§ [SECOND READING.]
§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.
THE EARL OF SHAFTESBURY
My Lords, the Bill that I am going to ask your Lordships to give a Second Reading to this afternoon, though simple in appearance and short in form, deals, however, with a question that is of supreme and far-reaching importance to the general welfare of our people, and a question that I am sure will command sympathetic attention and interest in any place where social reform is a subject of earnest consideration, and in no place more, I believe, than in your Lordships' House. The Bill is concerned with street trading amongst children, and is framed to remove that which those of your Lordships who have made a study of the question, or may have come in personal contact with it, or have given a brief consideration to the Report issued by the Departmental Committee appointed in 1909, will readily recognise is an evil to the community at large, and as such requires treatment.
The Bill, as you will see from the Memorandum which appears on the front page of it, is based entirely upon the Report of the Departmental Committee, and the effect of it is to give statutory prohibition to any street trading by boys under the age of seventeen and by girls under the age of eighteen. Taking into consideration the law as it now stands, it may be argued that the provisions of this Bill are somewhat uncompromising and severe in character, and the change proposed drastic in effect. But, my Lords, I would remind you that 490 the evils of street trading are far-reaching in character, and are such, judging from the evidence before the Departmental Committee and the Report issued as the result of that inquiry, as to demand forcible measures being taken to remove them in the interests of the people of this country. In making my case for the Second Reading of this Bill I desire to lay before your Lordships the existing state of the law on the subject, the evils which the Bill proposes to remedy, the manner in which the law at present fails, and the reasons for taking power under an Act of Parliament to prevent further street trading amongst children.
The subject was of sufficient importance for the granting of a searching inquiry and the appointment of a Departmental Committee for this purpose. The inquiry was instituted, I would remind your Lordships, in accordance with a promise given in another place during the discussion in Committee of the Bill of 1908, for which Bill, for some reason which I have never been able to understand, the Liberal Party appropriated the somewhat grandiloquent term '' The Children's Charter," as if implying that no person, individual, or Party, had ever concerned themselves with, or thought it necessary to give time for making provision for, the betterment or welfare of the children of this country. I admit this is no important point in considering this Bill. Still, I could not help recalling the habit of members of the Party of noble Lords opposite to assume the monopoly of any legislation or thought upon subjects that come within this category.
The Committee, when appointed, proceeded to hear a mass of very important evidence. All the great cities and populous centres were visited, including Manchester, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Dublin, Belfast, Birmingham, and Liverpool, and the evidence submitted was of the highest order and of the greatest value, and none more so than the evidence of the Wage Earning Committee, which was based on personal investigation of a great number of these cases of street trading. It Was of the minutest character, and speaks volumes for the thoroughness of the work of, and the pains taken by, the secretary of the Committee on Wage Earning Children (Miss Constance Smith), and Miss Hargreaves, the lady who was with her, who made such an exhaustive study of the question. The consensus of evidence goes to show that street trading 491 is substantially on the increase, and that the returns available giving the estimated number of children engaged in this practice show far below the real number.
What is the existing state of the law on the subject, and, what is of equal importance, what is the actual meaning of the term "street trading"? This is clearly given in Section 13 of the Act of 1903, which provides that the expression "street trading" includes "the hawking of news- papers, matches, flowers, and other articles, playing, singing, or performing for profit, shoeblacking, or any other like occupation carried on in streets or public places"; and the existing law upon this subject is set out very clearly in the Report that has been issued. It says that there is an absolute statutory prohibition against children engaging in street trading under the age of eleven. There is also a statutory provision prohibiting employment of any kind after 9 p.m. or before 6 a.m. of children under fourteen. Those are prohibitions of night work; but in the day time between 6 a.m. and 9 p.m. a child who has reached the age of eleven is restrained from street trading only so far as by-laws for this purpose have been made and put in force by the local authority, with the approval of the Home Secretary. Whilst by-laws have been made in accordance with the statutory powers I have quoted in nearly all the great county boroughs of England and Wales and in the great centres of population there is at the same time evidence to show that in many instances the by-laws are not rigidly enforced, and in several cases they are easily evaded.
But what about the populous cities where no by-laws exist at all, such as Leeds, Nottingham, Salford, and other places? And in only forty-one out of a total of 191 smaller boroughs and smaller urban districts are there any provisions made at all to regulate street trading. This latter fact may be taken to indicate that it is only in the crowded centres that the evil is most pressing; but, on the other hand, there is trustworthy evidence to show that an objectionable form of street trading goes on even in the smaller county towns of England, where even the Act which prohibits street trading under the age of eleven is ignored, and where this objectionable practice begins late in the evening and is carried on till late at night. In Scotland the Act of 1903 is practically a dead letter. In Edinburgh 492 children as young as seven have been found trading in the streets. No county council out of thirty-two councils has made ally by-laws to deal with the question, and only four burghs out of fifty-six. In Ireland no county council has any by-laws at all and only five boroughs, and in the town of Waterford children have been found selling newspapers up till 11 o'clock at night.
Of Belfast I can speak from experience. I know that street trading there takes rather an aggressive form. There the boys who hawk newspapers, in many instances attractive and winning in their ways, are really a public nuisance, both from the manner in which they press their wares upon the general public and also from the manner in which they shout them out. The Belfast Corporation, of which I have the honour to be a member, have lately become alive to the necessity of a more rigid enforcement of the by-laws which they lave made. But, my Lords, with all local authorities there is somehow a difficulty in this matter. They seem to shrink from imposing too strict an observance upon by-laws that perhaps have been drawn up at the dictates of conscience. There is somehow, shall I say? a kind of false sentiment cropping up very often in the minds and hearts of the City Fathers. I have often seen it myself, and I think there is a tendency to approach the matter rather more from the individual standpoint than from the point of view of the general good. And this is one of my reasons for asking that the onus and responsibility should be taken away from local authorities and statutory prohibition granted, and that the whole thing should be a matter of the law of the land as against provisions being made by county councils.
It has been suggested that in lieu of statutory prohibition there should be an extension of the local powers granted to local bodies. I believe that is really the substance of the Minority Report of the Departmental Committee, but the effect of such proposals would be to throw not only the onus and responsibility upon the local authority in the case of any boy of determining whether the street trading had been carried on for a beneficial purpose, but it would also fall upon them to ascertain whether there was any better or more suitable employment in the town or in the district. I submit that this would throw too heavy a burden upon the local authority, 493 and would in most cases be either explicitly or tacitly declined. But apart from showing how the existing provisions are insufficient and the law as it stands inadequate, I want to make it quite clear to your Lordships that street trading, even when surrounded with the best safeguards that carefully-drawn by-laws duly enforced can provide, is in itself an evil which ought to be removed from the lives of the children, at any rate until they come to years of discretion, by which time we may hope they will have found better and more permanent employment.
Here I should say that I have no wish to quarrel with what is sometimes erroneously included in street trading—namely, suburban delivery work. By that I refer to boys who carry and deliver newspapers and milk from door to door. These boys are more often than not employed either by the newsagent or by the shopkeeper, who pays and controls them, as against the curbstone seller who hawks his wares in our crowded cities and who is invariably his own master, and anybody who comes in contact with street trading draws a sharp distinction between these two classes. There is ample proof to satisfy the most exacting inquirer that street trading is not an improving occupation for the minds of the children, but, on the other hand, has a very detrimental effect. The Report of the Departmental Committee is most emphatic on the subject. If your Lordships will permit me, I will quote a few sentences from the Committee's Report—The youthful street trader is exposed to many of the worst of moral risks; he associates with, and acquires the habits of the frequenters of the kerbstone and the gutter. If a matchseller, ho is likely to become a beggar—if a newspaper seller, a gambler; the evidence before us was extraordinarily strong as to the extent to which betting prevails among the boy vendors of evening papers. There was an almost equally strong body of testimony to the effect that, at any rate in crowded centres of population, street trading tends to produce a dislike or disability for more regular employment; the child finds that for a few years money is easily earned without discipline or special skill; and the occupation is one which sharpens the wits without developing the intelligence. It leads to nothing permanent, and in no way helps him to a future career. There can be no doubt that large numbers of those who were once street traders drift into vagrancy and crime. Chief constables testified that street trading is the most fruitful apprenticeship to evil courses…So far as girls are concerned, there must be added to the above evils an unquestionable danger to morals in the narrower sense. The evidence presented to us on this point was unanimous and most emphatic.494 So you will see, my Lords, that, amongst other things, street trading may lead to betting and gambling amongst the boys. In fact, it may mean the channel through which a boy is brought in contact with these vices.
I should like to draw your Lordships' attention to some evidence on this point which is of interest. I take this from the evidence of the secretary of the Wage Earning Committee—One sees little newspaper boys sitting down, live or six together, on any convenient doorstep, with their heads together over the betting news. I have taken special note of it in the last few months, and it is the only part of the paper the boys ever seem to look at.Then we have some interesting evidence as to the betting clubs which they get up among themselves. An investigator from Sheffield says—Each boy has his gang, and they take a pride in dodging the police and in living a life of lawlessness. They are highly organised in their own way. There is a private gambling club ran by street traders behind a certain ice-cream shop, where, through a regular system of insurance, fines for gambling and theft are met out of the common funds. Many books are made in coppers by young bookmakers, and a certain youth who was given 10s. by a kind gentleman to buy fruit for hawking purposes immediately went to the back of the ice-cream shop and made a book amongst his mates.I believe, my Lords, that that gambling club no longer exists.
Not only does street trading affect the morals of these lads; it must also affect their health. It is bound to undermine their health if children are inadequately clothed and inadequately fed; but still it may affect their health even less than it may affect their minds and their morals. School managers and educationists are all of one accord in saying that street trading has a uniformly bad effect on the mind of the child. It gives children a distaste for application. They lose early in life the essential quality of being able to apply their minds to anything, educational or otherwise. They acquire an absolute liking for casual labour, and even in these infant stages of their career they apparently fall victims to the idea that it is not necessary to work in order to gain a living. Mr. Beveridge, the Director of Labour Exchanges under the Board of Trade, gives some interesting evidence on this point. He first expresses the opinion that once a street trader 495 always a street trader, and to his inquiry among the larger London Exchanges as to whether any applications were received from boys and girls engaged in street trading, the answer was that they never get such applications. There are 25,000 boys and 10,000 girls registered at the Metropolitan Labour Exchanges, but street traders figure very rarely amongst them. What is the result? Undoubtedly they must in time go to swell the ranks of the unemployed, and, what is far worse, the ranks of the unemployable; and it is my firm conviction that this street trading class afford a good recruiting ground for the corner boy and the street loafer.
We are anxious, my Lords, as I am sure you must be, to see the opportunity of taking up a living without having learnt a trade removed, the temptation taken away—in other words, the boys saved for future chances. I am one of those who believe that opportunities for employment for boys and girls when leaving school are improving, and are going to improve. The employment question has been very much to the fore of late; the necessity of providing greater facilities for wage earners to come in touch with the labour markets has been recognised; and, what is more important, the value of watching over the interests of children when leaving school by registering them at Labour Exchanges and by keeping them in touch with voluntary organisations of ladies and gentlemen who are attached to groups of schools is being daily more appreciated. What appeals to me more than anything else is this educational work that has been done apart from Labour Exchanges, for, after all, Labour Exchanges can only register applications and are registering machines. The education is to be done before the boy leaves school by the voluntary committees of ladies and gentlemen who are attached to schools and who will bring influence to bear upon the mind of the parent and upon the child, and will set the child's feet upon a rock rather than let him drift into the mire and the clay.
I have only one other topic to touch upon in regard to this question. Will there be any unnecessary hardship if these proposals are carried out? I do not think so. Not more than there must always be when that is disallowed which has hitherto been allowed. There may be occasional hardship, Take the case of the street trader who has been assisting an im- 496 pecunious home. The Bill allows a whole year or more for life to be adjusted to the altered circumstances. As a rule, parents are ashamed of their children's street trading. Some parents, too lazy to work, depend entirely for their living on what they get from the earnings of their children, and I do not think there can be any valid objection on behalf of such a class as that. Is there any other class from which objections may arise? There is the great and important newspaper trade, but I do not think it is asking the great newspaper proprietors too much, where the ruin and waste of child life are concerned, to make other arrangements for the selling of their wares than by casual child labour. Would it not be possible to employ adult labour in this connection? I know that some of the evening newspapers—the Pall Mall Gazette, the Globe, the Westminster Gazette, and others—have no difficulty in getting old men to sell their papers. Perhaps with regard to the halfpenny newspapers there might be more difficulty, but I cannot say. As far as newsagents and booksellers are concerned, I am quite sure they would welcome the Bill. They are always prone to contend that they can very well satisfy the public demand for newspapers, either by kiosks or by making arrangements such as one sees on the Continent.
Now, my Lords, I have finished. I have only to make a final appeal to your Lordships to give this Bill a Second Reading, which I make in the interests of the children, and. in the light of experience, still more in the interests of home life and of the welfare of the people of our country. How tenderly and with what care do we watch over and protect the life and growth of the young tree or plant in which we are interested. Prevention, as the old saying goes, is better than cure; and would it not be better and wiser and more prudent and economically more sound to treat and deal with the root of the disease than to wait until it has blossomed into maturity? Would it not be better to do what is in our power to attempt to make a reduction in the prison and criminal class instead of exhausting energy in endeavouring to find some modification in prison regulations which are not detrimental or demoralising in their effect? I do not claim for one moment that the proposals in this Bill are to be a panacea for all the evil growths of unemployables, but this I do say and 497 believe—that the existing permissive law has been tried and found wanting, and that restrictions such as I am now proposing, coupled with voluntary effort and assistance and supervision, will materially effect an improvement where an improvement is sorely needed. I beg to move the Second Reading of this Bill.
§ Moved., that the Bill be now read 2a—(The Earl of Shaftesbury.)
§ THE FIRST COMMISSIONER OR WORKS (EARL BEAUCHAMP)
My Lords, I rise on behalf of His Majesty's Government to give general support to the provisions of this Bill, subject. to certain Amendments which we may find it necessary to make in Committee when that stage is reached in your Lordships' House. I am glad to express the thanks of the Home Office to the noble Earl for having brought forward this question, and I think all those who are interested in social reform will agree that this is a matter which is now ripe for further legislation.
I hope the noble Earl will allow me, in the first place, to point out how inaccurate the statement is which is comprised in the Memorandum prefixed to this Bill, to the effect that the object of the Bill is "to amend the Employment of Children Act exactly as suggested by the Departmental Committee." In the first place, the noble Earl will see that by subsection (b) of Clause 2 he proposes to take away the whole of the administration of this matter from the Secretary of State and the Home Office and to put it in the charge of the Board of Education. The noble Earl, I hope, will allow me to say that there is no such recommendation in the Report of the Departmental Committee appointed by the Home Secretary. Neither the Majority nor the Minority Report contains, any suggestion to that effect.
Then there is the new suggestion in subsection (c), for which I think, in the same way, the noble Earl will be unable to find any support in the Departmental Committee's Report. It is that these children should be sent to a certified reformatory school. Let me explain why we dislike such a provision as that. The idea is that reformatory schools should be reserved for children who have really committed some 498 serious offence. We wish to send to these schools only those children who have committed such an offence that had the same offence been committed by somebody of riper years would have sent him to prison. Therefore it is an entirely new departure, and one which we, deprecate, that children who have committed some offence against the Employment of Children Act—not generally a very serious offence—should be sent to associate with the class of child they would meet with in a reformatory school. That provision 1 hope the noble Earl will see reason to alter.
There are two other points on which I should like to make a few remarks. In the first place, there was the point mentioned by the noble Earl himself about the date at which this Bill is to come into operation. The general principles of the Bill we agree with, and I, venture to suggest to the noble Earl that he might find it easier to get the Bill through its various stages if he were to do something to deal with the children who are now engaged in street trading and who would be unable, as soon as the Bill came into operation, to continue their' present occupation. I think he would very likely find that some provision which, without weakening the ultimate effect of tins Bill, still made some temporary arrangement for children of that kind would materially diminish the hostility to the Bill.
Then I think I ought to warn the noble Earl that there is a good deal a opposition to be expected from proprietors of newspapers, as indeed he himself indicated, and also from various other quarters. Tradesmen's boys who are regularly employed in delivering to customers very often sell under the present system. I think there will be great objection to abolishing that system. I do not say there will be any from this side of the House, but I warn the noble Earl that he may expect such objection to be raised. Then there are the children who sell farm and home produce in the country. Another result of the Bill would be to prohibit costermongers' children up to these ages from helping their parents. I mention these points, not with any view of expressing hostility on my own account, but to warn the noble Earl that he will have to encounter opposition upon them. I think this Bill marks a further stage in 499 the education of public opinion in this country, and I hope the noble Earl will be able, not only to carry a Bill founded on these principles, but also to awake somewhat further that public opinion throughout the country which, as he reminded us himself this evening, is somewhat slack in this respect.
THE LORD BISHOP OF SOUTHWARK
My Lords, after the speech of the noble Earl who has just sat clown it is, perhaps, hardly necessary for any one else to say a word on this important matter, but I should be sorry if the Second Reading of the Bill passed without a further expression of sympathy. The noble Earl who has introduced this Bill has done fresh honour, if I may say so, to the name which he bears, and has shown that he is in direct line of descent morally from the great man who did, I suppose, more than any single man in the last century to call the attention of his countrymen to the duty of using public authorities and the machinery of administration and law in such a way as to control the incidence of mere commercial pressure upon the weaker parts of the population. He did it constantly, of course, against the pressure of arguments such as possibly may be used, if I understood aright the noble Earl who spoke from the Front Government Bench, by one trade particularly interested in this case—that his proposals were fatal to the commercial prosperity of such and such an industry.
I think it is well to point out that the noble Earl in this proposal has fixed upon, perhaps, the most urgent chapter of the most urgent part of the case for legislation of this particular kind. There has been a good deal of discussion in different forms as to the method which should be followed in bringing about the improvements urged by the Poor Law Commission (in both its parts), and some have expressed the hope that there would emanate from His Majesty's Government a comprehensive measure dealing with some of these evils. There is a great deal to be said for that, and I think I see one or two points in this particular measure at which it can be said that one of your proposals requires to be accompanied by another if it is not to work hardly. If you throw boys out of employment it may be said you ought to have some reasonable proposal to show how employment can be found for those boys.
500 There is objection to all piecemeal legislation. But, on the other hand, a deputation from the Houses of Convocation, of which I was a member and which was accorded a courteous reception by the Prime Minister, was plainly told by Mr. Asquith that comprehensive legislation was almost impossible on such matters. The Prime Minister recommended piecemeal legislation and, if I remember aright, two subjects were particularly selected on that occasion. The Prime Minister endorsed remarks which had fallen from others, and said he thought that the matter of the feeble-minded and the matter of boys were two capital instances of topics ripe for piecemeal treatment. The noble Earl has followed the Prime Minister's advice, and has followed it logically. If it is easier to get a measure confined to boys than to get one on a general matter, it is obviously easier to get one which deals with street trading by boys than with boys in general.
I do not suppose there is any doubt that boys employed in this kind of way in the great cities are exactly the boys for whom we should like to go most straight and who are suffering most under the present system. It always seems to me that our treatment of boy life in the great cities suggests the comparison of a body which is continually bleeding through a wound. The life of the nation is really bleeding away through the conditions under which boy life is brought up, and nowhere more, nowhere perhaps so much, as in the case of these particular boys. We have heard a good deal about the drawbacks in the case of van boy and errand boy employments because they do not lead anywhere, but the Committee which has dealt with this matter point out that the street trading in question is infinitely worse than van boy or errand boy employment. The van boy has a definite job, and is under an employer who probably will come down upon him if he does not keep his time. But the position of the newspaper boy is one of the most delightful—I am speaking from the boy's point of view—and perilous independence that it is possible to conceive. We were told that the interests of the newspaper trade will be appealed to, and it may be said that the boys who sell newspapers are the employès of the newspaper, but the newspaper people, we are also told on authority, do not hold themselves in the slightest degree responsible for these boys, regarding them as "customers rather than as 501 employès." So that this young gentleman—this Gavroche of the London streets—works entirely on his own account.. He leads a life of constant excitement. What he goes through in dodging motor-omnibuses and taxicabs provides him on the physical side, no doubt, with very good exercise, but it also stimulates his feelings of excitement. He carries the materials of war for all the gambling in the streets, and he naturally wants to have a share in all those forms of excitement.. If he is within the school age I ask your Lordships what amount of attention you would expect a boy of your own to give to his lessons in similar circumstances when he is plotting the escapade of the evening, or thinking over what he carried in his last budget of evening papers? If he is past school age and its measure of control he bursts out into absolute independence just in those years which, as we all feel and as all our great social teachers of every kind impress upon us, are the most important years in life—from the age of fourteen to seventeen or eighteen. The results of that pupilage can be seen very readily from these Reports; and though, no doubt, what he takes home does, in the case of a boy who is virtuous enough to resist all these temptations, sometimes help a poor home, it seems to me that we shall certainly be putting the less altogether before the greater if we make that a reason for perpetuating a system which is, on the whole, so entirely vicious.
It is asked, If we prevent the boy from getting the pence or the shillings which he earns in this particular way can we secure that he will have anything else to do? About that the evidence appears to be a little conflicting, or various in different places. Surely this is one of the cases where we ought not to follow the line of least resistance. The line of least resistance is to say, The boy must have some money so let him earn it where he can. But the line of most resistance which in a matter of this kind ought to be followed, is to arrange, partly by public authority and partly by voluntary action, that more ways should be open for him. It strikes me that there is one way in which such employment would be found for him if we follow up, in a piecemeal system, the noble Earl's proposal by other proposals limiting the amount of work done in the earlier years after school time. Any such limitation of the hours of labour as, I 502 suppose, would certainly form part of any measure proposed by a responsible authority with regard to boys, with a view to industrial training and so on, would surely mean that the hours which those boys were thus obliged to drop out of their work would' remain available for the employment, of other boys; and, therefore, if this reform should prove to be imperfect in that. it does a little harm in certain cases to certain boys, I think that will in the long run only prove to supply an additional argument for going forward to those larger reforms for boys which we so earnestly desire and which authorities of every kind have agreed to be desirable.
§ LORD FABER
My Lords, I listened with interest to the speech of the noble Earl who moved the Second Beading of this Bill, and I did not intend to take any part in the debate until I heard the city of Leeds alluded to and a reference made to boys who sell evening newspapers in the afternoon. I think we shall all agree that the present age limit of eleven is too low, but whether we should be right to jump that age limit straight away to eighteen in the case of girls and seventeen in the case of boys I have my doubts. I do not wish to detain your Lordships more than a minute or two, but there are a few words to be said on the other side, and with your kind permission I will endeavour to say them.
The noble Earl alluded, rightly, to the moral side of this matter, and said that the morality of boys and girls who trade in the streets suffers. There is no doubt a great deal in that. But is there not something even higher than the morality of the question? Is there not involved the power to live at all in these days when the pressure of life is so great? Most of us have lately had an opportunity of seeing in the newspapers interesting balance-sheets of families in London where the man, with a wife and five children, is earning 25s. a week—by no means an unusual case. This balance sheet shows that never is the housewife able to spend as much as 3d. a day on the food of each individual member of the family, and if a new coat is wanted to keep the head of the household free from cold it has to come out of the food bill—there is nothing else for it to come out of, and the food bill drops to less than 2d. per head. That brings home to us the enormous pressure of modern life, and we ought to be careful before we interfere in any way 503 with the earning-power of such families as these.
The newspaper boy I happen to know a good deal about. The boy who sells evening papers in the streets gets, as a rule, thirteen copies of the paper for 4½d. He sells them at a half-penny each, so that for every thirteen he disposes of he makes 2d. These newspaper boys do make a few pence per night by selling papers in the streets, and they make more if they are sharp. But there is a public demand for them—though I do not put this consideration so high as that of not interfering with the earnings of very poor families—and in big towns such as Leeds the public cannot easily get the papers except through the street sellers. I remember that years ago a well-known clergyman noted for his good work in Leeds—Canon Bullock—took great interest in this particular question. He came to me, as chairman for a great many more years than I care to think of a leading newspaper there. to ask if he might form a brigade of street boys to sell our paper. He thought that if the lads came under a certain amount of discipline it would be a good thing. We put out both hands to him, and asked him to help us in the matter. We did all we could to make life endurable for the boys and to look after them as far as we could, though it was a difficult job, and many of those boys were with us a long time selling our papers and were of great service to their homes. Therefore I think we should take these matters into consideration before we rush into legislation of this kind. I do not oppose the Second Reading of this Bill. I know there are many good points in it; but there are many arguments on the other side. The evening paper question must be considered first of all from the food point of view, and, secondly, from the point of view of public utility and the manner in which the public are served in that way. Certainly I do not think it would be wise to jump the age from eleven to seventeen and eighteen all at once.
LORD MAC DONNELL OF SWINFORD
My Lords, I would beg your permission to make a few remarks on this subject which are the outcome of my own personal experience. During the time that I was connected with the Government of Ireland, no subject was more pressing, as far as the cities of Dublin, Belfast, and Cork were concerned, than this question of street trading. Many philanthropic people took it 504 up, and a proposal was made, on which there was complete unanimity of opinion, that it was most desirable to withdraw from the streets the children who were employed in the manner described this evening. But we were faced with this situation—if the children were withdrawn from the streets and prevented from earning the small pittance which they used to earn, how were they to be provided for? The opinion was formed that nothing could be effectively done unless in those great towns day industrial schools could be established and the children when withdrawn from the streets taught a trade which would be afterwards useful to them and by which they might earn a livelihood. I was connected with the Irish Government for six years, and I left there, having taken up the question when I arrived, with the matter still unfinished. I would respectfully submit to the noble Earl that his scheme as it stands in the Bill will not be operative unless lie joins with it some means of providing employment and training for the children whom he is so desirous of taking off the streets. Otherwise his admirable scheme will, I fear, prove infructuous.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
My Lords, I desire in the first place to congratulate my noble friend on the character of his remarks in moving the Second Reading of this Bill, and also on the evident feeling which lie displayed as to the profound evil with which he hopes to deal. As the right rev. Prelate has just said of the noble Earl, his undertaking of this particular subject and his introduction of it in such moving terms reminds one of the stock from which lie springs.
There can be nothing more urgent than this question of the children. The right rev. Prelate has spoken of it in terms not too strong, and he has spoken from a wealth of personal knowledge of which, of course, I can claim no share, and I think there was nothing more important in the Report of the Poor Law Commission than what was said about the evils and difficulties of child labour. We have had several discussions on the subject in your Lordships' House, but hitherto they have been rather positive in their character than negative—that is to say, rather in the direction of urging upon His Majesty's Government and Parliament the necessity of providing better avenues for the work 505 of children than in preventing them from working altogether.
The right rev. Prelate has told us, on the authority of the Prime Minister, that piecemeal legislation is all that we can expect, and that we must not quarrel with the particular piece which we are first asked to digest. Nevertheless I cannot help thinking that we are attacking this subject somewhat the wrong way round, and that, if it were possible, it would be better to begin by providing better opportunities for the apprenticeship of boys and girls with a view to introducing them to healthy and wholesome employment than by saying to their parents, very poor parents in many cases, that their children shall not avail themselves of the only opportunities that they may have to work. Therefore I think we must approach this subject with very great caution. It is a very difficult thing to say to very poor people who absolutely depend upon the few pennies which their children earn that that source of supply should be cut off from them.
Your Lordships must have listened with respect to what fell from my noble friend below the Gangway (Lord Faber) when he reminded us of the very narrow margin on which these poor families have to live. I am afraid I have no real knowledge of urban conditions and I do not profess to speak upon them, but I know what happens in the country. In the country there is one very difficult period in the life of the labourer. It is not when he first marries, but after the children have begun to come and before they have begun to earn—that is the difficult moment. The labourer's wages, not very high I am sorry to say at any time, do not grow any larger because he has four or five young children to support as well as his wife and himself, and during the period when there are four or five or more young children and not one of them earning a halfpenny he is very hard put to it to find the rent, food, and clothing. But when the moment arrives that the eldest boy or girl begins to earn something there is immediate relief to that poor household. The 4s. a week becomes an immense boon, and as the next child goes to work the pressure is still further relieved. I do not say that this Bill will do so, but the tendency of the Bill with all its advantages will inevitably be to make the lot of such poor parents a little harder than it was before. I think I have said enough on that head to show that we 506 must approach the subject with the greatest caution, and not allow mere sentiment, however worthy, for the future of these children, to blind us to the other side of the-case.
We shall have to consider before we part with this Bill whether, in the light of those considerations, my noble friend—following, of course, the recommendations of the-Departmental Committee—has not taken rather too extreme a view of the extent of change which there ought to be. He proposes to jump from the age of eleven, which is unduly low, up to the age of seventeen and eighteen. That may be right; I will not say at this moment it is not right; but certainly it is a very great change. Then I do not think we can shut our eyes to the fact that the Report of the Departmental Committee was not unanimous. The noble Earl in charge of this Bill did not in any way conceal that fact from your Lordships. Indeed, he mentioned it. We must bear in mind that there were several Members of Parliament and several representatives of the Home Office who reported against the views of the majority. That is an additional reason for proceeding with caution in the matter. It may be that we shall find, on consideration, that the majority have gone rather too far.
Lastly, there are the details to which the noble Earl the First Commissioner of Works referred, and which will require very careful consideration. Among other difficulties the noble Earl alluded to certain difficulties in the countryside. The fact that in certain cases children who carry eggs and milk may come within the purview of this Bill as engaged in trading will require careful consideration. In the further observations which the noble Earl made he said lie saw no reason why the Government Department which is to administer this Bill should be the Board of Education rather than the Horne Office. Speaking straight off, I should like to say that in that respect I entirely agree with the noble Earl. I cannot understand on the face of it why it should be necessary to entrust to the Board of Education the administration of an Act which has nothing to do with education but has to do with the trading and general conduct of life of children. Subject to these reservations, so far as we on this side of the House are concerned we shall not oppose the Second Reading of the 507 Bill; but I think the noble Earl must be prepared for a good deal of further discussion at the later stages of the Bill, of which I hope he will be kind enough to give us good notice.
§ LORD REAY
My Lords, this Bill is a good illustration of the hereditary principle and of the traditions connected with the noble Earl's name. I support the Bill very heartily. My experience at the School Board for London strongly impressed me with the necessity that there should be some agency when children leave school which is able to guide parents to secure for the children proper employment. It would be difficult to introduce that element in this Bill, but I am sure the noble Earl will agree that the necessary accompaniment of this Bill, which is prohibitive, should be the opening of new avenues leading to improved conditions of employment. That is, I understand, the aim of the London Juvenile Advisory Committee constituted by the Board of Trade, on which the Education Committee is represented. And before this Committee was constituted the Education Committee of the London County Council had established the machinery for carrying out the work appertaining to after-care and juvenile employment. I know the importance which the Government attach to this question, especially with regard to boy labour in the Post Office, and the Postmaster-General has lately issued instructions which will secure good employment to boy messengers in his Department. I refer to Cd. 5504. I shall not go into the details of this Bill with regard to the limits of age; those are details which can be dealt with in Committee. But on one point I wish to associate myself with what has been said by the noble Earl who spoke for the Government. I certainly think that the provision in Clause 2, directing that these children should be sent to a certified reformatory school, will require some alteration. We know that those who are most competent 508 to form an opinion on this matter—the magistrates, remand officers, and police—are all in favour of prohibiting street trading by children as a very demoralising influence, and I do not think that your Lordships can do otherwise than give a Second Reading to this Bill.
THE LORD BISHOP OF LONDON
My Lords, as one who has lived among the poor for so many years I must acknowledge the very touching—and true—speeches which have been made on both sides of the House with regard to the awful struggle of poor families to keep their heads above water. But there is another side to the matter, and those of us who know the inside of the lives of the poor are bound to remember how much the ranks of the unemployed and the hopelessly unemployable are fed by this class. When you have man after man coming before you for whom you are trying to get work and you ask, "What can you do?" and he replies, "I can do anything"—that is the man who is your despair, for he can do nothing. The noble Marquess spoke of an appeal to sentiment. I feel that I have to resist sentiment in cases of this kind. In the case of a poor family my sentiment is to let the boy or girl continue street trading, but I have to correct my sentiment by my judgment and experience of what happens in after life. Therefore I think your Lordships should pass the Second Reading of the Bill to-night, and then apply your experience and brains to improving the Bill in Committee.
§ On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House on Thursday the 30th instant.