HC Deb 22 July 1903 vol 125 cc1549-59

As amended (by the Standing Committee), further considered—

*MR. JESSE COLLINGS (Birmingham, Bordesley)

moved to omit, after "the expression 'local authority' means," the following—"In the case of a municipal borough with a population according to the census of 1901 of over 10,000, the Borough Council, and in the case of any other urban district with a population according to the census of 1901 of over 20,000, the District Council, and elsewhere the County Council," in order to insert "the council of any municipal borough or urban district or rural district."

He said that this Amendment did not in any way affect the principle of the Bill. It affected mainly, and almost wholly, small places and purely rural districts, and he firmly believed that unless it was accepted the Bill would work incalculable harm in the agricultural parts of England. The Amendment did not interfere with the Bill as it affected large towns, and if it were accepted the Bill in that respect would remain unchanged. In the course of his observations, therefore, he would confine himself to its effect on the districts he had named, and he hoped that the House would bear with him while he endeavoured to make clear what evil the Bill would work if this Amendment were not passed. He also hoped that in any discussion that might follow, the condition of things in our large towns would not be debated, because it was not affected by the Amendment. Much depended on the by-laws, and the nature of the by-laws depended on those who had the making of them, and unless great care was taken there would be considerable hardship inflicted on the poorer classes. In the Grand Committee the original form of the Bill was altered, and its administration was placed in the hands of the local authority as defined by the Education Act of last year. It was given into the hands of boroughs with over 10,000 population and of urban districts with over 20,000, while rural districts and smaller boroughs were placed in the hands of the County Councils. This was the first time in the history of legislation—with the exception of the Bill of last year—in which local authorities were not allowed to make by-laws for themselves. This was altogether contrary to the report of the Departmental Committee. The argument in favour of the clause as it stood was founded on the Education Act of last year, though there was no comparison whatever between the two. This was a measure to regulate the labour of children in rural districts, and there could not be a uniform code as the conditions varied so greatly. Under the Bill as it stood the local authorities would have to bear the expense of any inquiry, while they would not have the power to make the by-laws under which the expense would be incurred. The Departmental Committee in their Report said— The main question is rather one of labour than of school attendance and that labour by-laws should be made by the municipal authority. Again— Many boroughs, including non-county boroughs, have already the power to make by-laws for good Government under local acts and power to deal with street traders. And again— Circumstances and conditions vary so widely in different occupations and different localities that it is impossible to propose a uniform code. Therefore, we recommend that the necessary regulations by by-laws for the occupation of children should be made by local authorities. It should be borne in mind that children of fourteen and sixteen years of age did a great deal of work in these places. It could scarcely be called work, perhaps, but it was employment in which they gained a little money, and at the same time it was one in which they delighted. The Report of the Departmental Committee stated that, as far as the health of the children was concerned, the labour seemed to be the least injurious of any of the kinds coming under their notice, for it was all, or nearly all, in the open air, and mostly took place in summertime. Of course, it was necessary that the education of the children should be primarily looked after, but hon. Members must not think that there was no education except that which was got out of books. That was a great mistake. The most valuable training that was to be had was often obtained in the process of these farming occupations. He had received a large number of letters from rural districts upon that question, but he would quote only one from a clergyman which put the point very concisely:— May I put a case to you. I have been a vicar and rector of two country parishes, twenty-three years in Suffolk, and twenty-one in Berkshire. Of most of that time I have taken children out of school hours and had them to work, in the house if girls, and in the garden and stable if boys. Many have thus got a technical education and been started in good places from me. If this Bill passes as it now stands this work will stop. I have a boy, now nearly twelve, who came to me eighteen months ago. He has learnt to clean shoes, knives, etc., to milk, help in stables, even to harnessing a pony, and got some knowledge of poultry-keeping, and growing encumbers and melons in frames, and, in fact, is generally useful, and perfectly healthy. He is always at school, but expect he gets more useful knowledge under me. He began at 1s. weekly, but now earns 3s. Why should he be deprived of this only to spend out-of-school hours in idling about and being a nuisance to the village? Now as to the question of bye-laws. There was great danger, if they were made by a central authority, that they would not be favourable to the occupations with which he was dealing. The object of his Amendment then was to put the administration of the Act under municipal boroughs, under urban districts, and under rural district councils. This would cover every inch of the county, and secure that the administration of each district should be by those who knew most about the district, and had its interests most at heart. It was in accordance with all precedents that the power of making by-laws under an Act of Parliament should be given to those responsible for the good government of the districts to which they referred. He would like to read a few of above a hundred boroughs which would be affected by the Amendment:—Yeovil, Hertford, Buckingham, Shaftesbury, Mon mouth, Bodmin, Launceston, Tavistock, etc. All these places were to be put under the County Councils, and hon. Members well knew what jealous rivalry there already was between these bodies. On what ground was it possible to justify the dispossession of these local authorities which for ages had carried on the work. Many of the urban districts were boroughs under another name. They were endowed with powers almost equal to municipal powers, and they had with in their areas great diversities of occupations. Why should they not be entrusted with the administration of this Bill? The County Councils did not want the work, indeed they would rather be without it, because they realised the difficulties which would be set up if they attempted to impose by-laws on these self-governing communities. He would like to read one very strong protest which he had read in the Press— I hear that a strong recommendation has been sent to the Home Secretary on behalf of the Rural non-County and Urban District Councils in favour of Mr. Collings' Amendment for including these bodies as administrative authorities under The Employment of Children Bill. They contend that to pass them by in this matter is to impose something like an insult upon them after their historic experience of administration. They submit also that the County Councils who are to administer rural districts are entirely unfitted for the purpose, since they cannot be properly acquainted with local circumstances. In the evidence given before the Departmental Committee they would find the hon. Member for Tavistock said he was in favour of Rural District Councils having this jurisdiction, and another witness said he did not believe the borough to which he referred would ever consent to take by-laws from the County Council. He believed there would be perpetual friction in the administration of the Bill unless his Amendment was accepted. Take Devon as an example of how the localities would be affected by this Bill. There were in it twenty-four urban districts—some agricultural and some watering-places, besides seven rural districts, containing about 400 parishes principally occupied in agriculture. How was it possible for the County Council to know what was best for such an infinite variety of requirements as existed in that county? Whatever the use of those regulations might be in large towns, he contended that they were absolutely unnecessary, even foolish, when applied to villages and country places. Hon. Members talked about trading at night; but the children in country districts were in bed at eight o'clock. If any by-laws were to apply, his contention was that they should be made by the authority which knew the conditions under which local occupations were carried on. There was one clause which said that no child under the age of fourteen—

MR. TENNANT (Berwickshire)

said he wished to ask if the right hon. Gentleman was entitled in his Amendment to discuss all the clauses in the Bill.


I think the right hon. Gentleman must confine himself to the subject of his Amendment, which is simply what should be the authority. Some of the observations of the right hon. Gentleman appear to me to be irrelevant to the Amendment.


said he was endeavouring to explain that the requirements were such as could not be administered by a central authority, but by the authority for the locality where the occupations were carried on. For instance, it was proposed that no child under fourteen should begin work before 6 a.m., but that the local authority should have power to alter that. At harvest time or at fruit-picking, say in Devonshire, a farmer would have to send to Exeter to get the by-law temporarily altered, in order to meet the requirements of the locality. The fact was that unless the Amendment was accepted it would make the employment of children in such districts almost impossible, because it had to be considered in connection with the severe penalties that might be imposed; and he ventured to state that in the face of such penalties there would be no child employment at all. The Report of the Committee was all in favour of the principle of the Amendment. Not only that, but there was the discredit that would otherwise be brought on the local authorities, of whom they prided, and rightly prided, themselves. He would give another reason. If the Amendment were not accepted, then other Acts, such as the Cruelty to Children Act, which was now administered by the three authorities named in the Amendment, would be taken out of their hands and placed in the hands of the County Council. In his opinion, unless the Amendment were accepted, discredit would be cast on the local authorities. He did not know what county Members would think when the local authorities were deprived of the rights and privileges they had exercised almost from time immemorial. He hoped his right hon. friend in charge of the Bill would exercise some consideration. There were many hon. Members on both sides of the House who saw the difficulties that would arise if the clause remained as it was. In his opinion, the Bill would create evil, and the only way to reduce it to a minimum in the country districts was to place the administration of the Act in the hands of the authorities who knew the requirements of the people for whose good government they were responsible. He begged to move.

Amendment proposed to the Bill— In page 5, line 11, to leave out from the word 'means,' to the end of line 17, and insert the words 'the council of any municipal borough, or urban district, or rural district.'"—(Mr. Jesse Collings.)

Question proposed, "That the words 'in case of' stand part of the Bill.


said he hoped he might be allowed to reply to the speech of his right hon. friend in the hope of getting the Bill through. He was sure that everyone sympathised with his right hon. friend in his anxiety to safeguard the interests of the rural population, in which he took so much interest; but on this occasion he thought his right hon. friend had been led a little too far. What was the history of the Amendment introduced upstairs? His right hon. friend must remember the Bill, as it was originally drafted in 1901, when his right hon. friend was more or less responsible.


said he was not responsible?


said he was sorry his right hon. friend had so far neglected his duty. The Bill was drafted in 1901 and the authorities then introduced were all the Borough and County Councils. Then the Education Act was passed; and it became apparent that it was in every way desirable not to have conflicting authorities; and a very slight modification of the original proposal met the unanimous view of the Committee upstairs.


said he protested against the alteration at the time.


said it was agreed to delay the discussion until the definition clause, but his right hon. friend's enthusiasm was so faint that he did not submit his Amendment when the definition clause was reached. He did not desire to say anything of an argumentative nature. The Committee adopted the words of the Education Act which somewhat reduced the number of Borough Councils by imposing a limit of 10,000 population. As introduced, the Bill conferred powers on sixty-three County Councils, and 319 Borough Councils. The Committee cut out 110 Borough Councils and added sixty-two Urban District Councils of over 20,000 population, That was undoubtedly a very great improvement. If they were to adopt the suggestion of his right hon. friend they would have to add over 700 Urban District Councils and 661 Rural District Councils, each of which would have the power to make by-laws which should have to be referred to the Home Secretary for his approval. He would ask his right hon. friend really to consider what would be the effect on the Home Office. There might be as many as 1,792 different sets of by-laws throughout the country; and what chaos would not that occasion. He would appeal to his right hon. friend not to press the matter further. He hoped he had sufficiently placed the arguments before the House, and that they would now be able to get on with the Bill.

SIR EDWARD STRACHEY (Somersetshire, S.)

said he did not think that the Under Secretary had by attacking his right hon. friend [Mr. COCHRANE dissented] in any way assisted the passing of the Bill, because undoubtedly his right hon. friend had taken a great interest in the matter and was fully alive to its importance. There was a strong feeling, at any rate in the West of England, that the Government were attempting to crush out the smaller municipalities. He was as anxious as the Under Secretary to see the Bill pass, but if the hon. Gentleman had accepted an Amendment to enable the County Councils to delegate their authority to smaller country authorities and to boroughs this Amendment would not have been moved. The hon. Gentleman himself admitted that the original Bill did include municipal boroughs, which showed that the Government of that day, with the benefit of the assistance of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Bordesley Division, recognised that these small municipalities ought to be treated as living entities who would look after the interests of their own people. All that was now changed. They had passed the Education Act, and they were asked to take that as an admirable authority. But he did not think they ought to copy that Act as regarded local areas and local authorities. But would the education authority use their officers to put this Act into force. It would be an extraordinary thing if the officers of the education authority were to be called in to put in force these by-laws. The Home Office already had to consider by-laws for various matters, and he believed the County Councils would much prefer that the small municipalities and Urban and Rural District Councils should themselves have the power of making these by-laws. If the County Councils had to make them it would lead to much trouble and friction, as the Act would certainly not work smoothly if municipalities were to have forced upon them by-laws which they had had no hand in making. There could be no danger in allowing these local bodies to frame their own by-laws, because no by-law could come into force until the Home Office had approved of it. Moreover, England was treated unfairly in this matter as compared with Scotland. Every small School Board in Scotland was to be entrusted with a power that was denied to municipalities in England, as also were boroughs of 7,000 inhabitants. If for no other reason than that he would support the Amendment.

MR. BROADHURST (Leicester)

appealed to the House to come to a decision on the Amendment, the principle of which had been debated at considerable length in the Committee upstairs. He was in favour in the abstract of giving every Council the power to make these by-laws, as he was no believer in the justice at all times of large majorities. Large numbers were as often in the wrong as small minorities, and small Councils, in his opinion, were as capable as large Councils. But unless more rapid progress were made, the passage of the Bill would be endangered. He wished

the Urban and District Councils to have this power, but rather than insist on that and lose the Bill he would take the measure as it stood.

Question put.

The House divided:—Ayes, 190; Noes, (Division List No. 187.)

Allen, Charles P. (Glouc., Stroud Fyler, John Arthur Montagu, Hn. J. Scott (Hants
Anson, Sir William Reynell Galloway, William Johnson Morrell, George Herbert
Anstruher, H. T. Garfit, William Morton, Arthur H. Aylmer
Arnold-Forster, Hugh O. Gibbs, Hn. A. G. H. (City of Lond Mowbray, Sir Robert Gray C.
Arrol, Sir William Gladstone, Rt. Hn. Herbert J. Murray, Rt. Hn. A. Graham (Bute
Asher, Alexander Gorst, Rt. Hon. Sir J. Eldon Murray, Charles J. (Coventry)
Atkinson, Rt. Hon. John Goschen, Hon. George Joachim Murray, Col. Wyndham (Bath)
Aubrey-Fletcher, Rt. Hn. Sir H. Gray, Ernest (West Ham) Nussey, Thomas Willans
Bailey, James (Walworth) Greene, W. Raymond (Cambs Orr-Ewing, Charles Lindsay
Bain, Colonel James Robert Gretton, John Palmer, Walter (Salisbury)
Balcarres, Lord Greville, Hon. Ronald Partington, Oswald
Balfour, Rt. Hon. A. J. (Manch'r Grey, Rt. Hn. Sir E. (Berwick Percy, Earl
Balfour, Rt. Hn. G. W. (Leeds Guest, Hon. Ivor Churchill Pierpoint, Robert
Bhownaggree, Sir M. M. Gurdon, Sir W. Brampton Pirie, Duncan V.
Bignold, Arthur Guthrie, Walter Murray Platt-Higgins, Frederick
Black, Alexander William Hamilton, Marq. of (Londondy Pretyman, Ernest George
Blundell, Colonel Henry Hamilton, Rt. Hn. Lord G. (Midd'x Purvis, Robert
Brigg, John Hardie, J. Keir (Merthyr Tyd Randles, John S.
Broadhurst, Henry Hardy, Laurence (Kent, Ashfd Rasch, Major Frederic Carne
Brodrick, Rt. Hn. St. John Hare, Thomas Leigh Reid, James (Greenock)
Bryce, Rt. Hon. James Harmsworth, R. Leicester Renshaw, Sir Charles Bine
Buchanan, Thomas Ryburn Hay, Hon. Claude George Renwick, George
Butcher, John George Hayne, Rt. Hon. Charles Seale- Ridley, S. F. (Bethnal Green)
Caldwell, James Heath, Arthur Howard (Hanley Ritchie, Rt. Hn. Chas. Thomson
Causton, Richard Knight Hermon-Hodge, Sir Robert T. Roberts, Samuel (Sheffield)
Caverndish, V. C. W. (Derbyshire Hobhouse, Rt. Hn. H. (Somrst E. Robertson, Herbert (Hackney)
Cawley, Frederick Holland, Sir William Henry Roe, Sir Thomas
Cayzer, Sir Charles William Houldsworth, Sir Wm. Henry Rolleston, Sir John F. L.
Cecil, Evelyn (Aston Manor) Hutchinson, Dr. Charles Fredk. Ropner, Colonel Sir Robert
Cecil, Lord Hugh (Greenwich Jebb, Sir Richard Claverhouse Rose, Charles Day
Chamberlain, Rt. Hon. J. (Birm Joyce, Michael Royds, Clement Molyneux
Chamberlain, Rt. Hn. J. A. (Worc Knowles, Lees Runciman, Walter
Channing, Francis Allston Langley, Batty Russell, T. W.
Charrington, Spencer Law, Andrew Bonar (Glasgow Rutherford, W. W. (Liverpool
Clive, Captain Percy A. Lawrence, Wm. F. (Liverpool Sackville, Col. S. G. Stopford
Cochrane, Hon. Thos. H. A. E. Lawson, J. Grant (Yorks., N. R.) Sadler, Col. Samuel Alexander
Corbett, A. Cameron (Glasg.) Lawson, Sir Wilfrid (Cornwall) Samuel, Herbert L. (Cleveland)
Corbett, T. L. (Down, North) Layland-Barratt, Francis Seely, Maj. J. E. B. (Isle of Wight
Craig, Robert Hunter (Lanark. Lees, Sir Elliott (Birkenhead) Shackleton, David James
Cremer, William Randal Legge, Col. Hon. Heneage Sinclair, John (Forfarshire)
Crossley, Rt. Hon. Sir Savile Leveson-Gower, Fredk. N. S. Sinclair, Louis (Romford)
Davenport, William Bromley Loder, Gerald Walter Erskine Smith, H. C. (North'mb. Tyneside
Davies, M. Vaughan- (Cardign Long, Rt. Hn. Walter (Bristol, S. Smith, James Parker (Lanarks
Denny, Colonel Lonsdale, John Brownlee Smith, Hon. W. F. D. (Strand
Dickson, Charles Scott Lowe, Francis William Soares, Ernest J.
Dimsdale, Rt. Hn. Sir Joseph C. Lowther, C. (Cumb., Eskdale) Spencer, Rt. Hn. C. R. (Northants
Disraeli, Coningsby Ralph Lucas, Col. Francis (Lowestoft) Stanley, Lord (Lancs.)
Douglas, Rt. Hon. A. Akers Lucas, Reg'ld J. (Portsmouth) Sturt, Hon. Humphry Napier
Dyke, Rt. Hon. Sir Wm. Hart Macdona, John Cumming Talbot, Lord E. (Chichester)
Edwards, Frank Maconochie, A. W. Talbot, Rt. Hn. J. G. (Oxf'd Univ
Elibank, Master of M'Arthur, Charles, (Liverpool) Taylor, Austin (East Toxteth
Elliot, Hon. A. Ralph Douglas M' Arthur, William (Cornwall) Taylor, Theo. C. (Radcliffe)
Evans, Sir F. H. (Maidstone) M'Killop, James (Stirlingshire Tennant, Harold John
Evans, Samuel T. (Glamorgan) Majendie, James A. H. Thomas, F. Freeman (Hastings)
Fergusson, Rt. Hn. Sir J. (Manc'r Mansfield, Horace Rendall Thomson, F. W. (York, W. R.)
Finlay, Sir Robert Bannatyne Martin, Richard Biddulph Tomlinson, Sir Wm. Edw. M.
Firbank, Sir Joseph Thomas Massey-Mainwaring, Hn. W. F. Toulmin, George
Flavin, Michael Joseph Mitchell, Edw. (Fermanagh, N. Valentia, Viscount
Forster, Henry William Montagu, G. (Huntingdon) Vincent, Sir Edgar (Exeter)
Walrond, Rt. Hon. Sir W. H. Wilson, John (Durham, Mid) Yoxall, James Henry
Weir, James Galloway Wilson, John (Glasgow)
Whiteley, H. (Ashton-un.-Lyne Wilson-Todd, W. H. (Yorks.) TELLERS FOR THE AYES—
Whitley, J. H. (Halifax) Wortley, Rt. Hn. C. B. Stuart Sir Alexander Acland-
Willoughby de Eresby, Lord Wrightson, Sir Thomas Hood and Mr. Fellowes.
Wilson, A. S. (York, E. R.) Wylie, Alexander
Agg-Gardner, James Tynte Howard, John (Kent, Faversh'm Rigg, Richard
Balfour, Kenneth R. (Christch. Howard, J. (Midd., Tottenham Roberts, John H. (Denbighs.)
Banbury, Sir Frederick George Labouchere, Henry Shaw, Charles Edw. (Stafford)
Barran, Rowland Hirst Lambert, George Spear, John Ward
Bayley, Thomas (Derbyshire) Levy, Maurice Thomas, David A. (Merthyr)
Bond, Edward Lough, Thomas Webb, Colonel William George
Chapman, Edward M'Laren, Sir Charles Benj. Williams, O. (Merioneth)
Cohen, Benjamin Louis Markham, Arthur Basil Worsley-Taylor, Hry. Wilson
Dalziel, James Henry Morgan, D. J. (Walthamstow)
Davies, Alfred (Carmarthen) Norman, Henry
Fitzroy, Hon. Edw. Algernon Philipps, John Wynford TELLERS FOR THE NOES—
Flower, Ernest Priestley, Arthur Mr. Jesse Collings and
Greene, Henry D. (Shrewsbury Remnant, Jas. Farquharson Sir Edward Strachey.
Horniman, Frederick John Rickett, J. Compton

Resolution agreed to.


said the Amendment he desired to move provided that the City of London should retain powers which it already possessed under enactments to be repealed by this Bill. He believed it was purely by accident the provision had been omitted, and without detaining the House he would simply move.

Amendment proposed to the Bill— In page 5, line 11, at end, to insert the words, 'the City of London, the Mayor, Aldermen, and Commons of that City in Common Council assembled, in the case of.'"—(Mr. Alban Gibbs.)

Amendment agreed to.

And, it being Midnight, further consideration of the Bill, as amended (in the Standing Committee), stood adjourned.

Bill, as amended (in the Standing Committee), to be further considered upon Friday.