HL Deb 19 July 1875 vol 225 cc1642-3

, in rising to ask the Lord President, Whether Her Majesty's Government will amend the Education Act of 1870 by substituting the words "boys and unmarried women" for "children" in Clause 74, said, their Lordships were aware that the police of Manchester had, at the bidding of the Manchester School Board, been making raids upon all the children of school age that they could find in the streets, in order to bring them into the board schools and compel their attendance. Now, by the Common Law of England, as their Lordships were recently informed by Lord Coleridge, it was lawful for a woman of 12 years of age to marry. Under these circumstances, the following case might any day present itself:—A Manchester working man might select for himself a bride of 12 years of age, marry her, and take her to his home, when in consequence of her absence from school for a week or a fortnight, the police or school board officials, on her first appearance in the public streets, might carry her off from her husband to hurry her away to the nearest board school. With or without a breach of the peace the case would then be brought before a magistrate for his decision, when the husband would plead his right to his wife's company at all times, under the Common Law, while the school board official would show that the Education Act gave him the right, and imposed on him the duty, of enforcing her attendance at school for another year. How would the magistrate decide in such a case, and what view would the Home Secretary adopt? The Education Act of 1870 was a very sacred thing, which no Government was disposed to meddle with. Would the Government be disposed to ask Parliament to enact that no woman should marry till she had attained the age of 13 and had completed her schooling? The Education Department might be willing to allow a woman to marry when 12 years old, and be free from school, if she had completed a certain number of attendances during the previous year; but that might be open to the same objection which was raised to a clause in the Artizans Dwellings Bill, that it would be resorting to the dispensing power. It was true that such cases might not be very frequent; but if they did occur they would lead to a conflict of law, and Her Majesty's Government could hardly say that they would not legislate for exceptions, when it was on the ground of these same exceptions that they rejected Clause 4 of the Offences Against the Person Bill, which extended the protection of the law given to young girls up to the age of 13.


said, the Government had already so much Business on their hands that he did not think it would be wise or convenient that they should at the present late period of the Session undertake to amend the Education Act of 1870 in the way suggested by the noble Lord. He could, however, assure him that if he would himself introduce a Bill for the purpose it should receive the best attention of the Government, though he could not promise that they would give it a very cordial support.