HL Deb 02 May 1901 vol 93 cc391-3

My Lords, I beg to ask His Majesty's Government whether they will deal this session with the most urgent recommendations of the Home Office Report on Reformatory and Industrial Schools, particularly with what it calls the immediately needed amendment of the law relating to the collection of parental payments, which was a wholly unopposed part of the Youthful Offenders Bill which was dropped last session. I know that it may not be possible for a Bill including all those recommendations to be passed this year, but what I want particularly to know is whether, if it is found impossible to deal with all of them, a short Bill might not be introduced dealing with the particular point to which I alluded in my question—namely, the better collection than at present of parents' payments. It certainly is most mischievous that parents should be allowed, and even encouraged, to throw their children upon the streets, and so charge their care and education entirely on the public.

I introduced in Parliament the first Bill on the subject of both reformatory and industrial schools, and I have had for over fifty years a good deal to do with the conduct of institutions of this kind, but I have no hesitation in saying that, in spite of the interest which I take in these schools and the great good which I know they have done, I would prefer to see them abolished altogether than that they should offer, as they do at present, an absolute premium on the neglect of children by vicious parents. The law should compel parents who have, by neglect, thrown the care of their children on the State to repay as much, at all events, of the expense inflicted on the public as the children would cost them at home. The present system tends to destroy that sense of parental responsibility which it is to the best interest of the country to maintain. Owing to the difficult and circuitous method of collecting payments, a very great number of parents escape altogether, and the cost of collecting the payments that are made is so great that last year £4,000 was spent in collecting £26,000. What is wanted is that the children who are sent to these schools should have the cost of their maintenance made a charge upon the parents at the time, and the recovery of the payments should be made as easy as the recovery of similar payments under the Bastardy Acts, and—in the case of Scottish schools of the same nature—they should be recoverable by summary process.

The other recommendations in the Home Office Report are very important, but not so urgent as this one, and I think it would be a great pity, if there is not time to deal with all of them, that we should lose this particular Amendment. It could be accomplished by a very short Bill, and one which would not meet with the slightest opposition. That it would not meet with opposition is proved by the fact that, though this Amendment was part of the Youthful Offenders Bill of last session, not one word was said against those clauses, the Bill being dropped for other reasons. Another recommendation of the Report was that reformatory and industrial schools should be recognised as one and the same institution. That, in my opinion, is a most important point. The two schools are used indiscriminately, and the treatment is so much alike that, going from one to the other, it would be impossible to detect any difference. The attempt to keep them distinct is fraught with a great deal of mischief. I should be the last to suggest that children who, through no fault of their own, but through the fault of their parents, have committed crime should not be punished. It is most important that they should be punished, but they should not be punished by education in the police department. Their punishment is now forbidden in prison, and should be separate from their education in school. Reformatory and industrial schools are simply schools for homeless outcast children. It is to the interests of the State, to say nothing of common charity to the children, that they should be educated, but to educate them by a penal system, keeping up in their minds during the whole of their childhood a sense of criminality, is most disastrous, and the sooner the system is put an end to the better. I think this recommendation in the Home Office Report is, therefore, extremely important, if not so urgent as the one I am pressing upon the Government. Home Office schools are, in my opinion, an anomaly, for they cannot constitute a system of national education. To these schools the Home Secretary the other day wrongly gave the credit of the fact that many of the boys educated in them had distinguished themselves in the South African War, and that three of them had gained the Victoria Cross. Well, why should they not? They are not different from other boys, except in their early neglect, which possibly made them hardier, if not more courageous, and so far better soldiers than boys who had not gone through such hardships in their youth. The moral is that these boys, given a proper education, are likely to do as well and to be as well conducted as other children. I hope the noble Lord who will reply on behalf of the Government will give a sympathetic answer to my question.


I am sure my noble friend will excuse me if I do not enter into all the matters to which he has alluded, many of which seem to me somewhat outside the question on the Paper. I can assure him that the Secretary of State for the Home Department is fully alive to the importance of amending the law in the direction proposed. There was, as my noble friend has stated, a clause in the Youthful Offenders Bill of last year for this purpose, and the Secretary of State has authorised me to say that he has drafted a measure, which he hopes to be able to introduce very shortly, which, in addition to other points, will contain this amendment of the law. Of course, my right hon. friend the Home Secretary cannot, considering the state of business in the other House, make any definite promise as to when the Bill will be introduced.

House adjourned at ten minutes before Five of the clock till to-morrow, half-past Ten of the clock.