§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ MR. PIRIE (Aberdeen, N.)
I feel sure that hon. Members who have been placed in the position I now happen to fill, that of moving the Second Reading of an important measure, will sympathise in the feelings of satisfaction I experienced this morning on finding no hostile Amendment on the Order Paper. I take that circumstance as a good omen for the success in all its stages of the measure I am about to lay before the House, and trust instead of an Amendment for the Second Reading to take place this day six months, that on this day eight months the measure may become the law of the land to which it refers. It is not, however, surprising that there should be no such opposition, seeing that the great reason which influenced me, having been fortunate in the ballot, in choosing this measure to bring before the the House was that it is essentially a non-party measure, and one the principle 324 of which was admitted by the House two years ago. The battle over the principle with which this Bill deals has been fought in this country, and, thanks to the Act initiated by my hon. friend the Member for South Shields in 1899, the victory won. All that remains now is to allow the principle to be extended to every part of the kingdom.
The object of the Bill is to increase juvenile training by diminishing juvenile labour, and the only possible source of contention is the method by which such an object should be carried out. The promoters of the Bill approach the question of the method to be adopted with an absolutely open mind, and with not only a willingness but a desire in every way to meet the wishes of the Government. I trust, therefore, that the discussion on the measure may be a short one, and that the consideration of any necessary Amendments may be reserved for Committee. There are two alternative proposals for carrying out the object of the Bill, the first being that of raising the standard for exemption from attendance; and the second, that of raising the age. Both alternatives were purposely inserted. The Bill proposes to raise the standard for partial exemption from school attendance from the third to the fourth, and from the fifth to the sixth for total exemption. As regards the age limit, the Bill proposes that for casual employment—that is, employment other than in factories and workshops—it should be raised from ten to eleven years, and for factory or workshop employment from eleven to twelve years. Since these alternative schemes have been before the country opinion has ripened as to their comparative merits, and I have no hesitation in saying that the more I have studied the question, and the more I have heard the views of educational experts, the more I am in favour of the raising of the age limit. The drawbacks to the system of raising the standard are many. To my mind one of the prinicipal is to be found in the escape from school of the very child whom it is most necessary and imperative to retain, namely, the clever, sharp child who is able to pass the standard at an early age, and who would benefit most by further training. I also recognise fully that by the system 325 of standards it is impossible to obtain absolute uniformity of examinations, and besides that there is a very natural tendency amongst examiners to allow boys and girls to escape, so to speak, by the skin of their teeth. The most fatal objection to that system, however, is that it inculcates in the minds of parents an entirely false idea of the value of education, namely, the idea that when a child reaches a certain standard its education is terminated. To my mind, when this is so, education is a failure, for the chief object of all education should be to leave an impress on the mind of its non-finality, or that at least the only termination to it and to self-culture is the grave. The promoters of the Bill are therefore desirous of eliminating from the Bill the alternative of qualification by standards. The age limitation, however, is entirely free from these defects. It must come to all alike, and with absolute certainty. I would like to say that as regards raising the age from ten to eleven years for casual employment, there is a slight drafting error in the Bill in Clause 1. Sub-section 1, which leaves a loophole for boys and girls to escape from the regulations of the Bill between their tenth birthday and the age stated in the Bill, but that can be rectified in Committee, and I trust the House will overlook an error partly due to the complicated and uncodified state of the law. As to the age limit being fixed at eleven years, it is only on account of this being a private Member's Bill that this is proposed in the intention of not asking too much, but if it should be the wish of the House or of the Government to raise the age to twelve years, we should gladly have the utmost readiness to accept such a change. The age of twelve years would be carrying out the Government proposition to a great extent, because in Clause 14 of the Bill introduced in the House of Lords last year by the Secretary for Scotland, twelve is stated emphatically as the age under which no child should be employed. As regards the age for employment in factories or workshops being raised from eleven to twelve years, I cannot imagine there will be any discussion, because that is the age at present before the House in Clause 23 of the Factory 326 and Workshops Act (Amendment) Bill introduced recently by the Home Secretary.
It now remains for me only to prove the necessity of this measure in Scotland. It is true that in the Memorandum of the Bill it is stated that the Bill would assimilate our law to that in England. This is a well-worn argument, and, I am afraid, very often a misplaced one. It is sometimes used as a primary reason for carrying a measure, to the disregard of the object sought to be secured. I would be the last to put it forward as a valid reason for carrying a Bill, for I hold that in Scotland we have our particular idiosyncrasies and characteristics, which require separate and special legislation. But in this case the argument is used for a very different reason. The main influence which obtained support for the Bill of my hon. friend the Member for South Shields was the feeling in the country that Great Britain was pledged to carry out the principle by the agreement entered into at the Berlin Conference in 1890. Scotland is a not unimportant part of Great Britain, and that pledge cannot be considered as fully carried out until this principle is applied to the whole of the country. I would also point to the state of education in foreign countries to show how necessary this Bill is. In France the age limit is twelve years; in Germany and Switzerland it is thirteen; and even countries of the educational standard of Russia and Portugal are ahead of us in this respect. Such a condition of affairs is absolutely alarming. In the present state of keen competition French and German statesmen are not likely to lose an opportunity of national development, and they are prepared to compete with us on every point except that of the employment of child labour. In that matter they leave this country, unhappily for us, without any rival at all. So far from their losing anything by doing so, I believe that the secret of the commercial supremacy of Germany is to be largely found in the fact that among all European nations she was about the first to devote great attention and care to the training of the youth of the nation.
As regards the interests and needs of Scotland itself, I may say that this Bill has not, perhaps, excited a large amount 327 of comment. For that there are several reasons. In the first place, the public mind has this year been very much taken up by the Bill of my hon. friend the Member for Kincardineshire; secondly, the distance of Scotland from the seat of legislation makes it always more difficult to arouse public opinion; and thirdly, perhaps principally, the people of Scotland look with confidence to the result of this Bill coming before the House, and do not imagine that there is any need of public agitation to secure the satisfaction of demands, the justice of which is recognised on all sides. In spite of this, however, not only school boards, but trades councils and town councils have petitioned in favour of the Bill, and it is a most significant fact that the principal support has been secured in towns and places in which the greatest amount of child labour is employed. I might also say that in Scotland there is a special reason for being careful of our children. At the Berlin Conference the Southern States of Europe were exempted from the arrangement with regard to the raising the age, on the ground that the climate is milder and maturity more quickly reached. In Scotland, with our hard winters, it is more than ever necessary that young children should not have to turn out of their beds at, perhaps, half-past five in the morning, the necessity for care being greater than in the milder climate of England.
The only other point to which I wish to refer is the increase of juvenile labour. As regards the number of children likely to be affected by this Bill, I can give only the number of half-timers, both in casual and factory employment. In 1897 there were no less than 6,500 who would be directly affected by the Bill. That number is gradually diminishing, and in 1900 the number of half-timers had come down to 5,500. But at this rate of decrease it would be practically a whole generation before the system died out, and I am sure the House would wish that it should cease long before that. But the number of half-timers is a very small portion of the actual number affected by the Bill. The larger number would be the children who are still at school, and yet employed in other occupations, and those who, having passed the fifth standard or obtained the merit certificate, 328 have left school, although under the legal age of thirteen. The number of these two classes in Scotland is unknown, but some estimate can perhaps be made from the fact that, according to a Return issued to the House, the number of children in England and Wales similarly situated is something like 150,000. The wage-earning capacity of children is such a terrible temptation that it is recognised that nothing short of actual prohibition will deal effectually with the, question. One bad feature is that it is not the needy and destitute parents, but the greedy and dissolute, who are the worst offenders. The evil was so great that public attention was drawn to it in Scotland three years ago by a meeting in Edinburgh of all the larger school boards. That School Board Conference was presided over by the Chairman of the Edinburgh School Board, who said—The truth is, that the use of child labour has increased to an extent which demands serious attention. Except in strong cases of necessity, it should be discontinued, and even prohibited.Sir John Cuthbertson, Chairman of the Glasgow School Board, said—I believe that juvenile labour has been very largely augmented of late.These statements show significantly the evils which have to be met. This Bill would meet these evils, and also, to a certain extent, remedy the deficiencies in our educational system. That system, at present, may be described as a series of gaps. There is the gap between the day school and the continuation school; there is the gap between the continuation school and the secondary school; and there is the gap between the secondary school and the technical school. By dealing with the first of these gaps the evil will be very greatly minimised. Teachers in the higher subjects acknowledge with dismay the detrimental effect of this system of gaps upon children. They say that when children begin the study of the higher subjects after a gap of a year, they sometimes have to be re-taught the multiplication table, while if there is a gap of two or three years the children frequently lose the power of reading and writing. The reason is that these subjects have been taught before the minds of the children are fully developed, and the impressions made are 329 not retained. Modern conditions of life demand the very reverse of the present system. We are living in an age of high pressure. Insanity is increasing; the urban population is increasing; the physical standard of the race is declining. It is, therefore, all the more necessary that we should do all we can to bring up the future generation in such a way as to give them every chance of becoming better and stronger men. I trust that the House and the Government will acquiesce in the Second Reading of this measure, for I believe that if it is passed it will relieve thousands of helpless children, and enable them to grow up in a greater hope of leading lives conducive to virtue and strength. Education should be looked upon as the paramount interest of families and of the State. All great truths are apt to grow trite, but let us never forget our obligation as a nation to regard education as the most important object of society, to be treated without stint and with utmost generosity. I cannot conclude with more striking words on this subject than those of a minister of the Gospel, whose beliefs and writings are as yet more known in the United States than here, unhappily to our disadvantage. I allude to Dr. William Channing, who, writing of his own ministry, says, much as we respect such ministry, "we believe that it even must yield in importance to the office of training the young." I beg to move the Second Reading of this Bill.
§ *SIR J. STIRLING-MAXWELL (Glasgow, College)
I rise to second the motion. A Scotch debate, especially on a Wednesday afternoon, is always an inspiring scene, and to you, Sir, after the many hours of frivolous and noisy discussion of English and Irish affairs, the seriousness which distinguishes Scotch debates must be a welcome relief. It would not be necessary to say anything at all upon the Second Reading of this Bill were it not for the fact that some hon. Members, especially, I fear, on this side of the House, who were warmly disposed towards this measure at first, have, under some unaccountable and unfriendly influence, shown signs recently of becoming cold. Hon. Members who are uncertain in their own minds, and therefore inclined to be blown about by every wind of doctrine, have a great 330 deal to answer for in lengthening discussions in this House, because it is worth the while of anybody with a mouth to try to blow them back again. However, on this occasion I am inclined to think that the draught of doctrine is likely to be entirely in one direction, and that there is consequently not much to fear from that quarter. This Bill is an extremely-short one. Apart from the clause which limits its extent to Scotland, and that which endows it with a name by which it will never be known, it really consists of one clause, divided into two sub-sections, the second of which contains the kernel of the Bill, namely, the proposal to raise the age of half-timers from eleven years to twelve. It is quite unnecessary to enter into any discussion of the merits of that proposal, because it has received so recently the almost universal assent of the House. For the benefit of those who have weak knees I may say, however, that this proposal, in precisely the same form, was part of a Government measure last year, and met with no opposition, the measure being withdrawn for other reasons. When I turn back to the first sub-section, especially if I compare it with the proposal made with a similar object in the Bill of last year, my satisfaction is not quite so great. But this is a private Member's Bill, and every such Bill, if its promoter has any sincere wish to pass it into law, must be drafted in the simplest possible way, and make the smallest possible amendment of the existing law which will secure the object in view. This Bill is distinctly inferior in two particulars to the measure introduced by the Government last year. The system which this Bill proposes to apply to the exemption of children from school attendance is extremely rigid, and as the conditions become more exacting a rigid system becomes more tiresome, and the want of elasticity is more felt. The Government measure had the double advantage of being at once more rigorous and more elastic than the present proposal, and I say frankly that, though I should be glad to see the law amended by this Bill, I look forward to the Government proposal as the ideal which we may hope to reach hereafter. Another advantage of the Government proposal was that it got rid of the application of standards. I think all those who are promoting this Bill are in sympathy 331 with the desire of the Government and of the Education Department, that the use of standards should largely disappear, and they would be very glad to see their object effected without buttressing anew a system which they wish to see swept away. Having said that, there is little more to say. No one must interpret the introduction of this Bill as a criticism upon the conduct of the Scotch Education Department. Nothing is further from our minds. I do not suppose that that Department stands in any need of a testimonial from me, but I know of no public Department which conducts its business better than the Scotch Education Department, or more thoroughly understands the needs of those whom it looks after, or has more entirely gained their confidence. This Bill is introduced in the most friendly spirit to that Department, and we are ready to withdraw the measure at once if the Government will do on their own account that which we are seeking to do. I hope hon. Members will vote for the Bill, and that the Government will give it their support, so that the small, but not unimportant, proposal which it contains may be carried into law.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Mr. Pirie.)
§ THE LORD ADVOCATE (Mr. A. GRAHAM MURRAY, Buteshire)
The hon. Member who moved the Second Beading of this Bill desired only a short discussion, and in order as far as possible to assist in the attainment of that desire, I rise at once to give the House the views of the Government in regard to the Bill. The Memorandum attached to the Bill contains four propositions or statements. The first is, on the face of it, an obvious one, namely, that the object of the Bill is—to raise the standard for partial exemption from school attendance from the third to the fourth, and for total exemption from the fifth to the sixth.That could scarcely go very far wrong. The second statement is that the Bill—provides that no child may be employed in any casual employment under the age of eleven, instead of ten as at present,and no doubt that correctly expresses the wishes of the framers of the Bill. 332 The third statement, again, is no doubt true; but the fourth, that the Billwould assimilate the law in Scotland to that which has been attained in England by Mr. Robson's Act,is absolutely inaccurate. I shall refer to these matters when I come to the Bill in detail, but in the meantime I wish to examine what is the real idea which underlies this attempt at legislation. Here I must say at once that Mr. Bob-son's Act was commonly called "the Half-timers Act." but the half-timer question is really almost no question at all in Scotland. The system has not flourished there, although at one time it prevailed to a certain extent. At the present time it has practically disappeared, so that the half-timer question is not a question in which we in Scotland are really interested.
But the question in which, I think, we are all interested is the educational question, and the views of educationalists upon this subject were very well brought out by the Conference which has been already referred to. There, undoubtedly, the unanimous testimony of those who are practically engaged in the work of Scotch education was that there was a most deplorable waste of educational opportunity by the fact that children were taken away from school at such an early age, that the impressions made upon their minds became only transitory instead of permanent, and that, therefore, they lost the advantage of the educational system in vogue. It was particularly emphasised that the system of exemption by means of examination takes from school the very children you wish most to benefit, because it is quite evident that a clever child will be able to pass any standard at a comparatively early age. In other words, the child who is most likely to benefit by education if kept at school is the very first to be put outside the educational door. There is another matter. Of course, this question of standards and examinations is a matter which must be taken along with the general policy of the Scotch Education Department, in regard to which I am glad that so generous testimony has been borne by the hon. Baronet the Member for the College Division of Glasgow. Hon. Members are well aware that during 333 the last few years it has been the studied policy of the Department to go rather by general efficiency than by individual results as shown in the examination of particular scholars. If, however, you are going to have exemption by means of examination, that examination must be an individual examination, and consequently, to a certain extent, you will come in conflict with the general policy of the Department.
But there is something else which I think is even more important. I do not know that I have ever heard a word of disapproval in any educational debate in this House within the last few years of a system inaugurated by the Department, namely, that of granting merit certificates. The merit certificate has been looked upon as the goal of that stage of educational life. That merit certificate can be kept effective chiefly for the reason that there is nothing statutory in it, and, therefore, it is not liable to be whittled down in the way in which, according to the ordinary necessities of life, any statutory test is liable to be whittled down. It can be kept up to such a high standard of efficiency as general educational opinion will justify. Now, undoubtedly, if you have any other examination which at all approaches that for the merit certificate, and becomes, so to speak, a competitor with it, you will injure the merit certificate. It is a tendency of human nature that you cannot afford to disregard, that if there are two things which are looked upon in popular opinion as not having very very much difference between them, a great many of the lazier people will be content with the worse of the two. Therefore, one great disadvantage of attempting to deal with this subject by the method merely of raising the standard below which the exemption certificate will not be given, is that by so doing you would be very likely to do a great deal of harm to the merit certificate. But, even although you do raise the standard, you really will effect practically nothing. There would be very little practical difference between scraping through an examination for an exemption certificate, whether that standard was the fifth or the sixth. Accordingly, the view which the Education Department hold very strongly, and which, I 334 may say, is entirely borne out by the measured opinion of the Conference to which I have alluded, is that it is far better to deal with this matter by age than by standard. Hon. Members are aware that in the Government Bill of last year, which, unfortunately, there was not time to pass into law, we dealt very drastically with this subject, raising the age below which it would not be lawful for any person to be employed to twelve years, and practically abolishing the labour certificate altogether, and at the same time giving a certain amount of elasticity by granting certain dispensing powers to school boards. That, we think, is the best system in the educational interests of the country, and that is the system which we hope will very shortly become law. No doubt the condition of business in the House this session does not afford any material prospect of our being able to effect that object this year, but it may be taken that the Bill of last year embodies our settled policy, and that that Bill, or, at any rate, the portions of it dealing with this matter (which. I may say in passing, really met with no opposition), will be very shortly re-introduced.
Having now given my views on that general point, I come to the Bill itself. As the hon. Member says, the subject is a little complicated. I do not want to be hard on the Memorandum, as the hon. Member is neither a draftsman nor a lawyer. But when I see among the names at the back of the Bill that of the distinguished lawyer sitting at the end of the Front Opposition Bench (the hon. Member for Dumfries Burghs) I do really wonder at the mistakes which have been made. In order that the House may-understand the bearing this Bill has upon the present law, I think it is well to show exactly how both the English and the Scotch systems stand, because really they do not proceed upon quite the same lines. In regard to the English system, the matter began, so far as I am concerned, with the Elementary Education Act of 1870. By that Act it is made permissible for the school boards to frame bye-laws which shall direct that parents must give their children education between the ages of five and thirteen. These bye-laws must contain provisions for partial and total exemption to be 335 attainable upon passing some educational standard which the bye-laws themselves describe. There are two points to be noticed there. In the first place, it is done by the bye-laws of the school boards; and, in the second place, the particular standard is a standard fixed by the bye-law. In other words, the standard as provided by the Act of 1870 is not uniform: it may be one thing in one place, and another thing in another place. The House will notice that the only way, so far as the Education Act is concerned, in which the employment of children is touched is by the necessity for education; that is to say, a parent is compelled by the bye-law to give his child education; his employment is not actually prohibited. Of course the two things, to a certain extent, are incompatible, but the House doubtless sees what I mean. It does not act by direct prohibition. In 1893 the provision was altered by the raising of the age at which a partial or total exemption certificate could be obtained from ten to eleven years. Then, in 1899, by the Act which we call by the name of the hon. Member for South Shields, the Robson Act, the age was raised from eleven to twelve. There is also a provision for what is known as a "dunce's certificate," which is equivalent to what used to be known as a sort of charity remove; that is to say, if you could not get a remove by your own exertions, after being so long in a form you had to be put into the next form. So with the "dunce's certificate"; the scholar need never have passed in anything, but if he has been a certain amount of time in the place, and made so many school attendances, he is given exemption. What I want the House to notice is that Mr. Robson's Act does not touch the Factory Acts at all. The hon. Baronet who seconded the Second Reading said the really crucial part of the Bill was Sub-section 2 of Clause 1, and that it dealt with half-timers. Sub-section 2 does not deal with half-timers at all. It is a direct alteration of the Factory Acts. The sub-section may be right or it may be wrong, but it has no sponsor in Mr. Robson's Act, because Mr. Robson's Act does not deal with that subject at all. When we come to the Committee stage, I should suggest that it is a matter for consideration 336 whether, in what is purely an educational Bill, we should deal with what really is purely a factory matter, and whether we should not be content to deal with the educational interests dealt with in Mr. Robson's Act. That is how the matter stands in England.
Now let us see how the matter stands in Scotland. In Scotland the beginning was the Act of 1872. Probably that Act was affected by the Elementary Education Act of 1870, and it originally went upon the lines of the Act of 1870. It did not prohibit the employment of children, but it placed upon the parent the duty of providing education between the ages of five and thirteen. The only way in which it dealt with the employer was that, under Section 72, any person who took into his employment a child under those ages was to be for the purposes of the Act in loco parentis, and have imposed upon him the same duty of providing education as was imposed upon the natural parent. Then in 1878, by one of the amending Education Acts, that method was departed from, and another principle adopted. By Section 5 of that Act it was provided that no person should, after the passing of the Act, take into his employment any child under the age of ten, or who, being of the age of ten and not more than fourteen, had not obtained a certificate that he could write and read. There seems to me to have been a little drafting slip in this sub-section, and the result of this Bill, if it is passed as it stands, will be somewhat contradictory, for an employer will be able to keep a person between the age of ten and eleven years for the whole time in employment without any restriction, and, after having enjoyed all the freedom of a British workman till eleven years of age, after passing that age that person will find himself under educational restriction again. The Act of 1883, which is the one we are under at the present time, altered partial exemption from mere reading and writing to the passing of Standard III., and it fixed the passing of Standard V. for total exemption. This Bill proposes to raise those standards, and I have already given to the House the reasons why I am entirely against that course; but I am not, on the other hand, against the question of raising the age. As the object of the 337 promoter of the Bill is evidently entirely honourable, though the methods by which he carries it out are not entirely effective, I do not think we ought to take up a non possumus attitude towards the Bill. I do not propose to divide against the measure myself, or to advise those behind me to do so. I hope the hon. Member will understand that by taking this attitude I am not making any promise to give the Bill particular facilities, although I can assure him that I shall put no obstacle in the path of the Bill. Under these circumstances, and upon this understanding, I am quite willing that the Bill may be now read a second time.
§ SIR ROBERT REID (Dumfries Burghs)
I feel that the right hon. Gentleman the Lord Advocate may have some ground for his criticism in regard to the Memorandum which is prefixed to this Bill. When I was very young I was advised that, whatever else I might deem it advisable to back, the thing I should avoid was backing my friend's Bill. I have now realised the danger of neglecting that advice. At the same time, although the Memorandum has been a fruitful source of merriment to the Lord Advocate, and has provided him with much excellent chaff, I do not think that there is much in it to find fault with. As regards the drafting of the Bill, he has certainly made one criticism which will be duly considered in Committee, and, as far as I have been able to follow him, it seems to me that the criticism of the right hon. Gentleman was well founded. But let me say here that it is the substance, after all, of the Bill in which the House is interested to-day. I think there is a pretty general concurrence of opinion in regard to the main object which the framers of this Bill have at heart, and I think it is the wish of the promoter of this Bill that it shall be assimilated as much as possible to the Government Bill of last year. I am certain that my hon. friend who has introduced this Bill has that wish. That is the purpose we have in view, and if the Second Reading is granted, as I trust it will be, it will be our desire in Committee to assimilate it as much as is practicable to the measure of the Government.
338 If this is so, I think the right hon. Gentleman, looking at the substance and not at the details of the Bill, will be disposed upon reflection to give the measure even more benevolent assistance than he has promised. Observe for a moment what the question is. The Lord Advocate has not concealed from the House the fact that this is a matter of real importance, and it is felt by everybody to be a matter greatly affecting Scotland. Last year a Bill was brought in by the Government, and it was by reason of want of time alone that that Bill was abandoned. It was not subjected to any hostile criticism, and the situation that arose last year was that, having a Bill of real importance educationally affecting Scotland, where we all take the deepest interest in education, and where we flatter ourselves that we set an example to other parts of the United Kingdom, we were, from want of time, unable to pass that Bill into law. Now the Lord Advocate tells us again that similar circumstances have arisen, and that there is no time this session to pass the Bill, which he himself is in favour of, and which represents the settled policy of the Government on this important question. There are circumstances which it would be foreign to the particular discussion on this Bill to go into which now arise, and which suggest various reflections with regard to the manner in which Scotch business has been treated, and must necessarily be treated, for some time. I do not intend to dwell upon this point, but I am sure hon. Members will feel that it is somewhat hard that we are not able to get what we want this year from the Government, for exactly the same reason which prevented us getting it last year. I do not want to import into this discussion anything calculated to retard the progress of this Bill, and I do not mean to enter upon the general question. It is the case that there is a considerable part of this Bill which is not controversial. That being so. I wish to make to the right hon. Gentleman a practical suggestion. If he cannot find time this year for the Government Bill to be brought forward. I think the Government ought to give us what assistance they can in carrying this Bill with the necessary Amendments. 339 That is the practical suggestion which I make. I am very glad to hear that the Lord Advocate is not going to oppose the Second Reading of the Bill, but let him go further in his efforts, and induce the Government to give every facility for carrying this measure into law.
§ *MR. TENNANT (Berwickshire)
I am glad that my learned friend has intervened in this debate. He has stated that there is really not very much upon which the Lord Advocate can found his rather merry strictures with regard to the Memorandum of this Bill. I am perfectly ready to make myself the scapegoat, for I am the person responsible for the Memorandum. I do not think there is much difference between saying the effect of our Bill would be to amend the Factory Acts by raising the age of half-timers and saying the effect of our Bill would be to keep children at school up to a certain age, and so keep them out of the factory. That is the whole difference between this Bill and the Bill of the hon. Member for South Shields, In spite of the statement of the hon. Member for the College Division of Glasgow, that the question of half time is not in dispute, I venture to intervene for a very few minutes in this debate in order to lay one or two considerations before the House. I think it is well to consider what are the grounds of the opposition to this class of legislation. Opposition, in some degree, there always is. It is often said that the poverty of the parent is the real reason why you should allow these children to work. Upon this point I would like to quote the opinion, of a gentleman who has had considerable experience of Dundee, which is a most important centre where these children are employed, a gentleman who earned the respect of all classes of the community—I allude to Mr. Wilson, the Inspector of Factories, who was five years at Dundee. The conclusion he came to about this question of poverty was this. He says, speaking of illegal employment of children—Although dire poverty tempts certain parents to assist themselves through the illegal work of their children, the majority of the persons proceeded against are of the worst possible character. The case of the children is indeed 340 a pathetic one. They are taught deception from the very outset, get little or no education, are compelled to labour the full factory hours, and their hard-won earnings snatched from their hands as they emerge from the factory gates.The parents display inordinate greed, and utter disregard to the child's mental, moral, and physical welfare. We are asked to trust the judgment of parents of this sort, and we are told to listen to their cry of poverty. Then it is often stated that unless you train these children at the factory at an early age you will never teach them to earn their bread. I think my hon. friend will bear me out when I say that at every age at which it has been proposed to raise the age for work, it has been argued that unless they commence work at that particular age they will never learn anything. But do these children really learn a trade which they can follow when they get older? I shall leave this question for a moment, as I want to consider one much wider. I dissent from those who define education as being merely the industrial education of the child. A child should have something wider and broader upon which to found his future life.
I am aware that there is a school of thought which considers that it is a mistake to educate children generously. They agree with the old gentleman who had bad language written upon his gateposts, and who grumbled that education had done nothing to improve the bad language, the only difference being that now it was correctly spelt. But that is not, I think, the frame of mind of most hon. Members. And those who dissent will probably feel with me that you cannot educate these children unless they are in good health. These Dundee children are employed in jute mills in the spinning and preparing departments. In the spinning department there is undue heat and moisture, and in the carding department there is a great deal of dust which it is difficult to get rid of. Mr. Wilson, to whom I have alluded, has come to the definite conclusion, after taking statistics of their weight and height, that the children employed in these mills are a more diminutive race than are to be found in any part of the country, and they are lower in physique than even the children in Lancashire. Mr. Wilson is a man of moderation, and he 341 began by stating that it would be possible, if you combined clean, light, and nice work for these children with kindly and considerate employers and decent workshops or factories, that those conditions might do no harm to the children. But those conditions are almost impossible to find together, and you never do get them, and the result is that the children lose flesh and colour, or put on little weight, and grow very slowly. Then to return to their industrial future. What is the actual prospect? They do not learn a trade which they can practise, when they grow up. They leave the factory at the age of fourteen, fifteen, or sixteen years, and they obtain employment as casual labourers, or they enter the ranks of the unemployed. A little later they marry the women who do the spinning, and become nothing but the professional husbands of the jute and flax spinners. This question, in its intimate association with the high rate of infant mortality, is receiving the attention of the manufacturers themselves, of the medical officer of health of Dundee, and I hope of the Town Council. The number of unemployed men who are living upon their wives has become an absolute bye-word. There is also an inordinate amount of infantile mortality owing to the long hours the women work, during which they neglect their children. They work to this extent largely because their husbands have learned no trade—men who in their youth were half-timers. I say that this is a situation which is full of gravity, and dangerous to the State; more especially to towns like Paisley and Dundee, and particularly to the latter, where there exists an economic condition of things which is so bad as to be almost beyond the dreams of degeneracy. I believe my hon. friend the Member for Dundee will bear me out in that.
§ *MR. TENNANT
What is the educational position? As far as the law goes we are behind England. The Superintending Inspector of Factories for Scotland, referring to the exclusion of Scot-land from the Bill of the hon. Member 342 for South Shields, used these words. He said—This was no doubt an oversight, and will, I assume, be presently rectified, but the wider question of the general propriety of such labour in any form will still remain unanswered even when that is done.This question still remains unanswered, and many reforms of this kind remain to be carried out. The Government has done very little, and it is not long since the Vice-President of the Council on Education pointed to a most astonishing condition of child labour throughout the country. I claim for this Bill that it is modest and moderate; that it has been put forward by hon. Members in a moderate manner, and that it is long overdue. It is a measure which is demanded by a large majority of the middle and working classes, and it will remove a stigma under which the nation now rests; any step which Parliament takes to abolish the demoralising tendencies of child labour can only be a national gain.
§ *MR. COCHRANE (Ayrshire, N.)
I observe that the hon. Member who represents Dundee is rather inclined to quarrel with the statement of the hon. Member for Berwickshire as to the condition of things in Dundee. But I prefer to agree with the hon. Member who last addressed the House in regard to this matter. I think there is a great deal both in the social and political situation of Dundee which calls for improvement, and I hope that pari passu both this political and social condition will improve before many years have passed. I desire to congratulate the hon. Member who introduced this Bill, and also my hon. friend who seconded it. My hon. friend described those hon. Members of this House whose names appeared on the back of this Bill as being vacillating creatures blown about by every wind. [An HON. MEMBER: Not creatures. I Vacillating members—I apologise to the House. My name does not appear on the back of the Bill, and that entitles me to claim to be stalwart in its favour. I quite recognise the failings of the Memorandum explanatory of the Bill, and when I saw my right hon. friend the Member for Dumfries standing at the Table in a white sheet 343 apologising to the House for having so far misled the House as to the contents of this Bill, I really had a great deal of sympathy for him. But I do not think the particular point raised in regard to the Memorandum is incapable of being remedied. The learned Lord Advocate pointed out a hiatus which appears between the ages of ten and eleven, under which the child would be under no control whatever. That is obviously outside the intention of the promoters of the Bill, and I feel certain that my right hon. friend on the other side of the House will introduce some very simple Amendment to meet this difficulty.
Now I come to a very misleading description in the Memorandum of the Bill, which says:—This would assimilate the law in Scotland to that which had been attained in England by Mr. Robson's Act.I think that is entirely misleading, but it is perhaps a pardonable exaggeration to try and get some little political capital out of Mr. Robson's Act, which was passed with the general consent of both sides of the House, and it seems to be the desire to claim for this Bill some of the credit which justly appertains to Mr. Robson's Act. I think, apart altogether from that attempted connection, that this Bill has merits of its own. It aims at raising the age at which children can be employed, and it provides—that no child may be employed in a factory or workshop under the age of twelve instead of eleven as at present.On this side of the House we are bound to support such a proposal as that, because an exactly similar clause appears in a Bill introduced in this House by the Home Secretary which applies to the whole of the United Kingdom. That is one of the main provisions in this Bill, and I shall give it my cordial support. The evil of taking these children away from school before their education has had time to develop has been very well pointed out by the hon. Member opposite. The various chairmen of all the most important school boards of Scotland, at their meeting at Edinburgh to discuss this matter, gave their personal experience upon this question, and they told us how these children, some of them with 344 the quickest and best of intellects—who passed the highest standard at an early age—were the very children who, having left school for one or two years, their education passed away from them and their minds had become practically a blank; and after two years absence from school they had to pass down as low as Standard III., whereas before they left school they had no difficulty in passing Standards V. or VI. These facts appeal to me very strongly. This Bill may have its imperfections, but I believe it can be made to meet some of these evils. I communicated with all the chairmen of the school boards in the constituency which I represent, and several of their various school boards met and discussed this Bill; and although we have more half-timers in my constituency than I was aware of, all the school boards and large employers of labour who employ half-timers were persuaded that benefits to the children would accrue from raising the age limit, and with one exception they all gave their support to the principle of this Bill. The hon. Member opposite said that the half-time system was due to the greed of the parents, but I take exception to that statement. He said that the great inducement to the half-time system was the wage-earning capacity of the children. He knew that in Scotland parents were very often too ready to give way to the children's wish to leave school at the earliest possible age. The evils of taking young children away from school before their education has had time to have its due effect are very great. I do not feel that any further advocacy of this Bill is required, and I shall give it my support.
§ SIR H. CAMPBELL-BANNERMAN (Stirling Burghs)
Like my hon. friend who has just sat down, I am one of the few Scotch Members whose name is not on the back of this Bill. I am not, therefore, equal to entering upon the controversy which rages over the Memorandum. For my part I never read—or if I read I never pay much attention to—Memorandums, for they have no legislative effect, and they need no more to be regarded than the signboard of a place of refreshment which, in a thirsty moment, one is about to enter. As to making party capital out of this, I could 345 not exactly follow the hon. Member opposite in regard to that statement. Those who support this Bill are about equally divided between the two sides of the House, and there is, and has been, no attempt that I am aware of to make party capital out of it. I venture to make an appeal to Scotch Members to fulfil their real function in this House, and that is to be a model and example to all other Members, upon an occasion like this when we are practically agreed. It is not a very profitable thing to take up the time of the House, and to go on discussing a measure which will go to a Standing Committee, where it will be properly considered and amended. Scotch Members, like the Scotch people, are all in favour of education. There is no section of Scotch representation which has any desire to be backward in respect to educational purposes and the advancement of the interests of education. This is a Bill which I am not surprised that the Government should have, in its main purpose, not only acquiesced in but welcomed; and after what the Lord Advocate has said I think we may very well look forward to the prospect of the Bill becoming law. I do not know whether the Lord Advocate will promise us his active assistance to the Bill, but from what he said I have no doubt he will do what he can to be something more than neutral towards this Bill in its future stages. There is perhaps one quarter in which a little further discussion or remonstrance may be expected. My hon. friend behind me, the Member for Berwickshire, whose zeal in these matters we all appreciate, has run amok upon the important city of Dundee. I feel a little indignation within me, because, although I am not a resident in Dundee, I hang upon the outskirts. I do not think my hon. friend the Member for Dundee will sit silent during this attack, upon his neighbours and his constituents, but on the general question I think we should do well to leave the matter as it stands, seeing that we are all practically agreed upon the main purposes of the Act.
§ *SIR JOHN LENG
As a loyal follower of the right hon. Gentleman I desire to comply with his request, and I should 346 have given a silent vote on this occasion if remarks had not been made with regard to Dundee which really call for a brief reply. I regret that my hon. friend near me has introduced this thorny question of the half-time system. I am prepared to admit that, so far as it goes, and so far as the report of Mr. Wilson, the admirable Inspector of Factories, goes, all that has been said is true; but it is not the whole truth, for while one part of it is exceedingly dark, there are much brighter shades of the question which could be referred to. Upon general educational and national grounds I am a strong supporter of this Bill, although I hold in my hand a great amount of matter which is adverse to this Bill, more especially in regard to its dealings with the half-time system. But this mass of evidence has not convinced me and I lay it aside with great respect. I may mention that the Medical Officer of Dundee, who is an exceedingly intelligent man, while he is strongly in favour of the raising of the half-time age, holds views diametrically opposite, and he would have the half-time system applied to the whole of our youth. On the other hand, the chairman of our parish council is strongly in favour of the Bill. With regard to the half-time system in Dundee, it is gradually declining. We have two of the finest half-time schools in Dundee in the kingdom. They are connected with our largest works, and every condition in them is favourable to the half-time system, and yet the report of the Inspector of Factories shows that, taken as a whole, the half-time system under these circumstances is not in the interest of the general worker. I feel that I could not do less than to this extent vindicate the position of Dundee, but being anxious that this Bill should pass, and pass without delay, in the amended form to which the Lord Advocate has given his general assent, and hoping also that the Lord Advocate will not maintain a merely negative or neutral attitude, but will, with the ability he possesses, give this measure his support, I will say no more beyond stating that I am a strong supporter of this Bill.
§ SIR MARK STEWART (Kirkcudbrightshire)
The right hon. Gentleman 347 opposite had strongly appealed to the House to assent at once to the Second Reading of this Bill, and I shall not occupy more than one or two minutes in what I have got to say. The Lord Advocate has taken to pieces the weak parts of this Bill, and I think he has shown clearly that it is really not carrying out very much. I am not opposed to the principle of the Bill, and I should be very glad to see it passed into law, but there are many things which will require to be considered very carefully. I understand that the mover of this Bill offered to withdraw Sub-section 1 of Clause 1. Of course that will only leave Sub-section 2. I do appeal to the Government to bring in their Bill upon this question as early as possible. It would be far better for this House, and for Scotland as well, if we had the Government Bill promised last year laid upon the Table of the House, and, if the controversial matters have not been cleared up, let it be done at once. I think Scotch Members are united upon that point, and if the Government would only bring in the Bill which was introduced last year, we should get a great deal more than is contained in this Bill. We shall have to consider very carefully what effect the raising of the standards and the raising of the age limit will have upon agriculture. There is a great difficulty now in supplying the labour market, and these are matters which should be thoroughly considered. It the Government brought in their Bill at once, we should be in a far better condition to pass good legislation for Scotland than by merely sending this Bill upstairs to a Grand Committee.
§ DR. MACNAMARA (Camberwell, N.)
I did not quite gather from the Lord Advocate whether, if the Second Reading is carried, he is prepared to agree that the Bill shall go to the Grand Committee on Law.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Bill read a second time.
§ MR. PIRIE
I beg to move that the Bill be committed to the Grand Com 348 mittee on Law. I am very glcd that it is proposed to send this Bill to the Grand Committee on Law, but I hope the Amendments will be put on the Paper as soon as possible, as it often happens that they are put down very late, and then they cannot be so fully considered.
§ MR. THOMAS SHAW (Hawick Burghs)
I most cordially agree with what has been said by the last speaker, and may I suggest to His Majestys Government that the Lord Advocate's Amendments should be put on the Paper early. My reason for suggesting this is that once the House sees the lines which the Government are prepared to take there is no doubt that the drafting of Amendments by other hon. Members will be unnecessary, and the labours of the Committee will be much lightened.
§ Bill committed to the Standing Committee on Law, etc.