HL Deb 16 July 1908 vol 192 cc1048-55

LORD CLIFFORD OF CHUDLEIGH moved to resolve "That, in the opinion of this House, the words "Satisfactory provision must be made for the medical inspection of children attending the school in accordance with Section 13 (1) (b) of the Education (Administrative Provisions) Act, 1907,' in Article 25, Subsection (c) of the Code of Regulations for Public Elementary Schools in England should be omitted from the Code." He said the words to which he had taken exception and which he moved to delete from the Code did not, on the face of them, convey, the exact point to which it was his wish to call the attention of the House. That point was more clearly brought out in the Memorandum which prefaced the Code than in the Code itself. By Section 13 of the Education (Administrative Provisions) Act, 1907, it was provided that the powers and duties of the local education authority under the Education Act, 1902, should include the duty of providing for the medical inspection of children immediately before or at the time of, or as soon as possible after, their admission to a public elementary school, and on such other occasions as the Board of Education should direct. That section came into operation in January last, and in explanation of it the Board had issued a Memorandum, which had been supplemented by a further circular containing specific directions. When the Bill was before their Lordships, Lord Belper, on behalf of the county councils, moved an Amendment to make the adoption of medical inspection a matter more or less of option with the county council. This was refused on the ground that such inspection was one of great importance to the national interests of the country; and the recent Report of the Commission on Physical Deterioration was brought up in support of that contention. Lord Belper had reminded their Lordships, in a speech in the recent debate on local taxation, that county councils had laid before the Board of Education a claim to be assisted out of the national Exchequer on the ground that medical examination was a matter of national importance. The President of the Board of Education had received that representation with a certain amount of sympathy, and had promised that some assistance would be given to work this provision. But they had seen nothing of that assistance. All that they found in the Code was a threat that money which they had already earned was to be taken away from them if they failed to perform this duty of inspection. He was quite willing to admit that to make such a condition was well within the power of the Board of Education; but he held that it was unjust when the services for which grants were given had been well and faithfully fulfilled that the money so earned should be taken away because the local education authority had failed, unaided and unassisted by the Board, to carry out a duty which they felt was one that did not pertain to education in its normal condition and which was really a national duty. The Board of Education had not stopped at threatening the local authority with a heavy fine if they did not carry out this duty. They had, in a somewhat unfortunate way, interpreted the Act as giving them a power to force upon the local education authority the appointment of certain officers. They alluded in several places in the Code to an officer called the school medical officer. The wording used was rather curious, and referred to the "naming" of the medical officer by the Board of Education. A Speaker of the House of Commons who threatened to name a Member was once asked, "if you do name me, what will happen?" The Speaker was said to have replied, "The Lord only knows." Well, he was rather in that position; he failed to make out what the Board of Education meant by "naming" a medical officer. It was the custom for most local authorities to appoint their medical officers and to pay them. He did not know whether naming them was supposed to include payment as well as appointment. In this matter he did not think the local education authorities were being treated with justice. Before any threat to penalise and to fine was indulged in, the Government ought to give some substantial assistance which would aid them in their work; and if, on the failure of their work, that grant was stopped he was sure the local education authorities would not complain. But to impose upon local authorities the duty of the medical inspection of children, without giving them any monetary assistance for that special purpose, and at the same time to threaten them with fines if they failed to carry out that duty, was most unjust.

Moved to resolve "That, in the opinion of this House, the words 'Satisfactory provision must be made for the medical inspection of children attending the school in accordance with Section 13 (1) (b) of the Education (Administrative Provisions) Act, 1907,' in Article 25, subsection (c) of the Code of Regulations for Public Elementary schools in England, should be omitted from the Code."—(Lord Clifford of Chudleigh.)


was sorry that this important question had come on at so late an hour. The matters to which the noble Lord had called attention were matters of some importance, but he could not support the Motion he had made. In the first place, he felt that if there was an objection to this medical inspection it should have been made last year when the Act was being passed. That Act contained a number of valuable provisions, and therefore there was a general desire in all parts of the House that it should pass, and a willingness to take the items they did not like in order to secure those which they regarded as of value. The Bill having become law, they could not blame the duties upon the local authorities, and not to give them additional moneys from public funds to meet those new duties; but it should not be forgotten that the grants had been increased year by year. Therefore, he did not think complaint could be made if Parliament imposed extra duties if those duties were effect to the will of Parliament by ordering local authorities to carry out medical inspection, but rather that the circular in which the Board had ordered or suggested that medical inspection should be carried out, in many points went far beyond their statutory rights. They had been very anxious to thrust upon the county authority, which was also the education authority, the working of all this through the county medical officer. Many counties had not appointed medical officers, and many did not mean to do so. All that the Board of Education had a right to demand was that there should be medical inspection. The exact measure of that inspection, whether through the county medical officer or through officers appointed specially for the purpose, was, in his opinion, left by the Act in the discretion of the local authority. As to the Code, he had a complaint to make. The Code made more and more obscure the things that had to be done. In former days they had, attached to the Code, an appendix showing article by article any practice which had to be amended. That was a great help. But now a person had to do a piece of collation, adding and comparing one Code with another, and that made it hard for the man in the street and members of county councils to follow the Code. He agreed with the noble Lord that they ought to watch very jealously the attempt of any Government Department to usurp more than its own legal powers. He felt strongly that the hope for the future of education was to trust very much more to the local authorities, and that the possession by the Board of Education of too much power was not to the advantage of local education.


My Lords, I share the regret expressed by the noble Lord that this subject has been raised at this late hour, and I regret it the more, because the subject is one of real importance. It is one of those few subjects connected with education upon which I think there inspection with the method by which it should be carried out. The duty is laid by Act of Parliament upon the Board of Education of seeing that there in this medical inspection, and therefore, the only matter which really comes before us to-night is the method by which the medical inspection should be carried out. The Resolution of the noble Lord seems to me to be aimed much more at Section 13 of the Education (Administrative Provisions) Act of last year, than at the present policy of the Board of Education. I think we must take it for granted that this duty does lie upon the Board of Education. The question, therefore, is how they are carrying out the obligation Parliament has laid upon them. In this matter it seems to me, if I may say so, that the Board of Education are dealing with great gentleness with the various local authorities. The words in the appendix are to the effect that the medical inspection will, in future, be one of the elements to be considered in determining the efficiency of each school, in regard to the grant to the school. The noble Lord must remember that the Act came into operation on the first of January this year. Seven months have gone by, and during that period the Board of Education cannot be said to have applied any harsh pressure upon the various local authorities. Indeed, it seems to me that they have treated them with very great consideration, and that the least they could have done was to have inserted in the Code the words to which the noble Lord has called attention. Indeed, from the personal acquaintance I have with current public opinion, so far as it is interested in questions of this kind, I think it is more likely that in future public opinion will urge upon the various local authorities that they should make even more stringent inquiries than those at present suggested by the. Board of Education, and for my own part, I hope that public opinion will demand that the local education authorities should take a real, sincere, and thorough interest in this question of medical inspection. As to the expense entailed, the figures which had been published by the County Councils Associations ranged from 4d. per child in Essex and Lancashire to 1s. 4d. in Cheshire and Yorkshire. The difference between those figures makes it very difficult to say that all these estimates can have been framed with accuracy. At the present moment, in the opinion of the Board, the probable cost of medical inspection is too obscure to allow of any reliable estimate being formed. The average of the estimates of the county councils is 10d., and at the outset that may be regarded as not an unlikely amount. But I must remind the noble Lord that this whole question of the estimate depends very largely upon local circumstances. I think he quoted from a footnote to the Code, in which the Board of Education expressly say that in certain circumstances they require varying degrees of medical inspection, and I cannot help thinking that some of the authorities have included in this estimate of medical inspection something more than the duty which lies upon them. They have probably included in their estimate every possible source of expense, upon the supposition that some local authorities will make a full, and, perhaps, even an extravagant use of the powers as well as the duties with which they have been entrusted. For the present, at any rate, I think I may venture to reassure the noble Lord, and to say that the extravagant estimates which are to be found in certain pessimistic quarters are not likely to prove entirely accurate. I am encouraged in saying that by a figure which was given by the noble Marquess, Lord Londonderry, when he was President of the Board in 1905. He said then that the cost of medical inspection would be extremely small, generally involving less than one-tenth of a penny rate. That is borne out by the fact that in one large county borough where medical inspection is now in operation and is, in the general opinion, efficiently carried out, the cost works out at between 6d. and 1s., although some of the authorities stated that it would be something like 2s. 9d. per child. The noble Lord, complained that His Majesty's Government, in giving these fresh powers to local authorities, had done nothing to help them to carry them out. I must remind the noble Lord that at the present moment there is an Education Bill before the other House of Parliament by which His Majesty's Government take power to distribute a sum of £1,400,000 amongst the various local authorities. That, of course, is not allocated to any one specific purpose, but is to meet the expense of duties now cast upon them. I shall not detain your Lordships further, though I have here certain figures which, had it been earlier in the evening, I should have ventured to give the House dealing with the way in which various local authorities have already dealt with this matter, and which, I think, would go far to show that it has not been found oppressive or hard by the vast majority of local authorities. Generally speaking, the local authorities show a willingness and desire to co-operate with the Board of Education in carrying out the provisions of the Act of last year. The Board of Education, in their Code and in the Memorandum, have merely done their best to assist the various local authorities to carry out the Act, and in these circumstances I venture to hope the noble Lord will agree to the suggestion which has been made by Lord Stanley of Alderley and withdraw his Motion.


said he was glad to hear that the Board of Education took such a moderate view of the expense. A borough medical inspection, however, could be conducted much more easily, cheaply, and efficiently than in a scattered county, and his fear was that the Board of Education, in making their regulations, might act very harshly. With regard to the assistance that had been promised, he suggested that the financial aid should have been given by the Government at the same time that fresh duties were placed upon the local authorities.

Motion (by leave of the House) withdrawn.

House adjourned at ten minutes past Eight o'clock, to Monday next, a quarter before Eleven o'clock.