HL Deb 19 May 1892 vol 4 cc1252-6

I beg to ask Her Majesty's Government whether they will re-introduce the legislation which they have prepared, and twice passed through Committees during the last three Sessions, for consolidating and amending the Reformatory and Industrial Schools Acts; and whether the Bills might not be introduced, as on the last occasions, in this House. The Bills I know are ready for re-introduction, and are not likely to meet with any opposition. They are extremely important Bills for the consolidation and amendment of the Reformatory and Industrial Schools Acts, which, by the Government's own acknowledgment, are at this moment in a state of great confusion and abuse. The noble Viscount, the Secretary of State for India, introduced these Bills the Session before last, and carried them through the House; and in introducing them he said that they were urgently wanted to meet the very great abuses connected particularly with industrial schools, where hundreds of children are at this moment collected who ought not to be there, and who are placed in a false position by being put in a quasi pauper or criminal institution without any reason for it. My Lords, the reason why they are so collected there is that the schools have been used by philanthropic people, not for the purpose for which they were intended. In the year 1884 I was a member of the Royal Commission upon the subject of these schools, the Chairman of which was Lord Aberdare; and we went round the three Kingdoms for inspection. I recollect in a large town in Ireland we found in the industrial schools such an enormous number of children, who did not at all come under the description in the Industrial Schools Act, that we sent for the Chief Magistrate of the place and asked him how it was. His answer was that he really did not know that they were not within the description of the Act—he said he had never seen the Act—but, if they were not, they ought to be. That is how the Act has been used in Ireland. In Scotland the Act has been used so as to empty the pauper schools in all the large towns of Scotland into the industrial schools, and so to relieve the rates and throw the charge upon the Treasury. In England the abuse is as great, as we see by the Reports of the Inspectors, as to the indiscriminate use of these schools. At this moment there is one out of eight thousand of the whole population in England in industrial schools alone, to say nothing of reformatories and other similar schools; and in Scotland one in three thousand of the whole population is in industrial schools. There is no doubt that people send their children from mere motives of kindness and charity if they are in poor circumstances at home, or they think they will be better educated and cared for in these schools. My Lords, the matter of cost is the last consideration that I would urge upon your Lordships for reintroducing Bills to amend these abuses. The cost at this moment is about half a million a year to the country; but that I consider is of very slight consequence, compared with the disastrous results of so treating these institutions. It is really on a large scale taking away the sense of parental responsibility from the great mass of the population as to the care and education of their children — encouraging bad parents, discouraging good parents, and pauperising a very large portion of the people. The Bills that I want re-in- troduced to meet these abuses would be effectual. One provision is to lay upon the parents the total cost of their children in these schools, empowering the Local Authority to remit that part of the cost which the parents are evidently unable to meet, and also to take upon themselves altogether the expense of collecting, and of any defalcation of payments. That, of course, would be a very considerable check upon abuse. I think your Lordships will say that it should never be a matter of saving to a parent to get his child into one of these institutions; but that a child should, at least, cost the parent as much there as he would at home. I have had parents asking me how they could qualify their children to get into these schools. The only answer is, by throwing them on the streets. The Bills proposed that there should be an entire separation between what are called School Board duties and police duties in this subject; that the truant schools and industrial schools should take what are called the non-attendance cases, and the School Board should have nothing to do with crime. There are three Bills in one of which there provision is for entirely separating what I call the police action from the educational action in these schools. The Bills provide that in the case of boys corporal punishment should be used more for the sort of crimes that boys fall into, and at all events the punishment should be separate altogether from the education given in these schools. At this moment the confusion is so great that in the last Report to the Department it is clearly stated that the distinction between reformatory schools and industrial schools is also breaking down; that the class of children in the two institutions is exactly the same; and that the two are used indiscriminately by the Magistrates—who either convict in order to send to reformatory schools, or do not convict in order to send to industrial schools, according to the preference in the case for one school over another in that neighbourhood. The Inspectors not only say that these institutions are crowded in the most mischievous way, but that the length of detention in these schools is too long, and they re- commend that in all suitable cases the children sent even to industrial schools should be boarded out, and in such cases should be sent to elementary schools; and that, in cases where it is possible they should be sent home again as soon as they are fit to go, if there is a decent home—and in some cases there is a decent home—I do not mean to say that in many cases there is; but, wherever there is a decent home for them to go to, it is a very strong measure, and a very wrong measure on the part of Parliament to take children away from their parents and place them in institutions of this sort to be educated as reprobates at the public expense. If these Bills were carried, it would be made clear that really vicious children should come under the general Criminal Law and be treated in the same way as adults; children of the ordinary kind of juvenile offenders should be punished, and then educated in reformatory schools; while for mere vagrants and neglected children in the streets without any decent home, there are the industrial schools. I would urge Her Majesty's Government to re-introduce these Bills at once into this House. The noble Viscount the Secretary of State for India is not here; but he is perfectly acquainted with these Bills, and he has stated their urgency to the House. He carried them successfully through this House without any opposition. We all acknowledge that he has thoroughly discharged the legislation connected with his own Department in this House, and I would implore Her Majesty's Government to allow him, now he has time, to take charge of these Bills, or, by whatever other arrangement they think best, to get these Bills again before this House, I would say without any further delay whatever. They would certainly pass through this House without opposition, and I think they might be in time to pass through the lower House of Parliament.


My Lords, I am glad to hear the noble Lord who asked this question speaking in such confident terms about the probability of little or no opposition to these Bills. It is a matter of great regret that although your Lordships have twice well discussed the principles of these measures, they have not yet passed into law. It is the intention of Her Majesty's Government at an early opportunity to introduce them again; but, as your Lordships have so well discussed and considered them, it is considered convenient that on this occasion they should be introduced in the other House of Parliament, the more especially as in the Bills about to be introduced a very substantial number of your Lordships' Amendments will appear.