§ [SECOND READING.]
§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.
THE EARL OF DONOUGHMORE
My Lords, at this late hour I will not detain you for more than two minutes in moving the Second Reading of this Bill, and even on the merits of the case I do not think it necessary for me to do so. The object of the Bill is to wipe out a blot that undoubtedly exists in the law. As your Lordships know, under the Education Act of 1907 power is given to a local authority to medically inspect children when they first enter the school, and to provide such medical treatment as the Board of Education may authorise. Both these are at present charged on the rates. This Bill makes no change as regards inspection, but it makes it possible in future for the local authorities to recover the cost of medical treatment from the parent, if the parent can afford to pay it. I lay stress upon the point that the parent must be in a position to afford to pay, and there is in the Bill ample protection for very poor parents. Local authorities have been diffident as to the exercise of this power to any large extent owing to the great charge it would obviously place upon the rates. That, my Lords, is the reason for presenting this Bill. I may add that there is a precedent for the Bill in the Provision of Meals Act, 1906, which gives power to the local authorities to recover from the parents. The Children Act which your Lordships passed last year makes neglect to provide necessary medical treatment 843 an offence under the Act, and this I think, points to the fact that the provision of medical treatment by parents is an obligation which the State recognises. I beg to move.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(The Earl of Donoughmore.)
§ THE EARL OF CREWE
My Lords, I do not rise to offer any opposition to the Second Reading of this Bill. It has passed through the other House, and I am quite prepared to believe that in some cases it will have a good effect in inducing local authorities to institute a system of medical treatment when otherwise they might be somewhat nervous about doing so. I think, however, it must be admitted that, like some other measures of this kind, its success will depend very largely on the care and the spirit in which it is administered. It would be very unfortunate if in any locality too hard a construction were placed upon the provision that the parent must pay if he is able to do so. If too hard a construction were placed on that provision I fear it might have the rather dangerous effect of discouraging parents who are really poor if not absolutely indigent from having recourse to this medical treatment for their children. That is really the only criticism I have to make of the measure, that it is one of those for which very sympathetic and reasonable treatment is required on the part of the local authority. I hope that any fears I may have on that side may not be realised, and if that is so I am quite willing to believe that the Bill may prove to be in some respects a useful measure.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LONDONDERRY
My Lords, I was glad to observe the spirit in which the noble Earl the Leader of the House received this Bill. I have no fault to find with anything he said, and I quite agree with him that the greatest care should be taken by the local authorities in carrying out the Bill. I think, however, that the local authorities may be trusted not to abuse the measure if it becomes law. The Act of 1907 imposed on local authorities the duty of seeing that medical inspection was brought to bear on the children in their schools. It was made compulsory, and consequently in cases where the parents are fairly well off the cost of medical inspection should not be 844 thrown on the rates, which are already greatly overburdened.
§ THE EARL OF CREWE
The noble Marquess is mistaken, is he not, in thinking that this Bill refers to inspection? I think it refers to medical treatment only.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LONDONDERRY
I meant to say medical treatment. There is a precedent for this in the Provision of Meals Act, and I cannot see any reason why local authorities should be called upon to pay the expenses of the medical treatment of children whose parents are well able to pay. I do not think that any difficulty will arise except in very extreme circumstances. My mind goes back to the Departmental inquiry held at the time I was President of the Board of Education and conducted under the auspices of the late Duke of Devonshire, and I remember that when we went into the question of the feeding of children in the poorer parts of London we found that there were three classes of parents—parents who could pay and would not, parents who felt rather insulted at the proposal that their children should be fed for them, and parents who could not feed their children at all. Again, we find that there are a certain class of parents who desire that their children should not go to the ordinary elementary schools and are prepared to pay fees in respect of education practically the same as that given in the public elementary schools. Recognising that parents who can afford to pay for the education of their children do so in many cases, I think that there is no need for apprehension in regard to the working of this Bill, and that this will be found a satisfactory method of in some way relieving the burden placed upon the shoulders of the ratepayers under the Act of 1907.
§ On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House on Tuesday next.