HL Deb 03 July 1903 vol 124 cc1249-54


Order of the day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, the first section of the Act of 1899, which it is proposed to amend by this Bill, provides that a school authority may make arrangements for determining what children in their district are defective or epileptic. By the second section of that Act the authority is empowered to make provision for those children by special classes, by boarding out near to the special classes, and by establishing schools certified by the Board of Education. The authority has also power to contribute towards certified schools maintained by others. The size of an establishment for boarding or lodging defective or epileptic children is restricted by the Act of 1899 to four buildings, in each of which only fifteen children can be accommodated. When the Act of 1899 left this House that restriction was not included in it; it was inserted in another place without any discussion, and was not contemplated in the Report of the Departmental Committee of 1896, which led to the introduction of the Act of 1899.

The objections to the restriction are educational, administrative, and financial. From the educational point of view a larger number of children give more facilities for proper classification, and the teaching staff can, in a larger institution; be more adequately distributed among the children in accordance with the varied stages of their development and deficiencies. The children can, moreover, be divided into proper classes, separating those who, when they are not suffering from epileptic attacks, are equal in intelligence to those who frequent ordinary schools, from those whose mental capacity places them on a lower plane. From an administrative point of view it is equally desirable that these institutions should be in the country, where the chances of cure or improvement are naturally greater than they would be in towns, for in the case of these children everything depends on healthy surroundings and out-door exercise. A consequence of the residence in the country is that these institutions are isolated and dependent upon their own resources; and it is obvious that for the brightness and constant supervision of such a colony it is desirable to have a larger staff than that which you could have in an institution for only sixty children. Then, again, there must of necessity be an infirmary attached to an establishment of this kind, and the personnel of an infirmary for sixty children would be the same as that required for a larger institution.

I need not say much with regard to the financial objection. It is obvious that the cost of schools restricted to four buildings in which only fifteen children can be accommodated is almost prohibitive, and at all events is quite disproportionate to that which would be entailed by an establishment comprising more buildings. There has been a perfect agreement between all the school authorities not to put the Act into operation with regard to epileptic children, and, as the Act is permissive, the Board of Education have no power to enforce it. The consequence is that epileptic children are at present excluded from institutions which the Act intended to provide for them, and their total neglect from an educational point of view results, of course, in their deterioration both physically and mentally. With regard to the only objection which this Bill has encountered, I would point out that the promoters of the Bill are as much opposed to the evil of excessive aggregation of children as its opponents, but the present state of things which renders the Act inoperative is intolerable. The Bill contains the safeguards which are required to promote the interests of the epileptic children. The Board of Education will make rules, and these rules will be subject to the criticism and control of both Houses of Parliament.

I may, perhaps, give your Lordships the figures for London. The last schedules for London show that there were 374 epileptic children who were not imbecile, and it is only to those that this Bill applies. Of those, 256 were not attending any school, because they were excluded on account of severe epilepsy; fifty-seven were attending ordinary schools, twenty-nine special schools, and thirty-two non-Board schools. Now, if these 256 children had to be placed in institutions such as are contemplated by the Act of 1899, we should have to erect seventeen buildings and provide a staff for four separate establishments, whereas experts, I believe, agree that there is no objection whatever to an institution in which you might receive a larger number of epileptic children. Expert evidence does not warrant the wasteful procedure of the Act of 1899, and for a larger number of children you can secure better classification and greater individual care. The School Board for London hitherto has not put the Act of 1899 into operation, and has not incurred the charge of extravagance which is so often and so recklessly made against the London School Board. By removing this vexatious limit the Act of 1899 will cease to be a dead letter, and epileptic children will reap the benefit which the Legislature wished to extend to them. I believe that the noble Marquess has no objection to the Bill, and that he will support the Second Reading which I beg to move.

Moved, "That the Bill be now read 2a—(Lord Reay.)


The noble Lord has stated that I, as President of the Board of Education have no objection to the Second Reading of this measure. He has spoken perfectly correctly. On the contrary, if I may say so, I think the noble Lord has done great service to the cause of defective and epileptic children by introducing this Bill. The noble Lord has dealt so fully and so clearly with the whole subject that it may be considered perhaps unnecessary for me to say any thing in endorsing the remarks he has made; but as, to a certain extent, the Board of Education will be responsible for the administration and the working of this Bill, it may not be out of place if I explain the reasons why I endorse the measure now before the House. The noble Lord stated with perfect truth that the Act of 1899 was the outcome of the Report of a Departmental Committee appointed to inquire into the education of defective and epileptic children. The Act which followed that Report contained the following provision: The Education Department shall not certify any establishment established after the commencement of this Act for boarding and lodging more than fifteen defective or epileptic children in one building or comprising more than four such buildings. As the noble Lord said, that was inserted after the Report of the Committee, for the Committee in their Report of 1898 stated that no home should contain more than twenty-children. Nothing had been suggested as to the limitation of the number of homes in each establishment. That has to some extent affected defective and epileptic invalids in a totally different manner. To a certain extent the defective children enjoyed advantages which were denied to the epileptic ones. It was possible for the defective children to attend day schools, to be boarded out—many in private homes—and also to attend special classes; therefore to a certain extent the limitation did not affect them. But it did affect very seriously those children who were suffering from epilepsy. No provision was made for them except the provision that they could be housed in what are known as certified homes.

The noble Lord in the course of his remarks drew attention to the fact that up to now, owing to this limitation, no advantage had been taken by the local authorities of these so-called certified homes. We therefore are, to a certain extent, unable to speak from any past experience on that pointy but the noble Lord knows well that the London School Board has the control of what is known as the Anerley Deaf Boarding School, and we can take a lesson from their experience regarding that school as to what expense may be incurred, unless some step is taken to prevent unnecessary expenditure. I find that that institution comprises one school building and four cottage homes, built in two semi-detached pairs, each home containing fifteen children. The cost, including the site, was £28,000, and as only sixty children are provided for, that works out at £467 per child. Therefore I think the noble Lord has stated with perfect correctness that, if such expense is to be incurred, that part of the Act which was to benefit epileptic children becomes absolutely a dead letter.

The present Bill, as the noble Lord has told the House, empowers the Board of Education to make rules for certified establishments which provide for more than fifteen children in each home, and for more than four homes in connection with each establishment. He has also, I think, very rightly brought to your notice that it is perfectly possible for either House of Parliament to render void any rule that may be passed by the Board of Education if notice be given within thirty days. This, I think, ensures to Parliament control over any action of the Board of Education. The Board of Education, from the experience they have derived, think it right to point out that this present limitation will undoubtedly prevent any improvement in the education of epileptic children. I know there are some who devote their time and attention to the question of education who do not entirely approve of this Bill. I think that they fear that what the noble Lord calls the aggregating of children, and what is called "herding" in the other House, will take place. That it will be the duty of the Board of Education to provide and guard against, and if proper care is taken there is no reason why supervision of the best character should not be given to each and every child in those homes. The character of the illness, and the character of the child itself, should be a matter of the gravest attention to those who are responsible for the administration of the Act. I therefore venture to say that while we are not the promoters of this Bill we cordially welcomed it in the House of Commons, and we cordially welcome it to-day, and I can assure the noble Lord that we will do our utmost to carry it out, not only in the letter, but in the spirit in which it is intended. I am confident that the Bill will be the means of rendering permanent assistance to those who are not in the enjoyment of that health which, I am glad to think, we all possess here.

On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the whole House on Tuesday next.