HC Deb 17 July 1860 vol 159 cc2021-34

Order for Second Reading read.


moved the second reading of this Bill.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill he now read a second time."


moved that the Bill be read a second time that day three months. The chief clause in the Bill was the first, which provided that no children under twelve years of age should be employed in any continuous labour unless a certificate was produced from a competent master that they were able to read and write, or unless an undertaking was given that they should receive education for at least twenty hours in the month. He admitted the humane intentions of the right hon. Gentleman who introduced the Bill, but, at the same time, he believed that it would operate most unkindly and harshly towards the poor. The children who were to be brought under the operation of the Bill were not in circumstances to be dealt with as children employed in factories and mines were. Many of them were employed as errand boys, and in other such ways, and brought in their little earnings to assist their parents, though from no fault of theirs they had received no education. To come down upon these poor children and compel them to desist from their employments, and from helping their parents, would be a great hardship. He objected to the Bill on this ground, but he might add that no system of education was laid down in the Bill, and there was no machinery by which its object was to be carried out. For these reasons he hoped the House would not agree to the second reading, but that it would agree with him that its provisions were wholly uncalled for.

Amendment proposed, to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words "upon this day three months."


said, that the Bill had in its origin a close connection with the Bill for the regulation of Mines, lately under the consideration of the House. The right hon. Gentleman who had brought in the Bill took a different view of the education clause in the Mines Inspection Bill from the view taken by the Government. The first instance of an exceptional legislation of the kind in regard to compulsory education was the prohibition of the employment of children in factories without a certificate of their attendance at school. There was a special interference of Parliament with regard to that class of children, because it was thought the children employed in factories were in a peculiar position. Parliament saw an existing evil, which could not be disputed, and applied a remedy for it in the case of a certain li- mited class by the Factory Act, without caring for any logical objections that might be made as to the inconsistency of legislating for one class alone. Some years ago, a Bill was likewise passed for the regulation of mines; and by that measure the employment of women and of children under a certain age was altogether prohibited. That Act had to be renewed this Session, and it was thought desirable to introduce a clause providing that no child should be employed in any mine who could not read or write, and that, when so employed, he should attend school. The right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Adderley) contended, however, that this was very inconsistent, and asked why that legislation should be applied to mines and factories alone, and why it should not be extended to all classes of the community. Now he (Sir George Lewis) was not prepared to say that that argument might not gradually force its way into the minds of the community; indeed he himself concurred in the justice of it in the abstract, and he wished they were in a condition to enforce such a rule with regard to children generally. But they must look at the inherent difficulties of the case. In this country we did not in general make our laws according to the rules of great logicians; we did not act upon abstract principles, but took' up particular cases as they occurred, and endeavoured to feel our way from one case to another. By this experimental mode of proceeding we were much more successful in our legislation than if we pursued a more rapid and, perhaps, more logical course. For these reasons, though he gave his right hon. Friend credit for the very best intentions in introducing this Bill, he was not prepared to vote for the second reading.


said, it was to be expected that a Bill on education would call forth considerable differences of opinion; but he was not prepared for the sort of opposition now offered to the measure. It was admitted that the principle of the Bill was on the whole right, but it was not thought expedient to attempt to carry that principle into effect. He did not think that was a kind of opposition which should induce his right hon. Friend to withdraw the Bill. If the question involved was one of principle, let them fight the question of principle; if, on the other hand, it was a question of detail, let them go on to discuss the details. It had long been generally admitted that our system of education, and the centralized establish- ment of Government aid in support of schools all over this country, did not produce an amount of benefit commensurate with their cost. The cause of this inadequate result was alleged by the school inspectors to be the fact that children did not attend or remain long enough at the schools to acquire the needful instruction. Now he heartily disapproved of all the schemes which had been propounded for compelling the parent to send his child to school. The relation between parent and child was one with which the State had no right to interfere, but the relation between the employer and the child was a public relation, by means of which the parent might he stimulated to do his duty. The schemes for tempting the child to remain at school, by offering prize grants and capitation grants, were all objectionable, resulting only in the education of a few dozen pupils to a high standard. If, however, children had a right to education, it was the duty of the State to see that their education was not neglected. That would be done if care was taken, as provided by the Bill, that no employer should employ a child without seeing that he was to some extent educated. The effect of this would be to impress on parents the duty of educating their children, as it would be more profitable for themselves, and he did not believe that it would at all interfere with employment of children. Under the measure children would be employed at an age not much later than at present, but for a year or two before they went to work they would go to school instead of running about idle. To meet such cases as that of a farmer or other employer in a district where there might be no school, a provision would be inserted that the master should not be subject to the penalty, unless it could be shown that he had the means of sending the child to school, and that he refused to do so. The Bill was an attempt to promote voluntary education, and decentralisation as regarded educational efforts, and on that account he thought it entitled to the consideration of the House.


said, he was sure that those Members who were not now present would be in no small degree surprised, when they found that the House had been engaged in the discussion of a measure quite as difficult as a Bill for Parliamentary Reform. The benches of the House were nearly empty, and why? It was not because no interest was felt in this question; for he believed if it had been made known that a matter of such vast importance was to be seriously urged upon their attention, the House would have been crowded, and at least five nights' debate would have been required before the Bill could have been disposed of. There was no want of interest in the question; but it was felt that the debate would be nothing but a simple exercitation—an occasion on which they could make abstract speeches, but that the passing of the Bill at the present moment was as much out of the question as a Bill to abolish the House of Commons. His right hon. Friend had raised most prematurely a discussion on this question. No doubt, much could be said in favour of the abstract duty of giving education to these children; so much, indeed, that many Members would be loth to be compelled to give an adverse vote on the subject. This was a difficult question that would in due time force itself upon the attention of the House. Such were the difficulties of the case; such were the threatening circumstances arising from the heavy expenditure for education that had been going on for some years, that he was not willing to interfere with, or prejudge, the right consideration of the subject by premature discussions like the present. The public mind was absolutely unprepared to deal with this question. He did not say that the subject was one which might not, with advantage, be the theme of excellent speeches at the Statistical Society, or the Social Science Association; and he was inclined to suggest that to these places the present discussion should be adjourned. But it was not the practice of that House to make its floor the floor of a debating society. It was their habit, in the course of their legislation, to proceed with reference to practical duties. They were bound to rest on this question for the results of experience. The working of the Factory Act had, no doubt, been satisfactory, but they ought to take time to ascertain the result, in the case of mines, before they proceeded to make the education of children spread over the whole community compulsory. It was utterly impossible that any practical result could flow from the Bill being pressed at the present moment; and he hoped the right hon. Gentleman would not compel Members to take the painful course of voting against a measure, the discussion of which could only have the effect of prejudging a great and important question.


argued that the House had great reason to complain of being called upon to discuss such a Bill at that time, the Bill having been brought in on the 26th of April. He had heard the speech of his right hon. Friend below (Sir Stafford Northcote) with much astonishment. The people of the country were not to be hoodwinked by a fine distinction; and when the right hon. Gentleman said that he would not consent to impose any compulsory education, they would ask him what could be more compulsory than to pass a law, declaring that those who did not acquire an education should not work, and consequently that they should not eat. He (Mr. Henley) believed that in many instances a child, when employed, and taking home his little earnings to his parents, was learning more than one who merely went to school to learn to read and write under the compulsion of the State. The right hon. Member for Staffordshire had carried his speculations rather too far in this Bill. The effect of such a measure would be to dry up the sources of voluntary effort, and to interfere most injuriously with the combined system of voluntary and State education that at present existed.


The scope of this Bill, Sir, is to put a dead stop throughout the kingdom to the employment of any child who cannot produce a certificate from a competent master of his being able to read and write. Now, Sir, every one familiar with schools knows that there are tens of thousands of children who, either from their dulness, idleness, or obstinacy, never could obtain such a certificate from any competent schoolmaster. There are tens of thousands of children whose parents, from drunkenness, or poverty, or other causes, never could and never would give them the necessary schooling. Are all those children to starve? Are all those children to be cut off from employment? Again, great numbers of children would be certain to lose their certificates. Are those children to starve? Again, the schoolmaster is to certify to the child's acquirements. Who will certify the schoolmaster's competence to judge? These difficulties are on the surface. Furthermore, this measure is needless. Education is steadily making way. There is no need to hurry it forward by dint of legal penalties. And, if you impose penalties at all, at least impose them justly. Do not lay them on the employer whose tie with the child is artificial, lay them on the parent who is naturally responsible for the child's well-being. But depend upon it, by thus cracking legal penalties about the ears of employers, you will chill the warm interest which most of them are now beginning to feel in the education of the children around them. Sir, it may be said that all this is theoretical, while practically such legislation has answered well. But it is not on the ground of our legislation of that kind having answered well—it is expressly on the ground that it is answering ill that we are called upon to extend it. The right hon. Gentleman told us the other day that the motive for carrying this Bill is that our legislation so far has been unjust and mischievous. In the circular that has been sent round to us in favour of the Bill the same phrase is used. Mr. Norris, in his memorial, which gave rise to this Bill, states, "that our proceedings hitherto have been impolitic as regards the children, because at the cost of much vexatious interference little or no educational benefit is obtained." He has seen a great deal of the working of that legislation in the case of print works and coal mines. With regard to the print works, he tells us "that there is little or no educational value in the result." With regard to coal mines, he says it has no effect in Bending the children to school. No condemnation of our compulsory legislation can be stronger than these statements from the lips of those who plead for this extension. Sir, if the promoters of this measure had argued on its behalf that similar legislation with regard to factories had been successful, as I believe it has, that argument might have seemed plausible. It would not, however, have been valid, because factories are under most exceptional conditions. In factories it is possible to have relays of children. In factories it is easy to maintain a minute system of inspection. Our success, therefore, in that peculiar case, would give small promise of success elsewhere, as, indeed, we see in the case of print works and coal mines. However, that is not the plea of the right hon. Gentleman. His plea is not that our legislation has succeeded, but that our legislation has failed. It puts one in mind of the surgeon in Gil Blas, who, when he had bled his patient to death, said that what was wanted was a little more bleeding. I doubt the soundness of that logic. No doubt its meaning is, that where your legislation is partial, it merely throws the untaught children into other channels of employment; but that if all were closed, the children would be driven from all employment into school. Sir, that is a vast enterprise. To dam up every channel of employment throughout the kingdom to every child that cannot bring a certificate of education from a competent schoolmaster is a huge undertaking. One naturally asks what is the machinery by which it is to be carried out. Sir, the Bill provides no machinery at all. What success this species of legislation has had has been mainly owing to a system of minute supervision by inspectors with annual Reports, and so forth; but the promoters of this Bill, in the memorial to the Home Office, openly acknowledge that, "to cover the country with a system of inspection, such as now prevails over the small area of the factory districts, is out of the question." And, accordingly they sit down content with the strange illusion that the bare existence of such a law would be enough to induce employers every where to reject uncertified children out of simple reverence for the law of the land. Sir, I put it to the good sense of the House whether the people of this country are fools enough to look upon us or our decrees with such awful devotion as to put themselves to serious loss and inconvenience, simply because we had desired them to do so. The plain truth is, that in 999 cases of 1,000, this law would be a dead letter. In the thousandth case' it might be enforced. It might be enforced where some informer had a spite against an employer. It would only be enforced so rarely, so capriciously, that it would do nothing towards promoting education. But, then, it may be said, if it does no good it will do no harm. Sir, it will do great harm; no legislation is more hurtful than penal legislation, which can only be executed rarely and capriciously. It lulls men into false security, and then, at the instigation of some spiteful informer, it makes a criminal of an individual who is no worse than his neighbours. Again, those more scrupulous men who subject themselves to the law, because it is the law, are put at a disadvantage as compared with those who disregard the law. But further, I look with alarm at the increasing tendency of the House to extend legislation beyond its natural province. We seem, step by step, to be introducing a system of minute surveillance over the private interests of the people, for which our only precedents are those afforded by the police restrictions of other lands. Hitherto, no doubt, we have confined ourselves to legislating on behalf of children. What guarantee have we that legislation will stop there? We are often told that some day the House will be far more under the hand of the working class, and especially of the Trades Unions, than it is now. Will it not then be asserted, plausibly asserted, that if you may interfere to protect the child from his employer, you may interfere to protect the adult. The working class will surely think that the principle of such interference has been sanctioned by such measures as the one before us. Just look at the principle upon which it is advocated. Mr. Norris, in his memorial, expressly bases it on the principle that "it is just as much the proper business of Government to maintain the security of persons, as to maintain the security of property." "Now," he says, "the former of these require protection from every Act which tends to impair the physical, moral, or intellectual happiness of any class in the community." Sir, if that principle be conceded by this House, as embodied in the Bill before us, it will be impossible at any future time to refuse to the trades unions any legislative interference between master and man which they may demand, on the ground that it would advance their moral or intellectual welfare. I shall vote against the Bill, because it would be practically useless, because its principle is false, and the precedent thus set would be full of danger.


said, that the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer had attempted to overwhelm him upon that occasion by one of those torrents of exaggerated eloquence which, whatever might be the question at issue, the opponents of the right hon. Gentleman had reason to dread. But neither the right hon. Gentleman nor any other Member who had taken part in the discussion had said one word against the principle on which the Bill was founded. The measure would merely apply generally a provision which the House has already adopted in a number of isolated cases. They had been told by various speakers to await the results of experience; but the truth was the experiment had been going on for twenty years. The principle of the Bill was that no very young children should be employed for their whole time without receiving at least the rudiments of education. That was a principle which had already been sanctioned by the House, and it was somewhat strange to see the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary, who a few weeks ago got a partial Bill passed through the House, now stand up and oppose a general measure of the very same nature. He denied that the principle was compulsory; at the utmost it was prohibitory of the absolute prevention of education. It was said to be a vicious interference with the rights of employers; but the Bill simply provided that an employer should not take a child into his service if he found him wholly uneducated without giving him the means of obtaining elementary instruction for at least five hours in the week. No employer would object to giving a child such facilities for instruction unless he was determined resolutely and of malice to oppose the education of children. The principle embodied in the Bill had been sanctioned in the case of factories and mines, and he could not see why any objection should be raised to the general application of the principle.


supported the second reading on the ground that it was a case in which the State had a right to interfere. He maintained that if in the case of factories and mines the State was entitled to step in, so it was entitled in any case of the continuous employment of children. He approved of the Scotch and American as opposed to the Continental system of education.


said, he objected to the very principle of the Bill, inasmuch as it was essentially one of a compulsory character. If it were adopted by the House they ought to have for the future a State education instead of the present denominational education; they ought to have an education supported by a rate instead of an education supported upon the voluntarily principle. He was entirely opposed to such a change. He believed that by the present free system they were doing their best to educate the people for the duties they had to discharge in life; and if they were to overthrow that system they would have to provide in every portion of the country schools to which parents could have no objection to send their children. Their factory legislation had been founded on the belief that factory children were exposed to special disadvantages; that they were employed for an excessive length of time in heated rooms; and that their health was in consequence permanently in- jured and their growth stunted. It was true that the principle of the Factory Act had recently been extended to the case of children employed in mines and collieries; but that measure also had been supported upon special grounds, and they had not yet had an opportunity of ascertaining what would be result of the experiment. He would add that he believed it to be a case in which it would be most unwise to adopt a mathematical rule to be enforced with unchanging severity.


said, he could testify to the great practical benefits derived from the operation of the Factory Act in Lancashire—benefits to the employers, as well as to workpeople. In his own business, he had a more skilful and more dutiful race of workers now than formerly. More than 2,000 children had received elementary instruction in his schools, and he believed they had become excellent members of society; from amongst them he had been able to select overlookers, clerks, and efficient assistants in various responsible situations. The good which had been done could not be denied, and he believed the working people were less necessitous, better capable of earning their own bread, and certainly less criminal than they used to be. Among the thousands of people he had employed, he did not know a single instance in which an individual had been taken before a magistrate, and he would distinctly state that in no one case had any individual been convicted of crime. They were intelligent, they were dutiful, and he believed they would be less disposed to combine or conspire against their employers now than when they were in a state of comparative ignorance. The defect of the present system, however, was, that it did not provide for the neglected children wandering in our streets. He hoped a Select Committee on the whole subject would be moved for next Session.


said, he represented a district in which a portion of the population were suffering considerable distress from the effects of the recent legislation; and he hoped the House would not aggravate that evil by the adoption of the present measure. It would be nothing less than an insult to the starving people of Coventry to tell them that they could not obtain employment for their children unless those children were educated. The Bill was an extravagant exaggeration of the principle on which the Factory Act was founded; and he was afraid that if it were to receive the sanction of Parliament it would endanger the permanence of that Act.


said, that the effect of the Bill had been greatly misunderstood. The Bill would not prevent the employment of a boy because he could not read or write, but only enact that in such a case the employer should be compelled to see that he learned. He must express the interest and pleasure with which he had listened to the speech of his hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, whose valuable testimony on the practical success of the Factory Act was of more weight than twenty speeches founded on mere theory. He did not agree with the opponents of this Bill, who would leave the education of the people to mere chance and charity, nor could he see any reason why they should not extend to other employments the principle they had adopted in the case of children employed in factories and in mines and collieries. He should vote for the second reading of the Bill if the Motion were pressed to a division, but he believed that there would be no use in attempting to proceed beyond that stage with it in the course of the present Session. As a friend to education, however, he would rather wait for the Report of the Royal Commission, which, he hoped, would not be long delayed.


observed that in the mining districts education was far more general, and crime less common than in the other parts of the Empire. He believed, however, the effect, as in the case of the Factory Act, would be to diminish the number of children employed. Under the Factory Act one-half of the children formerly employed were thrown out of employment altogether. By the last reports it was shown that before the Factory Act came into operation 58,000 children were employed in factories. Three years afterwards less than one-half of that number were employed, and in 1857, notwithstanding the great increase of factories that had taken place, the numbers were still within 10,000 of what they had been before the passing of the Act. He believed that a like effect would be produced under the Mines Inspection Bill, and that many children would be thrown out of employment. At Merthyr Tydvil, where he was interested in iron works, there were 2,400 children employed, and being educated; and he had been informed by an intelli- gent agent that a visible improvement had taken place in the district, and that there was not one-tenth of the drunkenness that formerly prevailed. He had himself when in the district found the people better able to understand and appreciate arguments than formerly, and altogether a great improvement had been effected. Believing that the Bill before the House was based on a right principle, he should vote for the second reading.


said, he could see no objection to the Bill; on the contrary he believed that it proceeded upon a right principle; and he trusted that that principle would yet receive the support of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and of other Members who had that day opposed the measure. The money and the labour of the State were employed in punishing crime; and there could surely be no reason why the State should not endeavour to secure for children that education by which crime might be prevented. When at Vevay he had been informed by a Swiss gentleman that in Switzerland when a parent neglected to educate a child they took the child from him—nolens volens—and instructed him against the parent's will. The gentleman added that they could not exist as republicans in Switzerland with an ignorant people. He cordially supported the Bill of his right hon. Friend.


said, he believed the Bill to be perfectly unnecessary. It was compulsory and not needed, and was contrary to the spirit of the free constitution of the country. The course of education was great and rapid, and people were doing voluntarily what many benevolent persons sought to compel them to do. In the course of that debate they had heard what great things were being done for education in the rural districts, in the Potteries, and in the mining and manufacturing districts. All classes were alive to the value of education, including both employers and the employed; and such were the agencies at work, that he believed they could not prevent the people from being educated if they desired to do so. He maintained, then, that compulsion was not required, and it was a nobler thing to be educated in accordance with the spirit of freedom than according to a system of universal compulsion. Religion was the best thing of all, but they did not make religion compulsory. Sunday schools had done a great deal of good, but they did not compel the children to attend. To carry out the principle of compulsory education they must have recourse to compulsory religion, and to compulsory attendance at places of worship. He believed the people would be educated, and that there was a universal feeling in favour of it, but let the right hon. Gentleman take care that while he was endeavouring to bring in a law to his aid that could not be executed, he did not make the people disregard the law. On that account the right hon. Gentleman should check his zeal, and by leaving the people to themselves the great end he had in view would be accomplished.

Question put, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."

The House divided:—Ayes 51; Noes 122: Majority 71.

Words added.

Main Question, as Amended, put, and agreed to.

Bill put off for three months.

Back to