HC Deb 19 June 1901 vol 95 cc835-47

"Sir,—I am directed to draw your attention to this Bill, and to point out that unless school boards in the Highland counties have power to remove from the attendance registers the names of such scholars who may be granted exemption from the obligation to attend school, that the special grant to Highland counties will be in great danger of being lost to them. [See Scotch Code, Article 19 (B) 6, Highland grants.]

"To give you a case in point, Mrs. A. B. is a young widow, left with a croft, etc., and three children, eldest girl thirteen years of age, the other two nine and eight. To enable the widow to carry on the croft and maintain herself and family without relief from the parish, she is forced to keep the eldest child at home to herd the cow, etc., and she strives to keep the two younger children at school. The school board cannot see their way to prosecute this poor woman for the non-attendance at school of her eldest child, yet they are bound to keep the name of this child on the attendance register of the school, which so reduces the percentage of the average number of scholars enrolled who are in average attendance that a shilling per head of the Highland grant is lost to that school unless the average exceeds 80 per cent. of the number enrolled.

"I am to suggest that after the words 'twelve years of age,' in Section 3, there should be inserted 'and to remove the names of such individual children from the attendance register.'

"This question affects the grants for Highland crofting counties only.

"I am, etc.,


"School Board Clerk."

This was a serious matter for the schools in crofting counties where this special grant was given under Clause 3. There was a provision that the Department should have power, when it saw fit, to call upon school boards for a return of the children to whom exemption had been granted, and under certain circumstances to call upon school boards to recall such exemption or to take steps to improve the attendance. The last part of the clause was— If the said school board fail to do so within a reasonable time, it shall be lawful for the Department to withhold or refuse the Parliamentary grant made to the said school board under Section 67 of the Education (Scotland) Act, 1872.

In Article 19 B (6) of the Code of 1901 these grants were given according to the average attendance of children whose names were entered on the school register, and such cases as those mentioned in the letter he had read would reduce the average. It was a pity that neither the Scottish Education Department nor the Lord Advocate had noticed this fact; and, while he had no intention of opposing the Third Reading of the Bill, he hoped the Lord Advocate would give an assurance that these grants would not be injuriously affected in the manner he had explained.

MR. RENSHAW (Renfrewshire, W.)

I should like to ask the Lord Advocate to consider whether, in view of the fact that the English Act which passed a few years ago limits the age for casual employment to eleven years, it would not be possible in another place to amend the present Bill, so as to allow casual employment in the case of children between the ages of eleven and fourteen years, as that seems to be the only point to which serious exception has been taken. Another appeal I desire to make is in consequence of the remarks of the hon. Member for Mid Lanark. The hon. Member pointed out that the words of the Bill as they now stand in Clause 4 might be capable of leading to difficulties in regard to the authority of the school board under section 7 of the Education (Scotland) Act, 1878. By that section power was given to the school board to deal with children who were to be employed in temporary occupation. The words at the end of Section 4 in this Bill are to this effect— The Acts specified in the schedule to this Act are hereby repealed to the extent mentioned in the third column thereof and as from the commencement of this Act, and so much of any Act as is inconsistent with this Act is hereby repealed. I do think there is a possibility of a difficulty arising in connection with that, and I will ask whether those words might not be altogether omitted, or, if they cannot, in the opinion of the right hon. Gentleman, be so omitted, whether they might not be modified, or some reference to the Act of 1878 introduced, to show that the provisions of this Bill are to be read along with the first part of the Act of 1878. If that was done, I think it would clear up this difficulty—which is a real difficulty, and one which it must be in the interest of the school board authority to avoid. The other points in which I am specially interested I had an opportunity of placing before the House when the Bill was considered on Report. I still regret that the educational test in regard to exemption has been entirely got rid of, and I also feel that difficulties may arise in the case of some of the voluntary schools which would have been avoided if the powers which I have suggested of granting exemption had been given to the voluntary schools on the same conditions as to the school boards. Even in its changed form, I welcome the Bill as a businesslike and useful measure, and one which will be a great benefit to the progress of education in Scotland, and I would appeal to the hon Member for South-west Manchester to withdraw his Amendment, and allow the Bill to be read a third time without a division.


I generally agree with my hon. friend the Member for Mid Lanark, who always speaks with information, and often discovers points which have been overlooked, but I cannot concur in his observations to-day. The hon. Member complained of the alterations which have been made in the Bill since it was introduced. There are alterations and alterations, but I decidedly think that the alterations made in this Bill have been valuable improvements. The raising the age limit from eleven to twelve is very important, and it only gives effect in Scotland, after the lapse of several years, to that to which the Government committed themselves at the conference at Berlin. I hope the Lord Advocate will stand by this Amendment. The hon. Member also objects to the substitution of the age limit for examinations, but it is really only a simpler and more direct mode of attaining the same end as was proposed in the original Bill. The object is to be assured that before children leave school they shall have had a certain reasonable degree of instruction. We hear much about continuation schools. I have always regarded the fact that there is a necessity for continuation schools as a reproach to our elementary system. If our elementary and secondary systems of education were as strong as they ought to be, there would be far less need for continuation schools than there now is. At present, children leave school after attaining a certain smattering of education; they go a certain length; but we find that, after the lapse of three or four years, they have forgotten almost all that they learnt at school, and they go back to the continuation schools, where they have to receive again a certain amount of elementary education. Therefore I think the raising of the age limit is most desirable. I have not the same regard for examinations as my hon. friend apparently has. I always thank God that I was born before the age of examinations. Examinations necessitate a great amount of cram. Examinations and cram go together, and, while quick witted children can often pass through fairly well, examinations are too commonly not a satisfactory test either of attainments or of ability. The Bill as it now stands—

Attention called to the fact that forty Members were not present. House counted, and, forty Members being found present—

SIR JOHN LENG (continuing)

With regard to the alterations in the exemptions clause, I am glad to see them in the Bill. The Lord Advocate is no doubt aware that under the regulations as they now stand in many cases the labour certificate, which may be obtained on the assertion by the parent that it is a necessity, has been very much abused. I know of cases in which several hundreds of children have obtained these certificates, and it has been ascertained that, so far from the parents being in necessitous circumstances, they were in receipt of good wages, and the family income was such that there was not the least occasion for them to exploit the labour of their young children, or to obtain the few shillings of wages which they would earn by taking advantage of the labour certificate. The provision that such boards should keep a record of the circumstances under which these exemptions are granted is, I think, an excellent one, and I only hope the Department will keep a careful watch over the granting of the certificates, in order to see that they are not given to parents whose circumstances are such that they are quite unnecessary. I therefore give a general support to the Bill as it has been amended under the guidance of the Lord Advocate, but I think it is worthy of his consideration whether he should not follow the suggestion of the hon. Member for Renfrewshire and allow a certain elasticity with regard to the casual employment of children in certain localities and under certain circumstances in work of a limited and healthy nature. I have known instances of boys being employed between the hours of six and eight in the morning in a perfectly healthy employment, which, while enabling them to bring in a few shillings for their parents, has not disabled them from giving due attention to their lessons when at school, and these boys have benefited very much from that employment, and have risen from comparatively humble positions to be good citizens and prosperous men. With that single suggestion, I have much pleasure in giving my cordial support to the Bill in its amended form, hoping that the right hon. and learned Gentleman will stand by the Bill in its main principles, simply giving effect in another place to such reasonable suggestions as have been made.

MR. BANBURY (Camberwell, Peckham)

I should not have intervened in this debate but for the remarks of hon. Members who seemed to be under the impression that English Members ought not to express any opinion upon matters which have to do with Scotland. That seems to me to be an extraordinary opinion to hold. I have always understood that the function of Members of this House was to express their views, not only upon questions affecting the particular constituencies with which they are connected or the portion of the country which they represent, but also upon questions affecting the country as a whole. There can be no doubt that education interests English Members just as much as it does Scotch Members. The hon. Member for the Leith Burghs said that this Bill had received as full consideration as it was possible for any Bill to do, but I do not think he quite grasped the point of the objection of my hon. friend the Member for South-west Manchester. I believe that my hon. friend had no particular objection to the Bill as it stood; his objection is based entirely upon the manner in which it has been dealt with in its passage through the House. No doubt the Bill was considered on Report, but it had no consideration on the Second Reading stage. The Bill is absolutely different from when it was read a second time. Not only is it absolutely different, but there is nothing left except the title. In this particular Bill there is nothing in the title, whereas we had had recent instances in which everything was in the title. Therefore, as a matter of fact, this discussion is a Second Reading, and not a Third Reading discussion at all. After the remarks of the hon. Member for Leith Burghs, I was much surprised to hear one of the most distinguished and certainly one of the most painstaking Scotch Members—the hon. Member for Mid Lanark—in an extremely able and forcible speech, eriticise nearly every clause in the Bill. I understand that the Scotch Members were unanimous on this matter; and surely, if that is not the case, the hon. Member for South-west Manchester was discharging a patriotic duty in moving his Amendment to-day. The hon. Member told us that under this. Bill if a boy is just under the age of twelve years he will be unable to take part in any casual employment, even though that employment in no way interferes with the time he has to pass at school or with his making sufficient progress in those studies which are a necessity to every citizen, whether English, Scotch, or Irish. I was extremely astonished to learn that educational statistics in Scotland are now not as good as those in England. I have always understood that if there was one thing more than another in which the Scotch excelled it was in the fact that their education was so very much superior to the English. Whether the Scotch people are quicker and sharper, and are able to learn more with less attendance, than the English people, I do not know, but I have always been told, especially by Scotch Members, that Scotland was far in advance of England in this matter. I do not object in any way to the Third Reading of this Bill, and, as I say, I should not have intervened in the debate but for the introduction of the extremely dangerous principle to which I have referred. I only hope the Government will remember the pertinent remarks made by the First Lord of the Treasury a fortnight or three weeks ago. When discussing whether or not it was right to take the time of private Members, he pointed out the great dangers and difficulties which might arise if what has now taken place was to occur frequently—that is to say, the taking up by the Government of a private Member's Bill, altering the whole of the measure, leaving nothing but the title, and then passing the Bill under the guise of its being a private Member's measure.

MR. PARKER SMITH (Lanarkshire, Partick)

I am sure that all Scotch Members will welcome the interest taken by English Members in Scotch questions, as this is an Imperial Parliament, and we do not wish to have the benches empty but for the Members directly concerned, as is usually the case when Scotch matters are discussed. The hon. Member for Dundee asked for greater elasticity with regard to casual employment. That is not my criticism of the Bill at all. I do not think the Bill goes far enough in the way of regulating casual employment; it does not prevent the casual employment of any child of any age whatever except during certain hours. That is not enough. But opinion is waking up in Scotland. School boards and other bodies have been considering the matter; various reports have recently been made; a striking report has recently been circulated by the Women's Labour Association; and I believe that Scotland will presently be ready to go a good deal further than this Bill goes in the way of regulating the casual employment of children both in the early hours of the morning and when they are of a tender age. I disagree altogether with the hon. Member for Renfrewshire in hoping that the age will be lowered from twelve to eleven years. The age as it stands has been before the country for some time; it was the age that was in the Government Bill of last year; it has been considered by the public as well as by the school boards, and, as far as I know, there has been hardly any objection taken to it. The difficulties which the big school boards have raised have been in quite another direction. Their criticism has been directed against the amount of discretion which is put into their hands, but which I think was rightly and properly left to them. The Government may take it that Scotch opinion is sufficiently advanced to accept the Bill as it stands. My hon. friend opposite is to be congratulated upon the success of the Bill—upon his luck, in the first place, and, in the second place, upon the readiness with which he has adapted himself to the suggestions of the Government. The Bill is not quite the same as when introduced, but the question raised was a very important one, and one which it was the desire of all of us should be dealt with in the most satisfactory manner, and I think the hon. Member is to be congratulated upon having as the result of his initiative a Bill which will be a satisfactory and important addition to the educational legislation of the country.


I think the time has now come when I should reply to the criticisms which have been made, and, of course, I am bound to give the first place to the Amendment actually before the House. My hon. friend the Member for South-west Manchester characterises the changes which have been made as extensive and ill-considered alterations. So far as their being extensive is concerned, it is quite true that taking the words in the Bill the criticism is well-founded. In fact, mention has been made that the title alone is unchanged, but the hon. Member apparently was not aware that even that had been amended by the hon. Baronet the Member for Wigan. The question really is whether the Bill deals properly with the subject to deal with which it was originally introduced. I have nothing to do with the question of order. If these Amendments had been out of order they would no doubt have been objected to by the noble Lord who presided over the deliberations of the Committee. I am, of course, perfectly satisfied with the decisions to which he came. As regards the scope of the Bill, the idea of the Bill was to regulate the attendance of young children at school in Scotland. In my speech on the Second Reading of the measure I stated, on behalf of the Government, that we were in sympathy with the object of the Bill, but that we thought it ought to be achieved in a rather different way to that proposed. All that has been done by the Amendments introduced in Committee has been to make good the various objections which, on the particulars at my disposal, I urged in my speech on the Second Reading.

The hon. Member for South-west Manchester asked me a good many pertinent questions. In his dissertation on the Bill he seems to have become particularly entangled in the schedule, and he was very anxious with regard to the different repeals. He first fixed his attention on the 69th section of the Act of 1872. He saw that that had been repealed, but that the second part of it we did not touch. He particularly asked why, as we repealed Section 69, we did not repeal Section 22 of the Act of 1878. I believe my answer will be perfectly satisfactory to the hon. Member. That section has already been repealed by Section 88 of the Local Government Act, 1889. I might take his other questions in the same spirit, and the same answer would really apply to many of them. I ask him to consider the matter from the point of view of drafting. What was the state of affairs when he had to face the Bill introduced by the hon. Member for North Aberdeen? There are two questions which have been dealt with by this Bill—first, that of the duty of the parent to provide education for his children, with possible exemptions, and the duty of prosecution which lies upon the school board in case of default on the part of the parent; and, secondly, the question of total or partial casual employment. So far as these two matters rested, the state of affairs was this. Dealing in the first place with the question of providing education, there was, first of all, Section 69 of the Act of 1872; one half of that had been amended by Section 4 of the Act of 1883, and the other half had been repealed by a section of the Local Government Act of 1889. Then as regards casual employment, first of all, there was Section 72 of the Act of 1872; that had been repealed and other words substituted by Section 5 of the Act of 1878; Sub-section 2 of that Section 5 had been amended by Section 6 of the Act of 1883; and the Bill of my hon. friend opposite proposed to re-enact that Section 6 of the Act of 1883 which had amended Sub-section 2 of Section 5 of the Act of 1878, which had superseded Section 72 of the Act of 1872. There is no subject that I have heard descanted on in this House more often than the inadvisability of legislation by reference, and we thought it much simpler to make this Bill complete in itself, and to sweep away these various subsidiary sub-sections amended and re-amended, and to reintroduce in Section 1 of the Bill the provision casting upon the parent the duty of providing elementary education between certain years. I think that explanation will justify the particular form of the Bill as it now stands.

As I am on the subject of the first section, I may say a word as to the interposition of the noble Lord the Member for Greenwich. He is afraid that this might have a curious effect upon the reading of the statutes affecting other parts of the kingdom. It has been already pointed out that the expression "elementary education" is no new term. It appeared as far back as in the Act of 1872. But I want merely to administer a little comfort to the noble Lord, and to say that I do not think he need be discouraged by what the hon. Baronet said. As to the suggestion that this Bill, if passed into law, might be quoted as defining elementary education as meaning only reading, writing and arithmetic, the matter really does not stand there in that way. This section deals only with the duty of parents, and not at all with the subjects which the school boards may teach. When the subjects which the school boards may teach are dealt with the words "elementary education" are not used at all.


was understood to explain that the meaning of his argument was that the words where specially used appeared to define "elementary education" as a legislative expression.


As a legislative expression, possibly, as to the duty on the parent. But you have there a perfectly different set of considerations from the question of the sort of education a school board may provide out of the rates. In other words, I am not at all afraid of a Cockerton Judgment being raised in Scotland under our Education Acts.

I will pass now, Sir, to the speech of the hon. Member for Mid Lanark. What is it the hon. Member objects to in the Bill? He says we have taken advantage of the hon. Member who introduced the Bill. I do not quite understand that phrase. We have certainly not taken advantage of the hon. Member without his being fully aware of what we were doing and giving his active support. The hon. Member for Mid Lanark also complains that there was no Second Reading speech on the Bill. So far as I am concerned, if the hon. Member did me the honour to listen to the speech I delivered on that occasion he will remember that it was upon the exact lines of the Amendments which have been introduced. There was no Amendment introduced into the Bill that I did not deal with in my Second Reading speech. The hon. Member further complains of the abolition of tests by standards, The hon. Member is, of course, perfectly entitled to his opinion, but in this matter it is certainly against not only the view of the Scotch Members, but also the general educational ideas of Scotland as expressed in the conference of large school boards, to which reference was made in the last debate on this Bill. The truth is that, education ally considered, we have thought it a great benefit to get rid of the labour certificate and to have no competition with the merit certificate. The hon. Member referred to the fewness of the merit certificates. There are not a great many as compared with the total number of children, but the number is steadily increasing, and it is our object that it should increase. Undoubtedly the competition of the labour certificate, as far as it went, was detrimental to the merit certificate. Then the hon. Gentleman says that under this Bill we shall not have uniformity of treatment. We consider that to be a very great advantage. In the question of employment you have always two considerations to bear in mind, both perfectly legitimate and reasonable in their way. You have to consider the interests of the education of the child, and also the legitimate interest of the family so far as its support is contributed to by the earnings of the child. Therefore, so far from looking upon the consideration of the individual circumstances of the particular child and its family at a disadvantage, we regard it as one of the great advantages of the Bill. I will not follow the hon. Member into the statistics which he gave with regard to attendances. All I can say is that his view that Scotland is "behind England," whatever that may mean, is not generally shared either by hon. Members for Scotland or, from what I hear on these benches, by the English Members. I would also point out that this idea of prohibiting at a tender age the employment of children is not brought forward solely with the view of increasing the number of school attendances; it is brought forward with the view of having the child in a condition to profit by what it is taught in the school. That is a very different thing.

The hon. Member for Ross and Cromarty asked me a question dealing with Highland schools. It seems to me that the question he raised is one in connection with the Code rather than with this Bill. But I shall be very glad to receive from him the representation made to him by the school board, and, at all events, have inquiries made in the proper quarters. The hon. Member for Renfrewshire made an appeal to me upon two subjects. First of all, he wants the age below which casual employment is prohibited altered from twelve to eleven years. The hon. Member for the Partick Division has already made one answer to that appeal when he pointed out that casual employment as a whole is not prohibited, but only casual employment during certain hours. Upon this matter of the age I do not want the measure to be too stiff, but at the same time I should not be inclined to change the age unless it was shown that there was a real body of opinion the other way. The other point brought forward by the hon. Member was with regard to the application of Section 7 of the Act of 1878. I feel that it perhaps ought to be made more clear. The idea certainly is that Section 7 should apply, but it is not one of those sections which have been repealed, and I should take care that in another place the vague words "and so much of any Act as is inconsistent with this Act is hereby repealed" shall be taken out. I think if we do that and put in at the end of the citation clause a provision that this Act should be read along with the several Education Acts, we should sufficiently secure the object the hon. Member has in view. I think I have dealt with every matter which has been raised, and I hope the Bill may now be read a third time without a division.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill read the third time, and passed.