HL Deb 05 July 1880 vol 253 cc1615-21

Order of the Day for the Second Reading, read.


in moving that the Bill be now the second time, said, that it did not introduce any new principle, but was merely intended to carry out what the Act of 1870 first began. That Bill was extended by the Act of 1876. He did not, therefore, think it necessary to trouble their Lordships with any general statement, and he trusted that the Bill would not meet with any opposition from their Lordships. Briefly, the object of the Bill was to enforce school attendance throughout the country. He wished to point out what had been done under the former Education Acts. First, there was the Act of 1870, under which there was no obligation on parentis to send their children to school; but bye-laws were allowed to be made in places where there were school boards, under which parents might be prosecuted for not sending their children to school. Secondly, there was the Act of 1876, which was introduced into the other House by Lord Sandon, and into their Lordships' House by the noble Duke opposite (the Duke of Richmond and Gordon), his Predecessor. That Act contained some important clauses with regard to education, which materially altered the measure of 1870. One clause enacted that there should be an obligation on every parent in England and Wales to have his child educated. There was a further enactment making it penal on the part of every employer of labour to employ children under the age of 10 years; and only at the age of 14 was a child able to claim certain exemptions. Those exemptions were to be earned. The rules under this head gradually increased in stringency, and the maximum of stringency would be reached in January, 1881, when, by the Act of 1876, no child could be employed up to the age of 14, unless he had passed the 4th Standard, or had attended school 250 times a-year on the average during five years; and the child must not have attended in more than two schools. There was also a general enactment by which bye-laws might be made for the purpose of regulating the attendance of children in every district, and varying according to the necessities of each district. There was a third mode of exemption under the Factory Acts, which were thoroughly revised in 1876. Under those Acts no child could be employed up to the age of 10 years. If he was employed after that age, he must go to school half-time up to the age of 13, without a standard being fixed. At that age, if he passed the 4th Standard, he could go to work. These were the general regulations so far as regarded compulsory education. Then there was one clause in the Act of 1876—the 11th clause—which enacted that any person convicted by a Court of Summary Jurisdiction of habitual neglect to send his children to school should be liable to punishment. That Act also contained an important Amendment with regard to bye-laws. Up to that time bye-laws could only be enforced where there were school boards. But the Act contained a provision that a school attendance committee, formed by the urban and rural authorities, in parishes and places where there was no school board, on the requisition of any parish, should have the same power of making bye-laws as the school boards. Those were the general regulations, and that was the machinery for enforcing those regulations; but they were somewhat defective. Up to 1876 there were two laws in different districts. In one district parents might be under compulsion owing to the existence of bye-laws, and in another there might be no compulsion because there were no bye-laws. But the question of bye-laws was somewhat difficult, because it was necessary, when there were no bye-laws, that there should first be a requisition from a parish. A school board had to be appointed, or the ratepayers had to sign a requisition. That caused a great difficulty, because at least 50 persons had to sign the requisition, and the farmers were not always fully alive to the form of proceeding, and were also reluctant to incur any expenditure for carrying out a proposal which might break down. The cost was considerable. For instance, the cost of obtaining these bye-laws reached in some Unions the sum of £100. The Bill before their Lordships professed to deal with that question in a simple manner. It was no longer to be necessary to get a requisition signed; but the school attendance committee was to be empowered to make bye-laws, and the Act required that before the end of this year all the school attendance committees should do so. He next wished to point out the number of schools in the country, and the number of children attending those schools. The total of schools in 1869–70 was 8,281; in 1875–76, 14,273; and in 1878–9, 17,166. In those schools there was accommodation for 2,000,000 children in 1869–70, for 3,500,000 in 1875–6, and for upwards of 4,000,000 in 1878–9. The percentage of the population attending those schools was, in 1869–70, 8.75; in 1875–6, 14.13; and in 1878–9, 16.46. That showed a satisfactory state of things. The country had now arrived at something like what was thought to be by those who had entered into calculations on the subject the goal of its endeavours. Then he would refer to the Register. The number on the Register in 1869–70, was 1,600,000; in 1875–6, nearly 3,000,000; and in 1878–9, 3,710,000. Then with respect to the percentage of average attendance, as compared with the numbers on the books, he found that in 1869 the percentage was 67; in 1875–6 it was 68; and in 1878–9, 70; so that not only was the number of children attending school steadily increasing, but the percentage of attendance by the children on the books was increasing in equal proportion. This showed that compulsion had had a desirable effect. In the first six years the attendance had increased at the rate of 200,000, and in the last three years at the rate of 250,000. If they looked at the population of 5,580,000 who were not under bye-laws, they would find that 5,000,000 belonged to rural parishes. The difficulty of enforcing compulsion under the general Statute upon obstinate parents was that, in the first instance, an attendance order was made, and if a penalty were desired, it was necessary to return and show that the attendance order had been disobeyed. Two motions were necessary before any practical action could be taken. Under the bye-laws it was found that the process was simpler and cheaper. Although there had been a gradual progress in school attendance, something further was necessary, and he proposed by this Bill, by extending the operations of the bye-laws, to carry on the work of the Act of 1870, which the Act of 1876 so materially assisted; and if they got the bye-laws now proposed passed, they would be doing quite as much as they could. The reason why he introduced the Bill was this. In 1881, the Act of 1876 would attain its greatest stringency. It would be illegal next year for any person to employ a child at half-time even up to the age of 14, unless that child had passed in the 4th Standard. He was afraid it would be exceedingly difficult in many districts to employ children under these conditions. He found that last year, out of 889,271 children above the age of 10, there were 506,820 presented in Standards 1, 2, and 3. That showed that there had been considerable difficulty in obtaining so high a standard as was desired. It was, besides, exceedingly difficult, if not almost impossible, from the removal of the residence of the parents, and other causes, to get a certain number of attendances shown. What would be the result in 1881? He believed the Act would be evaded, as it was now evaded, by a large class, or it would sweep to a great extent many fields and places of children who ought to be doing work and bringing wages to their parents. They should require every school board throughout the country to pass bye-laws which would meet the requirements of the neighbourhood; and if the boards did not pass bye-laws, bye-laws should be passed for them; and it was hoped that by January they would have bye-laws which would obviate the great hardships of taking from labour a great many of the children of the country. The second part of the Bill dealt with a conflict of authority which had occurred between the bye-laws and the Factory Acts, and two cases had been tried in order to see which was paramount. At present, one employer of labour—namely, the manufacturer, found he could get his labour without any difficulty under the Factory Acts, which allowed children of 10 years of age to go to work as half-timers; while the farmer could not get a boy, because the bye-laws under which the boy was bound to be so employed were very much more severe in their application than the Acts in question, for they required that children so employed should have passed a certain standard. The Judges before whom one of the cases was tried (Justices Bramwell and Den-man) decided that the bye-laws were paramount; but in the other case, tried By Justices Mellor and Lush, the decision was exactly the reverse. No appeal could be made, as it was a criminal matter, and therefore they had come to a deadlock. The Government proposed where there was a conflict of this kind that the bye-laws should prevail, for it had been shown that having to pass a standard was a great stimulus to parents to send their children to school, and it was thought desirable to place all children under the same law. There was also power in the Bill to give the power of deciding to the school board to say whether the school should be under the bye-laws or the general Act, as it was desired to give, in the matter of school attendance, the option to school boards, and not to the magistrate or the Judge, to direct a prosecution. There was one clause—the 40th—in the Act of 1876, which imposed some very remarkable and unfair conditions upon pauper chil- dren. For instance, if a man met with an accident and applied for out-door relief to the Union, his children must go to school unless they fulfilled certain conditions—that was, reached the 3rd Standard; and, therefore, a child who had fully earned exemption from school, was required to go back to school at the very time his services were most required. He did not think that that was the intention of the Act. Therefore, under the present Bill, it was proposed that whenever a child had earned exemption he should not, because his father became a pauper, have to go to school and to fulfil other conditions. Those were the provisions of the Bill, and they would, he was convinced, operate with great advantage. The noble Earl concluded by moving the second reading of the Bill.

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


said, he did not in any way deprecate the advancement of education; but he thought that great discretion should be given to magistrates in cases under the Education Act. Parents often lost much time and had much difficulty in getting truant children to go to school. He (the Duke of Somerset) had known of cases in which, when boys were told to go to school, they went bird's-nesting; and unless the father lost his time in looking after them and seeing that they went regularly to school, he would be liable to be punished, and magistrates were sometimes very severe on poor parents in such circumstances. Again, a poor widow who had to go out to work, if she was obliged to follow her children every day to school, would be unable to earn her living. He admitted that there must be compulsion; but he thought it should be adopted gradually and with due regard to circumstances. In his opinion, magistrates ought to have some power of relaxing the rigour of the principle in cases such as he had suggested.


said, he could assure his noble Friend the President of the Council (Earl Spencer) that this measure had his most cordial support. He thought his noble Friend would not be surprised at that intimation, because he believed this was much the same Bill as the one which he (the Duke of Richmond and Gordon) had himself intended to introduce if circumstances had not prevented his doing so. He did not gather that the noble Duke who had just spoken (the Duke of Somerset) objected to the provisions of the Bill generally, but rather that he desired that there should be some power given to magistrates of relaxing the penalties in certain cases to which parents were liable. At present, however, the magistrates had a great discretion in carrying out the law, and instances of hardship were quite the exception. Magistrates always dealt with the surrounding circumstances of the cases brought before them, and the parents of children who went bird's-nesting when they ought to go to school would not be treated harshly. That Bill was necessary, more especially in the agricultural districts. The only point in it which he did not quite understand was the last part of Clause 4, and when they went into Committee it might be desirable to obtain further information with regard to it.


said, he could confirm substantially what had been said by his noble Friend the late President of the Council (the Duke of Richmond and Gordon) in respect to the discretion vested in magistrates, and often exercised by them in cases such as those mentioned by his noble Friend the Duke of Somerset. The signature of two members of the school board was required to any order for proceeding against a parent, and, beyond that, truant children could be committed under certain conditions to industrial schools.

Motion agreed to;Bill read 2ª accordingly, and committedto a Committee of the Whole House on Thursdaynext.

House adjourned at a quarter before Eight o'clock, till To-morrow, half past Ten o'clock.