HC Deb 25 June 1869 vol 197 cc582-606

MR. FAWCETT, in calling attention to the Report of the Commissioners appointed to inquire into the condition of women and children employed in agriculture, said, that this Commission had been described as one of the most important ever issued by Her Majesty, and he was certain that no similar investigation had ever been carried on by a more able body of Assistant Commissioners. The Commission would not complete its labours before the end of the present Session, but enough had been done, and a sufficient number of counties had been examined, to enable hon. Members to form some accurate conclusions as to the general condition of agricultural labourers throughout the country. In the first place, their education generally was most unsatisfactory; secondly, their wages were most inadequate; and, thirdly, their cottages were often in the most miserable condition. The two latter conclusions were matters as to which it was hardly possible by direct Parlia- mentary interference or control to improve the condition of the labouring classes; but the House could exercise a most important indirect influence upon the condition of the labouring classes, by improving the education which they received, for it had been conclusively shown that improved education invariably led to higher wages. Mr. Henley, one of the Assistant Commissioners, speaking of North Northumberland, said that although some of the cottages of the present time were not so good as they ought to be, yet the landlords were beginning to discover that it was as necessary to have good cottages upon the farms as to have good farm buildings, because the labourers would not engage themselves where the cottages were bad. The result of the better education of the labourers would be that good cottages would be provided. Another Assistant Commissioner, the Rev. Mr. Eraser, speaking of the wants of the country as regarded education, said that the drawbacks to education consisted of a deficiency in the supply of schools, the early withdrawal of the children from schools, and their irregular attendance; and that the last two were more powerful causes of ignorance than the first. He felt bound to admit that there was no great or general deficiency in the supply of schools for the rural districts, and that this was, in a great measure, owing to the extraordinary exertions and wonderful self-sacrifice of the clergy of the Church of England. Mr. Eraser, Mr. Stanhope, and the other Assistant Commissioners, pointed out that the Government schools were not sufficient to secure the education of the rural districts if there existed so active a demand for juvenile labour as to cause the early withdrawal of the children. In Spalding there were two most excellent schools, and yet the labourers who were living within a mile of the schools were growing up in a state of the greatest ignorance, because the children were taken away from school at the early age of seven or eight. If those evils were likely to cure themselves, he would say "Wait," because he looked upon legislative interference as of itself an evil. He would prefer to see the people of this country educate themselves by their own efforts, and without any intervention on the part of the State. If, however, the demand for juvenile labour were increasing, and children continued to be withdrawn from school at these early ages, a remedy must be applied, and none had been suggested except some kind of legislative interference. Was the evil increasing or diminishing? Mr. Stanhope said he had been informed that the evil of an early withdrawal from school was increasing. Twenty years ago it was common for children to remain at school until they were eleven or twelve years old, but now children in the same districts were taken away at the early age of eight. He had found as the result of his inquiries that the old men often read better than the young men, and when he asked an old man the reason he was told that twenty, thirty, or forty years ago, there was more surplus labour in the rural districts and less demand for juvenile labour, and the consequence was that boys were sent to school to be out of the way. It might be said that compulsory education was anti-English, but the time for this plea had passed by. The great Conservative party, by an Act which did them signal and permanent honour, for ever destroyed that plea twenty years ago. They imposed compulsory education upon the manufacturers, and they must not be surprised if when, instead of the evils which had been predicted, infinite good had resulted from this legislation, the manufacturers in their turn said—"We will do our best to confer upon your industry the good you have conferred upon ours, and we will impose compulsory education upon the agricultural industry of the country." The late Government extended the Factory Acts to every branch of industry except agriculture. The law as to manufacturing industry was that no child should be employed until it was eight years old, and that between eight and thirteen no child should be employed unless it attended school for so many hours of the day. The question then arose, what was the best form that legislative interference, if it were inevitable, could assume. Compulsory education had been applied in two different forms. The general rule was that no child under thirteen should be employed, unless it attended school, for thirteen hours in the week. That was called the half-time system; but, in printworks, there was an exception, because the children employed in those works must attend school for so many hours in the year. The system he referred to was known as the so-many- hours-a-year system. No one could deny that, with many deficiencies, the half-time system had been a great and an extraordinary success; and, on the other hand, no one could deny that the educational clauses of the Printworks Act had been a complete and a disastrous failure. All the School Inspectors who had investigated the subject pronounced against the educational provisions of the Printworks Act. Mr. Horner, a man of experience and authority, said that they were a delusion and a sham; a Select Committee of the House had unanimously pronounced against them; and so defective had they proved to be that the Government had already issued a Commission to inquire into the subject. The conclusion was thus arrived at, that, while the half-time system had been a great success, the Printworks Act had been a great failure. The reason was not difficult to understand; for it had been proved that a child who was at school half his time and at work the other half worked better and learnt better than one who was at work his whole time or at school his whole time. If you simply enforced the condition of attending school so many times a year, the school attendance might be crammed into three months, and the child might be at work for nine months, during which time he would forget all he had learnt during the three months. The Assistant Commissioners pointed out the great difficulty of applying the half-time system, or any modification of it, to agriculture. He would ask the House to consider whether there were not greater disadvantages associated with any other possible scheme? It was impossible to impose legislative interference upon any branch of industry without occasioning some temporary disturbance of it, and no scheme could be devised that would not involve some trouble to the farmer, and some apparent hardship to the labourer. The question was, whether these inconveniences would not be a hundred times compensated for by the advantages that would ensue? The Commissioners seem to think that if it was forbidden to employ a child in agriculture until he had attained the age of ten, a sufficient amount of education might by that time have been acquired; but he differed from that conclusion, because the slender education acquired at that age would soon pass away. If a law were passed to say that no child under ten should be employed in agriculture, what security was there that it would be sent to school? Hitherto we had not adopted the principle of exercising any interference with regard to those who were not at work; our interference had been confined solely to those who were at work; and, unless we had some security that a child, who was forbidden to be at work in agriculture until he was ten years of age, was. at school, instead of conferring a benefit upon such a child by the prohibition, we should inflict upon it a great injury. Again, what guarantee was there that such a child would not be sent to work in some other industry to which the same restriction did not apply? We did not look after that class of children which was neither at school nor at work. Prohibition would be a very good thing if it were applied to every industry in the country. They were promised next year an excellent system of education, and he should like to see a general enactment, applying to every branch of industry, that no child should go to work until he was ten, and that between the ages of ten and thirteen a certain amount of school attendance should be enforced. He would also insist upon a reversal of our present extraordinary policy, for we said to thrifty people—"If you send a boy to work until he is fifteen, we will enforce certain vigorous restrictions, and you shall be compelled to send him to school;" while, if parents were so degraded and debased as neither to send him to school nor to work, we gave them perfect immunity and left them to do as they liked. It was of the utmost importance that our industrial legislation should, as far as possible, be uniform, for if we had different sets of restrictions applying to different industries, parents would put their children to those in which the restrictions were the least onerous. The effect would be to disturb the natural flow of labour, and possibly to inflict a grave and serious injury upon the country. The prohibition of field labour to those under ten, and the enforcing of a certain amount of school attendance between ten and thirteen, would be a great improvement on the present system; but Lord Shaftesbury's remedy— the exaction of a certain number of hours of school attendance in a year— was a plan open to the objection that it was analogous to that embodied in the educational provisions of the Printworks Act, which, had been unanimously condemned. The noble Lord the Member for the West Hiding (Lord Frederick Cavendish), who would second the Motion, would suggest a plan somewhat different—namely, that we should require so many continuous weeks' attendance during the year. That seemed to him to be a matter of greater importance than a certain number of hours' attendance; and this appeared to be the best plan that could be adopted, if it was found that any modification of the half-time system was impracticable. Was it practicable? The best modification which he had heard suggested was that which was known as the alternate day system; and we had most valuable practicable experience to guide us. It had been tried, for some years by Mr. Paget, of Nottingham, under what had been described as exceptional circumstances, in which, however, he could discover nothing that was exceptional; and Mr. Stanhope, one of the Assistant Commissioners, who had carefully investigated the results, had arrived at the conclusion that they were eminently satisfactory. That gentleman distinctly stated that children who were at school and at work on alternate days were better fitted, from their increased intelligence, for agricultural operations than those who had been continually at work or continually at school. Alternate work and school seemed to relieve each other and; as far as Mr. Stanhope could discover, children who were educated upon this alternate day system when they left school at thirteen were quite as forward as children who had been at school continuously. Mr. Stanhope had received twenty letters from employers who had taken these alternate day children, and, without a single exception, they gave them the highest character, and spoke in the strongest possible terms of the advantages of the system. He further said that the education had been sufficiently good to be retained— that he had seen as many as twenty letters written by persons who had taken advantage of this system of education for a limited period when they were under ten years of age, and that it was impossible to see better or more admirably-written letters among persons of the same class. Having therefore that practical experience to guide them, they were entitled to say that the alternate day system, if it could be applied, would work satisfactorily and bring out remarkable results. What were the difficulties in the way of its adoption? It was urged that it would greatly limit the number of children employed in agriculture, and thus produce a scarcity of labour. That apprehended scarcity of labour was, he thought, more imaginary, than real; and by making some slight change in the management of his farm, the farmer might easily overcome that difficulty. The utmost evil that could occur would be that he would have to employ occasionally a lad of fifteen or sixteen, where he used to employ a boy of ten or eleven more frequently. But the most formidable difficulty of all in regard to legislative interference with agricultural labourers was their poverty. That difficulty applied with very unequal force to different parts of the country, for in no branch of industry was there so much variation in wages as in agriculture. In Wiltshire or Dorsetshire the agricultural labourer earned 9s. or 10s. a week, and in Lancashire, Yorkshire, or Northumberland, 16s. or 17s. The difference in the rate of wages in those counties was not accidental, but permanent. Wages, especially in the worst-paid agricultural districts, were not controlled by the general demand and supply of the labour market, but by the peculiar circumstances of the immediate locality. In Northumberland they could introduce the half-time system tomorrow into many parts of that county without causing any hardship to the labourers, many of whom never thought of letting their children go to work till they were eleven or twelve years old. Indeed, as Mr. Henley remarked, a great zeal for education existed there among the peasantry, who would probably welcome legislative interference. But let him take, on the other hand, the extreme case of the poorest labourer in Dorsetshire or Wiltshire, and consider how legislative interference would affect him. The loss even to him would not be so great as at first sight it appeared. If they placed restrictions on juvenile labour they diminished its supply and increased its price. In the worst-paid counties of England wages always were what Mr. Ricardo called "minimum" wages, or the lowest amount on which it was possible for a man to live. The wages in those counties fluctuated with the price of wheat. Two years ago the wages paid in Wiltshire rose to 11s. a week be- cause wheat was dear. In the following year, in consequence of a bountiful harvest, the wages were reduced to the old standard of 9s. or 10s. a week. Now, the circumstances of a fine harvest ought not, according to the accepted principles of political economy, to make one iota of difference in the standard of wages. But what was the case on the occasion referred to? The farmers of Wiltshire talked over the subject in the market. They said that last year their labourers received 11 s.wages because the loaf was dear; the loaf was now reduced in price, and, consequently their labourers could afford to do with less wages. The labourers accepted that reduction because, being too ignorant to migrate to districts where wages were higher, they felt they could not help themselves. Now what would take place if Parliament placed some restrictions upon the labour of children? It would appear that the withdrawal of these children from the labour market would deprive the parents of the usual earnings of these children. But the farmers, according to their own system of calculation in Wiltshire and Dorsetshire, would know well that the labourers with large families could no longer live upon that minimum on which heretofore it was possible for them to sustain life, and the result would be that they would be compelled to increase their wages. The labourers, therefore, would not suffer any considerable loss from the absence of the usual earnings of their children. If hon. Gentlemen visited the rural districts of South Wiltshire, Dorsetshire, or some of the eastern counties during the winter, he believed they would come to the conclusion that, legislate as they would, it would be impossible to make the condition of the labourers worse than it was. The result, then, of their legislative interference, if it did cause a loss to the labourer, might, he admitted, be to cause a temporary rise of agricultural wages; and it was said that would impose some burden, on the farmer. But would not the farmer receive his recompense for that? The question of the education of the labourer, simply considered financially, was far more a farmer's and a landlord's question than a labourer's one. Agriculture was becoming every year more and more a skilled industry, and it was a great loss to the farmer to have unintelligent labourers to deal with. As was shown by experience in the Lothians, in Northumberland, Yorkshire, and elsewhere, an intelligent labourer caused both labour and capital to work with greater efficiency; then more wealth was produced by the application of the same amount of human toil; and the result was that there was not only more wages for the labourer, but a larger surplus to be distributed in profits to the farmer and in rent to the landlord. Again, if they once educated the labourer many problems that now sorely perplexed them would rapidly solve themselves. The Government was often appealed to for assistance towards emigration; but if the labourer had sufficient intelligence to understand what were the advantages held out to him in other lands he would readily emigrate of his own accord. And as to pauperism, if they wished really to diminish it, they should strike a blow at the causes which produced it. So long as we had an ignorant people we could not expect them to prepare against the vicissitudes of life. And as to drunkenness, if he (Mr. Fawcett) were an agricultural labourer without any education, he thought he should be anxious to go to a public-house to pass away his time in the evening. Some persons who were anxious to diminish if they could not put an end to the vice of drunkenness, proposed to do so by a change in the licensing system, or by some other legislation of that sort. He believed that any material device would be ineffectual for that object; but if they educated the agricultural labourers they would encourage self-respect, make them thrifty, and diminish drunkenness. The House had it on the most excellent testimony that in Northumberland, where the labourers were educated, drunkenness was almost unknown. The education of the agricultural labourers again would lead to the establishment of co-operative stores for the benefit of that class, and to other improvements in their economic system. The great defect in that economic system was that the poor agriculturist was every year becoming more divorced from the soil—becoming more of a mere labourer. In former times every labourer felt that, by steady industry, he might some day become an independent yeoman; but all this had been changed since the system of consolidating small farms and inclosing the waste lands of the country had come into operation. Now the poor man had scarcely a spot of ground for a cow or a pig, and his child had to play on the highway. But if the means of education were brought within the labourer's reach he might hope by some sort of industrial co-partnership, or by co-operative farming, to be brought into closer and more profitable relations with the soil; and his energies being stimulated and his faculties developed, English agriculture would then experience a degree of prosperity it had never yet known. In reviewing the past the conclusion was inevitable that we could not trust to material agencies to permanently raise the condition of the agricultural class. The new Poor Law had been over and over again amended, but it remained as much a perplexity and puzzle to statesmen as ever. The Corn Laws had been repealed; but, after twenty years' experience, the predictions of Tree Traders about the beneficent effect that would be produced upon the labourer had proved as ill-founded as the gloomy forebodings of the Protectionists. Charity had been bestowed in abundance, but they had discovered that such extraneous aid tended rather to degrade than to raise. Even the wonderful awakening of Christian zeal that this generation had witnessed had failed in the main to assist the agricultural labourer. Good seed had been cast on a stony, unprepared soil. It was high time, therefore, to try a different remedy. Let a vigorous effort be made to act upon the mind. He earnestly hoped the Government would not plead for delay, and say that next year they were going to deal with local taxation. That was a trifling matter compared with the vitally important question of the education of the people. Each year that this question was delayed thousands were growing up in a state of ignorance, and no one could exaggerate the irrevocable injury and wrong done to them. He remembered that on visiting a few months ago the cottage of a Wiltshire labourer, at about half-past six o'clock in the evening, the man told him that he was going to bed. "Why?" he asked. "Because," said the man, who had great natural intelligence—"my time is of no use to me, and if I were to stay up I should be burning fire and candle for nothing." He felt that to be a terrible sarcasm on our boasted civilization. He thought how happy that poor man might have been if he could have enjoyed the priceless treasures of mental contemplation. He earnestly hoped that the Government would not plead, as a reason for delay, the appointment of the Commission into the state of Agriculture in Scotland. The Report of the English Commission would be ready at the end of the Session, and he was certain that it would contain ample materials on which to found satisfactory legislation. This question, which had been so long neglected, required bold statesmanship, courage, and wisdom. Let them never cease in their efforts till they had secured for every person in this country the great advantage of possessing at least the rudiments of knowledge; let them never forget that elementary education ought to be regarded as the birthright of every one born in a free and civilized country. The hon. Member concluded by moving his Resolution.

LORD FREDERICK CAVENDISH, in seconding the Motion, said, he was sure he had the concurrence of his agricultural constituents in supporting his hon. Friend, because he had taken their opinion on this subject in speeches made by him before the last General Election, and had ascertained what were their wishes in respect of education. He also had an opportunity of judging of the effect of the Factory Acts. When the statue of Richard Oastler was being inaugurated at Bradford, under the presidency of the Earl of Shaftesbury, thousands and thousands of intelligent and contented-looking children took part in the proceedings. The people of Brad-fords, employers and employed, were not indeed in want of this testimony; for though, in former times, they might have regarded factory legislation as an unwarrantable interference, all classes now were disposed to join in regarding it as a universal boon. Within the last two years the principle had been extended by the passing of the Workshops Regulation Act, by which no child under eight years of age was allowed to work for wages, and no child under thirteen unless it attended school. The last Report of Mr. Redgrave showed that this Act, so far from being inoperative, as many had supposed, as the Act of 1833 had been, was willingly and cheerfully obeyed wherever its provisions were known. The onus of proof might fairly be placed upon those who wished to exclude from the benefit of legislation of this character the children of the agricultural classes. Only three grounds, as far as he could see, were capable of being urged in defence of an exclusive policy of that nature—that the education of labourers' children was so satisfactory that no further steps were required; that, owing to the nature of farming operations, it was impossible to apply this principle to children employed in agriculture; or that the parents of the children were too poor to admit of its being applied. On all these grounds he joined issue. The children of the agricultural classes were peculiarly in need of educational advantages such as those for which he was contending. 74 per cent of the children attending schools in Yorkshire were stated in the Commissioners' Report to be under ten years of age, while at many places, as in Northamptonshire, children appeared to begin work when seven or eight years old, and in some cases as early as six years of age. The Reports of the Inspectors from different parts of the country showed that, after all the efforts that had been made in the cause of education, the large mass of the children of agricultural labourers left school so young that they did not obtain any lasting benefit from the instruction. One of the gentlemen who had investigated the subject (Mr. Currie) thought there could be no reasonable doubt that a great number of the agricultural classes were growing up without sufficient education—meaning reading, writing, and the first rules of arithmetic; while many of them received no education at all. The Reports of the Assistant Commissioners clearly showed that the farmers generally had no objection to abstain from employing children under ten years of age. The evidence also showed that there were many months of the year in which the farmers could dispense with the labour of children. There could be no difficulty, as far as the farmers were concerned, in securing the attendance at school of children from ten to fourteen for several months of the year; and the satisfactory state of education which existed in some parts of the country was owing to the adoption of that system. In Northumberland and Durham, from Martinmas to May, a certain amount of school attendance was practically compulsory. In the United States examples presented themselves in the agricultural districts of schools closing during the summer and opening during the winter. He did not despair of some arrangement of the same kind being eventually adopted in this country, but those who knew anything of farming operations were aware that to require a half-day to be spent in the school, or even every other day, would be attended at certain seasons with grave inconvenience. Mr. Paget's experience had been referred to, and he would also allude to it. Mr. Paget had tried the experiment, in which he was interested, under advantageous circumstances, and with the utmost enthusiasm; but in the end he declared that his opinion was changed, and that he could no longer recommend the system which he formerly favoured. It was possible that the application of the Factory Act to agriculture would be attended with inconvenience to the farmer; but the inconvenience would be as nothing to the advantages which would be gained. Mr. Currie pointed out that the cost of labour was 7s. per acre greater in Bedfordshire than in Northumberland, in spite of the fact that wages were higher in Northumberland than in Bedfordshire. This fact proved the real cheapness of skilled labour as compared with unskilled labour. The most difficult part of the question was undoubtedly the poverty of the agricultural labourers themselves; and he was very much disposed to agree with the statement that in Dorsetshire and Wilts it was hardly possible for the labourer to be in a worse position than he was at present. But it must be borne in mind that, although in sending the children to school some loss would, undoubtedly be entailed on their parents, competition in the labour market, on the other hand, would be slightly reduced. It would be wise, he believed, not to push legislation in the matter to extremes, but to leave a slight dispensing power, to be exercised according to circumstances, in the hands of those charged with carrying out the arrangements. A school should mean only an inspected school, and any school that, after two or three years' inspection, did not attain to a certain tolerable degree of goodness, should be disqualified in the eye of the law from being considered a school. The hon. Member for Brighton (Mr. Fawcett) had expressed an opinion that there was no great want of schools in the rural districts. To some extent he agreed with him. The number of parishes without a school was not great, but they ought to regard not the quantity but the quality of schools, and in this respect an investigation into the agricultural parishes would be by no means satisfactory. The National Society had put forth a Return showing that there were in England Church schools for 6 per cent of the population. When taken in conjunction with other schools this might make a tolerably sufficient supply in point of numbers, but of the Church schools only three-fifths received Government aid, while two-fifths were without it. The evidence was overwhelming in favour of the Government assisted schools as against non-assisted schools, and in the last Report of the Council of Education the state of the latter was shown to be most unsatisfactory. Now, if it were proposed that children must attend school, it was absolutely necessary that the schools provided for them should be good. They could not, however, be good with the funds now at the command of the managers. They could not afford to pay sufficient salaries to obtain the services of properly qualified masters, and the funds were insufficient because, as a rule, the only men who behaved with real liberality were the clergymen. The landlords usually gave generous assistance when they resided in a parish; but when they did not reside they were usually the reverse of liberal in supporting the school. The farmers generally gave nothing, and the clergyman did the best he could in the face of the difficulties that surrounded him. He believed that to make these schools efficient it would be necessary to give an enabling power to raise the funds by local taxation. It was said with great truth that the rates were too heavy already, and he believed it would be unfair to put the charge altogether upon the farmer, because he might give up his farm before the generation at school grew up and became his servants. It appeared from Mr. Currie's Report that with skilled and intelligent labourers the rent increased 7s. per acre, and, if that were so, he thought the landlord, ought to bear part of the cost of improving the education of the labourers. The agriculture of this country stood pre-eminent throughout the world, like its industrial arts. Some years ago it seemed as if the wealth produced by our various industries could be attained only at the cost of a stunted and degraded population. But by boldly grappling with that difficulty the Legislature had secured an education for the children employed in manufactures, and he believed that, if they now grappled boldly with the question of educating the children of the rural districts, the same gratifying results would be achieved. As years rolled on, and the wealth of the country increased, it would then be a subject of just pride that this wealth had been obtained not with the degradation of the labourer who had produced it, but with a commensurate improvement in his condition.

Amendment proposed, To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "in the opinion of this House, the education of agricultural labourers is in general in so unsatisfactory a condition that immediate legislation upon the subject is imperatively demanded; this House therefore thinks that the Government ought to legislate upon the subject during the next Session of Parliament,"—(Mr. Fawcett,) —instead thereof.

Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."


said, that as the county with which he was connected (Northumberland) had been pointedly alluded to, he might be allowed to say a few words on the general question and to express a difference, though not a very wide one, from some of the conclusions drawn by the hon. Member for Brighton (Mr. Fawcett). In regard to education, which the hon. Member had mainly dwelt upon as a means of improving the condition of the agricultural labourer, the greatest influence in promoting it was exercised by the society by which those classes were more directly affected. The more clearly it was seen that a moral responsibility rested upon landowners and occupiers to promote the education of the labourers on their estates, the sooner the country would arrive at a satisfactory solution of the difficulty. The hon. Member had not attempted to show that the agricultural labourer was in an unsatisfactory condition at the present moment, and it was unnecessary he should do so. The fact, however, was that his position was not worse absolutely, but the gradual augmentation of farms, which had naturally elevated the social status of the occupier, and the consequent widening of the interval between the farmer and the labourer had made the position of the latter relatively worse, and it was unfortunately true that the rate of wages had not risen so much in the agricultural as in the manufacturing districts. Assuming, therefore, for the present, that the condition of the agricultural labourer was unsatisfactory and deserved the serious attention of the House, the question was how to improve it. Now, taking education as the agent most insisted upon, it was laid down by a very able Assistant Commissioner, Mr. Fraser, to whom reference had already been made, that three things were essential to the success of it—good schools, regularity of attendance, and some means of preventing the too early withdrawal of children from school. With regard to the general question of good schools, the noble Lord (Lord Frederick Cavendish) having gone at some length into the subject, it was hardly necessary for him (Mr. Bidley) to do more than insist on this as an essential condition. The weak point in the otherwise beneficial legislation of the Factory Acts was that the State compelled children to go to school, but did not make provision for good schools to which they were to go. The clause which had been struck out in the House of Lords had vitiated the whole operation of those Acts. Speaking generally, throughout the country there were sufficient schools. Mr. Stanhope, Mr. Fraser, and other Assistant Commissioners stated that if the schools were properly distributed the school area was quite sufficient. The noble Lord hit the true blot of the system when he said that what they had to look at was the quality of the schools which they already had. The Education Report of 1861 afforded in many places evidence that with an efficient school and schoolmaster the attendance was very satisfactory. The parents themselves knew when the school was a good one, and would rather send their children three or four miles to a good school than send them to an inferior school close by. Mr. Fraser considered that there was a necessity for improving at least two-thirds of the agricultural schools he had inspected. It was not, perhaps, the right time, nor would he presume to offer suggestions as to what should be done to improve the condition of those schools, but he agreed with the noble Lord as to advancing more Government aid to poor rural districts, which were absolutely untouched by the present system. In some cases the Government should take the initiative, and might require some assistance from the parish, whether in the shape of local rates or otherwise; then there would be a chance of getting better schools, because they would have the invaluable assistance of Government inspection. The next point was regularity of attendance, which all the Assistant Commissioners considered essential. Now, in spite of the ignorance and apathy that were said to exist among parents, he found it corroborated by evidence from all quarters, that the poor always appreciated the advantages of a good education. He lived in a more favoured part of the country than the hon. Gentleman who had moved the Resolution (Mr. Fawcett), and he might state that in Glendale Ward, in his own county of Northumberland, it was reported by the inspector that, in the winter months, the percentage of children attending school was such as to compare favourably with results obtained in Prussia which was so often quoted, and where compulsory education was engrafted into the national life. As to the effect of poverty in causing parents to keep their children from school, he found the most contradictory evidence. Mr. Fraser said that in no county were agricultural wages up to the mark to enable labourers to send their children comfortably to school; but, on the other hand, the Report of the Commissioners of 1861, on Popular Education, stated that poverty was more frequently the excuse than the justification of the parents. In considering the remedies for the present state of things the hon. Member for Brighton attached great value to the half-time system, and seemed to prefer the half-day to the alternate day system; and he stated also that he believed that the feeling in Northumberland would be in favour of adopting that system and making it compulsory. But he believed the evidence would hardly bear him out, for he found, among numerous other instances, that the Chamber of Agriculture at Morpeth had given their opinion that the age at which children should be sent to work might safely be left to the discretion of the parents, and that while there would be no practical difficulty in keeping the children at school to the age of twelve or thirteen, the adoption of either the half-day or the alternate day system would be impracticable. In no single instance, so far as he was aware, had the half-day system been successful. The general conclusion to which the Com- missioners came, was that children should not be allowed to be employed in agriculture till they had reached, the age of ten; and the hon. Member for Brighton said that, if they made that condition, there must be some guarantee for the attendance of children at school till they reached that age. That was quite true, and there might be some means of testing the fact by certificate either of age or education. One objection commonly raised to the restriction was the effect it would have on the earnings of the children and the aggregate family earnings. But the answer to that was it would tend immediately to raise the wages of those who were old enough to be employed — to improve juvenile labour, and make it more remunerative to farmers, occupiers, and the agricultural labourers themselves whose families were employed. The hon. Member for Brighton had not alluded to the employment of women in agriculture, and therefore he (Mr. Ridley) would not enter upon that subject, further than to say that, in the Report of the Commissioners, it was described as not injurious under certain circumstances and under certain conditions which were almost obvious. There was also the question of gangs; public gangs had nearly passed away, but it might still be necessary to make some restriction with respect to private gangs of a similar character to that which had been so favourably received in the case of the public ones. The hon. Member for Brighton had also spoken of the imperfect cottages of the agricultural poor, and had insisted on the necessity and importance of improving them. What the hon. Member had said was undoubtedly true in many parts of the country, and was due mainly to two causes: one, that cottages were in some counties allowed to be built by mere speculators; and the other that it had as yet been, found very difficult to get a fair money return for building good dwellings. These things must be left to remedy themselves; but, taking the general question of labourers' dwellings, very great benefit accrued in cases where landowners made every farm supply accommodation for its own labourers. This practice should be, if possible, universal, and he thought he might add that the practical stipulation should generally be made that, although the tenant should choose his workmen, they should become the direct tenants of the landlord. Cot- tages had. been much improved of late by means of money borrowed from the Inclosure Commissioners, and this improvement would go on more rapidly if the conditions on which the money was lent were less stringent. There was another remedy for improving the condition of the labourer, and that was the proposal, supported by the hon. Member for Brighton, that every cottage should have a small garden attached to it, and where practicable, a small allotment. He believed that there was a very great weight of evidence in favour of provisions of that kind, but it was almost impossible to pass an Act which should uniformly apply to all counties. His egotism would, he hoped, be pardoned, if he referred with pride to a parallel between the labourers of Bedfordshire and Northumberland, drawn by Mr. Cullen, in which he showed that in the one case the man had a high sense of his moral responsibilities, and in the other he had little thought of the kind. The reasons he gave for this were, in the main, that the Nothumberland labourer, and more especially in Glendale "Ward, was sure of his wages all the year round, whether sick or well, that he was paid partly in kind, and that he did not drink beer. The causes of this difference, where the wages in the two cases were very much the same in amount, were well worthy the consideration of legislators in the matter. Legislation, if they were to have it, and he thought it was on the whole advisable, must of course be of a Quasi-compulsory character—all restrictive legislation was of that character: but, in legislating, it was necessary to keep two facts in mind—firstly, that the natural demand for labour must not be interfered with, and, secondly, that something higher than the mere intellectual culture of the labourer must be sought for — moral independence, which would lead the labourer to feel the moral responsibility of educating his children would tend towards raising the standard of education at which he aimed, and, above all, would dispel the common notion that education ceased with leaving the school. He did not know whether the Government would agree with the Motion of the hon. Member, or whether the hon. Member would go to a division, but if he did, he (Mr. Ridley) should be compelled, notwithstanding the Motion might be considered as premature when it was remembered that the Commission of Inquiry had not yet fully reported, to go into the same Lobby with him.


said, the hon. Member for Brighton (Mr. Fawcett) deserved the thanks of the House for the care and ability with which he had presented his case to the House, Beyond doubt, the subject was difficult, and though the hon. Member had firmly grappled with those difficulties, they remained the best, if not the only, excuse for Parliamentary inaction in the matter up to the present time. Even the able men now sitting as a Commission of Inquiry upon the subject had carefully avoided expressing any opinion as to the manner in which the subject should be dealt with, and had contented themselves with giving the Reports of the Assistant Commissioners, which were well worth the attention of hon. Members. The hon. Member spoke of the agricultural population as being in a degraded social position, if he did not use a stronger phrase; some portion of the class undoubtedly deserved the description, but the condition of a large portion also could be reviewed by any Englishman with honest pride. And this was not only the case in districts where wages were highest—in Northumberland, for instance, and the North of England generally. In the county of Wilts, mentioned by the hon. Member, he (Mr. Bruce) had been struck with the neat cottages and tidy children of labourers earning 10s. or 12s. a week — a condition of things, in fact, which would favourably compare with districts where the labourer earned 25s. and 30s. This was strikingly the case in Northumberland, the model county, which had years ago been reported on as the best-fed county. An admirable description of the state of society in Northumberland had been given by an Assistant Commissioner, son of a most honoured Member of this House (Mr. Henley), who showed what could be done by an educated peasantry on 15s. a week. Again, it must be recollected that the deficiency of education, which he agreed with the hon. Member for Brighton was the cause of so large a portion of the misery of this country, was not due simply to low wages; it was due mainly to the want of real interest taken by the parents in the education of their children. Because although it might be true that nearly every labourer you might question would say that it was a good thing for his child to go to school, you did not find in general among the English population that earnest desire for education which marked the Scotch peasant, whose ancestors had been educated for 200 years, and therefore knew how to value it. Upon wages no higher than those in our English counties the Scotch peasant contrived to secure for his child an education which would not only enable him to fulfil the duties of his station, but often to enter the Universities and rise to a higher position in life. What we wanted, therefore, was to animate our people with a greater desire for education, but it would not do to wait until their convictions on the subject were ripened. He agreed with his hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, that Parliament must interfere; compulsion in some shape, such as was applied to the manufacturing districts, must be extended to the agricultural classes also. In what form was that compulsion to be applied? He should be cautious in expressing any decided opinion on the point. His hon. Friend the Member for Brighton held that the application of the half-time system was not suited to the agricultural population; he was likewise opposed to the plan of setting aside a certain number of hours in the year, and took refuge in what he represented to be the alternate day system adopted with so much success by Mr. Paget. But his hon. Friend had admitted that Mr. Paget had been obliged to modify the system, and almost to adopt that very one which his hon. Friend disapproved so much. And here he would remind his hon. Friend that the experiment tried by Mr. Paget was tried under very peculiar conditions. His hon. Friend drew attention to the fact that one of the reasons why children were withdrawn at so early an age from the schools was the paucity of labourers in the agricultural districts. Everyone knew that a large number of our agricultural population were being continually draughted into the towns, and, generally speaking, there was so small a resident population in the agricultural districts that all the labour available was required. But that was not the case in the district where Mr. Paget's experiment was tried. The village adjoining his property had between 2,000 and 3,000 people engaged in the stock- ing and other manufactures, and there was such a surplus of labour that Mr. Paget had no difficulty in procuring on alternate days the maximum of children's labour that he required. Therefore his experiment was no guide for purely agricultural districts. But Mr. Paget found that even the alternate day system was not sufficient. He said it was not simply a question of time, but of weather and of seasons, and that attendance at school must be made to depend upon their variations. The consequence was that after twenty years' experience, Mr. Paget was of opinion that a much more elastic system was necessary, and the recommendation which he made was this, that no child should be employed before nine years of age, and then only upon passing an examination to show that he had received some degree of elementary education; and that, between nine and thirteen or fourteen, he should attend school ninety days in the year; that during nine months of the year he should be at school at the rate of eight days in the month, and that during the remaining three months the attendance should be given in the manner most convenient to the child. He had no doubt himself that the good sense of the Commissioners would lead them to the adoption of a system which would be suited to the varying habits of the country. He had now to deal with the Motion of his hon. Friend, who asked the House to pass a Resolution that the Government should legislate upon this subject during the next Session of Parliament. He would remind his hon. Friend that, though the Government might introduce a measure, it was Parliament alone that could legislate. But his hon. Friend must feel how absolutely impossible it was for the Government, with the best intentions in the world, to pledge themselves to introduce a measure on this subject next year. It would be their duty, he hoped, to introduce a measure upon the vexed question of general education. His noble Friend (Lord Frederick Cavendish) had said that, in order to give practical effect to any good system of agricultural education, we must improve our general system of elementary education. Well, there might be no reason why a great measure of national education might not be carried, concurrently with the introduction of an improved half-time' system, into our agricultural districts. But here we were met by another difficulty. The hon. Member for Brighton had bestowed a just eulogy upon the late Government for what they had done for the education of the people by the extension of the Factory Acts, and by their Workshop Regulation Act. But, however valuable the Factory Acts might be, it must be admitted that the Workshop Regulation Act had been very far from successful, and that improvements in the machinery of inspection must be effected before that result could be attained which Parliament desired. But if that difficulty arose in the case of populous towns, how were we to provide proper inspection for agricultural districts, where the population was thin and scattered, and the work of inspection would be so much more difficult? All these things would have to be attended to before they should be able in the next Session of Parliament to deal with the question. He could not accept the Resolution in the words in which it was framed. He hoped his hon. Friend would take his assurance that, when they received the Report of the Commission Her Majesty's Government, would endeavour to give it effect in the manner that would be most satisfactory.


said, there was one difficulty which appeared to have been carefully avoided in the course of this debate. The hon. Member for Brighton (Mr. Fawcett), the noble Lord who followed (Lord Frederick Cavendish), and his hon. Friend below him (Mr. White Ridley), all seemed to speak as if the education of the people was to be treated only as something which contributed to material interests; but he had not heard a single word about education in the sense of training children, not only for this world, but for the world hereafter. When they came to that great question, he did not believe they would find the great body of the people of this country indifferent. Though very much had been said of the want of education in many parts of the kingdom, they had not gone into the question whether the moral state of the people had been improving or not. This was a matter which ought to be looked to; whether the mere training of the intellect had produced the results that had been wished. At all events, hon. Gentlemen appeared to take no notice whatever of the higher training that children might get in these schools. Improvements in labourers' cottages were very necessary; but, in this very town thousands and thousands of families were living in single rooms, under conditions to which the rural population were not exposed. He only rose to show how these questions branched, and how difficult it was to deal with them. The people of this country would not be satisfied with any system of education which did not secure the highest moral training, based on religious teaching.


said, that the difficulties of the question were very great; for they were the difficulties attending the attempt to combine the benefits of two opposite systems— the systems of a free country and of a despotism. They could not have the two things together, and they must make up their minds as to which they would have, and abide by their choice. He begged to protest against the charge of gross ignorance which had been brought against the agricultural population. He would call no man ignorant who was able to perform in an efficient manner the duties which he had contracted to perform, and they had no right to judge the agricultural labourer by the standard which some hon. Gentlemen had adopted. As to the proposed system of inspectorship, he would like to know how they could possibly carry a minute system of that kind into operation in the agricultural districts. The cause of education might, he was sure, be promoted without additional expense, if those who professed to be the great friends of the cause would not make themselves so disagreeable as they did in advocating education throughout the country. The dictatorial and offensive tone they assumed often caused a re-action against the very system which they attempted to promote. It would, he conceived, be highly imprudent for the Government to pledge themselves to introduce any system of education until they were fully prepared with the details of a scheme which would inspire confidence in the persons chiefly interested in it, and he hoped they would assent to no Resolution which would only excite vague hopes. He remembered hearing that a Prime Minister had once said that he never apprehended danger so much as when the Council broke up with the determination that something must be done, without any- one having stated what that something was to be.


said, he must admit the necessity of compelling the children of the agricultural classes to attend school up to a certain age; but the limit of age was the great difficulty, and he feared that even ten years of age would be too high a standard. He had also no objection to a system of rating upon owners for educational purposes; but before that was done a revision of the system of local taxation would be necessary.


said, it was necessary to carry with you the feelings of the rural population in any system of education that was adopted; but he did not believe this was possible if you adopted the compulsory system.


said, that after the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for the Home Department he would not divide the House

Amendment and Motion, by leave, withdrawn.

Committee deferred till Monday next.