THE EARL OF KIMBERLEY
rose to call attention to the inconvenience caused by the Agricultural Children Act, 1873, not applying to children above the age of twelve years, whilst the Elementary Education Act, 1873, applies to children up to the age of thirteen years; and to ask the Lord President of the Council, whether he proposes to take any step to amend the law on this subject? He did not intend to enter into a general discussion of the Agricultural Children Act of 1873, which had been debated very fully not long ago in "another place"—his desire was to call attention to one point in that Act which involved a great anomaly and considerable harshness. Their Lordships would remember that the main object of the Act to which he was referring was to prevent the employment of children under a certain age at agricultural work, and to provide for their receiving a certain amount of education; and this provision applied to all children who were not over 12 years of age. He would state to their Lordships how the Act practically worked. It was necessary under it, in order that a child should be qualified for employment, that he should have a certificate of a certain number of school attendances during the 12 months immediately preceding the time of his employment, and a maximum number of attendances, varying with age, was prescribed by the Act. For children between the ages of 8 and 10 the number was 250; for children between 10 and 12 it was 150. He would take an extreme case, but one which would show exactly the operation of the Act. Suppose a child of the age of 10 went 72 to school, by attending regularly morning and evening he might make up the 150 attendances within three months. At the age of 11, he might go to work and remain at work up to the age of 12 on the certificate of those 150 attendances, without going to school again. But what occurred if at the age of 12 his parents were obliged to apply for outdoor relief? The child would then come within the provision of the Elementary Education Act of 1873, under which the children of persons receiving outdoor relief must attend school up to the age of 13; and in this case attendance meant throughout the day, and not merely in the morning or in the evening. What he wished to point out to their Lordships was the conflict between the Agricultural Children Act, and the one passed in same Session, which compelled all children whose parents were receiving out-door relief to attend school every day, both morning and evening. The latter Act applied to all children up to the age of 13—the former only up to the age of 12. So that when a child attained 12 years and three months it passed out of the scope of the former Act, but remained under the operation of the Elementary Education Act until it was 13 years of age. The result was the gross absurdity that a child was perfectly free to work from 11 to 12 years of age, at a time when he had better be at school; and then if his parents happened to require relief, probably after he had forgotten all he had learned, he was taken from his labour, with which he was becoming acquainted, and compelled to attend school. That was not only a disadvantage to the child, but also a hardship to his parent; because, on the former being sent from work to school, the latter, just when he was in distress, was suddenly deprived of the support of the child's earnings. He was referring to an infirm man in the receipt of out-door relief—how could the operation of the Act be explained to the satisfaction of such a man? Acting as Chairman of a Board of Guardians in his own district, he had endeavoured to explain the Act to a labourer, but in vain. The labourer failed to understand its operation, and in the result he (the Earl of Kimberley) was obliged to take refuge in saying to the poor fellow—"Well, you must obey the law." Such an anomalous state of 73 the law must tend to bring the law itself into contempt. Their Lordships' House was especially responsible for what had occurred, because when the Agricultural Children Act came from the House of Commons it did extend to children up to the age of 13; but the noble Lord who sat on the other side and who had charge of the measure (Lord Henniker), proposed that the limit should be reduced to 12. The noble Marquess (the Marquess of Ripon), at that time President of the Council, objected to the change. However, their Lordships thought fit to make the alteration, and the result was the anomaly and hardship of which he now complained. Therefore, he could not help hoping that the noble Duke would see his way, at all events, to amend the Agricultural Children Act by making the limit 13, so that it might no longer interfere with the general operation of the Elementary Education Act, but that both Acts might work together. He would ask his noble Friend whether he proposed to take any steps to amend the law on the subject?
§ THE DUKE OF RICHMOND
said, he was afraid his noble Friend would not think his answer satisfactory, because he was obliged to say that he was not prepared, on the part of the Government, to propose any amendment in the Agricultural Children Act of 1873. The anomalies in the enactments of the two statutes undoubtedly did exist, and had been stated very fairly and accurately by his noble Friend. Undoubtedly, while that Act limited the age to 12 years, the Elementary Education Act extended it to 13 years. But his noble Friend had taken an extreme case. The Act did not apply to the whole country—the Denison clause applied only to children whose parents were in the receipt of outdoor relief, and as persons who received such relief must be over 60 years of age, or be permanently disabled, the clause would not in practice apply to anything like the bulk of the whole of children employed in labour. He did not think the cases referred to by his noble Friend to be so numerous as to cause inconvenience; but, at the same time, he quite admitted that the provisions of the two statutes were conflicting in the respect pointed out, and therefore might give rsie to the anomaly suggested by his noble Friend. But as to the amount of 74 inconvenience that had actually occurred, he might remind his noble Friend that the Agricultural Children Act only came into operation in January of the present year, and some further test ought to be given to its working before an amendment in its provisions was proposed in Parliament. He said so much in justification of his declining to give the promise asked for by his noble Friend. The noble Earl had described the Act as an absurd law.
THE EARL OF KIMBERLEY
said, that what he stated was that the contradiction between the two statutes was absurd.
§ THE DUKE OF RICHMOND
The noble Earl said he had said to the poor labourer who came to him for advice that the law was absurd, but that he must obey it. Moreover, he ventured to suggest that his noble Friend the late President of the Council (the Marquess of Ripon) was in some measure responsible for the conflict between the two statutes. The noble Marquess certainty did object to the alteration from 13 to 12 in the Agricultural Children Act when it was proposed by his noble Friend who had charge of the Bill; but the two Bills were passed in the same Session, and received the Royal Assent on the same day; and, with the knowledge that the change had been made in the Agricultural Children Act, the noble Marquess, as President of the Council at the time, ought to have seen that steps were taken to make that Act and the Elementary Education Act harmonize in respect of the limits of age. He would carefully watch the operation of the Act, and, if required, amend it: but in dealing with so large a question as Education, one must be careful how they interfered with an Act which had come into operation so recently as the Agricultural Children Act. His fear was that in endeavouring to remedy one defect they might open the door to demands to further and more extensive changes. He rather shrank from interfering with a measure which had been so short a time in operation on a representation as to an inconvenience which could not have been very much felt.
§ THE MARQUESS OF RIPON
said, he did not wonder at the indisposition shown by his noble Friend to open the Education question. He knew how natural it was for any one in office to shrink from 75 opening even a small point in a large subject, lest it might spread to a wider one. At the same time, he was glad to observe that at the close of his observations the noble Duke did not speak quite so positively as he had at the commencement of his determination not to deal with the anomaly during the present Session. He would ask his noble Friend to give the matter some further consideration. As both his noble Friends had stated, he did object to the change from 13 to 12 when it was proposed in the Agricultural Children Bill; that change created the difficulty; but no doubt there was an oversight in allowing the anomaly between two Bills which were passing through Parliament at the same time to remain uncorrected. The cases were not very numerous in which the conflict pointed out by his noble Friend (the Earl of Kimberley) would practically arise; but there were cases in which it might arise and entail great hardships upon poor persons—the cases of persons permanently disabled and receiving out-door relief on that account, and who had children employed under the circumstances referred to by his noble Friend. The noble Duke did not deny the anomaly; and he thought he would find a disposition on both sides of the House to cure that anomaly without opening the door for any further changes than would be necessary to effect that object. He therefore entertained the hope that his noble Friend would yet see his way to dealing with that single point.