HL Deb 22 May 1900 vol 83 cc860-2


Order of the day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, the Bill which it is my privilege to introduce to your Lordships, though an important Bill, is not one of a wide-reaching character. Its scope is limited to a proposal to raise the minimum ago of boys working underground from twelve to thirteen. The Bill has been sent up to this House from, another place where it passed without opposition, and when I state that the Members, of Parliament who prepared and brought the Bill into the House of Commons were Sir Charles Dilke, Sir James Joicey, Sir Joseph Pease, and Sir Alfred Hickman, your Lordships will receive those names as a guarantee that this Bill does not interfere injuriously with the coal-mining industry. The whole effect of the Bill is. to make compulsory a practice which is adopted as a matter of course by the great majority of coal-owners. An overwhelming proportion of those engaged in the coal-mining industry, whether as employers or employed, are anxious that the meaure should be passed into law. This being so I think it is unnecessary for me to waste the time of your Lordships by endeavouring to show that it is desirable to prohibit Labour which is calculated to interfere injuriously with the development of growing children. That such labour should be prohibited I think is universally recognised. I do not think anyone will contend that in fixing thirteen as the minimum ago for working underground Parliament is injuriously interfering with the freedom of a private industry. Apart from the desire of your Lordships to save children from the evil consequences of employment underground at too early an age, there is another consideration. In 1890 the Emperor of Germany invited the European Powers to join with him in considering and drawing i up such regulations restrictive of the use of child labour as in their joint opinion after full consideration might be required by the dictates of humanity and the natural laws of development. Sir John Gorst and other representatives of this country were allowed by the noble Marquess to give their assent in the name of England to two propositions which were adopted at the Berlin Conference. Those propositions were, first, that it was desirable that children under twelve years of age should be excluded from working in industrial establishments; and, secondly, that the minimum age for children working in mines underground should be gradually and in accordance with experience raised to fourteen completed years. Although these promises were given in the name of this country in 1890, it was only last year, and then on the initiative of a private Member, Mr. Robson, that an Act of Parliament was passed, which indirectly gave effect to the first of those promises. The second promise still remains unredeemed, and I venture to think it is hardly creditable to this country that we should be so laggard in the fulfilment of obligations which we voluntarily incurred in the face of Europe, and which so far from being opposed are demanded by the industry affected. I should have been glad if the Bill had been a Government measure, and the minimum age for employment underground had been, in accordance with the resolution of the international conference at Berlin, established at fourteen. I am informed that the gentlemen representing the coal industry, who were the godfathers of tin's Bill in the House of Commons, are in favour of the fourteen years limit, but that, it being represented to them that if they put that limit in the Bill the measure would be opposed, they wisely contented themselves with a figure which enabled them to pass their Bill through the House as an unopposed measure, I beg to move the Second Reading of the Bill.

Moved "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Earl Grey.)


On behalf of the Homo Office, I have only to say that there is no objection to the Second Reading of this Bill. As the noble Lord stated, it has passed without opposition through the other House, and with the consent of the Government. There is only one point to which I need refer, and that is that the Bill as it is at present drawn refers only to coal mines. There are a certain number of children, though I believe a very small number, who are employed in metalliferous mines, and the Home Secretary thinks it would be well to extend the provisions of the Bill to those mines. I understand that in the other House this Amendment would have been moved if it had not been that the Standing Orders prevented the Bill being extended in that way at the period at which the Amendment was suggested. When the Bill reaches Committee I will move clauses to give effect to this proposal, but in other respects there is no objection to the Bill.

On Question, agreed to. Bill read 2a accordingly, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House on Friday next.