government, and there is evidence of a great lack of public capacity on the part of the Government when they wait for a private Member to introduce a Measure such as this. But a private Member having done so, it becomes the bounden duty of the Government to do everything possible to assist and support these poor people who, from no fault of their own, are in such a helpless position. I would remind the Minister for Health that there has not been one single speech this afternoon against the Bill, although perhaps the right hon. Baronet, the Member for the City of London (Sir F. Banbury), may have said a few words slightly derogatory to this particular proposal. He however, I am sure, is not opposed to doing everything possible to support those people. I suggest the Government should not only take up this Bill, but that they should also embark on a drastic measure of relief 1735 for these people in all quarters of the United Kingdom, having regard to the particular circumstances of every portion of the country.
§ Captain LOSEBY
I want to be allowed most respectfully to congratulate the hon. Gentleman who has introduced this Bill, which appears to me to be generous in spirit and well thought out in detail. The hon. Gentleman is associated, not for the first time, with a noble cause. I also want to join in the congratulations which have been offered both to him and to the Seconder. I had intended to get up in anticipation of the plea of poverty that I thought might be raised. I agree with hon. Members who have spoken that the proposals of the Government in this Measure are not entirely satisfactory, as after we have done everything we can to train them and fit them to earn a livlihood there still remains much to be done, and I entirely agree with the Mover of the Bill, that their maintenance should be provided for completely by the State. Ten shillings a week in these days is nothing like adequate for that, and once again, on general principles, I want to enter my protest against such a plea being advanced. May I give one simile; it is in connection with the Army. An Army, however hard pressed, gets back its broken men. It acknowledges its collective responsibility. It does not leave them to the efforts of comradeship alone, but, collectively, it seeks to get them back, and the first sign of demoralisation in the Army is when it neglects that duty. So it is with the State. We are told that one person in every thousand is blind, and we are asked to take a thousandth part of the responsibility of completely maintaining that blind man. If we are prepared to put up a plea of poverty in regard to that with collective responsibility, then I say we are in a very sorry plight indeed. The hon. Member who introduced this Bill, and those who act with him, hold the opinion that, in spite of all our dificulties, we are in a position to accept that responsibility. I think the majority of hon. Members will agree, and I hope that those who support the Bill in Committee will do everything in their power to impress on the Government their desire to fulfil our responsibility to these men, and to not allow that responsibility to be whittled away.
§ Mr. DONNELLY
As far as Ireland is concerned, the blind there are in a peculiarly wretched state. They are for the most part of a lower standard of education, and where an unfortunate person is stricken with this affliction, and his standard of education is low, his state of helplessness is a great deal more marked than where the standard of education is high. In Ireland there are 3,000 derelict blind, who for the most part wander through the towns and villages begging of whomsoever they can. In England the position is different. The standard of education is on a higher plane, and the blind are not nearly so helpless. In Ireland we have none of those splendid institutions which you have in this country, and which in some measure alleviate the wretchedness of those who are blind. I see the Bill places certain powers in the hands of a local authority: that is, of the council of any county or borough. I would venture to suggest to the promoters that the proper authority in Ireland will be the Poor Law authority, which is much more in touch with the people, and, therefore, better fitted to do the work than any county council or any local authority set up specially by this Apt. I join in the chorus of congratulation which has come from every side of the House to the pro motors of the Bill. After all, we owe a very great debt to these poor people. We cannot restore their sight, we cannot restore to them the blessings they have lost, and the very least we can do is to attempt to alleviate their misery and give them a brighter outlook in life.
§ Mr. HARBISON
I am in entire sympathy with the spirit of the Bill, but I think it is wrongly conceived. I see that the burden of the expenditure in connection with this Bill is thrown upon the local rates. This should not be made a local question or be placed upon the local rates; it is a national question. I understand that the Government have undertaken to take up this Bill and to put it through. They should not leave the education, support, and maintenance of the blind dependent upon the local rates. I happen to be a member of a local authority, and, as far as Ireland is concerned, our Local Authorities at the present time have quite enough burden to carry.
§ Mr. HARBISON
We have very big undertakings in this age of reconstruction, and we are trying to keep our end up in advancing everything that is likely to be useful to the community. Our local rates, however, are not sufficient to carry out the undertakings upon which we have embarked, and, if the Government take up this question of encouraging the blind, it should be made a national scheme, and the cost should be placed upon the National Exchequer. The Local Authorities have very limited funds, and I fear that the needs will not be met by contributions from the local rates. Ireland, as the hon. Member for South Armagh (Mr. Donnelly) has said, has a very largo proportion of aged blind who cannot receive any useful instruction in learning a trade, and who are absolutely mendicants at the present time unable, through not fault of their own, of earning a livelihood. Those men and women should not be thrown upon the local rates, but should be provided for out of the public exchequer. It is not their own fault that they have no education. They are over fifty years of age, and it is more than fifty years since we got anything in the way of education in Ireland. It is the fault of the Government in this country that Ireland was not educated, and that these people from fifty to seventy years of age are at present suffering from the system that existed when they were of school age. It is, therefore, a question of national moment, and the burden should be thrown, not upon the local ratepayers, but upon the taxpayers of the three Kingdoms. That is the only objection that I have to the Bill. I am entirely in sympathy with the spirit and object of it, but I say that it should not be taken up in any cheese-paring spirit. Someone has suggested that these old people should be placed upon the same level as the Old Age Pensioners. They should be placed upon a higher level, because they are absolutely helpless. Some Old Age Pensioners have some small means, but those people have none, and the amount allowed for their maintenance in their declining years should he a little higher than the dole given to the Old Age Pensioners. Subject to that objection, I support the spirit of the Bill with all my heart, but I say that its provisions should be expanded to give these people the life of ordinary human beings. The 10s.
1738 allowed to Old Age Pensioners is not sufficient at the present time to keep body and soul together. If the Government take up this Bill, they will have our heartiest support, but I hope that its terms will be made more generous than those at present proposed.
§ 3.0 P.M.
As one who has always been in favour of the care of the blind being undertaken either by local government bodies or by the State, I wish to support this Measure. The matter has been brought nearer homo to us since the War, because we have had return so many soldiers who have suffered in their eyesight from the devices employed by the Germans. Those men have almost as good as given their lives, and they deserve some special care from the State. We have hopes of great things in the future. Undoubtedly, many children of this country suffer from defective sight, but now that we have a Ministry of Health we hope that the matter will be taken in hand, and that children threatened with blindness will be taken care of at an early age and their sight preserved. We have in many parts of this country institutions for the training of the blind, and it is possible, if they are taken at a young age, that their education may be carried out, and that they may be enabled, to some extent, to earn their livelihood. That, however, can only be playing with the trouble now that we have so many more cases of men who have lost their sight. We know that at St. Dunstans a great deal has been done. I would like to give credit to a blind officer who lost his sight in the South African War, Captain Towse, who won the Victoria Cross, and who has been indefatigable in going round these establishments and encouraging the blind. I have heard on more than one occasion that the blind men have received the greatest comfort and consolation from the ministration of Captain Towse, because he has proved to them from his own experience that blindness, after all, can be grappled with, and that, if blind men and women are taken in hand, there is no doubt that the other senses can be very decidedly quickened. That is done by education and by the example of a man who knows what he is talking about. Anything that can be done in that way is but a small recognition of the men who have come home 1739 after the War, having lost their sight entirely. It is not so easy to train them so as to make them self-supporting as it is to train young children. I am not quite sure whether the expense of maintaining the blind should be borne by the local authorities or should be entirely a State measure. If it is borne by the local authority, the men and women who are blind, and are living in that district, would have the responsibility of their maintenance accepted by that district. I should prefer to see the matter taken up as a State charge, because in that way the best work would be done, and it is really a national responsibility. I hope the Bill will go through without a Division, and that when it goes into Committee there will be no opposition, but that wherever attempts can be made to introduce better measures we shall all welcome them.
§ Mr. D. IRVING
rose in his place, and claimed to move, "That the Question be now put," but Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER withheld his assent, and declined then to put that Question.
§ Brigadier General SURTEES
Some of the speakers should have reproached the Government for the somewhat niggardly terms in which they have dealt with the whole subject. There should be the most generous treatment of those people. I beg to support the Bill.
Sir HENRY COWAN
This Bill has been introduced by the Labour party. It has been blessed by the Government, and it is evident that the whole House is in favour of it. It does not, therefore, seem necessary to have a long discussion upon it, especially as another important Bill is waiting for the attention of the House. I desire, however, to record my opinion that the care of the blind should be a national and not a local charge.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read a Second time, and committed to a Standing Committee.