HL Deb 16 February 1891 vol 350 cc651-64

Order of the Day for the Second Reading, read.


My Lords, last year I ventured to lay before your Lordships' House a Bill to the same effect on this subject. A Commission sat for a long period inquiring into the wants of the deaf and dumb and of the blind. That Commission was presided over by a noble Lord who is now in the House (which he was not last year); and I am very glad that he is here, for I think the House will derive great advantage from any remarks he may make upon the Bill. The object of the Bill is to insure that these unfortunate children, whenever they are capable of being educated, should receive an education, like all other children in the country, and that the distance of the schools from their homes should no longer be made an excuse for their not being educated; because, of course, the best way of educating these poor children is not to send them to ordinary day schools, where they would be lost among hearing and seeing children, but to send them to existing institutions for that purpose, of which there are considerable numbers throughout the country. I believe the day schools set up by the School Board for London have not been found efficient for the purpose of educating children of this description, and therefore it is very desirable that power should be given to the School Authorities to contribute to such institutions, or, if necessary, by means of subscriptions, to combine together for the purpose of establishing such institutions specially devoted to the education of the blind or of the deaf and dumb. This measure provides that that may be done. It is not, as some people have supposed, a measure introduced with the view of interfering with existing institutions, but rather to confirm them in their position where they receive grants from the State or from the rates. Of course, they would be subject to inspection and to the same liability to control by the Government as in the case of ordinary schools for other children under the present system of elementary education. I do not think I need go into more than the main points of the Bill. I believe it depends mainly upon the points to which I have referred. On one point there may be some criticism from my noble Friend behind me, but I believe I shall find general support from your Lordships for this Bill which is to enable School Boards and School Authorities to act in places where these unhappy children exist, and also to enable a Parliamentary Grant to be given to schools where such afflicted little ones are educated, so that they may receive similar benefits and educational advantages to those enjoyed by their more fortunate companions, the seeing and hearing children. I will at present confine myself to merely moving the Second Reading of this Bill leaving its details for further consideration.

Moved, "That the Bill be now read 2a"


My Lords, I am not going at all to say anything in opposition to the Bill of the noble Viscount, which I entirely approve of. I rise only to call his attention to a matter which is connected with the subject of the Bill, because it will be observed that by the proviso at the end of Clause 2 the duty of the School Authorities shall not extend to children who are imbeciles. The noble Viscount will recollect that last year a deputation waited upon him for the purpose of calling his attention to the case of idiots. For the parents of such children the circumstances are very hard in comparison with others, because the parents of children not thus afflicted are assisted largely at present by the State in the education of their children. Owing to the large amount of the Educa- tional Grants and to the cost thrown on the rates the education of children who are not afflicted is largely afforded at the expense of the public. But if a parent happens to have the misfortune to have a child who is an idiot, the State is entirely absolved from taking any part at all in giving assistance as regards the education of that child. Very often it happens that the parent is by reason of the misfortune of having an idiot child less able to provide for its education, as far as it is able to receive education, than he would be as regards his other children. Its education necessarily involves greater expense, and towards that expense no assistance is afforded by the State. No doubt the truth is that in a vast number of cases the burden is entirely taken over by a benevolent public who subscribe largely to institutions for this purpose. Experience, however, has shown that these institutions, aided as they are largely by public benevolence, are unable nevertheless to cope with anything like the number of children who could probably be received into them and be largely benefited thereby. It appears to me there is a good claim in this respect, in the first place because you do give assistance to the parent of a child in regard to its education when not so afflicted, and also because very often owing to the burden upon the parents of such children, and to the want of assistance from the State in educating them, they are unable to do anything for themselves in after years. Probably in a great number of cases idiots cannot from their unfortunate condition be taught a handicraft, yet they can often be instructed to some extent, and they can do a great deal towards helping themselves, and can sometimes even entirely support themselves without being any burden upon the rest of the community. This being so, not only does it seem right and fair but it is in the interest of the State that some special steps should be taken in the case of these particularly afflicted children to do at least as much for their education, as far as possible, as is done in the case of children who are differently situated. The noble Viscount is not, of course, unacquainted with the object for which the deputation, to which I have referred, waited upon him, and I trust that he will be able to say that the matter will be taken into consideration, and whether assistance might not be afforded in these very distressing cases.


My Lords, I fancy there can be no possible objection on the part of anybody to the principle of this Bill. I have some little misgiving as to one or two points of detail rather in the contrary direction to the remarks which have just fallen from the noble and learned Lord opposite, who seems to seek indiscriminate aid from the State in cases, no doubt, of a very distressing nature, but which may yet be cases of children whose parents are perfectly able to provide for them, and who, therefore, ought not to be relieved of the responsibility of providing for their own children, under any circumstances, however distressing, by having that responsibility thrown upon the public. I should fancy that the case of the idiots and imbeciles of whom the noble and learned Lord has just spoken is amply provided for by the institutions relating to that class of persons of all ages, from infants upwards. They are not educational objects. The general principle of this Bill, that is to say, the inclusion of deaf and blind children in the national system of education, is clearly right in principle. There is no reason in the world why blind and deaf children should be excluded from our national educational system; but they should be carefully kept within its purview. This class of children really require to have far more provision made for them than is necessary for ordinary children as recognised in the national system of education. The Bill provides for including them in all the general provisions of the Education Acts—for the establishment of a sufficiency of schools. Clause 11 stipulates that for the expenses of education only the ordinary weekly fee payable in a public elementary school shall be charged. This is an eleemosynary principle, payment for more costly education at ordinary charge, in consideration of painful circumstances, whatever the parents' condition. It may be of the greatest possible mischief to the country if capable parental responsibilities are undertaken by the State. It would not only strike at the spirit of independence of the people throughout the country, but would convert our whole system of national education into an eleemosynary provision. Besides that, we see already that it has become a system of training by which the interests of the poor are postponed to those of the tradesmen class, will get apprentices trained at the public expense. I am sure the people of this country are shutting their eyes to this great faultand to the wasteful expenditure it incurs. I do not suppose many of your Lordships were aware, until a Return was made last year for which I moved, what is the total expense to which this country goes for national education at the present moment. We often hear in speeches upon the subject that we are spending £3,000,000 or £4,000,000 a year, but I was certain when the statement was made of the whole expense borne by Treasury Grants and by rates, not only for what are called elementary schools, but for reformatory, industrial, and all the other schools which are similarly paid for, that the amount would be more like £10,000,000. But I venture to say that if that great amount is run up by undertaking responsibilities which should fall upon capable parents, the excess is doing harm instead of good, and I think we ought to stop such misapplication. I am anxious to promote education in the healthiest way. I would make the compulsory clauses attach to the rich as well as to the poor—to everybody whatever their rank; for every man who does not properly educate his child is bringing him up to be a nuisance to the State, and a rich man ought to be compelled even more than a poor one, having better means and more knowledge of his duty, to educate his child. But what does this Bill do? After providing for all the ordinary expenses which are provided for by the other Acts for the education of children ordinarily admissible in the elementary schools, there are the expenses of establishing new schools, of contributing to existing schools, of maintaining the children, and of boarding them out, it only makes the parent liable in the early clauses for whatever sum may have been agreed upon between the parents and the School Board. That I think in the first place is a dangerous thing. There ought to be some scale fixed or some system adopted with regard to the liability of parents in the case; it should not be left as a matter of agreement. Some parents may have an influence with the School Board and may get better terms than they ought to get. But the point I specially desire to call your Lordships' attention to is upon the 11th clause, which only makes a parent liable in the case of a blind or deaf child to pay the same fee as in the case of ordinary children in public elementary schools. The cost of the education of these children is much larger than the cost of educating ordinary children. Why should the fee be limited to the same fee which is payable for ordinary education, in the case of parents who are capable of paying the actual cost? Why should they be allowed to receive this more expensive education at the same rate as that at which the ordinary education is publicly paid for? I should like to hear from the noble Lord who presided over the Commission the reasons that induced the Commission to introduce into its Report that limitation of payment. Consider, my Lords, how very much greater the expense is in the case of blind and deaf children. It is a much more expensive education. And not only that, but you are going to establish district schools for these children, and those who live at a distance are to be carried to these schools and must be boarded at them. I hope the noble Lord will also be able to give your Lordships a little statistical information in regard to the number of these cases. It would be useful to know how many of these dependent blind and deaf children there are. The number of them is not large, I think. The Report makes no discrimination. We ought to obtain some information from the Census as to the number of these children in the country. We ought also to learn the number of schools which are already provided for them. I believe there are a large number, and very good schools, in all parts of the country. I am conversant with the amount of such school accommodation in the Midlands, and I believe it is ample. We ought to know what the deficiency is, what is really wanted, before we can judge of the cost of the task which we have undertaken under this Bill. The Bill does not enable School Boards to make use of private institutions. Those points I desire to call particularly to the attention of the House, but with the great principle of the Bill for including these unfortunate children under the operation of the Education Act I most heartily agree.


Perhaps your Lordships will allow me to say a few words respecting this Bill, as it embodies to a great extent the Report of the Royal Commission, upon which I had the honour to serve. I hope I may be allowed to thank the Government, although late, as I was unable to be present on account of illness during the discussion last year—and all those who are interested in the education of this class of blind and deaf children will, I am sure, join with me—for the very prompt manner in which the noble Lord who represents the Education Department, and those who have also interested themselves in the question, have taken it up and embodied the principle desired to be carried out in the Bill. A Bill of the same description has been passed for Scotland, which in some respects appears to be an improvement on the Bill which is now before your Lordships, and to which I should like to allude. Still, my noble Friend's Bill was the first in the field, and for that I give him due credit. The noble Lord near me has alluded to the Report of the Royal Commission, but I am afraid the question he has asked me shows he has not studied that Report with that care which anyone who considers the question would probably think necessary. We are now on the eve of a Census, and I should be sorry to pledge myself as to the figures with regard to the number of blind and deaf children in the country at the present time until we have further knowledge from that source. My noble Friend near me also wished to know why the Royal Commission recommended that parents should not pay more than they could be reasonably expected to pay, and more than they would pay for the education of ordinary children. The Royal Commission was of opinion unanimously that parents should not be taxed in any way because they happen to have the misfortune to have children suffering under these infirmities of blindness and deafness, but that the position and means of the parent should be taken into consideration—that the School Boards and the parents were the right persons to come together for the purpose of making an agreement in the matter. We thought it would be more advantageous that that course should be adopted, rather than that we should fix any specific or definite sum which the parent should pay. There is another point also which I should like to allude to: there does not appear in this English Bill any reference to the technical instruction which the Royal Commission recommended should be given in the case of both the blind and deaf.


If my noble Friend will look at the interpretation clause he will see it is referred to.


It is not put so clearly as it is in the Scotch Bill. It includes industrial training, but it is not put forward so prominently as it is in the Scotch Bill; and I think it would be very desirable that the noble Viscount should, if possible, make that more clear. I think it will hardly be understood by those who read this Bill throughout the country that it is intended to assist these poor persons to acquire industrial handicrafts. For that purpose it is of great importance that their education should be continued up to the age of 16. The Royal Commission recommended that they should have eight years of schooling, beginning at the age of seven, which would bring the child up to 15 or 16, and that after the age of 13 technical instruction should be given in the schools in handicrafts. But the point upon which there appears to me to be a want of clearness in the Bill is with regard to compulsory powers between the ages of 14 and 16. If there was one point more than another upon which the Commissioners were entirely unanimous it was that there should be compulsory powers between 14 and 16, and especially with regard to the industrial training of the blind and deaf, which the Commission thought they should have between those ages. I trust that that point may be made more clear, and that the noble Viscount will kindly state the objections which the Department have to that recommendation of the Royal Commission. I have no doubt that under the Bill as it stands the children may be kept in the schools up to the age of 16, and that a sufficient education will be given to them; but I think that those interested in the education of the deaf and blind children would prefer to see compulsory powers put in the Bill rather than leave it to the parents, because the State, having determined that education shall be given to this class of children, ought to see that that education shall be sound and thorough, and one which will enable them to earn their living in after life rather than that they should be allowed to become, as in many cases happens now, a burden on the community. It was, therefore, the opinion of the Royal Commission that those compulsory powers should be given up to the age of 16. At the same time, if there was any question raised as to the year, I should not object to the age of 15, because then eight years would be left for the instruction of the children after the age of seven. That is of great importance. That was the opinion not only of the Royal Commission, but of the deputation from all the schools in the Kingdom which the noble Lord received the other day. They were unanimous on that point. I am glad to see that there has been an improvement made upon last year's Bill by giving greater powers to the School Authorities either to assist existing institutions or to found new ones where necessary. I am sure that would only be done where it was absolutely necessary. There is no intention by this Bill to interfere with existing institutions, which have done so much good through private benevolence in the country. I do not know that there is any other matter in explanation with which I need trouble the House.


My Lords, I would ask my noble Friend why he objects to special assistance being given to private institutions. At the top of page 6 it is provided that the children are to be brought from their residences to the boarding houses, and by analogy the provision as to boarding out children from their homes might apply to children being boarded out by parish authorities. It must be recollected that with regard to blind and deaf and dumb children, moving them backwards and forwards is a troublesome and expensive thing; and I think it would be desirable that where possible they should be sent to school within reach of their parents' residences or of the parish authorities who send them, I think also it would be an advantage to private institutions if they were allowed to fill up vacancies with these children. I presume the guardians will have an authority under this Bill for paying for maintenance in these public or private institutions. Private institutions might be allowed to receive them, being paid a subvention, in order to prevent the necessity for the erection of numerous schools which would have to be supported, and would be a very expensive mode of contribution by the school authorities towards dealing with these cases.


My Lords, I do not quite understand the objections of my noble Friend. There is a provision in the Bill by which the school authority is allowed to board out a child in the neighbourhood of the school or institution to which it is sent. With regard to private institutions being made use of, of course any institution to which children are sent which receive grants from the State or rates must be open to inspection, and in that way become public elementary schools in the ordinary sense of the word. I think there is provision made for employing the School Board rate for the purpose of providing for these children. The noble Lord seems to forget that I have nothing to do with Guardians. That has reference to pauper children, and the Guardians will deal with them. This Bill is to deal with children who are not in the workhouse but at their parents' homes, and who would be sent out in the different ways provided by the Bill. Then as to what was said by the noble Lord, the Chairman of the Commission, I would call his attention to the fact that the industrial training is provided for as far as it is requisite in the Bill. Of course it will be necessary for the Education Department to lay down the terms upon which they will insist upon industrial training, and in that way his objection will be met. Then with regard to age. I think my noble Friend is under a misapprehension. It is quite true that ordinary children are sent to school from 5 to 14; but the noble Lord forgets that those children are exempted by passing certain standards, and can then go out into the world and assist their parents. In this case there is compulsory power given up to the age of 14; but provision is made by the Bill by which these boys and girls are to be allowed to remain children up to the age of 16, that is to say for the purpose of being eligible to receive grants both Parliamentary and from the rates. But it seems to me unreasonable that you should tie people down to a hard and fast line at 16, for some of these children would probably be capable of taking an active part in life before that period. In fact, upon the very deputation to which my noble Friend referred, one of the most eminent members of it let out that while for most eight years' teaching was absolutely necessary, many children who had gone out after only four or five years' training were found to be wonderfully fitted for taking a part in life.


Only as tailors.


I do not know whether they were all tailors or not; at any rate they could earn their own living. My noble Friend says they were only tailors; he seems to think that a tailor is only the ninth part of a man, and in those particular instances perhaps he thinks they had only received a ninth part of the education which should have been given them. But whether that is so or not you cannot tie down parents to say that in these cases their children shall be absolutely taken away from them until the age of 16, whereas in others they can go at 14. I do not say that they will have received by that time a thoroughly finished education, but that is not the duty of the State. If it were the duty of the State to turn out, so to speak, a thoroughly finished article, then all children would have to be kept in training until they were perfectly fitted for their positions in life. We do not do that. In this instance we give parents a great advantage if these boys and girls can be taught as children up to the age of 16, so that they may receive a benefit from the State or from the locality in which they live. Then with regard to what fell from the noble and learned Lord opposite in reference to imbeciles and idiots, I can point to some work that has been done in the matter. Under a Bill which I brought in myself in 1867, imbeciles placed in institutions are in a very different position from what they were when mixed up with the general workhouse population. Those places are extremely well-managed, and are doing a great deal of good in cases of adults so afflicted, by means not only of assistance from the rates, but of contributions spread over large areas. The deputation to which the noble and learned Lord referred was particularly anxious that the idiot and imbeciles should not come under the Educational Department. However, it is a subject which requires a great deal of thought. I quite agree with the noble and learned Lord, that there are a great number of children who would be benefited by getting into asylums where there are persons well qualified to train them; but it is almost impossible, without the greatest exertions, to get idiot children into those institutions. There is room for much more effort on the part of benevolent people in this direction, and perhaps also for contributions on the part of the State, to which I should myself offer no objection.


My Lords, I must apologise for saying a few words after the reply of the noble Viscount, but there is one question I should like to suggest, that is, are there sufficient provisions made in the case of parents who are able to provide themselves for the education of their children? I ask the question for this reason: the matter is put in the hands either of the School Board or of the School Attendance Committee, and I do not know that either of those bodies have machinery at their disposal by which they can ascertain that the parents can pay, and if that be the case, compel them to pay. It cannot, I think, be the intention of the noble Viscount that the State should provide the expense where the parent can provide it himself, but I do not see anything in the Bill upon that point.


I thought the noble Lord who spoke upon the duty of the parent had been answered by my noble Friend who presided over the Royal Commission; but my answer is, that in the case of parents who can afford it, they are compellable to have their children efficiently educated. It is quite a mistake on the part of the noble Lord who spoke of the necessity of the rich being compelled to educate their children, because, under the present law, they are so compelled. If you are not giving an efficient education to your children, there is power in the authorities to compel you to send them to the public elementary school. Happily, in this country, people of that class do educate their children, and I am sure, for the sake of the separation of classes, which as my noble Friend knows is a feeling that exercises considerable influence in this country, those who can afford it will always take care that their children are not sent to the institutions which are open to everybody, but to places where they will have special care. My noble Friend (Lord Norton) seems to have entirely mistaken the effect of the 11th clause. That clause provides for an agreement between the school authority and the parent, not for the education alone, but for education and maintenance which, of course, goes much further. In the absence of an agreement between the school authority and the parent, there is power given to a Court of Summary Jurisdiction to settle the matter, not to make the parents pay only the fee which is the ordinary charge for education, but to take into consideration the means of the parent, and also taking into consideration the expense of the child's training and maintenance, beyond the ordinary cost of the education of a child in a public elementary school for children who are not blind or deaf; so that if it is the case of a parent who is in the same position as people who are sending their children to elementary schools, the mere education will not cost him more, but the cost of maintenance will be in addition. It is not absolutely fixed what sum he shall pay, but a summary jurisdiction is provided to fix what he shall pay, considering his position in life, what his means are, and parents are ordinarily paying for their children in the neighbourhood. I think that meets the point which my noble Friend raised.


Will your Lordships allow me to say one word? I would point out that the compulsory clauses in the present Acts only extend to the age of 18, and that that is just the period at which some of the upper classes, most fatally it must be admitted, neglect the education of their children, whose education should extend to the age of 21.

On Question, agreed to; Bill read 2a accordingly, and committed to a Committee of the whole House on Monday next.

House adjourned at a quarter past Five o'clock, till To-morrow, a quarter past Ten o'clock.