HL Deb 18 June 1928 vol 71 cc481-501

LORD CHARNWOOD rose to call attention to the position in industry of the congenitally deaf and dumb and of those who are wholly or partially deafened in later life by disease or accident, and to the limitations of the present provision made for their training and for securing employment for them; and to ask His Majesty's Government whether they will (by means of an Inter-Department Committee or otherwise) enquire into the whole matter.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I am going to ask your attention to the social problem presented to us by deaf people in so far, and only in so far, as I believe that problem concerns the Government. I will try not to be longer than is necessary in making my points perfectly clear, but I aim in the first place at making them clear. I am going to submit to the Government that this social problem is one which cannot be satisfactorily dealt with without the help of that sort of extended organisation which can only be supplied by the assistance of the Government. On the other hand, it is a problem in regard to which such help as is needed from the Government is a relatively simple matter, is relatively inexpensive and more or less remunerative; because helping the deaf is not in the main a matter of merely nursing in your arms people who are helpless. It is, on the contrary, a matter of converting men who, without a relatively little help, will be habitually unemployed, into men who are normally employed and doing good work. On any estimate of the possible cost involved in this matter which could reasonably be made, that, most plainly, is an economical thing for the country to do.

May I first detain your Lordships with one or two general remarks? In the next observation I make I am not attempting to appeal to compassion. Such an appeal would be absolutely needless. But it is important for my point to remember that total deafness, or anything like total deafness, is a terrible affliction, far more terrible than is easily realised. If you think of it steadily for a moment you will see that the situation of a man congenitally deaf, who is also congenitally dumb, is such that unless special means are taken of rescuing him he is in complete isolation from intercourse with human kind. But terrible as that is when you think of it does require a moment's thought; it is not a situation which immediately appeals to the compassion of everybody. We all of us know perfectly well that a blind man instantly excites our active compassion and that a deaf man begins by somewhat annoying us. It is so in my case, I am sure, and I believe it is so with most people. The simple consequence of that fact is that of all possible forms of charitable effort and charitable expenditure the agencies which have long and manfully striven to help the deaf in this country are about the worst supported of any kind of charitable or religious agencies.

Having said that I have next to observe that the apparently desperate situation of the extremely deaf is in reality one which can be remedied to a very large extent. The skilful assistance which can be rendered to the totally deaf rapidly converts them as a rule into people who, with very slight occasional good offices from their neighbours, can be valued and self-supporting members of the community. The deaf section of our community thus constitutes a group of people to whom, on the one hand, help is comparatively lacking, and to whom, on the other hand, help when given can be greatly successful in the purpose at which it aims. For the matter of that, I do not hesitate to say that in dealing with these unfortunate people we are behind as a country. I am not making that statement as a censure of any Government Department; but as a community, as a people, we are relatively behind-hand, I do not say in comparison with other countries—I dare say we do as well as any of them—but in comparison with that high standard of efficient charity and mutual help which we succeed in attaining in our treatment of almost any other comparable class of afflicted people.

In outlining the present situation in regard to the deaf I shall begin with those unhappy beings who from birth, or from a very early age, are totally, or almost totally, deaf, and many of whom are dumb also. There are about 40,000 of them in Great Britain. They vary in intelligence as hearing people vary. They have not, I believe, an undue number of idiots among them and they have, on the other hand, as large a proportion of people of keen wits and natural abilities as hearing people have. For them up to the age of sixteen the Government, through the Education Department and the local education authorities, have for years been doing a quite magnificent work. No admiration could be too great for what is done by that extraordinary group of men and women who teach in the schools to-day, or, I venture to add, for the sympathetic and wise supervision which the Ministry of Education continually gives to them. So far as the education side is concerned there is only one thing to be lamented and that is that the case of many of these people would be considerably alleviated by some further specialised training in some special branch of industry after the age of sixteen. That is a matter to which I may refer a little later, and which I do not dwell upon now. Subject to that remark, at the age of sixteen the State, at the cost of an expenditure somewhere in the neighbourhood of £300,000 a year, is yearly turning out these people, who might be supposed to be hopelessly handicapped in life, in a position really to maintain themselves honourably and independently in a great variety of trades.

There are some occupations to which deafness is a total bar, but there are more occupations, as may be imagined, in which the deaf man, once put in his place, is as good a workman as any other. Those employers who have specially laid themselves out to give employment to deaf men are apt to be enthusiastic about their efficiency as workers. Whether that is due to their being warm-hearted people, or whether it is partly because they find a deaf man's disability is to some degree compensated by his unusual powers of concentration upon his work, I do not know, but whatever be the cause the testimony of employers who have engaged deaf workmen is unanimous as to their general efficiency. Unless, however, a position is found for the deaf, they are under an enormous handicap in finding a job for themselves, or if, after a while, they have the misfortune to lose their work, they are again at a great disadvantage in going about to find fresh employment. What agencies exist for helping these people who are so effectively trained? What agencies exist for giving them that occasional help which, for the reasons I have indicated, most of them must from time to time require? There are in this country about 70 local societies aiming to help the deaf. For the most part, indeed almost entirely, they are missionary societies. The diocese of Winchester has the honour of having established the first mission of that kind a great many years ago now, and, as the most rev. Primate opposite (the Archbishop of Canterbury) well knows, there is that great society of which he is President, the Royal Association, which performs the function of a mission to the deaf all over London and, I believe, in a considerable part of the neighbourhood of London. There are altogether some 70 of these excellent bodies, but of course their primary work is religious. They have great difficulty in getting funds, and I think it would be safe to say that what they get is only about 50 per cent. adequate for their most obvious requirements. Unanimously they say that they cannot get what is required. I know no class of charitable endeavour whose means are so far below requirements as the missions to the deaf about which I have any information.

It is not, of course, their special job to find employment, and they all concur in saying that the position of the adult deaf in the matter of employment is a very unsatisfactory one, which they are unable to tackle. Beyond that the whole of these local agencies which do exist can between them influence or help a number which is hardly more than half the number of deaf people who are estimated to exist in this country. That is the only figure I am going to give your Lordships, and I believe it is a cautious estimate of the enormous number of adult deaf people in this country who are actually unknown to any organisation which can undertake to look after them. The greater proportion of these people who escape the help of any organised charity come from relatively very poor homes, and cannot receive the assistance to which in a Christian country one can, without fear of contradiction, say they are entitled. What is the result in the matter of employment? The National Institute for the Deaf is at the present moment prosecuting painstaking inquiries in a number of selected areas in the country in order to ascertain, so far as a mere voluntary society can do, the exact position in this respect. I have in my pocket some of the results, which I could give to your Lordships. The Government, I need hardly say, are welcome to all the information we possess, but I am not now going into details of that sort, which would require to be accurately tested both as to their truthfulness and significance. I content myself with saying, what I quite safely can, that it is the unanimous testimony of the people in all parts of the country who are doing their most for the deaf, and are most closely in touch with the needs of the deaf, that unemployment among them is great, and far greater than is normal having regard on the one hand to their usual capacity as workmen, and allowing fully on the other hand for what we all well know to be the case that employment generally is not what we desire it to be in this country. There can be no question, therefore, that the problem exists.

Just one word about that larger class who are deaf, but not congenitally so—people who in later life through accident or through illness, and perhaps not quite prematurely, become wholly or partially deaf. They fall into two groups. There are those on whom that calamity was brought by the War. They, of course, have been dealt with by the Ministry of Pensions, and to the best of my belief most adequately dealt with. It might interest your Lordships to know what is the definition of the Ministry of Pensions in this matter. Total deafness is, I think, called a 70 per cent. disability. I only refer to War deafness, as I may call it, in order to say that men suffering from it have been well looked after, and to remark that if the Department concerned in this matter can be induced to enquire into it the Ministry of Pensions can certainly give them a good deal of guidance in many directions. The War deaf are well dealt with. What about the civil population upon whom also in mature life this calamity has fallen in varying degrees? I say "in varying degrees," but to many men even to become what is called "hard of hearing" in advancing life may be a very grave misfortune. To become anything like completely deaf would necessitate for a man who has to support himself new industrial training in many cases. What exists in this country to secure that? Perhaps the Government can inform me, but to the best of my belief it amounts to just about nothing at all.

The congenitally deaf are helped to the extent I have described. Those who become deaf in later years—it is difficult to conceive it possible in a Christian country—are left to themselves, and we know what, in many cases, that must mean. That being roughly the state of the case I come now to what I conceive the Government can do in this matter. I would like to say that I am not complaining for one moment that the matter has not earlier been taken in hand by the Ministry of Health, but of late years they have taken in hand matters in some ways comparable and they have ample experience of the kind of help which they can give in this matter, in the help which they have organised for the blind under the Blind Persons Act and the help which they now supply to the mentally deficient. The case of the deaf man is in some ways comparable to both these cases—comparable, that is to say, as to the broad outline of the organisation which is needed to help him, but not in the least comparable in a great many respects and not comparable in the cost which it would involve upon the Government and upon the rates.

In the case of the blind and in the case of the mentally deficient, which I refer to because the Government is very familiar with the machinery set up to deal with them, you have in counties and in other areas associations whose main if not sole subscribers are the county councils and other public bodies, and which are controlled by the representatives of such public bodies. They depend for their management almost entirely on the services of voluntary organisers and, to a very great extent, upon the services voluntarily given of charitable agencies up and down the country. Therefore there is very inexpensive and in most parts of England extraordinarily efficient machinery. We have succeeded in the case of the blind and we have succeeded in the case of the mentally deficient in discovering now who are the persons who require help, in keeping constant track of them, in finding for them such occupations as they are fit for, in giving them the slight and prudently administered pecuniary help which now and again is advisable, and in providing in suitable cases the training which is most requisite for them. The Ministry of Health, as I say, is familiar with the working of organisations of the kind which I have described. Something in outline similar but with a great difference in simplicity and economy is really, I submit, requisite in the case of the deaf, and I would urge the Government to-night to consider very carefully whether it is not about time to initiate legislation which in the respects I have indicated would be on the lines of the Blind Persons Act.

Just one word more. It will interest your Lordships to know—the Ministry of Health, I think, are quite aware of it—that at long last a voluntary effort is being made to set up something of the same sort of organisation in the country as was already in existence in the case of the blind before the Government intervened with the Blind Persons Act. In Scotland, in the Northern English counties, in the Midlands and in the Eastern counties organisations aiming at what I have described have either been recently started or were started some time ago, and are now well advanced with their work. It was manifest from the very start that these organisations could never hope to cover the ground which could be covered easily with the sort of assistance from the Government which I have outlined. I am not asking the Government to commit themselves to immediate action. I am asking them to inform themselves, to make inquiries. I will not even say that an elaborate machinery of inquiry is suggested or that a Departmental Committee is absolutely necessary. If it is not an impertinence to offer the services of outside helpers, I think, from the assurances of sympathetic encouragement I have received from the National Institute for the Deaf and from a great organisation inclined to be slightly critical of that institute, the Royal Association to which I have referred, that they would in all probability be able to supply information which would suffice for the guidance of the Government. I can, therefore, hardly conceive that I shall not receive a sympathetic answer.

I should like to say in conclusion that I am not one of those people who welcome lavish Government expenditure. I am even less one of those people who like to see the State doing anything that can possibly be done by voluntary effort. But it is almost obvious on the face of things that this is one of those matters in which voluntary effort alone cannot cover the ground, while with an effort of co-operation between Government agencies and voluntary effort, with which in this country we are very familiar, that ground could be very satisfactorily covered, I believe, in a short time. I can assure the Government that an answer indicating their readiness to look into this matter and to take, when they see their way, such action as may be requisite will be of the very greatest encouragement to the keen and energetic voluntary workers all over the country who are doing their best to fulfil their part. I am sorry to have detained your Lordships a little longer than I had intended, but I hope that I have made my general point clear.


My Lords, I rise to support in a few words the question of the noble Lord who has just sat down. I am sure that he will have earned the gratitude of many thousands of deaf people throughout the country for the sympathetic activity that he has shown on their behalf. I rather gather that the noble Lord referred to the legislative action that has been taken on behalf of people suffering from comparable afflictions, and I presume that he had in mind the Blind Persons Act, 1920. I am not going to compare blindness with deafness. Comparisons are always odious, but everybody must recognise that to be blind is a most terrible calamity. Loss of sight will cut a man off from seeing all those near and dear to him, it will prevent him from seeing all the beauties of nature, the hills, the sea, the trees, the birds and everything that lives and moves on this earth. But that great denial does not prevent a, blind man from taking an active interest in the affairs of his country or of his own life. As an illustration of what I mean, we may recall the example of Henry Fawcett, the blind Postmaster-General, who, when he was not riding to hounds across country, was busy piloting measures through Parliament, such as that which provided for the penny postage. Then, in our own time, we cannot but admire that courageous man, Captain Towse, V. C., and all the other brave soldiers who work day by day at St. Dunstan's, despite all their difficulties.

The deaf man, with the loss of hearing, will never again hear the voices of those who are near and dear to him. He will never be able to take part in the joys and sorrows of his children, because he cannot converse with them, he will never be able to hear the joyous sound of nature and of music, which is perhaps the most uplifting thing in this world, and he will have very grave difficulty in carrying on administrative work or business of any kind, because he cannot hear or converse. In a way, then, the deaf man is cut off from the joys of life perhaps as severely as or more severely than the blind man. I am not saying these things in order to inflict upon your Lordships a lot of "sob stuff." I can assure you that the very last thing in the world a deaf man wishes is to draw attention to his affliction, to send a hat round for sympathy or to seek to be pampered; but, suffering as I do myself from almost complete deafness, I feel that I would be missing an opportunity and neglecting my duty if I did not try to persuade you that there is an urgent need for doing something for those who are deaf on the lines of that which has been done for the blind.

What are the particular difficulties in the way of finding employment for deaf people? One of them is that there is prevalent amongst employers of labour a fear that there is danger in employing a deaf man, both to themselves and to those among whom he works. I refer to the danger that there may be an accident and that the employer would be let in for heavy claims for expenses and compensation. That fear may be exaggerated, but it exists and is prevalent and it militates against the chance of deaf people obtaining employment. Another difficulty is that, in nearly all the trades into which deaf people are encouraged to go, there are trade union rules regarding apprenticeship. Under those rules apprentices are paid according to their age and not according to their experience. A boy of normal hearing who leaves school at fourteen years of age can become an apprentice. He will probably get 15s. a week in his first year, 17s. 6d. in his second year, and £1 in his third year. A deaf boy leaves school at seventeen years of age, and he will have to start at the wage of £1 a week, which is the same as that of a boy of normal hearing at that age. If an employer of labour has to pay £1 a week to an apprentice, it stands to reason that he would rather have a boy of normal hearing with three years experience than a deaf boy with no experience at all.

Your Lordships may ask why a deaf boy should not leave school at the same age as the boy of normal hearing and so have the same opportunity of getting work. The reason is that, if a deaf boy left school at fourteen, he would never reach the standard of education obtained by the boy of normal hearing. Before you can reach a deaf boy anything you must first of all teach him that there is such a thing as language. You must teach him what language means and, when you have taught him this, you must teach him language by the fingers or the lips. When you have taught him language by fingers or lips the process of conversation is so much slower than with normal boys that he must remain at school at any rate until he is seventeen in order to obtain the same standard of education that a boy of normal hearing reaches at fourteen. There is a further point. Most of these deaf young children are sent into trades in which, I think, a mistake is made, because they go to skilled trades where they are dependant upon other people for their employment. The principal trades into which young deaf people go are such trades as boot making, tailoring and linotypes, or they become bricklayers, machinists, and so on. It is obvious that things may happen to an employer of labour, over which these people can have no control. An employer of labour may find his business dwindling, and he may have to reduce his staff. The first persons he discharges are the deaf, and the last person he will take on is a deaf man. To my mind, therefore, all afflicted people, whether deaf or blind, should be encouraged to go into those industries and trades in which they become their own masters, and find their own employment in their homes. They should go in for things like smallholdings, poultry farming, rabbit farming, wood carving, die making, gardening, dyeing, wool carding, and home weaving. A deaf person must work. He is a born worker. Why? Because it is by absorption in his work and in his industry that he forgets himself and his affliction.

Therefore I appeal to your Lordships to approve of this idea that a Committee should be appointed to investigate this matter of the deaf. I think that at present a great deal could be done to ameliorate their sufferings, and to help them to get employment. At present they simply drift and become too often a burden to their families and a burden to themselves, and a nuisance and expense to the country. After all, if we have to provide training centres it will not be a very costly affair, because each boy or girl will go to a training centre for a very short time and learn sufficient to become self-supporting. Even if the maintenance of training centres were to cost as much as 20s. per head, what is that compared to these young deaf people being left to qualify for the "dole" and to remain on the "dole" all their lives?


My Lords, I have been associated for a long time with the blind side of this question, and I may say that I have the great honour, and pleasure, of being Chairman of the Royal School for the Blind at Leatherhead, in Surrey, in which institution the deaf blind are already being looked after. I have in my possession a little information, which may be of interest to your Lordships, and I will give you a few figures in order to show that there is something being done with regard to that particular branch of the afflicted. Our school is the official technical training school for all the deaf blind over the age of 16 in the London area. Deaf cases from anywhere in the United Kingdom are also accepted. Those under the age of 26 are in residence in the school at Leatherhead, which I might almost describe as a magnificent palace for the blind. Those over 26 years of age are at work in the blind employment factory in the Waterloo Road, Southwark. Our policy has been not only to teach the blind, but, having taught them, to give them a trade in which they can earn their own living, and it has been most successful. We have had a large number of blind employees engaged in making mats, and other things, and with regard to wages some of them earn full wages, higher than the trade union wages. Others cannot do so, but we supplement what they do earn, and enable them to live a decent life.

We have also just bought a large estate where we are going to make a home for blind women, who are not capable of earning their own livelihood. In our schools we have persons who are blind, deaf and dumb. I could mention one boy who is most cheerful. He has been taught to make mats, and works as vigorously as anybody in the place. It is very delightful to know that that sort of case can be dealt with, and I should welcome anything that can be done in the direction of an inquiry by the Government. My noble friend and the noble Duke opposite have, I think, shown the necessity for something being done for these deaf people. With regard to the school at Leatherhead we have one deaf male mat making, three boot repairing, and three basket making, whilst we have two females machine knitting, and three chair caning and hand knitting and sewing. The trained workers earning their living at the blind employment factory in Southwark are four males mat making and six males basket making, while at the Leatherhead workshops there are six females machine knitting, and one hand knitting and sewing.

Therefore your lordships will see that we are doing what there is to be done for the blind-deaf, although there is no doubt much to be done in the direction of employment in trades where deafness does not so much matter. Of course there is the difficulty to which I and the Bishop of Southwark have drawn attention in this House on more than one occasion, and that is the matter of apprenticeships. There is some impediment about the matter, and it is a question which the Government should consider. I think they are about to issue a Report at the present time. I do not say whether the employers or the men are to blame, but there seems to be an obstruction somewhere. When you have trained and educated your boys to a point at which they are fit to be made apprentices and to be useful there is some impediment. I think that wants inquiring into when you are dealing with these other questions.


My Lords, I must thank the noble Lord, Lord Charnwood, for the intimation that he sent to the Ministry, and I am sorry that, in view of his courtesy, the reply which I shall give him will not, I am afraid, be altogether satisfactory to him. He and the noble Duke made a strong appeal to sentiment, which, of course, is only natural. One imagines that all the machinery set up to relieve various afflictions is started in the first place by appeals to sentiment. It is very difficult to know why one sort of affliction should make a greater appeal than others, why, for instance, machinery has been set up for dealing with the blind which does not apply to other afflictions. Some people, like the noble Duke, maintain that deafness is as great an affliction as blindness. At all events, one of the greatest difficulties with which the Minister has to deal is to draw a line where his activities are to end.

Before the Ministry came into being a great deal of this work was done by voluntary associations. Those voluntary associations still go on, and it is not the desire or the intention of the Minister to interfere with the magnificent work which they are doing. But it must become apparent that if you are going to apply the analogy of the machinery set up to deal with the blind to all congenital afflictions the Ministry will have a great financial load placed upon it. Of course the Board of Education has had to deal with this question in a different manner, because it is quite impossible to pursue the ordinary methods of education with deaf children. I might refer a little more fully to the work done by the Board of Education in this matter, because their work extends to an age higher than sixteen, which, I think, was the age mentioned by the noble Lord. Up to that age he admitted that the facilities were very good. The facilities for children under sixteen were not altogether taken up last year; vacancies for over 500 children were not filled. More recently provision has been made for deaf children over the age of sixteen. These are continuation courses Which are primarily intended for students who were previously educated in the special school to which the noble Lord made reference and are designed to give training in preparation for trades suitable to the deaf. There are, at present, four such courses recognised by the Board, with accommodation for a limited number of places, but this limited number has not, so far, been fully occupied.

There is a certain discrepancy between the information which the noble Lord gave us and the information already in possession of the Board of Education and the Ministry of Health. The Board of Education, so far as its information goes, is under the impression that the deaf child who has attended a special school up to the age of sixteen is able to obtain and retain reasonably good and remunerative employment. An Inquiry conducted in 1926, which went into the various careers of deaf persons who had left special schools during the previous five years, showed that of 1,463 children from seventeen boarding schools 1,004 were employed, 110 had employment in prospect, and of the remainder twenty-five had died, ninety-six were unfit for work, and ninety had been lost sight of, leaving only 138 classified as unemployed.


Up to what age is that? You mean up to the age of twenty?


I understand it is up to the age of twenty. As has been already pointed out, there have been formed voluntary county associations for the deaf. These associations have been formed in the Northern, Midland, and Eastern counties, and in Scotland, and it is contemplated that the Board of Education will work with these voluntary associations in respect of children about to leave school in order that suitable occupation may be found for them. It is felt that the best method of finding employment for the deaf is through the personal efforts of voluntary workers who sympathetically plead their cause, and it is hoped in this way, as the county associations become general, to build up an effective national system of placing deaf children, and thus to prevent the economic wastage of public expenditure through their education failing to achieve its purpose. It is anticipated that these voluntary organisations, on which the noble Lord, Lord Charnwood, is a great authority, will shortly extend all over the country, and, as they develop their work, they will amass information more comprehensive and definite than we have ever possessed regarding the extent to which deaf persons are successful in obtaining and retaining employment.

There is the question of the partially deaf, which is also receiving attention at the hands of the Board of Education. But, as regards the Ministry of Health, they feel that it is a great step to contemplate that public funds should be used for this purpose, very largely because it opens the door to other organisations making similar demands, and it is indeed very difficult to resist that argument. I admit that, from a strictly logical point of view, it is difficult to differentiate between the blind and the deaf. But I must confess that the noble Lord's arguments have been very full and informative, and, in view of the slight discrepancy between the information apparently in the possession of the Ministry of Health and that in the noble Lord's possession, I feel that I should be entitled to refer the matter again to my right hon. friend. In doing so I make no promise that anything will be done, but having regard to the feeling of the House and the very moderate and telling speech which the noble Lord has made I will undertake to raise the matter again with my right hon. friend.


My Lords, I am afraid that I am forced to say that the speech of the noble Viscount has been a very unsatisfactory one. It is not that he is wanting in goodness of heart; but he is wanting in freedom to say anything to us which has any bearing on the arguments to which he has listened. His speech was an illustration of what we so often find here—the voice was the voice of the noble Viscount but the hands were the hands of somebody else in the distance. The worst is this, that the answer to my noble friend's Question was prepared before the debate came on and before anybody could know what was going to be said or how it was going to be presented. I would draw attention to this. My noble friend did not ask for anything immediate to be done, because this was a difficult subject which required to be thought out. What he asked for was a little thinking about it in the shape of a Committee. Thinking is the essential basis of good government and we have too little of it nowadays. It costs nothing and there is no reason why we should not have it.

I understand that the Government have been thinking about the question of the miners in the distressed districts and that it is not impossible that we shall have some light upon that subject before long. If so, what we should look for would be the result of what I hope may prove to be careful thinking about a very complicated subject. Here we have another complicated subject and what is the answer of the noble Viscount to the demand that there should be inquiry about it? He does not answer that at all. He says it is a difficult and complicated subject and that he cannot accept all that is said. Nobody asks him to accept all that is said. What we want is to have the thing investigated. Here is this definite field of the deaf which could well be the subject of careful inquiry. The Government have the means at their disposal. It does not cost money and if a careful inquiry by competent persons were set on foot we might get a Report which would define for us the issues and put before us the facts and the statistics. If that were done it is very possible that public opinion might prove to be a determining force and if before the Election the Government would feel themselves bound to announce some constructive policy following on the advice that had been given.

Why should we not have that inquiry? That was the question which was put to the noble Viscount and which he has not answered. He has only brought us a document which was obviously prepared before this debate and without reference to the things which were going to be said. What we want is more knowledge. The Government will not give us more knowledge and yet the knowledge costs practically nothing to obtain. It is a very unsatisfactory situation and I am afraid it will remain unsatisfactory so long as we preserve the system we have in this House by which, when an important Question is put, it is answered, not by somebody who is dealing with the matter with full responsibility and of his own motion, but by somebody who is instructed a priori and beforehand to make an answer which may not fit the facts which are brought forward. I have said before and I say again that until, in reference to questions of this kind, we can have the Minister coining to this House, not to vote but to speak, to answer questions, to give us serious and responsible replies to the questions that we put, the reputation of this House must continue low. It is not a question of bringing in more people or taking away other people. If you transform this House never so much it would remain just as it is so long as you do not bring it into contact with the real living forces of government. Therefore I, for one, shall despair at anything being done either to reform this House efficiently or to get over the difficulties which we have to face until we can have the responsible Minister here to listen to the debate and to answer questions with the full control he has over policy and the full access which he has to his colleagues. I am sorry to have to speak so because the noble Viscount was obviously doing his very best. He spoke with good feeling and I think I may say with a full heart: but he was not able to do the only thing which we asked him to do—to set an inquiry on foot.


My Lords, while I join with the noble and learned Viscount who has just spoken in my anxiety for more information upon the subject, I confess that I feel that there was a considerable difference between the first and the later portion of the noble Viscount's speech. I feel sure that in the later part he spoke with a good deal more sympathy than he did in the first part of what he said. The noble Viscount who has just sat down has indeed traversed a very wide field. He has gone so far as to say that we ought to have the Minister from another place to speak here. That is an old point which he has raised before in your Lordships' House On that I would only say that if the Government of which he was so distinguished a member but a short time ago had taken any steps in that direction, we might have listened to his comments upon this occasion with more respect. As it is, however, I would venture to say to the noble Viscount, Lord Gage, who has responded on behalf of the Government, that I think that what we want to know more than anything else is what are the numbers of the people who are really affected. In regard to his promise in the first part of his speech, that his right hon. friend the Minister would not interfere with what was being done by private agencies at the present moment, we have no reason to thank him. Of course, he is not going to interfere with what is being done by private agencies and I do not think he ought to expect us to thank him for that. But what I think we need to know is what is the size of the problem, and how many people are there who are affected in getting their livelihood because of their deafness, either partial or complete.

I am not quite clear (and it may be my own fault) but I understood from something that was said by the noble Viscount that in some of the schools which are already in existence there are vacant places. It sounded as if provision was made for more cases than are really in need. If that is so it is clear that the problem is not so large as some of us have imagined, and if at any future time the noble Viscount is able, from the records either of the Ministry of Health or the Board of Education, to give us further information upon this subject I am sure we shall be very much obliged. It is obvious that that is difficult because deafness is not confined to any one particular area. It exists throughout the whole country, and though there may be vacancies in one school, it may be that there is urgent need for more places in others. However that may be, if we could have any information of that kind I am sure it would be of the very greatest assistance to all those who are interested in this matter. For myself I would like to mention a most interesting book that was published some ten or twelve years ago, the "Life" of Miss Helen Keller, who was born not only deaf and dumb but blind, and who was able, by the care and attention which she received, ultimately to read and write with great intelligence, even to write books. That shows what can be done by education properly applied and there is no reason why something should not be done for the deaf which would enable them to take their places, not perhaps as normal members of society, but as citizens well qualified to take their places in the common life of the nation.


My Lords, I should like to support what the noble Earl has said as to the sense left in the minds of some of us that we did not get from the speech made on behalf of the Government by the noble Viscount (Viscount Gage), kind as it was, the sort of information we thought we had a right to ask for on an important matter of this kind. If I may use a clumsy expression, several of the figures given to us were so vague that really they were not statistics at all. It was stated that there were certain places somewhere which are not being adequately filled at this moment because there are no applicants for the benefit that might be received. To my mind that is a matter so important in its hearing upon this large question that I think we want to have the statistics about it. Where are those vacancies? Who are the people who might have applied for them and did not? What is the number of persons who are believed to exist to whom such aid would apparently be most desirable and who are not taking advantage of it?

It seemed to me that the noble Viscount's reply on behalf of the Government was so exceedingly vague, and, if I may say so, unstatistical, that we are left as empty of information of the kind we want as we were before. However, the noble Viscount said, if I understood him, that he intends to bring this matter before the Minister concerned with the object of calling his attention to the need expressed in this House for some further information on the subject. I earnestly hope that when the noble Viscount has made that reference to the authorities who are responsible in this matter, he will again be able to say something in answer to some further Question in this House. I hope that then there will be given to us in a more clear-cut form the sort of information which we do definitely need on a matter so important.

With regard to the work undertaken for the blind, its success was mainly due to the way in which the country was startled by finding what the statistics actually revealed as to the existence of a need and the lack of supply for it. To-day we have no accurate statistics from the Government upon this subject. Statistics relating to this matter could not be quite as accurate perhaps as those relating to the blind, but we have no real statistics to work upon, and I venture to think that to-morrow, when we read in the OFFICIAL REPORT the words of the noble Viscount, we shall find ourselves without the kind of help that we were looking for from his speech. I greatly hope the matter will not be allowed to stop there, but that we may have some further inquiry and elicit some further and more detailed response to what the noble Lord suggested to-night. I cannot help thinking that is lacking now, and it would be a great misfortune if it were to seem that the Government are practically giving a rather cold shoulder to the very great need of those on behalf of whom Lord Charnwood spoke so usefully and capably to-night.


My Lords, I can give a little more information on the subject of the schools. I understood Lord Charnwood was satisfied with the position there and, therefore, I did not give further statistics. It must be apparent that it is difficult to give statistics about the deaf from any other Department of State than that which is actually concerned with them, such as the Board of Education. The Ministry of Labour, I understand, has no really accurate statistics of the number of deaf people who apply to them on account of the difficulty of classifying them as totally or partially deaf, but as regards the Board of Education I can tell the most rev. Primate that at the present time there are fifty special schools for the deaf certified by the Board. Of these thirty are day schools, and twenty boarding schools. All the day schools and eight of the boarding schools are provided by local authorities, the remaining twelve boarding schools being provided by voluntary bodies. The total accommodation is for 4,727 children. Five of the day schools (four in London and one in Bristol) are for partially deaf children. The average number of children on the registers of the schools during the year ending March 31, 1927, was 4,136. If you deduct that from the total accommodation of 4,727, you get from 500 to 600 vacant places in various parts of the country. With regard to what the noble Viscount said, of course, as he fully realises, it is impossible for me to make any promise which in any way binds my right hon. friend, but I will certainly submit the matter to which he specially referred to him. I am afraid my instructions do not allow me to concede it to-day.