§ Mr. KEIR HARDIE
I rise to call attention very briefly to a matter which is exciting a certain amount of interest and some alarm in the country. The subject will also be dealt with by some hon. Members with greater knowledge of the subject and who have more power of physical exertion than I possess at the present moment. I refer to the encroachments which are being made on the educational by-laws, chiefly in the agricultural districts, with the practical sanction of the Government in relation thereto. It has taken the House of Commons and the country over fifty years to build up even a partial system of education. Hon. Gentlemen and right hon. Gentlemen are able to look at this question from rather an abstract point of view. They may have sympathy for the children, but they do not consider the question of education from the same point of view as those of us who represent more or less directly the interests of the working classes, and who in many cases have had only the most limited education, while some of us have never spent a day in school in our lives.
There are various limitations in the Acts of Parliament which regulate our educational system, and these limitations can be embodied in by-laws which have the same force as the Acts of Parliament. If the local authority fails to enforce the by-laws the Board of Education may hold an inquiry and enforce the findings of that inquiry by means of mandamus. That, briefly, is the present state of the law in England and Wales. Every child between the ages of five and fourteen is nominally entitled to such education as the public school can give. There always has been a certain strife in many agricultural districts between those who desire the children to be allowed to remain at school until they are fourteen and those who, especially in the agricultural industry, want the cheap labour of the children for their farms. It now looks as if the latter 403 were becoming more powerful and were obtaining the approval of the Government. That is a serious situation.
I may quote very briefly a list of cases in which exemptions from the by-laws have already been settled with the practical approval of the Board of Trade. My information is taken from that very remarkable document submitted to the Board of Education by Miss Susan Lawrence. She tells us of such cases in Dorsetshire, Buckinghamshire. Devonshire, Gloucestershire, where in some instances boys of eleven years of age may be temporarily employed; Hampshire, where the chairman suggested that managers should be told not to prosecute for non-attendance if the parents desired boys of twelve years of age to leave school for farm work; Oxfordshire, where the education committee wrote to the Board of Education asking that children of thirteen might be exempted from school and the Board replied that it was not necessary to alter the by-laws, but advised the committee that they could exercise a reasonable discretion as to the enforcement of the law—in effect to "wink with both eyes"—but not to prosecute. At the meeting of the education committee a resolution was passed asking the attendance committee to consider favourably the absence of any boy of eleven years of age who was employed temporarily on farm work. In West Sussex it appears that the number of boys under twelve who are already at work is over 100. In East Sussex it is much the same, but the figures are not given. Wiltshire and Westmorland are also exempt. Even Yorkshire is being affected. In Somersetshire, on 31st October, the education authority asked to be allowed to exempt children of eleven years of age. In Derbyshire they also asked exemption.
These are the agricultural districts, but in the manufacturing districts also encroachments are to be made. The Darles-ton Education Committee have been petitioned to exempt boys over thirteen years of age. The Staffordshire Committee in response to the application expressed their willingness to do this, in spite of the protestations of the trade unions that adult labour is available, and that the work to be done was too heavy for boys. That is the actual position that the bylaws issued to protect our children are being practically swept out of existence, as I hope to show before I finish, not 404 because of any special necessity for child labour, but very largely as a means of perpetuating the uneducated sweated labour in our agricultural districts. I will only read one quotation as showing the support which this action has received from the Government. On the 28th of August last year, the hon. Member for Wilton (Mr. C. Bathurst) desired to know whether the Government would enable boys over eleven years of age in purely agricultural districts to furnish assistance in necessary farming operations, subject to the approval and supervision of the local education authority.Are we to understand,he said,that if the local authorities took such action they would not meet with the disapproval of the Board of Education?The Prime Minister who had previously assured the hon. Member that the matter was well within the discretion of the local authorities, answered,Yes Sir.That is to say, the local authority, if they made it easy for children to be employed, would not be prohibited either by the Government or the Board of Education. I received this morning a letter from the Member for Roxburghshire (Sir John Jardine) on this subject. He says he should have liked to be present, but was not well enough to attend. He adds this sentence:—I think that under our system, as sanctioned by law, it should be a very exceptional thing to deprive children of twelve of any further education. This committee—No doubt the hon. Gentleman speaks of the committee of the county in which he lives—have doubts as to what authority can pass general orders. This matter ought to be made clear. There may also be benches of magistrates in very rural districts who give too much weight to the cry of the farmer for cheap labour. If it got to be believed that in all cases the bench would take the child away from school merely because they preferred agriculture to education I fear that the children would be sent without protection.There is danger that if this withdrawal of children is allowed, to meet, I suppose, the exigencies of the War situation, it may continue after the War is over. It is a difficult matter to get reforms, and once reforms are in operation and then relaxed, it becomes a still more difficult matter to get them re-established. I have a number of quotations—I will only read one or two of them—which proves the statement I am now making. This relates to a meeting of the executive of the Brecon and Radnor 405 Farmers' Union, and reported in the "Mark Lane Express." 19th October:—Mr. R. T. Rogers was of opinion that children should be allowed to leave school earlier. He hoped the time would come when there would be a proper system of education, and children taught something which would be of assistance to them when they went out into the world.The chairman observed that there were some children intellectually bright and others the opposite, but in the cape of the latter, to keep them in school was an unnecessary waste of money.Once the principle is laid down it may become permanent. At the annual meeting of the Ashford branch of the Kent Fanners' Union, on the 1st February, Mr. Clements, according to the report in "The Mark Lane Express,"spoke on the question of employing hoys over twelve years of age for agriculture, contending that too much education would mean a shortage of labourers.I would ask the House to observe that the question really is that in the admitted shortage of labour due to the War, many of those who are agitating are doing so in the hope that the relaxation of the education laws will be perpetual, and that their cheap labour will be continued. I want to refer to what we consider are the reforms which ought to be enforced, not merely to remedy the undoubted shortage of labourers in some of the agricultural districts, but to permanently improve the conditions of work of the agricultural labourers. The first requirement is higher wages. It is a most remarkable fact connected with this question which has to be dealt with, that the further north you go the more the tendency to employ child labour disappears. The further south you come, in the southern counties, and in parts of Wales, the stronger is the demand for the employment of child labour. When in the north of Scotland, and all over Scotland generally, and also in the north of England, the wages of agricultural labourers, farm hands, ploughmen and so on are almost double what they are in the southern districts of England, you see at once the reason why the farm hand should be in a position which will enable him to have the same respect for his child as any capable workman. The President of the Board of Education said—I quote him in support of my view:—There is one curious fact in connection with this subject, and it is this, that where wages are lowest there has been the greatest tendency to lake children from school; where the conditions have been best, where the wages are highest, there is no demand on the part of the fanners to try and secure the cheap labour or the free labour of the boys on their farms.This was said on the 7th February by the right hon. Gentleman in reply to a deputation. Then we have the testimony, 406 and very remarkable it is, of the hon. Gentleman opposite, the Member for Oxford University (Mr. Prothero), who, in the House of Commons, on 17th February, referred to this question. I should like to quote a passage from his speech, because of one fallacy which to me it appears to contain:—If you inquire in various quarters of the country, you will find that even ordinary wages of agricultural labourers have been raised by something like 2s. a week. I quite agree that 3s. would probably re-instate the men in the position in which they were before the War, and if hon. Members will go for that, there we must part company, because I do not think that that can be fairly expected from the employer.It does not seem to me to be logical, or very consistent, to say that farmers can afford to pay an extra two shillings and that they cannot afford to pay three shillings. That difficulty seems to be a small one. We put that forward as our first claim that a living wage should be fixed, by law if need be, or, at any rate, by Wages Boards; and, secondly, that suitable cottages should be provided for the agricultural labourer. We have Housing Acts and all sorts of Acts and all sorts of Departments for this purpose now, and it cannot be expected that agricultural labourers are going to be content to live the kind of life in the future which they have done in the past. There is one question upon which I do not know whether my colleagues would be unanimous, but which I feel might be used to great account in solving this problem for the War period. I refer to the question of the employment of women. I can remember in Scotland my own mother, who was a farm servant, many times had to work after she was married with her children growing up. I have seen her employed in the fields at kinds of work that I would not like to see any other woman employed at now; but there is much work about a farm which is perfectly respectable, clean, and which calls for a certain amount of intelligence—such as milking, the handling of milk, the making of butter, and many other occupations which a woman can do with advantage to herself and to others. But, like many other cases, the average woman brought up in the town or the city has lost all instinct for, and all contact with, the life of the farm.
Then, if we are to permanently solve this problem, there must be a fresh land policy. This country cannot afford to allow its land to be sacrificed and its labourers to be degraded in order to perpetuate an old-time system of private ownership, and 407 before the agricultural problem can be solved some form of common local ownership and co-operation amongst the producers will require to be adopted. But these things are not for the moment. They do not help us in the situation in which we find ourselves. I say emphatically that child labour will not help the farmer even in what is called the present crisis. We want to find out what are the causes of the scarcity of labour. It is said that the agricultural labourer has enlisted to the extent of 10 or 12 per cent., and the big wages prevailing in the agricultural districts in connection with the camps have taken away the agricultural labourer also. But, let the causes be what they may, we on these benches protest against the child being made the victim. We ask the Government to investigate the causes, and to prevent education committees all over England robbing the child of the education which the law has provided for it.
§ Mr. KEIR HARDIE
I have pointed out that the agricultural labourer should have a wage sufficient to enable him to keep his family in comfort, and every consideration must be subjected to that. If it means the curtailment of the power of landlordism, the country will be all the better for it. The farmer, I know, is in a difficult position. I admit that. But at the present time his difficulties are being removed by the way in which prices have gone up and are still going up. The farmer stands between the landlord on the one hand, who must get his rents, and the labourer on the other hand, who has got to live. The labourer hitherto has been squeezed, while the landlord is stronger and better able to protect himself. But I am glad to say that the agricultural labourers are forming unions, and will not suffer as they have done in the past. The point is this: We ask the Government to take a firm stand against the suspension of the Education Act in agricultural districts; we ask them to preserve carefully all that we have got, 408 and to see that the agricultural labourer's child has the same chance to get education as the children in our larger towns. The whole matter may require investigation, but the one thing we protest against is that when a bit of a crisis appears to be on us, the burden of it should fall so heavily on the child. That surely can be avoided in a House with so much power as this House possesses, and I trust that the Government, instead of pursuing its policy of weeping with both eyes, will let the educational authorities all over England know that the Education Act must be enforced in the interests of the children.
§ 4.0 P.M.
§ Sir JAMES YOXALL
I understand that the theory current amongst hon. Members who will speak against this Motion is that the difficulties of the time and the need of young labour during the War may be taken to justify a practice which, at another period and in more peaceful years, would not be justified even by them. I dare say that is the view which those who may speak on behalf of the Board of Education would also take of the question. I think we all wish to be reasonable, as reasonable as we can, at a time like this, and to make every practical concession there can be made to the special circumstances and difficulties of the period. But I confess I should be more inclined to accept the theory which I have sketched as being likely to be put forward by other speakers if I heard it at the present juncture for the first time. But I do not. I have been in this House for a good many years now, and I have seen at least four, and I think five, times a Bill brought forward for the express purpose of increasing the duration of the school life of children in urban districts hampered, injured, and finally killed by those who speak for the farming and land-owning classes. When there was no war, when agriculture itself was looking up and flourishing very satisfactorily, when there was no shortage of labour on the land, or no greater shortage than there has been for many years past, attempts to raise the half-time age of children in town schools were again and again successfully attacked, manœuvred, played with, and finally killed by those who are anxious to keep down the age for school attendance and introduce a still earlier age for child labour upon the land. Therefore, I think, there is some reason for regarding with suspicion the statement now made that these children must be 409 allowed to leave the elementary schools in the rural districts at an earlier age than they have done in the past because of the claims which the War makes on the labour of the country.
I understand that the Board of Agriculture propose to farmers that they should employ Belgians upon the land, while the Board of Trade propose that labour for the farmers should be procured from the Labour Exchanges. I gather from reports of meetings of chambers of agriculture and farmers' unions all over the country that the farmers reject both these methods of temporarily supplying labour for the land on the ground that they are not practicable. Belgians, it appears, are townspeople, as also are the persons who might be supplied through the Labour Exchanges, and the labour of townspeople upon the land cannot be so valuable for farming purposes as the labour of children of eleven years of age who live in the villages. The Belgium adult and the Bradford and Bristol adult are useless for farming purposes compared with the great agricultural value of the lesser labourer of eleven years of age. References are made to the depletion of agricultural labour to the extent of 12 or 15 per cent. due to the War. There is also a depletion amongst the teachers of the country of about 25 per cent. due to the War. It would be to the interest of the teachers remaining in the rural districts if there could be removed from the schools 10, 15, or 25 per cent. of the school children to work upon the land, because it would mean less labour and less strain upon them during the War in the absence of the teachers who have enlisted. But I have received letters from teachers in rural schools, men and women alike, conveying to me lamentations upon this subject and descriptions of the loss of education in the future life of the children that would arise; and I am bound to say that in my view, after most careful investigation, there is no sufficient justification for the cry that the children must be taken out of the schools and put upon the land or else farming will go to rack and ruin. We are not going to get the supply of food largely increased by the labour of these youngsters upon the land. The labour of these children cannot for months, perhaps years, to come affect very much the supply or the prices of food.
I join my hon. Friend (Mr. Keir Hardie) in what he said about the land system and the proper way of dealing with it. I join 410 him in saying that better wages for agricultural labourers is the way to keep men upon the land and to induce people to leave the town for labour on the land. But, as he pointed out, those are matters which cannot be dealt with now. The question before us now is, shall we take away from schools at 11½ or 12 years of age scores and hundreds and thousands of children during this crisis and destroy a large part of their chances of ever getting any education at all? Will the House agree to that? Will the Board of Education approve of that? Will the Government stand up and defend it? Will members of local education authorities close their eyes to their proper duty under the law and wink at laxity? Will justices of the peace in rural districts, when the members of the education authority do their duty and bring these cases into Court, go on refusing to administer the law as it is their duty to administer it? These are the questions before the House, and it is to them that I beg the House to address itself, and I hope the President of the Board of Education will deal with them when he comes to reply. The teachers are short-handed. The more scholars there are in the schools the harder is the work the teachers have to do. Therefore it is an unselfish demand on their part that I make to the House, that we should not interfere with the already too short, incomplete, and insufficient educational prospects of the children by bringing into the field at the present moment boys and girls who ought to be at school. I hope that this question will not be dealt with as one between food for the minds of the children and food for the body of the parents. That question does not really arise. Employ all the children you can in this way, multiply the present number employed by ten thousand or a hundred thousand, and you cannot do much for the supply of food for the parents, but you will destroy the food for the mind of the coming generation in the rural districts and undo that very difficult and long process of building up the education of the children, which has gone on so imperfectly, but which was beginning to go on more hopefully, at the end of all these years.
§ Mr. PROTHERO
The speech to winch we have just listened was one of a high educational authority and deserves the attention of the House. The speech of the opener of the Debate (Mr. Keir Hardie) affected me by its evident earnestness and sincerity. But I think that the danger we 411 really run is that we are exaggerating the situation altogether and losing sight of the principle which ought to run through the whole of this discussion. That principle is that the cultivation of the land is a necessity. You cannot carry it on without a supply of labour, and if you try to get an abnormal supply of labour from any new source there are reasonable abjections in whichever direction yon look. The question is, if you have an absolute shortage of labour, in which direction can you look with the best advantage and the least detriment to the community? Recruiting has, in certain districts, produced an absolute shortage of labour. Look where you will, there is no means of supplying the labour market in such agricultural districts. It is not so in every district, because recruiting has been very patchy. In one parish you will find three or four farms without a single man of military age and capacity left, while in an adjoining parish you may find three or four farms from which no one has enlisted. But in the districts where recruiting has taken firm hold of the people there is an absolute shortage of labour. I think the hon. Member for Nottingham (Sir J. Yoxall) rather doubted whether there was an absolute shortage of labour, because he said that farmers were offered Belgians and were also able to go to the Labour Exchanges. A great difficulty in regard to getting Belgians—I know the difficulty, because it has been tried—is that there is no agency at work in this country to sort the Belgian refugees and set aside those who are available for agricultural work. It would be as absurd to go to a Labour Exchange and get a plumber in a boot factory where you wanted a finisher as it would be to get a Belgian brewer to go on the land as an agricultural labourer.
§ Mr. WHITEHOUSE
May I say that the Labour Exchanges have a complete list of the refugees, with their occupations and life history, and they could supply agricultural labourers?
§ Mr. PROTHERO
That the preparation has been going on I am quite aware, but at the present moment the list is not available. With regard to the Labour Exchanges, the farmer is looking out for 412 adult agricultural labourers, but at the present time no agricultural adult labourer registers because he is perfectly well aw are that he can get a job wherever he goes. Therefore it is useless for the farmer to employ the Labour Exchanges. But I sincerely hope that in this crisis the fanners will go to the Labour Exchanges and endeavour by every possible means to get adult labour wherever they can; I have long tried to make farmers in my own country use the Exchanges, but I know there has been that insuperable objection—that if you go there you are offered perhaps a plumber out of work, or a misfit in industrial life, and not an adult agricultural labourer. In certain districts there is an absolute shortage of labour, and it is proposed by the chambers of agriculture that, owing to the scarcity of labour in the present crisis, children of twelve years of age and upwards should be exempted from school attendance during the continuance of the War, provided they are employed solely on farms.
We have heard a great deal about children of eleven and eleven and a half. Apparently the statement has been made that farmers are trying to get children of that age. I do not think there is the slightest foundation for that statement. What is the position? I have long been a member of the local education authority, and I may inform the Member for West Nottingham (Sir J. Yoxall) I have tried my utmost to increase the school age for town children in my own country. There fore, I am not out of sympathy with his proposal. What, however, is really asked is simply this: Already children who have attained the sixth standard are entitled to a certificate of exemption. Children of twelve years and upwards who are not in that standard, but who have made a certain number of attendances, are entitled to what I am afraid in my country is called "the dunce's certificate of exemption," provided that they have made a certain number of attendances. What the local education authority asks is that at this exceptional crisis, and for this specific purpose, children over the age of twelve should be allowed to leave school, although they may not have reached the sixth standard and although they may not have made the requisite number of attendances. That is all that is asked—nothing more, only that!
I so far agree with the two hon. Members who have spoken that I think it would have been very much better if the Board of Education had given local authorities a 413 direct lead on the subject; if they had said for instance, "You should not grant the certificates," or "You should insist upon your attendance officer prosecuting unless the school managers are satisfied that the parents want the child to go; that the child has produced the proper certificate of birth; that there is an absolute shortage of labour; that the farmer has gone to the Labour Exchanges and failed to find labour; that the hours of labour are such and such; that the wages of labour are so and so; and that the child will not have to travel more than a certain distance to arrive at the farm." If the Board of Education had made that answer instead of, as it were, throwing the responsibility upon the local education authorities, it would have been much better, for what the local education authorities wanted was a lead and guidance, and in my opinion they did not get it.
Put, however, in that way, in the straight, limited way that I have put it, where there is an absolute shortage of labour, provided that those conditions are complied with, I venture to think that the damage to the child is very much exaggerated, as well as the number of children who would be damaged. When the Member for West Nottingham talked of the hundreds of thousands of children, surely he must have known that he was exaggerating! After all, we are here to discuss a very practical question, and we ought to try—it is our duty—to present the case exactly as it is and without exaggeration. It is said that farmers are trying to get cheap, low-priced labour. Within the last week we have had three discussions upon agricultural topics. In the first the suggestion was made that the farmer, to enrich himself, was exploiting the necessities of the poor. The suggestion in the second was that the farmer, to suit his own convenience, was turning out of their homes the wives and dependants of the soldiers at the front. The third suggestion is that of the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydvil (Mr. Keir Hardie), that the farmer is trying to perpetuate the uneducated, sweated labour of our agricultural districts.
The British farmer is not a paragon of virtue; at the same time he is not an ogre! He is a human being just as any of us, and in proportion as these three suggestions are shocking and alien to our natures, we ought to be very careful before we assume that they are true of our absent neighbour. I for one deny that in making this appeal 414 for the use of children at an exceptional crisis there is any attempt on the part of the farmers to stop the progress of education in the country. It may perhaps be out of line with the argument, but I would like to say that whatever the farmer thought twenty years ago he is new in favour of education. His complaint is, that, in the elementary schools of the country districts a course of education is given to the children which not only disqualifies but discourages them from following the pursuit of an agricultural labourer. They further complain—and I think with reason—that while you spend millions on technical instruction on other industries, you dole out pence in technical instruction in agriculture, and you give it at a time when it is neither useful or effective. That is the position of the farmer at the present day as to education.
The hon. Member (Mr. Keir Hardie) went on to suggest that higher wages should be given. He quoted a passage from a speech of my own. If I may venture to explain that to him, what I was saying then was this: "That there is a time during work on a farm when the agricultural labourer has ordinarily no work to do; that during the wet months we have had all labour operations were suspended." I said, "Here is a case in which, if you go in for the strict law of supply and demand, the farmer is entitled to say, 'I am not using the labourer, why should I raise his wages?'" I went on to say, "That the moral responsibility of the employers had almost universally in this country overridden those strict laws of supply and demand, and wages had been raised by 2s. in order partially to restore the agricultural labourer to where he was before." I am entirely with the hon. Member when he wants higher wages. We, all of the agricultural community, want to see higher wages paid, but that cannot come at a dead agricultural season of the year; it will come the moment the farmer begins his spring operations. Then you will find wages increase, and I, for one, will be glad if the farmers are able to pay them. That is the explanation of my observations.
When the hon. Member talks of the low rate of wages, does he know what is the rate of wages? Is there any hon. Member in this House who knows? I venture to say there is not. In 1907 we did have an official inquiry into wages, which was so impartial, so sound, and so practical that we do know approximately what wages 415 were in 1907. Although, however, there was an inquiry in 1898, another in 1902, and another in 1907, the Government have never again inquired into agricultural wages. They at last set on foot an inquiry last autumn, I believe, but neither the hon. Member, nor the hon. Baronet who represents the Board of Agriculture, nor myself, nor anybody else in this House knows what is the average rate of wages.
I can tell hon. Members this: the official statistics show that since 1896 there has been a continuous rise in agricultural wages every year. That rise had been secured, up to the end of 1913, without any of the expenses of strikes or lock-outs, and there is no industry in the country which can show a continuous rise of the same kind. You will find that in the published Official Statistics for 1913. The hon. Member spoke of the provision of cottages for agricultural labourers. That was a point which was brought up, I think, by the hon. Member for the Attercliffe Division a few days ago. We all have heard of the shortage of cottages in the rural districts. A rural district is not necessarily an agricultural district. A "rural district" is a Public Health Act term which may include a semi-urbanised area, and the shortage of agricultural cottages is a very small thing indeed. I have a return for 260 estates in various parts of England and Wales representing over one million acres, dealing with upwards of 22,000 agricultural cottages built for agricultural labourers, and showing how they are now occupied. Out of those 22,000 cottages only 13,000 are occupied by agricultural labourers. The remaining 9,000 are occupied by persons who prey upon the provision made for the agricultural labourer by the agricultural landowner. Nine thousand cottages built for the agricultural labourer, and occupied by whom? Over 1,000 are occupied by the employés of the Government and of the local authorities. Why have not they done their duty and built their cottages. There are upwards of 5,000 occupied by industrial capitalists who have collected large numbers of people for industries other than agriculture. Why have they not done their duty and built their cottages?
I would remind hon. Members that nearly one-seventh of these 22,000 cottages are occupied by old age pensioners—occupied through the sympathy of that class which is not always fairly treated by hon. 416 Members opposite—though, I believe, in fairness I should say that that lies in the fact that we do not understand one another quite as well as we ought. Over 3,000 of them! When you speak of the shortage of agricultural cottages surely you are making a very great mistake! The Member for the Attercliffe Division (Mr. Anderson) quoted a statement, I think, in the unofficial land inquiry, that 120,000 cottages was the shortage in rural districts. He did not know, or at all events he did not let the House know, that those were rural districts, not agricultural districts, and that it was not a shortage of agricultural cottages, but a shortage of cottages required for other purposes than agriculture. I need hardly say that I do not wish to say anything against the authors of that Inquiry who, I have no doubt, tried to be correct and impartial.
But there is no agriculturist in the country who does not regard that Inquiry as a gross caricature and an absolutely obsolete account of the condition of agriculture to-day. Now, if the labour is wanted, how are you going to provide it? I did not quite understand whether the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydvil (Mr. Keir Hardie) was an advocate for the employment of women labour. I think that in certain kinds of agriculture, like dairying, woman's labour would be extremely valuable, and would be most useful to the woman as well as to the farmer. The worst of it is that in the present generation you cannot find a woman in the village who can milk at all. Therefore, again, that side of the shortage cannot be relieved in that way. Then the hon. Member spoke of the lower wages in the south, but does it ever occur to him that the higher wages in the north—Durham, Northumberland, Westmorland, and such counties—are wages given to men in charge of animals? In that part of England there is a ready market for the produce of a grass farm, and wherever there is a ready market for the produce of a grass farm, higher wages are paid—in the south and east, just as in the extreme north.
§ Mr. KEIR HARDIE
My point was that where wages are low and conditions unsatisfactory there is a demand for the relaxation of the education by-laws. May I ask whether the hon. Member would tell us who built the cottages to which he refers?
§ Mr. PROTHERO
The 22,000 cottages were built by the agricultural landowners 417 out of their own money for the accommodation of agricultural labourers. As to the other matter, the point is this: On a mixed arable farm the shortage of labour is at once more acutely felt the moment you begin the Spring operations of the farm than anywhere else: and the wages on an arable farm are much higher per acre and less per individual.
§ Mr. PROTHERO
I have no experience of the Lowlands of Scotland. I am speaking of the wages of England and Wales. I understood this question was practically confined, the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydvil told us, to England and Wales, and that Scotland was excluded.
§ Mr. PROTHERO
And, I might add, by its greater love of education. But the point to be remembered is this, and it is one very often lost sight of: When you talk of raising wages you have to consider the number of men on a farm. If you raise wages by 5s. a week on a grass farm, it only means on a 200-acre grass farm a charge of 5s. an acre; but if you raise it on an arable farm it will mean much more like 15s. an acre, because a much larger number of persons is employed. Those are points on which I felt myself obliged to follow the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydvil. I do not think they affect the present question, which is simply how you are going to find the sort of labour to meet the existing shortage. By such a letter as the Board of Education might send round, I think that you would reduce the employment of child labour to a minimum, that you would mitigate the evil, and that you would not produce all these evils which, I think, have been somewhat exaggerated by the Mover and the Seconder.
§ Mr. GEORGE ROBERTS
Like my hon. Friend, I can recall discussions on previous occasions on this same question. For a number of years there has been a tendency on the part of farming and landowning interests to demand a reduction in the school age of children in rural areas. Therefore, the question is by no means a new one, but the incident of the War has been utilised for the purpose of Hiving it greater prominence. Undoubtedly 418 farmers have for many years past been agitated about the question of labour supply, but they have never yet, in my opinion, gone the right way to work in order to find a solution. It is perfectly well known that there is a constant flow from the country-side to the towns in some districts, and the result is that we have a scarcity, generally understood, of labour in the country, but a superfluity of labour in many of these towns. An analysis of the reasons of this generally clearly shows that the men leave the country-side because of the low wages there prevailing and because of the conditions of living to which they are subjected.
There is no doubt whatever that better wages, free homes in place of tied cottages, greater facilities for education and recreation, would stem the flow to the town and solve the problem with which the farmer has to grapple. I happen to be one of those born in a small agricultural village who still maintain a pretty intimate contact with conditions there prevailing, and I have no doubt whatever in my mind that, were the wages and the housing questions equitably solved, we would have got rid of this question. But the real point we have to consider here to-day is whether we ought to sanction the general employment of children of school age in agricultural and other pursuits, for let it be borne in mind that, although the discussion so far has mainly centred around the rural aspect of the question, the demand is not confined to farmers, but is already being rapidly extended to manufacturing centres, and we entertain a very grave apprehension that unless this House does strongly disapprove of the employment of children of school age all the advantages painfully built up by a series of Education Acts may be destroyed, not only to the detriment of the individual child, but to the nation as a whole.
We are aware that this question has assumed its form in this House arising out of a question submitted by the hon. Member for Wilton (Mr. Charles Bathurst) to the Prime Minister. I regret the hon. Gentleman is not here, because, I am proud to acknowledge a very close relationship with him, and I would not like to say anything in his absence that might be misunderstood. He is generally progressive on questions even of agricultural concern, but I am much disappointed that he should have personally associated himself with this agitation for the employ- 419 ment of child labour. But the hon. Gentleman certainly got some encouragement from the reply of the Prime Minister. I am aware of the fact that the right hon. Gentleman and the Members of the Cabinet generally have very large responsibilities resting upon them, and they may not have the time closely to follow every one of these questions as they arise; but it is perfectly certain that farming and other interests in the country have construed the reply of the Prime Minister to mean that the Government, the Board of Education in particular, will favourably consider this question and acquiesce in the relaxation of the provisions of the Education Act.
The hon. Member for Merthyr Tydvil has already instanced the fact that a number of county council education authorities immediately proceeded on the assumption that they would have the backing of the Government in relaxing the provisions of the Education Act, with the result that there are numbers of children already being employed who are not qualified by law for that employment. The White Paper which has been issued bears out that contention. We are told that in West Sussex there were at the end of October sixty-seven boys who had left school under these conditions, the average age of the boys being thirteen years and three months, and the average wages paid 4s. 10½d. per week. Well, I view with very grave concern the whole of this tendency. I have had some experience of the administration of the Education Acts. For several years I was a member of the old School Board for the city of Norwich, and this question of partial or complete exemption was always one of the most difficult points with which we had to deal. I had always understood that you could only entertain the question of exemption on condition that the local authority was satisfied that the child was beneficially employed. Of course, when we come to construe the meaning even of those words we get different points of view. I always urge that the spirit of the law requires that we should have regard to the future interests of the child. "Beneficially employed" might mean that the parent was anxious to have an addition to the family income, or that the employer might regard it that child labour was beneficial to his particular industry.
I believe that we more correctly interpret the desire of Parliament and the 420 spirit of the Education Acts by a strict inquiry as to whether exemption is going to be to the ultimate benefit of the child's welfare. Now we have the point that the education authority has only to be satisfied that there is reasonable excuse for the exemption, and that places a very dangerous power in the hands of education authorities. Supposing farming interests are well represented, as they generally are, on county council education authorities. It would not be at all difficult to convince an education authority that the children will be beneficially employed. I want to go further, and say that, in my opinion, it has not yet been proved that there is a shortage of labour in agriculture which cannot be overcome by other and better methods. Of course, we recognise—and everybody who knows me will admit that I have recognised—the extraordinary emergency through which the country is passing, and if it were the case that we had not adult labour to cultivate the land, I would be prepared to consider relaxations, properly safeguarded. But we are in no such need of labour. I believe that there is labour in the community which can be secured for the purpose if the conditions are only made just and sufficiently attractive. The replies which have been given to questions by Members of the Government have also confirmed that view. I say that the relaxation of the conditions of exemption ought to be the very last resort of a country, even in a great national emergency.
I might cite one or two cases which have been brought to my notice of extraordinary relaxations that have already taken place. I have stated that not only is there a very strong demand on the part of farming interests, but we are also aware of the fact that manufacturers are already taking advantage of the Board of Education's acquiescence in the relaxation which has already taken place. I have here a report of a case tried at Edinburgh on 1st February of a firm being fined £10 for employing two boys aged twelve and thirteen during the night. In the case of the twelve-year-old boy, he was at school on Monday from 9 o'clock to 3 o'clock; he went into the factory at six, and worked until 5 o'clock next morning. He then went to school, and in the evening resumed work in the factory until 5 o'clock on the Wednesday morning. On Wednesday he was ill, and could not go to school, but he went to the factory at night, and went back to the school on Thursday. The inspector found 421 him in the factory at work at 9.40. In the case of the other boy, the circumstances were similar. He had collapsed at work and had slept in a corner of the factory. I do not suggest that farmers or employers generally are harsh. I have not been accustomed to resorting to exaggerated or immoderate language, but once we allow these relaxations we are laying the child life of the country open to injury even as great as that indicated in the reference I have just made.
§ Mr. CURRIE
The case which the hon. Member has just referred to took place in my Constituency, and I think it is only fair to state that the foreman and the proprietors of the bottle works in question were not aware that the children were going to school. Therefore, so far as their culpability goes, I wish to remind the House of those facts.
§ Mr. G. ROBERTS
I do not want to misrepresent the case. I was quoting from the "Glasgow Herald" of 2nd February, which states that an agent on behalf of the firm tendered a plea of guilty, and in mitigation of the sentence stated that the exceptional conditions of the labour market, particularly with regard to a factory of that kind, might excuse the employment. I have carefuly verified the illustrations I have used in the Debate, and the hon. Member can accept it from me that I do not want to exaggerate anything that occurs in his constituency. I want to make clear one observation in regard to general educational interests. In my opinion we throw the child into school at too early an age, and we push him out too early. The desire to place boys of twelve on to the land is based on the assumption that every child born of rural parents is destined to become an agricultural labourer. We have no right to make that assumption, and I believe that when we develop a better educational system we shall raise rather than lower the school age, and the period now desired for exemption will be utilised for more closely watching the aptitudes of the child in order that he may be directed to those pursuits according to his own aptitudes. Therefore this is unjust to the rural child, and it is a handicap that you do not impose upon a child in the town. I have already stated that I am myself of agricultural descent, and therefore I am not likely to hold or acknowledge that there is any law that dooms a child born of rural parents to a less finely convoluted brain than a child born in a town. I feel that we ought not to proceed 422 on the assumption that there must be a close differentiation between the rural and the urban child. Children in the rural areas already suffer sufficient disabilities, and in this connection I would like to read an extract from the report of the chief medical officer of the Board of Education, which has been recently issued. It says:—In no direction are the ravages of war more serious or more difficult to replace than in the loss of human life. Consequently the question of the preservation of the rising generation and care for its physical fitness and equipment is of more than ordinary importance.It emphasises the task of the school medical service, and later on the report proceeds to state:—For the existence and strength of a nation ultimately depends upon the survival of its children and their physical and mental health.I believe that the revival of education is never going to ensue if you have recourse to child labour. Agriculture in the future is only going to develop provided you have a well-equipped agricultural population. The hon. Member for Merthyr Tydvil (Mr. Keir Hardie) referred to co-operation and other things; but in my view we shall have to elevate the whole standard of agricultural education if prosperity is ultimately to ensue to agriculture in this country. Therefore do not let us exaggerate the emergency with which we are now surrounded, and thus do a permanent damage to the better prospects which have arisen for agriculture in recent years.
I submit that whatever might be our speculative opinion, we ought to be very careful before we embark upon anything in the nature of relaxation. We are aware of the fact that the countries with whom we have to compete have paid greater regard to educational matters than we have. I have always claimed that the brain quality of the British people is of the highest in the whole world, and yet we have to acknowledge that there are certain directions in which our competitors do excel, and the whole secret of that is that they have paid greater attention to educational matters than we have so far done. Germany, with whom unfortunately we are at war, is an example of this. The year before last certain of my colleagues and myself paid a visit to Denmark in order to inquire into agricultural conditions there, and we were impressed with the fact that there were two factors mainly accounting for the great prosperity of Danish agriculture, one was education and the other was the widespread adoption of the co-operative principle. There we found not a tendency to curtail the educational facilities of the child, but to extend them. The 423 People's High Schools there are splendid institutions, and I hope that ultimately, even in our agricultural districts, we shall raise the age for attendance at elementary schools and make some such provision as exists in Denmark for the continuation of education in the high schools.
The knowledge that we all possess of the remarkable strides that a small state like Denmark has made in agricultural development ought to make the Members of this House pause before they give encouragement to the movement we are now considering. We find that these exemptions rapidly spread. I extracted this from a newspaper only this morning. The superintendent of the school attendance officers for Paddington told the magistrate at the Marylebone Police Court yesterday that since the outbreak of the War no fewer than 650 instances have been brought to his knowledge of school boys being illegally employed, and in 100 cases summonses had been issued against employers. Those 650 instances came under the notice of this superintendent of school attendance officers in the area of one educational authority alone. It is quite impossible for us to state how far manufacturers, traders, and agriculturists have taken a part in this very free construction placed upon the reply of the Prime Minister and the Board of Education. It is very remarkable that three days after the Prime Minister's statement one education authority asked the Board of Education whether they were free to sanction the employment of boys between the ages of eleven and fourteen. I refer to the approach of the Northampton (Soke of Peterborough) to the Board of Education. My hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr Tydvil was not, therefore, exaggerating when he quoted the age of eleven, for it appears in the White Paper that this education committee asked if they could sanction the employment of boys between the ages of eleven and fourteen.
§ Mr. G. ROBERTS
They are farmers. I will read it out. The secretary to the education committee writes:—I am desired to call your attention to the report that the House of Commons last week was informed by the Prime Minister that farmers were now allowed to have the temporary services of boys between eleven and fourteen years in purely agricultural districts.424 The reply of the Board of Education certainly gave them reason to think that the exemption would be granted, and that they would suffer no detriment in consequence; but now a remarkable change has come over the Board of Education. Unfortunately the correspondence is not arranged in chronological order, and is somewhat misleading, but this apprehension existing in the minds of many people of all classes found expression in an agitation which developed, and the Board now certainly directly discourages the hope that these relaxations will be acquiesced in. I venture to hope that the right hon. Gentleman's reply this afternoon will accord with the latter portion of the correspondence, and not with the first part of the White Paper.
The hon. Gentleman the Member for Merthyr Tydvil made the point that the demand for the employment of child labour largely comes from those districts where wages are low. I admit that it is difficult to state with accuracy what are the wages in agricultural districts. We may state the money wages, and yet be unfair to employers and misleading to the public, because there are so many other factors which have to be taken into account—cottages, allowances, and that sort of thing. The mere quotation of a money standard may not, therefore, be an accurate reflection of the remuneration of the agricultural labourer. I am bound to admit that; but, nevertheless, it is remarkable that where that standard is lowest the demand for child labour appears to be the strongest. I am told that wages in Oxford are 12s. 6d. per week, in Dorset 13s. 7d., in Wiltshire 14s., in Gloucestershire 14s. 7d., in Bedfordshire 15s., and in Essex 15s. There may be allowances, but, as I say, we can only take the money standard. It is quite true that since 1896 there has been a general upward tendency in agricultural districts, but that simply shows how bad things must have been in 1896. If we take into consideration the constantly rising cost of living, I am afraid that the elevation of the agricultural labourer is not so substantial as some might believe.
I know what are the conditions of my own family. Only a year or two back, certainly within the last five years, a relative of mine, working on the farm, a honest, straightforward man, received 12s. per week. There was 1s. 6d. per week deducted for the rent of his cottage, and he went home with 10s. per week. I have 425 lived in those conditions, and have gone and stayed with people who are subjected to those conditions, and the finest rhetorical flights will not prove to me that the lot of the agricultural labourer is materially improved, having regard to the conditions of modern life.
I would, with the indulgence of the House, like to relate an incident in my own life. I was born, as I have stated, in a small agricultural village. My parents, like many agriculturists, removed to the town in the hope of being able to win a better standard of living. I was then in very delicate health, and I was advised by the doctors that I ought to spend my time in the country, with the result that for several years I attended rural schools in different parts of Norfolk. I stayed with a relative, and had to share a bedroom with a young fellow. He had ambitions for a broader and a fuller life than his father had enjoyed, and a desire for education. He would take a book to bed with him at night and would study botany. I helped him to spell out the words which he could not understand. At midnight he would probably get up and leave me for some hours. I wondered what he did, and subsequently I found that he resorted to a bit of poaching. He was not naturally a criminal—subsequent events have proved that—but he had this ambition within him. He wanted to buy books, and he bought tools for cultivating land and made experiments with flowers and other things so soon as he had saved sufficient money out of the proceeds of what most people regard as a disreputable action. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] Well, I am afraid that I had never sufficient courage to embark upon it, and, if I possess any virtue, it has therefore to be attributed to lack of courage.
He left this country as soon as he had got sufficient money, and I very often get newspapers from the Colony in which he now resides which prove to me that he is a distinguished public citizen, that he has made great progress, and that he is held in high regard by his neighbours. He told me in one letter he wrote that for years he was handicapped by the fact that he had to settle down to acquire the very elementary basis of education in order that he might fit himself for business and that civic work in which he subsequently became engaged. This all goes to emphasise the fact that there may be much genius latent among the agricultural population and much talent which, if released, will redound to the benefit of 426 the country as a whole; but, if we are going to relax the provisions of the Education Act and acquiesce, even in the panic of a temporary emergency, in children being thrust into agricultural and other pursuits, we shall destroy all that talent and we shall place a permanent injury in the way of national development. I believe the agricultural problem to be the root question in this country. If you elevate the agricultural labourer, in my opinion you raise the whole social standard. I therefore venture to express the fervent hope that this House to-day will do nothing to curtail the educational facilities of the rural child, but that the spirit evoked in this Debate will be in the direction of providing additional facilities for that class.
§ Mr. CHAPLIN
I am sure that hon. Gentlemen on both sides of the House will have heard with great interest the description of the progress which the hon. Gentleman has made from a lowly beginning in a cottage until he has been able, by his latent genius, to raise himself to the proud and responsible position which he now occupies as a representative of labour in this House. He has my hearty sympathy, and I congratulate him upon the possession of those qualities which have enabled him to reach to his present position, but, I fail altogether to perceive how and in what way that description applies to the suggestion that in a time of great and exceptional crisis, when it is admitted by almost everyone, except the hon. Member, that then is a great dearth of that agricultural labour necessary for the production of the food which we are all anxious to see produced in greater quantities in our own country, the Board of Education should be asked, as a purely temporary expedient, to relax some of its rules with regard to boy labour. Having said that, I ask permission of the House, as one of those whose duty it was to serve upon the Royal Commission which had to inquire into that question of vital importance to this country, our food supplies in time of war, to intervene in this Debate for a few moments.
I think I have been able to make myself more or less familiar with every branch of this important subject. In the first place, I wish to express my surprise at how little—so I gathered from some of the speakers on the other side, not excluding the hon. Member who has just sat down—how little any one of them realises what might so easily have been 427 the extreme gravity of the situation as regards the food supply of this country at the present moment. People in all directions are complaining, and I am not surprised at it, that the price of wheat should now be as high as 62s. per quarter, that, although we have the complete command of the sea to-day, and although our great antagonist—with the exception of Austria and Turkey; the last country I think we might almost put aside as a serious factor—is fighting practically against the whole world. Just consider what our position migrt rave been if we had had two great naval Powers opposed to us, instead of occupying the exceedingly favourable position which we do. Does not that consideration alone emphasise the vital necessity of doing everything that is possible in our power, not only now, but as I hope and trust in days to come, to use every effort for the greater production of food—of that staple food which is a vital necessity to the lives of our people—to use every effort to do that in far greater degree than is the case at present.
With these considerations before us, what becomes of what are really after all nothing but the petty, trifling objections urged by hon. Gentlemen to a merely temporary interference with the action of the Education Board in response to appeals which have been made to that Board—appeals which I hope, with all my heart and soul, they will listen to in opposition to the views of hon. Members opposite, appeals to extend what help they can for the further production of food in our own country. The last speaker said it was all very fine to put these appeals forward, but there is no proof of any shortage of labour. Has he studied the information which he might easily obtain as to the shortage of labour for agriculture at the present moment? Just before I came into the I House I had a whole sheaf of proofs put into my hands, and they absolutely contradict everything said by the hon. Member. There is first of all the view of the Board of Agriculture. I suppose the hon. Member will admit that that body has some opportunity of learning and knowing what is the condition of the country as regards agricultural labour at the present time. At a meeting of the Central Chamber of Agriculture on the 26th January, 1915, a letter was read from the Board of Agriculture which contained the following paragraph:—The Board are satisfied that the shortage of farm labour has become very serious indeed in certain 428 districts, if not throughout the country generally, and that the time has arrived when farmers must take concerted action to deal with the situation if they are to carry on their business with profit to themselves, and in the interests of the nation.What does the hon. Member say in reply to that? I suppose he was not aware of this statement on the part of the Board of Agriculture. But if he were aware of it, and if he had had proofs to offer that it was all nonsense and that there was no shortage, surely he would have advanced them. Again, I have here a report of the Central Chamber of Agriculture itself. The Central Chamber of Agriculture is. I suppose, the hon. Member will admit, representative of all agricultural districts in the Kingdom. Indeed there is hardly a farmer who does not belong to it. What do they say?Your committee consider that, owing to the scarcity of labour in the present crisis, children of twelve years of age and upwards should be exempted from school attendance during the continuance of the War, provided they are occupied solely on farms.There was also a statement made by the Prime Minister in this House which will be in the recollection of hon. Members. I could give half a dozen other proofs, but I do not want to delay the House, especially as I think that I have said quite sufficient to destroy the allegation of the hon. Member that the shortage of agricultural labour has not been in any way made out. Why is more labour for agriculture invoked at the present time? Because many of our rural population are animated by exactly the feelings that we should have expected of them—by the English patriotism and the English instinct which has prompted them to give their services at the front, and their lives, too, if needed, for the cause in which our common country and our Empire is now engaged. That is the whole reason. You have men adopting these magnificent resolves—and they are magnificent, whether they be on the part of the agricultural labourer, or Members of the Labour party in this House, or of any other party here, or of any classes in the country—they are all magnificent. Everyone of us must sympathise with them, we must rejoice to see the thousands of people from all parts of the country who are ready, for the sake of their country, to take part in the enormous and vital struggle in which we are engaged, and in which we are determined at all costs ultimately to succeed. It is a struggle for our very existence as a nation, and I wish that I could think that all hon. Members in this House were as sensible as everyone ought to be, of the enormous and gigantic task which the country has undertaken. 429 It is not over yet, although it certainly will end in our favour if we all of us put our shoulders to the wheel, each in his separate capacity, and do everything in our power to conduce to the ultimate, the great, and the final decision.
With all respect to some of the speeches made, I must say they were not calculated, in my opinion, to achieve this great end. I own that there passed through my mind once or twice what the Prime Minister said on an occasion not very long ago—that really, if it had not been that he was in the House of Commons and had heard some of the speeches which were made on that occasion, he would never have dreamed that anyone could have known or believed that the country was involved in so great a crisis as it was at that time. What I want to suggest to hon. Gentlemen is this. What we in Parliament—what all of us have to remember—is that there is another great army here at home, namely, the industrial army, on which we depend for our home-grown food, which is as necessary for our existence as any other equipment for war itself, and which is absolutely needed by us, and may be much more needed ere many months are over. A great many hon. Gentlemen, I suspect, have not quite realised that. I have had to think of these things for many years. I have been connected with the growth of food and other agricultural products all my life, and a very long one it has been. But I never was more convinced of anything in my life than that there is not only a great shortage now, but that there is going to be a greater shortage still, and perhaps the pressure may become very considerable and very serious indeed. I feel quite confident that that is the opinion of men in the Government who are responsible, and it makes me hope that people will not be quite so ready to carp at proposals which are directed solely and entirely to a larger production of food in our own country than we have at the present time.
The hon. Member for West Nottingham (Sir J. Yoxall) earlier in the evening seemed to be suspicious of the object of those who differed with him, and he suggested that they were chiefly anxious to get cheaper labour for the land. I can assure him there is not and never was the slightest ground for that suspicion. I will give an illustration of what I mean. I had a letter this morning from a farmer; it was written only yesterday, and it was in answer to a proposal which I had made 430 in public to the effect that the price of wheat being 62s. per quarter it would be a great inducement to farmers to sow spring wheat, which it was not too late to do when I made the proposal, if they could get a guarantee of at least 50s. per quarter for it. The letter I had from the farmer will show the spirit with which that class are animated. He said:—I thank you for your proposal, I will grow fifty acres more at once, and I will do something more. Anything I get over the 50s. per quarter I will give one half to the Belgian Farmers Relief Fund and the other half to the relief of the rates and taxes in the district.That is the spirit in which farmers look at this matter. Another farmer wrote to me—I have not his letter with me but it was to this effect—that I knew as well as anybody that at this period of the year the crows are exceedingly busy. So they are. He went on to say that he had lost twenty-five acres of spring wheat last year as a result of their operations, but, after reading my letter, if the Government would give him the suggested guarantee, he would undertake to try it again. He added, "I shall be in a very great difficulty, because it is hard enough to get man labour at the present moment for sowing, and, as for getting man labour to scare crows, that would be impossible. I lost the whole of my spring wheat last year because I could get no one to scare crows, but if the Board of Education will let me have a couple of boys for a certain time—not very long—I will grow twenty-five more acres of spring wheat, and I should save it and secure a crop." There is another instance of the way in which the practical men are looking at this question, and of the way in which they are prepared to deal with it.
In a case like this what are we to do, and what will the British people say that we ought to do? Go on teaching the school curriculum utterly regardless of the present crisis, at a time of great stress like this, with wheat at 60s. a quarter now, and, for all they know to the contrary, likely to be a great deal more? Which ought we to do—go on with the education without the least interference, or to use a little more boy labour for the purpose of securing a larger supply of food than we are doing at the present time? I have not a shadow of doubt that if the whole population could be polled on that question, they would say, by a majority of twenty to one, "Grow the food, of course," although I believe I put the majority at much too small a figure. What we want 431 to do is to increase the supply, and consequently to lower the price. If you have to choose, as the hon. Member said, between robbing them of their education or robbing them of their food, I am all for more and cheaper food, even if it is purchased at the cost of a little less education at the moment. That is all anybody is asking for. Even the hon. Member himself must have had some doubts as to whether he was quite right in making the speech that he did. I am going to make an appeal to the Minister for Education. I hope that we shall hear from him before this Debate is over that he is prepared to consider these proposals most sympathetically as a temporary thing. Nobody has asked for anything more, although if I were to say all that I think about it, I would say without any hesitation that I wish there were a great deal more excellent use of what is called technical education than some of the education which is given to the boys and girls at the present time, the consequence of which, in many parts of the country just now, is that after these girls have been brought up in some of your board schools you cannot get them for love or money to demean themselves, as they consider it, by milking a cow or helping the dairy supply and the dairy production of the country. Ever since I was a child I have remembered the old couplet, which applied in every village in the country:—'Where are your going to, my pretty maid?''Going a-milking, Sir,' she said.You do not find maids of that description now. Nowadays the maids want to play the piano, or read Shakespeare, or doing something of that kind. That is the kind of education of which I complain, and which I think is nothing but sheer mischief as compared with the technical education which could be given and which would add greatly to the wealth of the national life. I desire to ask one or two questions of the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Agriculture. In the month of August last a Consultative Committee, consisting of a great number of practical agriculturists, nearly all of whom were well known to me, was appointed by the Board of Agriculture, but I have never heard that any Reports from that Committee had been laid upon the Table of the House of Commons. I am going to put these questions on the Paper, so that if he does not find it convenient to answer them to-night, perhaps 432 he will bear them in mind and give me an answer early next week. I want to know, first, whether any Report or Reports have been made to the President of the Board of Agriculture by the Agricultural Consultative Committee appointed by the President at that time; if so, do they contain any recommendations calculated to encourage and increase the growth of any article or articles of food, including wheat, within the United Kingdom? Secondly, whether they have made any recommendations for the purpose of increasing the supply of agricultural labour in districts where the dearth of it is now complained of and is becoming very serious? Thirdly, what was the purpose of such recommendations, if any, that have been made, and, if any have been made, when were they made, and will they be laid upon the Table, and, if so, when? They are all very simple questions that admit of an answer, and if the hon. Gentleman will tell me to-night that he will give them his serious consideration I shall be perfectly satisfied, because I should not dream of asking, without notice, questions of this kind of a, Minister who was not in a proper position to deal with them. I am much obliged to the House for the attention it has given me. I hope I have given no offence to anybody, but in all that I have said I have told them exactly what I think on the matter.
§ The PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY to the BOARD of AGRICULTURE (Sir Harry Verney)
I venture to intervene in this Debate for a few minutes partly to put, if I can, the attitude of the Board of Agriculture with regard to the employment of child labour raised by the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydvil (Mr. Keir Hardie), and partly because I do not find myself in entire agreement with the right hon. Gentleman who has just sat down. I am particularly sorry not to be able to agree with one whose interest in agriculture is so sincere and genuine and whose knowledge of it is so encyclopædic, but, if I may, I would put one or two considerations before the House from a rather different point of view. I hope before I finish he will see that the Board are going to do what they can to establish something in the nature of women milkers, and although I cannot promise him that there will be any pretty maids in the Wimbledon Divison, I will do my best. Perhaps he will allow me, with regard to the series of questions he put to me just now, to delay 433 a very definite answer, not because I do not feel quite willing to answer, but because I think the head of the Department should be consulted first.
For a few minutes I will endeavour to put before the House the attitude of the Board of Agriculture in this matter. Our own rather narrow point of view, looking at it from the point of view of the fanner, coincides, I think, with the larger and more patriotic point of view and I believe will coincide with the wishes and ideas of every Member of this House in whatever quarter of it he sits. It is this, that the work of the farms must be done. We cannot look forward, in this time of emergency, to the work of the farms not being done. It is not sufficient to say that children are not to do the work, which is a view taken by the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydvil and some others. We at the Board of Agriculture have to put to ourselves the question, "Who is to do the work?" The attitude of the Board was briefly but fully explained in answer to a question put by the hon. Member for Carlisle (Mr. Denman) and perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will forgive me if I read it, because he may have forgotten it. The question my hon. Friend asked me was—whether it is the attitude of the Board to encourage the organisation and use of all other available forms of labour in preference to withdrawing children from school?and the answer I gave was in the affirmative. That being so, we come to the question of what other expedients are to be tried. There is the question of the employment of children. I note that my hon. Friend the Member for the Buckrose Division of Yorkshire (Sir Luke White) is reported in the paper this morning to have said that his advice to the farmers was thatthey should take the boys and chance it.I do not know what my hon. Friend meant by "chance it." I do not think he meant that they were to go against the law, because I know he is a law-abiding citizen. I do not know whether he meant they were to take the chance of injuring the character and education of the children. In any case, the attitude of my hon. Friend cannot be said at present to be the attitude of the Board of Agriculture. We think that other expedients should be tried first. Having said that, it is the business of the Board to suggest what those expedients might be, remembering always that at the back of our minds is the policy 434 we all must adopt, that the land must be cultivated and that the cows must be milked.
§ Sir H. VERNEY
I have only been speaking for a few minutes, and I am just coming to them. Expedient No. 1 is one which I do not doubt will commend itself to the right hon. Gentleman, because it was advocated in glowing terms by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham (Mr. Chamberlain) namely, to raise the wages of the agricultural labourer. That is the first expedient, and it is one which, in the opinion of some people, is all that is required. Some people think that if you raise the wages of the agricultural labourer the whole thing is done. That I confess is not the attitude of the Board. I do not think it is the attitude of any Member of this House, or of the hon. Member for Norwich (Mr. G. Roberts) who was quoted as having said something to that effect. There can be no doubt that if the wages of the agricultural labourer are raised, as was advocated by the right hon. Member for West Birmingham and in the eloquent speech of the hon. Member for Oxford University (Mr. Prothero) that something, and a good deal will have been done to reduce the shortage that now exists.
§ Sir H. VERNEY
If the right hon. Gentleman will allow me, I am going as fully into the question as time permits. I suggest that is one expedient which would help to reduce the shortage. That cannot be denied. Suppose that does not meet it—and in my opinion it will not meet it, for so far as one can judge there will be a shortage however high the wages of the agricultural labourers are raised, and the shortage has been put by some people at anything from 10 to 12 per cent. The hon. Member for Merthyr Tydvil quoted that figure, and I think it is not far wrong. There are people outside the House who do not believe a shortage exists, but given the shortage, what we ask of the farmers—I believe in this I shall have the sympathy of the right hon. Gentleman; it is not much—is that he should formulate his demands, that he should tell us where there is a shortage and what that shortage amounts to. The right hon. 435 Gentleman asked me what we were doing as regards consulting prominent agriculturists. Of course, the question of labour is one of the most important. We consulted the hon. Member for the Wilton Division (Mr. Charles Bathurst), as President of the Chamber of Agriculture, and Mr. Colin Campbell, as President of the Farmers' Union. With the co-operation of those two gentlemen, who represent the vast majority of the farming community, we decided that we ought to call upon the farmer to furnish a proof of this shortage in connection with the Labour Exchanges.
I know that Labour Exchanges are not thought much of by agriculturists as a whole, but I would urge farmers in this emergency, because it is an emergency, to go to what is, after all, provided by the Government for dealing with the question of the shortage of labour, that is the Labour Exchanges. With the cordial co-operation of the President of the Chamber of Agriculture and the President of the Farmers' Union, meetings are being assembled in the course of the next few days in every county in order that farmers may state to representatives of the Labour Exchange what the shortage is and what it amounts to. The first thing to establish is that there is a shortage, and the next question is, how is it to be met? The first thing is to get the shortage explained and put before the country. Already in one or two counties, since these letters have gone out from the President of the Chamber of Agriculture and the the Farmers' Union, the farmers are making efforts to carry out the suggestion we have put before them, and I think we of the Board of Agriculture, and Members of the House of Commons, may take it that if the farmers do not care to come together and ask for a fresh supply of labour, the case is made out that the shortage is not very serious. But if, as I think is almost certain, in any county where there is any sort of shortage, the farmers take the trouble to come together and formulate their demands, we shall have at least something definite to go upon, and the shortage will be established.
I assume, as the right hon. Gentleman assumed, that the shortage will be there, and I assume that the farmers will have put before the representatives of the Labour Exchanges their needs with regard to labour. The agricultural labourers do not exist. Then it is no use the farmer 436 saying, "I do not want anybody else," because if he cannot have an agricultural labourer and does not want anyone else, he will not get anyone at all. The agricultural labourer to a certain extent does not exist. Therefore his work has to be supplemented. I will suggest one or two expedients which I know those connected with agriculture will say are hopeless and no good, but I would ask that at least a trial should be given before they are condemned as out of the question. Of course, the first and most obvious source of labour is the town labourer. I know he is not fitted in the ordinary way for agricultural work; but still, there may be a few town labourers who would be fitted and would be willing, for a wage which will have to be agreed upon, to go into the country and work on the farm—those who in the past have been agricultural labourers and gone into the towns. There are a good many cases of, let us say, brickworks in which the brickworks have drawn upon the neighbouring agricultural labourers, almost entirely—men who used to be on the land—because of the better wages. Then there are the Belgians. There is a possibility, if it was thought desirable, of tapping Belgian, Dutch or Danish labour. There is the question of the possibility of anything in the way of Irish labour—not of increasing the number of Irish labourers, because that would be against the policy of my hon. Friends below the Gangway, but perhaps of bringing over those who would naturally come a few weeks earlier than they would otherwise have come.
There is the possibility of getting boys over fourteen years of age from reformatory schools who might be willing and anxious to do work on the land. What I would put to the House is that though these suggestions may individually not be worth much, on the other hand, it may be that something will come out of them—the boys from reformatory schools, Irish labourers, the Belgian or Dutch or Danish labourers, labour from the brickworks and from the town. The farmers have no means to-day of getting in touch with any such labour. He has no power of knowing whether there may be in the town of Wolverhampton or Ipswich, or any other town, some men who would, if they could and if they had the opportunity, come out and work on the land, and it is for that reason that we appeal to farmers to give a trial to the Labour Exchanges, which alone are entitled and able to deal with such cases as these. That is why we, with the 437 cordial approval of those who lead in agriculture—of the Central Chamber and the Farmers' Union—ask in this emergency that farmers should co-operate with the Labour Exchanges, and should see, whether something cannot be done to get workers who otherwise would not be available. Supposing that source of labour has been tapped and well organised, and still there remains a shortage of agricultural labour in this country, then the right hon. Gentleman and some of his friends say there is nothing left for it but child-labour.
§ Sir H. VERNEY
The right hon. Gentleman anticipates my next point, which is the question of women. He himself has written a letter to the "Morning Post," on the 8th February. I do not think anyone could put more eloquently or better than he has put the position for the employment of women, and I would venture to read one sentence from his excellent letter. Talking of women and agriculture, he says:—We believe there is a grout opening for the resumption of this old practice, that certain work is of a character which is entirely suitable for women, and that immense advantages may be conferred both upon our national interests and upon the women themselves if a workable scheme can be developed.It seems to me that is a most hopeful line along which, again through the Labour Exchanges and through the many organisations which are quite willing and eager to take up this work, something may really be done to relieve the difficulty of labour in agricultural districts. But I can almost hear, for instance, the hon. Baronet (Sir F. Banbury) saying these women cannot and will not do the work which ought to be done on the land. I have got out some figures because the hon. Member (Mr. Whitehouse) has put a question down for next Monday for which the House will be grateful when they find the answer, because it brings out very clearly what women are actually doing to-day.
§ Sir H. VERNEY
I congratulate the hon. Baronet, and I hope all other farmers will be able to do the same. I will quote these figures because I think they are striking. If you take the women employed in agriculture, not being relatives of farmers, because the immense numbers of women who are relatives of farmers I am leaving 438 out of account—the number of women compared with men, excluding the men who are in charge of horses—the number of women in charge of horses is nil—these figures are from the Census of 1911—you get this extraordinary difference, that whereas in Northumberland the percentage of women working on the land to men is 30.92 per cent.—that is, 31 out of every hundred people working on the land in Northumberland are women—against that in the county of Bedford, whish is the worst, it is only five per cent. That is, for every 100 people working on the land of Bedfordshire only five women are working in that way. Take the same figures with regard to Scotland. In Scotland the number of women as compared with men is 41.3 per cent., and if you take a county like Wiltshire, where the demand for labour is extremely severe and where the labour is extremely hard to get, the number of women is only 1.23 per cent.
§ Sir H. VERNEY
As far as I can make out it is continuous. These are women who are regularly employed. Casual workers and relatives of farmers are not included. When we find that in Scotland and Northumberland this vast proportion of women is actually doing the work which is wanted to be done in Wiltshire, it makes out a strong case for something to be done in Wiltshire and Bedfordshire where the proportion is low.
§ Sir H. VERNEY
If my hon. Friend will give me notice I think it is a matter which requires verifying. But, of course, the hon. Baronet, who knows Wiltshire, would be quite ready, no doubt, to pay such wages as would induce women to work in Wiltshire, as he is in favour of the scheme and no doubt pays his women something like £1 a week or what is necessary.
§ Sir H. VERNEY
No; but if she did the hon. Baronet would pay her a full and sufficient wage. If I have established that women can and do do the work in other parts of Great Britain, it remains for the farming community and the Board of Agriculture, in co-operation with the Labour Exchanges, with the relative of the right hon. Gentleman and those who 439 are very keen about this, and ready to take it up in every possible way, to see whether we cannot introduce into these counties where there is a great shortage of labour, women labour, to help in the matter. That being so, where is the necessity for child labour? What is it—and this question I should very much like the right hon. Gentleman to tell me—that a boy can do that a woman cannot do? Where is it that you wish to employ your children where you could not employ women? What are the jobs that a, boy is expected to do? He is supposed to milk, he scarces crows from the right hon. Gentleman's spring wheat, he tends sheep, hoes, feeds stock, leads horses fetching loads of bricks, and is also useful in the lambing season. These are jobs which every farmer is glad to have a boy to help him with.
§ Sir H. VERNEY
Yes, or eleven. Take the most important of these—milking. I think the House will agree that a woman will milk better and quicker than a boy of twelve or thirteen. If you take feeding stock, I think a woman will feed stock more intelligently than a boy of thirteen. If you take the lambing season, I think the House will agree that a woman would be likely to be a better midwife for an old ewe than a boy. Then I come to what I believe is the real argument in the farmer's mind for the employment of boys. The real argument in the farmer's mind is that it is more convenient. You have your little boy on the spot; he is cheap; he wears more suitable clothes; he can be kicked—there he is, handy. I hope the right hon. Gentleman agrees there is nothing there offensive to the farmer. My whole life is spent among farmers. I agree it is more convenient. It is easier to say to a boy, "You are not going quick enough; hurry up!" and to go and push him along. I agree that his clothes are more convenient. He is cheaper, I know, and he is on the spot.
§ Sir H. VERNEY
Yes, but which of the jobs that I have put before the House does he know more about and would do better than a competent woman?
§ Sir H. VERNEY
I should be the last to wish to say anything which would seem offensive to the farming community, because having, as I say, lived among them. I know and recognise that it is more convenient, and in every way it may be better from the farmer's point of view to employ boy labour. What I would put before the House is this: These are not times in which the farmer or any other class is merely looking after convenience. I said a night or two ago that there is no class more patriotic than the farmers. The farmer is not merely looking after what is convenient but what is best for the country as a whole, and it is because I believe this is his attitude, because I know it is his attitude, that I hope he will give a fair trial to every form of labour before resorting to child labour.
§ 6.0 P.M.
§ Mr. PETO
The hon Baronet has in the latter part of his speech gone closely into the detail of what work these boys are required to do. I do not think the House as a whole is likely to be misled by some of the categories which he puts forward. For instance, in dealing with the question of tending sheep, it is really absurd to tell any body of men who have ever had anything to do with agriculture that a boy of twelve can be employed as a midwife for an old ewe. Where a boy comes in handy is when the shepherd has had a lot of night-work to do. He can then do all kinds of odd jobs during the day. I think a woman could not possibly be more unsuitably placed than in a turnip field, where the lambing sheds are usually put. A boy is obviously useful for that purpose. But the hon. Baronet left out of this category one of the very principal employments at present which is urgently lacking labour, and that is the question of getting in corn. A boy can perfectly well get along behind a harrow, and even where women are largely employed you do not find women doing harrowing, which is so necessary in the seeding season. I do not think it is necessary to go into these details. I do not think the hon. Baronet, and I am sure none of the earlier speakers on the other side of the House, realised that this is a question of what is to be done in an emergency. Hon. Members talk about entirely altering the habits of the slowly growing-up generation, and they compare the children in England and Scotland, but they will find that in different parts of the United Kingdom there are different conditions to be dealt with. You are not going, during the 441 months of the War, to reverse all the processes of farming. I am sure that the hon. Baronet knows that perfectly well, and in putting forward these specious arguments against the employment of children on leaving school he is really misleading the House. The hon. Baronet said that he did not want to say anything offensive to farmers, but when I recollect that he put forward as one of the principal reasons why farmers wished to employ boys was that they could kick them, I think it will be felt that he was not very sympathetic to farmers.
§ Sir H. VERNEY
I ought not to have used the word "kick." It clearly is an offensive term, and I wish to withdraw it and to substitute whatever is the equivalent of saying to a boy, "Now, hurry up!" It makes him go. But that is something which you could not say to a woman.
§ Mr. PETO
Of course, I do not wish to allude to that any more. I will admit that it was a slip of the tongue. But in referring to the way in which we can recruit this labour there were only two categories mentioned for dealing with the emergency now before the House. One is Irish labour, and I agree that there might be a considerable amount of Irish labour which is not required in that country, particularly in the South of Ireland, where recruiting has not been so large a factor in denuding the country of labour as it has been in Wiltshire, where, as the hon. Gentleman says, we are so short of labour. Another suggestion was to use reformatory school labour. The hon. Member for Norwich (Mr. G. Roberts) quoted only one figure. He said that in the whole of the educational district of West Sussex there were sixty-seven boys of an average age of thirteen years and three months. They were obviously of the class the hon. Member for Oxford University called "dunces of exemption." They are over thirteen years of age, and if they have not passed the highest standard they could go away from school. I would like the House just to remember what the First Lord of the Admiralty said last week. He said, in another connection, it was necessary to remind the House that after all we are at war. Is it not very necessary for hon. Members who are bringing up this question to remember that fact, and to remember also that this is purely a question of emergency? The hon. Member for Norwich, and also the 442 hon. Member for Merthyr Tydvil (Mr. Keir Hardie), suspect us of a deep-laid plot to sweep away all our educational rules, and they seem to suggest that once we got in the thin end of the wedge children would be exempt from school attendance at the age of twelve years. I do not think I could do better than read the resolutions passed by the Central Chamber of Agriculture. The hon. Member for Wimbledon (Mr. Chaplin) read the first resolution. The second is:—The Committee, however, are of opinion that, so far as possible, such children should subsequently return to school at the earliest possible period.The third resolution is:—The Committee make these suggestions in the hope that children so exempted may be enabled at some subsequent period to attend such continuation classes, or agricultural or other suitable schools, as the local education authorities can provide.The Central Chamber of Agriculture is the most important representative agricultural body we have got in this country, and I think it is very unfair to try to contend that there is really very much more in this than appears on the surface. The question is as to how we are to produce the food so absolutely necessary in this War period. A great deal has been said about the statement of my hon. Friend the Member for the Wilton Division (Mr. C. Bathurst) on this question when he first called public attention to it in the House on 28th August last year. I want to deal for a moment with that, and with what the President of the Board of Education has said about the Prime Minister's answer upon the same occasion. It is quite true that the hon. Member for the Wilton Division in his question suggested the employment of boys between eleven and fourteen years of age in the necessary fanning operations during the autumn and winter. It is quite true that, in order to secure next year's wheat and other necessary farm crops, the Prime Minister answered:—I will bear in mind the hon. Member's suggestion. It would appear that the matter is well within the discretion of the local authorities, who have already had their attention called to it by the Board of Education.The other day a deputation was introduced to the President of the Board of Education by the hon. Member for the Attercliffe Division (Mr. Anderson). In reply to the deputation the President said:—It was perfectly true that words were used by the Prime Minister and himself last August when harvesting was commencing which had encouraged farmers to believe that the Government would look rather easily on exemption of the children from school attendances at the commencement of the War. They were naturally anxious to bring in as many recruits as could be found, and they were also anxious that the harvesting should 443 be carried on satisfactorily. The words they applied to a particular emergency had been misconstrued as applicable to the whole farming year.I wish to put to the House what possible difference can there be in the emergency then and the present time—the commencement of the spring farming operations of the year? There is just this difference: Whereas in August last the President of the Board of Education says that he and the Prime Minister were anxious to induce recruiting when perhaps a hundred thousand, or perhaps much less than that, had offered their services to the country, and whereas now the shortage of labour is infinitely greater, the only conclusion I can draw from the right hon. Gentleman's words is that they held out these hopes to farmers in the autumn in order to induce them to let their absolutely necessary labourers join the Colours, and now that they have actually lost the labour, and the country has got the services of the men as soldiers, they are going to turn round and say that the emergency is past, and that their words must not go beyond the last harvest season. I think that is a very unworthy way of dealing with part of a great national problem.
The hon. Member for Norwich said that he noticed a great change of attitude on the part of the President of the Board of Agriculture on this question. I know that it is so, and I do ask the right hon. Gentleman not to emulate the part of the character in the "Pilgrim's Progress" who is known as Mr. Facing-both-Ways. Let him not attempt to take that part in dealing with the local authorities, but, on the other hand, let him give them at least some more definite lead than when he spoke in the autumn to the farmers. To say that they should have boy labour if they wished, and then to talk to the deputation of the words applying only to the autumn, is not quite consistent. The people of the country do not know what the policy of the Board of Education is. They do not think that the Board of Education themselves realise the great importance of this problem. It was very well pointed out at a meeting of the Joint Buckinghamshire and Berkshire and Oxfordshire Chamber of Agriculture that the employment of boy labour on the farms is not necessarily at all a cessation of education. One member of the chamber said:—When the matter came before the county council it was pointed out that the boys were let off from school in order to learn woodwork on the farms. Would they not be learning farming if let off from school?444 It has been said that what the farmers wanted was cheap labour. What they wanted was not necessarily cheap labour, but labour which would be very useful for a lot of jobs, such as milking and harrowing. That is why these boys are wanted. It is pointed out that it is not necessarily a cessation of their education at all. The hon. Member for Norwich said that he and some Members of his party had been to Denmark to study the agricultural system there. As the result of what they saw they wanted an extension of education and co-operation. I should say in parentheses that I hope hon. Members of the Labour party will be as keen about co-operation in this country as they are about the question of education. The hon. Member for Norwich did not refer to the fact that in Denmark they have a perfect system not of half-time work, but of half-time work on the farms and part-time continuation of education up to fifteen or sixteen years of age. I am not sure that it does not go beyond that. That is what we have been asking for.
Reference has been made to the money spent on technical schools, but I would point out that it is almost impossible to get anything for education so far as the higher branches of agriculture are concerned. I would like to say that I am perfectly certain it is doing a very great injustice to farmers to say that there is any attempt to undermine the educational rules of the country as a whole by a sort of side wind; but I am quite sure that farmers will be perfectly willing to co-operate with the hon. Baronet in what he has suggested as to meetings and so forth so far as they can. Naturally, as they are a very scattered people, and are very busy at this time of the year, meetings would be troublesome things, but farmers would be willing to co-operate in the manner suggested in order to find out everything in reference to the shortage of labour, and all the rest of it. I would like to point out to hon. Members who have taken the other view that the chambers of agriculture, where they have met in the country, have already put the matter from their own point of view almost exactly as the hon. Baronet has done. In the case of the Buckinghamshire, Berkshire, and Oxfordshire Chamber, the actual proposal before the meeting was—That in view of the shortage of farm labour in many parts of the country, it is desirable that boys of twelve years and upwards should be allowed to work on farms during the period of the War, and that such work should count as school attendance.445That refugees should be employed as far as possible on suitable terms.And that resort should be made as far as possible to Labour Exchanges and labour-saving macninery.Every alternative that has been suggested by the hon. Baronet has been considered already at these meetings of the chambers of agriculture. I am quite sure that they have not the slightest desire to put any difficulty whatever in the way, and that where and if suitable labour can be found they will be willing to take it in preference merely to employing boy labour. A reference has been made to Wiltshire. I know that the very great shortage which exists there and in some of the other southern counties is, it has been said, probably due in the main to the fact that they do not pay sufficiently high wages in these places to agricultural labourers. There is another factor. I am dealing solely with the problem of the moment. I do not take it that this is a general Debate on agricultural wages, or on our educational system. I am dealing with the problem of the moment, and there is a very much simpler answer than that. It is not only the splendid way in which the men have responded to recruiting by enlisting in Wiltshire, but that in Wiltshire and the adjoining counties we have an enormously greater proportion of these large military camps than we have in any other group of counties. We have them in Wiltshire, Hampshire, and Dorsetshire. We know that all these camps, owing to the methods of the War Office, have simply drained all the labour whether suitable or not at, I admit, enormous wages, and they have naturally taken all the labour, not only from the farms but also from the roads, and the Wiltshire road authorities cannot get any labour to repair the roads which have been cut up owing to the movements of troops and of material to and from the camps, except through the Government contractors.
That shows how short the labour is. It is an urgent problem. It does not matter whether the men have gone to fight in the trenches, or to build the camps. They have gone in connection with the War, and farmers are practically bare of labour. We have got to deal with a situation of this kind as an emergency question. I think that this Debate is not very creditable to us as a nation—one of a great alliance who are fighting for our lives. When I was in France last year going up and down the country from the west right to the borders of Belgium, time after time, on long and 446 tedious journeys, lasting three and four days, I had ample opportunity of seeing what they were doing there in the farming line right through the harvest. And to think that we are debating for hours, as to whether we are in this great emergency to break these wonderful education laws that have been set up even to this minute extent of giving to farmers the temporary assistance which they require in order to get in their spring crops! When I recognise that that is what is going on here, and we see that in France practically every able-bodied man has gone, and the whole of the farming occupations are being carried on by children, women, and a few old men to help them, I say that it is not doing what the Chancellor of the Exchequer tells us we must do if we go into an alliance of this kind, that is, putting in the whole of our resources We are not doing it if we are, as I think, wasting time in discussing such minute questions, and taking the view which is taken by extreme educationists in this matter.
§ Sir WILLIAM BYLES
I am sure that the House must feel interested as I have been in the several speeches made by the advocates of what I cannot still but consider as a bad cause. First of all, our blood was made to curdle by the references of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wimbledon (Mr. Chaplin) to approaching starvation; but then he fell back with satisfaction on the easy salvation which can be brought to us by the eleven-year-old child. All the speeches on that side have looked at the question which we have been discussing this afternoon from the farmers' point of view. It needs also to be regarded from the educational point of view. I do not claim to be an expert either in education or in agriculture. My attention has been drawn to this subject by two considerations. First, what appears to me to be the danger to the children, and second, the danger to the nation of allowing the children to grow up, shall I say, as clodhoppers instead of scholars. The local education authorities in many of these agricultural counties desire to suspend, and are indeed suspending their own regulations, setting aside in the interests of the farmers, who are very often themselves, the laws which they themselves have made in the interests of the children. It is quite clear that the process is going on especially in some counties. Little lads of eleven or twelve or thirteen are taken away from their 447 books, the wholesome discipline of the school, and the pursuit of the three R's, that they may be taught to plough and sow and reap and mow. The alleged justification of this is, first, that it is necessary to grow more wheat on English land; second, that the supply of imported wheat is restricted owing to war conditions; third, that many agricultural labourers have gone to the War; fourth, that the deficiency arising from this fact must be supplied; and fifth, that this can be most easily and cheaply done by raiding the schools
That I understand to be the farmers' case. I am for the children. I do not want them taken away from school to scare crows. These are emergency times, no doubt, and I recognise frankly that the farmers may be in some temporary difficulty. These are times when men must work and fight, and women must weep, but we might at least save the child. What I want to put before the House is not the farmers' point of view but the child's point of view. The State has given to these children a charter—education, free, universal, compulsory. We have no right in this left-hand sort of way to deprive them of the benefits of that charter. Even their parents are forbidden by law to exploit them for wages. Until they are fourteen they ought to be at school and not at work. It would need very strong grounds indeed to tamper with that right for which the children themselves cannot stick up, and it ought to be impossible to tamper with it except by Act of Parliament. The Act of 1870 was, of course, the beginning of our great educational structure. It was the gift to the nation of my old friend, Mr. Forster. I wish that he were here to-day. I know well enough if he were on that bench, which he adorned so long, what he would say. What I regard as the most alarming aspect of the controversy is the encouragement given to it by the present Minister of Education, or, at any rate, the connivance or acquiescence of the Board of Education in what is going on. I know that he will answer that the law gives the local authorities the power to make this by-law. So it does, but, with great respect to my right hon. Friend, I would suggest that a strong Minister would take care that the authorities should not stretch the law, as I think they are doing.
I know well the evil of boy labour. Child employment can be charged against the 448 boroughs as well as against the rural districts. I confess that even the borough which I represent is a sinner in this matter. The municipality at present are considering new by-laws to cope with the evil. There are by-laws by which half-time can be worked in the mills in Yorkshire and Lancashire. But there is this difference between the case of the mill-owners and that of the farmers, that the education authorities in the former case have made low age by-laws, and are acting on them, whereas in the rural districts the authorities have made by-laws and are proposing to ignore them. They are proposing to break the law which they themselves have made. I maintain that it is the, duty of the Board of Education to compel them to perform the duty, to hold local inquiries, and, if necessary, to proceed by mandamus. The Government have said that they are not going to take any such action. They are going to leave it to the discretion of the local authorities. That is my complaint against the Education Department. Let them make the local authorities obey the by-laws which they themselves have made.
It is argued that farming is really a trade, and that to work on a farm is really technical education or continuation instruction. Very well, then let it be made so in fact. Are the farmers willing to make it an apprenticeship, and to put it under education supervision, and to let the education authority be satisfied week by week that the child is necessarily beneficially and continuously employed in agriculture? Those are the words of the Act which protect the child. The first employment after leaving school should be of an educational character, and if the boy is called upon to leave school at an early age the need is more urgent for him, and it should be more easy to accomplish. An important question which has been pretty well discussed, and which I do not want to dwell upon, is how far the shortage of labour can be supplied without drawing upon the children. We have had a good deal of sympathy and some very helpful and practical suggestions from the representative of the Board of Agriculture dealing with the matter. It has been put by the hon. Member for Oxford University that this question of the shortage of labour is partial, or, as he said, "spotted." In one district the children are badly hit owing to enlistment; in others, they are not suffering at all. By organisation, good will, and 449 various devices suggested, by bringing in Irish labour, and by organising labour within reach, probaly the difficulty might be overcome in many rural districts and in many counties.
But apart from all those devices there is the obvious resource, obvious to us on this side at any rate, of paying decent wages. The farmer's plea for going to the school-house to employ labour is precisely the German plea for violating Belgium—Necessitas non habet legem. I do not believe in that. I say that if you make the life of an agricultural labourer attractive, then it will attract. There is plenty of labour available, plenty of adult labour, if you pay for it, though not, perhaps, at 6d. a day. "Go to the Labour Exchanges," is advice which has been given here this afternoon. The hon. Member for Oxford University seems to think that the Labour Exchanges will have nothing but plumbers out of work; but I believe, that the Board of Trade will tell us that there are tens of thousands of men who are seeking employment, many of them country born, and who must be quite able quickly to adapt themselves to such work as is required on a farm. The suggestion was put forward by that veteran defender of agriculture, the Member for Wimbledon (Mr. Chaplin), that women could be employed. The suggestion is one that I need not dwell upon, though certainly it is better than employing children. Why are women to be restricted in agricultural labour to picking hops? Farmers already use them in times of emergency for winnowing, for binding sheaves in harvest, and I believe they do a lot of dairy work. Women are always crying out for a career, and therefore no opposition need be expected from them when you offer it.
The depletion of labour by recruiting, I am bound to admit, is correct; no doubt the difficulty, the sudden difficulty, has put the farmers to great inconvenience. But there has been a slow and steady depletion in progress for many years, which has not led to this outcry. How often have we been hearing of and mourning the exodus of labourers from the country to the town, where they depress industrial wages. Now is the time to correct that tendency. How has it been brought about? By low wages and dirty cottages. How is that tendency to be reversed? By higher wages and by providing decent homes, and thus restoring the village life which we have lost. If the price of wheat has risen from 30s. to 450 40s. and to 60s., surely a pound of that rise belongs of right to the labour which has produced it. In the last wheat harvest it was estimated that there were 7,000,000 quarters. The price has risen since then £1 a quarter, so that from this seven millions of money there is some room to raise the wages of the labourers who have helped to produce that seven millions. What has the Board of Education been saying to the local education authorities? "Do as you please; it is your business, not ours." That is the sort of tone. I say that it is clearly the duty of the Minister of Education to see that the local education authorities carry out the Education Acts and obey their own by-laws. I confess to being somewhat surprised that my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Education should appear to favour these things, after the circular which he issued himself some months ago and after the War had begun. It is a memorable circular; in which he seems conspicuously to realise his duty. So much was I struck with it that I culled a sentence or two from it, which will not take many seconds to read to the House. These are the Minister's own words in that circircular:—We can keep the system of education going.Another:—The welfare and health of these children are an essential condition of national stability, most of all in a national stress.One more:—Let us seize the chance of giving to the children a longer education—
§ Sir W. BYLES
I am glad to hear those words from the Minister of Education now—a longer education, a fuller training for the work by which, when peace is restored, the wastage of war may be supplied, and the wealth of nations renewed.Let him live up to his own words; let him screen and shelter the children; let him take care that they are not deprived of the full benefits of the many Acts which Parliament has passed for them. May I add one sentence? If the fathers have gone to the War, many, alas, never to return, in this House of Commons, wherever we sit, it behoves us the more to cherish the child. The last year at school, I have no doubt it is the experience of others, certainly it is my own, is the best year. I have found it so. Shall we deprive these children of that 451 year, when, if ever, the intellectual and spiritual impulse may be awakened in them—some ambition to lead a higher life, if not a more honourable one, than that of the ploughman or clodhopper.
§ Mr. MOUNT
I do not think I need trouble to refute the arguments of the last speaker, who seems to think that this demand for child labour comes from farmers alone, in their own interests. It cannot be better refuted than by referring to the speech of the hon. Baronet who represents the Board of Agriculture in this House. I should like to point out—if I could persuade Members opposite, who seem to think that farmers in their own interests are asking for this—that it is not child labour the farmers want, but adult labour. They do not want child labour, because the work which a man does is far more valuable than the work which children do. There is a saying in my district, that "one boy is one boy, two boys half a boy, and three boys no boy at all." I think that is very true. I wish to say a word or two in regard to what the hon. Baronet, who represents the Board of Agriculture in this House, has said. He has pointed to expedients which might be resorted to to obtain labour. First of all, he alluded to the question of Labour Exchanges. There is one great argument which, in my opinion, knocks out the probability of any great help being received from that source, and that is the shortage of cottages in country districts. We had an interesting discussion the other evening on a Motion by the hon. Member for the Attercliffe Division on the question of prices, in which it was pointed out that as a result of the War a large number of men have gone from country districts to enlist, and that, where there is a shortage of cottages, the wives and families of those men wanted, rightly, to remain in the cottages they occupied. If you are going to obtain labour from the Labour Exchanges, unless you get unmarried men, who, as a rule enlist, and you obtain married men, then there are no cottages in which to put them. In my opinion this question cannot be solved by the use of Labour Exchanges. Another expedient which the hon. Gentleman recommended was the increased employment of women, especially in milking.
There is one point in regard to the employment of women, and it is that women formerly did a great deal of dairy work. 452 Dairying now is in a very different position from what it was then. At that time farmers did not send milk to London, and milking has now to be done in many districts at four or five o'clock in the morning. No doubt you could get women to rise at six, seven or eight in the morning to do the milking, but I do not believe you would get them up at four or five o'clock in order that the dairy farming interests may go on. For these reasons I ask the hon. Baronet who represents agriculture in this House to try and stiffen a little the back of the, President of the Board of Education, and ask him to look with a lenient eye on those education authorities who are not prepared to pat into force their education by-laws under existing conditions. It is purely a temporary measure, and it is not asked for in the interests of agriculture so must as in the interests of the nation, in order that we may get our food supplies assured. I received this morning by post circulars from the Board of Agriculture. One advocated the increase of land for spring wheat. We are now getting to a very busy time. The farmers have been delayed by a very wet season; every moment that can be spared, if we get any dry weather, is wanted in order that the land may be got ready for the spring corn. We cannot wait to educate women to follow the plough or follow the harrow. We want something done at once. That is the reason why in the interests not of agriculture alone, but in the interests of the nation, I hope that these by-laws in many cases may be relaxed.
§ Mr. WHITEHOUSE
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wimbledon—I regret I do not see him in his place now—delivered one of his good-natured but vigorous addresses which I think charm the whole House. Although he expressed very strong views, I do not think in his expression of them he had the slightest feeling of resentment. I wish, however, to refer to one thing which I think should not be passed over without some reference. The right hon. Gentleman seemed to think we were not performing our duty in raising this question at all, and he said in terms that in the time of war it was not the business of this House to spend its time discussing any such question. The same line was taken by the hon. Member for Devizes (Mr. Peto). I reply to those remarks, and to remarks of a similar nature which fell from other Members opposite, by referring them to the speech delivered 453 only two nights ago by the Noble Lord the Member for Hitchin (Lord R. Cecil), in which he said that every piece of emergency legislation or emergency action that was proposed in this House ought to be subjected to the most careful scrutiny.
§ Mr. WHITEHOUSE
The Noble Lord endorses that, and I hope he will accept me as a very humble ally, and on this occasion I propose to enrol myself under his banner and to follow his advice. There have been during the last few years a most remarkable number of official investigations and inquiries all concerned with the question of child labour, and particularly of boy labour. All those official inquiries—conducted usually by experts—have been unanimous in stating that we require not less education for our youths but more, not less discipline and control but much more, not any relaxation of the laws affecting compulsory education but a much greater extension of those laws. In view of all those inquiries and of the decisions we have come to, and the conclusions that I believe men of all parties have come to, both in this House and in the country on the general question of education, I think at this time, above all times, we ought to be most careful to take no steps which in future may lead to very disastrous results, and may present us in a few years time with an extension of our social problems.
That is why I desire warmly to endorse the proposals that have been made, and some which are of a very constructive character, for trying every other possible reasonable expedient before attempting to use for any agricultural work children who are still under a statutory obligation to attend school. I believe if those alternative measures are tried, that the necessity for the employment of school children will not arise. I desire to refer to the suggestions that were made in, if I may say so, the very brilliant and witty speech of the hon. Baronet (Sir H. Verney) who represents the Board of Agriculture in this House. The proposal that wages should be increased has met, during the whole course of this Debate, from both sides, with general approval. That is not a matter that need be left to the future. It is a remedy that can be acted upon immediately, and if acted upon immediately would lead, I think, to immediate results. In a time when there is great competition for adult labour, 454 obviously the trade, the industry, which is least well paid, and where the conditions sometimes are the least satisfactory, would be the first to feel that competition and demand.
The hon. Baronet made a number of other suggestions, as to which I should like to offer some comments. The chief of the proposals that he made, I think, was relating to the use of women labour and women at farm work. It has been done in some agricultural districts, and in the North to a very remarkable extent, but, as was shown, in other counties it has not been tried at all. I would like to submit these considerations to my hon. Friend, regarding this special point. It is, I think, obvious that women cannot be engaged for the same hours and for the same kind of agricultural work that men can. It is not possible for them to go in the early hours of the morning and remain until evening doing precisely the kind of work that men do. But many women could go for certain hours of the day and for certain definite appointments of agricultural work. The point I wish to put is whether the organisations which he contemplates setting on foot, and the committee he proposes to set up, and the system he proposes to organise with the Labour Exchanges, could not apply themselves to the details of this problem, and so make it possible by voluntary co-operation in the agricultural districts, through the work of the committees, and through advice and through organisation, for the services of women to be offered in this restricted way for certain hours of the day and for certain special cases of labour. It appears to me there is no difficulty in the voluntary organisation of the available labour on those lines.
The question of the Belgians has also been referred to. I regret that the hon. Member for Oxford University (Mr. Prothero) is not now in his place, because he stated, and he was under a misapprehension in so stating, that the Belgian labour was not available and that the Labour Exchanges knew nothing about the occupations and capabilities of the refugees in this country. The fact is, that the Labour Exchanges have the whole of the available information respecting the refugees. Their occupations have been classified and their names and former addresses and present addresses have been printed, and they are available at the headquarters of every committee receiving refugees, and they are available at the offices of the Registrar-General, and they 455 are available at the whole of the Labour Exchanges. I would add that the Labour Exchanges for some months now have been regularly printing a list of the refugees who desire work and particulars of the work that they were competent to perform, so that no difficulty exists on the point if farmers will go to the machinery provided by Parliament and avail themselves of the information which is offered to them. There was one other suggestion which my hon. Friend made, and which I listened to with less satisfaction, and that was the suggestion he made concerning the use of boys in reformatories for farm labour. My hon. Friend did not seem to be aware that for many years farm work has been one of the chief industries to which boys from many of the industrial schools have been sent, but the problem of the reformatory boy is a very special problem in this connection. A Committee sat recently to investigate the whole question of reformatories, and they had a considerable amount of very weighty evidence showing the disposal of those boys, who in many cases had neither parents nor guardians, to distant farms was sometimes a system which lent itself to grave abuses, and many suggestions were made with a view to preventing those abuses in future.
§ Sir H. VERNEY
What I said was, and the hon. Member who is an expert on this question will tell me if I am wrong, that a certain number of those boys were annually sent away to Canada, and that in an emergency of this sort we might be able to keep them for our own work.
§ Mr. WHITEHOUSE
No doubt some are sent to Canada, but the right policy, I suggest, is for each case to be considered on its merits. At the Committee to which I have referred there was a considerable amount of evidence produced to show that the practice of sending reformatory boys, who perhaps had had an extensive manual training fitting them for some other occupation, to distant farms at very low wages, had been a very important factor in depressing the wages of agricultural labourers and keeping them at their present level. I do not wish to labour that point, but only to call the attention of my hon. Friend to it. I want to make an appeal for co-operation between the Government Departments concerned in this very important question. The President of the Board of Education recently issued, in accordance with the promise he made in 456 answer to some questions, a copy of the correspondence which has taken place between the Board of Education and certain education authorities, who applied for permission for the statutory law to be broken.
That White Paper has not apparently had a very wide circulation yet, even amongst Members of this House, but I desire to ask the President of the Board certain questions respecting it. The first is with reference to this point of co-operation with the other Departments concerned. Here is a White Paper containing the correspondence of the President with the education authorities. The line which the President took in that correspondence, though obviously a line of great sympathy with education, and showing great zeal and interest in the welfare of the children, was not a very decided line, and did not give any very vigorous leadership to the education authorities concerned. The President's communication in each case rather took the line of inviting the education authority to consider each case on its merits, and was rather willing that the law should be broken, or rather willing not to advise prosecution in case the law-was broken, if it were due in the opinion of the education authority to reasonable circumstances. But throughout the whole of this correspondence, I cannot find that there is any reference whatever to the activities of the Board of Agriculture or to any of the other Departments of the Government which are, in some degree, affected by this question, and I should like to put this point to the President.
§ Mr. WHITEHOUSE
I desire to put the case fairly. I do not wish in any way to misrepresent the action of my right hon. Friend, which I have already described as being one of great sympathy. It is true that there is a reference to an inquiry which is being made by the Board of Trade, but the point I was going to put is this, why did not the Board of Education, and why does not the Board of Education to-day, submit to those education authorities for their guidance, those constructive proposals which have been placed before 457 the country for the first time to-day, or before this House by the representative of the Board of Agriculture?
§ 7.0 P.M.
§ Mr. WHITEHOUSE
I am very satisfied if the result of my right hon. Friend's advice to the education authorities will be to place themselves in communication with the Departments actively working, and will get them to take the advice of those Departments. I would remind the President that there are a great number of education authorities who receive his official advice in this White Paper who did not receive any reference whatever to either the Board of Agriculture or to the Board of Trade, and who, if they had not learnt it from other sources, would have remained in entire ignorance of the fact that those two Departments of the State were taking any action. I pass from that point to raise a few other matters with the President of the Board of Education, and in so doing I am sure he will acquit me of any desire to be critical in any respect. In answer to some questions two or three weeks ago, the President was good enough to state that he would endeavour to ascertain how many children were being withdrawn by the education authorities in connection with this emergency. In order that we may know how great the problem is, and how far the law is being broken, I should like to ask whether he can now give the House any figures or any estimate of the number of children who have been withdrawn at the age of eleven, twelve, or thirteen from any further education.
I would earnestly remind the House that one of the serious features of the present agitation for withdrawing children from school is that it is not confined to agriculture. There is a movement to withdraw children for purposes other than agriculture, for other forms of industrial work. Take, for instance, the education authority for Stafford. The correspondence with that authority is included in the White Paper. The Stafford Education Authority required permission to withdraw children in defiance of the by-laws for the purpose of their going into the local factories, and there is a petition from the Darlaston bolt and nut manufacturers asking for boys of school age to take the places of men who have gone to the War. The 458 services of these children are asked for in factories that are engaged in tuning out military and naval goods. The correspondence with this education authority is not complete. The President, on receiving this unusual application, naturally asked for further information. That further information was sent, including a petition of the local manufacturers to be allowed to receive these children into their factories. But I cannot find the final reply or any further reply of the President included in the correspondence. I should like to ask my right hon. Friend what was his final advice in reply to this extraordinary request?
§ Mr. PEASE
What I did in this particular case was to send down into the district one of His Majesty's inspectors with directions to explain exactly what the law was and why it was impossible for us to allow any breach of it to be committed. I am very glad to say that in this particular case I had the co-operation of the War Office, who did not put any pressure at all on this firm to employ boy labour on the grounds which they urged.
§ Mr. WHITEHOUSE
I am very much obliged to my right hon. Friend for his statement, which I am sure the House has heard with great satisfaction. There is included in the White Paper some correspondence with the Lincolnshire Education Authority. That authority asked for the services of school children, but not because of a shortage of agricultural labour, but for the support of the homes where the parents of the children had enlisted. Unhappily, the State can make no recompense to those homes in the way of removing the sorrow that comes upon them when the heads of the homes fall in the War. But the State has done what it can to provide for the dependants of those who enlist, or fall in the War. It is, therefore, very unjustifiable for any authority to represent to the Board of Education that the wages of children of eleven, twelve or thirteen years of age are necessary in order to supply the missing wages of the fathers who have gone to the War. I think this request was somewhat discreditable, and I very much regret that the official reply of the Board did not point out that these were not proper grounds upon which to ask for the law of the land to be overridden. I wish to refer also to the correspondence with the Kent Education Authority. Three days after war was declared this authority 459 required permission to withdraw children from school for a very unusual purpose. Apparently, when the chief constable said the children were required, the head teachers were to be at liberty to allow children to be taken instantly from school for service on the roads. I cannot conceive what kind of service this is. I hope the President will inquire further into this and the other cases I have mentioned, because I have cited them, not with any desire to be critical, but in order to show that there is a very serious tendency generally to weaken the law of the land respecting the attendance of children at school, and to use the children for all sorts of purposes during hours when they should be at school. For my own part I cannot help feeling that, to-day especially, we ought to do all we can to see to it that the coming generation is one of healthy, vigorous, well-educated, noble men and women.
§ Colonel YATE
The question to which I wish particularly to refer is that of cadet training forming part of the curriculum of all secondary and continuation schools. I may mention that the hon. Baronet the Member for Sunderland (Sir Hamar Greenwood) was to have supported me in this matter, but I have just received a telegram saying that military duties prevent his attendance here to-day. I mention secondary and continuation schools purposely in this matter, because physical drill is already a compulsory subject in all elementary schools. While I agree that we might well copy our Australian and New Zealand cousins, and institute junior cadet training for all boys between twelve and fourteen years of age in our elementary schools, yet I acknowledge that something is being done. Physical drill is a compulsory part of the education in elementary schools, and if it were only properly taught it would probably be quite sufficient for boys of that age. But the physical drill in elementary schools is not properly taught at the present moment, and this I may say is owing to the lax administration of the Board of Education. Members who are acquainted with educational administration will know that in elementary schools only one hour per week is allotted to physical training, and that is generally divided into two lessons of half an hour each. All Members will probably agree that physical training should have at least an hour a day and not an hour a week.
460 Again, the lessons are often given by teachers who are not qualified in the subject, and the exercises are rarely seen by any inspector. I submit that the inspection of the physical development of our children is just as important as the inspection of their mental development. I regret to say, however, that the inspection of physical development has been sadly neglected up to the present time. Moreover, in some cases, you see classes of boys being taught their drill by women instructors. Surely our boys ought to have men instructors of their own. From the circumstances I have cited it will be seen that the question of physical drill has not been taken seriously in our elementary schools. The Board of Education has full authority to see that its present regulations on the subject are properly carried out. For these reasons I ask the President to see that proper instructors are appointed in those cases where the regular masters cannot give the required instruction, and that inspectors are appointed to see that the instruction is properly given. I agree that nothing much can be done at present when so many school teachers are away at the War, but I ask that proper orders may be given so that when the War is concluded we may have proper instructors and inspectors for all our elementary schools. I think that all Members will agree that the physical instruction in our elementary schools should be made just as obligatory as the mental instruction. I trust that this question will be looked into by the Board.
I turn now to the question of secondary schools. We know that in all our grammar schools throughout the country great progress has been made in the matter of physical development by the voluntary formation of cadet corps and officers' training corps. The point I specially wish to bring forward is that in the county council secondary and continuation schools, which are immediately under the control of the Board of Education, nothing whatsoever has been done to further the cause of physical education or physical development, with the result that we are gradually losing the physique of our race. Nothing has brought this more clearly to light than the enlistment experiences in the present War. It was stated in the House the other day that in some districts the number of objections amounted to 30 per cent. of those presenting themselves for enlistment. I do not know what 461 districts those were, but I do know that in Leicestershire, the county with which I am more immediately concerned and of which I can speak from personal experience, out of the total number of recruits who presented themselves for enlistment from the commencement of the War at the beginning of August last up to the end of the year, no less than 15½ per cent. were rejected on the spot as unfit. Of those that were passed, and sent to join their unit, another 12 per cent. were rejected as unfit to stand the training. Consequently, in Leicester, we have the known percentage of 27½ rejected as unfit, in addition, remember, to those men who knew that they could not come up to the standard and never presented themselves for enlistment at all. What that number in the country is, of course, we cannot guess, but we all believe it to be very large. I know that in the General Annual Report of the British Army for 1912, it is stated that in the six years, from 1906 to 1911, nearly 40 per cent. of the men who offered themselves were rejected on physical grounds before attestation, and that in addition 3½ per cent. were rejected after attestation. Remember, the standard required was much higher then than the standard required now. It just shows how few men were able to come up to it.
It is not only in the standard of height that our men fail at the present time, but also in the standard of chest measurement. Five feet one inch, or five feet three inches is not the proper standard of height of the British race. The fact that the War Office, have been obliged to lower the standard for recruits to five feet one inch of itself shows how our national physique is deteriorating. As to chest measurement, I must confess I was surprised to see how many men who at the first stage failed to pass the standard were able subsequently, by a certain amount of drill under competent teachers, to bring themselves up to the standard required. This, in itself, shows that had these men been properly trained from their youth they would not have lost their natural physique in the way they have done. It proves how necessary it is for the Board of Education to take proper measures to maintain the physical development of our youth—especially, I would add, in the case of the large towns and industrial centres, where the boys on leaving school at fourteen years of age go to work in factories or 462 sedentary occupations where their physical development is arrested. This question I would like to point out—and I trust the House will take notice—is that I wish to raise this question simply and solely as an educational question, and in no way whatever as a military question. I wish to deal with it primarily from the educational point of view. I hold—and I hope that the House will hold with me—that it is the duty of the Board of Education, who have made the mental education of our children compulsory, to make the physical education of our children equally compulsory. What is obligatory in the one is obligatory also in the other. It is to the Board of Education that we must in the first instance look for the maintenance of the national physique of our race.
The right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Education, I am sorry to say, has tried—if I may use the expression—to shuffle out of his responsibility in this respect. When I asked him a question the other day as to what steps he proposed to take to initiate cadet training in secondary schools, the right hon. Gentleman tried to put the matter off on the War Office and on the County Territorial Associations. What on earth has the War Office to do with the training in secondary schools? You might just as well say that the War Office is responsible for physical training in elementary schools. The War Office has nothing to do with it, and I think the country will say that it will not accept any excuse of that kind. The schoolmasters themselves have accepted their responsibility. They recognise their duty to the country. I do not know whether the House has noticed it, but at the annual meeting this year of the Incorporated Association of Head Masters in Secondary Schools a resolution was passed, almost unanimously, there being only thirteen dissentients, to the following effect:—That in the opinion of this association instruction in the elements of military drill and the use of the rifle should form part of the education of all boys in secondary schools.I would invite the House to take particular notice of that resolution. Most of us will agree that our idea—mine, certainly—of the schoolmaster hitherto has been of one whose ideal was to cram up his pupils to pass examinations. I can only say how gladly I see that the schoolmasters are recognising their responsibility in this respect, and that they realise that the training of the body is just as important as 463 the training of the mind. The opinion of the country, too, in this respect has come round in a most extraordinary manner. I myself have been at a great many meetings of various sorts during the last few months, and nothing has surprised me more than the outspoken manner in which parents are now demanding better physical training for their boys. We may all realise that the country is at the back of the schoolmasters in this demand for better physical education. There is one thing that struck me particularly in my own county of Leicester, where I can speak from personal experience, and that is that in no single county council school in the whole of that county has any attempt yet been made at cadet training. It is in the public schools and in the grammar schools, but in the county council schools no single attempt has yet been made of any sort whatever. County council secondary schools, being State schools, should set an example in all these things, yet we find that the county council schools have not even followed the example set them by the others.
I therefore ask the President of the Board of Education to set the ball rolling in this respect by at once issuing definite instructions to all secondary and continuation schools under his control that cadet training is to in future form a regular part of the curriculum of that school. I would ask that arrangements should be made at once. I know that nothing can be done during the War, but directly the War is over we shall have no lack of drill and musketry instructors available, and the Government, will be able to help us in the loan of rifles and equipment, of which, as we know, at the end of the War there will be an enormous surplus. All this must be prepared for, and I do ask that these preparations may be taken without any further delay. I ask the right hon. Gentleman to try and deal with this question purely as an educational question, and not to try to put it in any way on the War Office, or the Territorial Association, or anybody else. The War Office may recognise certain cadet corps for certain purposes when formed, but it has nothing whatever to do with the formation of cadet corps or the training of cadet corps in secondary schools. A great work, an acknowledged great work, has been done in this direction by private effort, in the Junior Training Leagues which are now being formed in the great towns 464 throughout the country. I had the honour the other day of inspecting the Leicester Junior Training Corps at drill in a large skating rink. There I found some 2,000 odd boys, of ages ranging from 16 to 19, all voluntarily drilling away and doing their best to develop their bodies by learning the drill that ought to have been taught to them at school. Here were these boys spending their time at drill at night, after working hours, and trying their best, voluntarily, to make up for the deficiency in their education. All credit to these boys, I say; and all credit to the generous people who have helped them and enabled them to obtain that drill of which they were so much in need. I mention this to show what a demand there is in the country for cadet training, and how much cadet training would add to the popularity, both of our county council schools and of our continuation schools. A great deal has been done already to establish cadet corps by the governing bodies of certain county council schools. I would instance especially the Middlesex schools. There each governing body, having on it a majority of the representatives of the county council, is able to obtain an equal policy throughout the county. The cadet corps already formed in these Middlesex County Council schools have proved such a success that other schools in the county are following their example, but this is, after all, only a private effort. It is dependent on voluntary aid, whereas it ought to be a recognised part of the curriculum of each school. The Education Committee of the Middlesex County Council has not financed the cause in any way, and has simply given its consent to the formation of the corps.
Again, take the London County Council, At its meeting on 9th February, just the other day, there was unanimously passed a resolution in favour of the establishment of cadet corps in the council schools. This example will, I have no doubt, be followed in various other counties throughout the country. But I do say that the question cannot be left to be dealt with in this haphazard way. We require a special and equal policy applicable to all the counties, and this can only be supplied by the Board of Education. The President of the Board of Education, I know, has no wish whatsoever to put any obstacle in the way of this cadet training in county council schools, but I do think he will realise that the time has come when a purely negative policy of that sort no longer meets the necessities 465 of the case. What the schoolmasters, the county councils, and the parents and the country generally now require is definite action on the part of the Board of Education to make cadet training part of the curriculum of all secondary schools for boys over fourteen years of age, thus establishing an equal and a uniform policy throughout the different counties. Finally, I would say that we must remember that cadet corps and officers' training corps can no longer be limited to the universities and to the great public schools. The policy of the country, the acknowledged policy of the people, is to do our best to give all classes an equal chance in life, and the pupils of county council secondary and continuation schools ought to be given an equal chance in cadet training with the grammar schools, public schools and universities throughout the country. What we desire is to let the best boy come to the front whatever may be his class in life. Therefore, on behalf of the people generally, I do ask the President of the Board of Education to accept this proposal and to take the necessary action to carry it into effect with the least possible delay.
§ Mr. PEASE
I should like to address myself first of all to the speech to which the House has just listened. The hon. and gallant Gentleman seems to be of the opinion that cadet training corps is the only way in which physical training can be satisfactorily carried out in elementary schools, or at any rate in secondary schools. He has not pressed the military side, but at the same time I do not think it is possible for us to exclude the idea that cadet corps are associated with militarism. It may interest the hon. and gallant Member, and the House, to know that at the present time there are 1,047 secondary schools which we inspect and to which we give Grants. There are 118 secondary schools in England and Wales which are inspected at the request of the governing bodies of the schools but which are not Grant-receiving schools. Of those there are fifty-one officers' training corps attached to them—at any rate we know of fifty-one of these officers' training corps attached to secondary schools in the country. Of Grant-earning schools, to which the hon. Member has more particularly referred, there are, so far as I know, only fourteen to which cadet training corps are attached. He has saddled this matter exclusively on the Board of Education. Parliament in its 466 wisdom in the past has determined that these cadet corps and the officers' training-corps should be run by the War Office and not by the Board of Education, and the Grant which is given in connection with these corps is given through the War Office and appears upon the Votes of the War Office annually.
In connection with cadet corps the Giant is only a small one—£5 in respect of each company—but in connection with officers' training corps I think the Grant amounts to £1 per head, which is a much more substantial sum. But, in addition to those Grants, there are matters connected with the supply of rifles, with camp life and the equipment of camps, for which, I believe, Giants are also given by the War Office. Therefore at the present moment I am not responsible for that kind of work for which the hon. Member thinks I ought to become responsible, but I can assure him that, so far as this kind if work promotes physical drill and the development of the physique of the student in the school, I am entirely at one with him. As a matter of fact, in all elementary-schools there is physical drill, and it is a compulsory subject in connection with the lower forms in all Grant-earning secondary schools in the country. The hon. Member may think the amount of physical drill is not sufficient; he may also criticise the number of minutes devoted each week to physical drill in our elementary schools; all I can say to him is—and I have now the assistance of my hon. Friend beside me—we are giving the utmost attention to this branch of the work.
We believe the future of the nation depends very largely on the physique of the rising generation, and we are doing everything we can to stimulate and increase the amount of attention given by the authorities to the drilling and proper training of the children in our elementary and secondary schools. We believe that physical drill, as provided under the Swedish system, does develop the physique better than the military side of drill, so far as we have been able to study it. The tendency of military drill is to develop certain muscles and not the general physique of the whole body of the child. The Medical Branch of my Department has studied this matter very carefully, and they are quite satisfied that for children up to fourteen or fifteen years of age it is most desirable that military drill should not be introduced into our elementary schools.
467 In regard to the secondary schools, the question is a different one. Children are not compelled to attend secondary schools, and I have very little power over the secondary schools of the country. I can make representations to the secondary schools which receive Government Grants, and I have a certain amount of voice in connection with the curriculum; and all that I can tell the hon. Member at the present moment is that I can express a cordial sympathy with the movement. As regards cadet corps in secondary schools, my inspectors report to me that the physical drill and training given in connection with the establishment of these corps does promote, not only a corporate spirit, but a very valuable element in technical training. But I am absolutely in the hands of the governors of the schools, or the municipal authorities which run the secondary schools, to determine whether a cadet corps shall be attached to these schools, and it does not rest with me at all at the present time. I might tell the hon. Member that I approached the War Office before the outbreak of War in connection with this kind of work. I thought there was room for reform in certain directions, and they undertook then to consider it very carefully. I have approached them again since the War, and they say they are so busily engaged at the present moment that they cannot deal with matters connected with these reforms which we have been discussing, but that they intend at the very earliest opportunity when the War is over to go into this matter with the Board of Education and consider it fully.
I turn to the main subject of the Debate to-day. If there is one thing in which the Board of Education take more interest than another, and if we desire to promote one object to a greater extent than another, it is to secure the regularity of attendance in the schools of the country, and not only do we urge that all children should be allowed to remain in the elementary school to the age of fourteen, but we do urge that many of those children who show possibilities of being able to take advantage of the secondary school should leave our elementary school at the age of eleven and go into our secondary schools and remain there until the age of seventeen, if parents can possibly make the sacrifice in their interest. The position of child labour is one that has been a great matter 468 of study, and we have accumulated a large amount of information. I am informed from such authorities to whom I have had access that there is something like a quarter of a million of children of school age who are employed in this country before, or after, their school hours, and, in addition to that, about a quarter of a million of our children of school age who, under the Workshops and Factories Acts, escape school, either wholly or partially, under the age of fourteen, all of whom are wage-earners. It is a very serious thing for a country like this that half a million of our children, under the age of fourteen, should be working when they ought to be only at school.
I have been lectured here this afternoon by the hon. Member for Salford (Sir William Byles), and he has told me what I ought to do in connection with trying to secure the abolition of child labour. Let me just tell the House of the case, of Salford. Two years ago, in March, 1913, the Director of Education at Salford went round to the teachers and got all the teachers to find out what was the amount of employment given to the children in the schools of Salford, and he found that 2,363 of these little children attending school were employed at work, in addition to having to do their school work; 431 were delivering papers; 209 were delivering milk; 129 were in barbers' shops; 75 were butcher boys; 52 of them worked for forty hours a week, in addition to their schooling; 215 of them worked between thirty and forty hours a week; 375 worked between twenty and thirty hours a week; and 578 worked between ten and twenty hours a week; 565 were between the tender ages of eight and eleven. And then the hon. Member comes down to the House and wants to lecture me. Let him set his own house in order and tell his constituents what are his views with regard to child labour, and let Salford set Manchester, which is, I believe, a worse offender than Salford, a good example. It is right to say that since then Salford has done something; it has passed a by-law which will prevent any child attending school working more than twenty hours in any one week. That is an improvement, but it is still very unsatisfactory, and, what is still much more unsatisfactory, is that, although there is a law by the Act of 1903 that no child under the age of fourteen shall work at any other time than between the hours of six in the morning and nine in the evening, yet that Act is 469 really a dead letter, and in Manchester, Salford and many other towns I could name, there is no prosecution when children are employed any hours, early and late.
The information which we have shows that the effect of all this child labour is that it retards physical development, it is prejudicial to the morals of the child, it is bad educationally, and it cannot be justified. Of course, there is a certain amount of domestic work incidental to every homo to which a child may possibly be placed, but what I am speaking about is the work of the wage earner—work which children are driven to undertake too often in the industrial towns and cities of this country. When I come to agriculture, I think we are justified in regard to the experience we have had in different towns, to do our utmost to discourage the premature employment of children in agriculture, just as much as in the industrial work of the country. Mr. Gardiner, a leading schoolmaster in Surrey, in a county area, protested the other day against what he thought was a reactionary policy, and said:—Educated workers were wanted by the country to make the earth yield her increase abundantly, and to curtail education was the very way to make lives dull and lacking in intelligence.Dr. Adkins, medical officer in Devon, reported a short time ago, after an examination of the children who were employed in agriculture who ought to be at school, that he found when he measured them that 42 per cent. of these children were below normal and average height of children of their respective ages, and he went on to say in this report:—Children cannot do both tilings—school and work. The school and the work they are doing is having a harmful effect on them, and it is generally known that the race is deteriorating, and the object of medical inspection is to find nut the reason of that. If you are going to improve the race, you must either stop the labour they are doing, or stop the schooling; they cannot do both; their little bodies will not stand the strain of the education and the work.Is it desirable for the House of Commons to pass legislation devoting large sums of money to the inspection of the children in the school in order to secure their proper treatment, to find meals for them when they are hungry, to organise systems for the proper employment of the children when they subsequently leave school, and at the same time to undo all this good work by allowing children to come away from school before their proper time? London has set a good example to the country in this matter. In 1911 over 10,000 boys were swept off the streets of this city who were previously distributing newspapers, 470 and I think something like 785 girls were dealt with at the same time. Until the War broke out I was hoping that we would be able to introduce legislation which would have done something to extend the school age, and have got rid of that most retrograde system which still obtains in many parts of Lancashire and Yorkshire, namely, the half-time system. Unfortunately we have not been able to pass that legislation. I did feel that public opinion was behind the Government in the proposals which we were about to make, by which we intended to strengthen the law so as to prevent the evils which have arisen in connection with child labour. The more I look at this matter the more I realise that every month a child remains at school after the age of eleven the greater advantage accrues to that child, and it is a cumulative advantage each month. Of course to the Board of Education the interest of the child is the predominant consideration. Agriculture is one of the greatest industries in this country, and we must do our utmost to see that the crops are secured which are raised by the farmers. My hon. Friend has already told the House that there are many other ways open to the farmer before it is necessary to rely upon child labour in order to obtain the crops. It is a matter of very great regret to me that in certain areas there has been a disposition to accept the boys ready to their hands and for the farmers not to look ahead. Their policy seems to me to try and secure a temporary gain, which is possibly only worth a few pence, and thus to prejudice a permanent good, which would be worth pounds not only to the farmer, but to the child.
I know it is no use abusing the farmers when they are suddenly confronted with great difficulties, in many cases losing a large number of their labourers, and they see the importance of getting additional men or staff to enable them to secure their crops, and without thinking they take advantage of the boy labour which is ready to their hands instead of taking advantage of other resources which I believe are available, and to which my hon. Friend has referred earlier in this Debate from this bench. On the whole, the education authorities have endeavoured to control this demand which has been made by the agriculturists for boy labour. I am sorry that this Debate is a little premature, because I have not been able to obtain the information from all the authorities which I promised to try and 471 obtain and circulate. I am, however, already satisfied, from the information which has come in, that it is only too true that those districts which pay the smallest wages, and where the conditions are the least attractive, are just those districts in which there is the greatest tendency to try and exploit boy labour. There are a very large number of authorities who have resisted altogether this demand for any relaxation of their by-laws or their administration of those by-laws. A few have tried to meet the case by undertaking to examine each case on its merits, and separately, and to fence any relaxation with very careful conditions which they have laid down so as to prevent any abuse in connection with the employment of child labour. But there are a few which have relaxed their administration in a way which I do not think is desirable.
I have tried to place before the local authorities four or five principles. The first is that they should see that every effort is made in the locality for the wages to be reasonable before they entertain the idea of allowing any children to leave school in order to work on farms; secondly, that employment should only be given in very exceptional cases, and after very full inquiry that no other labour is available; thirdly, that there should be no general relaxation of any by-laws or rules or customs; fourthly, that the employment, if it is given, should be of a very light character and suited to the capacity of the child; and, fifthly, that the employment, if it is to be given at all, should only be given during an emergency and for a very definite period. I know that hon. Members think that it is perhaps unnecessary for me to argue that boy labour, under any circumstances, should be utilised upon a farm. I recognise, that I have had a good deal of help from the National Union of Teachers and their organisation in trying to put pressure upon, local education authorities to prevent the employment of boy labour. I also recognise that the trade unionists have done a good deal, but, if they would only make as good a protest in connection with the abolition of the half-time system in Lancashire and Yorkshire as they have done across the floor of the House in connection with this subject it would be a great help to me. Frequently I am asked how I can refuse to allow farmers the advantage of boy labour on their farms when the law itself in Lancashire and York- 472 shire allows boys at the age of twelve to work in factories under conditions which are much less advantageous to the health of the children.
§ Mr. G. ROBERTS
May I point out to the right hon. Gentleman that those trade unionists who support the half-time system are very few in number, and the great majority of labour representatives are opposed to the system and have expressed that view publicly?
§ Mr. PEASE
I recognise that a large number of labour representatives in this House and in the country are of that opinion, and I certainly do not want to misrepresent labour in regard to that matter. What I want the House to understand is that there has been up to the present time no illegality that we are able to put our hand upon in connection with the relaxation to which allusion has been made. The only charge really brought against me to-day is, if I may put it into my own words, that I have deliberately shown the way to local authorities how they may enable a certain number of children to be employed on farms. That charge has been made, but I have to administer the law as I find it. The law says that children may be allowed to be absent from shool if a reasonable excuse can be shown, and the Courts have held that even employment may be so regarded as a reasonable, excuse. In a case which occurred in connection with the London School Board, which went to the Court of Queen's Bench in 1884, it was held that employment might be regarded as a reasonable excuse.
As a practical man I have to put it to myself, as I put it to the House, that in the event of a farmer being able, to show that he has paid good wages and is prepared to pay good wages, and cannot get any other labour, and that a certain amount, of boy labour, if only the labour of one boy at a time, will be an advantage to him, and he has kept that boy at home because he has lost a certain number of men who have recruited through the War, if a case like that was taken into the Court I do not think there is a bench of magistrates who would convict the parent for having kept that boy away from school I have to administer the law as I find it, and I have no power to fine an authority which relaxes its administration. I know I have the power to hold an inquiry and to mandamus an authority if it is recalcitrant, but I believe we are much more 473 likely to succeed in our object if we reason and make representations to the local authorities in order to get them to do what we urge upon them. We are more likely to succeed in that way than if we threatened them with a mandamus.
I do not believe that that is an effective weapon at the present time during the War in connection with local education authorities. I rely more upon making representations to them, and if I find that they are relaxing unduly and illegally their by-laws I point it out to them. If they were to act outside the law I would point out the undesirability of such relaxation. Our policy has been and still is to give as much discretion as possible to local education authorities in emergencies of this kind. From the information which reaches me I find that the advantage which has been taken of such relaxation amounts to under 1,300 cases in the whole country. A certain number of authorities have apparently passed resolutions with a view to possible relaxation in the future; but I hope that one object served by this Debate will be that it will deter education authorities from relaxing their regulations with a view of exploiting child labour. Bedfordshire, Huntingdonshire, and West Sussex are three of the authorities which have allowed more boys to leave school than possibly they ought to have done. It is difficult to pillory any of these education authorities without knowing the full circumstances of the case. Take, for example, counties like Huntingdonshire and Bedfordshire, where there are very large camps, and in connection with those camps the schools have been commandeered, and a very large number of boys have been turned out of the schools and no other accommodation has been provided for them elsewhere by the local education authorities. It is quite possible that in those two counties a large number of these boys are employed, partly, at any rate, because they have no school to which they can go. There is some little justification for the employment of boys when the local education authority is not able to provide accommodation for them on account of the schools having been commandeered. From the point of view of the education of the children the commandeering of the schools for the purposes of the War—I am making no complaint—has been much more serious than the employment of boy labour up to the present time. There are 13,000 children for whom there is now no 474 accommodation, as against under 1,300 children who have been temporarily employed on the farms in the agricultural areas. There is, I think, one matter for congratulation. There is a Clause in the Robson Act which enables children to be taken away from school at the age of eleven. I am glad to say that particular Clause, although it has been adopted in the by-laws of several counties, has not been up to the present time relied upon, and I believe that last year only something like twenty-three children were exempted from school at the age of eleven in order to help in agricultural work. I have been asked to introduce legislation to raise the school age. I should be glad to do so, but I know that during the War it is quite impossible for me to do anything of the kind. It is equally impossible for the Government to introduce any law which is going in any way to enable local education authorities to relax their by-laws, or to enable children to be exploited for the purpose of providing labour either in agriculture or any other direction. When I consider the immense demands which are made upon what I may call "the fund of intelligence," which it is the business of education to create, and upon which the country must rely to prepare for the wastage of war, I decline to legislate or to approve of administration which, I believe, to be of a retrograde character.
§ Mr. BLACK
I have listened with considerable satisfaction to the speech of the President of the Board of Education, and I should like to take the opportunity of Baying just a few words, not with the object of stiffening his back, because I find from his speech that is entirely unnecessary, but in order to assure him that there is a considerable body of opinion in the country behind him in any step he can possibly take to minimise the introduction of boy labour in agriculture in the country at the present time. I know pretty well there is a shortage of labour, and I believe that it will be felt more acutely as time goes on, but, in my opinion, the very last remedy which should be sought is that which has been proposed by a certain number of education authorities and a certain number of farmers' associations in the country. I notice that the Farmers' Union at their meeting yesterday asked that boys of the age of twelve should be set free in cases of need for agricultural work. A week ago the Nottinghamshire Farmers' Union put the age at eleven. Why stop at either eleven or 475 twelve? There are many parents and grandparents of children in the schools to-day who can certainly say, "I went to work at the age of eight or nine, and I am not very much the worse for it." We do not want to encourage that kind of thing.
The proper and only remedy is an immediate and substantial increase of wages. This will be the very best means of securing that an adequate supply of labour will be forthcoming. It can be done, and it must be done. Good wages never ruined any industry. Poor wages invariably mean poor work. A man ill-paid, ill-clothed and badly housed is unprofitable to everybody concerned. Every farmer knows if he wants to get the best out of the land that he must first of all put plenty into it, and, if you want to get the best results from the work of a horse, you must feed him well. I know perfectly well that the great majority of the parents in the villages would welcome the proposal that their children should go to work. I know enough of the financial strain of the cottager to realise the power of the monetary consideration. Given an opportunity of an addition to the family income of from 3s. to 5s. per week from one or more of the children and the temptation in the case of these poor people is practically irresistible, but the House in my opinion ought, if possible, to save the parents from this temptation. The school life of the child will never return. It is at the best, as the President of the Board of Education just said, already too short, and to interfere with it in the way proposed is to impose a penalty on the future of every child concerned.
This country spends many millions of money on education, though not by any means too much, and the question we have the right to ask is, "Are we getting value at the present time?" I am not sure that we are. It is not too much to say that nine out of every ten children leaving school do so even now ill-trained and inefficiently equipped for the battle of life. They are taught a smattering of many subjects. They learn a few rules of arithmetic and a few facts of history, and then they leave school and promptly forget it all. Not one in fifty, I venture to think, learns the meaning and the object of their schooling. Not one child in fifty leaves school with a thirst for knowledge, and that is, after all, the most priceless gift a teacher can impart. I ask the House not to make it more difficult for these children. Do not 476 let us make it more difficult for the teachers. The teacher's lot is already sufficiently hard. Nobody knows better than he how futile much of his work is. Do not let us render nugatory the little good the teacher can already do the child. We have, at this moment, hundreds of thousands of men in training for the Army. How important it would be if these men were immediately available, and if we could land them in France to-morrow well-trained and well-equipped, but how ruinous it would be to land them ill-trained and inefficiently equipped and to send children out into the world ill-trained and ill-equipped is an equally suicidal policy. It is to live upon our capital; it is to make a draft upon our future well-being as a nation. This House is the trustee of the child life of the land. In past years this House has passed Factory Acts and Education Acts, has given maternity benefits to mothers for the sake of the children, and all these things prove that this Assembly has not been unmindful of its trust. I therefore beg the House to turn a deaf ear to the appeal that has been made. It is our business to stiffen the hands of the education authority, and to let the country know that we shall not allow our educational machinery to be thrown into the melting pot. We therefore warn the agricultural community that they must look to other means for the necessary supply of labour. For my part, I am quite certain that, given proper wages and reasonable conditions of service, an adequate supply of labour will not be lacking.
§ Mr. DENMAN
The speech of the President of the Board of Education is, of course, of great importance. He has told us, and it is very welcome information, that prior to the War breaking out he had contemplated the introduction of legislation to raise the school age and to abolish half-timers. We shall remember that was in his mind, and when the War is over we shall expect it. There will certainly be an excess of labour cast upon the labour market, and we shall expect him to take the opportunity the industrial conditions will then undoubtedly present of raising the school age and abolishing the half-time system. I confess that in some other matters I thought his speech was not quite so hopeful and was somewhat disappointing. Practically, he pleaded that he had done his best with local authorities to prevent the use of children of 477 school age in agriculture. That is not the impression of people outside this House. Someone earlier in the Debate observed that nobody knows what is the policy of the Board of Education, but I am afraid that is not quite accurate, because the prevailing impression is certainly summed up in a speech yesterday at the National Farmers' Union, where one member said, "Let them take the children; the Board of Education will do nothing." I am bound to say that is the impression I should have derived from a study of the documents. I do not know how the Board of Education proposes to escape from the position in which it has landed itself. The speech we have heard to-night will no doubt show that the President of the Board of Education is himself eager to prevent the use of school children; but unless the Board of Education collaborates with the Board of Agriculture in pursuit of an active policy to provide agricultural labour, I am afraid that not much will be done by the aspirations of the present.
There was one special line taken by the President which I think should be at once dealt with. I venture with all the diffidence of a layman and with great respect to say, that the use which he made of the phrase "reasonable excuse" is a complete departure from any use that has hitherto been made of it. He is in effect saying to the local authorities, "If you think a reasonable excuse exists for non-attendance you are then exonerated from the obligation to enforce the by-laws." The right hon. Gentleman will see that is an entirely different position from what I certainly understood was the attitude of the law, that school attendance shall take place in accordance with the by-laws unless the parent or child has a reasonable excuse for absence. He will see the difference between the two. It is not the opinion of the local education authority on the state of the labour market which is to constitute a reasonable excuse, but the interests or the domestic circumstances of the child itself. We all know the kind of excuses that are made—bad weather and long distance, and even in select cases the economic need of the home. The right hon. Gentleman mentioned the case of the London School Board. That is, of course, a case in point. There it was argued that the family desperately needed the wages of the child, and the judge held that the labour-earning capacity of the child constituted a reasonable excuse for non-attendance.
478 But the procedure encouraged, apparently, by the education authority is that the parent shall say, "I believe there is a serious shortage of labour; it is important that we should grow more food: I know a farmer who will be glad to employ my boy." That, it is suggested, is to be taken as a reasonable excuse. If so, then I submit it is an extension of the doctrine of reasonable excuse for which I have been unable to find any authority in law. If there is to be no limitation of the extent to which the idea of reasonable excuse may be carried, then you are making a very serious inroad into the whole principles of school attendance. It is perfectly clear that education committees are conscious that they are breaking the law from time to time. Let me quote one statement made by the chairman of an education committee of which I do not propose to give the name. He suggested that where it could be shown that the parents of boys of twelve years of age desired them to leave school and accept a place on a farm, the managers of the school should be told not to prosecute. If you tell a man not to prosecute, he presumably has the power to prosecute, and it is tantamount to telling him not to do that which it is his clear duty to do. This gentleman went on to say, "They would thus avoid altering the by-laws, and would give elasticity to the administration." That is a glorious phrase. In war time apparently we are not to observe the laws because there is to be elasticity of administration. I cannot help wondering what would happen if, before this same gentleman a hungry wretch was brought on a charge of stealing food, would he then say, "In time of war there must be elasticity in administration of the law." No, on the contrary, he would probably argue that in time of war a person must be a double-dyed villain who thought of such a thing as breaking the law of this country.
I am afraid the conclusion which many of us have come to is that the Board of Education has not taken the best steps it could have done to prevent or discourage this infraction of the law. But we are engaged this evening in making practical suggestions rather than criticisms. We have had many suggestions made to us, such as that if farmers would only pay higher wages they could get more men. That may be true. But I am sorry to be pessimistic enough to think that the problem is going to be even more serious 479 than the serious speech of the Parliamentary Secretary seemed to indicate. The shortage of labour is not likely, as far as I can tell, to be met from any of the sources to which the hon. Gentleman alluded. There are very few men available in the labour market, and very few women also, and there would consequently have to be new sources of supply tapped. I ask the Board of Education not to allow the new supply to be secured merely by slipshod and lax administration. If the Government want more power, let them come down and pass emergency legislation. In the earlier days of the War they were able by such means to get what they wanted, and if they adopt the same policy now it would be better than allowing the administration to become slack and then to have to build it up again after the War. When the Board of Agriculture gets the figures regarding the shortage of labour, it will probably find it must take more energetic and active steps to deal with the problem. May I suggest that they should expand their system of county committees, and add nominees, one each from the Board of Education and the Labour Exchange, with two farmers and two representatives of agricultural labour. Let such a committee fully explore the subject, hear evidence of local conditions, and suggest the best remedies it can. I do not think anyone in this House would really object to the taking of suitable children from school if it is proved to be essential. But there is no proof at all of that, and only to-day we had an admirable answer from the Secretary for Scotland to the effect that he was not aware of any district in Scotland in which the rule had been relaxed to enable children under fourteen years of age to be exempted from school attendance. Scotland, thus, so far has succeeded in managing without, that relaxation, and I hope it will continue to do so.
There is one other source of supply: According to the census of 1911, there were over 200,000 persons between the ages of fourteen and eighteen. There has been a singular lack of information throughout this Debate. Nobody appears to know the extent of the shortage of agricultural labour, and no one has attempted to estimate it. But we do know, as a fact, that in 1911 there were 660,000 agricultural labourers, and if we assume that 10 per cent. have joined the Colours, it means a shortage of over 60,000. Possibly, with- 480 out breaking the education law, it might be possible to get over the difficulty by securing the services of some of those boys between fourteen and eighteen who are no longer under an obligation to attend school. There are many such boys at our grammar and public schools, who in a moment of emergency would be only too glad to spend a few months on a farm. These are the people we should seek to take rather than boys under school age, and it would be much better than the wholesale breach of the law which has been suggested. Of course, this is not a time to indulge in pedantry, but I would urge the Government not to sit still and allow the administration of the law to slacken. Rather let them pursue the policy urged so admirably by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Agriculture, and supply the deficiency by some other means.
§ Mr. OUTHWAITE
I think the best reply to this agitation for the employment of child labour is to be, found in the condition of the benches on the other side of the House. When the President of the Board of Education was replying there were only two or three members of the party which represent the land interest in particular, present to listen to what the Government propose to do in this matter, which, we are told, is one of the greatest national concern. I should like to express my appreciation of the statement made by the representative of the Board of Agriculture. I desire to point out this fact, that we are to-day reaping the results of the evils of our land system, evils to which I have again and again drawn the attention of this House. We have swept away men from the country-side. Low wages, bad housing, and innumerable other evils, such as lack of personal freedom, have driven our men to the uttermost ends of the earth, and to-day, in the time of national crisis, when we require them, they are not here. Some, it is true, are returning. I believe in connection with the troops coming from Australia and Canada from 40 to 80 per cent. of the men were born in this country. They are returning to give their services in this time of national stress, but there are hundreds of thousands of men in various parts of the world whom we have driven from the country-side, who ought also to be here serving the nation in the time of crisis. I have my suspicions of this plan of the farmers for taking the children away during school age. I have spent a good 481 deal of my time travelling about the country inquiring into the conditions of the villages, and I have found that the farmer regards education as a useless pursuit, especially education as administered in the schools of this country. He has always regarded it as somewhat foolish that a child should be educated after the age of ten or eleven years, and thought he would be much better employed behind the harrow, or feeding stock, or milking the cows. I am afraid there is a great number of farmers of this retrograde disposition who regard this as an opportunity of getting in the thin edge of the wedge mid breaking up our system of education. Their regard for education may be indicated by an advertisement I saw not very long ago for a school teacher in the county of Dorset. The wage was infinitesimal, and the sole qualification set out in the advertisement was that the teacher must have been vaccinated. That rather represents the views of many farmers, especially in the low wage districts as regards the essentials of education.
This is not, therefore, an emergency matter. We are dealing with a difficulty of a permanent nature, due to the evils of our land system, and we are not going to find a solution in any temporary measure. If the present problem is solved by taking away children, then children will continue to be taken away at an early age. We have to go to the root of the evil and discover why the labour is not available on the country-side. I strongly support those who have said that the first thing to be done is to increase the wage of the agricultural labourer. It is to be realised that a substantial increase in his wage means an increase in the product of the labourer himself. No man can do a decent day's work on the wage that he is paid in many of the counties, especially in those counties where they are demanding child labour. When a man is getting from 12s. to 15s. a week, and has to support a wife and family, he is not getting sufficient food to put him in a physical condition to provide the greatest output of labour. A very large number of English agricultural labourers have gone to Australia in recent years. I have seen a statement in Australian agricultural papers that they will not have English agricultural labourers as their work is far too slow. An Australian gets what is equivalent to 30s. a week—£1 a week, plus his board and lodging. He will do from two to four times the 482 amount of work an English labourer will do when he first arrives in Australia. After he has had the benefit of better food and higher wages, he becomes as good a labourer as the Australian. Therefore I say that if you increase the wage of the labourer you will increase the production from each individual labourer.
Not long ago I was in Norfolk dining with a friend of mine at the chief inn in one of the chief agricultural centres. At the head of the table was the leading farmer of the district, a very charming man, who entered into conversation with me. He was a man who apparently had a great regard for his workers. We got on to the question of wages. He said that his men were well employed and their wage was good. I asked him what it was, and he said 14s. a week. Out of that something had to be paid for a cottage, and there were probably other deductions. He said that was plenty for a man to maintain himself and his wife and children. After some further conversation I asked him what it cost him at the present time to keep a draught horse in good physical condition. I forget his exact reply, but I think he said from 14s. to 15s. a week. I then said, "Do you expect a man, his wife and children, to keep in good physical condition on the same cost as one draught horse?" It is very obvious that if it costs 14s. to 15s. to maintain a horse in condition it is impossible for a man to keep in condition when, on that amount of pay he has to provide for himself and perhaps a large family. Increasing the wage will not only put the labourer in the best physical condition, it will not only attract men to the soil, but it will also retain on the soil those who are at present there. Wages are rising in many directions, due to the many demands set up by the War, and owing to the taking away of a large number of men for the service of the Crown. Consequently, if wages on the land are not substantially raised, men will drift away more rapidly than in the past from the villages. If you want to avoid a crisis, the raising of the wage of the agricultural labourer is a fundamental point.
The hon. Member for Devizes (Mr. Peto) said that the matter is one of great urgency in Wiltshire. He mentioned the fact that he had been through Belgium and had seen women and children working on the farms. He also said it was a great discredit to this country, or he used words to that effect, that we should be at this moment 483 paltering with this matter, and his argument was that we should immediately send our children to the land to work. I would remind him that the women and children he saw in Belgium were the wives and children of the owners of the land who were virtually working for their own benefit. I want to know whether the landowners of the country are providing the fullest amount of labour they can for the working of their own land, and if the great farmers who are making this demand are taking their children from the schools and colleges at the ages of eleven and twelve and setting them to work on their land? Are the people of the halls doing the same thing? I remember the story of an estate which formerly belonged to the Church, but was taken away from it. In the time of Queen Mary it was given back to the Church, and the abbess was reinstalled with her nuns. Later on it was again restored to the owner, and he rode up to the abbey with his followers, and he said to the abbess, "Out, out to work, go spin!" I would say to the great farmers of this country that if they wish to take the children of the worst paid labourers in the country, the weakest members of the community, let them show their patriotism in the first place by sending their own children to follow the harrow and to feed the stock.
In this matter of great national emergency it should not fall upon the weakest to foot the Bill. This is a matter which shows amongst a section of the farmers the very greatest selfishness. We have to realise that the prices of staple products have almost doubled during the last six months. The profits of many are enormous, and consequently they will be well able to afford to pay regular increased wages to retain men on the soil and attract them to it. There is a great national emergency in this matter of increasing the products of the soil at this time. I do not underestimate it in the very least. But there are other ways of increasing the products of the soil besides making children little wage-slaves. Only two or three days ago I saw a report in the "Huddersfield Examiner" of a meeting of farmers, the tenants of the Ramsden estate, which passed a resolution expressing deep regret that the agent of the estate had refused to allow them to break their contract to the extent of ploughing up grass land to provide corn at this time of high prices and national emergency. Throughout the 484 length and breadth of the country a heavy penalty is placed upon a farmer who breaks up grass land. The first thing to do, if you want to increase the products of the soil, is for the Government to see that these contracts are broken and abrogated that prevent the farmer who desires to increase the production of corn, and who has a possibility of doing it, from starving the nation at this time. Therefore, I express the highest appreciation, particularly of the speech of the representative of the Board of Agriculture, who, while acknowledging the position of the farmers, says there is no need yet, before other methods are exhausted, to save the nation by turning the child of the agricultural labourer into a slave.