§ Mr. Messer
I beg to move, in page 25, line 20, to leave out "so far as is," and to insert:unless it is proved to the satisfaction of that Minister not to be.When we were discussing this question in Committee there was a considerable body of feeling in support of making the obligation on the part of local authorities more definite, and it was generally conceded that the Minister was very sympathetic. The Parliamentary Secretary undertook to examine the Clause and see if it was possible to find a form of words which would meet the criticisms that had been offered. He has not been able to do so. I feel a sense of deep disappointment, amounting almost to pain. I am speaking quite seriously when I say that. I can conceive the possibility of those local education authorities who are not desirous of doing this important work finding a way of escape provided for them in the Bill. I am not unmindful of the fact that the Bill goes a long way towards improv- 1808 ing what was the position. Whereas up and down the country there was such a wide variety of standards of this sort of work, at least the Bill goes a long way towards making it obligatory, but, in the words of the Minister, only "so far as is practicable." Those words could be left out and yet the Minister will be protected by the words which follow, which are definite and which say "but where that is impracticable." I should like to offer a challenge to any lawyer in the House. Would he not feel that he was on very safe ground indeed if he were responsible for an agreement which contained words that certain things should only be carried out so far as practicable? There are so many different reasons which can be found for not doing things when you do not want to do them. But I understand quite clearly that the Minister would be placing us in an impossible position if he laid down something in an Act of Parliament which simply cannot be done because it is impracticable.
My Amendment suggests that it has to be proved to the satisfaction of the Minister that it is impracticable. I do not see any reason why that cannot be accepted. If you view this problem in a national light it seems to me that there is no difficulty on any ground why handicapped children should not get the special education that is required. If the Minister himself can have proved to his own satisfaction that there are insuperable difficulties which prevent it being done, he can release the local education authority from tthe obligation of doing it. Note what the words are. He does not say it shall only be done where practicable but "so far as is practicable," a lack of definition which leaves those who attempt to understand the English language with a feeling almost of dismay that such a thing is possible. I beg the Minister sincerely to understand that this is a matter that is felt most deeply. The Union of Special Schools, the National Institute of the Blind, the Association of the Deaf and those who are charged with the clearing of prisons have all been examining this thing. They have all had in their care children for educational purposes but have not been able to get an opportunity under their local authorities; and I appeal to the Minister to consider this point which gives him, as far as I can see, all that he could want. Admitting that in some circumstances it is not practicable, let the Minister decide 1809 what the term means. If there is going to be a local authority which does not want to do it, who is to decide what is and what is not practicable? They have to be judges in their own case. They are to be the arbiters. I contend that to be wrong. The local authorities that do not want to do it will decide that it is impracticable for it to be done. I am not a lawyer, but I feel that I would be on safe ground in any court in pointing out the weakness of the inclusion of those words in any Act of Parliament. I hope that the Minister will reconsider in a favourable way the attitude adopted in Committee and will concede what we are asking.
§ Sir Percy Harris (Bethnal Green, South-West)
I hope that the Minister will be able to accept what appears to me to be a sensible and practical Amendment and a real improvement upon the words of the Bill. We have accepted a good many changes in the machinery of our local government in order to give equal opportunity to children, irrespective of where they live. That is why we have seen the Part III authorities liquidated largely. I can visualise that it is difficult in some areas, owing to the scattered nature of the population, to provide these special facilities for children who deserve our sympathy and require our assistance. There are some local authorities who are not so progressive, sympathetic and understanding as others, but if they are to evade their responsibilities it should not be at their own volition but on the responsibility of the Minister, who should have to decide. This is not a very revolutionary Amendment, but one of a very practical and reasonable kind.
§ Mr. Ede
My right hon. Friend and I recognise the great zeal and sincerity Which the hon. Member for South Tottenham (Mr. Messer) has shown in dealing with this part of the Bill, and we have genuinely endeavoured, during the interval between the Committee and this stage of the Bill, to find words that would have met the point which the hon. Member raised in Committee and have raised again now. Unfortunately, we have not been able to do that. We feel that the words which he has put down go a little too far in the other direction and would involve us in the very difficult position of having to call on someone to prove a 1810 negative—which is always regarded as a matter of great difficulty.
We feel that, under the Bill, we are armed with sufficient powers to be able to influence a local authority which is failing in its duty in this respect. In fact, we did include on the Committee Stage a new Sub-section (2) to Clause 93 which considerably strengthens our position in the matter. The effect of that Sub-section is that, if a local education authority, or other body responsible for any duty under the Bill, says that, in its opinion, the duty cannot be done or ought not to be done, the Ministry is to be in a position of being able to review that statement. If there is a difference between the opinion of the Minister and theirs, we will be able to impose his opinion over theirs. We feel that this Amendment considerably helps us in regard to this matter.
We recognise the strength of the feeling that has been so appropriately voiced in the House by the hon. Member and reinforced by the right hon. Member for South-West Bethnal Green (Sir P. Harris), and we will again examine this matter to see whether it is possible in another place to find some form of words that will leave no doubt that we expect these children to be dealt with appropriately by every education authority in the country. I hope, after that assurance, that my hon. Friend will allow us to proceed with the Bill.
§ Captain Cobb
In a good many cases arrangements for specially handicapped children would not fall on one education authority alone because there would not be enough children in the area of one authority to make building a school for them an economic proposition. A great deal of this provision, if it is to be effectively done, will have to be as a result of co-operation among a number of neighbouring authorities. I should like to ask my hon. Friend whether he feels that the Board will be in a position to insist upon a number of authorities coming together in order to provide adequately for these children.
§ Mr. Ede
With the permission of the House, I would like to answer that question and to say that in Paragraph 3 of Part II of the First Schedule we take powers whereby the Minister may set up joint education committees, even where 1811 some of the contributory authorities are not anxious to come in, in order to ensure that just this kind of point can be appropriately dealt with.
§ Mr. Messer
The Parliamentary Secretary has gone a very long way, and I am grateful to him for his sympathetic approach to the problem. I therefore beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Mr. Messer
I beg to move, in page 25, line 44, at the end, to insert:(5) The Minister shall appoint an advisory committee which shall include persons of experience in the training, care and welfare of handicapped children.I realise the force of what the Parliamentary Secretary said on the Committee stage, but it is clear that there was then an expression of opinion that committees of this especial character should have statutory authority. This was supported by the hon. Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. K. Lindsay), who asked that it should be a standing committee, by the hon. Member for the Combined English Universities (Mr. E. Harvey), and by the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies), who said:May I suggest that, if that Committee is appointed, it should be a statutory Committee and that the words should be inserted in the Bill, for two reasons?—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 21st March, 1944; col. 703, Vol. 398.]He went on to give his reasons. It will be much more satisfactory to members of the Advisory Committee to know that they have the force of law behind them. I should like to see the Minister and the Parliamentary Secretary continue indefinitely in their office, but the time will come when they will go and others will take their places. Unless there is in the Bill a provision of this kind, there is no assurance that the Advisory Committee will continue. It will not be sufficient for an advisory committee to be just called together to decide a policy to be carried out by others. We want to have people able to handle this problem continually, as it is changing from day to day.
Changes take place, say, in the medical world. In addition to being a medical matter this is an educational matter. Everybody will remember that 20 years ago mutes spoke by means of finger alpha- 1812 bets. I remember bringing a party of children through this House, not one of whom could speak on their fingers, yet everyone could understand everything that I said. Similar changes take place in the education of the blind and of the sub-normal. In this matter there is a combination, education-cum-recognition, of certain deficiencies, mental, emotional and physical. I desire to ask, by my Amendment, that the Minister will consider that this matter is so important that he will agree to the setting up of a statutory committee to advise him.
§ Mr. R. C. Morrison (Tottenham, North)
I be, to second the Amendment.
I reinforce the plea that has been made by my hon. Friend. A great many changes take place in the methods of educating handicapped children. People at the Board of Education are concerned with much bigger questions and have not time to specialise in this kind of work. There is another class of case which, it seems to me, would be most useful for this Advisory Committee, and that is that, dotted all over this country, are charitable institutions for defective and handicapped children, schools for the difficult or the blind, and homes of all kinds. Many of them will have to be dealt with very soon now. The conditions under which many of these schools have been established make it difficult for them to be used for any other purpose. There are a number of limitations upon these schools in the bequests upon which they have been founded. A whole lot of complications will arise, and great assistance would be obtained from the existence of an advisory committee in the handling of questions of that sort.
I speak from memory, but I think there are something like 8o schools for blind children throughout the country, and many of such schools for handicapped children are proceding entirely "on their own," without any connection with each other. There is no communicating link in their methods. Some of them are very up to date and others are very old-fashioned and hopelessly out of date. I would like the President to put words into the Bill that would make it necessary that, when the day comes when he and the Parliamentary Secretary unfortunately leave the Board of Education, their successors will carry on the Advisory Com- 1813 mittee to consult about the special questions which arise in connection with handicapped children.
§ Mr. Ede
Once again I thank my hon. Friend the Member for South Tottenham (Mr. Messer) for the way in which he has brought this matter before the House. I was very glad to hear the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for North Tottenham (Mr. R. C. Morrison). I know he has had many years' special practical experience of this problem. My right hon. Friend intends to honour specifically the pledge which I gave on the Committee stage of the Bill. We are considering at the moment the setting up of an advisory committee which will include not merely doctors but other persons who have practical knowledge of the day-to-day work in connection with these children. That Committee will have, as I then said, the power of initiation as well as of merely dealing with the problems that may be referred to it by the Board. I would point out, however, when we are asked to include this advisory committee in the Bill, that no other advisory committee is included in it. I have no reason to think that in those days, when my right hon. Friend and I part company for one reason or another, and he goes to the left and I go to the right, our successors will be less alive that we are to the problems that these children present. In fact, I hope that the work of the Advisory Committee would then have established it in the position where by right of that work they would be, rather than by having it appear in the Statute. I am quite sure that my hon. Friends would also agree with me in this: they would not ask that this particular problem should be regarded as something so apart from the general education problem of the country as to require special statutory mention. Of course, while special statutory mention sometimes gives a safeguard, on the other hand, it sometimes has the effect of making a particular part of a subject appear to be something peculiar and apart from the general run of the subject. I hope that my hon. Friends will feel that the advisory committee which we intend to set up will do what they want done, and it will then have to justify its position in the machinery of Government by the advice it can tender us upon problems it can present to us and the solutions it can offer.
§ Mr. Messer
I think that the words that have been used by my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary cannot fail to carry authority with anybody who follows, and it seems to me that what he has said is almost as good as putting it in the Bill. It will always be on record. May I thank him for what he has said, and ask the House for leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.