§ [THIRD READING].
§ Order for Third Reading read.
§ MR. PIRIE (Aberdeen, N.)
Even at the risk of detaining the House for a few minutes, I wish to intervene in order to show that the promoters of this Bill are not wanting in gratitude for the great assistance which the Government have given to the measure. Their thanks are sincerely tendered to the Lord Advocate 816 for what he has done. I do not conceal the fact that we rather rejoice that the Bill now before the House is a very different one to that which was brought up for Second Reading; it is a much more beneficent measure; it is more wide reaching, and it will do much more good to the country than the original Bill could have done. It would have been almost presumptuous for any privates Member to have thought he had a chance of passing such a Bill without the aid of the Government. When it first came before the House it was merely a Bill to prohibit casual employment in Scotland under the age of eleven years, and factory employment under the age of twelve. The Bill as it now stands assimilates both classes of employment and prohibits any employment of children in Scotland under, the age of twelve. Then as regards the methods of exemption; the original Bill proposed an educational standard, whereas I am happy to say the Bill now proposes to give the power of exemption to the school boards of Scotland—to, in other words, the people of Scotland, under certain conditions. These are very far and wide reaching changes, and I think the House will agree that they are changes for the better. It was with the knowledge of the great changes that have come over the Bill that the promoters took special care in no way to hurry the passage of the Bill through the House. The intervals which have elapsed between the different stages have been long ones, and in fact the principles embodied in the Bill have been before the country since last session. The Second Reading of this Bill took place on the 1st May, and since the 10th of that month the Bill has been in print in its present form before the country. It is a striking fact that in spite of the change that has come over the Bill there is practical unanimity in favour of it not only in this House, but throughout Scotland. After all, the Bill is merely the fulfilment in the United Kingdom of the pledges entered into by Great Britain at the Berlin Conference of 1890, and it is a matter for reflection, upon which I will not dwell now, whether it is politic to have allowed nearly twelve years to pass before the pledge was given effect to. But the difficulties of legislation are such that 817 perhaps it has been impossible to act sooner. Neither one political party nor the other can claim immunity from blame for this delay, and I would therefore urge on Scottish opinion to make up for the years that have been lost in the struggle of educational competition in which every nation during the past twelve years has made such great strides. We have a good deal to make up and I trust that Scottish public opinion will not fall behind in the battle. I have said that the thanks of the promoters are due to the Government. Perhaps they deserve some slight apology from me for having exposed them to the gentle badinage of the Lord Advocate on account of some ambiguous representation I made. The promoters have also to tender their thanks to two hon. Members of the House who have been specially instrumental in furthering the passage of the Bill through the House and in framing it as it now stands. I allude to the hon. Baronet the Member for the College Division of Glasgow and to the hon. Member for North Ayrshire, whose interest in educational matters the promoters gratefully recognise. I trust that the House to-day will, without undue delay—although perhaps there may be occasion found for delay not directly connected with the Bill itself—despatch this measure on its last journey to another place. I would fain hope, too, that one result of this Bill will be to induce England to follow the example set in it, so that instead of our occupying a second place, as we have done during the last two or three years, in educational matters, the United Kingdom will be in the forefront. I would further hope that we in Scotland may thoroughly realise the increased responsibilities, which this measure throws upon us. These increased opportunities, coupled with the unprecedented gift of Mr. Carnegie,* which has electrified the world, will make this year stand out as a remarkable one in the history of education in the United* Mr. Andrew Carnegie, a Scottish-American manufacturer, devoted the sum of ten million dollars to "improving and extending the opportunities for scientific study and research in the universities of Scotland, his native country, and for rendering attendance at the universities more available to the deserving youth of that country." Particulars are given in The Times of 8th June, 1901, page 16.818 Kingdom, and it behoves the people of Scotland to take full advantage of them, and to show that the good a nation can exercise is not influenced merely by numbers or by wealth, but consists more than ever in maintaining a friendly, brotherly rivalry with other nations, and in doing all that in them lies to improve the moral welfare of mankind. I beg to move.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read the third time."—(Mr. Pirie.)
§ MR. GALLOWAY (Manchester, S.W.)
In bringing forward the Amendment I am about to move I desire to say that I am not animated by any spirit of deeply-rooted objection to the principle of the Bill as it originally passed its Second Reading in this House. I am sure that none of us on this side of the House desire to do anything to impede the progress of education in any part of the United Kingdom, and still less would we do anything which would prevent the speedy carrying out of the great benefits which the hon. Member suggests as likely to accrue from the passing of this measure. But, if I needed any justification for the motion I am about to make, I should find it in the remarks of the hon. Member himself, when he candidly admitted that this was not the Bill which was read a second time and when he added that the thanks of the promoters and himself were due to the Government for having taken the matter in hand. He said the Lord Advocate was responsible for the alterations which had been made, and, in short, he put the proposition before the House that the measure we are now asked to read a third time under the auspices of the Lord Advocate is altogether different from the private Member's Bill which we read a second time. Now, that is a somewhat extraordinary position, on which I shall have some remarks to make. I wish, however, first to refer to another observation which fell from the hon. Member. He said that this Bill had been before the public in its present form for quite a long time. I at first thought that there must have been two Bills, but when he informed us that this long period of time dated from 819 the extraordinary date—the 10th May this year—or six weeks ago—
§ MR. GALLOWAY
The hon. Member said that this Bill was printed on 10th May. I would ask the House to remember another point in connection with this Bill. It was referred to the Grand Committee on Law, and as far as I have been able to gather from the debates which took place when Mr. Gladstone proposed to set up Grand Committees, his idea was that more or less non-contentious measures should be referred to such Committees, with a view to the consideration of legal points and to the making of any alterations of a technical character which might be necessary in order to carry out the law, and that, thereby, some relief should be afforded to the congestion of business in the House itself. I venture to think it was never contemplated by Mr. Gladstone or by the House that a Bill should be sent to a Grand Committee containing one set of principles, and returned to this House embodying another and entirely different set of principles. I propose to describe the various stages through which this Bill has passed, and then to move, "That this House refuses to accept a Bill which effects extensive and ill-considered alterations in the law, not contained in the Bill as presented for Second Reading." I hope, as I said in my opening remarks, that these words will not be taken as indicative, in any sense, of a wish to retard the course of education in Scotland, but as conveying an expression of opinion from this House that this is not the way in which it was intended or desired by the House that legislative changes should be carried into effect.
The Bill, as it was presented for Second Reading, was a very short one. It was contained in about half a page, and on the back of it there was a memorandum explaining its object. That memorandum stated that the proposal of the Bill was to raise the standard of partial exemption from school attendance from the third to the fourth, and the total exemption from the fifth to 820 the sixth standard, provided that no child might be employed in any casual employment under the age of eleven instead of ten as at present, and that no child might be employed in any factory or workshop under the age of twelve, instead of as at present. It was proposed to carry that out by certain alterations in the existing law. Now I hope it is quite clear to the House that the original intention of the framers of the Bill was that, according to the standard named in that Bill, partial exemption should be granted from school attendance. There were no other means suggested. I think it would have been in order, on the motion for the Second Reading, had one so desired, to move an Amendment, the effect of which would have been that the House refused to sanction a Bill which granted partial exemption from school attendance according to standard, and which did not give the right of partial exemption to the school board. That would have been a question of principle and differentiation between the school board and the standard. I venture to draw the conclusion From that, that the main feature carrying out the principle of the Bill has been entirely and extensively altered by the Grand Committee, and that the Bill, as it has been returned to us, instead of consisting only of half a page of printed matter, contains two and a half pages and provides for a number of repeals of the present law, while it transfers or rather gives authority for partial exemption from the schools to the school board. It does away in this respect with the control of the Government inspectors. I should like first to point out the inconvenience of this kind of legislation. It may be necessary from time to time to repeal sections of Acts of Parliament in order to properly carry out the law, but surely there can be no possible reason why, in a small Bill of this kind, we should start repealing well-considered Acts of Parliament passed a number of years ago—Acts of Parliament against which it has never been alleged that anything has cropped up in the working of them to render desirable their repeal. There is no suggestion that these Acts have not been effectual for the purposes for which they were intended. Now what is it that it is proposed to repeal?—35 and 36 Vict., 821 chap. 62, Education (Scotland) Act 1872, Sees. 69 and 73. I would ask the House to mark this, for it seems to me to be a very serious matter. Section 69 of the Act of 1872 provides that a parent must provide elementary education for his children between the ages of five and thirteen, and that if he be unable to pay for it, he must apply to the parochial board of the parish to pay the fees, which they must do if satisfied as to the parent's inability. But it goes further, and provides that no payment shall be made or refused on condition of the child attending any school in receipt of the parliamentary grant other than such as may be selected by the parent. That is Section 69. But when we turn to the Bill as amended by the Grand Committee, what do we find? The first clause of the Bill says it shall be the duty of every parent to provide efficient elementary education in reading, writing, and arithmetic for his children between the ages of five and fourteen years. Thus Section, 69 is repealed, and the children of unfortunate parents who are unable to pay are brought under an entirely new state of affairs. This proposal, in fact, entirely alters the law. I have no doubt that my right hon. and learned friend may be able to show some very excellent reasons why this has been done, but, so far at any rate, we have had no explanation, and I think the House is entitled to ask for one. Further, I would like to ask the Lord Advocate why he has not repealed Section 22 of the Act of 1878, which provides for the class of children whose parents are unable to pay the school fees. The effect of the repeal of Section 73 will be to abolish the necessity for obtaining the Government inspector's certificate as a condition of exemption. I suppose the right hon. and learned Gentleman will say that the reason for that is that the right of exemption is to be transferred to the school boards of Scotland. I do not understand why, although it may be necessary thus to transfer that power, it should also be necessary to take the power away from the Government inspector. It may be undesirable that there should be two authorities, but I should have thought the Government inspector was, at all events, a man in whom confidence can be placed. So 822 far as I can see, therefore, there is no reason why this power should be curtailed, even if at the same time it is given to the school boards of Scotland.
Now I come to the proposal to repeal 41 and 42 Viet., chap. 78. The right hon. Gentleman proposes to repeal Sections 5 and 6. By Section 5 the age limit is fixed at ten years, and it is provided that between the ages of ten and fourteen no child shall be employed who has not obtained a certificate under Section 73 of the Act of 1872 that he is attending school under the provisions of any Act relating to the education of children employed in labour or under a minute of the Scottish Education Department. Section 6 deals with casual employment and the age limit, and there is the same provision as to obtaining a certificate as under Section 73 of the Act of 1872. Now all these powers are to be placed in the hands of the school boards. There is to be no question of a standard raised, and I do not myself understand why this difference has been made. Why should the standard be abolished? Why should not the school board have been given power to fix a standard? There are four other sections of the Act of 1883 which it is proposed to repeal. When Section 4 was passed it amended Section 69 of the Act of 1872, and it limited the parent's obligation to cases where no certificate had been obtained under the 73rd section. It raised, too, the age limit to fourteen, and that it is now proposed to repeal. Again I would ask the Lord Advocate why in a Bill of this kind, dealing as it did with exemption by standard, he repeals sections of the Act of 1883 against the working of which, so far as I know, no complaint has been made. Section 6, which it is also proposed to repeal, is the section which, under the present Bill as originally drawn, the hon. Member proposed to amend. It amended Section 5 of the Act of 1878 by introducing as an additional case in which partial exemption from school might be granted the case where a child had passed the third standard, and was attending a public elementary school in accordance with the provisions of Section 21 of the Factory and Workshops Act, 1878. Again I will ask the right hon. and learned Gentleman why it is proposed to 823 repeal this section, and why it could not have been left in existence, even although power was at the same time to be given collaterally to school boards. The other two sections are not, I think, very material. What I want to point out to the House is that whether the Lord Advocate can or cannot justify these repeals—and I have no doubt he can—there are two points to be remembered in connection with them. The first is that the repeals were not proposed in the Bill as originally drawn. It is problematical if the Bill would even have passed had it been originally presented in the form in which it now stands. I will not venture to give an opinion on that subject, but this I am entitled to say, that the Bill was not read a second time with these repeals in it; and if we are going to allow Bills to come down from the Grand Committee making material alterations in the law, and if in this connection I use the words "ill-considered," I do so in the sense that they have not been fully considered, and that the House has had no opportunity afforded it of considering them on the motion for the Second Reading—I do not wish for one moment to suggest that the right hon. Gentleman himself has not fully considered them—I can only say I think it is very unfortunate that a new precedent should thus be established in respect of private Members' Bills. I have thought it desirable that the House should have clearly and fully before it the proposals now contained in this Bill as to which no explanation was given by the hon. Member in moving the Third Reading.
The new proposals are that a parent shall be compelled to provide education for his child between the ages of five and fourteen years. That, at all events, is a new principle. There were in previous Acts certain conditions under which a parent might be relieved. Those conditions are now to be repealed, and what the right hon. Gentleman proposes to do in the cases of parents who are not pecuniarily able to provide education for their children I do not know. At all events, we are entitled to ask for an explanation. Then I have another question. Section 3 of the new Bill provides that no person shall take into employment a child under twelve years of age, or 824 in other cases between twelve and fourteen years of age, unless he shall have obtained a certificate of exemption from the school board of the district, and also that no child under twelve, or between twelve and fourteen, who has not been so exempted, shall be employed in any casual employment as defined by Section 6 of the Act of 1878. That is to say, instead of amending, as was originally proposed, Section 6 of the Act of 1883, the Bill introduces a procedure which was not contained in it when brought on for Second Reading. It proposes to do away with the certificate of the Government inspector; it does away with the section of the Factory and Workshops Act, 1878, which formerly applied, and with regard to the third standard it does away with all limit of the Scotch Education Department fixing the number of attendances to be made. Section 3 lays down the lines on which the school board is to grant exemptions, and the control which it is to be subject to. I do not say that this is not quite right and proper to be put in the Bill, but at all events this much we are entitled to ask from the Lord Advocate, namely, a full explanation of the new provisions introduced in the Grand Committee. I want also to ask the right hon. and learned Gentleman, with regard to the operation of Section 18 of the Factory and Workshops Act, which prohibits the employment of children under twelve, whereas under the Act of 1891 the age limit is eleven, why he has not proposed to amend that Act. Is the letter of the statute to over-ride the form? That is a legal question I cannot answer. The hon. Member for North Aberdeen admitted in his speech that the Lord Advocate had taken this Bill under his wing. That is the real reason for my Amendment. We are asked to-day to affirm the principle that a private Member's Bill may be referred to a Standing Committee, which may absolutely revolutionise and alter its contents. This seems to me to be a very important matter. Only on the 11th of this month the Leader of the House told us—when making his motion giving the Government all the time of the House—how far-reaching would be the effect of such proceedings as these which we are now asked to sanction. He first pointed out how 825 short often was the discussion on Private Bills on Wednesday afternoons, even when such Bills might have for their object the carrying out of far-reaching constitutional revolutions. He referred to the fact that several Bills of wide importance had been discussed and divided upon after a debate lasting only from 12.15 to 5.30, and he pointed out that Government measures of comparatively minor importance sometimes occupied two or three days of Parliamentary time. He showed conclusively in that speech what would be the result of adopting proceedings such as were proposed in regard to the Sale of Intoxicating Liquors to Children Bill and the Pure Beer Bill. In taking the action I have, I have no desire to delay the course of education in Scotland or in Great Britain, but I do wish the House to have an opportunity of expressing once and for all its disapproval of such proceedings as have taken place in regard to this Bill, and of affirming that a private Member shall be responsible for his own Bill, and that the Government shall not take it under its wing, either in Grand Committee or when it is down for Third Reading. I beg to move the Amendment standing in my name.
§ LIEUT.-COLONEL PILKINGTON (Lancashire, Newton)
seconded the motion. When the Bill was last before the House he entered a protest against it, and he still objected to children being treated differently in England and in Scotland in regard to the age at which they might accept employment. Legislation on this subject should go side by side for the two countries, and he might remind the House that he objected strongly to Mr. Robson's Bill, chiefly on the ground that it dealt entirely with children who were in the employment of employers by whom the law was being strictly kept, and that violations of the law were confined to casual labour. Clause 2 of this Bill sanctioned casual labour, and that was one of his chief objections to it. He held that the Government ought to see that the law affecting children was the same in Scotland as it was in England and Ireland. The conditions obtaining in the two countries should be exactly the same, both as regarded inspection and in respect of casual labour.
To leave out from the word 'That' to the end of the Question, in order to add the words 'this House refuses to accept a Bill which effects extensive and ill-considered alterations in the law not contained in the Bill as presented on Second Reading.'"—(Mr. Galloway.)
§ Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ *MR. MUNRO FERGUSON (Leith Burghs)
It is impossible that any measure should have received fuller consideration than the Bill which is now before the House; with the exception of the hon. Member for Mid Lanark and the hon. Member for Ross and Cromarty, the whole of the Scotch Members are strongly in favour of it. I know of very few who have any antipathy to the principles of this measure; there was a great rush of Scotch Members to go on the Committee of Law, not all of whom were able to get there, but whether they got there or not they followed the Bill very closely and desire it to succeed. I think it is a matter for congratulation that a Bill promoted by independent Members should have been allowed to reach its present stage. Co-operation upon Scottish education has been no uncommon incident in our past history, and I think it augurs well for the future that we should have made such rapid progress with the measure before the House, and so repudiated, at any rate, our responsibility for any defect in the educational equipment of Scotland. The responsibility for measures such as this has shifted more completely upon the shoulders of private Members of late years. With regard to legislation direct from the Scottish Office, the prospects of their having sufficient time to promote legislation are not hopeful, which is much to be deplored; but this Bill is a step towards the organisation of secondary education. This has been a fruitful year, and we know the question of the organisation of secondary education is before the Scottish Education Department, and I certainly hope that another session will not be allowed to pass without, the same co-operation in educational matters, and I am sure the passing of this Bill without difficulty will afford a sense of general 827 security that there will be general progress.
§ LORD HUGH CECIL (Greenwich)
said there was one clause in this Bill which he read with great surprise, and which he thought was of considerable legislative importance. The first clause was—It shall be the duty of every parent to provide efficient elementary education in reading, writing, and arithmetic for his children who are between five and fourteen years of age.The marginal note to this clause was—Parents to provide efficient elementary education for their children.The House was passing this Bill through its Third Reading, and they would, if the other House passed it, give legislative sanction to the principle which he believed had been violently contested in this House, that "elementary education" should be defined as "reading, writing, and arithmetic." He suggested that this restricted definition in the Bill, if passed into law, might be quoted hereafter in English courts of law as expressing the latest mind of Parliament on the subject. He commended to the notice of the promoters of the Bill that elementary education would be treated as having been defined afresh by this Bill.
§ LORD EDMOND FITZMAURICE (Wiltshire, Cricklade)
said he only rose because of the comments which had been made on the Standing Committee on Law, otherwise he would not be guilty as an Englishman of the rash conduct of attempting to interfere with the details of Scotch education. He did not intend to discuss the contention of the noble Lord the Member for Greenwich further than to say that the interpretation which he suggested would not be accepted by any English lawyer. If any complaint was made of the way in which this Bill was passed by the Standing Committee he was most to blame. As chairman of that Committee he considered very carefully whether the Amendments which had been placed upon the Paper by the Lord Advocate should be put into the Bill, and came to the conclusion that they should. All the alterations which were made in the Bill were quite in accordance with the procedure of a Committee 828 either of the House or upstairs, and nothing was done which could be described as making a new Bill. The wording was largely altered from first to last; there were alterations in details and machinery; but nobody could contend that a new Bill had been made. The Lord Advocate placed a large number of Amendments on the Paper, which no doubt reconstituted the Bill and made in certain details important alterations, but there was nothing in the Bill which was not in it before. When Mr. Gladstone commented upon the Standing Committee he said it was for the purpose of improving the law; this Bill as it had come down from the Committee was a very great improvement in the law, because from first to last it told its own story, and anybody who read it could understand it. There was not that mass of references to other Acts which was becoming every day the increasing curse of our legislation. When he admitted all these Amendments he felt he was acting in the spirit of the remarks of that great statesman, for he was improving the Bill in form, and in that way was acting in the direction of the principle laid down by Mr. Gladstone.
§ *SIR FRANCIS POWELL (Wigan)
said, as he was considerably interested; in this subject, the House would perhaps pardon him for making a few observations. He felt in some difficulty, inasmuch as he felt bound to dissent from his two colleagues the hon. Members for Lancashire in the criticisms which they had passed upon the Bill. From first to last there had been a separate series of statutes, one affecting England and another affecting Scotland; separate codes, passed year by year; and separate Education Departments existed; it seemed, therefore, rather late in the day to say we ought to have one and the same system. Such a method of legislation would be injurious to Scotland and mischievous to England, because in matters of education Scotland was setting England a bright example—an example he should wish to see followed less slowly and less reluctantly. There was no ground for complaint or any surprise. The Committee was well attended, and he was impressed with, their interest—their 829 enthusiasm—in respect to work which they had done. A week previously the Bill stood for Report stage; it had first place on the Paper, and those opposed to it had had every opportunity, if they so desired, of criticising it. The new print had been issued for very nearly a month and surely any hon. Member who was deeply interested in education could in the course of four weeks have formulated their objections, and have brought them before the House. He thought it was an unhappy circumstance that on the Third Reading of the Bill a motion of this kind should be made to pass a resolution which, if passed, would have the effect of staying the Bill, and would make it impossible to pass it this session.
§ MR. GALLOWAY
reminded the hon. Baronet the Member for Wigan that he had already stated that he had no wish to stop the progress of the Bill, but he thought it a Bill which should have been taken up by the Government.
§ *SIR FRANCIS POWELL
said he considered that the subject submitted to the Standing Committee was one with which it was eminently fitted to deal. It was a matter rather of administration than policy, and therefore eminently fitted for discussion before the Standing Committee on Law. The noble Lord the Member for Greenwich had made a remark with regard to elementary education, but that remark was made rather late in the day, seeing that by the Act of 1872, Section 69, it was provided that every parent should provide elementary education in reading, writing, and arithmetic for children between five and thirteen years of age. That had been the law in Scotland since 1872, and no lawyer had yet endeavoured to put a limited construction on those words. The Bill had not been taken over by the Government. He wished it had been. It was in the hands of private Members, and step by step it had met every difficulty which Bills of private Members met when their desire was an improvement in the law.
§ MR. CALDWELL (Lanarkshire, Mid)
said for the second time he found himself in disagreement with other Scotch Members. He was not in any way interested in any Bill which might 830 follow this on the Paper, and he merely spoke on account of the importance of this question in the case of Scotland. It had been asked why the Bill was not opposed at the Report stage; if that had been done the Paper would have been studded with Amendments, and he would not have been able to deal with the measure in a comprehensive manner, as one should do on Second Reading and the Report stage. The Bill was a simple one, raising two points—it raised the age and it raised the standard of exemption from Standard V. to Standard VI. That was a Bill which he would have cordially supported, but what happened to the Bill was this. The Government took advantage of the innocence of the hon. Member for North Aberdeen and cut out everything that was in it, everything but the standards. Hon. Members did not appreciate the effect such an alteration produced. According to the Bill, no child in Scotland would be able to be employed in any employment whatever under the age of twelve. Under the present law in Scotland children over eight could be employed during the harvest and the fisheries season, but under this Bill the school boards would have no power to give exemption to a boy eleven years and eleven months old. A boy under twelve could not deliver a can of milk or a newspaper in the morning. Scotland was often thought to be superior in its system of education to England, but the number of scholars on the roll of the elementary schools was 17.29 per cent. of the population, whereas in England it was 17.81; while the average attendance was 14.60 in England, and only 14.47 in Scotland. There had been progress in England in the matter of secondary and elementary education, and a retrogression in Scotland, with the result that Scotland had lost its old place in advance of England. Legislation of this kind would not bring children into the schools. He supposed there would soon be a proposal that no child should be compelled to get out of bed before eight o'clock in the morning. He was prepared to say that in 1872 Scotland was ahead of England in this matter, but she was behind now, and if hon. Members looked into the matter they would find Scotland was going back. 831 He ventured to say that if this Bill had been brought in by the Government it would have been rejected by the Scottish Members, and the Government would not have been able to carry it, and the only reason it was to be passed through now was because the Lord Advocate had taken advantage of the hon. Member for North Aberdeen. According to the policy of 1872, every parent was compelled to send his child to school, and certain standards of examination were laid down which every child should be made to pass. The policy of the law was to take care that the child was educated, and it was the first duty of schools and school boards to see that they were being educated. The result was that by individual examination they were able to test whether a child was being educated or not, but under this Bill individual examination was done away with altogether. He ventured to say that if this Bill passed into law the condition of things would be worse than before. Education would go back, and the position of the children would be that they would be idling their time.
§ *MR. WYLIE (Dumbartonshire)
As one who did not speak either on the Second Reading or the Report stage of this Bill, perhaps I may be permitted to say a few words in support of the Third Reading. I confess I was surprised to find that, in the first instance, the promoters of this Bill, with a knowledge of past events, did not aim at the greater advantages which are secured to the children of Scotland by the Amendments which have been introduced in Committee. I am in sympathy also with the clause which gives the school boards the power to grant exemptions to children between the ages of twelve and fourteen. I believe that some of the Scottish school boards are in favour of doing away with exemptions altogether. But I hope that they will continue to exercise this prerogative, especially in connection with the children of widows and infirm fathers. The Bill, as it now stands, is really only a part, but certainly an important part of the much more comprehensive scheme for education in Scotland which was approved by the Scottish Education Department and embodied their policy, and which came to us from the House of 832 Lords on the 28th of May, 1900. If that Bill had been passed, as it ought to have been, it would have come into operation in April of this year, but it was shelved, chiefly on the principle—which is I am afraid becoming rather a stereotyped principle in this House—that when occasion arises all Scotch business should be deferred to Irish or English business for the Government are very well aware that the Scottish Members are of a patient and long-suffering disposition, and that they will not clamour for their rights. There was probably another reason why the more comprehensive Scottish measure was not passed, namely, the complacent but delusive belief entertained by many Scottish Members, and also by some English Members, that Scotland occupies such a superior position in regard to education that it can very well afford to wait. The fact of the case is that the progress of elementary education in Scotland has relatively been very much inferior of late years to the progress in England.
I cannot, however, concur in the statement that elementary education in Scotland is actually inferior, because, judging by the percentages of those who cannot read or write, Scotland still maintains a leading place, but there is no doubt that compared with some of the Continental countries, notably Germany and Switzerland, Scotland has been steadily drifting into a back place as regards both elementary and secondary education. The Bill now before the House will completely remove the stigma which attaches to us of not having fulfilled the engagement entered into at the International Conference at Berlin that the minimum statutory age in this country should be twelve years. Even with the advance which this Bill will secure we are still very much behind those two Continental countries, because there the limit of age is thirteen years. This is not a satisfactory position for us to occupy. No country in the world has taken so much, advantage of the aid of machinery and other labour-saving appliances as this country has done, so much so that some years ago it was calculated that we had 220 horse-power per thousand of the population as against only one-half of I that amount in the country which came 833 next to us. So great was our manufacturing supremacy in many points that it was calculated that six British workmen could do the work of twenty-four Germans or Frenchmen, thirty-two Austrians, or fifty Spaniards. Our accumulated wealth per inhabitant also was nearly one-half greater than that of Germany or Switzerland, and I think it has been highly discreditable to this country that it should have allowed itself to lag so far behind these comparatively poorer Countries in regard to both elementary and secondary education. When the Bill similar to this for England was passing through the House I put an Amendment on the Paper to the effect that the standard should be raised to thirteen years, but at the request of the hon. Member for South Shields, and of other English educationists, who considered that such an Amendment might imperil the passing of the Bill, I withdrew it. I have found myself in a somewhat similar position in regard to the Scottish Bill In 1878, when the first enactment was made for limiting the age of children, the standard was fixed at eight years. How unnatural was the state of affairs that existed at that time may be inferred from the fact that children under eight years of age required to be protected by law from being sent to work. There has been steady progress since then. In 1879 the age was raised to nine years; in 1880 it was raised to ten years, at which point it has continued and will continue until this Bill comes into operation, and even then we shall still be a year behind two of the leading Continental countries.
The main object of this legislation is to improve the condition of the children physically and educationally, but from a purely economical point of view also it is very sound policy to give our children a thorough education, which can only be obtained by enabling them to remain long enough at school. The competition among the principal manufacturing and commercial nations of the world is fortunately now one not so much of physical drudgery as of mental ability, and I am glad to think that we are progressing in the matter of giving our children an opportunity of being able to cope with Continental countries in this respect. 834 This Bill has had the cordial support of my right hon. friend the Lord Advocate, and I would congratulate my hon. and gallant friend the Member for North Aberdeen upon the success of his efforts in this matter. I am glad that he has acknowledged the support he has received from the Lord Advocate, and I think we owe a great debt of gratitude to the right hon. Gentleman for the zealous manner in which he has taken up this Bill and for the able and almost indispensable services he has rendered in introducing Amendments and in giving the Bill the position in the business of the House which it now occupies. I am glad to learn that the Government intend to bring in an English Bill this session, and I hope that the very first Bill which they bring in in the following session will be a more comprehensive measure in regard to Scottish education. In this connection all Scottish Members are able gratefully to acknowledge that a wealthy and generous Scotsman, recognising the deficiencies of education in his own country, has come forward, with unprecedented liberality, to help to restore Scotland to the old leading position which it occupied for so many centuries. In conclusion, let me say that material wealth should be applied to the development of the intellectual, physical, and moral life of the people, and this Bill will have great effect in that direction. It will do something, but not all, to remove from us the discredit which attaches to us of allowing very much poorer countries to excel us in regard to both elementary and secondary education; it will help to increase our material prosperity by giving a broader basis for the secondary and scientific education which we are now finding absolutely necessary to enable us to maintain our commercial and manufacturing supremacy throughout the world; and it will help somewhat to increase the number of healthy, happy, and educated children throughout the country, to secure which should be one of the first aims of all good Government. I cordially support the Third Beading of the Bill.