§ Order for Third Reading read.
Motion made and Question proposed—
That the Bill be now read the third time."—(Mr. Robson.)
§ MR. SETON-KARR (Lancashire, St. Helens)
I desire to offer a few observations on this Bill. In the first place, may I call attention to the somewhat unusual method adopted in carrying this Bill through the House, and to the somewhat indecent haste—[Cries of "Oh, oh!"]. Well, I think it is indecent haste. We only had one day to discuss the Second Reading, and one day for the Committee, while there was no opportunity for discussion on the Report stage. With all due deference to the hon. Member in charge of the Bill, I say it was not showing due respect to the House to take the Report stage after midnight, and now we are asked to finally pass the Bill without seeing in print the important alterations which have been made in it. The measure is described by the promoters as a "Bill for the better education of children." I yield to no man in my desire for further legislation calculated to improve the education of our children in our national elementary schools in order to better fit them for the battle of life. But will this Bill beneficially affect our children? I submit that it will not. Its scope is exceedingly small; it will only affect, I believe, something like 2 per 1093 cent. of the children in our elementary schools. It does not touch the real evil which is inherent in our system of national education. It rather does something to perpetuate it, for it may have the effect of compelling poor parents of half-timers to send their children to some less healthy and more arduous occupation. What was it one of our leading London papers, The Morning Post, said on this subject the other day? I will read it:More than a year ago the House of Commons called for a return of children who, while attending public elementary schools in England and Wales, are also engaged in labour. The belated report of the Education Department on the subject has just been published. The returns are avowedly incomplete; they are fragmentary, and in some degree misleading in the direction of optimism, and yet it must be said that they reveal such a scandalous condition of affairs as should not be allowed to exist for another year. Almost a hundred and fifty thousand children are confessed to be at work, earning wages, while putting in their full time at school… One child works from live to eight in the morning, and then After school well into the evening; and another begins work at three in the morning, and is frequently working till nine at night. A child of six does a certain amount of stone-breaking in a Northumberland quarry; and one of eight in Yorkshire spends some time in brick-making, and so on. The details are sickening.I endorse the observation that the details are sickening. And yet this Bill does not touch that great evil. It has absolutely nothing whatever to do with it. Why did not the hon. Member in charge of it take advantage of the opportunity to touch the larger question? Why did he merely deal with half-timers over eleven, when he might have dealt with the labour of children under eleven? It may be asked why we did not in Committee seek to amend what we considered to be a fundamental error of the Bill. Well, I think too much stress is laid on the mechanical and unpractical teaching in our elementary schools. It is assumed that the teaching there given is the best possible preparation for their future work in life. I submit that this is not the case at all. As a rule the children of a factory hand become in time factory hands, they have to earn their living by the sweat of their brow; and is it wise, then, to insist on a stereotyped system of education which in many eases does not fit them for the life they are bound to lead? A great distinction ought to be drawn between children under 11 and those over 11. Under that age is 1094 the proper time for them to acquire the necessary standard of elementary education, yet this Bill does not prevent them being engaged in labour which will interfere with that education. It has never been proved that after attaining 11 years the work done by the half-timers affects their health. On the contrary, it does prepare them for their life in the future. It is frequently said that children who leave school at 12 years of age quickly forget everything they have learned. But is that their fault? Is it not rather the fault of the system? This Bill begins at the wrong end; it should protect the very young children, and not interfere with the half-timers. Has it been found that University education helps our young men who are seeking a livelihood at Klondyke or in the Australian wilds? Book-learning does not necessarily fit a child for the battle of life, while it is possible to inflict serious injury on a child by preventing it learning in time the practical business of life. What is the view of the glass-blowers on this question? At their instigation I opposed a clause in the Factory and Workshops Bill of 1895 which affected them. In a petition on the subject they say:We find it quite impossible to get all our boys 14 years of age or over, as there are about 1,500 or 1,600 boys employed in the glass trade of St. Helens who all have to work night-work in different turns or shifts. Thus it is quite necessary for us to catch them at 13, directly they have passed their standards and left the school, as it is much easier to train them to the work than if they have to wait a year, and in that time they either get into some other industry or are inclined to become loafers and will not work. This period of a year or two makes a very serious difference in the glass bottle trade. Our present hours of working in the glass bottle trade (which is one of the staple trades of St. Helens, employing over 2,000 men and boys) are 51 hours per week, alternately weekly day and night turns. The week that we are on the day turn we finish at 5 p.m. on the Friday and do not start till 5.30 p m. on the following Monday, and thus we have an interval of about 72 hours. The week that we are on the night turn we always have an interval of 48 hours. We work in turns of three men and three boys, and in some cases four boys, and it is very important that they should always work together and that the boys should not be changed, otherwise our wages are lessened and the work made much harder. It is not our desire to increase the hours of working, but we ask that our boys of 13 or over who have passed their standards be allowed to work night turns as well as day, arid so avoid the change of boys in turns every week. Under the Act of 1897 boys of 13 cannot be employed night turns, and con- 1095 sequently have to change sets in which they work every week, which is most injurious to those who have to take all night work, as above stated, and injurious to the effective and harmonious working of the turns and trade generally.That, I think, supplies an illustration of my argument. It is possible that the legislation now asked for may have the same effect. Boys may be deprived of an opportunity of learning a good trade, they may be turned into loafers, and—although I do not lay much stress on this—the Bill may inflict injury on our trade, and help to drive it into the hands of foreign competitors. I submit this Bill may involve those dangers. I would wish to allude to the Amendment introduced by the hon. Member in charge of this Bill. I have been unable to get a printed copy of it, but I was present at the Debate, and remember something of it. The House will remember that the hon. Member made an exception in the case of boys between 11 and 13 employed in agriculture, which practically made them half-timers. The hon. Member's original Amendment was that they should not be required to attend school more than 300 times in any year, but he subsequently reduced the number to 250. I submit that 250 is too large. The maximum attendance of a full timer is 420; why, therefore, should the hon. Member take 250, which is more than half the maximum, as the number for half-timers? I think the hon. Member was very unreasonable in not accepting the further Amendment moved by my hon. friend. But I wish to know why this exception only applies to country boys. I venture to think it is equally necessary to apply it to town boys. The exception applies to urban districts, but not to towns, and the boys must be employed in agriculture, though the Amendment does not say how long or in what way, which I think will lead to considerable confusion. Why should it not apply to town boys? They have also to learn a trade and the business of life, and why should they have to wait for the opportunity until they are 12? It may be said that country boys lead a more healthy life, but that has never been proved. No doubt an open-air life conduces to health, but we cannot all live in the country, and it has never been proved that life in a mill is more unhealthy than life in an elementary school. At all events, it is an illogical Amendment, and 1096 I think the Amendment of my hon. friend the Member for Stockport ought to have been accepted, because the original Amendment draws a very unfair distinction between country boys and town boys. Let me allude to another minor difficulty. The Amendment applies only to boys employed in agriculture, but it does not say they must be so employed all the time. They may be only employed for a week in agriculture, and because of that week secure exemption, and be then employed in some other way. Take the case of the son of a gamekeeper. He would probably be going around with his father, setting traps and doing other kinds of work. Why should that boy, any more than the boy employed in agriculture, have to make a full attendance at school? It may be very necessary for him to learn his trade, and why should the opportunity be postponed for a year? The Bill is an anomaly and an injustice. I do not wish to detain the House, but I will say that in endeavouring to bring before it some of the reasons why I am opposed to this measure I have spoken from absolute conviction. I do not represent any cotton factory, but I happen to be chairman of a large Lancashire and Cheshire working men's federation, the members of which, absolutely unsolicited, have almost unanimously represented to me that they are hostile to this Bill. The feelings of these men ought to be respected. They know what they are about. Many thousands of Lancashire men resent the opinion that they cannot be trusted with the management of their own children, and they may bring that resentment home to hon. Members at the next General Election. These are some of the reasons why I think this is a mistaken Bill. I give full credit to the motives which actuate hon. Members who support it. I share their desire to benefit the children of this country, to increase their education, and to prevent their improper employment; but this Bill does not do any good in that direction at all, and it may do a great deal of harm. I am perfectly aware that the Second Reading was carried by an enormous majority; but large majorities are not always right.
To leave out the word 'now,' and at the end of the Question to add the words 'upon this day three months.'"—(Mr. Seton-Karr).
§ Question proposed, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."
§ MR. GEORGE WHITELEY (Stockport)
I do not desire, on the Third Reading of this Bill, to take up very much of the time of the House, for I fully recognise that, though in my judgment we have had all the arguments on our side, still the majority of the House must prevail. There is a special providence with big battalions, and I can only hope that the opposition we have undertaken has not gone to such a limit as would be deemed by any reasonable Member of the House to be perverse or factious. I readily and frankly acknowledge that, apart from the merits, if one had to follow the bent of one's natural inclination, it would be very much more preferable to appear as a supporter rather than as an opponent of this Bill. All the best instincts of human nature, all the sentiments of charity and sympathy and kindliness towards those who are unable to advocate their own case, impel us to support a children's Bill, and therefore I readily recognise and understand the opinion of the majority, and the promptness with which they allied themselves with the hon. Member who introduced the Bill. The House would not, in my opinion, be what it is if it were not influenced by such motives. But I am not altogether sure that the majority of the House in this discussion are really the true supporters of the cause of the children. What I want hon. Members to recognise, before we close this discussion, is that there is another side to this question for which very much can be said. I honestly say that I do not think that even at the eleventh hour hon. Members fully appreciate the conditions in the half-time constituencies, or the opinion of the public generally in those districts in this matter. I have perhaps taken a larger part in these Debates on the Bill than other Members representing these constituencies, and it may be, possibly, because of the paucity of my vocabulary that the case is in its present unsatisfactory condition. I have endeavoured to show that there is really no body of working public opinion at the back of this Bill. The employers are against it; the workmen are opposed to it, because they wish to bring up their children as they themselves were brought up; the children are opposed to it, because they look forward 1098 to the time when they can take their place for a few hours as important members of the family; and, generally speaking, there is no public opinion in favour of it. The only body of opinion in favour of it is undoubtedly, ill my judgment, the National Union of Teachers. I challenge the hon. Member to give the opinion of any body of working men who have expert knowledge of the working of the half-time system in support of this Bill. The trade unions of Lancashire, where more half-time is worked than in the rest of the United Kingdom, are distinctly hostile to it. [Cries of "Not all."] Hon. Members say, "Not all." Hon. Members who know anything of the cotton industry—and the bulk of the half-timers work in the weaving sheds—know that all the weavers' trade unions are against the Bill. The arguments which have been advanced for the Bill have been few and have been dissipated. The children in the districts in which the half-time system most prevails compare favourably with the children in other districts and towns in the country. On the question of education I differ again from my hon. friends. They have shown no disparity whatever between Lancashire and the other towns. Of course, figures may be made to prove anything, but if one does happen to have recourse to figures on this particular point this is what they show. If you compare the School Grants of Lancashire with other counties, there are 27 counties which receive less on the average than Lancashire, while only 12 show a larger average. On the Second Reading I alluded to the intelligence of the people in those districts where half-time prevails. I challenge any hon. Member to say that the intelligence of the people where half-time is worked is lower than that in other parts of the country. I do not begrudge the preferential treatment that has been accorded by Government to agriculture. I venture to say that it is consistent with the chief characteristic of this Parliament, which has always placed agriculture first. I am heartily glad that even one section of the community is exempted from what I regard as an unnecessary Bill. But is it not almost absurd to suggest that you should enact that in the other counties of England the educational requirements, as represented by 250 attendances, should be sufficient to permit a child becoming a half-timer at 11, whereas in Lancashire and Yorkshire those educational require- 1099 ments are not sufficiently met until a child is 12 years of age. I would venture to ask the House, in dealing with this matter of education, to consider what, to my mind, is a very important question, whether, to use a colloquial phrase, they are absolutely sure they have got hold of the right end of the stick in this matter. It seems to me that this step is a most important step, but, at the same time, it is a most dubious one; in fact, it is entirely a leap in the dark. In the future your educational system in the counties can only be described as an in-and-out running system. Two hundred and fifty attendances will be necessary in order to enable a child to become a half-timer, but those 250 attendances may be put in in 125 days, and all the rest of the year a child is free to do as he likes. My hon. friend has I adopted this policy—in order to get his bacon streaky—of over-feeding his pig one day and starving it the next. Under this streaky education Bill you are going to cram your children for 125 clays of the year, and then permit them to run wild. We all know that children easily assume and just as easily forget that which they have learned, unless their learning is continued to a later period of life. I venture to predict that this educational experiment of my hon. and learned friend will prove most unfortunate. I am almost glad that that will be so. I believe that a great many counties are suffering from the effects of education. In previous years a man who was not educated was perfectly willing to remain on the land tending the turnips or mangold wurtzel, and never aspired to any higher occupation. Now that you have educated the children they all desire to go to towns and obtain appointments as policemen, or as shop assistants, or in some other congenial occupation carried on in towns, where perhaps they will earn more wages. I am glad to hear that in relation to this assertion the National Union of Teachers are not having it all their own way. They have not cast their net wide enough to include all, because there are some who have escaped it. I think I have said enough to prove that neither does the intelligence, nor the education, nor the health suffer in the districts where the half-time system prevails. But there has been one argument, only one argument, placed before this House which, I think, carried weight, and it was the argument that has been 1100 called the half-past five in the morning argument. That argument I endeavoured to meet by putting down on the Paper an Amendment doing away with all work for half-timers between 11 and 12 years of age before half-past eight in the morning. That Amendment was strongly opposed, but if it had been accepted by my hon. friend the Bill would have been more acceptable than it is at the present moment. But I cannot pass away from this part of the question without again citing to the House the result of the remarkable ballot taken on the question by the Weavers' Association. Of the 90,000 papers issued, 74,000 answers were received, and 66,000, or 89 per cent., were in favour of the present state of affairs. That fact ought to have great weight with hon. Members before they give their vote on the Third Reading. This House has the legal right, but I should like to know how far it has the moral right, to permit hon. Members sitting for constituencies who really have no interest whatever in the Bill and no expert knowledge of the halftime question to cram down the throats of Lancashire people legislation they do not like. We are told by folk who know nothing of the question that we are wasting the lives of the children for the sake of a system which ministers to the greed of miserly parents or the avarice of heartless capitalists, and that the only people who know anything of this question, the only people who are utterly and entirely unbiased in the matter, are the National Union of Teachers. I think this is a big assertion, in view of the ballot. There was another matter mentioned upon the Second Reading in debate which has not been pressed sufficiently upon the attention of the House, and that is the question of woman labour in our factories. The House knows perfectly well that although the death-rate statistics in the factory districts are not worse than in other parts of England, still they would be very much better if it were not for woman labour in the factories. I desire to press this point on the House as being of the utmost importance. The proper place for a woman, at all events during her child-bearing days, when she has a large family of small children—possibly a baby—is at home. In Lancashire, as in other parts of the country, the more you seek by legislation to remove from the revenue of the home even the smallest 1101 additional sum of money, as you are doing by destroying the half-time system, the more you are inevitably driving women back to the factories, and making them take their part in providing the daily bread for the family. To my mind this is a singularly unfortunate Bill. Most of the working class measures which have been introduced and carried in this House have been for the improvement and amelioration of the lot of the people, and have been supported by the working classes and trades unions. In the present case all these elements of support are wanting. You have no body of opinion at the back of you. You have no section of the community asking for tins reform which knows anything of the textile movement. You have nothing but the National Union of Teachers. It cannot, even by a stretch of imagination, be called a burning question. It is a question which, as I have previously pointed out, is settling itself, and would settle itself in the course of a few years. I disapprove of the action of hon. Members in forcing the question down our throats, believing, as I do, that if it had only been allowed to settle itself by natural means, a good deal of the friction that has been aroused would never have existed at ell. Personally I have no pecuniary interest in the cotton trade, and therefore I hope my action may be looked upon as an unselfish one. I believe the Bill to be unnecessary, impolitic, and unjust to a very large section of the community, and this being the last occasion we shall have of discussing this question I am pleased to have been able to raise my voice in this matter.
§ *MR. DUCKWORTH (Lancashire, Middleton)
I am sure no one would desire to charge the hon. Member for Stockport with want of zeal or want of ability in his opposition to this Bill. Whatever we may say as to his views on the matter, and however we may differ from him, we must all admire his determination to do all he possibly could to kill this Bill. He has struck it in the breast, he has stabbed it in the back, and he has knocked it on the head; and if it had not been for its catlike vitality I am sure the Bill would have been killed. We must all own that the hon. Member would not have taken the course he has in opposing this Bill if he had not conscientiously felt that he was doing what he believed to be right.
1102 We all believe in his honesty, and we believe also in his straight for wardness and independence, for I have noticed that the hon. Member has been so independent as even to hold up to ridicule at times the Party to which he belongs. But I must confess that I am at a loss to understand why the hon. Gentleman, with his intelligence and his knowledge of Lancashire people awl their work, can so persistently oppose this Bill. I can only put it down to two things. One is his determined opposition to the teachers, and the other is that he must have a mandate from his constituency. I am not aware that he has pleaded that, but I cannot understand his action unless it be that he must really believe that his whole constituency, and perhaps. some other constituencies in Lancashire, are very strongly opposed to this Bill. If that be so, it only lends colour to what I have heard said, that such towns as Stockport, Wigan, Ashton, and Stalybridge are about fifty years behind towns further north. I do not say that that is so, but I have heard it said, and this circumstance would give colour to that opinion. Let me state my own experience with reference to the constituency which I represent. During the Whitsuntide recess I was called upon to address what is called the "Four Hundred," and the council in connection with that constituency, which is a very extensive and enlightened constituency. I was expected to speak on this subject, in fact I was asked to explain the position I had taken up. I spoke in the afternoon to the council on general politics, and in the evening, at the public meeting, when about 400 people were present, I spent about fifty minutes in speaking on this subject alone. At both these meetings an unanimous vote of confidence in their Member was passed, and not a single question was asked me, or a single voice raised in opposition to the course I had taken. So that whatever force there may be in the arguments which have been used on the opposite side this morning as to the opposition of Lancashire, those arguments do not hold at all events so far as my constituency is concerned. I have received communications from several people on this subject. It has been argued that the trades unions are against this measure. I hold in my hand a resolution passed by the Trades Council of Rochdale, which reads as follows. The secretary says: 1103Sir,—I am instructed by the members of the council to forward to you a copy of the resolution which was passed unanimously at the monthly meeting: 'That this council, being strongly of opinion that the age at which half-timers are allowed to commence work is too low, respectfully urges the Government to afford facilities for the passing of Mr. Robson's Half-Time Bill in the present session of Parliament.'I have also got a similar resolution from a Socialist organisation. They are very strongly in favour of this Bill.I am instructed," the secretary says, "by the council, as representative of the Socialists of the Middleton and Sowerby Parliamentary Divisions, to petition you with respect to Mr. Robson's Bill, at the Second Reading of which our Council considers you played a most commendable part. In the interests of the children and of education we hope you will persevere in the course you have adopted, and do all that lies in your power to assist in the passing of so desirable and humane a measure.When I was in the North I took the opportunity of inviting to my own house the leaders of the trades organisations in our town and district. I will not say more as to the positions they occupy than that they are gentlemen who occupy the leading positions in our trades unions and councils. We went through these Amendments one by one, and talked them over as we sat around the table, and there was not a single Amendment that those gentlemen advised me to vote for except one. They were in favour of the Bill, and they urged me to advocate—as I have advocated—the passing of the measure. I think that that testimony clears away the arguments which have been used throughout the debate as to the strong opposition of Lancashire people. The hon. Member for Stockport knows very well that the opposition to the raising of the age from 11 to 12 is not so strong by a long way as was the opposition when the age was raised from 10 to 11, and he also knows very well that it will very soon pass away. He knows that even some of those who are so strongly in favour of retaining the age at 11 have spoken, in their personal and private capacity, in a very different way. That being so, I am sure the testimony I have given as to what I have heard when in Lancashire during the last two or three weeks will take the bottom out of the argument that the Lancashire people are strongly against the passing of this measure. On the Second Reading of this Bill emphasis was laid on the argument 1104 that it would disarrange or disorganise trade, and that it would harass employers. The hon. Member for Stockport knows—or if he does not know I can tell him—that in every case almost when old machines are taken out and new ones put in they are arranged to do without half-timers altogether. So that the employers themselves know that this system is passing away, that it is a remnant of a bygone age, and that the time has conic when it ought not to be encouraged. I could give you employers by the score who have voluntarily done away with this half-time work. The noble Lord the Member for Rochester, on the Second Reading of this Bill, spoke in a very intelligent and very hopeful way. His opposition to it was that he had a fear that it would not answer the purpose that we claim for it, and he spoke about the money which we spend on education being, to a great extent, wasted. That is so. But why is it so? Simply because we do not give the children time to study; we do not give them time to get through what we expect them to get through. It is not a question of the teachers being over anxious to get results; it is because they know very well that the children, under the conditions of education to-day, have not sufficient time to study. Hence they are crammed, and the result is, as has been stated, that when the school years are over they are disgusted with schools; they are out of patience with all study, and they are very glad to get to work, or to play, or anything else they can do. Instead of children coming from elementary schools having had given to them a desire for study, an appetite for learning, they come away satiated with it, and they do not want to continue their studies. That ought not to be so—they ought to be ready, when they arrive at 14 years of age, to go on with their secondary education, and after that to go on to a technical school and prepare themselves for their duties in life. But they are not prepared to do this. The great complaint as to technical schools is that children come from elementary schools quite unprepared to commence their studies in the technical schools. The hon. Member for St. Helens has made a very singular address in the House this morning, but I should have thought that his own intelligence would have prevented him from making remarks such as he has made to-day. Surely he is under 1105 the old dispensation. I thought the Tory party had been educated. I remember when quite a young man, after the Franchise Bill had passed, Mr. Robert Lowe saying that we must educate our masters. Now we have an hon. Member of this House speaking disparagingly of education for the working-classes, and advocating that a child must only be educated to do the work that its father has done, and presumably that it must never go beyond what its father has done. That is a good old Tory doctrine, and we have not heard it for a long time. I thought it had died a natural death, and that our Conservative friends were in favour of having our children educated as much as possible. It appears, however, that the hon. Member for St. Helens is one of those who would be perfectly satisfied if a child were educated sufficiently to make a bow to certain persons or a curtsey when the parson or a squire passes by. I take it that that is not the feeling of hon. Members of the House, and I can assure the hon. Gentleman opposite that it is not the feeling of the great masses of this country. The teachers in our technical schools, the educationists throughout the country, and especially in the northern parts of the country where the industries of the country are carried on, all know perfectly Well—and feel the importance of it—that it is necessary that the children who are to go to work in these days must be better educated than they have been in days gone by. We have been able to carry on a large trade in what I may call plain goods. As the hon. Member for Stockport knows very well, in years gone by, if a person could weave a calico piece he was considered proficient and all right; but we have to compete with people now who can do this work quite as well as we can ourselves. To make fancy goods requires a good deal of technical knowledge, which we shall have to cultivate if we want to keep abreast with the competition of foreign countries.
§ MR. GEORGE WHITELEY
But the children don't learn fancy weaving at Board schools. They learn it at the mill.
§ *MR. DUCKWORTH
No, no. The mind of the child is trained in the school, and it requires the training of the mind in order to obtain technical knowledge. I do not think that any Member of this House will plead that ignorance 1106 is better than knowledge in anything—even if it is applied to pulling turnips, or the doing the things that have to be done by the children in agricultural districts. It is far better to have the minds of the children trained, and it is far behind the times to plead that ignorance is an advantage to a child; and I strongly protest against any such argument. I will not detain the House any longer, although there are several other things which I wished to say. I do hope that, now we have threshed this matter out to the extent that we have, the hon. Members will cease their opposition, and allow this Bill to pass.
§ *SIR F. S. POWELL (Wigan)
I hope the House will allow me to submit some observations upon this occasion, although I occupied some time during the discussion of this measure in Committee. As reference has been made to the Borough of Wigan, I feel bound to say, although I did speak with much sincerity and some vigour in favour of the Bill, that I have received no protest against the remarks which I then made. On the other hand, I have received letter after letter in full sympathy with the course which I took and the views which I expressed in the Debate in Committee. I have heard—I must confess with some surprise—the speech made by my hon. friend the Member for St. Helens; and for the first time during many years in the Debates in Parliament I have heard education condemned as rather an injury than a benefit to those who have had the opportunity of taking advantage of it. I certainly think that such remarks come with very ill grace from a Lancashire Member; for we have in our County Palatine no less than two University Colleges—one in Liverpool and one in Manchester—and I venture to say that no man who has any acquaintance with Lancashire industries will deny the great benefits which have been conferred upon our county by these two magnificent institutions. The hon. Member made some reference to Lancashire parents as being very intelligent. As a Lancashire man I have always felt some diffidence in commenting upon such an observation; but I believe that the intelligence of the Lancashire operative is of a very high order, and one of my reasons for supporting this Bill is that, in my opinion, intelligence of that high order requires further 1107 opportunity of development. As a Lancashire man and as a Lancashire Member I still regard the standard of education in the schools as too low, although the standard is higher than it was some years ago. Another of my reasons for supporting this Bill is, that if children are prevented from going to work up to a certain age I feel quite sure that the standard of education must be raised. Not only this, but the children will be kept at school up to the school age fixed by the Bill, and they will be prevented from wasting their time in the streets. Reference has been made to the opinion of the operatives as being against the Bill. The hon. Member referred to one section—the Weavers' Union. Now I was present at a meeting where their representatives were heard, and there were two remarkable facts in connection with that Union, firstly, that those members of the Union who sent their children as half-timers at this early age were well-to-do parents and did not require the wages of their children for their support—and I was greatly impressed by what I heard upon that occasion; secondly, the weavers who appeared were not the parents of the children referred to in the resolution. The great majority of them were not factory operatives at all, and gained their bread by other means. The hon. Member made a reference to some petition, or document, respecting labour in the glass works at St. Helens; but the age he mentioned was a higher age than the one mentioned in the Bill, and therefore the remarks he made upon the subject were entirely irrelevant, and not appropriate to the discussion. I made some reference in a former Debate to the age on the Continent, and since then I have perused the Report of the Committee of the Council on Education for Scotland. Now, in Scotland there are 94,000 children between 11 and 12 years of age, and of that total 92 per cent. are at school. That is a most clear and absolute proof that in Scotland, at least, the parents who have regard to the welfare of their children keep them at school up to the age mentioned in this Bill. With regard to the woollen and worsted industries of Yorkshire, I have had some acquaintance in the interior working of the mills, both in Lancashire and Yorkshire, and I have no hesitation in saying that, as regards the healthy condition of our factories, in consequence of the nature of the material used, 1108 it is less satisfactory in Lancashire than in the worsted and woollen districts of Yorkshire. I have some statements here which the House will perhaps forgive me for reading. One is the testimony of the medical officer for the Borough of Wigan, who is also a member of the Wigan School Board. He says:I shall be sorry if there is an attempt made to exclude cotton factories from the operation of the Bill, for it is the children employed in cotton factories that will benefit most. My opinion, as a medical officer of health, and also as a general medical practitioner among these people, is that no child under twelve should be employed as a half-timer. I have seen the stunted growth, the swarthy, ill-looking appearance of many of these children, due in a great measure to the confinement and work in the mills. I can also speak as a member of our School Board, where people have to come before us for exemption of half-timers, and we invariably ask that the children shall be left longer at school. We have not many half-timers in Wigan, but it would be better if we had less.Another medical friend of mine—Dr. Roocroft—who has had twenty years' experience in Wigan, writes to me as follows:With regard to raising the age of the factory workers, I have long felt that this ought to be done. After a somewhat extensive experience of nearly twenty years I can recall many instances where healthy and robust children, rapidly growing but not developed, have been taken from school and put to work. The result, in many cases, has been an arrest of development generally. Later I find that the circulatory, digestive, and respiratory systems suffer, as instanced by anæmia, dyspepsia, constipation, and pulmonary tuberculosis. These diseases are induced, in my opinion, firstly, by throwing upon the child work at an early age, too early for the body to be over tired; and secondly, by close confinement in hot, sometimes dusty and ill-ventilated places, coupled by the absence of exercise (play) in the open air, too long hours, and improper food.I am grateful to the House for allowing me to read these letters, which are written by two highly distinguished medical practitioners. Now, Sir, if the House will bear with me, I wish to say that I do very greatly regret—as much as I regret anything in my Parliamentary life—that the opposition to this Bill has come from Lancashire, and from hon. Members sitting on this side of the House. I never presume to speak on behalf of Lancashire Members, but I do know from the Division lists the feeling of Lancashire Members. The vote on the Second 1109 Reading of the Bill shows that the majority of the Lancashire Members were in favour of the Bill; and why should a section of them say that Lancashire is opposed to it? I have read the life of Lord Shaftesbury. We know what he says on the factory question. I can remember from my earliest years—I have mentioned it before, and I mention it again—the condition of these poor children, both in Lancashire and Yorkshire—their starved appearance, their deformed bandy legs, their other weaknesses, and their want of development in accordance to their years. I myself believe that that condition of affairs amongst the parents is the great cause of the inferior condition of too many of the present generation, and I believe that you will not eradicate the result of this evil condition of things except you place the children under more favourable circumstances. As a matter of fact, these children actually require more favourable conditions than other children. It has been the boast of the Conservative party that this factory legislation was specially their work. Can it be so said now? Who was it that raised the age of half-timers from 10 to 11? It was Mr. Acland, whose absence from this House I deeply lament. Why was it that that reform was delayed? I am grieved to confess that it came from some Members on these benches. And to-day, when I believe Parliament will take another step in advance, we cannot boast that this proposal was made by a Conservative Member. It is a gift from a distinguished and learned hon. Member on the other side of the House. That evil blot—for I contend it is an evil blot on the political history of our Party—cannot be obliterated; but I do appeal to my Lancashire friends that they should keep the record as clean as they can, and not oppose this Bill, even by one adverse vote; but, on the contrary, to give to the parents and the children of Lancashire a boon which has been too long delayed, but which, in my judgment, they eminently deserve.
§ MR. TOMLINSON (Preston)
I protest against the tone in which my hon. friend has alluded to the Lancashire Members, and also against the suggestion that those Lancashire Members who do not look upon the Bill as satisfactory hold views adverse to education. My 1110 belief is, and it is shared more largely out of the House than in it, that the best method of promoting education is to combine the initial stage of work with a continuance of education. Now, my hon. friend said something about the standard of exemption being too low. I should like to ask how this Bill is to increase or improve the standard? I do not want the standard of exemption to be made too low. I should like to see it raised. But that has nothing to do with this Bill. I hold that my objection to the principle of this Bill is a sound one, and that if we are to induce children to take an interest in their education, and to carry it on, we must not make a gap between education and the work they have to do in after life. My hon. friend spoke about the deformity of children in times past. That has nothing to do with the present state of things. The mills are well ventilated, and the children are in good condition. I do not say that the present method is necessarily perfect; one might say that the method might be carried on much better. But it seems an extraordinary thing that all this should be said against half-timers, when this Bill itself introduces the half-time system in other spheres than the factory. Far more children will come under half-time by the raising of the age. It has been said that in Switzerland and other countries there are no half-timers, but it does not follow that that is a good system. I do not wish to press this point further, but only to deprecate the suggestion of my hon. friend, and to maintain that those Lancashire Members who know the feeling of their constituents, and who know something about the working of the half-time system in their constituencies, would not necessarily he improving the conditions of the education and work of those children by allowing this Bill to pass. I want to ask for some authoritative statement as to the views of the Government on this Bill. I think we ought to know something more of the views of the Government than we have yet obtained. The Bill has been brought in by a private Member, and we know that my right hon. friend the Vice-President of the Council is in favour of the principles of the Bill; but I would like to know what the Council for Education think of the Bill. It may be said that the Bill, as it stands, would not give much trouble to the Department; but do the Govern- 1111 ment intend to give it their support? And how do they intend to carry out the administration of the agricultural parts of it? What method will be taken or what Orders will be issued to see that agricultural pursuits alone are to be the basis of the half-time system in the future? What steps are to be taken to give it effect? I think that, considering the circumstances in which the Bill has been brought forward and the imputations made in some quarters against those who doubt the wisdom of this Bill, it was only right that I should have had the opportunity of making these observations. I protest against the idea that in the action I have taken against this Bill I am actuated by a desire to continue the employment of child labour. I oppose this measure on the ground, which I think a good one, that it prohibits a kind of child labour which leads up to a species of elementary education in the business which these children will have to carry on in after-life. Everybody must be acquainted with the fact that there are large numbers of children who leave school without the slightest idea of the pursuit which they are going to follow in after years. And the benefit of the half-time system is that it leaves these children time to contemplate what pursuit it is which they will follow, and allows them to begin to learn that pursuit.
§ *MR. YOXALL (Nottingham, West)
I confess that this Bill would not remove the existence of child labour. We have heard that definitely from the hon. Member who has just sat down, and from the Member for Stockport. But in the meantime both concur in opposing a measure which would remove a small portion of child labour, and they object to us making a beginning with the partial abolition of child labour. I think that is rather inconsistent. From the hon. Member for Stockport we have a not less insidious attack on the Bill, but not a more accurate representation of the case. We were told by the hon. Member who has distinguished himself by opposing the Bill in the name of Lancashire that the public opinion of Lancashire was against it, and that there was no public opinion in favour of it. A more inaccurate statement was never made in this House, and that is saying a good deal. The outline of the proposal on which this Bill was based was drawn first of all by the respected Member 1112 for Bury, and another distinguished Member—the Member for Bolton—speaking with more knowledge and in a greater representative position than the hon. Member for Stockport, was also associated with the proposal. The Bill in its first inception was due to these two hon. Members. Public opinion has been expressed again and again in Lancashire in favour of the Bill. The great majority of the organs of the press in Lancashire are in favour of it; the great majority of the working men of Lancashire are in favour of it; and every trades union in Lancashire but one, the weavers, is in favour of it.
§ *MR. YOXALL
What about the Spinners' Union? The Trades Union Congress for years have been asking for the abolition of the half-time system altogether. Every member of the Trades Union Council, except the member or members who represents the Weavers' Union, is in favour of this Bill; but we are told by the hon. Member opposite, with a coolness which would have been more suitable two days ago than to-day, that the only opinion in favour of this Bill is the opinion of the teachers. It has been suggested again and again that teachers have a great deal to gain by the Bill. As a fact, the teachers and the school managers and the school boards will lose pecuniarily by the passing of this Bill, because the school attendance for half-time counts for the purposes of grants as an attendance and a-half. Abolish the half-timers and you reduce the grant to the school, and the pecuniary incentive of the school managers and teachers will be diminished. I repudiate in the name of the teachers the insinuation that they have any private motive for pushing forward this measure. But one correct statement has been made by the hon. Member for Stockport, and that was that the teachers are not so satisfied with the Bill now as when it was introduced. I regret that it was ever necessary to have any compromise in this Bill. If the Government had done their duty, and had been consistent with their former proposals, and shown the least courage in this House, they would have said, "This is a Bill which carries out the pledges given in our name 1113 three years ago, and which must be carried in this form, and we will give facilities for its being carried without any compromise." If that had been done, the opposition of the Lancashire Members would have dropped to zero, and that of the agricultural Members would not be counted for much if the Government had been in earnest; but owing to the want of courage on the part of the Government it has been necessary for my hon. friend to introduce a clause with regard to the agricultural schools and agricultural children upon which I look with dread. We have the least efficient schools for farmers' sons and daughters of any country in Europe, and we have the least efficient and satisfactory system of elementary education for the labourers' sons and daughters, and every attempt that is made to improve the present condition is met with the opposition of the farmers, the farmers' friends, and the farmers' spokesmen in this House. They opposed this Bill unless some concession was made to enable children of eleven years of age to work on the land four or five months in the year, and that concession is given provided that during the remainder of the year the children go to school. I agree with the hon. Member for Preston, that before we adopt this particular clause on this point we ought to hear from the Government that when this concession is given they will insist upon some conditions which shall give them some return. I do not say that the compromise with regard to the agricultural schools will be bad; on the contrary, it may be good under certain conditions, but it depends entirely on the administration of the Education Department. Compulsory education in the rural districts now is about as ineffectual as it can possibly be, and unless some condition is made I fear that all we shall have done by this Bill will be to legalise what exists at present very largely—a certain amount of whole-time employment in the agricultural districts. Unless the Education Department steps in and insists that this concession shall only be made under conditions, I think that the object of this Bill will be perverted, and we shall have worse and less regular school attendances, and compulsory education will be less effective than it is now in the agricultural districts. It is a great danger, and can only be averted by the Education Department; but if the 1114 Government are not deterred by the agricultural members who sit behind them the concession may turn out to be a blessing in disguise. I apologise to the hon. and gallant Member opposite for daring to speak upon an agricultural question, but, nevertheless, I will say that the attitude of the farmers in opposing popular education is the most suicidal attitude that could be adopted. Better education is wanted in the agricultural districts, and I hope the hon. and gallant Member and his friends will endeavour to convince the farmers that if they obtain the services of the children on the land for certain months of the year, they must, in justice to the children, and in honourable keeping of a bargain, see to the best of their ability that the children attend school during the rest of the year. If there is a better tone adopted in the speeches of the agricultural Members of this House upon this question, it will go far to improve the chances of better education and to advance it. There are other countries besides this which were subject to agricultural depression, and the people of those countries escaped from that depression, not by reducing and annulling education, but by increasing it. It is the dulness of intellect, lack of adaptability, and want of flexibility on the part of the agricultural labourer that are in a great degree responsible for the depression. I was in a small market town in educated France from which £40,000 worth of eggs are exported to this country annually, and the landlord of the hotel to whom I spoke said he always understood that the English were a practical people; but that must be a mistake, because nothing was easier than to produce eggs for the market. Again, in Denmark, with the dairy produce which is exported to this country. That immense exportation is due to the better education of the people in that country and to nothing else. They attend not only primary but secondary schools, and many of them even agricultural colleges, and if we had better education in this country agriculture would revive in a like manner.
§ MAJOR RASCH (Essex, S.E.)
The hon. Gentleman need not apologise for speaking on agricultural matters because he is not a farmer, any more than I need apologise for speaking upon this Bill because I am not a schoolmaster. He is as perfectly qualified to speak on this 1115 matter as on others. All that I wish to say is that I hope the House will not support the hon. Member for St. Helens in his motion for the rejection of this Bill. Personally, I opposed the Bill in its first stages, but I am now exceedingly glad that it has got to its present position. We know perfectly well we have obstructed this Bill. It was first possible we might have defeated it, but then we should have got a very much worse measure forced down our throats next year. This is a very serious matter for the agricultural interest, and we have to make the best of it. I wish to thank the hon. and learned Member for South Shields for having favourably considered the very reasonable proposals which we made to him some weeks ago. I am glad he thought fit to urge the House to temper the wind to the shorn lamb, and I congratulate him on the progress he has made with the Bill.
§ *MR. SAMUEL SMITH (Flintshire)
I also congratulate my hon. friend on having reached this stage of the Bill, for I believe no measure has ever passed this House with a more unanimous body of public opinion behind it. I have always been in favour of it, and have not the slightest fear of it; on the contrary, I believe it will do a great deal of good. One hon. Member has declared that there is no body of working-class opinion in favour of this Bill. But I formerly collected the opinions of the trade unions of this country on a proposal much more advanced, by a Bill to extend the school age to 14, with certain exemptions; and nine - tenths were in favour of the proposition to not merely extend the age for day attendance, but to make attendance at night schools compulsory up to the age of 15. The hon. Member for St. Helens argued that knowledge acquired at school was quickly forgotten. Of course, everyone knows that a system of cramming a child up to the age of 12 years, followed by a total absence from school afterwards, is calculated to have such results; and what we want to do is to persuade the people of this country of the essential fact that the child's mind is best formed between the ages of 12 and 15. What we want is regular attendance at evening schools for at least two years after leaving the day-school, and until we get that our education will remain a failure. With regard to the children in agricultural dis- 1116 tricts, I congratulate my hon. and learned friend on what he has done. He secures, at any rate, that the children shall remain continuously at school for six or eight months, between the ages of 11 and 13, and that the exemption shall only apply during the period at which childlabour is useful in the fields. We want to keep the children in the rural districts, and it is good for their health that in the summer time they should be engaged in easy work in the fields. I certainly see no reason why we should not follow the example of Prussia, Switzerland, and other countries, and, while allowing exemption during the summer months, keep the education going in the winter until even 14 or 15 is reached. It is because that system is adopted in other countries that they are running us so hard in commercial competition.
§ *MR. HOBHOUSE (Somerset, E.)
Complaint has been made that so few voices have been raised in support of this Bill, but I am sure it is only owing to the exigencies of time that many other Members on this side of the House as well as on the other have not spoken in favour of the measure. As far as its factory provisions extend, there is one simple and sufficent justification for it. It is that no less than nine years ago, that this nation, in common with other European nations, pledged itself to this very important alteration in the status of children. [An hon. Member, "No."] Well, at any rate the British delegates at the Berlin Conference concurred in the resolution which was passed declaring the desirability of the change, and they did that with the consent of the Government of the day, at the head of which was the present Prime Minister. I venture to think that under these circumstances it would not have been surprising if the present Government had extended to this Bill a still more benevolent attitude than they have done. I should have been better pleased if they had themselves passed this Bill, and not left it to a private Member to gain the credit of redeeming what was almost a national obligation. I congratulate the hon. and learned Member on the ability he has shown in piloting the Bill through the House of Commons. I feel sure that the national conscience throughout the greater part of England revolts at seeing our children of tender years obliged to work in factories. With regard to the 1117 agricultural clauses, I confess I look upon them as a great experiment which is well worth trying, and I trust they will prove beneficial alike to employers, teachers, and children. Objection has been taken to prolonging what has been described as the mechanical and un-practical system of teaching in our work schools. I earnestly hope that the Education Department will, now that this considerable change is being made in our educational system, take into consideration, especially as regards the agricultural districts, the desirability of making the education less unpractical, and giving it a more direct and useful bearing on our the industrial life.
§ *MR. SCHWANN (Manchester, N.)
Not only is my name on the back of the Bill, but for several years past I have always taken the opportunity at public meetings in my constituency to urge upon Lancashire the desirability of curtailing the work of children and enabling them to remain longer at school. The arguments which occur to me on this subject are connected with the health and the education of the children, and with the foreign competition which the industries of this country will have to meet. I have received several petitions and many letters in favour of this Bill, but up to the present I have not received a single line in condemnation of it. Being a Lancashire Member, and Manchester being practically the home of the Lancashire industries, I think it very probable that some of the manufacturers who are represented by the hon. Member for Stockport would have addressed a word of warning to me if they had any objection to the Bill. The question of health seems to me to deserve important consideration, and I think anybody who knows the Lancashire population must feel that it would be desirable if their physical conditions could be improved. An hon. Member has sent to Members of the House photographs of workers in Lancashire, and I think those photographs make out a case for the Bill in a most unmistakable manner. Lately a lady, the wife of the Agent-General of New Zealand, was in Manchester, and attended a public meeting, and she remarked to me upon the number of lads who attended the meeting. I told her that they were not lads, but were fathers of families who had been subjected to the conditions of half- 1118 timers. I would not like to say that getting up in the morning at half-past five, as children, hurrying off in the cold to the mill, staying in a heated atmosphere, and coming out into the cold air again are the only elements affecting the health of the people. I believe that early marriages and hard work affect their stature. As my hon. friend the Member for Stockport has said that the health question is of no value, I will cite the opinion of Dr. Torrop, of Heywood, who probably has among his clientèle many factory workers. He says:I have no hesitation whatever in reiterating the opinion that without a shadow of doubt factory life is injurious to health. As I have put it before so I will put it again. The promising children of 10 degenerate into the lean and sallow young persons of 13, and so the process continues as they grow older until a whole population becomes stunted, and thus the conditions of life in the factory become a real source of danger to England's future.These conditions, however, do not exist only in Lancashire. They exist also in only in Lancashire. They exist also in Scotland, and in many other parts of England. Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Factories, reporting upon work in the Dundee jute works, said:I do not think the decadence of child labour is to be deplored as far as the jute industry is concerned. If a jute spinner works hard the little shifter works harder. Often have I watched the latter continuously at work for long spells, rushing from one machine to another, perspiring copiously in the stifling heat. As I said in my last year's report, the typical Dundee half-timer is somewhat undersized and decidedly thin. These little creatures are diminutive when they commence work at 11 years of age, and the circumstances under which the majority of them labour are such that bodily growth is certainly not encouraged of fostered thereby.With regard to the educational aspect of this question, I share the opinion that there is need for much improvement in our educational system. I am glad to see that the schoolmaster is abroad, and that he is specially abroad with reference to the education of the children. Mr. Bridges, of Oldham, who has been quoted before, said that of 300 boys who had taken scholarships in Oldham, only 40 were half-timers, and that it would be hopelessly cruel to put them in competition with children who spent the whole day in school. A good deal has been said about widows having to suffer by sending their children to school and losing the support they might otherwise bring them. So far as my ex- 1119 perience goes, I am convinced that if there is one person who will not suffer her children to have any drawback either in education or in general well-being, it is a widow with young children. In some districts of Lancashire the people had lately been enjoying a holiday, and in Oldham the bankers had to make special arrangements to pay out from £40,000 to £50,000 or more, in cash, to the employees in the town to enable them to go to the seaside for their annual week's holiday at that season. Nobody objects to that, but rather rejoices that the wages in Lancashire are so good as to enable the people to put aside and draw out so large a sum. It is, however, rather astonishing that from those districts where large sums can be saved there should come complaints that the happiness of the home is going to be wrecked, because two or three shillings per week are going to be dropped in some cases by curtailing the half-time system. Mr. Mawdsley, who represents as fully as anybody the general opinion of the cotton operatives of Lancashire, says he has lived in Lancashire and has watched the physical condition of the people too long to allow any child of his to become a half-timer. In regard to the argument that a certain dexterity in manipulating yarns is acquired by the children when they are young, I may remind the House that the hon. Member for Bolton rejected the argument with scorn, and I believe the hon. Member for Bury takes the same line. But I am going to cite the opinion of three gentlemen who are more qualified to express an opinion than they are. These gentlemen are Mr. Allan Gee, general secretary of the weavers and the textile workers; Mr. Ben Turner, general organiser of the weavers; and Mr. Drew, president of the Bradford textile operatives. Mr. Gee says there is nothing in the argument that it is necessary for children to go to work at the present age so as to acquire dexterity, Mr. Drew characterises it as a fairy tale, and Mr. Turner says it is nonsense. Having regard to the great competition and struggle with other nations that lie before us, I ask the House to take this small step, which not only will fulfil the pledge given at the Berlin Congress, but will be for the benefit of the nation at large. It is said that half-time is dying. I say "Let it die," and if we can accelerate the pace by 1120 passing this Bill I think that is a consummation devoutly to be wished. I will conclude by quoting words which the right hon. Gentleman the Vice-President of the Council used at Berlin when pledging Great Britain to raise the age:We have confident hopes that millions of men, women, and children will derive from it a better future and an easier life, and that generations to come will be richer, stronger, and more virtuous, owing to the effects of the provisions of which the Conference has laid down the first outline.I believe this Bill incorporates, although only to a small extent, what the right hon. Gentleman promised on that occasion, and I hope that if the Bill goes to a Division it will he carried by a large majority.
§ MR. J. H. JOHNSTONE (Sussex, Horsham)
The hon. and learned Member who has charge of this Bill is to be congratulated upon the good fortune which has attended his efforts—he is to be congratulated upon his success at the ballot, he is to be congratulated upon the skill and tact with which he has carried the Bill through its various stages, including the Report stage the other night, and he is to be congratulated upon having resisted the temptation to attempt to revise the Factory Acts, and remodel entirely our educational system. I think he has exercised a very wise discretion in dealing with one particular part of this important subject, and I think I may congratulate him, too—and that was the object of my rising this afternoon—upon the Amendment which was introduced into the Bill in the course of its progress through the House. I do not see any reason to deplore the introduction of that Amendment. It may have been due to some lack of moral courage on the part of the Government of the day—of that I know nothing; but for my part I regard this Amendment as a most useful and valuable concession to the agricultural interests of the country. It may not affect a large number of children to raise the educational age from eleven to twelve, because I fancy there are few school authorities in the country where the age limit is as low as eleven; but I am convinced of this, that the Amendment, which gives power to the school authorities to allow children employed in agriculture to become practically half-timers, is one which will be of great service in agricultural districts. 1121 The difficulty at the present time in our agricultural districts is the difficulty of finding labour—it is an anxiety now; a very short time it will be a very serious difficulty indeed—because the moment a child has left school, the moment a boy has completed what I may call his statutory education, he goes down to the station and becomes a booking clerk, a ticket collector, or a telegraph boy, or, at all events, he does not go on the land. His first object is to get away as fast as he can, and the result is that we have no young men coming on to take the place of the agricultural labourers who are passing away; no young men in the country who care to learn the trade of an agricultural labourer—because that trade does require a certain amount of skill—and the result is that farmers are not able to offer such good wages as they could give to men who thoroughly understand their business. It is my belief that if the young men in the country were to turn their minds a little more to learning the trade by which their fathers lived and became strong and healthy and happy men, they would make themselves able to earn wages far beyond anything that they can earn at the present time. If we are to keep strong, healthy, and industrious men On the land, we must be prepared to offer them more advantages than we give them at the present time, and I believe they would undoubtedly be able to command better wages if in their youth they were taught the trade or profession of agriculture in a practical way. For that reason I most heartily support this Bill, because in rural districts the young children will have a chance during several months of the year of learning the trade of an agricultural labourer, so that when they come to the age of 13 and leave school, they will be fitted to take their places on the farm, and be able to command wages which will compare favourably with what they could earn in +other occupations, and thus they will not have the same inducement or the same temptation to go away from the land as they have at the present time. The result will be that we shall keep a good class of men on the land, and we shall see the houses in our villages filled with a prosperous, contented, and wage-earning peasantry.
§ MR. HARWOOD (Lancashire, Bolton)
I propose to say one or two words in 1122 reply to the remark of the hon. Member for Stockport, that no response has been made to the arguments which he brought forward at a previous stage of this Bill. On that occasion hon. Members in favour of the Bill imposed upon themselves a self-denying ordinance, because they wanted to insure the passage of the measure, and their silence was in no way due to any lack of arguments. As one who has been for many years an employer of short-timers, and has watched the system with some care, I feel that even I may have something to say worthy of the hon. Member's notice. There seems to be an impression in this House, and certainly in the press, that this Bill has been forced upon Lancashire, but I venture to say that that is a total misapprehension. I think the hon. Member in charge of the Bill will not object to my saying that it was generated in Lancashire, and had the fortunes of the ballot not declared otherwise, it would have been introduced by a Lancashire Member. While we have to be thankful that it has secured such an excellent pilot as the hon. Member for South Shields, we do not wish it to be forgotten that the main lines of the ship were laid down in the County Palatine. Much has been said about the feeling of Lancashire on the subject. Although we have been brought into constant contact with large numbers of men who employ half-timers, neither the hon. Member for Bury, who has taken so much interest in the Bill, nor myself have ever heard a word of protest, either in public or private, against the proposed change. I am quite sure that the employers recognise that in the natural course of events it is inevitable, and that it ought to be accepted in a spirit of true patriotism. The hon. Member for Stockport has often trotted out the result of the ballet among the weavers. We have been told that 77,000 voted against the proposed change. They are, however, only a comparatively small part of a body, which in its narrowest limits contains 314,000 members. But that is not all. There are between 500,000 and 600,000, none of whom, beyond the 77,000, have protested against the Bill. The spinners, too, are concerned, but they have made no protest at all, either in public or private. The hon. Member for Bury and I have met representative gatherings of trade unionist leaders, who have certainly made some representations respecting the raising of 1123 the half-time age, but their opposition, if opposition it can be called, has been of a feeble and half-hearted character. Many of these gentlemen have expressed to me personally their feelings to this effect: "The change is carried, and we shall adapt ourselves to it." But there is another gauge that the House can apply to the feeling with regard to the Bill, and that is the action of the operatives themselves in decreasing the number of half-timers. In 1891 the number was 173,000; in 1897 it had sunk to 110,000. Some hon. Members may, perhaps, ask why, under the circumstances, the system should not be left to die a natural death. The answer is because there are always people actuated by motives not shared by the majority, and there always comes a time when public opinion, sufficiently developed, should be backed by law. The hon. Member for Stockport has said that no facts have been brought forward showing the effects of the half-time system to be bad. It would not become me, as a millowner, to say that mills are not well ventilated and otherwise well arranged from a sanitary point of view. Nor could I say so with truth. At the same time, the fundamental conditions of the problem are such that work in mills is physically disadvantageous to children. What are the facts? Archdeacon Wilson, of Rochdale, who was formerly head-master of Clifton School, has for many years, as many hon. Members taken statistics relating to the health of children, both at schools and in the cotton mills; and what are his conclusions? While up to the age of 11 working-class boys and middle-class boys increase in height and weight on almost parallel lines, after that age the working-class boys fall off relatively both in height and weight. It is not simply the deflection of a curve, it is a distinct sweep; and in the case of the working-class boys the Archdeacon calls it the half-time curve. Between the ages of 11 and 13 the increase of height and weight in public school boys is double the augmentation in working-class boys. In other words, at the most important age, when the constitution is changing and the faculties are developing most rapidly, half-time children are subjected to a system which diminishes their natural increase by half. I do not wish to weary the House with statistics, but the hon. Member for Stock- 1124 port has asked for them. The hon. Member for Stockport is a clever politician, and no doubt he asks this question about the effects of the half-time system because he knows it is difficult for a Lancashire man to answer. It is not easy for Lancashire Members to tell the House that their constituents are undersized. It is not wise for a Member to run his constituents down; but whatever risk may be involved I will speak the truth and say openly that in the manufacturing districts the physique of the people is distinctly below what it ought to be and what it is in other parts of the country. I was lately visited by an Australian politician, a relative of my own. I took him round my constituency, and he said that what struck him most was the smallness of the people. This gentleman was kind enough to add that he was also struck by their intelligent looks. The hon. Member for Stockport has asked whether Lancashire people are deficient in intelligence. I dare not say that they are. Their natural superiority has perhaps enabled them up to the present to countervail their disadvantages, but they have not had a fair chance. They will be far better when the half-time system, with its injury to health and education, is at an end. It is becoming worse every year in its effects on those who, following their parents, still cling to it. Those of us who know anything of machinery know that it is run much more quickly, is more complicated, and more extensive than it used to be, and the strain it places on the faculties of children is much greater that it was 20 years ago. It has been said that sending children to the mill early gives them technical training. That is a mistake. As a matter of fact, such training has ceased to be possible for children 11 years old, because the machines are so rapid and so large that millowners dare not put these youngsters to anything but sweeping up and attending generally. But there is another thing which I should like to tell the hon. Member. Personally, I have ceased to employ children under 12 years of age, and, after observation of the result, I have come to the conclusion that the extra year for the cultivation of the mind and the development of the body enables children to learn mill work better and more quickly. It was said in a previous. Debate that farmers do not believe in education. I believe that state of mind has much to do with the wretched condi- 1125 tion of English agriculture. What is wanted on the land is not so much money as brains. A celebrated artist, when asked what he mixed his colours with, replied, "Brains." I believe if English farming were mixed with more brains, it would be more prosperous. It must begin by the more stringent enforcement of elementary education, and by the multiplication of technical schools and colleges. Lancashire, at any rate, has discovered that intellectual training is good for trade. The people of that county have not continued this half-time system because they are greedy or hardhearted, but because they have grown up with it; and the state of the Ministerial benches shows how Conservative they are, not only in politics but in other matters. Foreign competition is a great and increasing difficulty. If we are to hold our place in the world it must be primarily by the quality of our work. That quality depends on the development of the intelligence and the physical condition of the people, and, as a Lancashire Member and cotton spinner, I ask the House to pass the Bill, because in the end it will be a great boon to the trade of the country and of great advantage to the people.
§ MR. JAMES KENYON (Lancashire, Bury)
I have listened in the House to two or three Debates in which several experts on education on both sides have given their opinion, and I have listened to the speeches of the Vice-President of the Council on Education, anal in almost every speech the burden of complaint has been that children are taken away from school too early. The unsatisfactory feature of the work of English education is that the children are taken away from school too soon. I am afraid that the half-time system is one of the factors in this matter. A child is at work in the mill at six o'clock in the morning, and in the afternoon of the same day he is expected to go to school and learn his lessons. Under these conditions a great many children are naturally sleepy, and, to put it mildly, are not in a fit condition to acquire the education that is offered to them. But there is also another factor in this question which deserves attention. The hon. Member for Bolton has pointed out that there are far fewer half-timers in this country now than formerly, and he quoted figures to establish his point. He was perfectly right, and I believe 1126 that the parents who are now keeping their children at school and away from the mill are beginning to find out that the parents who allow their children to do half-time are hindering their children in their education very considerately. This is a point which I have pressed on my constituents, and it is a very important matter in the consideration of this question. It is unfair to the teachers of these schools, because you are asking them to do an impossible thing—to keep all the children in a line, and educate them as children ought to be educated. This is not a matter that applies only to England. I have received a letter from a friend in Germany, where the same complaint prevails, that all the classes in the school are overcrowded. What must it be in schools where the classes are not overcrowded, where there is a certain percentage of children attending school half the day only, and hindering the progress of the whole school? My hon. friend the Member for Stockport has had a great innings in this matter as regards the number of speeches he has made as to what concerns Lancashire. The hon. Member has again quoted the figures of the ballot, but he has forgotten to tell the House that out of a membership of 85,000 of the Weavers' Union, 62 per cent. would be composed of young unmarried girls. They are not the parents of the half-timers. I would like to call the hon. Member's attention to what the secretary of one of the divisions of the Northern Counties Weavers' Union has said. He pointed out that the parents of these half-timers were mostly people in good positions—joiners, blacksmiths, mechanics, farmers—who could well afford to send their children to school, and had no reason to send them to the mill for the extra six months. I will give a typical instance of the condition of some of these parents. One has a family of eight children, each of whom goes to work as a half - timer. I suppose when the seventh and eighth child would be going half-time to the mill and half-time to the school, probably the income coming to that house would be £300 or £400 a year. This is the sort of capitalist who sends children to work half-time in the mill and half-time at school, depriving them of the education which they ought to have; and the English taxpayer, who is providing a vast amount of money every year for the cost 1127 of education, has a right to see that this education is carried out in the best possible manner. The half-time system is a bad system as regards education, and the sooner it is entirely done away with the better. I can only congratulate my hon. and learned friend on the success he has so far achieved with the Bill, and I hope that in a few years from this time, at proper intervals—because we must not do these things too suddenly or all at once—the half-time system will be abolished entirely.
§ MR. DUNCOMBE
rose in his place, and claimed to move, "That the Question be now put"; but Mr. Speaker withheld his assent, and declined then to put that Question.
§ MR. JAMES KENYON
One reason why I have had great pleasure in supporting this measure is that I am perfectly certain that 10, 15, or 20 years hence you will have to have a higher standard of education in the trading classes of this country. The technical schools are not doing that amount of good they ought to be doing, the reason being that the elementary education of the children is deficient. The whole complaint in my part of the country from the technical schools is that the boys come to learn different trades, but their elementary education in reading, writing, and arithmetic has not been properly attended to. In this respect the Bill of my hon. and learned friend will be a great improvement. It is a modest Bill; it only means that the children will have to attend school another six months—surely not a very terrible departure. I am confident that if the House of Commons passes this Bill it will do a very great benefit indeed, not only to Lancashire but to the whole of the trading classes of this country. There has been some talk about the children not being able to learn their trade so well at the later age, and not being so amenable to discipline and instruction. I can only say that the experience of a number of friends of mine is that the boys will learn their trade just as well at 12 as at 11. The older children, as a rule, are much more likely to make less waste with the work than when they begin to learn the different processes at the earlier age. I think that that argument is really worth very little indeed. The rest which the children will get in the morning will help them in their education, and the raising of the standard of education will do an immense amount of 1128 good to the technical schools of the country by sending the boys to them better taught elementarily, while the passage of the Bill through this House, and I hope through another place, will be a very great benefit, not only to Lancashire, but to the whole of this kingdom.
§ MR. MADDISON (Sheffield, Brightside)
I am sure the speeches we have heard from the hon. Member for Bolton and the hon. Member for Bury have given great encouragement to those of us who see in the development of our educational system the real hope of the future prosperity of our country. During this Debate we have heard a great deal about the attitude of the trades unions on this question of half-time. It is a fact that trades unions immediately interested in textile work have, so far as official votes are concerned, gone against this Bill. But the hon. Member for Bolton expressed the feeling which I believe exists in the minds of all the textile leaders—viz., that in their heart of hearts they welcomed this Bill, although they knew that through the half-time system, through lack of education, through this hereditary system growing up from father to son, it was very difficult indeed for them to put before their members in such a way as to convince them a question which affected the weekly revenue of their families. The best evidence you have that there was no heart in this opposition was found in the small number of men who came into the lobby during the Second Reading of the later stages of this Bill. Nobody knows better how to "lobby" than the trades union leaders of Lancashire, and the mere fact that very few came here is in itself very good evidence, of what their real opinion was. The trades unionists are constantly being told by employers that we are driving away trade from this country, and we in our way have tried to persuade and convince the workmen of the country that if they are to hold their own in the markets of the world they must give of their very best—that this is no mere capitalist plea, but that it is the bedrock of the industrial situation—that you must have an educated class of workmen, that you must have men who are not merely physically strong, but that they must be mentally vigorous as well. What do we see? Here is a Bill which is as modest as any Bill of the kind could well be. It has to depend upon the fortune of the ballot; when the 1129 Second Reading was moved it was carried by an enormous majority, a decision which was come to without any guidance from the Leader of the House or from the Government as such; it goes through its later stages, and we do not receive the slightest help from the Ministry—
§ MR. MADDISON
I was about to say so, if you will allow me to finish the sentence. We have hall no support from the Leader of the House, and the only leading—and that has not been a very extended one—was from the right hon. Gentleman the Vice-President of the Council. What I feel, and what the country feels, is that this, the most important Bill of the session as I believe it to be, has not received, with that one exception, anything like the support that it ought to have received from the Government. I do not wish to continue this Debate at any length. I can only join with the hon. Member for Nottingham in his fears about the agricultural Amendment that the hon. and learned Member had to accept really as the price of his Bill. I do think that is an object lesson—that in the closing year of this century it should be necessary, in order to get a modest Bill of this sort through this House, for the promoter of it to make a compromise which at any rate the agricultural Members regarded as of such importance from their point of view that they withdrew their opposition. As their point of view is clearly not the point of view of the Bill itself, I cannot help feeling that there is some danger in it, and that danger is increased because there has been no response to the appeal of the hon. Member for Nottingham on the part of the Vice-President of the Council. He speaks with authority as an educational expert, and he has told the House that if the Education Department takes certain steps this Amendment may become not so dangerous, and he rightly asks the Vice-President of the Council to give the House some sort of assurance in that direction. The Vice-President has not done so. Personally, I am quite confident that so far as his influence is concerned he will do all that he possibly can in this direction, but we know that his influence is not always predominant, and that his policy does not always stamp the Education Department. I listened with 1130 positive pain to the speech of the hon. Member for St. Helens, who told us, using that semi-pious language which generally accompanies the worst form of reaction, that Providence had destined the great mass of working people to go and work for their daily bread, and that therefore we ought to facilitate the time when the children could earn something for their parents. But has education no other value than that of wages? It is this low conception of education, this mistaken notion of education, which is playing such mischief in our midst. When the nation realises that education is a national asset, when it understands that in our schools and by our school teachers we have the real making of the England of the future, it will not grudge, as it now does, almost every penny that is spent upon education, it will not grudge the child another year out of the factory; but it will realise that in the making of brain, and in the giving of opportunity for muscles to be developed by play at the age when nature intended they should be, you are bringing up an intellectually and physically strong manhood, which in the severe years which face England will enable us to hold our own. But to have elaborate apologies for ignorance from one or two Members opposite is really deplorable. The almost absurd argument that this Bill would prevent young children from learning their trade has been entirely disposed of by the hon. Member for Bolton. I believe as firmly as any man in this House can in the proper apprenticeship of children, but if that apprenticeship is to be worth anything at all there must be years of careful preparation, and I stand up and repudiate with all the strength of which I am capable the unwarranted attack upon the National Union of Teachers with respect to this agitation and with respect to this Bill. The trades unionists have long realised that the National Union of Teachers, and the teachers generally, are the best friends of the nation, and so far from being worthy of condemnation, I, for my part, couple them with the hon. Member for Bury, the hon. Member for Bolton, and the hon. and learned Member who has charge of this Bill, and say that the country owes a deep debt of gratitude to them for this small modicum of reform. In conclusion, I cannot help asking why Lancashire should be made an exception. How is it that it is only the Lancashire parent in the main who needs his child to 1131 go half-time to the mill? Does the hon. Member for Stockport mean to say that Lancashire is an exceptionally poor part of the country? Does he mean to say that the wages of the Lancashire operative are not sufficiently large to enable him to send his child to school; as the artisan of Sheffield, or Hull, or other cities and towns of the Kingdom does? If he does maintain that, surely the remedy is not to dwarf the mind and body of the children, but that the trades unionists of whom he was speaking should turn their energies to better purpose, and see that their men get better wages, as their comrades in other parts of the country have done with great success. Although we have to watch the agricultural Amendment, and we cannot speak confidently of that, yet, nevertheless, with that unfortunate exception, I would express my thanks to the hon. and learned Member for the persistency and skill with which this Bill has been brought to its present stage. We shall always look back to the proceedings in connection with this Bill as in the main showing the House in its best light, as proving to us that employers of labour can get out of their narrow surroundings, that they can get out of the class circle in which they move, and look above and beyond mere profits, and that they can speak a word for those mute thousands who can have no champion in this House, who are silent in all such assemblies, and who are powerless and absolutely in the hands of those who are their parents. There are times when it is necessary for the State to even stand between the parent and the child, and if ever there was one the present is such an occasion.
§ THE VICE - PRESIDENT OF THE COUNCIL FOR EDUCATION (Sir J. GORST, Cambridge University)
It always seemed to me during the Debates on this Bill that its passage would be best promoted by abstaining from making speeches. But after what has been said by the hon. Member for Sheffield I think I must trouble the House. When what is called the agricultural Amendment was moved by the hon. Member for South Shields I did give an assurance to the House, on behalf of the Education Department, which I represent, which I did not think it would be necessary for me to repeat on this occasion. I said then that that Amendment had been most carefully considered by my 1132 noble friend the Lord President of the Council and his advisers, that it was the opinion of the Education Department that that Amendment would work, and that under it it would be quite possible to ensure what the House desired—that the attendance of children employed in agriculture during the winter should be a real attendance, and their exemption from school attendance in the summer should really be made up by sufficient and proper attendance during the winter. I can only repeat that assurance now in the same words in which I gave it at the Committee stage of the Bill. As I am on my legs may I be allowed to congratulate most heartily the hon. and learned Member for South Shields on his success in carrying this extremely important Bill to its present stage. I hope he may have a long and successful Parliamentary career before him, but I am sure he will never, whatever may be his achievements in time to come, regret his name being associated with this measure, which I believe will be most important to the future of the community.
§ SIR W. HARCOURT (Monmouthshire, W.)
I am sure the House has heard with great satisfaction the assurance of the right hon. Gentleman in answer to the appeal of the hon. Member for Nottingham. I am sure the House will never regret the afternoon of a day which it spent in giving what I hope will be a unanimous vote in support of the Bill we are now considering. I wish individually to associate myself with the congratulations the hon. Member for South Shields has already received for the zeal he has shown in introducing this Bill, and the judgment he has evinced in the conduct of the Bill. I am sure he desired as little as any of us to introduce, unnecessarily, controversial considerations in regard to this Bill, or any party feeling. This Bill has been the doing of the House of Commons. We have had what may well be called a soldiers' battle about this Bill, and it is all the better for it. Anyone who recollects the history of factory legislation, and to a great degree educational legislation, knows that that legislation has been the doing of private Members, and that private Members have advantages that Governments sometimes do not possess, because their promotion of measures of this kind arouses less party feeling and less controversy. I have listened this afternoon with the greatest 1133 satisfaction to what I must consider to be the voice of Lancashire, as expressed in the eloquent speech of the hon. Member for Wigan, and in the able and courageous speeches of the hon. Members for Bolton and Bury, and I venture to say that, according to my belief, they express the enlightened opinion of that great county. I have often spoken in this House and expressed my opinion as to the absolute inadequacy and inefficiency of the existing system of education in this country, especially its elementary education. In no part of the country is it more deficient—and I speak of that as having more personal knowledge of it—than in the agricultural districts. In my opinion, education in agricultural districts at this time is a disgrace to this country, when you compare it with the education of countries which have less resources, and which might be expected to extract from their children what you would really almost call their life blood by putting them to work at an age too early, and removing them from the inestimable advantages of education. I must say I think it is a disgrace to this great and wealthy country that our elementary education should be what it is at present. In that respect, I have always desired to support to the utmost of my ability views which, I know, are entertained by the right hon. Gentleman the Vice-President of the Council, and I am confident that he will act upon those views. I hope this Bill is only the commencement of that which will be followed up, and must necessarily be followed up, by measures of the same description when the country has learnt that, so far from being a disadvantage, they are a great advantage to every class of the community. Therefore, Sir, I hope we shall by a unanimous vote pass the Bill of my hon. and learned friend, which will add at once, I believe, not only to the health, but to the wealth of this nation.
*COLONEL MELLOR (Lancashire, Radcliffe)
I do not rise in any spirit of hostility to this Bill, but only to ask the Vice-President of the Council if along with this Bill he will grant a certificate, so that after the Bill is passed—I hope by a unanimous vote—there may be a certificate granted which would enable local authorities to grant exemptions in the case of poor parents, those who, owing to distressed circumstances, cannot well afford to give up the earnings of half- 1134 timers after eleven years of age. I am assured by my hon. and learned friend who introduced the Bill that the law already provides for that exemption. Although I have been advised differently, I accept his assurance this afternoon; I only ask, seeing we have certificates for all manner of exemptions, that a certificate may be granted to the local authorities, so that those who are employed in Lancashire may know that they have an opportunity in the case of distressed circumstances of employing their children when eleven years of age. We are asked why Lancashire demands these exemptions; is Lancashire such an exceptionally poor county? The reason is simply and solely that the textile trade of Lancashire affords to operatives in cotton mills an employment for children which is not afforded by any other trade in the country. We have been asked why does Leeds employ its half-timers when Huddersfield and Halifax have largely dispensed with them? Simply because in Leeds, as in Lancashire, they can find methods of employment suitable for children, which will do the children no harm, which involve comparatively little fatigue, and at the same time carry on education to a period largely beyond the period of education over the country generally. In speaking at Leeds only the other day, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wolverhampton alluded to the fact that there are 1½ millions of children between the ages of eleven and fourteen in this country, and of those half a million are not on the register, and of those who are on the register only about 20 per cent. pass the fourth standard. The half-timers of Lancashire do not come into this category. The parents are compelled to send their children to school up to the age of thirteen years. Of all school children they are most regular in their attendance, because if they miss a half-day they are compelled by the law to go the whole of the next day. Nor are they behind in regard to the standards. We find that the half-timers of Lancashire do not leave school after the fourth standard, and that about five-sixths pass the fifth, sixth, and seventh standards. So that we have no right to say that the half-time system is so injurious to education as has been represented. We have been told, too, that the backwardness of children in regard to technical education is the result of the half-time system. This is entirely inaccurate. 1135 Half-time children go to school till they are 13, fully a year longer than the general average of the children throughout the country. But that is not sufficient. Unless you can keep them in touch with education—and this is what I have urged all my life long—through night schools, until they are 15, 16, or 17 years of age, you will still have that fatal gap between the elementary day school and the technical school. Just one other point. We have heard about the poor Lancashire parents. I was asked by one of my own weavers:Have those gentlemen in London who passed the Second Reading of this Bill ever considered what would happen in the case of poor parents? I have been one myself, and I can speak from knowledge and experience. I am speaking of those who have five or six children, and perhaps only get £1 a week as weavers. Unless their children who are 11 years of age may go to work in the mills, it will mean that the mothers will go back to the mills to work, and of those two evils the latter will be much the greater.I think that man was quite right. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will consider my point, and grant a certificate by which half-timers may, in the case of extreme poverty, he allowed to work in the mills at eleven years of age, as at present.
§ Question, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question," put and agreed to.
§ Main Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read the third time, and passed.