HL Deb 23 May 1879 vol 246 cc1110-3

Order of the Day for the Second Reading, read.


, in moving that the Bill be now read a second time, said, their Lordships had, in a former Session, read a similar measure a second time; but owing to the peculiar manner in which it was framed, and the objection that it included too much, it was withdrawn. The present Bill was to prevent the employment of children of tender years in gymnastic, athletic, or other performances of a kind which would endanger life or limb. The 2nd clause, which was the principal one, provided that no child under 14 years of age should take part in any public exhibition or performance which, in the opinion of a Court of Summary Jurisdiction, would be considered dangerous to life or limb. The Bill also imposed penalties on the person who employed the child, or the parent or guardian who allowed the child to be so employed. It was said that if persons did not commence the practice of such performances when they were children they would not be able to accomplish them in after-life. He submitted that that would be no great loss to the community. There was, however, no desire to put down by moans of the Bill such gymnastic exercises on the part of youths and adult persons as were necessary to the maintenance of bodily health and the development of the human frame. In the case of the dangerous exhibitions which it was proposed to suppress, the children who took part in them were not voluntary agents. They wore compelled to take part in them and risk their lives for the gain of others. It was true that dangerous performances had diminished in number for a certain time after the introduction of the former measure on this subject; but some instances which had recently occurred showed that the practice still continued to a great extent. The noble Earl then described in detail several examples of dangerous performances, chiefly in music halls. In one case a child, about six years of age, suspended at a dizzy height, went through a ceiling-walking performance, which consisted of passing backwards and forwards, head downwards, by placing his feet successively in loops. In another instance, two sisters, not more than eight or nine years of age, swung round and round a number of times on a trapeze. The noble Earl read announcements, issued by managers, of "additional attractions," in the form of "flying wonders," "queens of the air," and so on. He also referred to an acci- dent which had recently occurred at a music hall in Birmingham to a boy 12 years of age. One of his feats consisted in being propelled into the air from an apparatus placed on the stage. The machine went off rather unexpectedly, and the little fellow was hurled into the air, and one of his legs was broken and severely lacerated. These children, in their professional education, were subjected to a system of torture from the earliest period. He begged to move the second reading of the Bill.

Moved, "That the Bill be now read 2a"—(The Earl De la Warr.)


said, that everyone, including Her Majesty's Government, sympathized with the object of the noble Earl (Earl de la Warr); but it was a question whether the measure for which he asked a second reading was best calculated to attain the end which he had in view. He (Earl Beauchamp) thought in its present shape it was not, for none of the performances which the noble Earl had mentioned would come within its scope. They all took place at music-halls, and the Bill was confined to exhibitions in a circus. The Bill as drawn would prohibit most gymnastic exhibitions, because, if they were shown to be dangerous, and a grown person employed a child in them, they would be prohibited, although the child might be employed in a portion of the entertainment which was not at all dangerous. Of course, this was not intended; but it would be one of the effects of the Bill. The Bill could be amended in Committee, and the Government would not oppose the second reading; but he very much doubted whether any great compulsion was really exercised on the children who took part in the performances in question.


observed, that as the Legislature had prohibited the employment of young children in some of the most useful manufactures of the country, because that employment was injurious to them, à fortiori, there was a case made out for preventing the employment of children at dangerous performances.


said, it was not during the performances that the greatest mischief was done and the greatest cruelty perpetrated towards the children. It was in the training of the children from the ages of four and five years up to 14 that the severest torture was inflicted on them.

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