HC Deb 19 February 1873 vol 214 cc689-701

Order for Second Reading read


in rising to move that the Bill be now read a second time, said: I should, in the first instance, state that the measure is substantially the same as that which received a second reading on the part of this House last Session. It is, indeed, almost identical with that Bill—perhaps I ought to say too identical, at least, in one respect, for we have, by an oversight, omitted to alter the date at which we propose that the Bill should come into operation, and I need not say that that date should have been 1875 instead of 1874. The main principle of the Bill consists in the proposed application of the Factory Acts, in a mitigated form, to agricultural children; but in regard to agriculture, we say that employment in farming operations being essentially healthy we do not suggest that the Factory Acts should be so applied for the purpose of restricting the employment of children in field work, but rather with a view to the improvement and advancement of their education. The only instance in which we think that agricultural children may be exposed to hardships is that of their being employed in what are termed agricultural gangs, and in that case we propose to amend the Agricultural Gangs Act, and to provide that no child shall be employed in these gangs until he shall have attained the age of ten years instead of eight, which is the age mentioned in that Act. The first important clause of the Bill which I now have the honour of asking the House to read a second time, is that which says that no child shall be employed in agricultural work until it has reached the age of eight years. When the Bill of last year was under the consideration of the House, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Oxfordshire (Mr. Henley) immediately detected, with Ms Argus eyes, one little defect which, in the present Bill, we have endeavoured to remedy. The right hon. Gentleman pointed out that the Bill as it then stood would prevent a man who might happen to be digging potatoes on his allotment from being assisted by his child under eight years of age. Now, in the Bill before the House we have included everyone who is the occupier of more than one acre of land, and, consequently, the Bill will not be applicable to mere garden ground or small allotments occupied by farm labourers. I may here at once tell the right hon. Gentleman and the House that we are desirous of applying the provisions of this Bill to small farmers, because, of all those who are engaged in agricultural occupations, they are the class who most frequently and largely employ the services of young children, and who, at the same time, pay least attention to their education. This, at any rate, has been our experience, and our opinion on this matter is backed up by the Report of the Commissioners by whom the subject has been investigated. We also propose that every child, between the ages of eight and ten, which is employed in agriculture, shall require a certificate that he has made 250 attendances at school during the preceding 12 months, and that from the age of 10 to that of 12 it should have a certificate showing that it has made 150 such attendances. This, I believe, is on all fours with the Revised Code, and will secure the Parliamentary grant. It may be asked why did we not extend this principle still further in accordance with the provisions of the Factory Acts? Why have we not extended it to the age of 13 years? My answer is, that I do not think there is any reason why a child which has reached the age of 12 should not have received ample education. I do not see why we should insist on more than this—that a child should be able to read and write and do sums in the first four rules of arithmetic; and I am of opinion that at the age of 11 a child who has been early and regularly sent to school ought to have accomplished all this. In illustration of what I am advancing, I may state that there is a boy upon my farm who is assisting his father in attending to my bullocks. This boy can do sums in vulgar fractions, and I am sure that he could pass a school examination better than I could, although that, perhaps, may be no great commendation for him, and he is just 12 years old. I say, therefore, that we only want the adoption of the minimum we have named in the Bill, and there would be no reason why those parents who have the means and the desire to do so, should not continue to send their children to school until they are 13 or 14 years of age. Well, Sir, it may be urged as an objection to the Bill that eight is too tender an age for a child to be set to work in the fields. I admit that, as a general rule, children of eight years are not wanted in agriculture, in which they are seldom or never employed until after that period; but we think it would not be wise to alter the Factory Acts and the other statutes, which start with the age of eight. We believe that if we were to depart from the general legislation in this particular, and were to introduce any other age as the starting point of this Bill, the consequence would be that the children would be employed in other industries which might be much more prejudicial to their health. I have reason to believe that if this Bill should pass the second reading and get into Committee, the main discussion that would engage the attention of the House would be as to the relative value of certificates of attendance at school and certificates of proficiency. Those who are in favour of certificates of proficiency say that if we simply act upon attendances, we shall be adding what will really operate as a dead weight upon the school, and that boys who have simply to go through a certain number of attendances will not be likely to make any effort to become efficient. Personally, I have not the least objection to both of these systems being resorted to—that is to say, that if you happen to have a clever boy in a school, and he should be able to satisfy the examiners as to the progress he has made, he should have a certificate given to him, although he may not have made the number of attendances required in other cases. But, Sir, I have a particular objection to boys being "crammed;" and I believe that, as a rule, you may back the steady drudgery of attendances against efficiency otherwise attained. However, I am quite content to leave this point to my hon. Friend the Member for Hastings (Mr. Kay-Shuttleworth), whose name being upon the back of the Bill affords, I think, a sufficient guarantee that we mean this to be a thoroughly good educational measure. I have been asked why we have been induced all of a sudden to start this Bill? I may say, in reply to this, that anyone who has been engaged, or who has taken the least interest, in the education of the agricultural labourer must have been aware for years past that some measure of this description has been urgently needed; but it was not until the passing of the Elementary Education Act that we obtained a fitting opportunity for introducing such a Bill as the present. Now, however, we may hope to see in a few months—certainly in a few years time—the whole kingdom covered with schools. Every little parish will have its school, and upon this point I may add that as I was looking at the Norfolk papers a fortnight since, I found that the Education Department were insisting upon three parishes in that county providing school accommodation for—how many children does the House suppose? In one case the provision is required for seven children, in another case for five, while in the third the accommodation is wanted for the extraordinary number of three! Sir, I cannot expect that the right hon. Gentleman the Vice President of the Council on Education will do more than give us, on this occasion, his silent assent. I do not think that he will give us a very willing assent, because he has not yet laid his contemplated Amendments in connection with the Government Education Act before the House; but I trust that he will to-day, as he did last year, allow the Bill to be read a second time. If the right hon. Gentleman has any Amendments to make, I trust that he will make them when the Bill is in Committee; but I must say that if the scheme of the Government, with which we are bye-and-bye to be favoured, be in favour of direct compulsion, I am strongly of opinion that however well that process may suit the towns it will not, at any rate at the present moment, suit the country. It may be in store for us in the rural districts that in every village we are to have a school rate; but should this be the case, I assert that even under school boards we shall necessarily have a most irregular system of compulsion. And supposing you delegate this compulsory power to the Boards of Guardians, I question very much, in the first place, whether they will undertake them; and, in the next, I am quite sure that if they do they will be administered very laxly and very indifferently. The only efficient plan of compulsion seems to me to require the action of some tyrannical central power in London, and that is a proposition which I am quite certain we in the country would resist to the very utmost. But when we come to the question of indirect compulsion, the case is altogether different. You may lead the British Lion a great deal more easily than you can drive him, even if he assume the shape of an agricultural labourer. By this Bill we do not in any way interfere with the good parents; we only desire to bring indifferent and selfish parents to a proper consideration of the requirements of their children in the matter of education. We contend that their own self interests will induce them to do what is necessary, and therefore we are in favour of the principle of indirect compulsion, believing that the irresistible persuasion of the pocket is much more likely to succeed than any harsh measure of direct compulsion. There is a gentleman, who has recently written to The Times, and with whom I never before agreed in opinion, whom I am glad to be able to quote on this occasion—I allude to Canon Girdlestone. I hope that, as we can agree upon this point, it may not be the last on which our opinions may concur. Speaking upon the question now under consideration, Canon Girdlestone says— Although direct compulsion may be difficult or even impossible, nothing would be easier or more successful than indirect compulsion. Let the parents find that by law every farmer who employs a child under a certain age, or without a school Inspector's certificate of a certain amount of efficiency, subjects himself to a penalty, and the schools in the rural districts will soon be full. The wish for employment and wages for their children will do what no amount of zeal on the part of school managers can do—namely, overcome the apathy of parents. I, for one, must entirely endorse that opinion. There is in this Bill a suspensory clause, and I was very sorry last year to see that my hon. Friend the Member for Scarborough gave Notice that he should move the rejection of a similar clause in Committee. I confess I was astonished to find that a country gentleman, who is himself a distinguished agriculturist, did not appear to know that in certain seasons of the year it will be necessary to suspend the operations of a Bill like this. It is well known that during the time of harvest our schools are entirely shut up, and surely it does not signify when there is no instruction to be had at school, whether the children are at work in the harvest field or whether they are at play. But there are other districts, not connected with that in which my hon. Friend resides, such as those in which hops are grown, in which it is very essential that every available child, however small or ignorant, should be employed for the purpose of securing the hops. There are also in all parts of the country extensive market gardens and orchards, where it is absolutely necessary that the fruit should be gathered within a certain time to prevent its being spoilt. In these cases, children come from a considerable distance, and it is well that power should be vested in the magistrates to suspend the operation of the Bill during such exceptionally busy periods of the year. It may be said on the other side by sonic of those who are known as ardent defenders of women's rights, that we have, as usual, made no provision in this Bill for the education of girls. But as girls seldom or never —at least in the districts with which I am acquainted — go out to field work, this Bill will not affect them. We have no complaint to make with regard to the education of girls as a rule. They are sent to school early, and are kept there a sufficient time to enable them to acquire a good education. I admit that now and then, in a large family, the oldest girl is kept at home to nurse the baby or to attend to certain household duties; but I say, on the other hand, that to teach them a useful knowledge of domestic matters is far preferable to sending them whore they are taught fancy work and such other nonsense as is taught in many of our girls' schools. But, Sir, we were told in the debate of last year that this Bill would not work properly, because it did not provide for the appointment of Inspectors. It was said that the Act, if passed, would prove a failure, because some other Acts have failed in consequence of the omission to appoint such officers. The cases of workshops and brickfields were referred to; but surely a school is a totally different thing to a workshop or a brickfield. No one except the master of a workshop or a brickfield would take any notice of the children employed in those places; but in a village school there is always sonic busy person who would be sure to find out where the children who ought to be at school are sent to work. Therefore, as we have public opinion at our back, and as moreover the school managers are in our favour, the Bill is one which I hope and believe will work well without there being any necessity for the appointment of Inspectors. At any rate, I can only say to the House, give the measure a trial, and if it is found that it will not work we can then come back to Parliament and ask that salaries should be provided for Inspectors. Sir, the hon. Member for Brighton (Mr. Fawcett) gave Notice last year that before the Bill went into Committee he would move a Resolution to the effect that the number of attendances it proposed to exact were not adequate. Of course, it is simply a matter of opinion whether the provision made in this respect is or is not adequate; but I believe we have adopted the number of attendance provided by the Revised Code; and therefore I apprehend that in the opinion of those who are best qualified to judge—I refer to the Edu- cation Department—they may be taken as pretty nearly adequate and sufficient. We have tried in this Bill to stem an evil which I fear is on the increase. We have schools everywhere, and we find that they are not half filled, while the children who should attend them are playing about the roads instead of receiving the education of which they are in need. I believe, Sir, that a mild and moderate measure like this is more likely to be well received, and to produce the object desired, than any harsher enactment would be. I am quite aware that some employers may not like the Bill. A great many persons may consider that it is an interference, and an unnecessary one, with the employment of juvenile labour. There are also some parents who may, and I dare say will, feel its operation rather sharply at first; but I think that after due notice, many of them will be induced, some for one reason and some for another, readily and cheerfully to obey its provisions. I trust the House will believe that it is with an honest and sincere desire to meet an evil which is spreading rather than diminishing, that we have brought forward this measure. And, Sir, if the Bill should become part of the law of the land, I trust it will be found to raise and improve the condition of the labouring poor in this country by giving to every child in the agricultural districts a full, sufficient, and thoroughly religious education. I beg to move the Bill be now read a second time.


in seconding the Motion, said, he was glad there was some prospect of correcting the anomalous state of the law, by which agricultural children alone were exempt from control in the matter of education and labour. Last year his right hon. Friend (Mr. W. E. Forster) not only did not oppose the measure, but expressed his obligation to the hon. Member (Mr. Read) for introducing it; he presumed he would give it his support this year also. He was happy to be able to concur in the opinion which had been expressed some years ago by the hon. Member for Birmingham (Mr. Dixon) in reference to factory education. The hon. Gentleman had recorded his sentiments in favour of the extension of the Factory Acts, in a modified form, to the agricultural community, with the proviso that the law should be suspended during harvest. Allusion had been made to Canon Girdlestone's letter to The Times;—another letter on the same subject had appeared from Dr. Barry in the same journal, in which he expressed the opinion that some of the machinery of the Factory Acts was required to give complete efficiency to the London School Board's efforts in the matter of compulsion. There was much confusion between direct and indirect compulsion—there was no such thing as compulsion of the child; and he would venture to say that, in the strict meaning of the term, there was no such thing as direct compulsion under the Education Act, as the compulsion was directed upon the parent alone. How much more efficient, therefore, would the compulsion be if employers also were bound to take care that the children went to school! If a parent sent his child to school, and the child persisted in playing truant, the magistrate would not convict; he could not, because it would be unreasonable to expect the parent to do more than send his child to school; but if the employer also were bound over, you would have a double lever. He believed this measure, if carried out, would produce an immense change in the rural districts, and relieve school managers of one of their greatest difficulties—it would compel both the parents and the tenant farmers to take an interest in the education of the children—therefore he seconded the Motion with pleasure.

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


said, that there were about 90,000 children employed in factories whose labour was regulated by statute, and 40,000 connected with agriculture who did not come under the operation of the Factory Acts. Two former attempts had been made to deal with this question. In 1867 the hon. Member for Brighton (Mr. Fawcett) introduced a Bill in which he did not prohibit work under eight years of age, but required children to attend alternate clays at school. He had no hesitation in saying that in most rural districts that would be perfectly impossible. Then there was the Bill of Lord Portman, which required 240 attendances at school of 2½ hours every year between the ages of 8 and 13; but he (Mr. Poll) believed that the number of attendances was too large in the case of children over 10 years of age, while under that ago it would not carry the grant. Apart from this Bill, the only other alternative they had was the establishment of school boards wherever there might be an insufficient amount of school accommodation. He should not wish to see that alternative put in force. An attempt to force school boards on rural districts would rather impede than advance the cause of education. There had been very few attempts to establish school boards in rural districts, where they were to a great extent unnecessary. Many hard things had been said about the squire and the clergyman; but they had hitherto been found to be the most practical and useful promoters of education. This Bill had been introduced with the general consent of the Chambers of Agriculture, and it provided compulsion in the least offensive form in which it could be applied. There was one special reason why some measure of this sort should be passed. It was a trying and distressing thing to parents whose children were going regularly to school to see the children of more apathetic parents working and earning higher wages because the supply for the labour market had been reduced by the attendance of their own children at school—in fact, at present the apathetic profited by the self-denial of the careful. They would not need Inspectors to carry out the Bill. In country life the clergyman, the farmer, and the resident in the village, were all inspectors, and know very well what children wore or were not going to school; and if they failed, no system of inspection would make the Bill operative.


said, the hon. Member for South Norfolk (Mr. Clam Read) had described this Bill as an honest endeavour to give education to the working classes in the agricultural districts, and, believing that statement, he (Mr. Dixon) should not oppose the second reading of the measure. But he could not vote for it for two reasons. He considered the Bill a very weak one, and a very ineffectual method of dealing with a great evil. It would not touch children between the ages of five and eight years, and it could not either have any influence on children above eight years of age, who were not required to be set to work, With reference to those who were to come under its operation, it did not provide any machinery by which it could be put into force. In the agricultural districts it had been alleged that the farmers were positively averse to education of the children. It had been stated that as the Factory Act had answered well in towns it ought to be applied to country districts. He did not deny that it had operated well in towns; but it had only touched a very small portion of the children. The promoters of the Bill had stated their intention of putting forward this Bill as a substitute for a complete one, and had stated that there could be no necessity for a compulsory measure. Now, in his own mind, direct compulsion was the only effectual way of dealing with this gigantic evil. If the Bill had been brought forward as an assistance to the compulsory system he should have accepted it; but when it was introduced in competition with, and in lieu of, the compulsory system he was unable to support it.


said, the hon. Member for Birmingham (Mr. Dixon) had stated that though he could not agree with some of the remarks made by the proposer and seconder, he would not vote against the second reading of the Bill. In that the hon. Member showed his sincerity in the cause of education. But he was sorry that his hon. Friend could not vote for the second reading—not, as he understood, because of the actual terms of the Bill, but of some arguments advanced in its support. In the House of Commons, however, people must give their votes not so much from what might be the views of particular advocates of a measure, as from the actual moaning of the measure itself. He could assure his hon. Friend that if he believed that the passing of this Bill would commit the House to anything more than was contained within its four corners he would ask the House not to support the measure. By Her Majesty's gracious Speech the Government was pledged to bring forward such extensions and improvements in the Education Act as they thought desirable, and that he hoped shortly to be able to do. It would be impossible for him, therefore, to give his assent to the Bill if he felt that by so doing the House would commit itself to anything in opposition to the measure of the Government. At first he was disposed to ask the House to postpone the second reading; but, considering that this was a Bill to which the House unanimously assented last year, he gave a willing consent to its principle. He would not go further, because he would have to state the views of the Government, in regard to the amendment and extension of the Education Act, in a connected form on a future day. Direct compulsion had worked well in the factory districts; but he would beg his hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham to recollect that direct compulsion would be made easier where indirect compulsion was already in force. It was a good omen that this measure should have been brought forward by Gentlemen so intimately connected with agriculture as the hon. Members for Norfolk and Leicestershire. Thanking the hon. Members for having given the House the advantage of seeing their views on paper, and for having undertaken what he wished hon. Gentlemen would more frequently do—namely, to grapple with the difficulties of a knotty question by trying to draught their opinions in the form of a Bill—he hoped the House would assent to the second reading. He trusted his hon. Friend would not put the Committee for an early day, because he should wish before then to have an opportunity of explaining the measure of the Government.


said, he had not the slightest intention to oppose the second reading. He was very thankful to receive at the hands of hon. Gentlemen opposite even this homoeopathic dose. But he must protest against this Bill being, as it had been described by the hon. Member for Norfolk (Mr. Clam Read), a full and complete measure of education for the agricultural districts. It was not creditable to the House of Commons that they should be discussing such a paltry measure when other countries were so far advanced. In Switzerland he had met many persons from the Grisons, Uri, and other Cantons, who told him that they had not among them a child of 14 years who could not read and write well. The hon. Member for Leicestershire (Mr. Pell) represented a county partly manufacturing and partly agricultural, and five years ago this House had passed the Workshops Act; but neither the farmers, the squire, nor the parson, of whose zeal for education the hon. Member spoke so highly, had done much to enforce it.


said, that the hon. Gentleman who had just spoken (Mr. Mundella) had, as usual, introduced foreign countries: but he (Colonel Barttelot) was one of those who was Englishman enough to think that we had done very well at home, and that we rushed too much after foreign countries. We wished to organize everything on a foreign principle, and then we found that we had done exceedingly badly. With regard to our Army, for instance, we had run first after the example of France and then after the example of Prussia. The hon. Member for Sheffield had said that the farmers, squires, and "parsons," as he called them, had done nothing for education. [Mr. MUNDELLA: No, but that they had not enforced the Workshops Act.] But the parsons and squires had, at all events, done something for education. As we had the Education Act of 1870, and that Act had not yet had a fair trial, the House ought to pause before passing a measure of this kind. They ought to consider carefully whether they were not going to encumber the Statute Book with some extra legislation, for we were legislation-mad in this country; and if the House were shut up for a year or two it would not tread on the corns of so many people. There was only one apology for opening the House this Session, and that was that the new Rules of the Parks might be laid on the Table. He wished the hon. Member for Birmingham (Mr. Dixon) had spoken last night; he ought to have done so because he was one of those who desired to increase taxation by £5,000,000. [Mr. DIXON said that we ought to save £10,000,000 and spend £5,000,000.] The £5,000,000 would be sure to be spent, but the question would be how the £10,000,000 could be saved. There was not a man below the gangway last night who showed how the £10,000,000 could be saved, but they rode off with the promise of a Select Committee by the Government. He did not believe the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. W. E. Forster) would have assented to the second reading of this Bill if it was his intention to force school boards upon them throughout the country.

Motion agreed to.

Bill read a second time, and committed for Tuesday next.