HL Deb 12 May 1908 vol 188 cc875-95

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, in moving the Second Reading of this Bill, of which I gave long notice in order that nobody might be taken by surprise, I submit that it is a Bill for which, in my belief, public opinion is quite ripe. Its object is to raise the minimum age of exemption from attendance at school to thirteen. It will be within the recollection of your Lordships that in 1890 an International Conference was held at Berlin, at which child employment and similar questions were discussed, and at that Conference there was practically unanimous agreement on the part of the Powers of Europe that the age of children for half-time employment should be raised to twelve years. After some years this country increased the age to that minimum in what was known as Mr. Robson's Bill, which became law in 1899. When that Bill was under discussion in your Lordships' House, the late Lord Kimberley stated that even at the time of the Conference at Berlin, it was the policy of the British Government to make thirteen the minimum age for half-timers. Proposals for the minimum age of thirteen and other ages were submitted at the Conference, and the German Government stated at the time, what was perfectly true, that they were not very much concerned as a nation in these proposals, because, as a matter of fact, they already had no employment of children under fourteen. The German Government stipulated that, whatever was fixed as the minimum age from the point of view of the health and the welfare of the child, any legislation should have regard to the obligation of school attendance; and Germany at that time required school attendance up to the age of fourteen.

If it is thought that there is a danger to our industries through raising the minimum age of half-timers, I would mention the fact that neither Germany nor Switzerland, both very active industrial countries, permit the employment of children under the age of fourteen. In the Act of 1899 a clause was inserted to conciliate those interested in agriculture. Whereas there was a general obligation that there should be no half-time employment under twelve years of age, a provision was inserted empowering local authorities to make bye-laws regulating the attendance at school of children employed in agriculture. One ought more properly, in speaking of these children, to use the technical phrase "partial employment" rather than the term "half-time," because half-time only describes a certain portion of the exemptions from full school attendance. At that time it was enacted that the local authorities might, if they thought fit, make bye-laws whereby children to whom the bye-laws were applicable should be entirely exempted from attendance at school from 1st May to 1st October, a substantial part of which period fell in the summer holidays, provided they made 250 attendances in the remaining seven months of the year. Whether that was a prudent enactment or not, from the point of view of agriculture, I will not discuss. What is interesting is that this provision has hardly been taken advantage of at all. If you will examine the figures contained in the last Report of the Board of Education, you will see that nearly all the half-time employment is in factories, especially hose connected with the textile industries, and almost entirely in the West Riding of Yorkshire, in Lancashire, and in the adjoining districts of Cheshire and Derbyshire. It is a very remarkable fact that not more than about 9,000 children in the whole of the counties of England are enjoying partial exemption.

I was anxious to find out to what extent this partial exemption grew out of the agricultural bye-law, and I applied to the clerk of the county authority of Kent, pre-eminently a county to which the agricultural bye-law would be suitable, and, in reply, I obtained some very interesting figures. I found that, out of about 1,000 children in Kent, who were enjoying partial exemption, only about 190 were doing so under the agricultural bye-law; and, curiously enough, of that number again, 160 were from one district of Kent. The county council of Kent have mapped out their area into about twenty subordinate districts for the purpose of bye-laws, and it was in only one of those districts that the bye-law had been largely taken advantage of. As an illustration of the fact that this power is not very much valued I might mention that the county authority of Kent, feeling that this agricultural bye-law was undesirable, were inclined to abrogate it, but in order not to hurry public opinion in the county they determined to leave to the discretion of each of the subordinate authorities whether or not the bye-law should be put in force; and up to two or three months ago, a large number of the subordinate districts in Kent had recommended that the bye-law should be adopted. I may further add that the partial-exemption bye-laws outside the industrial districts, are very much more used in seaside towns and places of summer resort, where boys are employed driving donkeys, blacking the boots of visitors at the boarding houses, and doing other work of this kind, than for purposes of agriculture.

I should be very glad to get further evidence from local authorities as to the extent to which they believe this bye-law is in any demand. As far as I can ascertain from the figures, the bye-law has become utterly unimportant. There is not a single half-timer in the counties of Berkshire, Cumberland, Devon, Essex, Isle of Wight, Northumberland, Oxford, East and West Suffolk, Surrey, and Durham. Throughout those widely-spread counties there is not one half-timer; and in Cambridge, Cheshire, Derbyshire, Kent, and the East Riding of Yorkshire there are only 738 children enjoying partial exemption, and these are the counties where, excluding Lancashire and the West Riding, there is the largest amount of partial exemption. Taken as a whole, agricultural partial exemption is not used and is not demanded. The fact is that half-time is now, as it always has been, to be found in the textile districts, and mainly in the cotton districts, though to some extent, in the West Riding, in the woollen districts. Outside the textile districts there is practically no halftime at all; and the figures rather go to support the view that where it exists it may have become a custom, but is not a necessary condition of industry, even in the textile trades. There is no reason, for instance, why there should be a difference between the conditions of Huddersfield and Halifax; yet Halifax contains a large number of half-timers, while in Huddersfield there is not a single child employed half-time. Half-time employment is, therefore, not essential even in the textile trades.

From the point of view of education every one knows the confusion and inconvenience caused in a school by having half-timers side by side with full-timers. The half-timers are backward and disturb the class, and are altogether a nuisance. But the number of half-timers has so diminished of late years that it has not answered the purpose of local education authorities to set up separate half-time classes; and, generally speaking, I think most people would say that when half-time sets in, the intelligence and brightness of the scholar fades away.

But the question must also be looked at carefully from the standpoint of the health and physique of the children. It is not by any means a satisfactory state of things to have a child going to work at a mill at six o'clock in the morning, then rushing home at mid-day, eating a hurried meal, and going to school in the afternoon. Controversies have taken place upon the system under which children are certified as fit to work in the mill. Naturally, the doctors who certify them declare that all is for the best in the best of all possible worlds, but I do not think any one who has examined the information we have received in connection with the medical inspection of schools—I refer to the reports as to eyesight and general condition of the children—can feel that certification which does not reject more than about 1 per cent. of the children can be quite satisfactory. I hope, apart from this Bill, that the medical inspection of children at school will grow and will be followed by medical assistance, and that in two or three years we may be able to rely more upon the machinery provided in collection with our schools for ascertaining the physical fitness of the children and less upon the certificates of doctors.

I have pointed out that, as to what may be called foreign competition, our most energetic competition are able to do without this child labour. I have pointed out that in the case of those who earn the lowest wages and who in some ways may be considered to have the hardest lot—namely, the agricultural population—the half-time system has not been demanded and is not used. It is not in the poorest parts of the community, but in the well-paid textile industries where this labour most exists. There is weighty support given to the principle of this Bill, and resolutions in favour of it have been passed by the trades councils of many of our large towns, including Oldham, Burnley, Rochdale, Stockport, Accrington, Leigh, Keighley, and Glossop; and it is in these towns that the practice largely exists at which I am by this Bill striking a blow. I do not gather that employers clamour for the child labour.

Having regard to the state of public business, no reasonable man can contemplate that this Bill will be able to be passed into law this year; and I do not wish to carry the Bill through unless I can get such a body of evidence in its favour as would satisfy the average fair mind. What, therefore, I would suggest to your Lordships is that you should give the Bill a Second Reading to-day, and that it should then be referred to a Select Committee. I should be glad to have evidence from the representatives of the county councils in rural districts as to the extent to which they think the agricultural kind of bye-law necessary, and why it has not been taken advantage of hitherto. I should like, also, to have evidence from employers of labour in textile industries as to whether, in their opinion, trade would be injured by the Bill; and I should like evidence, if we could have it from some persons connected with the medical side, as to what in their judgment has been the effect upon the stamina of the children of the last reform raising the minimum age to twelve. I think if that were done we should secure evidence which would make it easier to carry effective legislation in a future year. I beg to move.

Moved, "That the Bill be now read 2a."—(Lord Stanley of Alderley.)


My Lords, as one who has taken great interest in this subject perhaps I may be allowed to say a few words, I think I may almost say, in support of the Second Reading, considering the last observation of the noble Lord that he does not propose to carry the Bill any further but to refer it to a Committee for a full inquiry. That is a course which I should have ventured to suggest as the full importance of the proposed change should be carefully tested. In 1885–86 the question of the extension of the age from ten to eleven came before Lord Cranbrook, the then Lord President, and myself, as Vice-President of the Council, but we found the opposition from the agricultural and manufacturing districts so great that there was no fair prospect of passing a Bill then. But in 1891 a Bill was introduced raising the age from ten to eleven, and I gave the Bill my strongest support. Later on I had the satisfaction, in 1899, of passing through your Lordships' House the Act to which reference has been made, by which the age was raised from eleven to twelve.

But the point I wish to bring before your Lordships is this—Should the Act of 1899 be totally repealed, as is proposed by this Bill? Your Lordships may be aware that when that Act was passing through the House of Commons it was very strongly opposed by all the members, numbering fifty-nine I think, who represented agricultural constituencies, and that the opponents were only satisfied by the insertion of the proviso referred to. That proviso is by this Bill repealed. In effect the proviso enacted that if the local authority in their discretion chose to raise the age of exemption to thirteen, then an arrangement might be made by which the children could work in summer in the fields, and complete the number of their attendances at school in the winter. They had longer time given them to be at school, because the age was advanced from eleven to thirteen, but their attendance was so arranged that the farmers could get the advantage of their work during the summer. That followed a system which had been adopted with very good results both in Germany and in Switzerland.

The noble Lord has stated that this proviso has not been largely acted upon. Whether or not that has been due to the local authorities not desiring to exercise their option, I am unable to say. At all events, I should like to quote the opinions of both the late Duke of Devonshire, who was Lord President of the Council in 1899, and the late Lord Kimberley—opinions which the House will admit to be of very great value. After pointing out the great difference of the needs of agricultural employers from those of manufacturing employers, the late Duke of Devonshire said— I believe that this proviso has removed most of the objections felt by the representatives of agricultural constituencies, and that the proposal which has been made will make it possible for a child to remain longer at school, but during the last two years of school life he will have holidays which will enable him to work during the summer and attend school during the winter. And the late Lord Kimberley said of this proviso— I have no doubt it is well adapted to meet the case of children in agricultural districts. This Bill raises the age to thirteen compulsorily, and I think it is a very grave question whether the proviso should be repealed altogether, or whether, if it be repealed, some new arrangement should not be made to meet the special needs of agricultural districts. I do not desire to detain the House longer as it is proposed to refer the matter to a Committee, before whom the views of those interested in agriculture can be stated; but I wished to explain the view I take, and to say that in my opinion the question whether the proviso in question should be repealed, requires further consideration.


My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Viscount who has just spoken for calling attention to the obscurity which seems to prevail concerning the application or non-application of the particular rule to which he has just referred. I have found it very difficult to ascertain what are the facts as to the operation of the proviso which allows children to do more hours' outdoor work in summer and more hours' school work in winter. If that matter could be further inquired into and we could learn what number of areas were practically using the proviso we should be in a better position to form a definite opinion. I believe I am right in saying that about 100 educational authorities in rural areas have issued such a bye-law, but how far the bye-law is taken advantage of is another question, and it is obviously the question of real importance.

Speaking generally, I wish to give whole-hearted and ungrudging approval to the Bill introduced by Lord Stanley of Alderley, who is able to speak with such a wealth of knowledge on this as on all other educational subjects. I entirely agree with him in thinking that public opinion, if not already ripe, is rapidly becoming ripe for such an advance upon previous regulations as to the age-limit of compulsory schooling. We have gone steadily forward. In 1870 the age was fixed at ten; it was raised in 1893 to eleven, and in 1899, as we have been reminded by the noble Viscount, to twelve. I believe the time has come when we might most advantageously make it thirteen. The matter concerns to a very large degree the great industrial centres, especially in the textile trades; but about those I have no personal knowledge, and I do not desire to say anything upon it beyond referring your Lordships to the debate which took place on the subject in 1899 when Sir William (then Mr.) Robson brought out the actual facts respecting the misuse of the half-time system in some of the great regions in which textile fabrics are made and advocated the change that he was then suggesting from eleven to twelve, but hinted, not obscurely, his desire that it should subsequently go further.

I desire to say a few words about the agricultural areas in the South of England I am quite certain that some such change is educationally, and, I venture to say, morally also, greatly needed there. I perfectly understand the objections which are felt to it on the part of those who are striving to make the best of a depressed agricultural industry, but I believe that in the long run, looking to the larger policy of the well-being of the whole, there can be no question at all that a change like this is exceedingly desirable. One county parson after another who is keen on educational matters has lamented to me the extraordinary contrast between the bright boys who leave school at the age of twelve and the same boys a little later when they have become mere dullards from whom at the age of fifteen or sixteen the brightness has passed away. I think that if we look into it a little the change is not so difficult to account for as it seems. We hear it sometimes argued that the later years in an elementary school are occupied in the kind of instruction which will be practically of little use to an agricultural labourer in after-life. It is said that it is much better to allow the child to leave school at eleven or twelve and apply himself to obtaining the elements of technical instruction in the handicraft in which he is afterwards to get his living. If he really were getting a technical education in the higher and more skilled sort of work which he will afterwards have to do, I should feel that there was something at all events to be said for that argument. But in agricultural districts is the boy who leaves school at twelve put ordinarily to the kind of work that evokes the intelligence his teachers had tried to quicken in his school days? Is it not the case that he is put to work which leads to his forgetting and not using the education that he has so far obtained? A few sporadic efforts are made to give technical knowledge here and there under county council teachers, but is it not true that we are hearing from every side complaints that the old agricultural craft is dying out; that for thatching, hedging, and hurdle-making you have to go to men who were educated forty or fifty years ago? These things are not taught to young boys now as they were formerly. If we can so recast our educational system that boys whose lives are to be passed in rural areas can receive such technical instruction, say from eleven to fourteen or fifteen, as will afterwards enable them to become skilled handicraftsmen in work capable of a very high application of skill, I shall be glad to help in making that applicable to our elementary education system. But, as a matter of fact, that is not what has happened. There are a few districts in which the gardening side of agriculture is being taught; but not very extensively, and not to a very great number of boys. So far as that goes it is all to the good.

What we are waiting for at this moment is some pioneer or prophet who will show us how to make the education of lads in agricultural areas of the kind which will be of real use to them, both intellectually and in the way of handicraft, in their later years. At present we are nonplussed in endeavouring to do that. The pioneer or prophet is not forthcoming, and we are thrown back upon a condition of things that it is exceedingly difficult to justify, or, perhaps, even to account for. The Board of Education, their inspectors, and a great many local educationists have tried their hands at it, but at present there has not been any result at all commensurate with the labour bestowed. The question referred to by Lord Knutsford, as to how far the proviso in the Act of 1899 for giving boys a longer time for agricultural work in the summer has been profitably used, is one of the things I should like to see inquired into. But until we have so rearranged our education system as to bring out the higher, brighter, and better side of these lads after their school days are over, I am afraid we must make the best use we can of the higher instruction in what are popularly called the three R's, in order to fit them for whatever work may lie before them in life.

It is said that a boy who has learned all that is now taught in the elementary schools has practically laid a sound basis for any course of life he may choose to follow. That in one sense is true. But if a boy is to make use of what he has acquired in his early school life, he must not be taken away just when he is beginning to think for himself and take an interest in things, he must remain under educational guidance a little longer. Do we realise that we are taking away from school the children of the poorer and the less cultured class at the very age when our own sons are beginning their education? The result is that the boy who has learned up to ten or eleven in the elementary schools the three R's and what belongs to them, has no opportunity of practising that which he has acquired, and he therefore loses it almost immediately. Look, my Lords, to your own past experience. You may learn a foreign language, but unless, after having first acquired it, you begin for a little time to use it, the knowledge you have obtained of it will pass very quickly away. The practice of that which has been acquired makes all the difference in the world.

One of the most prominent and capable of His Majesty's inspectors, writing on this subject a few years ago, said— We lose the advantage of a great part of our expenditure because, just at the period when education in the proper sense begins, the children are withdrawn from it. When they turn up at continuation schools many of them have forgotten all they have learned. If that kind of criticism is true of England as a whole, in the agricultural districts we find this condition of things at its worst. Some of your Lordships may remember an interesting investigation that was made into this matter in the eastern counties some ten or twelve years ago. The gentleman who was at the head of a labour bureau at Ipswich determined to make an investigation as to how far the boys who had left school intelligently educated at the age of eleven or twelve, had a few years later retained anything of that which they had learned. He asked all those lads who applied for employment between the ages of sixteen and eighteen to fill up a simple form in their own handwriting, stating their age, what it was they wanted to do, and what standard they had reached in school. And on the back of that paper they were asked to do one or two perfectly simple sums, and to copy in their own handwriting a few sentences of print. We are told that— The result of this investigation was that, of the boys between sixteen and eighteen years of age who applied for employment, one-fourth could write fairly, one quarter could write moderately, and quite one-half could only write in the most disgraceful manner, both as to penmanship and spelling. As to arithmetic, 10 per cent. answered the questions, 15 per cent. were able to do one of the sums set, and 75 per cent. could not answer a single one of the questions. And yet many of these boys had, a few years before, been in village schools, and some of them had attained as high as the sixth standard. Statistics of that kind prove beyond dispute that there is something amiss.

I believe, therefore, that the principle embodied in this Bill of slightly raising everywhere the age at which children leave school is a change which England is ready to accept and practically is bound to accept now. There is already some little improvement, for I observe that out of every 10,000 children attending school the number who remained after the age of twelve in 1901 was 4,900, while in 1906 it was 5,900; that is about. 20 per cent. more, and the increase is slightly greater among the boys than among the girls. In other countries with which we are constantly told that we have to compete not only is this obligatory rule found to be not unbearable, but it is being adopted practically unanimously, and, until we rise to that level, we have no right to expect to be able to compete with those countries when the time for competition arises. In short, every argument that springs to the mind converges in favour of this proposal, and I regret that Lord Stanley of Alderley has not been able to be a little more sanguine about the prospects of passing the Bill at an early date. I earnestly hope, at least, that the principle will be affirmed to-day.


My Lords, the noble Lord who initiated this debate is, if I may say so, saturated with education, and all through his life he has rendered great service to education generally. He may, I am afraid, think me a little presumptuous if I do not see eye to eye with him in regard to this Bill. With much that he has said I thoroughly agree. Our first object in considering this question should be to care for the children who are going to be educated. So far as it affects the employers of labour I think the matter is comparatively not an important one, and I believe those employers would find a way of getting over any difficulty of finding labour if it were necessary. Whilst not pretending to speak with any great knowledge of this subject, I have endeavoured to go as closely as I could into what has taken place in recent years with regard to the question of age; and I may say at once that I entirely agree that it is very desirable to raise the age up to which compulsory education is enforced, but I believe that if we do raise it we must allow partial exemption.


Hear, hear.


I do not think it would be fair to raise the age greatly if you do not allow a certain amount of latitude to individuals according to circumstances. That has been the view of this country now for a great many years. I have been to the different Departments which are interested in this subject, and on the whole they think that a sudden change in the law would cause a very considerable amount of inconvenience especially to the agricultural interest, to the cotton interest, and, to some extent, to the woollen interest. Those Departments—the Board of Agriculture, the Board of Education, and the Home Office—all think that to enter hurriedly into such a change as is proposed in this Bill would not be a desirable thing. If you are going to make a change you ought to make sure that it will prove a good change, and one that will be permanently of advantage to the country. After the Berlin Conference of 1800, which recommended an age-limit of twelve years, a Committee was appointed in 1901, consisting of representatives of the Home Office, the Board of Education, and the Board of Trade, which considered this subject, and in their Report they stated— It has been urged that children ought not to be permitted to do any work at all. We cannot accept this view. The strongest evidence has been given us by the most earnest advocates of the regulation of child labour, tending to show that moderate work under healthy conditions may be, and in most cases will be, a benefit. They added that quite irrespective of anything the lad may earn it was better for him, mentally, morally, and physically, to be engaged a few of his spare hours each day in labour rather than to spend the whole of his leisure in the public thorough-fares or in the dull rooms of crowded tenements. I rather agree with that pronouncement, and I think it is a matter we ought always to remember when we are dealing with this subject. The conclusion arrived at by the Committee was as follows— We have come, therefore, to the conclusion that what is required is not the total prohibition of school child labour, but its regulation, and in this we are in substantial accord with all the witnesses who gave evidence. Even the two or three witnesses who deprecated any labour being done by children of school age admitted that their view was rather ideal than practicable. We, however, do not believe that the true ideal is mere school education up to fourteen and then a full day's manual work. We think that the training for manual work should begin before fourteen, just as we hold that school education should continue beyond fourteen. Personally I agree with all that the most rev. Primate said, but I think the House should give the matter very careful consideration before they adopt the Second Reading of this Bill. The object of the Bill is an admirable one, and one for which I have the utmost sympathy; but I do not think we ought rashly to rush into a scheme which is not certain of being a success.


My Lords, I endorse all that has fallen from the Lord President of the Council with regard to the expert knowledge on educational matters possessed by my noble friend who has introduced this Bill. Perhaps I can speak with more experience than the Lord President, for I was privileged to be Chairman of the London School Board when my noble friend Lord Stanley of Alderley led the Progressive Party on that body, and I can confidentially say that I doubt whether any Member of your Lordships' House has devoted himself so thoroughly to educational questions as the noble Lord. That is one of the reasons why I rise to say a few words on this occasion, because I think it would be disrespectful to him if no one on this bench spoke upon the Bill.

As the noble Viscount, Lord Knutsford, pointed out, this Bill alters very radically the Act passed by the Unionist Government in 1899, for it proposes to raise the age from twelve to thirteen. I will not enter into the various steps which led to the increase of the age from ten to eleven, and subsequently from eleven to twelve; but, as the most rev. Primate said, we have been going forward. From an educational point of view, no doubt, the arguments of the noble Lord in favour of keeping children longer at school are very strong. But there is another point of view. We have to consider how far it would be prudent in the interest of certain classes in the community to abolish the half-time system. As Lord Stanley observed, the half-time privilege has not been taken great advantage of in the country except in regard to two industries—the Lancashire cotton-spinning industry and the agricultural industry. The advantages given to these industries by the half-time system have been considerable; and I cannot but think that in the cotton-spinning industry any sudden alteration would very much disorganise the system now working satisfactorily in accordance with the rules laid down in 1899, and might be extremely unfair to parents of children and to employers.

It is impossible really to say how the Bill would affect the two industries I have mentioned, because there are no data to proceed upon. I was very glad to read a statement made by the present Minister for Education in the House of Commons a short time ago, to the effect that he would lay on the Table a Memorandum giving particulars of exemption from school attendance in certain counties; and he added that the half-time system did not appear to exist elsewhere than in this country. The statement was interesting in itself. Further, it seems to show that it would be well to have an inquiry into more recent facts before coming to any determination upon the Bill. Undoubtedly the agricultural interest opposed the extension of school age in 1899, because parents considered that their children's time would be more usefully spent than at school; and their opposition was only met by the proviso as to agriculture and partial employment which was put into the Act of 1899.

The most rev. Primate stated, in the course of his remarks, that he did not think sufficient attention was given by the Board of Education to instruction in agricultural matters. The most rev. Primate said something of that kind, but I am most anxious not to misquote him. I should like to say that when I had the privilege of being President of the Board of Education I did my utmost to secure that the wants and requirements of the districts in which they lived should be inculcated into the minds of the children, so that if possible they should be induced to take an interest in agricultural matters and remain upon the soil; and Lord Onslow, who was then President of the Board of Agriculture, placed a gentleman at my disposal to educate the children in questions of afforestation and such matters. At the present moment the county councils are doing their utmost, by means of the evening continuation schools, to give facilities to children after they have left the elementary school to obtain knowledge in agricultural matters. I have only to say, in conclusion, that I cordially agree with what has fallen from Lord Stanley. This is a very important question. It is far too important to be rushed through. I hope, therefore, that His Majesty's Government will see their way to appoint a strong Committee to inquire into all the facts of the case, and the possibility of combining increased school attendance with knowledge of agricultural pursuits. At the present time the House has no certain data upon which to proceed.


My Lords, I need hardly say that it is with a real pang that we have found ourselves, as the House will have seen from the speech of the Lord President, not in absolute agreement with my noble friend behind me on an education question. What the noble Marquess who has just sat down said of the noble Lord's qualification to speak on these subjects is only the bare truth, and I am in most cordial agreement with everything that fell from him on that point. As my noble friend the Lord President has pointed out, we are not prepared to proceed with the Bill as it stands.

My noble friend Lord Stanley dealt in a very interesting way, by facts and figures, with the singularly partial application of the half-time system in different parts of England. That is an interesting fact, but it cuts both ways. It might be taken to mean that this, being, of course, an optional measure, was used in those districts where it was required, and not used in districts where it did not meet a want; and, so far, I do not know that that could be said to involve any particular charge against it. Then my noble friend took it as generally agreed that the half-time system was, in itself, bad in all respects. I think he understated the difference of opinion that exists on that point. I do not think it is generally admitted, even from the pro-educational point of view, that the half-time system is in all cases, and necessarily, bad. I have seen evidence which bears exactly in the contrary direction. People have been found to say that in some districts the half-time children show a distinctly higher average of intelligence than other children of the same age. Then, again, from the medical point of view, if it could be shown that the half-time system had invariably, or even generally, had a bad effect on the children's health, that would be the most severe indictment that could be brought against it.

My noble friend mentioned medical inspection. That, as we know, is a new and, I hope, very fruitful project; but it seems to me in this case to offer a further reason for not attempting to proceed too fast. When medical inspection becomes, as we hope it will, general, it will throw a very distinct light upon this half-time question, among a great many other questions; and if it is proved that the half-time system has the bad physical effects which my noble friend seems to think necessarily go with it, that will no doubt be a very large nail driven into its coffin. My noble friend proposes to repeal altogether the Act of 1899. It is perfectly true that the use that has been made of that Act has been, from the point of view of those who favour it, a somewhat disappointing one. It is, I think, remarkable that in the purely agricultural districts a larger use has not been made of its facilities, and I do not profess to be prepared with any reason why that is the case. It is, of course, the fact that we move slowly, especially in the agricultural districts, and it may be that in some parts of England parents have not grasped such advantages as may accrue to them without damage to the children from the possibility of the winter school- ing and the long summer vacation for the purpose of agricultural work. But that is a matter on which I cannot profess to give any kind of competent opinion.

Then the most rev. Primate in, if he will allow me to say so, a very interesting speech, dealt with a somewhat different aspect of the question. The speech was so thoroughly to my point of view and I found myself in such complete agreement with it that it is with regret that I point out that it did not seem to me to be entirely relevant to this particular Bill. What the most rev. Primate pointed out with unanswerable force was the existence of what is known in education as a gap—a gap which I am afraid is sometimes never filled up at the other end—between elementary and higher education. All that he argued would have been most conclusive if directed to increasing the term of elementary schooling altogether or the establishment of continuation schools for those districts; but it is not easy to see how it exactly bore on the question of half-time schooling and half-time employment.


I did not intend it so to bear. The Bill only incidentally touches on the question of half-time. It is a simple proposal that all children should remain in school till they are thirteen years old.


I will not labour that point further. The point we have to consider is what the House desires to do with the Bill. There has been a general expression of opinion from the noble Viscount, from the most rev. Primate, and from the noble Marquess opposite that it would be desirable to have a Committee on this subject, and that, of course, is also the desire of my noble friend who moved the Second Reading. In expressing that desire, my noble friend engaged in the last kind of transaction with which I would naturally connect him—something of a gamble—because if the Report of a Committee of this kind should be adverse to the proposals of this Bill I fear it would mean that these proposals would be shelved for some little time to come, whereas if he were not to proceed with the Bill it would be within his power, and within the power of those who agree with him, to go on pressing their point in the hope of changing public opinion.

Still I feel that in view of what appears to be the general sense of the House we cannot resist a proposal of that kind; but we think that it would probably be more in agreement with what has been expressed in debate if this Bill were not read a second time, but if the whole subject were inquired into by a Committee which we think ought to be a Joint Committee of both Houses. If the noble Lord would agree to withdraw the Bill we would be willing to set up a Committee of that kind, which during the present summer, I have no doubt, would be able to make full inquiry into questions which the debate shows are questions of considerable dispute even upon matters of fact.


My Lords, being entitled to a reply, I should like to say that I am a little surprised at the extreme conservatism and cautiousness of the Front Ministerial Bench. Their extreme anxiety not to go too fast is to me a novel, and not quite refreshing, experience. The noble Lord the Lord President of the Council, who speaks in this House on behalf of the Board of Education, read from a document drawn up by five gentlemen in the employ of the Government, who spoke about the expediency of having wholesome employment to a moderate extent combined with education. If I thought factory employment as it exists in Lancashire could be called moderate employment, helpful to the child and likely to improve his education, I should not be so much opposed to it. The noble Marquess opposite stated that half-time had been of great advantage to, and had been largely adopted by, two industries—the textile industry and the agricultural industry. I thought I made it perfectly clear that if there was any class which had not taken advantage of the half-time system it was agriculturists. I very much doubt whether there are 5,000 children throughout the whole of the country who enjoy partial exemption under the agricultural bye-law; yet in the agricultural districts of England the school children number something like 1,500,000, and of those probably nearly 400,000 are of the requisite age from eleven to fourteen. I am thankful to the noble Marquess opposite who was the first in this debate to recognise that there ought to be some Committee to go through the facts. The douche of cold water poured upon me by the President of the Council did not give me any hint of encouragement, though the noble Earl who leads the House has offered me a crumb—I cannot even call it half a loaf. I should have thought it better to have a Select Committee after assent had been given to the principle of the Bill, especially as I was supported by the opinion of an eminent former Leader of the House, Lord Kimberley, who declared that nearly twenty years ago it was the intention of the Government to raise the age to thirteen. I do not see that this festina lente in which the adverb so much overcomes the verb is suitable to the present day. One statement by the noble Earl the Leader of the House surprised me, that in his experience he had reason to believe that half-timers showed more intelligence.


Not in my experience. I said there were people who made that assertion.


There are some people who will say anything. I am glad there is nobody in this House who will make that statement on his own responsibility. The Government should extend to England some of the benefits which they are so ready, as proved by the Bill now before the House of Commons, to extend to Scotland, where they are proposing to extend compulsory school attendance to the age of seventeen. I shall divide the House on my Bill to see how many noble Lords there are who advocate this policy of miserable inaction. It seems to me to be too pusillanimous to say in this matter, "do not be in a hurry," when we have been already pledged for twenty years to make an advance.

On Question, That the Bill be now read 2a.

Their Lordships divided. Contents, 7; Non-Contents, 41.

Canterbury, L. Abp. Bangor, L. Bp. Ribblesdale, L. [Teller.]
Bristol, L. Bp. Stanley of Alderley, L.
Lytton, E. Reay, L. [Teller.]
Loreburn, L. (L. Chancellor.) Althorp, V. (L. Chamberlain.) Denman, L. [Teller.]
Tweedmouth, L. (L. President.) Cross, V. Fitzmaurice, L.
Knutsford, V. Glantawe, L.
St. Aldwyn, V. Hamilton of Dalzell. L.
Bath, M. Wolverhampton, V. [Teller.]
Bristol, M. Hemphill, L.
Lansdowne, M. Airedale, L. Heneage, L.
Salisbury, M. Allendale, L. Herschell, L.
Armitstead, L. Joicey, L.
Belhaven and Stenton, L. Leith of Fyvie, L.
Carrington, E Belper, L. Northbourne, L.
Chichester, E. Brodrick, L. (V. Midleton.) O'Hagan, L.
Crewe, E. Calthorpe, L. Pirrie, L.
Harrington, E. Clanwilliam, L. (E. Clanwilliam.) Ravensworth, L.
Vane, E. (M. Londonderry.) Swaythling, L.
Waldegrave, E. Colchester, L. Wolverton, L.

House adjourned at ten minutes past Six o'clock, till Tomorrow, a quarter past Four o'clock.