HL Deb 23 June 1899 vol 73 cc395-8

Order of the day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, although I do not anticipate that any opposition will be offered to this Bill, it may be desirable that I should make a somewhat fuller statement of its objects than that which is contained in the memorandum which I have circulated with the Bill. The details of the Bill are based upon recommendations of the Departmental Committee which was recently appointed to consider the subject. Its object is to give to the local educational authorities power to make provision for a class which is, happily a small, but a most unfortunate class of children, who are termed defective, and who are incapable of receiving any benefit from the ordinary education in elementary schools. This class includes those who are feeble-minded, and by that term is meant not those who are merely dull and difficult to teach, nor, on the other hand, those who are incapable of receiving any instruction in school and who are absolutely imbecile, but a class which is somewhat between these two extremes. It has been found by experience that these children are capable of considerable improvement and of being made useful members of society by means of special classes, which have been in some places provided, so as to enable them to live with their parents and not to be taken away from the surroundings in which it is holed they will ultimately be able to earn their own living. The Bill follows the lines of the Elementary Education (Blind and Deaf Children) Act, 1893 (56 and 57 Vict. c. 42), and applies, permissibly and mutatis mutandis, the provisions of that enactment to defective and epileptic children. In order to make these classes of greater advantage to the children it is necessary to extend the school age to 16, and the Bill provides for this. Classes of this description are exceptionally expensive, and in order to, justify the State in giving special grants to help to meet these expenses it is necessary that the Education Department should be authorised to approve the arrangements under which they are con- ducted. The Department is by this Bill empowered to make special grants, but only upon such conditions as it may direct, and it is proposed that one of these conditions should be that children should have a proper portion of manual instruction, which those conversant with this question believe to be particularly beneficial in their case. Special day classes are the principal means intended to be provided to meet the case of these children, and it is obviously only possible that they should be established in large centres. For isolated eases of defective children in other parts of the country special classes, of course, cannot be provided. There are two alternative ways of dealing with them—one is to send them to board in town near to one of the special classes, and the other is to send them to a residential home for such children, a considerable number of which have already been established by voluntary agencies. The Bill gives facilities to local authorities to adopt one of these methods, and whichever they adopt will be subject to the recommendations of the Educational Department, which require considerable care and supervision in order to be successful. There are certain disadvantages in taking children of this kind away from their own surroundings, where their parents and friends are able to help them, and it depends very much upon the circumstances of individual cases whether it is better to leave them at home or send them away to be taught in one of these special classes. The school authorities are, by the Bill, given discretion in the matter, and the consent of the parents is a necessary condition for the removal of the child. In the case of boarding-out the Bill enacts that the district from which a child comes shall bear the cost of his education. As regards the institution, the school authorities may either start residential homes of their own or contribute in support of those already started by voluntary agencies. The Education Department would not look with favour upon very large institutions, and would very strictly limit their numbers. Besides feeble-minded children, the term "defective" includes those who are only prevented by some physical defect front attending an ordinary elementary school, and the Bill gives power to school authorities to provide guides and conveyances for such children. With regard to epileptic children, the Departmental Com- mittee came to the conclusion that, unless they were also feeble-minded, the epileptic ought not to be taught with the feebleminded, and that an occasional fit of epilepsy is not a sufficient reason for keeping a child away from ordinary school. There is, however, a small class whose epilepsy is so severe that they are unfit for ordinary schools, and these children, unless they are properly cared for and trained, are likely to grow up to be useless, if not dangerous, to society. For such children proper training is recommended in a small residential home under medical care. The Bill gives power to the school authorities to provide for the children in that way. It also gives to any court of summary jurisdiction the power to compel the parents to send the child to such a home. The case of epileptics, as probably your Lordships are aware, is receiving an increasing amount of attention from many philanthropic bodies, and there is reason to think that suitable provision of this kind will, to a large extent, be made by voluntary agency. School authorities are enabled by the Bill either to provide these homes themselves or to contribute to the support of those that are provided by other means. The Departmental Committee considered that the special provision prescribed should be provided compulsorily: that is, that the Education Department should have power to compel the local authorities to make universal provision. The Department, however, feel that there would be great difficulty in applying such compulsion, and in some cases the expenses would be too great. Consequently this is an enabling Bill, and not compulsory. In all other respects, I believe, it follows the recommendations of the Departmental Committee, and I beg to move that it be read a second time.

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


My Lords, I merely rise to give my hearty support to this Bill, and to thank the noble Duke the Lord, President of the Council for having introduced it. I hope it will be possible for the Bill to be passed into law this session. The results which have been obtained from the teaching of these children, when trained agency is used, are, I am informed, very satisfactory, and any money which is spent in this direction will, I believe, yield a very satisfactory return.


My Lords, as this question came before the Departmental Committee on Blind and Deaf Children, of which I had the honour to be Chairman. I should like to be allowed to make a few remarks on this Bill. My noble friend the Lord President of the Council has mentioned that this Bill is founded on the Report of the Departmental Committee, but I think the labours of the private and philanthropic societies which have during the last ten years made investigations into these cases should be in some way recognised. The evidence given before the Committee was based on the results of the examination of 150,000 children. At least 1 per cent. of all the children of school age are mentally or physically unfit to be taught. In London alone there are 8,000 defective and epileptic children, and 42,000 throughout the country. I recently had the honour of presiding over a Conference of Poor Law Guardians on this subject, and a Bill founded on the lines of the Elementary Education (Blind and Deaf Children) Act was recommended as the best means of dealing with these children. I therefore beg to thank the noble Duke for having introduced the Bill, and to express the hope that your Lordships will give it a Second Reading.


My Lords, on behalf of a number of voluntary institutions I beg to thank the noble Duke for having brought forward this Bill this, session. Many of the voluntary institutions would be only too ready to make arrangements to take in the children for whom the Bill will provide if they receive some financial help, and I think the experience of the Continent shows that many epileptic children, if taken young and dealt with properly, can be made useful members of society, whereas they would, if neglected, become complete idiots. I am connected with an institution in France where the results are most satisfactory and many epileptics have been permanently benefited by scientific and kind treatment, and I sincerely welcome this Bill.

On Question, agreed to.

Bill read 2a (according to Order), and committed to a Committee of the whole House on Monday next.