HC Deb 12 June 1872 vol 211 cc1657-61

Order for Second Reading read.


, in moving that the Bill be now read a second time, said, that early in the Session he asked the right hon. Gentleman the Vice President of the Council whether a code of by-laws he had brought up for a country school would be accepted by the Education Department, and the right hon. Gentleman replied that he (the hon. Member) was the best person he knew to draw up such a code. He had, therefore, taken the responsibility of trying to frame by-laws applicable to all children employed in agriculture. If they were to have a school board in every parish the compulsory powers bestowed upon them by the Act of 1870 would be difficult to apply; and he was sure the country was not prepared to have direct compulsion from Whitehall. This Bill, therefore, was introduced now because in future there was to be a school within the reach of every child, and it was necessary to have the power of filling those schools and keeping the children there a certain length of time; and not only that, but that without an enactment of this kind children in agricultural districts would be taken from school on trivial pretexts as soon as they were old enough to be of any use. The principle of the Bill was simply an extension of the Factory Acts in a mitigated form to agricultural districts, and the reason for that was, because as in such districts it was impracticable to adopt the system of alternate half days or weeks for school, it was therefore provided that a certain number of attendances at school in the preceding year should be necessary before children between the ages of eight and twelve were employed in agriculture. He should, no doubt, be told that a child of eight was too young to be so employed, and he admitted that as a rule they were not wanted before they were ten years old; but it was difficult to debar them entirely from being employed before they reached that age. That was not a Bill for the protection of health, like the Factory Acts, and there was a great difference between employing children in the open air and confining them in a dusty and hot factory. The Factory Acts fixed the age at eight, and therefore if any further limit was adopted in this Bill children of that age in agricultural districts adjoining manufacturing districts would be sent to the factory as a matter of course. And, further, it would be extremely hard to prohibit a labourer with seven or eight children under ten years of age from having one of them to assist him in providing for the sustenance of the family. It would, however, be required that children of eight must have attended school 250 times in the previous 12 months; and that children between 10 and 12 must prove 150 attendances. The Bill had been favourably received and commented upon by the newspapers. The Pall Mall Gazette said it was a mild Bill, and that it was imperfect; and he considered that very favourable criticism of a measure introduced by an agricultural Member. The farmers generally approved of the Bill, and the Central Chamber of Agriculture had passed a unanimous resolution in its support. A suspensory power during the busy seasons of the agricultural year was given to the magistrates in petty sessions to be exercised on the application of occupiers of 500 acres of land. It would also be necessary for the parent to get a certificate of the attendances of his child from the schoolmaster, who would give it free of cost; and the employer would be required to see that certificate before he employed the child. To meet the possible objection that the Act would be a dead letter, because there would be no Inspectors, he would observe that, in the first instance, school managers would be practically Inspectors, and public opinion would support the working of the Bill. If, in the future, we had a public prosecutor school Inspectors would not be so much needed. One of the clauses, however, altered the Agricultural Gangs Act by raising the age at which the child might be employed in those gangs from eight to ten years. He was glad to say that there was no serious opposition to the Bill, which was the result of an earnest and honest attempt to secure the education of every child employed in agriculture, without depriving the parent of the right and, he might say, the necessity of adding the child's earnings to his own scanty wages, or needlessly interfering with the reasonable employment of juvenile labourers in the rural districts of the kingdom. In conclusion, the hon. Member moved the second reading of the Bill.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Mr. Clare Read.)


said, he rejoiced at the movement which was springing up in the agricultural class in favour of education. Having looked through the Bill he marvelled at the skill and care with which the Factory Acts had been adapted to the agricultural population, and thought the hon. Gentleman the author of the Bill entitled to great credit, though some Amendments in the Bill he thought might be necessary. It would be a special advantage to the Bill that it would enlist the employers of labour in the interests of those employed; and in addition it did not throw the onus of attendance at school wholly upon the parents, because part of the responsibility would be placed upon the employer.


said, he was most anxious that the hon. Member should have the opportunity of taking the second reading of his Bill that day, and, therefore, he would not enter upon its details, for which there was not now time. He hoped, however, there would be a full discussion at the next stage. The Government not only did not oppose the Bill, but were obliged to the hon. Gentleman for having taken up this difficult question. At the same time he did not consider that by the general acceptance of the principle they were precluded from considering—he should say favourably considering—the question of direct compulsion. They had found it necessary, under the Factory Acts to supplement indirect compulsion with direct compulsion; but, no doubt, direct compulsion would be very much facilitated by indirect compulsion. There were two or three points on which he might have to express some difference of opinion with the promoters of the Bill. He doubted whether the age ought to be limited to 12, and in regard to Clause 6 it appeared to him that the attendances required were too few in number, and it might be necessary to make them more consecutive to obtain greater regularity. But those were questions of detail, and the Government would be most glad to hear the arguments upon them of the hon. Gentleman who had charge of the Bill.


said, that, although allusion had been made to the principles of the Factory Acts, the Bill had no reference whatever to them, those Acts having been introduced solely on the ground of the "young persons'" health; whereas no one would pretend that field work was unhealthy for children. At the same time, he did not think that the Bill made any adequate provision for the education of children employed in agriculture. It merely enacted that so many attendances should be given at school—250 for a child from 8 to 10, and 150 from 10 to 12, in respect of which the child might be employed without any further attendance at school for at least 18 months.


said, he hoped it would be distinctly understood that if the second reading were now taken, there would be an opportunity of fully discussing it on going into Committee. He took great interest in the subject, to which he had devoted much attention, and he now gave Notice that on going into Committee he should move Resolutions which would give the House an opportunity of discussing the main principles of the Bill.


said, he hoped some arrangement would be made to secure a full and complete discussion of the Bill.


said, he should be glad of an opportunity for full discussion of the measure, for he wished it to receive very careful consideration, and be much amended in Committee.

Motion agreed to.

Bill read a second time, and committed for Friday.