HL Deb 18 March 1937 vol 104 cc762-4

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, this Bill reaches us from the House of Commons where it recently passed through all its stages without opposition. The proposal is that the age for the compulsory attendance of deaf children, which is at present seven, shall become five in the future. Five is the age of attendance in Scotland and informed opinion in England is unanimous in thinking that the same age should be imposed in this country. This Bill equalises the ages between Scotland and England. Great progress has been made in recent years in the education of deaf children and I am glad to say that the number of deaf children has been reduced, because deafness as a sequelœ of such illnesses as measles or scarlet fever is being reduced by increased medical knowledge. But deaf children require a great deal of education in order to be taught to speak intelligently. In normal education the last two years of the educational career are the most valuable. In the case of deaf children the first two years are most valuable because a child, through the influences of the home or the absence of education, may either develop a peculiarity of inflection of voice or insistence upon certain aspects of the voice, which are deleterious to its future or else it hears wrong. The younger the child, therefore, the better the chance of education.

As I say, great progress has been made and opinion is unanimous now that five is preferable to seven as the compulsory age. So far as I know all local education authorities agree, all the teaching profession agree, the medical profession are united on the point, so that the authority for this proposal I consider to be very strong indeed. I do not think I need press the point upon your Lordships because the authority upon which the proposal is based is so very exceptionally strong that I am sure that your Lordships' House as a whole will agree. I will only add this technical point, that in matters of speech and audition the intuition of a child of five is greater than that of a child of seven and a child of seven has stronger intuitive powers than a child of nine. Some parents dislike sending their children early to school because they think it is not fair to the little afflicted child to go so early. Others send the child without thinking or else bring up the child badly. The experience of parents coincides with that of teachers, the public authority and all the medical world, and I believe the Bill to be unanimously supported. I would like to mention as testimony to the efficiency of the education of the deaf, that in Manchester, where this subject is more developed and more studied than in any other town, no fewer than 90 per cent. of the children who are congenitally deaf learn to use the human voice perfectly and 90 per cent. of those children get employment when they leave school. I beg to move that the Bill be now read a second time.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a. —(The Earl of Crawford.)


My Lords, my noble friend Earl De La Warr is engaged as one of the United Kingdom delegates on the International Sugar Conference to-day and he has asked me on his behalf to say a very few words to your Lordships about the Government attitude towards this measure. As the noble Earl has explained, the object of the Bill is to reduce the commencing age for compulsory attendance of deaf children at school from seven to five years. Hitherto and for many years I understand deaf children have been the only exception to the rule which makes attendance compulsory at five years of age, and the noble Earl has explained to you the technical advantages of their going to school earlier. Anyhow, it does not seem necessary now to continue this difference on behalf of these young children. In fact, I am informed that the majority of deaf, children of between five and seven years of age now attend school voluntarily. Various organisations connected with the education of the deaf have from time to time urged that legislation to this effect should be introduced, and only last summer the President of the Board of Education, in answering a Question in another place, expressed his readiness to agree to legislation on this subject provided that it was entirely uncontroversial and that it was supported by local authorities and other organisations. As the noble Earl has said, this Bill had a perfectly uncontroversial passage through the House of Commons, and I can only say on behalf of the Government that they are very glad to give it their full support. I may add that I am told that the cost of the change is estimated at not more than £5,000 a year.

On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.