HC Deb 02 March 1916 vol 80 cc1289-91

7.0 P.M.

Whereupon the Gentleman Usher of the Black Rod (Admiral Sir H. F. Stephenson), having come with a Message to attend the Lords Commissioners, the Chairman left the Chair.

Mr. SPEAKER resumed the Chair.

Message to attend the Lords Commissioners; the House went; and, having returned, Mr. SPEAKER reported the Royal Assent to—

  1. 1. Consolidated Fund (No. 1) Act, 1916.
  2. 2. Naval Prize (Procedure) Act, 1916.

Supply again considered in Committee.

[Mr. WHITLEY in the Chair.]


(resuming): I have very little else to say, except this, that instead of the Board of Education addressing remonstrances to those local education authorities, who evidently intend to take these children, and have indeed taken them, it seems to me, as a practical business man, it would be far better for them to send down an inspector to see whether the safeguards are really being carried out. If the Board did so, it would be found that they are not being carried out, and that this is a question merely of pounds, shillings and pence. If farmers who are taking these children at eleven years of age would only pay a proper wage, they could have soldiers from the War Office to do their work. But while they can get children at 5s. a week they will not pay a man 4s. a day. That is the crux of the question. The inspector would also find out that after a child has been withdrawn from school he is not watched in any way. He may go to an agricultural employment for a month or so, but then he may drift into a town and take up some other employment. There is no attempt whatever to follow the child to see whether the safeguards and regulations are being carried out. Inspectors enough are available to send down to secondary schools for a variety of purposes. I attended a meeting of my secondary education committee the other day, when we had no fewer than three of these gentlemen down from the Board of Education. We were, of course, pleased to see them, but I think one would have been quite sufficient. If the Board can send them down in that way, they surely can send them down to see if these safeguards are being carried out by the local authorities. I hope the Board will act upon this suggestion. There is one other point. Not only are the Board of Education letting these local authorities break the by-laws, but they are actually breaking the Act of Parliament itself by withdrawing children who are under twelve years of age. If I am rightly informed, these children are protected by Act of Parliament, yet at the present time we are flouting that Act by allowing the children to be withdrawn.


I should like to support the appeal made by the last speaker, that more care should be taken to secure that the excellent safeguards laid down by the Board are adequately carried out. It is not only necessary there should be inspection by the Board of Education itself, but I would beg the right hon. Gentleman to use his influence to secure that the local authorities themselves do more in the way of local inspection. Although it is impossible for them to increase their staff of inspectors, I believe that for this purpose, as a war measure, they might make use of unpaid voluntary assistance, particularly in urban areas, where there are a large number of qualified women who would be willing to give such assistance in seeing that the safeguards are carried out. I believe, too, that men who do not come within the military age would in many cases be willing, if they were encouraged, to assist in this work. I hope that the Board of Education will insist that the local education authorities, when they allow children to leave school at this tender age, shall take proper steps to see that the safeguards imposed are carried out in practice. I know we have the good will of the Board in this matter, and I trust they will be able to take such further steps as may be required to secure this end.


I hope the Board of Education will not be induced to make it more difficult for agriculture than it is to-day by appointing underpaid and voluntary spies or inspectors to go round. I have to go to-morrow night to address a number of women and persuade them to go in for agricultural work, yet we have an hon. Member here suggesting that it would be better that these women, instead of working on the land, should go round spying on the farmers.


No. I referred primarily to urban conditions when I spoke of women inspectors.


I assumed that the hon. Member was referring to agriculture. The difficulties of agriculture are great and the assistance and sympathy of the Board of Education are required for, and not against it. We are having to-day appeals made by Ministers for economy. The greatest economy is to increase the efficiency of the people, and the efficiency of agriculture can be helped very much if the Board of Education would encourage local authorities to release children at an earlier age. Afterwards I would support any hon. Member who brought in a measure providing that those children should continue their education to make up for the time they had lost. I appeal to the Board of Education not to interfere with the use of children in agriculture. A cheap sneer has been cast at the farmer who objects to employing occasionally soldiers at 4s. a day on agricultural work. Soldiers are doing magnificent work. We cannot be too grateful to them and cannot give them too good a time. If the hon. Member were a farmer he would not think 4s. a day was a cheap wage to give a soldier whose whole thought is on soldiering, and whose desire is to get out to the front, but who was dumped for a few days on the land. He is not cheap at 4s. a day, and he would not be cheap at 3s. a day. Farmers are men who know their business, and they would not think it a profitable investment to have soldiers occasionally on their land at 4s. a day.