HL Deb 22 July 1889 vol 338 cc950-68

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, I am quite sure the object of this measure will enlist the sympathies of your Lordships, even if there should be some differences of opinion on points of detail. It aims at securing to young and helpless children protection from cruelty, and extending to them more effectually than hitherto the guardian arm of the law. The Bill proposes, in the first place, to make it a punishable offence to ill-treat a child, either actively or by neglect; to extend, in short, to children that protection which has long been afforded to animals. Although hitherto it has been an offence to work a horse when its condition makes that work torture to the animal, it has been no offence to treat a child in that way. My Lords, I think that there will not be much difference of opinion upon that provision, but that your Lordships will consider it is very unsatisfactory that the law should be in that condition. I confess the more I have looked into this matter the more I have been astonished and alarmed at the amount of cruelty practised in this country. If any noble Lords should have doubts upon the subject, I would ask them to read the Report of a few years' work only of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, and they will find enough there to show, even if they discard everything which has not stood the test of a Court of Justice, that there is an evil existing which urgently calls for a remedy. My Lords, the first section of the Bill deals with offences of this description by rendering offenders liable to fine or imprisonment for a short term. It deals also specially with that class of cases—unhappily, too frequent—where those who ill-treat the children have a pecuniary interest in their death. There are many cases where those who have charge of children are only too glad if anything happens to them likely to injure their health and endanger or put an end to their lives. Of course, it is very often extremely difficult and even impossible to prove that such has been the object, and yet one may entertain the conviction beyond a doubt that, if it had not been for the pecuniary interest which persons had in a child's death, the care bestowed upon it would have been greater and its treatment more humane. My Lords, the Bill proposes to deal with that class of cases in this way—that where it is proved that the person ill-treating a child had a pecuniary interest in its death a more severe sentence may be passed and the fine increased to £200. I cannot doubt that your Lordships will think that is a just and right provision. There is no doubt that cruelty prevails to a very considerable extent in cases where the child is entitled to property which will come to the parent or guardian on its death, and that there are many cases where the motive for want of care is to be found in the fact that the child's life has been insured. That, my Lords, has been done to a very great extent in this country. I think the distinction which this Bill draws between the punishment inflicted upon those who have such a motive and those who have not is one which I need not justify to the House. The next provision of the Bill deals with the case of children begging in the streets. Hitherto a child who begs has been treated as having committed an offence; but the person who sent the child into the streets to beg, and who would punish it for not begging, has entirely escaped liability, although generally such person was more to blame than the child. The Bill proposes to inflict a penalty upon those who send children, out to beg. The next provision to which I will call attention relates to-children who are selling, singing, playing, or performing for profit. It prohibits such employment between the hours of 8 p.m. and 5 a.m. in the winter, and between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m. in the summer. This is not an enactment which is without precedent. It is already to be found in some local Acts, and some of the most important towns in the country have made bye-laws under Street Traffic Acts containing similar provisions, which have been found to be effectual and free from any injustice. This Bill proposes to make the provision general and to enable it to be enforced. My Lords, so far I think I have covered the ground which in the other House was left substantially free from controversy. I now come to a provision which in some measure has been made the subject of hostile attack, and that is the provision that children under 10 years of age shall not be caused or procured to be employed in any street or in any premises licensed for the sale of intoxicating liquor or places licensed for public entertainments. One part of that provision has not met, even from those who are opposed to it, with anything like general opposition, because I think that even those who desire its modification agree that the provision ought to stand as far as it relates to selling or performing in public houses and in the streets. The objection taken has been to extending the enactment to places licensed for public entertainments. Obviously, therefore, considering the limited area of opposition, that is a matter which would be most properly dealt with in Committee. Under these circumstances, I shall not detain your Lordships upon the matter now at length; but it is only fair to those who have strongly opposed the provision in the respect which I have mentioned that I should state the views which I entertain, and which I ask the House to adopt upon the subject. I think it right, therefore, that I should make allusion to the objections which have been raised. It must be remembered that in thus prohibiting the employment of children under 10 years of age in theatres and other places of public entertainment, no invidious distinction has been made between theatres and other places licensed for public entertainments. The law has long prohibited the employment of children of tender years in factories, and there exist similar restrictions with regard to agricultural employments. Therefore the clause only extends to theatres, a form of legislation which Parliament has thought proper to apply already in many cases. The question which your Lordships will have to consider is whether, looking at it broadly and as a whole, the employment of children of tender years in places of public entertainment is calculated to secure or to injure their physical and mental well-being. I say this, because it must be remembered that this is a general enactment. It does not deal with one particular kind of place of entertainment. It deals with all, and the question must be looked at as it will affect children of tender years who may be found there. It is no answer to the arguments used in support of such a prohibition to say that there may be a class of public entertainments, even if that could be established, in which children can be suitably employed, for your Lordships must look at the matter as a whole, and consider what is the result of children of tender age being employed in places of public entertainment throughout the country. My Lords, it has been said that there are many theatres where children are well cared for, and guarded from anything that is likely to hurt them; but even if that be so, in considering this clause you must consider not what might be established as regards a particular theatre, but you must consider the case with regard to all places of public entertainment (which are of much wider extent throughout the country than theatres) as a whole; and I cannot help thinking that if the matter be thus regarded it will be found there is not that security for the well-being of children of tender years when so employed which we should all desire should be extended to them, though no doubt there are places of public entertainment throughout different parts of the country, and the Metropolis, too, where I imagine they would be carefully guarded and shielded from harm. Of course, the line as to age must be drawn somewhere; we are not dealing simply with children on the verge of 10, the provision is equally applicable to all children of tender years. In the case of acrobatic performances and performances of that description, children of tender age ought not to be allowed so to perform. But, my Lords, is that the only case in which we can feel justified in saying that in places of public entertainment in this country children of tender years require the protection which this provision seeks to extend to them? I am told that in many cases they are detained in the theatres to a very late hour at night; that sometimes for weeks during the time of rehearsals they will find their way home at 2 o'clock in the morning; and when we consider that this may be applicable to children, five, six, and seven years of age, I cannot help thinking that we have no sufficient security to justify us in saying that at all times, and in all cases, the well-being of the children is cared for. I, therefore, make answer to those who allege that in particular instances the children would not be injured that we must deal with the matter as a whole, and that it is incumbent upon those who seek to make objection to show, dealing with these places of public entertainment as a whole, that children of tender years should be allowed to be employed there. My Lords, it may be urged against this provision by some that, so far from the children suffering from such employment, they rather enjoy taking part in dramatic performances. I will only observe that many children would be delighted to stay up night after night entertaining themselves in a way which would be injurious to their health, and which we should not think of permitting for a moment. I think what the chil- dren themselves would like or enjoy cannot be made a test for a moment. Then it is said that the provision will prevent children from earning money and that it is hard to prevent them earning money which adds to their material comfort and to the well being of themselves and of the households in which they lived. That, my Lords, is an objection which strikes at the root of all this legislation. It is as true with regard to factory and agricultural employment, and in other cases where there is prohibition, as it is to this particular case, and I cannot think that is an argument which ought to be yielded to. Then, my Lords, it is argued that actors themselves will suffer as regards success in their profession from such a prohibition. I fail to see the evidence that it is essential to success in the theatrical profession that a child should begin to learn it before attaining 10 years of age. I have never heard or read of any evidence in support of that argument, or showing that that is likely to be the case. I believe that in France, where the dramatic art is supposed to stand at least on a level with its position in this country, the employment of children in it does not exist to any such extent as with us, and I do not know that it is at all essential for children under 10. Cases have been cited where actors and actresses began at a very early age; but instances to the contrary have also been cited where they did not commence at a tender age. Therefore, it is no more proof that some actors and actresses who have been successful have succeeded because they began their work on the stage before they were 10 years of age than that others have been successful because they began their work there at a later period. My Lords, I do not myself lay any great stress upon the moral effect upon the children. I cannot regard the danger to morals as at all greater between the ages of 8 and 10 than it is between 10 and 12. I think the danger to morals would be just as great at the one period as at the other, and that it would be rather a weak argument to make a distinction in that respect. But I do lay stress upon this—that the delicate organization and nervous sensibility of children of tender years cannot safely be subjected to the unnatural conditions which a theatrical training imposes on them, the effects of which may not develop themselves at the time, but which may do great harm in after years. These effects may not be immediately visible, but they will not fail to show themselves in later life. My Lords, these are the reasons why, as far as I am concerned, I should propose to adhere to the conclusion at which the House of Commons has arrived, which has been twice affirmed by the same majority of 49. My Lords. I have now dealt with the main provisions of the Bill, and I need only detain you with a word or two on the Amendments adopted in the other House, with which I also hope that your Lordships will agree, one of which is of great importance. It gives power to the Court to deprive of the guardianship of his children any parent who has been accessory to their ill-treatment under the earlier provisions of the Bill. I think, my Lords, that is likely to prove an extremely useful provision, and it seems to me an eminently just one. A parent who thus treats a child shows himself or herself to be unfit for guardianship, and it is in the public interest that the child should be removed from such a parent. I do not think your Lordships will consider that is an improper interference with the parental right. Your Lordships will see that the Bill carefully reserves intact the power which rests in a parent or guardian to administer punishment to a child. In that respect the law is not interfered with by this Bill. There is one other important provision, and that is for power to take the evidence of children of tender years, although not given on oath, if it is corroborated by other testimony. Their evidence would not be sufficient alone to secure a conviction. This provision had been found to work extremely well in an Act of a different character relating to offences against children, passed three or four years ago. Your Lordships will understand that in many cases, unless the evidence of the children themselves is to be received, although they may not know the nature of an oath, the offender, often a very grievous offender, would escape punishment. My Lords, I earnestly hope the House will give its favourable consideration to this Bill, because I believe it will diminish the area of child-suffering, bring within the reach of justice many a cruel torturer of defenceless children, and confer happiness on many a life beyond what would otherwise be attainable. I therefore move the Second Heading of the Bill.

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


I entirely agree with every word the noble and learned Lord has said. No one can feel more strongly than myself the baseness of parents, or other persons, who would be guilty of offences of this character, such as we constantly meet with, for the sake of pecuniary advantage to themselves; and nobody can reprobate more strongly than I do those parents, unfortunately too numerous, who prefer living in idleness on their children's earnings to exerting themselves for the maintenance of their children. But the Bill confers large powers on the police and on magistrates, which, before it becomes law, ought to be carefully scrutinized by noble Lords who possess higher authority on legal matters than I can pretend to. A great deal may turn, for instance, on the legal meaning of the word "neglect." I do not know what its exact legal meaning may be, but if it is the same as its ordinary meaning, there can be no doubt that the powers conferred on the Executive by this Bill might be very grossly abused. However, my Lords, what I wish principally to speak about is Subsection 3 of the second clause, which prohibits children under 10 years of age from being allowed to do various things. I do not propose to enter now at any length upon the question of the application of that sub-section generally to theatres and similar places of entertainment. That, as the noble and learned Lord has said, is a matter for Committee. I am not in a position to go into the matter at all to-night, because I did not anticipate having an opportunity to say anything at all on the subject until the Bill came before Committee. But I object to the prohibition against the employment of children at theatres on two grounds—first, because it is not a question which should be dealt with in a Bill for the prevention of cruelty to children. There is not a particle of evidence that there has ever been any cruelty inflicted on children employed in theatres. It is another question altogether whether children should be al- lowed to be employed in that way; but if there is to be any legislative interference, it ought to be in the form of an amendment to the Factory Acts, or some legislation of that character. I wish to impress very strongly upon your Lordships that to deal with that matter by a side issue in a Bill for preventing cruelty to children, would be doing gross injustice, and that a prohibition of this kind involves gross calumny on those who employ these children. It should not be introduced into a Bill of this kind; and whatever may be the opinion entertained as to the desirability or not of so employing children, I trust the matter will not be dealt with in this Bill. Next, my Lords, I object to the noble and learned Lord's statement that although in some theatres the children are well cared for it is not so in others. The noble and learned Lord has not produced a shred of fact in support of this allegation; and in the absence of evidence we are entitled to assume that no such theatres exist. I am strongly of opinion that if children are prevented from playing in theatres hardship and injustice will be inflicted, alike upon the children who play and upon then-parents and friends. If I had known that I should have the opportunity of dealing with this subject to-night, I should have been prepared to place before the House overwhelming proof that these children were enormously benefited, both morally and physically, by the training which they receive. It is very easy to see why they must be greatly benefited by such employment; because, putting it on the lowest ground of all, it must be admitted that where a child is worth a considerable sum at a theatre the parents will take more pains to keep the child in health and strength. And the parents are, of course, better enabled to do that, so that the children are clearly in every way benefited by being employed at theatres. Now, my Lords, it has been stated that their morals are affected by such employment. I will not discuss the question whether the theatrical profession is more or less moral than others. Probably they are ail much about the same. But I am sure that the danger of demoralization is less in the case of a person entering the profession at an early age than in the case of those who begin their theatrical career later in life. If there is immorality, I believe it will be found rather among those who adopt the stage more on account of their physical attractions than from any theatrical instincts. When the Bill is considered in Committee I will move an Amendment on that sub-section, which will have the effect of excepting places licensed for public entertainments.


My Lords, I think this Bill is, on the whole, an excellent measure. I think we are indebted for its introduction to the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children—one of the most admirable institutions of the day. But if your Lordships retain the clause preventing children under 10 from being employed in pantomimes and other children's plays, such as Alice in Wonderland, instead of being a prevention of cruelty to children it will promote a certain amount of misery, if not actual cruelty, to the little ones. I think that the limit of age might well be not under seven; and I should recommend that the children should in all cases be subject to regular supervision and medical inspection, to see if they were physically fit for the duties and were not overstrained in any way. Children so employed are generally the children of very poor but respectable parents; and supposing the parents are respectable, it seems to me oppressive that you should step in and say they shall not allow their children to be so employed. But even supposing the children belong to vicious and degraded parents, that is all the more reason for their being allowed to be so employed always under proper supervision. These children are employed in the pantomimes, which generally take place in the winter months, when the times are hard, work scarce, and the days short and dark. If the children are then engaged in the theatres they at least have the advantage of being well cared for, in a well-warmed and well-lighted place, where I understand they get excellent schooling and a good meal; they would have healthy exercise, and would be made more fit for their books, besides acquiring habits of discipline, obedience, and regularity, which would all tend to make them grow up more decent and respectable members of society. Besides that, what they earned, though small in amount, would in many cases be a considerable addition to the means of a poor family. If not playing in the pantomimes many of the children would be spending their lives in squalid garrets and gutters, if not even leading vicious lives as street beggars or juvenile thieves. I certainly give my support to this Bill, providing your Lordships cut out or amend substantially this prohibitory clause.


My Lords, I think the noble and learned Lord hardly went far enough in saying that children require as much protection as animals; I think they require a great deal more protection than animals. A man cannot be cruel to his horse without loss to himself, whereas he might gain by cruelty towards his children, particularly if ending in death. Therefore, the prohibitive penalty in such cases should be greater. As regards persons interested pecuniarily on a child's death, such cases are of a totally different kind and of much greater importance, and should not be treated with merely higher penalties of the same kind. My Lords, there is one very good point in this Bill, and that is that it inflicts a penalty in cases of children begging upon those who send out the children. At this moment there is an Act which makes it penal for children to be found begging in the streets, and they are sent to what is absurdly called a penal school. Children begging in the streets are not the guilty parties and the way to put a stop to the practice is to punish those who are guilty. With regard to employing children under 10 in theatres, the noble and learned Lord rather weakened the first clause by specifying only injury to health, and excluding all reference to moral injury He said he did not see greater moral danger to children between the ages of 10 and 12 than to those between 8 and 10. I think, my Lords, the moral foundation of a child's character is laid at an early age. I think the noble and learned Lord would do well to introduce the word "moral" into the clause There may be no physical cruelty, though great moral injury is done, according to the testimony of persons most competent to give an opinion upon the subject. But, after all, in regard to physical cruelty, it may not be cruelty in the sense of torture, but injury by premature employment. Premature employment is cruelty, and therefore the question is whether the employment of children under 10 in theatres is not premature employment, and therefore cruelty. It has been on that ground that the law has interfered in other employments, such as agriculture and factories, and therefore there is nothing new in its application to theatres. I would also beg to call the noble and learned Lord's attention to the last clause he referred to, in which it is proposed that children of vicious parents should be charged on any relation by order of the Court. By this, relations are made responsible for the maintenance of any neglected children; and it would become dangerous to be related to a vicious parent. It would be difficult to squeeze money out of them. I consider the Bill, with such amendment, a most valuable one, and therefore I support its Second Reading.


My Lords, there is one observation which fell from the noble Earl opposite which I cannot allow to pass without protest. In referring to the prohibition against the employment of young children in theatres, he remarked that such a provision would be a calumny or a slur upon theatrical managers.


I think the noble Earl misunderstood me. What I said was that such a matter could hardly be made the subject of a clause in a Bill for the prevention of cruelty to children—that it would be a calumny to charge with cruelty those who so employed them.


At all events, the word "calumny" was used. I do not know that it is any reason why there should be no legislation on this subject, that it may be said a question of calumny is introduced. The noble Earl also indicated that in Committee he would explain why, in his opinion, the employment of young children in theatres was beneficial to them, not only physically but morally. I am sorry the noble Earl has not given some information on that point in his speech, because what I have heard hitherto has been rather in the opposite direction. Without bringing any charge of immorality against the stage, many people hold, to use a common figure of speech, that the surface of the stage is a slippery surface. In their view, therefore—apart from other reasons—some limit ought to be placed upon the employment of young children. It is, however, in no way intended to cast a reflection upon the theatrical profession. I heartily support the Second Reading of the Bill.


My Lords, I am grateful that this clause as to the employment of children is in the Bill. There is cruelty and cruelty. A system that permits the premature and exhausting employment of children of tender years might well be a system in which there was cruelty, although do case of personal cruelty could be substantiated or is even alleged in connection with it, we should rejoice that no such case can be discovered by most careful inquiries. I am glad that the question of morality has not been introduced. It was not necessary to introduce it in order to achieve the ends of the promoters of the Bill. The ground which they take up, and which suffices in itself, is that children should not be put prematurely to exhausting work. There is no reason why the question of morality should be forced into this; and I earnestly hope that nothing which passes now will have the effect of introducing a question which may bring out a great deal that is painful without doing any good. The clause relating to children is a most necessary one, and when I have seen the Amendment which is to be proposed to it, I shall give further reasons for supporting it.


My Lords, I think it is very satisfactory that a measure such as this should have passed so rapidly through the other House, and apparently in this House, at all events as far as the principle of it is concerned Forty years ago it would have been impossible to pass such a Bill in one Session. I think if we owe this change in public opinion to any man, your Lordships will agree that we owe it to the efforts of the late Lord Shaftesbury, who, by his influence, his energy, and the activity with which he threw himself into the cause of the poor and the helpless, enabled us to do that which we should never otherwise have been able to do. To his efforts we must ascribe the change of spirit which has made the rapid passage of this Bill possible. I am thankful that all those who have spoken in support of the Bill have abstained from referring to the moral side of the question. It would be most unfortunate if any expression should be used which could, in the smallest degree, offend the dramatic profession. There is no doubt that the theatre at this date is very different from what it used to be, and I should be very sorry to hear any aspersion east upon the morality of those connected with it. I think it as well to state here, as some appear to be under the impression that those who started this Bill have in some way aspersed the theatrical profession, that the evidence of Board School teachers shows that the education of children employed in theatres practically ceases concurrently with their being engaged. I will read a letter from a lady whose name I need not mention, who has taken a leading part in this matter. She says— I do not charge the managers of theatres with treating the children with what is ordinarily called cruelty; it is simply a misrepresentation to pretend that I do so; but that such early employment is highly injurious to the children I think is beyond all doubt. The noble Earl opposite, who stated that he was going to move an Amendment when this Bill comes into Committee, found fault with the noble and learned Lord who brought forward the Bill because he did not produce evidence. I would, in reply, point out that the noble Earl himself did not bring forward any evidence upon his side of the question. Board School teachers, I think your Lordships will allow, are perhaps the most competent persons to give an opinion whether these children are being properly educated or not. I am aware that the managers of many theatres have done their best to establish excellent schools for the children, but the question remains, "Can the children profit by them?" It resolves itself into a matter of physical strength. Can children who are kept up till 2, 3, or perhaps 4 in the morning, possibly be capable of doing their lessons afterwards? I am perfectly certain my own children would not be able to do it, and if so I may, I think, argue that these children of poor people, allowed to keep these late hours at night and early hours of the morning, would not be able to work next day as they ought to do in the advance of their education. Evidence has also been taken in the matter by another class of persons who are also very competent to give an opinion, I mean the School Board officers, whose duty it is to bring the children into the schools, and who are well acquainted with the circumstances of the parents who place their children in the theatres; and they state that, as a matter of fact, in nine cases out of ten one or other of the parents is in the habit of drinking. They assert that these children are not simply sent to the theatres because their parents are poor or unable to earn a livelihood themselves, but because the parents desire to live upon the wages earned by their children, doing nothing themselves. Another fact which cannot be controverted is that some of the children after they leave the theatres have to go long distances. Some of the children live far from the theatres, and returning home, by train at 2 or 3 in the morning they often can hardly hold their heads up from exhaustion. Some of them have been known to say that they were, dreadfully frightened at having to go through the streets so late at night; and that they could not run home quickly, they were too tired. My Lords, if our own children are tired after being up late at night, and unable to do their work next day, or enjoy themselves, is it not likely that children who are badly fed, and have not the vitality of the upper and middle classes, should suffer to a much greater extent? The two grounds on which I base my support of the clause, under discussion are those of education and health, and I think I have shown your Lordships that, at all events as regards health, there can be no question that the children suffer. Then how is it as regards education? We have-heard what the evidence is that is given, in this matter by the School Board officers. We also know that in 1887 the Chairman of the School Board stated there were 25,000 children who had escaped through the meshes of the educational net, and evaded the schools; and I think we may fairly say that the children who are employed at places of public entertainment in some, measure go to make up that number of 25,000. We all know that as education, increases so crime diminishes. We know that in 1869 there were 11,000, children committed; in 1886 there, were only 5,000 committed. We may, therefore, feel confident that the more we can educate the children in our Board Schools, especially if we get, as I hope we shall get, a system of physi- cal education thoroughly established, the more the children will improve both morally and physically.


My Lords, I have only a few remarks to make with regard to the seventy of some of the punishments which it would be possible to impose according to the Bill in its present form. I entirely approve of the principle of the Bill, but I think certain safeguards should be introduced in Committee. With regard to the first part of the Bill as to so neglecting a child as to injure its health, the party convicted will be guilty of a misdemeanour, and will be subject to imprisonment not exceeding two years and a fine of £100. Imprisonment for two years is a very serious thing indeed. I have heard from an experienced person that he had never known a man to emerge from that imprisonment (if carried out on the separate system) otherwise than shattered both in body and mind. If the offence is that of conspiracy for the purpose of obtaining some pecuniary benefit, it is a defect in this Bill that the only additional punishment is an additional fine to the extent of £100. Your Lordships will find that a power is given to Courts of Summary Jurisdiction to sentence summarily to three months' imprisonment with hard labour and a fine of £50—this is contrary to the spirit of English law. Again, you will find that any constable may arrest, or take into custody without a warrant, any person who, in his view, has committed an offence under this Act. That might be applied to managers of theatres, where children apparently within the limit were employed. A constable would be authorized to take the manager into custody, and he would be taken before a Magistrate. Section 4, again, is very important, and though I do not object to its principle, I think it would require to be amended and greatly safeguarded. Suppose a person is committed for an alleged offence, under this Act any person is authorized to immediately bring the case before a Court of Summary Jurisdiction, and though there has been no conviction, yet it the Court is satisfied it is qualified to act in the matter, and may order the child to be taken out of the custody of the father and committed to the charge of a stranger. That section may be very good in principle, but it does require to be very much revised Another point is that, upon information, a search warrant may be issued and any house broken into at night in order to see whether any offence against the Act is being committed there. I entirely support the broad principle of this Bill, but I think objection might properly be raised upon various points in Committee.


My Lords, I only wish to say one or two words in support of what has fallen from the noble and learned Lord who has just sat down with regard to Clause 4 as to taking away, in the first place, from a parent the custody of a child. In the second place, that child may be handed over to the guardianship of a perfect stranger, and not only to a relation of the child. There is no provision made for any control whatever over what happens to that child when once it is taken from its parents and handed over to a perfect stranger. There should, I think, also be provision made for giving a greater locus standi to the relations of a child in bringing the matter into Court under that portion of the clause which says that the Court may vary or revoke an order. The proper person to have the custody of the child may be absent or away at the time the matter is brought before the Court in the first instance, and it might be very difficult then to get the proper person appointed. I hope, therefore, in going through Committee such safeguards as may be necessary will be added to the measure.


My Lords, I have only to thank noble Lords who have suggested Amendments. I quite agree with the criticism of the noble Lord opposite on the clause which refers to the handing over of a child to the guardianship of another person. I will endeavour to make the matter plain in Committee.


I only desire to say a few words. I cannot help thinking that some sort of arrangement might be made whereby the generality of the provisions which have been so much debated might be limited in some way by enabling a competent authority to give a license to parents for the employment of their children, and, to entrust the persons employing them, with their care, in exceptional circumstances. Some arrangement of this kind, I think, might reconcile opposite views upon the subject. With regard to the clause which makes it a higher offence, punishable with a heavier penalty, if the person committing the offence was supposed to be influenced by any pecuniary interest in a child's death, I am of opinion that the section either goes too far or not far enough. In the one case the offence might be murder, and ought to be treated as such; but, on the other hand, it might be an accidental circumstance unconnected with cruelty, and in that case the clause goes too far. It comes to this—that if you have a suspicion of foul play not sufficient to justify you in treating it as an offence, you shall treat it as though that offence had been committed although you have no proof. It seems to me that you would be administering the law on false principles, and that the clause ought to receive careful attention.


My Lords, I think we are all agreed that the Bill ought to be read a second time. I should like to say that I should rather regret the compromise suggested by the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack. I am not an admirer of too much interference between employers and employed, or between parents and children. On the other hand, I have always been a great admirer of theatres, particularly in later days. I believe that theatrical representations may be made of very great use in elevating the taste and improving the morals of those who visit them. But, my Lords, I think too much is done towards making a tabula rasa by the Bill before us. The truth is that every single argument used by the noble Earl against the provisions which prohibit the employment of children in theatres is applicable, though in a much stronger degree, to principles which, rightly or wrongly, Parliament has adopted in the past. The same objections were raised when the employment of children in factories, agriculture, mines, and other industries was prohibited. It was then plausibly argued that the prohibition would injure the employer and the employed. I do not believe that a young person becomes a better actor because he was employed before the age of 10 years. The evidence is all the other way. What I feel is that, having committed ourselves to the principle of restricting juvenile labour, and after that principle has been universally adopted by public opinion as a proper restriction, it is too late to say we will make a concession and legalize the employment of those very young children in theatres. With regard to the question of cruelty, I will go so far as to say that if any of your Lordships sent your children out night after night in all weathers into the heated atmosphere of a theatre to take part in a performance which must be exciting to them, after which they would have to find their way home, or even if they were kept up night after night in their own comfortable drawing rooms till 11 or 12 o'clock, that would be very great cruelty to them, and still greater must be the cruelty in the case of these poor children.

Motion agreed to; Bill read 2a and referred to the Standing Committee for Bills relating to Law, &c.