HL Deb 21 August 1907 vol 181 cc724-34

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, this measure is one which I am glad to say is not of a controversial character, although it contains some very important, provisions. Some of those provisions are old friends of your Lordships, because they appeared in the Education Bill which I had the honour to introduce last year. As any of your Lordships who have looked into the Bill will have observed, there is no general principle involved in it. It is really an omnibus measure, and in another place my right hon. friend expressed his desire to withdraw from it any propositions which were seriously opposed by responsible members of the Opposition, and that it should go through, as far as possible, as an agreed measure.

I will call attention to a few of the provisions. Clause 1 enables local authorities to appropriate land for educational purposes on a wider scale than has hitherto been the case; that is to say, land and buildings for secondary and elementary schools become interchangeable under this proposition. But it is important to observe that this re-allocation of land has to receive the consent of the Local Government Board before it can be made, and that, I think, meets an objection which might possibly be raised against this particular clause, namely, that by allocating to educational purposes lands acquired for other purposes county councils might be able to exceed to a very considerable extent the present 2d. limit of the rate, but as the consent of the Local Government Board is required I think your Lordships will be disposed to agree that no real danger exists in that regard.

Then Clause 3 gives an extension up to a term not exceeding 60 years, during which money borrowed by county councils is to be repaid, and on that I need merely say that this provision places county councils in exactly the same position as, and no better than, borough councils and urban district councils for this purpose. Clause 5 deals with the question of capital expenditure. The precise question as to what constitutes capital expenditure in school provision is sometimes an obscure and complicated one. The only point I wish your Lordships to notice in regard to this is that it is only so far as audit and the consequent possibility of surcharge are concerned that any change is made. So far as any question of application to the Courts of Law is concerned, matters remain as they were. Then I pass to Clause 9, which places schools for blind and deaf children in a better position than before. Clause 11 allows local education authorities to aid the instruction of children from twelve up to the limit of school age by scholarships and bursaries. That is an important provision for enabling the promising children of the very poor, who might find a difficulty in continuing at school, to finish their school course, and, as one hopes, ultimately climb still higher the educational ladder. Clause 12, dealing with higher education, enables students who have received scholarships still to receive them even when they have ceased, as sometimes happens, particularly in the case of great towns like London, to reside in the actual area. That is a provision which, in our opinion, will be of great service in removing individual cases of hardship.

Then I come to Clause 13, which, as your Lordships will remember, was in the Education Bill of last year. The first subsection gives power to provide vacation schools, play centres, and other means of recreation during the holidays. That proposal when it was made in last year's Bill received, I think, the unanimous approval of your Lordships' House, and therefore I do not propose to spend any further time in discussing it. But Subsection (b) deals with the still larger and more important question of medical inspection. The noble Marquess opposite, Lord Londonderry, and I had what I am sure was a great pleasure to him as it was to me, the opportunity of standing together on the platform of the School Hygiene Congress which was held the other day. That congress was one testimony amongst others of the importance that is attached by thoughtful people in this country as well as in other countries to this question of school hygiene, of which these points relating to medical inspection and care form, I think it is safe to say, by far the more important part.

We are glad to know that in another place this provision received a large measure of support. So experienced a Member of the other House and one so respected as Sir Francis Powell spoke in very warm terms of the proposition contained in this clause; and, as I daresay many of your Lordships know, the Board of Education is now actively engaged in forming a medical department for the purpose of supervising this medical inspection. It is provided, as your Lordships will see, that children should be inspected at the time of their admission to a public elementary school, and afterwards periodically as the Board of Education direct; and the further words in the clause provide for arrangements for attending to the health and physical condition of the children educated in public elementary schools. Provision is made for medical care of the minor ailments to which children are subject, and the manner in which it is thought by many that this can be best carried out is by visits of nurses employed by the local authority to the homes of the children, where they are able to deal with small ailments very often caused quite as much by the ignorance of the parents as by anything which could properly be called neglect or want of care.

On this question of medical inspection—and it is, I think, the only one on which any points of difference have arisen—I should like to say one further word. In another place an Amendment was moved desiring that the parents who are able to do so should be made to pay for this medical attention on the lines of the Provision of Meals Act of last year. From the point of view of the child there is something of painful irony in the introduction of the term "provision of meals" when the medical attendance is likely as often as not to take the form of a dose of tincture of senna or castor oil. But putting that aside, my right hon. friend considered most carefully how far it was possible to meet this proposal, and he found, after giving it his best consideration, that it did not seem practical to apply the provisions of that Act to this Bill, and very largely for this reason—that if you insist upon parents paying their share for this medical attention the practical result is almost sure to be that it will have to take place at the school and the school only. If parents are charged for the visits of nurses or of doctors to the homes of the children, the result will be that they will refuse to admit those persons, and, as it is considered that the most sensible, practical, and economical way of dealing with these minor ailments is by domestic visits, a great part of the objects of the Bill would, I am afraid, be sacrificed if this change were made. The change is obviously not likely to be at all a serious one, and I hope under these circumstances your Lordships will not desire to see the Bill altered in that particular way.

I now come to the question how the expenses under this Clause will be met. It is not considered possible, and I think for very obvious reasons, to make specific grants to local authorities, but my right hon. friend has already announced in another place that a very considerable addition will be made to the grants to local authorities in connection with elementary schools in the next Estimates. That fact is to be taken into consideration in dealing with the possible, or, indeed, probable extra cost which may be placed upon local authorities by this new provi- sion. Then there is the further point, as to the time when this section should come into operation. It would, of course, naturally have come into operation as soon as the Bill was passed; but, in deference to a suggestion made in another place, I think by Sir William Anson, it was provided that this section should come into operation on the 1st day of January next year. That may seem to some members of your Lordships' House, too short a time to get an organisation of this kind into full swing, and it undoubtedly is. I think it is quite clear that the Local Education Authority, considering it may be some time before it is able to deal with the matter at all, would not be able to get this system into anything like working order by the 1st of January. But if noble Lords will look at the clause they will see that all that the clause insists on is that the duty to provide should begin from that date. Noble Lords who represent local authorities may, I think, take it quite clearly that the Board of Education will not press them to have their systems of medical inspection in full working order by January 1st. The principal difficulties which each local authority may experience in getting this system into order will be taken into full and fair consideration, so long as by that time they are seriously considering the question and preparing to deal with it in a practical way.

There are only two other matters which I need mention. The first is Clause 14, of which I think the author was the noble Earl opposite, Lord Belper, with regard to the conveyance of children to school, and which provides that where suitable means of conveyance to school are provided, the excuse for non-attendance under Section 74 of the Act of 1870 shall not be held to be a good one. That is a very sensible and useful provision. The other point is as to the register. I am not going to trouble your Lordships this evening with any disquisition on that somewhat vexed and complicated subject. There was a general impression on the part of those who looked into the matter that to a great extent the teachers' register as it existed had somewhat broken down and failed to effect the purpose for which it was originally formed. There was a proposition at one time that it should be dropped altogether, but that caused a certain amount of distress among those interested in the subject, and therefore this clause represents a compromise on that subject—namely, that a simple register, of a different character from that which has been the rule hitherto, should be instituted, and I think it will have a value of its own. Although it does not, I am afraid, satisfy all the persons who were placed on the original register, yet at the same time it will provide a means for teachers who have gone to the trouble and expense of obtaining the superior certificates and the higher form of education making that fact known to those who desire to engage them. I think I need detain the House no longer. I hope this measure will receive the support of noble Lords opposite who are qualified from their own experience to express an opinion upon its provisions.

Moved: "That the Bill be now read 2a."—(The Earl of Crewe.)


My Lords, the noble Earl, in the exceedingly interesting speech which he has just made, referred to the pleasure with which he had recently found himself on the same platform elsewhere with the noble Marquess who occupied, under the late Administration, a similar position to that now held by the noble Earl. I should like to say, in the same spirit, how glad I am at finding myself in the position to-night of warmly supporting an Education Bill introduced by my noble friend the Lord President.

I desire to support this Bill cordially. I do not mean to say that there are not points in it upon which, had an opportunity been earlier given to us, I should have offered some criticism, but I feel that any criticism at the present moment might endanger the measure, which I desire to see passed into law. I was one of those who last year, when the negotiations for the Education Bill fell to the ground, experienced a keen feeling of disappointment, partly because of the loss of the very provisions which are contained in the Bill now presented to your Lordships. It was our own plan and endeavour to prepare a new Bill which should have embodied some of those provisions even at the last moment when the Education Bill of last year was perishing or had perished. It is, however, much easier for the Government than for anybody else to do this, and I am glad to be able to say how cordially I support the provisions contained in this Bill and especially Clause 13, to which the noble Earl referred.

The provisions dealing with medical inspection, play centres, and recreation schools we are anxious to see carried into vigorous effect; and I am certain that the regulations which the noble Earl has foreshadowed as regards the manner in which medical treatment or inspection will be carried out are such as are likely to produce most beneficent results, not only in the schools but in the homes from which the children come. The proposals contained in the Bill must involve some considerable expense and I imagine that some county councils may look a little askance on them; but I am one of those who believe that no expense is likely in the long run to justify itself more satisfactorily than expenditure in the direction this Bill sets forward. I congratulate the noble Earl upon what I hope is now the assured prospect of the passing of this Bill.


My Lords, after the speech of the most rev. Primate it is hardly necessary that I should address your Lordships, because what the most rev. Primate has said expresses so well the views which I and my friends on this Bench hold with regard to the Bill. It was with sincere regret that we saw those clauses in the Education Bill of last year which dealt with the medical inspection of children, the provision of improved playground accommodation and recreation schools, sacrificed on account of the failure of the whole Bill to pass. I remember taking part in many of the discussions in Committee, and the clauses which are included in this Bill were by universal consent regarded as of an admirable character. This Bill, therefore, comes to your Lordships in what I may call an uncontentious character. The President of the Board of Education went out of his way, when this measure was in the House of Commons, to say he trusted it would be met in an uncontentious spirit, and I am prepared to say that we are quite willing to meet it in that spirit.

The noble Earl has clearly pointed out the great advantages that will accrue to the children if this Bill becomes law. I most cordially approve of the clause which gives power to the local authorities to provide vacation schools and play centres. The noble Earl alluded to the fact that he and I were privileged to take part in the congress of the National Society for the Promotion of Hygiene, held in London a short time ago, and I may say that I listened with interest to the words that fell from the noble Earl on that occasion with regard to the question of medical inspection. I most cordially concur in all he said then and to-day, but, at the same time, I am bound to say that I think it would have been advisable to have considered a little more carefully the Amendment moved in another place as to whether the parent, when in a position to do so, ought not to contribute to the cost of medical attention. But as I do not think it desirable to raise any controversy I do not propose to press that question further.

I am glad to hear that the grant to the local authorities will be increased in view of the additional duties to be imposed upon them. The sum was not mentioned, but I daresay that may come out at a later stage of our proceedings. Before I sit down I should like to express the pleasure with which I regard the proposals in the Bill to encourage those voluntary agencies, like the Happy Evenings Society, which have done so much for the health and happiness of the children. I am glad that encouragement is given to the ladies and others connected with these societies throughout the country; and I trust the Bill will speedily become law.


My Lords, I do not rise for the purpose of raising any objection to the principles of this Bill, which contains some Amendments introduced into the Bill of last year on my motion. The noble Earl the Lord President has referred to the clause dealing with the subject of medical inspection, upon which the House will remember I had something to say in the discussions last year. I pointed out, not that the county councils objected in any way to medical inspection, which everybody recognises is of the greatest possible value if carried out efficiently, but that the expense would be very considerable in counties as compared to boroughs; and also that greater latitude should be given to county coun- cils in regard to the time in which the scheme was to be carried out.

As to the first point, I am glad to hear that, although a specific grant cannot be given, this additional expense will be considered by the giving of an increased grant for elementary education; and if any allocation is made with regard to this, I hope it will be remembered that in counties the expense will be much larger, owing to the scattered nature of the district, than in boroughs. Words have been introduced in this clause which somewhat meet the second point. I refer to the words "as soon as possible," but I am not sure that these words express all we would like. If this inspection is to be efficient you cannot entrust it to the local medical practitioners. You must appoint people with special knowledge of the subject, and therefore you must give sufficient time for all these arrangements to be carried out before the inspection comes into force. That is a point we hope will be considered.

We are at the end of August now, and everybody connected with county councils is away on holiday. Therefore nothing can be done until October, leaving only one meeting of the county council before the 1st of January next, the date fixed for the Bill's coming into operation. If you are to build up an efficient system and to appoint competent men and women—I think women will be quite necessary in this work—it will take time. I consulted a very competent medical officer of health on the subject, and he said he thought that if his county council entrusted to him the work of drawing up the scheme, it would take him nearer a year than six months to do so; and I understand that the Board of Education have not yet got their medical board constituted, and regulations will, of course, have to be issued by them. If the Government do not wish to alter the date specified in the Act, I hope there will be some power given to the Board of Education to treat county councils who want to do the work efficiently with latitude in the matter. Otherwise you will have to start with makeshift schemes, which would be unsatisfactory and not likely to work. I do not wish to move any amendment to this clause, but I hope that point will be considered, and that it will not be neceesary for county councils to have appointed their inspectors by the 1st of January, because I believe that would be absolutely impossible. It would meet our view more if words were inserted to give the Board of Education power to extend the period if they considered it necessary.


My Lords, perhaps I might say that I have had an opportunity of discussing this point with my right hon. friend, and he thinks—and I am bound to say I agree with him—that the Bill as it stands really does meet the difficulty raised by the noble Lord. There is nothing in the clause which says the inspection is to begin by the 1st of January. What the Bill says is that the duty to provide must begin. My right hon. friend appreciates the point raised, and the noble Lord can be quite satisfied that the Board of Education will not press county councils unduly in this matter.


My Lords, there is one point in connection with Clause 13 of the Bill on which I would ask your Lordships' indulgence while I say a word or two. It is the subject of the vacation schools. I venture to say a word on this matter because, as the most rev. Primate reminded the House, there may be some fear in the minds of local authorities as to the expense which this clause may throw upon the locality. Your Lordships know better than I do that there is nothing on which local authorities are so sensitive as on the question of additional expense, and therefore it may reassure them if I say that my own experience shows that vacation schools need not be very expensive. We owe these excellent institutions to the initiation of Mrs. Humphrey Ward, and recognition is due to her for what she has done in the matter. Having seen her experiment I ventured to try it myself in the city of Hereford two years in succession during the summer vacation, and I found it possible to work the vacation school at an expense of only about 1d. per child for each hour's attendance. If local authorities could be assured that the expense of such schools would not be very much more than this, I venture to think they might be encouraged to under take them. It is on that ground I have ventured to bring before your Lordships my own experience in the matter, and I will add that I am convinced there is no part of our elementary education system which is more valuable to vast numbers of city children than a well-conducted vacation school.

On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the whole House to-morrow.