HL Deb 10 June 1873 vol 216 cc712-21

Order of the Day for the Second Reading, read.


said, it was with diffidence he brought this Bill before their Lordships upon so important a subject, as a young Member of the House; but it was one in which he had taken great interest, and he believed the Bill would recommend itself on its own merits to their Lordships' consideration and approval. It was prepared and brought into the House of Commons by his hon. Friend Mr. Clare Read, who always dealt with any question he might take up in a practical and business-like manner, and who was fully conversant with the subject to which the Bill referred. The name of Mr. Kay-Shuttleworth was on the back of the House of Commons Bill, and was another guaran- tee of its having been carefully and ably prepared. Without going into the details of the Bill, he (Lord Henniker) would state very shortly its main provisions. It provided that no child should be employed in agriculture under the age of eight, that up to the age of ten no child should be employed who could not produce a certificate of having attended a school 250 times during the previous year, and that up to the age of 13 no child should be employed unless it could produce a certificate of 150 attendances in the previous year. The number of attendances would be found to correspond with the rules laid down in the new Education Code. These certificates would only hold good for one year from the date of issue. Penalties were imposed upon parents and others for infringement of the Act, and more heavily upon employers. These were the most important provisions of the Bill; the details would probably be fully discussed in Committee. The Bill brought into the House of Commons last year was the same as that of this Session, which was almost unanimously agreed to by that House, with the exception of a new clause to leave parents who employed their children in helping them in their allotments or gardens outside the Bill; and it came, with one or two good Amendments, pretty much in the same form to their Lordships' House, with one important exception—namely, that the limit of age was altered from 12 to 13. The Bill was one which had been required for some time past, and was brought in to meet a great and increasing difficulty which, perhaps, this was the first opportunity to remedy. They had schools nearly everywhere now—and soon he trusted they would have them everywhere—with certificated teachers, under Government inspection; the Education Department clearly intended this by the notices issued, for they called for full accommodation in the schools and insisted on certificated teachers. The difficulty was, however, to fill the schools when they were built, not alone with those children who would work, but even small children, who did nothing but play and run wild in the roads and lanes. No doubt, education was very much more appreciated than it had been, but still the apathy of some parents was very great; they had little or no education themselves in many in- stances, and although they were ready to admit the advantages a good school near them offered, if the subject was brought before them, they were only too apt to pay but little serious attention to it, or they would on the slightest possible pretext be only too glad to take their children from school. It might be said, why not have direct compulsion at once? One reason was, he could not believe it would be found possible to work such a system well—if at all—in a country district; and he had the authority of those who could claim to give an opinion, as well as the result of his own experience, to justify him in saying so, whatever might be done in a town with such a system. It could not, certainly, be worked without a great deal of interference—if not entire control—from some central authority. This he particularly objected to. Then with any system of direct compulsion they had the greatest difficulty of all to get over—the effect upon the earnings of the children; whereas the system proposed would act in a slight degree in this respect, but only to so small an extent as to create an incentive to comply with, the Act. Direct compulsion was surely not required in this case, for where a constant interest was taken in a school now, it was pretty well filled. This showed that a slight pressure would, probably, do all that was necessary at the present time. If so, it must be better than driving children to school by direct compulsion; it would be a less interference between the parent and the child; and would act far less harshly in the case of a largo and poor family, where sometimes a child's earnings were of very great importance. Education, too, was as much required in this as in any other branch of the subject; he meant, to lead on by degrees all who were concerned to a real, a sound, and a lasting appreciation of the advantages of education. He (Lord Henniker) wished to introduce one or two Amendments. One was to make the limit of age 12 instead of 13, once more. He thought it was going far enough. The limit of age at present in the Bill would act hardly, and unnecessarily so, in many cases, where the limit of 12 would not. A difficulty in arriving at a fixed limit of age appeared here, which did not appear in dealing with children employed in manufactories and workshops, for children were seldom employed at an age in agriculture where their health would be injured. There were no hardships in this respect except where children worked in a gang. However, the Bill altered the ago laid down by the Gang's Act from 8 to 10, at which a child was allowed to work. Different circumstances in different localities make it difficult to decide upon the right limit as to age. In one place 7 or 10 was the lowest age at which children were employed; at another 11 or 12, while in others 12 or 13 was the earliest age at which children were useful—namely, where they were required for ploughing, and so on. Mr. Fraser—now a right rev. Prelate, a Member of the House—saw this difficulty in making his Report as a sub-Commissioner to inquire into this question. Then it was said children ought to be trained in the habits of work early, but here again they had the evidence of labourers before the same Commission, which proved that 12 or 13 was quite early enough to give ample time to learn all that was required. Mr. Tremenheere, one of the principal Commissioners, said in his Report— The principle which I desire to keep in view in the consideration of this complicated and difficult question is that legislation should conform as nearly as possible to the existing habits of the country, and should interfere with those habits only to the extent indispensable to the objects to be attained. This object was attained by this Bill, if it were put back to its original form, for it would take a middle course between the age laid down by the Factory Act, and that wished for by those who thought the Bill went too far, and with the indirect system proposed it would act fairly in most districts. Twelve was an age at which children could have learnt a great deal, and would be quite late enough to keep them at school in most cases, and particularly where a night school existed. It would be a great point, too, to be able to work the Act without paid Inspectors. This he believed to be possible if the age were not put too high. Employers, as a rule, and especially large employers of labour, had been extremely liberal in helping to build schools, and he believed they would do all they could, within reasonable limits, to try to fill them. However, if Inspectors were, after a time, required, the promoters of the Bill would willingly come to Parliament for power to appoint them. A clause would be brought in, as an alternative, to meet the wishes of many who took an interest in the question, to provide for a certificate of proficiency, that any child who could pass the fourth standard of the Education Code should be exempt from the restriction imposed by the Act. He (Lord Henniker) thought regular attendance at school far more important, but he would bring the clause forward for the consideration of their Lordships. The clause would also suspend the operation of the Act whenever a school was closed for a holiday or for any temporary purpose. Many thought the Bill went too far—many not far enough. He would say to those who thought the Bill went too far, agricultural children were the only wage-earning children who were not subject to restrictions, and each day, when labour was becoming dearer and more scarce, they would require labourers better educated and more skilled. To those who thought the Bill did not go far enough, he would say, bring forward a more workable plan, and if they thought it did not go far enough, at all events they would admit it was a step in the right direction. He must thank their Lordships for listening to him so long—the importance of the subject must be his excuse. He had always wished for such a measure; he thought the opportunity had come, and he trusted the Bill would be read a second time. He believed it would create a great change for the better, without any real hardship or injury to any one; that it would be found to be all that was required, and that it would work well. He hoped most sincerely it might help to teach those who cared little now for education, how much it meant, and to show how little any small sacrifice either employer or employed might be called upon to make was, in comparison to the good effect a sound system of education must have, at a time when each day the class which this Bill particularly affected, required more and more to understand the questions which came nearly home to them, and when so many were ready to trade upon their ignorance.

Moved, "That the Bill be now read 2a."—(The Lord Henniker).


said, he did not object to the principle of the Bill, but he thought it was imperfect in a great many particulars, and on looking through the various clauses he found reasons for regretting that the Home Department did not exercise a more careful supervision over measures such as this. The noble Lord having criticized some of the provisions of the Bill, said, he thought it would be impossible to carry it out in its present shape, and, therefore, he hoped that the noble Lord who had charge of it would agree to refer it to a Select Committee.


said, he felt bound to say a few words on the subject—particularly after the observations of the noble Lord who had just sat down. There was no one in that House whose opinion he valued more on matters relating to the welfare of the agricultural classes; but he confessed he was extremely disappointed at hearing the conclusions to which his noble Friend had arrived. His noble Friend said he defied any one, on looking at this Bill as it stood, to carry it into operation. He (the Duke of Richmond), however, without being presumptuous, thought he could readily undertake to carry out its provisions without doing injustice to any One. As to what his noble Friend had said about the want of supervision on the part of the Home Office in respect of legislation such as was proposed by this Bill, he could not concur in thinking that it was needed in this instance. He was not the champion of the Government—he had something else to do—but he did not think the supervision of the Home Office would have done much to make this a better Bill. As for the principle of the Bill, he did not think that anybody would deny that it was just and wise that the Legislature should endeavour to secure a better education for the children of the agricultural classes; and he thought its general provisions excellent. But he was glad to hear his noble Friend (Lord Henniker) who had charge of the Bill intimate his intention of making some valuable alterations in it respecting the employment of children in gangs; and he thought this Bill would be an excellent one when the Amendments sketched out by his noble Friend were introduced, and seine further provisions introduced to meet the exigencies of harvest time and hop-picking. Although there was no doubt that the children employed in the fields enjoyed much better health than those engaged in factories, nevertheless he did not think it right that they should be kept employed at all times and at all seasons, and for himself he made it a rule not to give employment to children under a certain age. He thought the alteration Ms noble Friend proposed that children who had attained a certain proficiency should not be subjected to the restrictions imposed on other children, but might continue to follow their agricultural employment without interruption, was a great improvement. In some districts the employment of children was absolutely necessary, and he had no desire that obstacles should be thrown in the way of their being so employed, but he thought the promoters of the Bill would do well to consent to such alterations and additions as would remove the possibility of such obstacles. He believed that with these alterations their Lordships might very well assent to the measure, which he thought with due consideration in Committee might he turned into a very useful one.


hoped their Lordships would not refuse to give this Bill a second reading, seeing that it was almost identical with the one which he introduced in 1867, and to which their Lordships gave a second reading in the Session of that year. He did not press that Bill in Committee, because there was a prevailing opinion that it was one which the House of Commons would not pass. The fact that legislation on the subject was attempted in their Lordships' House in 1867 showed that the House of Commons had not a monopoly in originating measures for the amelioration of the condition of the working classes; but as the House of Commons had come round to their Lordships' view of the matter in 1873, he thought it would be most unbecoming if their Lordships were also to turn round and refuse to do in 1873 what they had done so long ago as 1867.


said, he should be sorry to be understood as pledging himself to every detail of the Bill, but he thought the House would do well to assent to the second reading of this measure, the objects of which every one must approve. He thought the Bill required a clause exempting children above the age of 10 years from attendance at school if they passed a satisfacfactory examination. As there was such a provision in the School Board Act, it would be an inconsistency on the part of the Legislature not to allow of it in this Bill. It was high time to take steps to secure a better education to children engaged in agriculture; and the present was a favourable time for taking measures in that direction, because the general rise in wages would obviate some of the difficulties that might arise from the loss of the children's wages.


concurred with the noble Earl that there was no difference as to the principles of this Bill—the only question was as to the time and the manner of passing such a Bill as this; and he could not concur with the noble Earl in thinking the present, when the labour market was so much disturbed, was an opportune time for legislation which would increase the difficulty of the farmer in procuring the labour necessary for the cultivation of his land. Many farmers were depending very much on children to get them through their difficulties, and he was afraid that unless the provisions of the Bill were well guarded they would increase these difficulties in procuring the necessary labour at times when their most pressing work had to be done. Therefore Parliament, while making provision for the better education of children in the agricultural districts, ought to take care it did not still further hamper the farmer, and turn the labour-market still more against him than it was at present. He should have preferred to wait till the labour-market was more settled. Some of the clauses moreover would press hardly upon the poor, and their Lordships ought not to unnecessarily intensify the dislike of the farmers and labourers to national education. As the Bill stood, a boy could not be employed unless he had been at school so many times in the previous year. Suppose he had been ill, and a serious source of expense to his poor parents during the previous year, the effect of such a provision might be to prevent him from earning money when his parents most wanted it; when, in fact, every penny that any of the family could earn was of importance if the family was to be kept out of the workhouse.


thought it would be unwise to delay the passing of some such measure as this the operation of which he believed would be very beneficial. He thought that Clause 8 required to be very much modified.


said, it was of more importance that people should be fed than that they should be educated. If this Bill would not restrict agricultural labour it would be useless, while if it did restrict it the productiveness of the land would to that extent be diminished, affecting farmers in the first instance, but ultimately the whole community. He knew a village with a population of 1,000 where £150 was annually paid for the labour of boys under 13 years of age, their wages being 3s. or 4s. a-week, and showing every tendency to rise; and while labourers often spent a large portion of their earnings at the public-house, children took theirs home to their mothers—so that on this 3s. or 4s. a-week it might depend whether the family were well fed and clad or otherwise. Children were more healthy at work in the fields than shut up in school, and at a time when rates were high and labour was dear, it was undesirable to increase the difficulties of farmers. He thought the tendency of the Bill would be to deprive farmers of the labour they needed, and the poor of the wages necessary to their subsistence and comfort.


pointed out that the indirect compulsion aimed at by the Bill would be less elastic than the direct compulsion enforced by school boards, whose bye-laws permitted' the employment of children in cases where local circumstances rendered it expedient.


considered that the Bill was not opposed to the interests of the farmers. He would refer their Lordships to the Petition he had that day presented from the Synod of the diocese of Salisbury praying that the Bill might pass. The Synod comprised lay representatives elected from the different parishes. Two principal tenant farmers, in supporting a Petition in favour of the Bill stated that they had no wish to employ children at a very early age. The parents would be compensated for the loss of their children's earnings if the Bill in its general application greatly checked the employment of children by the increased value of adult labour. But even if the parents did now receive a temporary benefit from the employment of their children at an early age, the children themselves must be injured by being debarred from high wages in after-life. For the intelligence gained from education was the surest means of obtaining a real and permanent rise of wages and position. In all cases where the Bill had been carefully discussed, the conclusion had been arrived at that it would prove a great boon to the children, and as it was very carefully guarded, to the parents and employers also.


said, no doubt the Synod of the diocese of Salisbury had petitioned, as the noble Earl lead stated, in favour of the Bill. Now, Synods were very well fitted to deal with matters within their own proper province, but he could not understand what interest they had in a question of this sort.


observed that a compulsory law might inflict serious injury upon poor parents in agricultural districts. It should be remembered that there was a great deal of difference between children working in the open air and in mines or factories.


said, it was provided by the 2nd clause that the Bill should not extend to Scotland or Ireland. He could not see why, if it were good for this country, it should not apply to all parts of the United Kingdom.


said, he did not think that the state of the labour market furnished any reason against passing the Bill at the present time; and it certainly was not likely that the wages of agricultural labourers would ever be less than they were at present. He thought, on the contrary, it was most desirable to pass the Bill now, for it would promote the interests of the children and the general spread of education, without so far as he could see producing any injurious effects whatever.

Motion agreed to; Bill read 2a accordingly, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House on Thursday the 19th instant.