HC Deb 27 May 1870 vol 201 cc1551-8

in rising to call attention to the Report of the Commission appointed to inquire into the condition of Children Employed in Agriculture, said, this was now the third time he had endeavoured to direct attention to the subject, and he would do so as briefly as possible. In all the discussions which had arisen upon education in and out of that House, scarcely a single reference had been made to this Report; yet there never was one which embraced more important information, or threw more important light on the educational problem in various aspects. It would tend to correct an unfortunate feeling which was growing up, and which had been fostered by the action of the Government and by what had occurred during the present Session. It was supposed we had solved the most important part of the education problem when we had brought the means of education within the reach of every child; but this Report conclusively demonstrated that it was not enough to bring the means of education within the reach of every child. Beyond this there was something more important—to secure that children should avail themselves of these educational advantages. Although the ignorance that prevailed in the rural districts was deplorable, it did not exceed the extent of ignorance in some of our largest and wealthiest towns. No language could be used too strongly in praise of the efforts made by the clergy to extend education in the rural districts; and, although the zeal displayed by land- owners was not so great as that of the clergy, everything that could be done had been done to improve in their own districts the means of an excellent education. But if they found that, after all, the state of education in the rural districts was scarcely more satisfactory than it was before that new zeal began, the conclusion was irresistible that something more was required, and that education in the rural districts never would be rendered what it ought to be simply and solely by the provision of schools. He would show this by some references to the Report, which he believed would be found marked by fairness and candour. Mr. Stanhope, one of the Assistant Commissioners, who visited the counties of Nottingham and Lincoln, stated that they were well supplied with schools. Scarcely was there a village in which there was not a good school; yet he added that the state of education in those counties was becoming more unsatisfactory as the schools were becoming more satisfactory. The reason was, that the age at which children were taken from school was gradually dropping, owing to the demand for juvenile labour, and the provision of good schools was powerless to counteract it. Schools were not so much wanted as the securing the attendance of children at them. The Bishop of Manchester, one of the highest authorities on the subject, who had been employed on the Commission, and who had investigated this subject carefully, accurately, and completely, stated that in 19 counties of England which he had visited there was school accommodation for one-half more children than attended them. It had been shown again and again that good schools in many districts had been provided, and that the state of education did not improve one iota. So long as the children were taken away and sent to work, the school was little more than an infant school. In Gloucestershire, Mr. Stanhope found children as young as six years were sent to work, and if that was so, how could the provision of schools secure the education of children? In the county of Dorset boys of eight or nine years were sent to follow the plough. Mr. Woolaston, diocesan inspector in the county of Sussex, admitted that schools had improved; but school results were not more satisfactory, because during the last 10 years the average age at which children were taken from school had been dropping. At the present time the average age at which boys left school in that district was less by 11 months than it was 10 years since. But the evil did not stop here. School attendance became also more irregular and intermittent. One diocesan inspector stated that an average school attendance of five years represented an actual attendance of only three years. There was only one way to cure the evil—by placing some restriction on the age at which children might go to work. When the Factory Acts were passed the principle was laid down that the State had a right to interfere between the parent and the child; and, therefore, it could not now be contended that the State had not a right to interfere between the parent and the child employed in agriculture. It was said that the farmer wanted the labour of the child; but to that he replied that the evidence before the Commission brought out the fact that the prosperity of agriculture varied inversely with the age at which children were sent to work. In Northumberland, where children were rarely sent to work until they were 12 years old, a superior class of agricultural labourers was to be found; and in consequence the farmers were able to pay 20, or 30, or even 40 per cent more wages for labour than in the worst counties of England. Mr. Culley, who was employed by the Agricultural Commission, stated that so superior was the labourer in Northumberland in consequence of increased intelligence resulting from the practice of not sending the children to work until they were 12 years old, that the labourer, on account of his increased efficiency, was enabled to receive higher wages. Upon the point whether it was necessary for a child to go to work at eight or nine years of age in order to learn his trade, the evidence given before the Commission was conclusive. Mr. Fraser and other Commissioners examined the labourers, and their testimony was unanimously to the effect that it was not necessary for a child to go to work at that early age, and that a child would learn his trade better if kept at school until he was 12 years old. The poverty of the parents was urged as a most formidable objection to the adoption of a system of compulsion in respect to the schooling of the children, because the parents, it was said, could not afford to lose any portion of the earnings of their children. On the other hand, a good deal was to be said in favour of a general system of compulsion, which would limit the supply of juvenile labour throughout the country, and thereby directly increase its price. At the same time, it would indirectly produce important effects on the wages of adult labour, for nothing more depressed the wages of adult labour than the competition of juvenile labour. This argument, however, would cease to have effect if, instead of a general compulsory system throughout the country, some hybrid and permissive sort of compulsion was introduced, according to the scheme of the Government, establishing compulsion in one village and not in another at a certain distance from it. But whatever the House might do with respect to compulsory education, the labourers in counties where the wages were 8s., 9s., or 10s. a week, could not be worse off than they were at present, for it was not the competition of the labour market which controlled the rate of wages in those counties, but the rate of wages was determined by a consideration of the minimum on which a labourer could live. The result, therefore, of the introduction of a general system of compulsion would be that the labourers in those counties would not starve, but when the wages of the children were taken away a slight addition would be made to the wages of the adults in order to enable them to live. Then came the question, how was this system of compulsion to be worked out? He did not wish to bring forward any definite scheme of his own, but would refer to the schemes of two Commissioners, which were directly opposed to each other. Mr. Tremenheere proposed that up to the age of 11 years every child employed in agriculture should be compelled to attend school 160 times during the year, or, in other words, to have 80 days' schooling; but if a child of nine years could pass an examination in the fourth standard, then the number of school attendances should be reduced from 160 to 60, and if at 10 years of age a child was able to pass an examination in the next standard, then all obligation to attend school should cease. The plan of having 160 school attendances was a proposal analogous to the clauses in the Print Works Act, and it was remarkable that the Secretary of State for the Home Department was about to introduce that very evening a Bill to amend the Print Works Acts, because the educational clauses in them had proved a miserable sham and idle mockery. Mr. Leonard Horner, one of the most experienced Factory Inspectors, said he regarded the Print Works Acts as mockeries of legislation and absolutely useless. The scheme of Mr. Tremenheere was unfortunately marred by that fatal principle which would drag all children to one dead level, for he proposed that the clever and industrious boy of nine should be required to attend school only one-third of the time that the less gifted or less industrious boy did. This would defeat one grand end of education, which was to discover and develop talent, and to enable the clever boy to advance from the National School to the University. Mr. Tufnel said he would forbid the employment of children not only in agriculture but in any industry whatever until they were nine years of age, and that he would gradually advance the age to 10, 11, and 12; but he did not seem to be prepared to recommend, as a necessary corollary, the securing of the attendance of children at school when they were not permitted to work; and it would be obvious we should only be encouraging idleness and vice if means were not taken to secure the schooling of every child not permitted to work. He therefore maintained it was absolutely necessary to have, not permissive compulsion, but a general system of direct compulsion, to save from ruin the children forbidden to work. Admirable as were the results obtained by the Factory Acts, one effect of their operation was, that parents, knowing their children must attend school when they began work, neglected their early education, so that the factory children when they began work were less well educated than those not intended to be employed in factories. This showed that it would be mischievous and disastrous to forbid the employment of children, unless we had a general system of compulsory school attendance. Mr. Tufnel urged the importance of uniform legislation, because he showed that, if one branch of industry was more restricted than another, children were attracted from the more restricted to the less restricted occupation, the natural flow of labour was unduly disturbed, and injustice was inflicted upon those engaged in the industry subjected to the most onerous restriction. He had been accused of holding extreme views upon the religious question; but he attached far more importance to compulsion than to the religious aspect of the Government Bill, because, without compulsion, the best schools, with the most liberal regulations, would, not accomplish the education of every child. This done, many questions touched upon in the Report, connected with the condition of the agricultural labourer, would solve themselves. It was of little use building good cottages for people who did not appreciate them; but the more highly cultivated peasantry of Northumberland would not live in bad ones. Those who were well taught would acquire a taste for rational pleasures, which would do more to keep them from intemperance than any Licensing Bills. In conclusion, he would beg to move— That, in the opinion of this House, the evidence obtained by this Commission proves that the ignorance which prevails in the rural districts is in a far greater degree due to the early age at which children are taken from school to be sent to work, than to any general deficiency in the means of education.


reminded the hon. Member that, according to the forms of the House, the Motion could not be put.


said, the main object of the speech of his hon. Friend seemed to be to show the necessity of a compulsory system of education. He (Mr. Bruce) would be the last to say that the educational condition of children in the agricultural districts was satisfactory; but there was ample evidence to show that the children in the agricultural districts were not worse educated than children in the towns. As many persons were able to read and write in the agricultural districts, and as many persons signed the register there, as in the towns, and he was sorry to say that the places where ignorance was the largest and deepest were the large manufacturing towns. He had hoped to find some light thrown upon the special difficulties connected with education in the agricultural districts; but his hon. Friend (Mr. Fawcett), though he had been successful in showing the objections to the schemes of the Commissioners, had made no suggestion of his own upon the subject. This might be no reason why the Go- vernment or the House should not attempt to legislate, and apply, in some modified form, the half-time system to the agricultural districts. But it was a proof of the difficulty of the question that his hon. Friend, who had made it a special study, did not assist the House in getting out of the difficulty. For his own part, before any further legislation was attempted, he should like to see how the House would deal with the principle of compulsion in Committee upon the Education Bill. If the Bill were carried, even in its present form, the compulsory clauses must apply to large portions of the agricultural districts. His hon. Friend said that the ignorance which prevailed in the agricultural districts was not due to the want of good schools; but it was certainly a fact that the proportion of schools which were in a position to receive aid from the State, and which were alone recognized by the Bill, was very small in the agricultural districts. The Bill provided for a more elastic system in dealing with children in the rural districts than elsewhere, because no other class were employed at such uncertain periods. Clause 66 empowered every school Board to make by-laws requiring the parents of children above 5 and under 12 years of age to cause such children, unless there was some reasonable excuse, to attend school; and the next by-law was to determine the time during which children were so to attend school— Provided that no such by-law should be contrary to anything contained in any Act for regulating the education of children employed in labour. It was clear, therefore, that if these clauses were passed, and the local Boards did their duty, a system of compulsory education adapted to the.condition and the wants of the agricultural classes would be applied in cases where it was needed. His hon. Friend apparently wished to make the system of compulsory education general and instantaneous. But in the rural districts of Scotland there was no compulsion, yet the parents made their children attend a sufficient time for the purposes of education, and they were better educated than any children in the same class throughout the whole country. He would rather that the compulsory principle were applied gradually, as suggested in the Bill, than generally and immediately, for he feared that in the latter case the system might break down altogether. The speech of his hon. Friend might, perhaps, have been better made upon the second reading of the Education Bill, or upon the clauses in Committee. On the part of the Government he could assure his hon. Friend that they had every desire to supply what was needed for the education of the people; and when the Bill passed Parliament and the country would be in a better condition to judge what further legislation would be necessary.


said, that a fact which had great weight with Parliament in requiring the compulsory education of children employed, in factories was the injury to their health caused by their continuous employment; but this objection did not apply to agricultural employment. He was certain that any attempt to carry inspection and compulsion too far in matters of education would only shipwreck the whole system.

In answer to Colonel CORBETT,


said, it was true that the Elementary Education Bill did not interfere with districts in which, in the opinion of the inspectors who would inquire, a good sufficient, and suitable education was given, even though that education might be given in schools which were not receiving aid from the State. But the number of schools of the latter class existing in the country was not great, and his right hon. Friend (Mr. Bruce) was therefore right in assuming, for the general purposes of argument, that in those districts in which there were no assisted schools the education given was not sufficient. This, however, was a point which could not be prejudged; it must be determined by inquiry.

Original Question, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair," by leave, withdrawn.

Committee deferred till Monday next.