HC Deb 14 May 1867 vol 187 cc559-62

, in moving for leave to introduce a Bill to provide for the Education of Children employed in Agriculture, said, there had been a discussion in the House on the necessity for extending the application of the Factory Acts to agriculture, and the subject of so extending the operation of the Factory Acts and the Hours of Labour Regulation had been referred to a Select Committee. He wished to get the Bill, for which he now moved, read a second time and referred to the same Select Committee. He thought many advantages would arise from that course. There were many men upon that Committee who had great experience in agriculture, and who were excellently fitted to consider the provisions of his Bill. It might be said, as the Home Secretary had promised a Commission to inquire into the feasibility of applying the Factory Acts to children employed in agriculture, that it would be better to wait until that Commission had reported; but that would lead to an unfortunate delay in dealing with the subject, and it seemed to him that the Commission and the Select Committee might pursue their labours very well at the same time—especially as they wanted no further information with regard to the state of education in the agricultural districts, as that subject had been exhausted by the remarkably able Report of the Commission on Education of 1861, which was presided over by the late Duke of Newcastle, and what was required was the solution of practical difficulties in the way of the application of the compulsory system which existed in Lancashire and Yorkshire to certain branches of agricultural industry. In the Bill he (Mr. Fawcett) wished to introduce he proposed simply that every child of less than thirteen years of age, employed in agriculture, should be compelled to attend school on alternate days—because in agriculture it was impossible to apply the half-time system. Of course, there might be some difficulties in exceptional cases with regard to children who lived at a great distance from any school. That had been recognised in some of our previous Factory Acts; and therefore he proposed to introduce a provision that in the case of a child living more than three miles from any school it might be excused from attending school on alternate days under certain circumstances. He also proposed a tribunal which should consist of the magistrates sitting in petty sessions who should have the power of temporarily remitting the provisions of the Act for two months in each year, the time to be selected by the local authorities in the period during which the operation of harvesting was carried on. He gave the same tribunal power in any village with a population exceeding 300, of ordering a school to be built, and supported by a rate which should be levied in proportion to the poor rates which were levied upon property in the parish; and he also gave them generally the power of carrying out the Act. He did not wish to have any elaborate system of instruction, which was always vexatious, and sometimes obnoxious; but he gave any person the power of laying an information before the magistrates against the employer and the parent of any child under thirteen years of age employed in contravention of the provisions of the Act; and where those provisions were proved to have been contravened the magistrates would have power to enforce a fine not exceeding £10 on the employer, and another not exceeding £1 on the parent of the child. An elaborate system of inspection was unnecessary, as he felt convinced that the resident gentry and clergy in each district, who were interested in education, would see that the Act was carried out; and in the end the public feeling in each district would in ninety-nine cases out of a hundred be in favour of the Act. If we wished to compete successfully in agriculture, or other branches of industry with foreign competitors, our only course was to take care that the people by whom the industry was carried on were properly educated, so as to do their work with skill and efficiency. If the House allowed the Bill to be read a second time, he should then move that it be committed to the Select Committee sitting on the Factory Acts.


had no objection, on the part of the Government, to offer to the introduction of the measure; but he thought that if it were referred to the Select Committee on the two other Bills it would impede the labours of that Committee.


said, he would not object to the introduction of the Bill, though he must remind the House that it contained some very stringent provisions, amounting in fact almost to a compulsory system of education, as well as a compulsory erection of schools out of the rates. It was well the House should remember that this was an entirely novel principle altogether alien to our system of legislation; and he did not think that such propositions would be acceptable to the people of this country.

Motion agreed to.

Bill to provide for the Education of Children employed in Agriculture, ordered to be brought in by Mr. FAWCETT, Mr. ARTHUR PEEL, and Mr. TREVELYAN.