§ Captain Cobb
I beg to move, in page 26, line 7, to leave out "two," and to insert "five."
I move this Amendment in the absence of my hon. Friend the Member for Bow and Bromley (Mr. Key). I feel very strongly that the powers given to local education authorities under tins Clause should apply only to children of compulsory school age. It seems to me that this power, given to local authorities, would be a gross abuse of the rights of parents. It surely is quite unnecessary to give to local education authorities power to demand that parents shall produce their children at a certain place to undergo a medical examination. I do not know, in the first place, how the authority are going to have the information to lead them to think that a child needs this special provision. My hon. Friend said—and I agree with him fully—that the parents of these afflicted children are, as a rule, infinitely more tender towards them and anxious to do everything they can for them, than is the case with normal children. The power which is given to local authorities under this Clause puts all parents into the same position as the very small class of irresponsible parents who neglect their defective 703 children. I urge the Minister, therefore, to agree that these very wide powers to local authorities should apply only to children of compulsory school age.
§ Dr. Russell Thomas (Southampton)
I would like to support what my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Preston (Captain Cobb) has said. This Clause gives remarkable power to the local authorities. Although I am supporting the Amendment, I am not sure whether I would wish to support the insertion of the word "five," although I am prepared to do so for the sake of my argument. The power that is given in the Clause is a very broad power. If a child of two is supposed to be ill from some complaint, the local education authority has power to send its medical officer to examine that child. It is the business of the local authority to find out whether or not a child is suffering from a defect—mental or physical. How is the education authority to find out? The person who eventually will visit the household must be an official of the authority. That official must find out on hearsay. Some busybody may inform the headmaster of the school, and the local education authority then sends its health officer and so on. The child may have no disability of any kind, yet this examination is forced upon the parents; and, even if the child, say, has some mental disability, it does not matter very much if the child is still under parental control—as it were, still in its mother's arms. The average parent of this country considers with loving care the health of his or her children. There is no need to force parents in any way at all. If there is a suspected disability, parents normally seek medical advice. In cases of neglect, there is ample provision in the criminal law, and that excellent society, the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, deals with these cases repeatedly; but those are exceptions.
The rights of parenthood, in my opinion, are encroached upon by the State. The normal responsibility which rests on the parents is removed to the local education authorities. Family responsibilities are the basis of our national life. Marriage and family life are the sound foundation on which ordered society is built. I am surprised that the churches have not taken 704 more interest in this Clause, which is a most important Clause, because it strikes at the root of these things. It is amazing to me that the churches have not attacked this Clause with the same energy as they have attacked those Clauses which concern the monetary aspects of the Bill. Whether a child at such an early stage will be removed from its parents or not, remains to be seen—there is, under a later Clause, such a possibility. If the local education authority act on the result of this examination of a child of the age of two and remove the child as it may well do, not only does the Clause offend against parental responsibility, but it would wreak cruel havoc with family love and affection. I cannot emphasise too strongly that the principle of this Clause is the surrender of the responsibility of the parent to the local education authority, acting under the Minister—in other words, to the bureaucrat. If this Amendment had not been moved I should have spoken against this matter on the Motion, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill." I object to the Clause, on the ground that it is another step in the direction of Authoritarianism, which I called on Friday the New Fascism. It ruthlessly tramples underfoot the dignity of the individual in its anxiety to worship at the shrine of planned economy and statistics. I thank my hon. and gallant Friend for having moved this Amendment, which I have great pleasure in supporting.
§ Mr. McEntee (Walthamstow, West)
I had no intention of speaking on this Amendment, but the speech of the hon. Member for Southampton (Dr. R. Thomas) leads me to appeal to the Minister not to take his advice. It is sheer nonsense to talk about the responsibility of parents in the way he has done. As a State, to-day we interfere with parents in regard to their children from the very hour the children are born. We compel them to have their children vaccinated, or to make a statutory declaration that they have conscientious objections against vaccination. Nobody has raised this, question in regard to vaccination. Children have to be registered at birth, and in every other way—
§ Dr. Thomas
Is the hon. Member aware that more than half the people of this country will not be vaccinated, because they resent State compulsion?
§ Mr. McEntee
I am well aware that there are people who have a conscientious objection to vaccination, because in my 705 own household I see such people every day; but I know they are not a majority, but a very small minority. I happen to be one of the minority myself, but that does not alter my conviction on this matter. What does the Clause say? It says that the education authorities have a public health duty in regard to children. The only surprise to me is that it is the education authority, instead of the public health authority, which has this duty. Children are admitted into nursery schools at the age of two.
§ Mr. McEntee
I know; but they are admitted at the age of two. If it is right that a child who enters a nursery school, though not compulsorily, at the age of two shall be examined, and its health looked after, it is equally right that children whose parents do not desire to send them to nursery schools should also be looked after. The child who does not attend a nursery school might become a danger to those who do, to other children in the same household, or to adults in the same household. There is no need to work oneself up into a frenzy because the Government have an interest in the children of the State and desire that they should grow up healthy, and because they give parents an opportunity of having them examined. The parents may not know that the child is suffering from a specific complaint. Not all the parents are qualified medical or Surgical practitioners, or have knowledge which would enable them to judge whether their children need such examination or not. I think that 999 out of every 1,000 people in this country would be very glad to have the opportunity of getting their children properly examined in early life, and treated in such a way as to prevent diseases from spreading or developing in later life.
§ Mr. Ede
I am quite sure that when my hon. Friend the Member for Bow and Bromley (Mr. Key) reads in the OFFICIAL REPORT the speech which was made in moving the Amendment which he placed on the Order Paper, and the other speech made in support of it, he will be filled with surprise that his object in putting the Amendment on the Paper should be so completely misunderstood. He put it on the Paper to ensure that these examinations should be carried out, not by 706 the local education authority, but by the maternity and child welfare authorities. He did not intend that the child should escape examination. He was in conflict with the Clause, on behalf of the Metropolitan Boroughs Standing Joint Committee, only because we proposed that these examinations should be made by the local education authorities. One reason for suggesting that they should be made by local education authorities has been given by the hon. Member for West Walthamstow (Mr. McEntee)—that children in future will be eligible to attend nursery schools from the age of two. Certainly, as far as these children are concerned, the local education authority will be able to get their medical inspection in the nursery schools and get a pretty good idea of any disabilities of the children so attending.
It is very necessary that we should know at as early a date as possible the disabilities from which certain children suffer. For instance, if we take blind children and deaf children and children in need of orthopaedic treatment they can all be saved much suffering. A cure, rather than something merely ameliorative, is far more likely if that special disability can be tackled at as early a stage in its development as possible. These are the children whom we desire to have the opportunity of examining. I venture to say that, in view of the discussion we had on the last Clause, and the recognition then of the extent to which these children suffer in later childhood through neglect in these early years before school age, it is very desirable that the local education authority should have the power that we suggest here. I hope that the Committee will feel that, in asking for this, we are not actuated by any of the totalitarian desires which so readily spring to the mind of the hon. Member for Southampton (Dr. R. Thomas). We are solely concerned with the desire to ensure that child suffering should be reduced as much as possible, and that opportunities for giving children who have, for some reason or another, suffered from these disabilities as normal a life as possible shall be realised. There is nothing more sinister in this word "two" than that, and I sincerely hope that the Committee can feel that they can allow the word to stand part of the Clause.
§ Captain Cobb
It seems to me that the great burden of my hon. Friend's argument has been to this effect, that the local education authority knows a great deal better than the parent what is good for the children. That is a thesis with which I cannot find myself in agreement. The average parent, as an hon. Member has stated on an earlier Clause, is almost invariably extremely anxious to do everything he or she possibly can for the child, and I think that this assumption that the education authority knows better, or that the parent is either negligent or ignorant, is completely false, and I find myself completely unconvinced by the arguments of my hon. Friend.
§ Mr. Magnay (Gateshead)
I heard the speech of the hon. Member for Southampton (Dr. R. Thomas) and, although I did not agree with most of it, I still think there is a great deal in what the hon. Member said. Sub-section (2) shows that it is taken for granted that the parents may be quite unreasonable. It is stated that the authority shall comply with the request of parents unless in their opinion it is unreasonable. It is never assumed that the local education authority could be unreasonable, and that is the whole point, as I see it, of the objection to this Amendment. I am sure the Parliamentary Secretary would never accept anything of the kind. I think it is an affront to the parents that they should be assumed to be unreasonable—it says so in exact terms—and that there cannot be anything wrong with the standpoint of the local authority. Might I suggest to the Parliamentary Secretary that he should put them on all fours, and that something should be added to Sub-section (1) of this Clause, to the effect that the parents shall not be expected to obey the directions if in their opinion they are unreasonable? Surely someone has the deciding voice in the matter. I ask the Parliamentary Secretary to reconsider the point.
§ Mr. Messer
I speak as one who lives in a borough where we have two nursery schools, of which we are very proud, and many nursery classes. If what the hon. Member suggests happens they will have no right to examine the children.
§ Dr. Russell Thomas
I listened to the Minister very carefully but he has not convinced me in the slightest. Nor was I convinced when he said that I was not 708 supporting the hon. and gallant Member for Preston (Captain Cobb) in many of the points that he had in mind.
§ Captain Cobb
May I explain that what the hon. Member said was that the hon. Member for Whitechapel (Mr. W. Edwards) was inadvertently supporting the Amendment.
§ Dr. Thomas
I thank my hon. and gallant Friend. There is another point with which I would like to deal. The hon. Member for West Walthamstow (Mr. McEntee) talked about the dangers of infectious diseases among children in nursery schools. I do not think that is the point which this Clause is getting at at all. There are schools where children would be examined automatically—and a Clause can be put in the Bill, if need be—and children suspected would be picked out in the normal way, and no one would object. The Parliamentary Secretary spoke of the great benefit to children needing orthopaedic treatment or blind children. But would not the mother and father of that child come to that conclusion and seek medical advice if they are reasonable parents, which most parents are? They would naturally send for their own doctor when they saw some disability in the child. The other point is that there is no appeal against the decision of the medical officer, and I believe that there was a suggestion earlier that a general medical practitioner should be called in instead, if so desired. However, as they will all soon be officials of the State, it does not really seem to me to matter any way. But there is no appeal against the decision at all. The parents might undergo a penalty, and, if they still disobeyed the order, the penalty may be repeated, and then repeated again. There should be some appeal at least if a Clause like this is put into the Bill. I do not think there is anything to add, except to say that I still deplore this Clause and consider it an attack on personal liberty. I am only taking the attitude of the ordinary Englishman of objecting against authority put upon him from above.
§ The Temporary Chairman (Colonel Sir Charles MacAndrew)
We are discussing only the Amendment, not the Clause.
§ Dr. Thomas
The Parliamentary Secretary made a special point of my attitude on these matters, so I think, with respect, I should be allowed to defend myself. I 709 think it happened, Sir Charles, before you came into the Chair. He specially picked me out as being highly sensitive on that score. I do not think I have an exaggerated view, but I do not accept that the State should take charge of me from the time I am born to the time I die. I much prefer that I should take charge of myself.
§ Amendment negatived.
§ Mr. Ede
I beg to move, in page 27, line 5, after "cancelled" to insert "by the Minister or."
This Amendment gives the parent the right to appeal to the Minister against the local education authority's decision to give his child special educational treatment. If the Minister upholds the appeal he is empowered by this Amendment to cancel the certificate, so that, in the case with which the hon. Member for Southampton (Dr. R. Thomas) has been dealing, if the education authority had acted unreasonably and its medical officer certified a child unnecessarily, the parent, under this Amendment, has the right of appeal to the Minister and the certificate can be cancelled.
§ Mr. Messer
I take it from what the Parliamentary Secretary has said that now there will not remain the position that a special medical certificate will be required to withdraw a child from school? Is that the meaning of what the Minister has just said?
§ Mr. Messer
If that is so, I would like to take the opportunity of thanking my hon. Friend for the way he has dealt in this and the previous Amendment with the points we raised and for meeting us in such a generous manner.
§ Amendment agreed to.
§ Mr. Ede
I beg to move, in page 27, line 6, at the end, to add:and upon the cancellation of such a certificate the local education authority shall cease to provide special educational treatment for the child with respect to whom the certificate was issued and shall notify the parent accordingly.These words cover the point raised by the Amendment in the name of the hon. Member for Reading (Dr. Howitt). In page 27, line 6, at end, to add: 710and notice of any such cancellation shall forthwith be communicated by him to the parents of the child.They ensure that, if the certificate is cancelled, not only does the special education come to an end but the parent gets a notification to that effect. I think that these words round off the Clause and deal with the point which the hon. Member for Reading had in mind—that parents might not know that it was considered that a child no longer needed that particular form of education—and I hope he will feel that we have met the point he raised.
§ Amendment agreed to.
§ Clause, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.