OIREACHTAS LIBRARY. - SCHOOL ATTENDANCE BILL, 1925—THIRD STAGE.
Debate resumed on the following amendments:—
13. "To delete sub-section (3)."— Tomás O Conaill, John Good.
17. "To delete sub-section (4)."— Tomás O Conaill, John Good.
When this matter was being discussed last night, questions were raised as to the effect of the section on the attendance at school of children from the age of 10 years. I want to support the contention of those who hold that irregularity of attendance is detrimental to the education of the children. There appears to be general agreement as to the desirability of regular attendance. Regular attendance is essential to proper benefit being derived from the tuition imparted at the schools. The effect of these two sub-sections will be to detract very materially from the benefits the children from 10 years upwards will derive from school. If you have a country school from which the child will be kept at the will of the parent in the spring and in the summer, you will have part of the class attending one day and not attending the next, another part of the class attending the first day and not the second day, and, in a general way, it will be found that children will not be getting any benefit from their tuition and the teacher's work will be destroyed. That is the complaint made throughout the country in regard to irregular attendance, and I think it is true to say that the complaints made regarding the attainments of boys and girls leaving school —that they are backward and not able to do this, that or the other, which they might be expected to—are largely due to this irregularity of attendance. We are all pretty well agreed upon that. But the Minister has introduced two sub-sections into this section which are pandering to that attitude on the part of parents. To that extent, at any rate, the purpose of the Bill is defeated.
I am pretty well convinced that it would be better from an educational point of view to close the schools altogether for these periods, rather than to have some children attending on some days and others attending on others, with a general irregularity of attendance. The teachers are not able to do the work, and the children are not able to take advantage of the work which the teachers do. Sub-section 3 deals with the period from 1st April to 15th May and allows parents to keep their children from school, if they are over ten years of age, provided they are engaged in agricultural work at home. Apart from the question raised by Deputy O'Connell as to whether we are free under the Convention which we have entered upon, I would draw attention to the fact that the usual spring holidays take place in that period. There will be two school-weeks of normal holidays during that period. That is to say, that out of 33 school-days, ten are devoted to holidays, leaving 23 school-days in the period in question. It is now proposed to give the parents liberty to keep their children away for another ten days, leaving only twelve school-days to be relied upon as from the 1st April to 15th May. I really think it would be an advantage to education in the rural districts where this kind of abstention from school is to be allowed if the schools would close completely. Then, in regard to the autumn period, from 1st August to 15th October, there are six weeks holidays. That period would embody 55 school-days, if the schools were open. But, out of that 55 days, there are 30 days holidays, leaving 25 school-days. Now, the Minister proposes to add another ten days, or two school-weeks, to the holidays, so that for the whole period from 1st August to 15th October we are only going to make it obligatory for the children to attend school on 15 days. I think that the damage to the education of the children in rural districts is going to be very material. It cannot be overcome; it is in fact irretrievable.
The holiday period, I venture to suggest, was fixed originally, having in mind the possibility of children being required to do this work. That was one of the reasons, I suggest, why those periods were fixed for holidays, and why such extended holidays were granted. Now, we are expected to agree to a proposition to extend the holidays still further. Very often people write to the newspapers complaining that the holidays already are too extended. I am not saying anything as to that, because I realise that it is necessary that there should be prolonged periods of rest from the very onerous work of teaching. But, to pretend that the children are being taught, and to allow them an exemption of another ten days in the Spring and ten days in the Autumn, is destroying much of the work of the teachers and is going to be detrimental to education. I hope the Minister will not insist upon these sub-sections, and will agree to the amendments.
The plea put forward by Deputy Baxter, while deserving of consideration, really does not warrant us in voting for the exemption. There will always be people who will desire to keep their children from school. We have that exemplified in a further amendment to extend the periods, showing that even the periods mentioned in the Minister's scheme are not going to satisfy the requirements of the farmers. As soon as you begin that sort of thing you may as well say that there will be no obligatory attendance required in the rural areas. The Minister, I think, is ill-advised in making those exemptions, and I hope the Dáil will express its view and press the Minister to agree to the amendments.
There are one or two points which, perhaps, I did not make sufficiently clear yesterday. I wish to say that I am as keen for the success of this measure as Deputies Johnson, O'Connell and Good. I am as anxious as they are that the children should attend every day the school is open. But there are practical difficulties in the way. I have first-hand knowledge of these difficulties that I suggest neither Deputy Good nor Deputy Johnson can have. It is not fair to speak of one district as against another, but I must refer to the conditions in my constituency. Deputy Gorey was quoted yesterday by Deputy O'Connell as having stated on the Second Reading that in the early Spring the assistance children can give on a farm is very negligible. I think that Deputy Heffernan yesterday said something similar. I want to say that the farming conditions in Kilkenny, Tipperary, parts of Galway, and a good many other counties are different to those in Cavan, Leitrim, part of Donegal, part of Monaghan, and part of Fermanagh, across the border. Take, for instance, the constituency of Cavan. Out of 19,000 holdings about 13,000 are under £10 valuation, and on these you may say that you have only one man in each house. You have, it is true, a family of seven or eight children in many of them.
My experience when I was young was that frequently we would have holidays in the spring time, about Easter, the time for putting in the potato crop. On many occasions during that period we could not get out to the fields. These 13,000 people of whom I speak, may be taken as putting in the potato crop with a spade. They take their children out to the fields to drop the seed. We want increased tillage, and no one wants it more than the Deputies on the Labour benches. We approve of that, and we say that, where it is possible, it should be done. If we are to put in the potato crop in parts of the country where the farms are small and where there is only one man on a farm, the assistance of the children must be available at certain periods, as otherwise a crop can not go in. Picture the position of a small farmer towards the middle of April. If there is three weeks' rain he is not able to put in the crop, yet the time for sending back his children to school has arrived. His neighbours also have not been able to put in the crop, but when the time comes when they can put it in, the assistance of their children will not be available. Deputy Heffernan has an amendment, which I would ask to have amended later, by which the ten days' period would be extended to the 30th June. In districts where roots, such as turnips and mangolds, are grown, the assistance of children on the farm is very valuable. It is work which, in a sense, does not cost much, but from which there is a considerable return. If that work is neglected we reap the consequences during the harvest. There is an economic problem facing the country, and, no matter what legislation we have, if we do not take into account economic conditions and at the same time observe the law, we will not be able to fulfil the objects we have in view.
I urge the Minister not to agree to Deputy O'Connell's amendment. I am not going to say that it would not be better if children were sent to school and if there were no breaks in the school course. We are, however, going a good deal further in this Bill than we have gone in other measures. I believe that it will have beneficial results if children are sent to school up to the age of fourteen, but, while accepting that, we say that there must be certain safeguards. I feel that this measure is going to have an effect on many homes, the inhabitants of which, up to the present, were hardly conscious that laws had to be obeyed and respected. It was not because the law was there, but rather through a sense of justice and right that they did not break the ordinary common law. In this measure, however, we will be invading the homes of the people incircumstances which we cannot do very much to alter or improve. In spite of the circumstances of these families we are going to take from them, at particular seasons, the help of their children when it is wanted for a few days for farm work. These parents may be sympathetic towards efforts to make education more highly appreciated, but if we act unreasonably they will adopt an attitude of revulsion towards this measure. That will not, perhaps, be the only opposition which we may expect from them in obeying the law in future. I say that in this matter we must be careful. Let us move warily and thus make more certain of success.
I am going to support Deputy Baxter in his contention. I am satisfied that we require an Act to compel children to attend school in larger numbers and more frequently than they did in the past. My sympathies, however, are with the small farmers who require their children to assist them at certain periods of the year. As Deputy Baxter pointed out last evening, there is no doubt that in many cases the assistance of young persons is almost as great as that of grown people. Not only that, but under certain conditions farmers may be required to do a tremendous amount of work in a short time, and they will then require all the assistance they can get. There are many things learned outside school. If we confined ourselves to the education we received at school some of us would not be very well educated. We have laid stress on the fact that farmers have not been well educated in the past, and that on that account they have not been able to take full advantage of farming facilities. It is no harm to have children of farmers instructed in farming operations at certain periods of the year. I say, seriously, that we should not be too rigid in this matter, because there are so many things that can be learned outside school, and children employed in helping their parents on the farm during certain periods of the year receive a good deal of education in that direction. There are certain parts of the country, Donegal, for instance, where the parents rely almost entirely on their children for the picking up of potatoes. There are other parts where the children are required for helping at the harvest, and where, in their own particular sphere, they are quite as useful as or even more useful than a grown-up person, because they can do things more actively. I think that the case that Deputy Baxter has made is one for the retention of the clause as it stands, and against the amendment.
I take just the opposite view.
You were not brought up in the country.
I sympathise with Deputy Baxter with regard to the difficulties he has mentioned. I realise them, but I wonder if any reform was ever attempted against which it could not be urged that there were practical difficulties. I ask Deputies to consider what the real effect of the proposal in the Bill will be. From the 1st April practically to the 15th October you will have very little progress in the school. You will have the term starting on the 1st April and going on to the 15th May practically broken with vacations and considerable absences from school, to the utter discouragement of the teacher, so that really no progress can be made. He will have a short period after that during which he may attempt to get things going again, and then a month's summer holidays come on, after which you will have the same thing in the autumn. That will practically mean that the only part of the year in which real progress can be made will be the winter months.
I realise the practical difficulties, but I say what is being put up to you is that, because of these practical difficulties, you are to penalise the children at the age of ten and seriously interfere with their ultimate prospects and their education, not alone the children who will be working on the farms, but all the children in the district, because you not only keep back the children who are absent, but you keep back the other children, and you will really be breaking the heart of the teacher. I say it is one of the most discouraging things possible for a teacher who is trying to do his work to find himself in this difficulty continuously, with his classes going into sections, some of the pupils behind the others. Deputy Johnson has drawn attention to it, and I think we all admit that irregular attendance is really at the root, to a large extent, of the backwardness of the children.
I object to this section for two reasons. I think it will put too serious a strain, in the form of work, on the child of ten. I think that Deputy Sir James Craig rather forgot that the proposal is to start the children at ten, and in my opinion that is much too early for children to try to learn agriculture. Children of ten will be able to do as much work as is good for them outside school hours; but to be working the whole day, as is proposed in the section, is quite beyond the powers and the physique of a child of ten years. Let the child do its work at school, and then let it have exercise in assisting at this work, and you will partly meet the difficulties raised. But to keep him away from school to his own detriment, to the detriment of the school, and the detriment of the country, is not, I submit, the way to meet the difficulty raised by Deputy Baxter.
I want to stress as strongly as I can what the effect of this would be upon the teacher. For a period of six weeks you will have probably in sections onethird of the children who are ten years of age and upwards taking advantage of this ten days' leave of absence— about thirty days in the year. In addition to the Easter holidays, whatever length they may be, you will have this extra ten days taken by about onethird, possibly two-thirds, of the children, and the school practically derelict, with large absences probably right through the whole of that six weeks' period. If what Deputy Baxter put forward is right the proper conclusion would be to extend the school holidays—shut the school altogether. Let there be, if you like, a very short holiday at Easter, and let it be decided by each district when the schools would shut. But if you must have this, do not do it by breaking the school work for six weeks. Extend the holiday if you must. But again I submit that I do not think the difficulties are such as to require that, and I hope that the Minister will consider very seriously indeed the possibility of accepting Deputy O'Connell's amendment.
I would like to touch upon the point raised by Deputy Sir James Craig. Really, I could not help but think of all the very genuine and, at least, equally cogent arguments of an identical kind that were used in Lancashire regarding the half-timers. A similar plea will always be made, and will be equally strong in certain circumstances. It was necessary for the parents to allow their children to go into the mills on half-time because the parents could not earn enough. It was an economic necessity for these children to be allowed to go into the mills and work half-time. Once upon a time it was an economic necessity for the children to be allowed to go down the mines, but that was got over, and the half-time system was got over. It was shown that the work in the mills was more efficiently done by children. The children were even more efficient than their parents at cotton spinning, as Deputy Sir James Craig now says they are at agriculture. I do not believe it at all, and if it were so, it is unjust to the children. It is unjust to the child of ten years of age to put him to do this particular light agricultural work, as it is called, and to take him away from his school to enable the parents to do the work that is necessary on the farm. If agricultural work cannot otherwise be done, it had better not be done, if that is the price that has to be paid for it.
If there is to be anything in the way of social and economic advancement, we must begin with advancing the condition of the children. I say it is an entirely wrong attitude to adopt to this subject to say that agricultural economy is dependent upon the child of ten being allowed to sow the crops. I learned some time ago that it was an economic necessity in Donegal for children of ten to be farmed out on pay. Some of the Donegal Deputies may be able to tell us of the position of the children there, children of the labourers, children of the small farmers, who are sent away to work for pay at ten, eleven and twelve years of age. I do not believe that that was an economic necessity at all. It ought to be got over, it must be got over, and the children ought not to be used in this status of slavery, because that is what it really means. Whatever may be the case for the maintenance of this, do not let it depend upon the argument that there is no other alternative, that the country can only exist on the assumption that children of ten must be allowed to do farm work in the Spring and in the Autumn.
I thoroughly agree with Deputies Thrift and Johnson on this question. I agree with them from the point of view of the future development of the farming industry. We shall have to generate more serious thought on this question than we have done up to the present. The dangers we are encountering every day are becoming stronger and stronger, and serious thought is necessary if we are to resist pressure from abroad in the markets in which we are interested. The sooner we can get our children brought within a system of organised thought, the better it will be for the farming community. The younger children will then start on a level of thought higher than that of their fathers, with consequent benefit to the the country. I am not at all in agreement with the method of teaching or the syllabus at present in operation in the schools, but that is a totally different thing. If we get the proper subjects taught, and if we get careful attention for the children, I really think the benefit derived from the education will be greater by far than the short temporary loss which may have to be met by the payment of wages. It would be money well spent—though we know the difficulty there is in raising it from the crops—if we could ensure a greater development of thought among the future generations than perhaps we were able to secure ourselves. Under these circumstances, I think that the sooner a child is brought within a proper educational system the better for the family to which the child belongs. It would be better, too, economically. It may perhaps, be difficult, for a year or two years, before the system develops itself, but if the scheme is correctly directed the farmers and the country generally will benefit economically by the greater scope which will be given to children towards the mastery of truth.
I think the success of this Bill depends altogether upon going the whole hog. If we leave it halfway, as our predecessors left it, we will find that no advance will be made. My plea on behalf of the amendment would be for the sake of the children who do attend school. If only half the number of children attend school at certain times, the teacher cannot make good. We had an example of that here last week. When it was proposed to deal with the Bill for a few hours on Thursday and then adjourn for a week, the case was made that we would lose contact with the different points and with the continuity of the argument. The teacher is affected in much the same way. He makes up his mind that he will impress a certain idea on a pupil coming to school the following day. Next morning he finds that the pupil is absent. Perhaps the child remains away for a considerable time and the teacher forgets about the matter which he had intended impressing on the pupil. I do not see why children who attend school regularly should be handicapped or why their education should be retarded because of the children who do not attend school regularly.
A short time ago a deputation of parents came to ask me to inquire into the alleged carelessness of a certain teacher and his want of attention to the pupils. After some time we had an exhaustive inquiry into the whole matter. It was found that instead of the teacher being at fault, the parents were at fault. In a great number of cases, the children only attended 17 days in the term from Christmas to Easter, and the average attendance was only 20 days. It is impossible for a teacher to take an interest in his or her work if children are kept away from school for insufficient reason in this manner. We are particularly dependent upon our teachers at the present time. We are short of teachers. If children are only to be required to attend half time, why not amalgamate the schools and let the teachers do a certain number of weeks' work in one school and a certain number of weeks in another school? I do not see why we should continue to pay teachers big salaries if they are only to be kept working half time. Deputy Baxter made one point which, if anything, is in favour of the amendment, in my opinion. He said that most of the work in his part of the country was spade work and that only one man could do it. That one man, he said, would have so many acres or roods of potatoes. It is quite possible, if this is a one man's job, for the man to do all the dropping of potatoes required in an hour or so in the morning. The children would be home from school in the afternoon. As Deputy Thrift said, it is unreasonable to expect a child to work all day as an agricultural labourer. If he works from the time he comes home from school and does his home school-work, it is quite enough for him.
Deputy O'Connell and Deputy Johnson referred to a matter that it might be well to get out of the way without any further delay. They referred to the question of the Geneva Convention. The question as to whether this sub-section was within the Geneva Convention gave me a considerable amount of thought. I came to the conclusion that it was within the Geneva Convention, and, if Articles 1 and 2 make provision for anything, they make provision for legislation of the type of the sub-section that we are discussing. I may, perhaps, be allowed to make one or two remarks, not applying so much to this particular Convention or to this particular sub-section as to the general effect of these Conventions. I wonder is it meant, or was it ever meant, that these conventions should be interpreted in the strict legal way in which, for instance, an Act carefully drawn up and fully debated in this House would be interpreted by our courts. I want to emphasise that I am speaking generally, because I think that, even strictly interpreted, this particular sub-section comes within the four walls of the two articles quoted by Deputy O'Connell yesterday.
I take it for granted that the general purpose of a convention of this kind is not to tie completely the hands of the different national legislatures in all matters. If you read those conventions and have regard to their general character and the manner in which they are drawn up, I think it will be seen that they are intended really to serve as a general condition, the details of which must be filled out by the different countries by detailed legislation, each country making its legislation according to its own needs and desires. If the Deputy will take the trouble to read up the debates —I am not now referring to anything that was said when this particular Convention was under discussion here—I think he will get the impression that what I say was certainly the view taken by this House of that Convention. It was then made clear that if we adopted the Geneva Convention we were more or less fixed to the fourteen years as the minimum school age. Beyond that we were given to understand that there would be a great deal of elasticity. I am now referring to the general effect of conventions of this character, and taking this particular Convention that we are discussing in connection with the particular sub-section that it is proposed to delete, unless it means a provision much of the kind that we have here in this section. I cannot see what is the precise force, first of Article 1, and then of Article 2, taken as modifying Article 1. There is a distinction as anyone can see. I will read Article 1 to bring it to the memory of Deputies:—
"Children under the age of fourteen may not be employed or work in any public or private agricultural undertaking or in any branch thereof, save outside the hours fixed for school-attendance. If they are employed outside the hours of school attendance the employment shall not be such as to prejudice their attendance at school."
There you get what is undoubtedly a concession in favour of agricultural work of this particular type. Article 2 reads:—
"For purposes of practical vocational instructions the periods and the hours of school attendance may be so arranged as to permit the employment of children on light agricultural work, and in particular on light work connected with the harvest, provided that such employment shall not reduce the total annual period of school attendance to less than 8 months."
Deputy O'Connell suggested that what was meant there was technical instruction of an agricultural kind. I say it is quite obvious that is not what is meant. Surely, there was no necessity of making an exemption of that kind in favour of technical instruction, even if the technical instruction was of an agricultural kind. It is distinctly not in favour of instruction of that kind but in favour of work that will have an educative tendency in a certain vocation, namely, the vocation of agriculture. Therefore, I think if you take the two Articles together, it becomes quite clear that we are within, as I say, the four walls of this particular Convention. Even those who are anxious for what they consider a strict interpretation of this Convention, will admit, I think, that we would certainly be conforming with the Convention if we gave the extra twenty days' vacation so long as they did not come within the eight months. From the point of view of employment or in the sense of making a big exemption, we can do the big thing, but are we violating the spirit if we do the less? There are different types of primary schools such, for instance, as urban schools, that can get no exemptions.
I am speaking of urban schools, such as you have here in Dublin.
This is a different provision, if the Minister will allow me. It will not limit to any area.
But the parent of the child must have a farm for the child to work on for him.
That might apply to a plot here in the city.
If we look at this in the light of ordinary common-sense and not of mere logic, I suggest it does not apply to schools in an urban centre. What I object to is that there has been a great deal of logic, and, as Deputy Cole said, of the whole-hogger about this matter, and not quite so much of a willingness to meet and to fully understand the necessities of the situation. Deputy Good's interruption is, I think, a case in point. The point I was making was that you have these schools that are predominantly urban. In their case, in practice, there are no exemptions. Then you have schools attended partly by the children of farmers and partly by the children of townspeople. You have many such schools through the country. You have, too, schools that might be said to be totally rural schools. In the case of schools attended by the sons of townspeople and the sons of farmers, there the exemption can apply only to the children coming in from the country. It cannot apply to the children from the towns.
As the question was raised, I want to explain, so far as I am concerned, my attitude as to the compatibility of this particular sub-section, as it stands, with the Convention that we ratified last summer. Coming to the merits of the particular case, there are two questions that I do not think we can keep quite distinct in this debate. I am not quite sure whether Deputy Thrift put down his amendment, not as what he would like, but as the best he could get. I was afraid it was the latter, and I see now it is so. There are two distinct questions, it will be admitted. First, there is the general question as to whether or not there should be any exemptions of the kind contemplated in this particular sub-section. The second, an entirely different question, is the question of age at which that exemption should be made. My own attitude as regards exemptions of this particular type, however undesirable from many points of view, and however much it may go against the grain to make them, and notwithstanding Deputy Johnson's history, is that I think there are practical necessities at the moment for us when it comes to the question of age. I must say that I am not at all quite so convinced that 10 is the proper age, and so far as that is concerned I have a perfectly open mind on the matter. If the House thinks that 12 is the proper age——
No; it is a question of degree. If, as I say, I think exemptions are necessary in this Bill, until the new amendment, if it is adopted, comes into operation, we may take fourteen at all events as the normal age through most of the country. If the House adopts the age of twelve, I will be quite as happy as most other people in the House on the matter. The suggestion has been made that it is better to close the schools. From one point of view, I quite admit, that is an attractive proposition; it is the first thing that occurred to myself when I read the sub-section. The only difficulty is that I do not think it meets the situation, because I do not think that the times or days that farmers want to keep their children at home— I speak under correction from the Farmer Deputies at this side of the House and at the other side of the House—necessarily coincide. I am myself a representative of a community that is largely a farming community.
May I interrupt? Would not conditions be very much similar within a radius of two or three miles of a particular school?
Not if one man had a wet field and another a dry field.
From my own experience, I would be rather inclined to disagree with the implication contained in Deputy Thrift's question.
Am I right in asking that the Minister is assuming that these days need not be consecutive days?
Quite right. I do not think that the situation that this sub-section is framed to meet would be met by simply extending the vacation.
I do not suggest that every case in a district would be met, but to a very large extent, I think the conditions are similar in a small area of that sort.
My difficulty is that there is too much variety in the needs of individuals. I think it was Deputy Good who said yesterday, "hard cases make bad law." If we were legislating for one case or two cases, or for one district or two districts that proverb might apply, but that is not the case. The situation, as I say, applies, not to isolated individuals or districts; it applies to the whole of the country or most of the country. If it was merely a case of legislating to meet individual hardships then, undoubtedly. Deputy Good's point would be quite sound. But that is not what we are doing; it is not to meet individual cases of that kind or individual districts or individual parents, or individual children, that this particular sub-section is meant to deal with.
Deputy Baxter will admit, at any rate, that it would be a great incentive to every farmer to keep ahead of his work to take advantage of these days.
I am afraid Deputy Thrift will find that a farmer has already incentives enough.
If Deputy Thrift goes down the country at the beginning of November he will have some experience of the farmers' difficulties.
As I more or less hinted before, it is not a question of abstract logic, it is not an abstract question of "whole hogs" or "hams," it is really a question of whether the economic pleas put forward by Deputy Baxter are strong enough to overcome the undoubted evils that exist in this particular sub-section. I am not, for a moment, denying that there are evils in this sub-section. It is quite true that a breach in the instruction of the child is extremely hard on the teacher and extremely hard on the child. It is a question, as I say, not of abstract logic but of common sense, as to how far economic necessities on the one hand are sufficient to outweigh these difficulties and evils on the other hand. It is not really a question of perfection on the one side and chaos on the other. It is a question of having to choose the lesser evil. That, at all events, is how I look at the matter. I cannot say that I am keen in the abstract any more than any other Deputy—I am certainly not keen—on this particular amendment if I had to apply it other than in the circumstances. But I suggest there is something in Deputy Baxter's plea of the unwisdom of compulsion. The point will come up to which it is wise to have compulsion, to have strictness, to have a rigid system, and a point beyond which it is unwise to have a matter of that kind. It is possible to come to a breaking point even in a compulsory education system, and I think I suggested it on another amendment also that undoubtedly we shall have a considerable amount of difficulty, even with the best will in the world, in enforcing this Act in a country that is not accustomed to this particular kind of compulsion, and that possibly, also, is not always aware of the advantages of this particular kind of compulsion. I wonder whether it is wise, any more than in the case of prohibition, if carried too far. This may be quite sound in the abstract, it may be perfect; but it may lead to abuses, and especially the abuse of contempt for the law, which may be worse than the particular evils that you are anxious to avoid.
The suggestion was made that 200 days are rather too short and that we are cutting them down still further. We certainly are not doing it in the towns, but we are making it possible to cut them down to 180 days in the country. On the other hand, I do not think it is fair to suggest, as Deputy Good did in the case of Deputy Baxter—I am saying this in defence of Deputy Baxter because I happen to be in the same boat, and therefore the remarks applying to Deputy Baxter will also apply to myself—that because we oppose this particular amendment, we are, practically speaking, rejecting the principle of compulsion; we are making compulsion for 180 days for the country districts instead of 200 days, and, therefore, we have thrown the whole principle of compulsion overboard; that, in fact, as Deputy Good put it, Deputy Baxter is only a thinly-disguised Deputy Heffernan.
It has been pointed out that they have all the Saturdays to work, but the difficulty about Saturdays is that they occur at the particular period of the week. You cannot change your Saturday from the end of the week to the middle of the week, and it may be that it is in the middle of the week the child will be required at home. You cannot change your Saturdays from the middle of December to the Spring or Summer. I have never been quite clear why Saturdays are exempt. That is another question undoubtedly. If it comes to a question of days, why are Saturdays exempt in the case of the national schools? I myself had that particular enjoyment up to the age of nine, but I lost it afterwards, and after nine in the secondary schools I certainly had to attend at least for a half day on Saturday.
There was another point, I think, raised by Deputy Johnson, namely, if agricultural work in the country—and remember we are dealing now with the great bulk of the inhabitants of the country, the small farmers—requires this particular help, then better it should not be done.
I said if it was dependent on this particular help?
May I point out, as far as this clause is concerned, it must be dependent to this extent—namely, 20 days. Otherwise his remark is confined to this particular amendment of this particular section. He can only refer to these 20 days. Therefore, if his remark is sound against this sub-section, it means if, to this extent, agriculture of this type is dependent on the help coming from the children, better it should not be done. Those who come from the country districts will say that in many cases it is so dependent. Is it in the interests not merely of the parents but of the children that the agricultural work on the farms should not be done?
Or is it in the country's interests?
Yes, or the country's interests. A case has been made from the point of view of the child; but I would remind the Dáil that there is another point of view. After all, the head is not precisely the only useful thing the child possesses, especially the growing child. There was one matter touched upon by Deputy Sir James Craig—I am glad he mentioned it—with which I would like to deal. I believe, and I have always felt, that it is a drawback to anybody's education if one has not lived and worked on a farm. I do not say that there are not certain drawbacks even if one spent all his life on a farm. I do not say that what they lose in this way could be made up in other ways, but I do feel that it would be to the advantage of a child of a certain age if he did light work on a farm.
There are plenty of opportunities.
Of course, we do not want to have children exploited, and the amount of work could be regulated by the parents. I hope I have explained my attitude on this amendment. It is not an amendment that I willingly oppose. I oppose it because I think it is necessary to do so in the interests of the agricultural community over most of this country; necessarily and incidentally I oppose it in the interests of the children themselves, and I believe it is necessary to oppose it in the interests of the smooth working of the Bill.
The Minister wound up with the hope that he had explained his attitude. So far as I could see, there were five or six different attitudes. There was at one moment the attitude of the aggrieved educationist realising that this was a thoroughly bad proposal and how little he would like his own pupils, who happened to be needed by their fathers to dig potatoes, to leave him at the beginning of the Seven Years' War and return to find him in the middle of the French Revolution. Then, there was the attitude of the agriculturist, an attitude admirably assumed, but I think only assumed.
Then I congratulate the Minister. I hope when the Cumann na nGaedheal Party reaches its inevitable end of dissolution, we shall see the Minister over on those Benches. The Minister puts it forward that it is a good thing for a boy to live and work on a farm and do light work. Does the Minister think there will be no light work done in the summer?
During the long summer evenings.
That is scarcely likely, because it is six o'clock by the time the child has had his dinner.
Surely three months holidays in summer give sufficient time for doing light work.
Three months holidays in summer? Deputy Cooper must be thinking of universities.
And not national schools.
Well, with a holiday extending over a month, with the teachers doing a course of Irish for another month, and with ten days at one end and ten days at another, as provided in these two sub-sections, there will be very nearly three months. The Minister does not, I am sure, seriously put forward the suggestion that a child who lives on a farm does not do a certain amount of farm work and does not get a certain understanding in regard to farms. The Minister goes on to talk about urban schools. This Bill is hardly necessary for urban areas. In purely urban areas—large towns—compulsory attendance is already in force. It may not be entirely effective, but it is in force.
In the case of purely rural schools the inconvenience may be little, because all the children will stay away on the same day. My pity is with the unfortunate teacher waiting in an empty school to see if any child will come. A very large proportion of the schools he spoke of—sixty to seventy per cent.— represent schools where some of the children are the children of farmers, and others are the children of towns-people. Those schools take in the very small towns, and there you have the children of tradesmen, shopkeepers, and so on. The children of the tradesmen and the shopkeepers are being kept back all the time because the farmers' children are absent from school. There may be weeks when that class will make no progress at all. The Minister justifies that by saying that unless you put in a saving clause of this kind the Bill will be unpopular.
I am sorry if I misquoted the Minister. At any rate, he said that the Bill would be unpopular and it would be necessary to put in a provision of this nature, at least to minimise its popularity. Perhaps the Minister will amplify what he did say in regard to the Bill?
I touched on the question of the practical working of the Bill—the enforcement of it. It is really a question whether you could compel people to observe its provisions. It is not merely a question of their liking the Bill, or having prejudices in regard to it. It is a question of passing a law that, from the necessities of the case, would be unpopular in practice. This Bill will be extremely unpopular to enforce. It would be practically impossible to enforce it in many cases unless you make exemptions of this character.
On a point of order. This can be likened to the case of a thief who would say: "It might be unpopular. If I am arrested I may be let off, because otherwise all the thieves around the country might find means to make it unpopular for the authorities to carry out the law." That argument is as charming as it is hopeless.
As regards that particular point of order, it represents the type of argument that is used against this Bill. Utilising your children on this type of work is put on the same level with thievery.
I wish the Minister had been longer in the Executive Council and that this doctrine of difficulty and impossibility of enforcement had been considered with regard to many of the measures that have come before us. It is such a new doctrine that it comes upon us as a thunderbolt. Hitherto Ministers have acted first and thought about enforcement afterwards. I believe the Minister is a pessimist; I never thought he was one before. It would be impossible to enforce the Bill even if the amendment is carried. I believe it is desirable the amendment should be carried. Either this is a measure to increase educational efficiency or it is not. If it is a measure to increase educational efficiency, let us have it as thorough-going as possible.
The people will take a great deal at once; they will not take a great deal piecemeal. It will be very difficult to pass an amending Act after this Bill has begun to work and after the enforcing authorities have become accustomed to it in a certain form. I would suggest that since the Minister's enthusiasm in regard to its provisions is of a modified nature—it is of a utilitarian rather than a philosophical nature—he should leave this matter to the free vote of the Dáil. These two sub-sections are not essential to the fabric of the Bill. The economic argument and the argument of expediency will, no doubt, have due weight with Deputies, but if the Dáil desires a thorough-going measure, it ought to get it.
I admire the Minister's advice that we should apply our common-sense to this Bill. I am sorry he did not stick to that advice when he was speaking of the Geneva Convention. He was rather inclined to argue on the letter rather than the spirit of the Convention. He seems to have forgotten, as Deputy Sir James Craig has forgotten, what was really behind the Geneva Convention. We know that for many years there has been progressive legislation in the interests of children engaged in industrial employment. There has been general agreement that it is bad for the child and for future generations to have him so engaged. Up to recently this legislation has not applied in the case of children engaged in the agricultural industry. There was a feeling that the conditions were different; the child was engaged in the open air and was not subjected to the same physical disabilities as the child engaged in factories. The more impelling reason why such legislation was not enforced, or did not come hand in hand with legislation protecting the child in industrial employment, was the very great difficulty of enforcing the legislation in the case of children employed in agricultural undertakings. In a factory it is quite easy to have inspection. It is almost impossible to have such inspection, except at prohibitive cost, in the case of children engaged in agriculture.
The idea underlying the Convention is that to protect children engaged in this class of work it is necessary to tighten up the school laws and lay down the principle that such children should not be employed only outside the hours fixed for school attendance. The normal age in the country is taken. That was understood to be the general spirit behind the Convention, that children should be employed in the undertaking only outside these hours. For the benefit of Deputy Sir James Craig, especially, I will read a short extract from the technical survey of agricultural questions issued from Geneva in 1921, which deals with this very matter:
In agriculture the need for safeguarding the child is less obvious. To those who agree that a life in the open air and the manifold interests of country life are conducive to the child's physical and mental development, it may not be apparent that, unless judgment and control are exercised as to the type of farm-work alloted to growing boys and girls, these children may be set tasks beyond their strength. The lack of limitation of hours of labour in agriculture exposes the child on the farm to special dangers which have already been diminished by legislation in the case of the child in industry. The child farm-worker may be robbed of sleep and recreation necessary for his healthy physical development, and no one would be the wiser; in the dulled mental faculties of that child when he becomes an adult few would recognise the result of some local employer's practice of relying on cheap labour to keep down the wage bill.
Then it goes on to state:
Meanwhile, as if by common consent, the majority of European States have sought a safeguard for childhood in rural districts through the indirect operation of education laws by which the age of a child's admission to general employment can be more or less controlled.
That is the whole spirit underlying the Geneva Convention. I think I am justified in saying that we shall stick to the spirit of it, and, if fourteen years is to be the normal age, then no child under fourteen should be given any exemption. For every child up to that age it should be strictly laid down that he or she should be at school every day on which the school is open. If the Minister holds that what he calls the saving clause—practical vocational instruction—does not imply some methodical form of instruction, I cannot agree with him. As I pointed out yesterday, it is very difficult to say that if the boy who is engaged driving a cart to the creamery in the morning is engaged in practical vocational instruction, the term instruction can be applied to the class of work that is done, or is claimed to be done, during those periods on the farm.
It seems to be forgotten that the case made out very strongly by Deputy Baxter is not a case that applies to the whole country, and these exemptions do apply to the whole country. Deputy Baxter mentioned Cavan specially, but his argument has been neutralised to a very great extent by the speech of his fellow-Deputy from the same county, who supports the amendment and who, I take it, knows the conditions of the small farmers in that county as well as Deputy Baxter. Admitting the conditions there are such as are stated, why introduce this provision which applies not only to Cavan and Tirconaill, but to the whole country? Deputies Gorey and Heffernan, speaking also from the Farmers' Benches, said that children were not necessary at all for this work. Deputy Gorey told us that the children were not of any use so far as he knew. I take it he was referring to his own area.
Did he not say that they were useful at another period?
I say at that period. He went on to say that the school vacations fully met the difficulty. But these exemptions will apply all over the southern and eastern portions of Ireland, where the particular type of work that Deputy Baxter refers to is not done. As I pointed out, they will be taken advantage of by the thriftless and shifty parent who does not want the use of his children at that particular time. The Minister stresses the word "parent"—"engaged in light agricultural work for his parent." I do not know exactly what force can be attached to that. Suppose I am the parent of a child and I tell him to go and "drop" some potatoes for my neighbour, is that child engaged in light agricultural work for his parent? He certainly is. It might happen that I only wanted one child at home to do my own work, and if I had four children over the age of ten, and I send the others to do work for my neighbours, can they be held to be engaged in "light agricultural work for their parent?" I say they can. A labourer's child might be engaged in light agricultural work for his parent if he is sent by his parent to do it for a neighbour. You are opening a very wide door indeed by the insertion of this provision.
I think it can be said that there is no general demand for this provision in the Bill. We have had a demand for some years from everybody interested in education for compulsory school attendance, but in none of the resolutions passed or the demands that have been made, have I seen any special reservation of this kind asked for. A school manager has a certain discretion to close his school for a short period, and if it can be shown that there are exceptional conditions existing in Cavan or Tirconaill, there is no reason why the school authorities could not close the school for two or three days or a week. It can be met in that way, if it is to be met. But we should not insert a provision of this kind which will be taken advantage of wholesale and as a matter of course, and will put an excuse into the mouths of parents for keeping their children at home. It will also probably be taken advantage of by some of the boys who are sent to school by their parents. They will get to know that during this period they have ten days to spend on the hillside, as there will be no inquiries made because they are supposed to be engaged in light agricultural work for their parents. This is a bad principle to adopt, and I would ask the Dáil to support the amendment and, by doing so, express the opinion that the place for every child up to the age of fourteen at least is at school on every day on which the school is open. There will be ample opportunities for making use of such services as the child can render outside school hours—in the evenings after school, and sometimes in the mornings, as school does not begin until ten o'clock.
And walk two miles to school, afterwards.
The majority of children do not walk two miles to school. There are also the holiday periods and the odd days on which the school is closed. All these provide ample opportunities for a child getting the kind of vocational instruction which the Minister talks of, and will also be sufficient to meet the demands on the farm. Of course it is a case of the parent making a sacrifice. The argument could be put forward that the school age should not be extended beyond ten years, as children over ten would be useful on farms. It is a question of choice—what is best for the child and for the community. Undoubtedly boys and girls of ten, eleven or twelve, would be of some use if kept at home every day, but it is a question of choice. It is necessary, however, to inculcate the habit of going regularly to school, and these exemptions will create a bad impression and lead to the formation of a bad habit. The idea that we ought to try and impress on both parents and children is that the children should be at school every day on which the school is open. If some children can be kept at home, and others are sent to school, that habit will not be formed.
I should like to emphasise what has been said as to the loss which will be occasioned by this provision, not only to the children who are kept at home, but to the children who are at school, because the work of the teacher will be interrupted and there must be a holding-up of the progress of the children who go to school regularly, for the sake of the children who are kept at home. Deputy Baxter has pointed out the unwisdom of making this too rigid, and the Minister has, to some extent, supported the view that there is something in it. I do not think there is much in it. This is not anything new in it. If we have not had an actual law in force before, for many years past we have been listening to exhortations from the altar and elsewhere as to the necessity for children being sent to school. The vast majority of the parents are fully alive to that necessity. It is for the people who are not alive to that necessity, and to whom compulsion has to be applied, that we are making these special exemptions. These people do not deserve to have special exemptions made for them. I hope the Dáil will recognise that and vote for the amendment.
I have given this amendment long and anxious consideration. because the argument of Deputy Baxter last night did appeal to me. I feel, however, if this is put to a vote, that I cannot conscientiously vote against the amendment. I think the case of agricultural exigency—because Deputy Baxter has proved there is such a thing—might be met under the head of "reasonable excuse." When the Minister is re-drafting sub-section (2) (a), perhaps he might consider making his definition wide enough to admit of agricultural exigency. But the argument that appeals to me most is that this Bill is being brought forward in the interests of the child, and we must sacrifice something for that. As a person who has to teach every day I know what interruptions in the school course mean, how they impair the teaching, almost fatally. I think that a continuous gap of ten days twice a year will lower the educational value of our teaching by forty per cent. I would not mind a few days here and there so much, but this continuous ten days is fatal from the teachers' point of view, both as regards teaching and discipline. I cannot conscientiously support that provision.
As regards the vocational instruction that the children are getting, is not the Minister laughing a little at us? I cannot help thinking of a place called Dotheby's Hall, of the great pedagogue, Dr. Squeer's and how he tried vocational instruction. "Spell potatoes.""T-a-t-e-r-s.""Go out and dig them." That is the kind of vocational instruction that boys will be getting during those ten days, and I think it is rather throwing dust in our eyes to talk about it. As I say, what is fatal to this provision, to my mind, is the continuous break of ten days twice a year.
I think that there has been a certain attitude adopted by some Deputies, in dealing with this amendment, which is somewhat fallacious. We heard it stated by Deputy O'Connell and other Deputies that the proper place for a child is the school, and that every day the school is open the child should be there. We all want children to be at school when the schools are open. The children, however, with whom we are dealing are not so many abstract units required to be in a certain place at a certain time on certain days. They are live children of live parents, living in this country, and governed by present economic conditions. The conditions obtaining, especially in agricultural areas, are conditions over which the parents have no control. Is it to be said that the farmers of this country can be certain of the kind of weather which will prevail on certain days in the year, and be able to plan their farming operations accordingly? Knowing the country as I do, and knowing a little about the conditions of the agricultural community, I, for one, think that to make this Bill as rigid as is proposed by Deputy O'Connell in his amendment, would be to disregard a contingency which must, and will always, be there, and that is the uncertainty of the weather conditions in the country as affecting agricultural interests. It would be very nice to have children attending on all days. I do not know why Saturdays are excluded. Certainly it could never be said that all Saturdays are suitable for farming operations, because one does not know whether Saturday will be as suitable for sowing potatoes as, say, the following Monday. I would be prepared to support any proposal to have some portion of Saturday devoted to school attendance. I think it was suggested that the proposal that certain days should be exempted during a certain period of the year to meet contingencies, which are always, and must inevitably be, present, is doing away with the principle of compulsion in its entirety. That is suggesting something which no reasonable person could entertain. These two sub-sections do not, to any great extent, affect the urban areas, and they will not affect those children attending schools of the mixed character described by the Minister.
I think that Deputy Baxter and those who have spoken in support of him have made an unanswerable case. They contend that certain economic conditions do exist and, much as we may desire compulsion in its entirety, we have to take into recognition certain facts, one of which is that, in the case of small farmers especially, it is an absolute necessity for them to get all available help on certain occasions during certain periods of the year. I think, in the interests both of the children and of parents, that this is a proper provision, because, as the Minister hinted, a child has to live, and in the case of the small holdings such as those mentioned by Deputy Baxter, it is absolutely essential that every possible assistance should be rendered to make those farms something in the nature of a working proposition, whereby the parents themselves and their children will be able to exist. Though education is what we all desire and though the greatest amount of education is what we all seek, at the same time both children and parents have to live. To say that the proposal that an extra ten days may be taken by the children for the sake of the parents, and incidentally for their own sakes, is going to smash the Bill in its entirety and do away with the principle of compulsion, is an argument too extravagant to be entertained. I do not know whether the Minister will leave the question to a free vote of the House, but if he does, I, for one, will support the Bill as it stands.
The Minister has very genially been invited to leave the amendment to a free vote of the House. For sinister purposes of my own, I am inclined to agree that it should be left to a free vote. We want Deputies to declare themselves, and we know that there are Deputies drawing their suffrages from rural communities who really are men destitute of an agrarian heart or insight. We want them to declare themselves and we will be able to deal with them at the next elections. A good deal of stress has been laid on the injury done to children by keeping them away from school. No one regrets more than I, and no one has a greater appreciation of, the loss which a child sustains by being forced at an early age to do light farming work. The Labour Party, however, has not put up any alternative. It is easy to express pious regret, but where is the alternative?
I have heard that phrase before.
They have put up no alternative. They say, in effect: "Provided we feed a child's mind what matter if we starve its body." That is the effect of their argument. It is regrettable that the stone-broke agricultural industry in this country is forced to employ child labour, but what can we do? As has been pointed out from various quarters of the House, there is an overwhelming number of small holdings in the Saorstát. These are, as it were, one-man shows, and the owners in some instances are too poor to pay labourers, and, in some instances, even where the owners are well, or comparatively well, off, they are unable to obtain that labour; not that labour is not available; it is available but it cannot be obtained.
Very well. Deputy O'Connell says that a child should do some work in the morning.
He might. "Might" is a word capable of many interpretations. Afterwards, it appears, the child could proceed to school. The Deputy, however, when he rose to speak, read an extract from the Geneva Convention objecting to children getting tasks beyond their years or strength, on the ground that those tasks sometimes dull their mental faculties. How did the Deputy harmonise these two points of view within a space of five minutes?
Would it be beyond the capacity of a child to drive cattle to pasture before he went to school?
That is an extraneous matter. We are dealing with the question of getting in or reaping the crops. That is the interpretation—that the child should give some little assistance, such as spreading potatoes in the spring or picking them at the end of autumn. Speaking as an agriculturist, I think that these are the only operations in which children could be effectively employed. They are, at any rate, the only suitable occupations of which I know. We presume that the Deputy is not so inhuman as to have children utilised as scare-crows. There is reason in everything. The underlying principle in the section which it is proposed to delete, is not to have them utilised as scare-crows, but to have them assist in the operations of picking or spreading potatoes. I submit that the section as it stands is very appropriate in view of our economic condition and that it would be a distinct disadvantage, even to the children, to delete it, as in that event it would mean that while children may get education they may be left with starved constitutions.
Both Deputy O'Connell and Deputy Alton used exactly the same form of words and said, in effect, that this particular sub-section left the door wide open to all sorts of evasion of the Act. I think both of them proposed an alternative which took away the door altogether— that is, whether the question of reasonable excuse could not be dealt with by the magistrate. If that were so, it would be entirely in the discretion of the magistrate to decide whether the period of time would be ten, fifteen or twenty days. The remedy proposed is, in fact, worse than the alleged disease. If you had the limits defined you would be on much safer ground. From the point of view of spelling, a child's education is not improved by digging potatoes, and from the point of view of getting vocational instruction, the mere fact of a child attending school to learn how to spell "spade" and "pick" will not tend towards the necessary vocational instruction to which reference has been made.
I want to stress one point made by the Minister. It would be a far greater mistake to leave it open to the District Justice to decide whether the excuse was reasonable or not, as the result would be that all parents would be able to produce a reasonable excuse before the courts. You would then never get a conviction and, although you would have the Act, it would be of no use.
It appears to me that conditions in the country vary very much. The constituency for which Deputy Baxter speaks is mainly occupied by small holders. It may be very essential, and I am sure it is, that these people should have the assistance of their children in the spring and at the harvest. But take other parts of the country; take the Eastern and Midland counties. In these I do not think that it would be at all right that the school term should be interrupted to the extent suggested, because I do not think that there would be a demand for that. I do not know of any children being employed as wage earners, as has been said. I think a farmer would be very foolish to employ children of ten years as wage earners because, except in the case of a few things, their labour on a farm would not be of very much account. If it could be possible to leave it within the discretion of the Minister to apply this part of the Bill to certain areas or certain counties it might be a way out of the difficulty.
Would it be possible to have that aspect of the question considered? There did appear to me that possibly this particular difficulty might be met in the new clause that the Minister proposes.
I cannot promise to meet that point. To consider it is, of course, another matter. I will consider, certainly, very carefully not merely what has been said on my side, but still more what has been said on the other side. But I cannot promise, by considering it, that I can meet it.
It appears to me now that it is proposed to do something that is not wanted. There are districts where this clause might be useful and might be availed of, but in order to help these districts we are to do a serious and absolute injury to others.
That is exactly the argument that is being put forward. Deputy Baxter says that in his district so and so is essential; another farmer Deputy says that in his district it will be of no use. The difficulty appears to be that it is essential that this privilege should be given in certain districts. Could that not be met in quite another way—instead of making it compulsory in all districts, to give the Minister a certain power to allow this in the event of an appeal being made to him for certain days or for a certain period for the services of certain school children of a certain age? Could it not be within the power of the Minister to deal with an appeal of that nature?
And set up another Boundary line.
Might I ask Deputy Good what is the reason why a farmer with ten acres in Kildare should not have the same privileges as a farmer with ten acres in Cavan?
I think the difficulty would be that every farmer would try to have his district exempted.
If the Deputy whom we have just heard had listened to the discussion on another clause possibly he would not have made that remark. The manner in which we got out of an impasse in connection with one of the early clauses of the Bill was through a proposal put forward by the Minister, and if the Deputy reads that proposal he will find that it practically gives the Minister power to do anything and everything under the Bill with reference to the ages between 14 and 16. That would be the means now of getting out of a similar impasse. In Clause 2, if I be at liberty at this stage to go back and remind the House on what happened, it is stated: "The Minister may, by order made under this section, do all or any of the following things, that is to say, limit the application of the order to any particular part of the Saorstát; except any children or any class of children from the operation of the order." I need not go on, but it gives the Minister power practically to do anything and everything. The only limitation at all that I see under this clause is that it applies to children between the ages of 14 and 16, and but for that limitation the Minister could do everything that is required under this amendment and not have these clauses at all. Have we not got common-sense enough to meet the difficulty of doing serious injury to a large number in order to benefit a small number?
What seems to be lost sight of by many Deputies is that the keeping of children at home is not compulsory. I believe that parents will be sufficiently interested in their children to send them to school on every available day if they are not wanted at home. I come from a district where there is no compulsory school attendance whatever. In three rural districts in my county there is compulsory attendance. In my district there is not, and I am glad to say that the attendance there compares favourably with the attendance in the other three. Therefore I hold that the parents will have sufficient interest in their children to send them to school every day that they can possibly do so. But to take away from small holders the right to keep their children at home for a few days in busy seasons is, I believe, quite absurd.
With reference to Deputy Good's point, when I said I would consider the matter carefully I was quite serious, but I do not want the House to vote under the impression that I am promising to introduce an amendment. I have been considering that particular method, but it was not quite on the lines suggested by Deputy Good that I was considering doing it. It is not a question of the small number and the large number. My contention is, that this Bill meets a large number, and, therefore, if after full consideration between this stage and the next stage I consider that the Minister ought to have these powers, that might be done. But my present view is that it ought rather to take the form of leaving these clauses in, and giving the Minister power to say that in certain districts they shall not be operative. That is what I would prefer, rather than what Deputy Good suggests, which is rather the opposite procedure. But, as I say, I can only consider the advisability of bringing forward an amendment of that kind, but I certainly cannot promise, and I do not want the House to vote under such an impression.
I do not see how the Minister or anybody else could determine this question by districts, because side by side you will have holdings which are entirely different, governed by different economic considerations, and lived in by different classes of people. In one case a man might be able to send his children to school every day, and do without them at home, while another man living in a cottage nearby, with a small plot might require his children on every available occasion. I do not think it would be at all practicable or advisable to deal with the question by districts.
Will the Minister also consider leaving out of the Bill the proposal that would mean the practical breaking up of the regularity of the summer session from the 1st of April? After that the holidays will intervene, and this thing will again operate in the autumn session, so that it practically means that regularity will be confined to the winter months in so far as it is not interfered with by the weather.
The Committee divided: Tá, 16; Níl, 43.
- Earnán Altún.
- Richard H. Beamish.
- Seán Buitléir.
- John J. Cole.
- Bryan R. Cooper.
- John Daly.
- Séamus Eabhróid.
- John Good.
- David Hall.
- Tomás Mac Eoin.
- Pádraig Mac Fhlannchadha.
- Tomás O Conaill.
- Eamon O Dubhghaill.
- Domhnall O Muirgheasa.
- Tadhg O Murchadha.
- Liam Thrift.
- Pádraig Baxter.
- Earnán de Blaghd.
- Thomas Bolger.
- Seoirse de Bhulbh.
- John Conlan.
- Sir James Craig.
- Máighréad Ní Choileain Bean
- Uí Dhrisceóil.
- Thomas Hennessy.
- John Hennigan.
- Connor Hogan.
- Seosamh Mac a' Bhrighde.
- Liam Mac Cosgair.
- Séamus Mac Cosgair.
- Maolmhuire Mac Eochadha.
- Eoin Mac Néill.
- Liam Mag Aonghusa.
- Patrick J. Mulvany.
- John T. Nolan.
- Michael K. Noonan.
- Peadar O hAodha.
- Mícheál O hAonghusa.
- Ailfrid O Broin.
- Seán O Bruadair.
- Risteárd O Conaill.
- Parthalán O Conchubhair.
- Conchubhar O Conghaile.
- Máirtín O Conalláin.
- Séamus O Cruadhlaoich.
- Séamus O Dóláin.
- Mícheál O Dubhghaill.
- Peadar O Dubhghaill.
- Pádraig O Dubhthaigh.
- Seán O Duinnín.
- Aindriú O Láimhín.
- Fionán O Loingsigh.
- Pádraic O Máille.
- Risteárd O Maolchatha.
- Séamus O Murchadha.
- Pádraig O hOgáin (Luimneach).
- Seán O Súilleabháin.
- Mícheál O Tighearnaigh.
- William A. Redmond.
- Nicholas Wall.
Tellers:—Tá: Deputies T.J. O'Connell and Good. Níl: Deputies Dolan and Baxter.
Amendment declared lost.
Amendment 14.—In sub-section (3), line 30, to delete the word "ten" and substitute the word "fifteen," and in line 32 delete the words "15th day of May" and substitute the words "30th day of June."—Mícheál O hIfearnain.
On behalf of Deputy Heffernan, I ask the leave of the House to amend this amendment by dropping the reference to the word "fifteen," thus merely extending the date from the 15th May to the end of June. It would mean that this period of ten days could operate between the 1st April and the 30th June.
That amendment would begin in line 32.
I had intended pointing out to Deputy Heffernan that this amendment dealt with two different things. Deputy Baxter is only moving in regard to one of them. The amendment, if amended as proposed, would read: "In sub-section (3), line 32, delete the words 15th day of May and substitute the words 30th day of June." The amendment is being moved merely with regard to the length of the period during which the ten days may be taken.
Leave granted to alter the amendment as proposed.
There is very little to be said for this amendment that has not already been said. The Dáil has decided that the Bill shall stand as it is with regard to this period of ten days.
The Deputy may have another try, but he will get the same decision. Accepting the provision as it stands at the moment, our desire is that the period during which children may be kept at home to do light agricultural work should be extended from 1st April to 30th June. If the Bill is amended in this respect, I believe it will be more acceptable to the agriculturists of the country as a whole. While in some parts of the country the demand may be for the assistance of the children in the early spring, in other parts of the country the help of the children might be more valuable towards the end of June. Everyone knows that light work, like the thinning of turnips, mangolds, and beet is already done by children to a great extent. If they are to be allowed to remain at home for ten days to do light work. I do not see why the ten days should not be available from the 1st April to the 30th June instead of from the 1st April to the 15th May. As a matter of fact. the arguments advanced against the granting of the ten days are in favour of my contention. If the amendment be accepted, the ten days will be taken over a much longer period; the business of the school will be much less interrupted than it would be if the ten days were taken in a short confined period, and the injury, if any, suffered by the children will be less. All the arguments against the granting of the ten days are in favour of the extension of the period as sought in the present amendment.
I hope the Minister will not accept this amendment. If we are to have a period of irregularity in the schools, during which the class-work will be interfered with, let us have that period made as short as possible. At all events, let us not extend the period. One of the main arguments against the insertion of these exemptions was interference with school work. If this amendment is accepted, the interference will be increased. Deputy Baxter says that the absence of the pupils will be less noticeable. The amendment would mean that a different set of pupils would be taking a different period off, and the interference with the work of the school would probably be greater. I do not pretend to have the knowledge of agricultural work that Deputy Baxter has, but I should be surprised to hear that turnips are thinned before the 30th June in County Cavan.
I did not say County Cavan.
My objection to the extension of this period is entirely due to the interference that will be occasioned to classwork. I thought, and I still think, that the insertion of these exemptions was a mistake. Now that that has been done, the Dáil should not go a step further to increase the evil by accepting this amendment.
I would like to urge on the Minister the desirability of accepting Deputy Baxter's amendment. I do so because of my knowledge of the rural districts and of agricultural work. The 15th of May is too early to terminate the period during which the exemption can operate. In the county with which I am intimately acquainted, the drills are not ready for planting on the 15th May. Again, May and June are the months for the thinning of mangolds and turnips. The mangolds are thinned in the middle of May and the turnips are thinned in the middle of June. It would, therefore, I think, be of great advantage if the Minister extended the period during which the ten-day exemption would operate. If the ten days were spread over a longer period, I do not think that much harm would accrue. If the children miss a few days at the end of April and a few more days towards the end of June, I do not think there would be so much damage done at all. I was not altogether in love with this proposal, and if we could avoid it I would be disposed to avoid it. But facts are facts. We have to face the fact in this case that agriculture is the basic industry of the country. We have little enough tillage at present and we should not do anything to interfere with tillage. It would facilitate tillage very much and make work easier for the farmers if the period already agreed upon could be made available during the months of April, May or June.
I am sure the Dáil realises now how difficult it is to draw a line in this matter. I should not be surprised if we had a member of the Farmers' Party seeking to extend this period up to the end of August, so that the children could assist in the hay saving.
The Deputy is not an agricultural expert.
I do not pretend to be an agricultural expert, but there are some people besides the Farmers' Party in the Dáil who know something about agriculture.
They view it from a safe distance.
Agriculture is not as bad as it is supposed to be. If it is, why is there such a demand for land? Why are the farmers prepared to pay from £3,000 to £5,000 for land?
That sort of argument is all right for the hustings, but I think we ought to be spared it here. I think that in the interests of the farmers themselves, and of the farming industry, it is bad to keep children from school. The farmers ought to realise that, but I am afraid they do not and that they are too anxious to grasp at the small advantage they may get at the moment from the child's labour. They ought to look at the damage they are doing to the child by keeping him from school. They may be losing far more by keeping the child from school than if they allowed him to go. It is all very fine for Deputies on the Farmers' Benches to say that there are people speaking about agriculture who know nothing about it, but I suggest we ought to consider the children in this matter. My belief is that the children will not be a bit thankful to members of this House or their parents when they grow up and have sense enough to realise the difference, if facilities are given now so that they may be enabled to remain away from school. We all know very well that if this period is extended it is only going to mean a greater holiday for the children themselves whether the parents require them or not. They will be in the position that they will be able to take advantage of the Act and have an extra 10 or 12 days in the year.
If this extension is agreed to, it will make it all the more difficult for the members of the Civic Guard to enforce the Act. It is my belief that if the farmers are ever going to be in the position which they express the hope of being in some day, namely, of being able to meet outside competition, and if they ever hope to raise themselves out of the rut that it is alleged they are in, then I think this extension ought not to be granted. It seems to me from the amendments that have been put down on the paper in the name of members of the Farmers' Party that they are really out to kill this Bill, and that they do not want compulsory education in this country. The whole tenor of their amendments goes to prove that. If it is not apparent to the members of the Farmers' Party themselves, I am sure it is to the members of other parties in the House, that if there is one section of the community in this country more in need of education than another, it is the farming class.
I suggest to the Minister that the period should be from the 15th June to 15th July. That is the period that would be most suitable in my county. I disagree with Deputy Mrs. Collins O'Driscoll as to the period for thinning mangolds and turnips in my county. The period that will be most suitable in my county and, I think, in most counties, is from the 15th June to 15th July.
I would like to be a little clearer as to what the position is as regards this amendment. Am I right in assuming—I gather from the speeches made that I am right in assuming—that the period that would suit one portion of the country would not suit another portion of the country?
I might say, for instance, that in a county like mine the tillage operations there are different altogether to what they are in counties like Kildare and Kilkenny. What we are concerned with in Cavan is to get in the potato crop from, say, the 1st April to end of May.
I take it then that the period that, say, might suit the agricultural conditions in Cavan might not be the period that would suit the agricultural conditions in Kildare, and that the period that would suit both counties might not be the period that would suit the County Cork. When it comes to Cork there is a little more liveliness there, because there appears to be a division of opinion on the matter. That is the case then that has been put, but it does not follow from that that it is wise to extend the period. I am inclined to agree with Deputy O'Connell that if we can avoid extending the period, that ought to be done. Might it not be possible. I do not say how far it would be possible, that in the spring, if there is such a legal term, a definite period might be fixed by the Minister—a given period for different portions of the country? Would that suit? If those who are in favour of the main idea behind this amendment think so, I would be ready to consider that between this and the next stage of the Bill—that is, if the difficulties in the way are not too great.
The Minister has asked for some information as to the particular time at which agricultural work is more urgent in some counties than in others. I agree with Deputy Dineen that in most counties where turnip and mangel growing is practised, that an extension of the time for this work would be valuable. The young people could do profitable work in the thinning of these crops. That would take place anywhere, say, from the first week in July up to the end of July. It is work that could be done easily by young children, and it is not fatiguing work.
It appears now that what is sought for is to define suitable agricultural work; that is to say, to have periods in which children might look after the sowing of potatoes, the thinning of turnips and mangels, and so on, and that there should be periods for different parts of the country in which exemptions may be given, so that the children may be applied to this or that particular agricultural job. Really it is coming to this, that there should be no obligatory attendance at school any time from the beginning of the agricultural year to the end of the agricultural year. That is the conclusion one is forced to arrive at as being the desire of Deputies who are pressing this proposition. I hope the Minister will keep the period in which there may be exemptions as narrow as possible. Irregularity in attendance at school, and the breaking up of classes are bad for education, and I maintain that when we are dealing with an Education Bill, having for its objective the more continuous and regular education of children, we ought to have that in mind from the beginning to the end, and not be emphasising the importance of child work in agriculture. If this was a Bill dealing with child labour in agriculture, then we might have all these explanations as to the importance of this or that particular crop, or as to the age children should be or might be employed in this or that particular job. I thought it was generally accepted that in considering an Education Bill it was desirable to impose an obligation on the children to attend school, but now it appears that what we are really discussing is a provision for the employment of young children in agriculture.
I desire to stress the point raised by Deputy Johnson. On the last amendment it was urged very cogently that it was necessary to have the labour of the children at the getting in and the saving of the crops, and an exemption was urged for that reason. The argument used was that a loss of one or two or three days might make the greatest possible difference in the saving and getting in of the crops at that particular season. It was urged, too, that the poor farmer who had no assistance to rely on, and who was not able to pay labour, had to depend on his children, and had to employ their labour to get in the crops. Now we have another set of circumstances put up in connection with the thinning of turnips and mangels in the month of July. We have been urged that this is the proper month in which to have these exemptions.
I suggest that no one will stand up here, no matter how ignorant he may be of farming conditions, and say that the turnip and mangel crop will be lost if one or two days are lost in the thinning of these crops. I strongly urge the Minister to stick to what was evidently the original intention, namely, that the period should be such as would cover the normal putting in and saving of the crops. I would urge him not to listen to the arguments put up here from some quarters, that the period should be extended into July, and thus spoil the whole year. I was surprised to hear Deputy Mrs. Collins-O'Driscoll telling us that in her county the potato crop was put in up to the 15th May. I remember on another occasion that the same Deputy gave a talking to the farmers for their habits of laziness, and that she boasted how West Cork was always first with everything, in the putting in of their crops and in the saving of them.
I still stick to what I said. On the lea land the crops are sown early, but as regards the tillage land the farmers are able to get two crops out of it. They can take a crop of rye or vetches off it, and then the land is not ready for the potatoes to be put in until about the middle of May. I desire to point out that the two statements are not contradictory.
If that is so, that is another new difficulty that the Minister will have to face. He will have to make one set of regulations for lea land and another that will be suitable for land for the growing of potatoes. We are familiar with the saying that in places you find one set of people who want fine weather for the hay, while you come across another set of people who at the same time want, as they say, a drop of rain to bring on the turnips or the mangolds. It would be absolutely impossible for the Minister to make general regulations that would suit the varying conditions in agriculture within the same county. The thing is bad enough as it is in the Bill at present, and if the Minister or anybody else were to attempt tinkering with this matter along the lines that have been suggested, it will only make the position worse than what it is, and I suggest the amendment should not be accepted.
If the Minister is prepared to do what he has suggested, to make different regulations for different areas, I am prepared to withdraw the amendment. As far as I am concerned, I will be satisfied if the period in my constituency is up to the end of May. If the Minister is prepared to concede that he will make different regulations for different parts of the country in accordance with the agricultural work that is to be done, that will satisfy me. I may point out to Deputy O'Connell that, whatever may be said about the holidays, it might happen that the school holidays might be included in the period between the 1st April and the 15th May, and leaving very little, if any, of the ten days at all available for the work that the children may have to do.
In this matter I would say let us come down to reality. After all it is a very beautiful thing to talk dreams, as Deputy Johnson can, in a matter like that, with which he is not intimately concerned. As far as we, who represent rural constituencies, are concerned, we have to face those practical problems down in the country. We have faced them already. I have faced them myself. I have gone out and laid down potatoes as a child, and later on I have gone out and I have had a child along with me doing this work.
How many days does it take a child to plant an acre of potatoes?
Deputy Doyle is thinking of the plains of Kildare or Carlow, where a man can go out with his tractor and work from dawn to dark, where for a mile across the country there is not a hill or hollow. If the Deputy comes along to the north he will see some little more of the country and probably he will appreciate that it is something harder to live in some counties than in others, and that up in this part of the country it is harder to get a living. That applies to the county I come from. A good many of the children in my constituency have to work at least as hard as many of the men in other counties. We cannot dismiss these things from our minds when considering legislation dealing with the upbringing of these children and if in considering this legislation we show that we know so little of these conditions as to render us unfitted to deal with them in a practical way, then I say our legislation is going to be very faulty.
I cannot see that this should meet with any possible objection from Deputy O'Connell if the Minister takes upon himself the responsibility of regulating the period in the different areas during which these ten days will run and during which it will be permissible for the parents to take their children from school. If that is done there can be no suggestion that the period is going to be from the 1st April to the middle of July. I would not be asking for that. From the 1st April until the end of May would be quite satisfactory from my point of view. I believe from the middle of June to the middle of July might be satisfactory from the point of view of some others. Other Deputies who represent constituencies different to mine recognise very fully that what would suit my constituency would not suit theirs. We want to try in hammering out this, to hammer out something that will be satisfactory as far as possible to the agricultural interests of the country as a whole. While we may preach from the hill-tops about the value of education, and while we may preach about the good that is going to come to the farmers from better education, we must bear in mind the conditions that prevail. We are not disguising the fact that good would come to the agricultural industry from better education for the farmers, just as good would come to the business men from better education, and as better education would in a similar way benefit labour. We are not disguising the fact that we want improvement in this matter. I believe we can be made better equipped for doing our work if there is better education all round. At the same time we cannot separate the economic problems that face the farmers of this country at the moment. We must bear these problems in mind in any legislation that we are passing here. If we close our eyes to facts and pass laws regardless of the conditions in the country, then I say our legislation will be faulty and will not give good results.
I am sure Deputy O'Connell is not serious in asking me not to listen to the arguments put forward.
Foolish arguments I meant.
Even so, I would listen to find out whether they were foolish or not. The promise that I made was not in fact to issue regulations but to see whether it would be possible to meet the case put up by Deputy Baxter in that particular. Deputy O'Connell says it is impossible. Well then, if it is impossible it cannot be undertaken. On the other hand, with regard to the point made by Deputy Baxter, I will see whether it would not be possible to fix a period not to exceed 45 days in the year—I think that is already in the Act as it stands.
That includes the holidays.
It does not extend beyond that. I will see whether it is possible to meet the case put up. I cannot guarantee that it can be done.
Will the Minister bear in mind that the present period in the Bill does include these two weeks' holidays?
I will bear that in mind.
May I ask the Minister if he will consider the particular districts that may not require this at all?
I want to be quite fair. The position as it appears to me is this —that we are putting in a clause which is mandatory, whether the district wants it or not. That clause is mandatory in the Bill. Now, the Minister and the Dáil will agree that that is not advisable. If certain districts want certain privileges, that is to say, if districts want in the Bill power to the Minister to give these districts certain privileges, then it may happen that the same thing would be forced on the districts that did not want it.
I suggest that that is an argument that should have been directed to the last amendment.
Yes, so it was, and if the Deputy were here he would see that it was.
I was here. Having rejected the last amendment, that argument does not hold in regard to this one. It is suggested now that having passed the section as it stood that we should proceed to amend that section by doing what Deputy Good suggests——
I do not think that that is a very desirable practice to adopt. As for dividing and going on the principle of what the districts want, is it suggested that the right which we have now given to individuals all over the country should be taken away from certain districts if they do not want it? Can Deputy Good tell me where he is going to draw the line between the districts? I will ask him once more whether he or any other Deputy can tell me how he is to draw the line and say that at one side of that line there will not be people who will not require the assistance of their children at certain periods of the year, and that at the other side of the line there will be people who will? I say that is actually impossible, because you will find holdings of different characters up against each other in all parts of the country. My knowledge of the country is that you find big ranches in one part of the country, and next door to them small holdings and small owners and people who cannot afford to pay for labour, and who require such help as they can get. I think it would be impossible to divide the country up into districts and say which district would have the section we have just passed applied to it, and which district should not have that section applied to it.
I think the Minister will possibly begin to recognise now some of the difficulties he will be up against if he wants to make any regulations of this kind, and if he does not recognise it I think I can prophesy quite safely if he examines this question, to see what it means and all the trouble it will mean to him, he will have no difficulty in coming to a decision, and that he will have to refuse to undertake the job of making regulations. If he does propose to do it, I can see that some of the much more important work that the Minister will have to do must be neglected. Deputy Baxter put it up to me that there should be no possible objection to extending the time. I pointed out already the interference with the schoolwork that will be involved in extending that period. If there is to be regularity of attendance it should be for as long a period as possible during the school-year. Again I want to stress this. These periods were selected evidently, and all the arguments were advanced in favour of them, because of the necessity of saving and putting in the crops. We were told, and it was used as an argument why the amendment should be accepted, that of course it would not be availed of in cases where it was not necessary, and that people would send their children to school. Now here is a demand from other sections, not in the interest of the small farmers, but rather in the interests of the big farmers.
I do not know how it can be said to be in the interests of Labour to refuse to employ a labourer and to employ children instead. If they can show me that there is any substance in this argument——
It would be in the interest of increased tillage.
The small farmer cannot be used in this argument. The small farmer will not have so much turnips, beet or mangolds that it will be necessary to employ children to do the thinning. It is in the interests of the big farmer in this case, and I certainly think it would be wrong, and we would be forgetting the arguments used on the previous occasion, if it were now extended to another class of people. I think the Minister will find, if he looks into this matter, that it will be quite impossible to make regulations applying this at different times to different areas. I do think we have gone quite far enough—too far in my opinion—in fixing the period within the time mentioned in the Bill, and I think it should be left at that.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
In regard to Amendment 14a, I might say that this was put down as a consequential amendment to my first amendment raising the age from fourteen to sixteen. I could not move it at this stage until I see what will be done in the new section which the Minister has promised to introduce.
Amendment not moved.
I beg to move:
In sub-section (3), line 33, to delete the word "ten" and substitute "twelve."
I think all the arguments used on the general question apply with increased force to the special point dealt with in this amendment. The Minister indeed foreshadowed that, in what he said and seemed disposed to look on this amendment with so much favour that I do not think I need repeat or dish up again the arguments used. I think the age of ten is undoubtedly too young an age to allow children to be kept away from school for the purpose of doing even light work. I therefore propose that the age should be raised to twelve.
I think it is hardly necessary for me to say that I am strongly in favour of this amendment. Seeing that we could not keep this section out of the Bill altogether, this is some consolation. I think there is hardly anybody in the Dáil but will agree that the age of ten is too young altogether. Even in countries where exemptions are granted—there are exemptions given in some countries in Acts passed many years ago—exemption is not given so early as at the age of ten. In no country is the exemption granted at a lower age than twelve even where exemptions are given in legislation passed several years ago, and I think it is altogether reactionary, altogether contrary to the spirit of the times that we should say in our legislation that a child of ten years should be so engaged. I hope the Minister, as he foreshadowed in the previous discussion, will accept the amendment of Deputy Thrift, and I am sure Deputies on the Farmers' benches will recognise that whatever argument may be put up in the case of a lad of twelve, ten years is altogether too early an age to grant exemption. At that time the child will be only in the Fourth Standard or so. I think there is no necessity to labour the point any further.
It is all right to suggest that the age should be raised to twelve years and that only a child of twelve years should be permitted to remain at home for those ten days. However, when we come down to hard facts, if we accept it at all that a child is to be of value at home to do certain work, we must recognise that the parent will only keep a child at home to do such agricultural work as he is capable of doing. While parents may get a reputation for treating their children perhaps rather severely and for not showing sufficient consideration for their physical ability to do certain work, I hold that the majority of parents will only ask children to do work that the children are able to do. I want to tell the Dáil that children are capable of doing agricultural work at ten years. I have done it myself at ten years, and I got children to do it at ten years in my county.
Deputy Johnson asks is it a desirable thing. It would be a desirable thing if we could send every child in the country to a University. I agree that that would be grand, but I want to tell Deputy Johnson—take Germany if you like as an instance— that all the students at the German Universities go home to the plucking of their vines at certain periods of the year.
They are over ten years of age.
Exactly, but they do not go to the University in order that they may make a livelihood in the vine-yards. They are getting a vocational training, but the people in that progressive country know that, if they are to be kept at the University, there are certain other things that must be done at the farmhouse and around it. I want to point out that there is certain work to be done to-day on the farm, and that it is very difficult to do it at present. I suggest that when you seek to insert an amendment such as this, you are not helping education, and I feel that the Minister should not agree to such an alteration in the Bill. The Dáil has already decided that this age of ten should be left in the Bill. I suggest that no parent will engage a child to work in the fields if the child is not able for the work. The majority of parents in rural districts will be sufficiently considerate not to make their children do work which they are not able to do, and if they are able to do what the parents want, you are taking away a concession with one hand that you have given them with the other by accepting this amendment.
There are hundreds of poor women in this city and in my own constituency who would be very glad if I put in a plea that they should be allowed to keep their children at home so that they may go out to work. There are many of those women with two or three children, and any child of ten years of age is well able to look after a child of five years or three years. The mother may say: "I must go out and earn my livelihood; I must feed my children; I will sell oranges at the street corner; at least I will do something." That argument can be used just as effectively as the argument that Deputy Baxter is using. The same argument was used hundreds of times in Belfast.
Remember that the period is only ten days.
Let it be ten days or only one day, if the Deputy likes. There are plenty of people in this city who would be pleased if I and those acting with me would put up an argument that there should be certain exemptions in their cases because of economic necessity. We have, however, hardened our hearts against the poor because we believe the education of the children is of greater importance. We recognise there is going to be hardship. People will find they are obliged to strain the law and, if they are allowed, they will break the law; they will risk breaking the law and they will blame us for supporting a law which will impose on them rigid supervision over their children and the necessity of seeing that their children go to school. All this must strain loyalty on the part of constituents, people whom we might be expected to plead on behalf of because they are poor, because they may be widows, because they may be people who are out of work, and so on. That argument can be applied with equal cogency.
We believe, however, that it is essential for the future of the children, for the future manhood and womanhood of the country, urban as well as agricultural, that the habit of regular attendance should be imposed upon the children. It is necessary that discipline should be imposed, even though parents may have to feel some little loss. The pleas of poverty and hard conditions are pleas that must make an appeal to the heart of every Deputy, but, if we are looking ahead, and if we are considering the future of the people of the country, we must insist that education and the discipline which this particular kind of education entails, is of paramount importance.
The difference between ten and twelve years is very considerable. I am not going to go into the merits of the issue we have decided, but, as between ten and twelve years, there is an immense difference in the life of the child. I am sorry that the plea has been put forward in this House that a child of ten years ought to be free to stay at home to do light agricultural work. There is a case for a child of twelve years as against a child of ten. Up to a few years ago—perhaps up to this moment—many thousands of children did not go to school after twelve years of age.
I have been reminded that the school attendance in County Cavan, the county that Deputy Baxter speaks for, is the worst in Ireland, except perhaps part of County Mayo. We want to improve that. There may have been, and there may be even to-day, economic factors that led up to that state of affairs. I am not sure whether County Cavan is the worst in respect to economic conditions; it is the worst in respect to attendance in school, and we are endeavouring to improve its reputation. I would urge strongly that Deputy Thrift's amendment should be carried by a big majority, if it is not adopted unanimously.
I was inclined, at the beginning of the debate on this amendment, to support what Deputy Baxter said, and to produce a few arguments in support of it from my own experience of things. I have been greatly strengthened in that determination after hearing what Deputy Johnson has put before the House. I do not agree with Deputy Johnson that if it is possible for a man or a woman to be kept from starvation by sacrificing ten days of a child's attendance at school, the man or woman should be allowed to remain in starvation. That is an inhuman doctrine. I am inclined to think that the attitude of Deputy Johnson and Deputy O'Connell has a little touch of inhumanity and unreality. They seem to entertain the belief that you can reform the whole life of the country by adding twenty days to the period of time during which a child attends school. I do not quite see eye to eye with them, and I have some experience of the educational life of the country.
I was going to add to Deputy Baxter's argument a point that does not seem to have struck anybody. The whole argument against keeping children away from school was based upon the assumption that when children are kept at home they are used for all kinds of heavy manual labour, work for which, perhaps, agricultural labourers should be employed. The argument, more or less, is that there is child-labour at the age of ten years. Anybody who has been brought up in a country house knows that there are millions of things that a child of ten years could do for its mother.
For that matter children of nine, eight, seven, and six years.
Exactly. As I say, there are millions of things that a child who has attained any physical strength could do for its mother. In the summer months particularly the mother needs the child's assistance very badly. I was reared in a country house, and my education was as well looked after as anybody else's education. I was sent to school regularly, and whenever an occasion arose on which I could help, I was kept at home. That happened now and again, particularly at times when the men and women were too busy to look after the hundred and one little matters that needed attention.
In a Bill like this, which is liable to meet with a certain amount of opposition in any case and which is liable to be a bit irksome in its application, if you go in for tightening down everything in the most rigid strait-jacket fashion, you will be bringing about a feeling of opposition to it. I am sorry Deputy Baxter's last amendment was not accepted. If you can get a ninety per cent. attendance for six or seven months of the year, you will be doing a very good thing. There will be just as good value secured in the end as if you put into operation Cromwellian methods and force the children to attend school during the remaining months.
Why not an eighty per cent. attendance?
I believe that as a result of this Bill you will get between an eighty-five and a ninety per cent. attendance. I am sorry the suggestion to spread the time over which abstention from school would be allowed was not accepted. It must be remembered that you are not passing a measure instituting education in Ireland for the first time. At the most this Bill does not affect more than a small percentage of the people; it affects people who habitually abstain from sending their children to school.
You are making allowances for them.
Allowance is being made only for necessary abstention. Deputy O'Connell seems to look at this matter from the point of view of setting up machinery that was never in existence before, and he seems to consider that we are going to deal with whole masses of people and that school life will be affected to an enormous extent. As against that, this Bill is not likely to affect more than six or seven per cent. of the people.
I am rather astonished at the attitude of the Labour Party towards this question of compulsion. I remember the first occasion on which I spoke in this House. It was at the end of the debate on the Treason Bill. Deputy Johnson on that occasion was very much opposed to compelling people to do certain things. He was terribly opposed on high moral grounds to compelling people to obey the ordinary laws of society.
The Deputy is straying away from the amendment.
I am speaking in regard to the general matter raised by the strait-laced doctrine put forward by Deputy O'Connell. The argument was wrong.
This is a Second Reading speech against the Bill.
I do not think a compulsory School Attendance Bill is a good thing, but when you are compelled by circumstances to have a compulsory School Attendance Bill, you ought to be very careful, in the first place, that you do not make it unjust, and in the second place, you ought to be careful that you do not tighten it up so as to defeat your own ends by the methods you adopt to put it into operation.
The arguments of Deputy Baxter and Deputy Professor Tierney were expressed so eloquently that there is a danger of the Dáil not realising that they are not only arguments against the amendment but are arguments against the Bill. If all Deputy Baxter and Deputy Professor Tierney stated is true, there is no need for this Bill. If we are going to assume that all parents thoroughly understand the child's welfare, there is no need for compulsory attendance. This is a Bill intended to deal with the bad parent. I am not suggesting that the agricultural parent is a bad parent, and that the town parent is a good parent.
We are dealing with the agricultural parent at the moment.
There are good agricultural parents and there are bad agricultural parents. There are agricultural parents who do not realise the value of education—Deputy Baxter knows that as well as I do—and there are agricultural parents who will make every excuse to keep children at home. Deputy Professor Tierney's argument is an argument against compulsion. He talked about compulsion of the strait-jacket type. These are the advocates of compulsory Irish.
There is an argument against excessive compulsion, which is a very different thing from compulsion. I said the principle of compulsion in itself is bad, but there are circumstances where compulsion is necessary. I was arguing against tightening compulsion too much.
There is a refinement in that doctrine that savours of Deputy Magennis. It is a philosophical point which, I am afraid, my rather uneducated brain is incapable of appreciating. The Deputy has talked about the restrictions of the strait-jacket. Has he ever thought of applying that doctrine to the Statistics Bill, which is a Bill full of the most drastic penalties? I did not hear the Deputy complaining about strait-jacket methods in that connection. If the Deputy supported the Second Reading of this Bill, I do not think he can say that the alteration from ten to twelve years—an alteration that will prevent a boy from being taken away from school when his brain is most susceptible and when he is most capable of learning—is unreasonable.
Twenty days, in addition to the holidays and Saturdays. It is a considerable period. I do not think the Deputy was in his place when we discussed the main question. What really counts is the interruption of the course of study, and it is undesirable, I submit, that children of ten years should have their course of study interrupted. At twelve years they begin to think things out for themselves. I earnestly hope that the Minister will accept the amendment, and if he does not I hope Deputy Thrift will divide on it.
We do not hear Deputy Tierney very often in this House. I am sorry we do not hear him oftener. If there is one question one would expect to hear him on, it is on a question of this kind. As an educationist, as a man who, as he says himself, has climbed all the rungs of the educational ladder, we would naturally expect to hear him on a matter of this kind. But we would expect that, speaking as an educationist, he would not give voice to the views that he has given voice to on this occasion. He comes forward now and charges Deputy Johnson and myself with what— inhumanity. To stand up here in the interest of the children and their protection—that is the inhumanity that Deputy Tierney speaks of; that is his conception of inhumanity. To seek to protect and to stand up for the interests of the most helpless portion of the community—that is inhumanity according to this new educationist, representing a constituency which has the very worst school attendance record in Ireland. If he speaks as Deputy Tierney, representing North Mayo, I can understand him. If he speaks as an educationist, I fail to understand why he should take up an attitude like that.
Deputy Cooper has already pointed out that the Deputy's speech was a Second Reading speech against the whole principle of the Bill. He did not believe in compulsion; the majority of the people did not want compulsion. We are introducing compulsion because it is necessary to prevent those who do not recognise their duty to their children not only from interfering with the education of their own children, but with the education of other children who are sent to school regularly. Deputy Tierney—the humanist, the man who cannot be charged with inhumanity—stands up to advocate that children of ten years should be kept at home from school at certain periods to do work on the farms. I am surprised at Deputy Tierney.
I desire very strongly to support this amendment. It has been said that this is only a matter of twenty days in the year. It is much more than that, if you look at the matter from the point of view of the teacher and the carrying out of his year's work. As the Bill stands at present, it means that during the months of April, May and June—July, for some particular reason, is left out—and during August, September, and half of October—that is, nearly over six months of the year—fifty per cent. of the pupils will be able to absent themselves for 20 days at any rate. The teacher's work, I take it, must fall within a period of one year. There must be a beginning and an end to it, and the arrangement that has been suggested would mean a weak beginning and a weak end, for, perhaps, the most important section of the school—that is, the senior pupils. Even if you restrict the period during which this is possible to 45 days in the spring and 75 days in the autumn, you will hinder the teacher in dealing effectively with his yearly course. It is very important, in my opinion, that you should restrict the number of pupils to which this would apply by extending the age to twelve years. That will enable a teacher to arrange the particular periods during which he will emphasise the beginning and the ending of the work of the year for his senior students. But, if you put the teacher in the position that he is going to have a bad attendance of children from 10 years upwards at the beginning and the end of his year, you are going to confuse things very much for him.
This is an amendment to which we should give a good deal of consideration. Deputy O'Connell has reiterated over and over again the necessity for continuity in education. That is apparent to all of us. I, for one, believe that the less the civil law is brought into effect in dealing with this and other matters, where really the moral law should come in, the better. Unfortunately, there is a necessity for this Bill. The question is, how we are going to secure the regular attendance of children at school in order to make them better citizens and more useful elements of the community without doing an injury to any section of the community. Deputy Baxter referred to the necessity for a certain amount of child labour on small farms of ten acres or so which are worked by one man. I cannot understand why such farmers cannot get that labour without lessening the hours of attendance for the children at school. Why should we follow the school holidays that have come to us from across the water—the regulation holidays at Christmas and Easter? Farmers and other people only get two or three days off at Christmas. Why should not the school holidays at Christmas and Easter be reduced and holidays be given at the period when the children can do work at home, which Deputy Baxter thinks is so important? I put that suggestion to the Minister and the Dáil for careful consideration. We are not tied down to any regulation holiday. Why should the children get a fortnight at Christmas and at Easter? Why not give them three or four days at Christmas and at Easter, and let the longer holidays coincide with the time when they are wanted to do this light work? That is the way to meet the matter, and have no division about it.
I understand that in my absence Deputy O'Connell made some reference to child labour in Tirconaill. I have not gathered quite clearly what he did say.
Perhaps the Deputy will tell us what it is.
One thing I am satisfied about is, that when the Bill is passed there will be neither sufficient schools nor teachers in Tirconaill to cope with the increased attendance.
It must be in a bad way now.
Child labour is very largely availed of in that county, and we have got an unfortunate system in existence there—the hiring system— under which a very large number of children of tender years are sent out to earn money for their parents. That is an absolute necessity if they are to keep their homes together. My opinion is that a reasonable measure of compulsion is necessary in order that the children may get some education.
While I did not favour Deputy O'Connell's amendment, I am very strongly in favour of this amendment. Although I admitted the necessity for children helping small farmers at certain periods, I do think that children of ten years should not be used for that purpose. Very extravagant terms were used by Deputy Johnson, who spoke of slavery and other things. At the same time, I think that a boy of from ten to twelve years of age is of very little use on a farm except for very slight duties. Such a boy would get very tired after a short time of application, and for that reason I am ready to support the amendment. The statement made by Deputy White has made me feel even more strongly on this matter. If, as he says, children of tender years are being hired out to regular farm work all the year round, that is a very different proposition from children helping their parents on twenty days of the year, and for that reason I hope the amendment will be adopted.
Personally I am rather in favour of the age of twelve, but I will leave the matter to what is euphemistically called a free vote of the House, which means that our Party will be divided and the other parties will vote solidly.
In as much as arguments are going to decide this issue, it is well, perhaps, that there should be at least one argument adduced to counteract the influence of Deputy Tierney. The Bill before us contains Section 4, and those who were present on the occasion will remember that I endeavoured to make this particular provision less rigid than that which the Minister, whom Deputy Tierney follows, put into the Bill. The Bill is one to make attendance at school obligatory and to make parents responsible for their children's attendance. It is a Bill that was promised by the predecessor of the present Minister, and it is being brought forward in response to what we believe to be a general demand, and we understand it has the backing of the party to which Deputy Tierney belongs. It is a Bill to impose compulsion on parents in respect to the attendance at school of their children. Deputy Tierney is against obligatory attendance at school. He explains that he has gone through the whole gamut of education. He was brought up in an agricultural district and he gives credit to his parents for insisting that he should attend school fairly regularly. His parents also kept him away from school pretty often. We have, however, a result which is quite satisfactory. Deputy Tierney has gone through the whole gamut of education; ergo why send children to school, why oblige them to go to school, why not keep them at home to do the hundred-and-one things required about a farm-house? That is the logic of Deputy Tierney's argument.
As Deputy Mulcahy pointed out, the effect of this irregularity of attendance for even these twenty days is not merely bad on the ten or fifteen bad attendants, but it is also bad on the 80 or 85 per cent. To allege that this rigidity, this uniformity of attendance, is bad is to say that we ought to be careless, not merely about the few who do not attend, but also about the remainder who do attend. The fact is we are dealing, not with the education of one individual or individuals, but we are dealing with classes. There is one social and economic fact on the other side which I ask Deputy Baxter and other Deputies to take into account. From the educational point of view we are faced with the fact that we can only supply one teacher for forty pupils. Boys and girls at school are not dealt with as singles but as classes, and if a class is going to be irregular in attendance, the education of the whole class is damaged by the absence of ten or fifteen per cent. of the pupils.
The plea has been urged that it is only the agricultural community that is affected by this particular discussion. That may be true, but let me remind the House that it is in many agricultural areas that the attendance is most unsatisfactory, and in so far as the attendance is good and regular the whole Bill will not need to be passed. It is a Bill to effect the better attendance of those who are bad attendants at present. If anybody is in favour of obliging children to attend school regularly he ought surely be in favour of making the obligation apply to children under twelve and not make an exemption which would allow children to be kept at home to do one hundred and one things under the guise of being called upon to do agricultural work.
I do not desire to allow Deputy Johnson to carry the House with him in his sympathy. My attitude is that I desire to have moderation observed. The only thing which I want the House to bear in mind is that it may be possible to have too much compulsory education. I admit heartily, and I have long thought, that it is necessary to have some system of compulsory education to deal with those parents who will not send their children to school regularly. While doing that, however, you should not apply compulsion to people who send their children regularly to school but who may occasionally want to keep them at home. In this Bill you are compelling everybody, good parents as well as bad, and you refuse to exempt anyone, whether good or bad, from the terms of the Bill except, at certain periods, children at the age of twelve. You are therefore inflicting a certain amount of hardship, and you are doing a little to incommode any parents who send their children regularly to school but who want occasionally to keep them at home for a short period. I think much of the attitude of Deputy Johnson and Deputy O'Connell towards this Bill is that of——
Yes, a Cromwell. What I meant when I referred to them as being inhuman was that they failed to take human nature into account in their attitude towards this Bill.
Was the Deputy here yesterday when Amendment 12 was under discussion?
By that amendment the Deputy will see that we on these benches are desirous of relaxing the obligations where there is a reasonable excuse.
I am prepared to admit that Deputies on the other side have their moments of humanity, but from what I have heard this evening I think that those Deputies, particularly Deputy O'Connell, are inspired by a tendency to compel people to do everything. I am against that universal tendency. I do not think that we are going to gain a great deal by tightening the age limit from ten to twelve years. I think you will cause a good deal of inconvenience to many harmless people. You will not get rid of any terrible abuses or punish any terrible criminals, but you will incommode many good parents who send their children to school regularly.
I do not think that there can be a great deal of inconvenience involved in this amendment. The argument has been put up that, as a general rule, decent parents would not send out children of ten years of age to do ten days' light agricultural work on their farms. I admit they would not, but what you have to consider in regard to particular legislation is whether it will leave loopholes for abuse. If you do not put in an amendment of this kind in the Bill you will leave a loophole for abuse. I think it would be wrong for the Dáil to pass a Bill which formally sanctioned the sending out of children of ten years of age to do ten days' agricultural work. As Deputy Johnson wisely pointed out, there is a big difference between a child at the age of ten and a child at the age of twelve. A child of ten is not much more than a baby. Sending out a child of ten years to do agricultural work seems to me to be inhuman. I find it hard to speak mildly about this matter. If you calculate the number of school days, leaving out Saturdays and Sundays, between the 1st April and 15th October, you will find that the number is something like 136, and with the holidays it means 100 days out of 136. As the Minister says, there is nothing extravagant in the proposal.
I would like to emphasise the question that is raised on this amendment. I do that because Deputy Tierney insists on making Second Reading speeches at this stage. The point at issue is whether, or not, the exemptions which are put in should apply to children at the age of ten or at the age of twelve years. Deputy Thrift moves an amendment to the effect that they should apply not earlier than at the age of twelve years. If the amendment is not carried we will be the only State, as far as I can discover, in which exemptions of this kind apply to children of ten. I have made an exhaustive search through the school legislation of all the countries in Europe and in America, and I can find no place in which these exemptions for agricultural work are given at such an early age. Deputy Baxter draws a picture of the conditions in Cavan. I do not suppose they are very much different from the conditions in Fermanagh, across the Border, and in portions of Tyrone. There there are no exemptions at the age of ten. Permission is given in a very much more limited extent than under this Bill for the employment of children in certain circumstances at twelve years of age, but there are no exemptions whatever under the age of twelve in Northern Ireland. I pointed out yesterday that they had given exemptions in England, but that these exemptions were removed up to the age of fourteen. Are we to be pointed out as the only State in which it is deliberately and formally set down that exemptions should be given to a child at the age of ten years to remain at home to engage in light agricultural work? That is a question that the Dáil will be asked to decide on this amendment.
The question of compulsion is not involved. It is a question as to at what age this exemption should be given, and making a plea for the quiet, decent parent—the parent that Deputy Tierney talked about does not carry us very far—the quiet, decent parent will send his children to school, and will not need this exemption at ten, or twelve, or at any age. These are not the people who have caused this Bill to be brought in. The people who have done that are the people who are indifferent, particularly in the areas represented by Deputy Baxter and Deputy Tierney. These are the people, who have made the Bill necessary. I was thinking of suggesting that it might be possible to have the bell rung now to bring in all the Deputies to hear the arguments, seeing that on this occasion at least it will not be a question of asking the Whips, "How are we to vote?" I do hope that the Dáil voting freely, even in the manner indicated by the Minister, will—
——follow the Minister and will not reject this amendment, so that, as I say, we will not leave ourselves in the position of being pointed to as the only State that has put into its school legislation permission for a child of ten years of age to absent himself from school to engage in agricultural work.
I do not know that Deputy O'Connell would think it right that because the people in Spain or Italy or England or Scotland or America do a certain thing——
Or Fermanagh—that accordingly his conscience would direct him that that was right and that he would follow their example. I suggest to Deputy O'Connell that there are very many occasions when, if such a proposition were put up to him, he would ask himself where it would lead him, and he would decide that he would turn down the example that was given to him by some of these countries as to what he should do in the conduct of his affairs. It is no argument that because certain things are done in certain countries, where conditions are different, it is right for us to do the same. I am amazed at Deputy O'Connell suggesting that we should follow such a course. I am not surprised that Deputy Thrift has moved this amendment. Deputy Thrift does not understand the conditions in rural Ireland as we understand them. Deputy O'Connell, from the educational point of view, and particularly from the point of view of the organisation he is representing, feels that it is better, and easier for the teachers to conduct their work successfully, if there is no break at all from the day the child first goes to school until it leaves at the age of fourteen. I agree that from a certain point of view the advantage to the teacher in his work would be very great under such circumstances.
Deputy Johnson looks at it from another point of view. I can understand his point of view, and he, I suggest, would be prepared to keep a great many of the people at school until the age of twenty, and he might perhaps think that to a certain extent that would solve the unemployment problem. It might, but it would not be a solution from the point of view of the economic difficulties that the country is facing. Let us examine the position. If we have conceded and if the Dáil has already decided that there may be a ten days' respite from attendance at school at certain periods of the year, let us take the parent who during the holidays has his child engaged on certain farm work, the child being perfectly capable of doing it, physically fit and sufficiently intelligent for the work. Let us imagine the position that that child and parent will be in because of this Bill. The day after the school opens the parent cannot keep the child from school to do the same work that the child did the previous day. I cannot understand that reasoning at all. The physical ability of the child is no argument, because I suggest, with all respect to those who have argued to the contrary, that parents will not put upon their children a physical strain that they are not capable of bearing. They do not do it, and the light agricultural work that some people seem to question the ability of the child to do is being done by children of ten years and under. I have done it myself under ten years, and I have had a child with me doing it, putting in the potato crop, and it is done over a very great portion of the country. I can see no reason whatever for permitting the child to do that work during the holidays and preventing him doing so if its parents require him the day after the opening of the school. I can understand that from the point of view of a Deputy looking down on the country from the heights of a University. I can even understand it from Deputy Johnson, but it is rather difficult to understand it from Deputy O'Connell, who has a comparatively good knowledge of conditions in the country.
I do say, regardless of what may be argued about the necessity for compulsory attendance, that this additional ten days' attendance by children from ten years to twelve at two periods in the year will not improve very considerably the standard of education during that period, and I doubt if it will make any difference at all to the child with ordinary intelligence. These ten days will not always be taken, but there will be occasions when it will be necessary to take them, and it will make little difference over a period of four years. I would prefer to have seen the Minister stand on the original proposal. He seems to be partly of two minds. I hope he is not drifting over to the other side, that seems to be so very badly informed as to the conditions in the country. I believe it would be better to leave the Bill as it is. If the experience gained in the working of the measure will show that certain improvements are necessary I think we could approach them much better then than at present, and I repeat that there is every possibility that in this we will step out too far and that there may be a desire to retreat. This would make the administration of the Bill very difficult and if it is passed you will find that there will be a very general desire later to amend the Act, because experience will show that you have stepped out too far and too soon.
I want to repudiate most emphatically Deputy Baxter's suggestion that I am looking upon this particular amendment, or any portion of the Bill, from the point of view of employment, or labour, or wages, or anything to do with the working classes as wage earners. I am looking at the amendment and at the whole Bill purely from the point of view of what I believe to be an educational necessity.
I would like to say, by way of personal explanation, that any of the arguments I have used in this connection were not used in the interests of the organisation that I happen to serve elsewhere, and were not used because of any advantage this would bring to the people whom I serve in that organisation. This would be of no advantage to the teacher. The teacher will have to do his work whether these children are at school or not. It was not in their interests that I spoke but in the interests of the children.
Deputy O'Connell and Deputy Johnson have practically said what I want to say. I always listen to Deputy Baxter with great interest, and he speaks with knowledge of farming life that I, unfortunately, largely lack. So I listen to him and very often look to him for guidance. But I think in this he is wrong; he does not see the gravamen of the argument in favour of the amendment. We do not support it because we believe that there is a tendency to undermine the physical health of the children, that parents in Ireland, as a rule, overwork their children and put burdens on them that physically they are not able to bear. I do not believe there are many parents in Ireland who would do that, and if there are there are other ways of dealing with them. This Bill has been introduced in the interests of the child and of his education. If there is any principle at all involved it is: Do we believe that education is a good thing? I remember Deputy Baxter practically telling us that the salvation of the country depended on education. If it is a good thing, let us give the child as much of it as we can. The parent who can exercise self-denial will not find this Bill oppressive. It is the parent who will not think of his child who will find the Bill rather harsh at first. I believe in setting a rather high standard, and I assure Deputy Baxter that from the educational point of view interruption in study is most detrimental. It lowers the effective teaching standard of the school for the term. Unless a man has actually been teaching he cannot realise how interruptions of this sort can destroy the term's work. I appeal to the House to support this amendment, and I congratulate the Minister on his boldness—I expected nothing else from him—in leaving it to an open vote.
I hope the Minister will retain the original clause in the Bill. The law is supposed to be for the greater convenience of the greater number. In the West they are all small farmers and they cannot get on with their work expeditiously except they have the aid of their children. It is all spade-work. Deputy Johnson and Deputy Thrift seem to be under the impression that the work the children do is equivalent to slavery. It is the lightest work possible. I do not know whether Deputy Johnson or Deputy Thrift knows what a "slit" is. But everybody in the West knows. A slit is a potato cut into different portions. Each portion has an eye. A child of from ten to twelve years has a small quantity of these potatoes in a box. He throws the "slits" on to the ground, already prepared with manure for them. The father, or sometimes the mother, of the child turns the clay over the potatoes, and thus the work goes on. That is the lightest kind of work that a child could possibly do. But if the child did not aid the father, it would take three or four times longer to do the work. Deputy Johnson is exercised about the attendance at school. I, too, am exercised about the attendance of the children. The average attendance at present in the national schools in the rural districts is about 80 per cent.
It is nearer to 60 per cent. in Mayo.
We will take it at 80 per cent. as an average.
I wish it were. The official figure for the Free State is 72 per cent.
This Bill makes attendance compulsory on 180 days, taking off these ten-day periods. The children must go to school for 180 days and that is a very considerable advance. Deputy Johnson and Deputy Thrift should look at the matter in a reasonable light. The people should be convenienced as far as possible. In that way, you will make the community satisfied. If they are not satisfied, it may not be possible to enforce the law. There are a large number of Statutes which it has been found in practice impossible to enforce. As regards Geneva, I have no love for Geneva. I believe the paragraphs read out by Deputy O'Connell were drawn up by some philanthropist who knows nothing at all about the actual facts.
Why did the Deputy vote for that paragraph?
I have no regard for Geneva.
The Committee divided: Tá, 35; Níl, 21.
- Earnán Altún.
- Earnán de Blaghd.
- Seán Buitléir.
- Seoirse de Bhulbh.
- Séamus de Burca.
- Bryan R. Cooper.
- Sir James Craig.
- Louis J. D'Alton.
- John Daly.
- Máighréad Ní Choileain Bean
- Uí Dhrisceóil.
- Séamus Eabhróid.
- Desmond Fitzgerald.
- John Good.
- David Hall.
- Thomas Hennessy.
- Connor Hogan.
- Maolmhuire Mac Eochadha.
- Tomás Mac Eoin.
- Pádraig Mac Fhlannchadha.
- Eoin Mac Néill.
- John T. Nolan.
- Ailfrid O Broin.
- Criostóir O Broin.
- Tomás O Conaill.
- Eoghan O Dochartaigh.
- Eamon O Dubhghaill.
- Aindriú O Láimhín.
- Risteárd O Maolchatha.
- Domhnall O Muirgheasa.
- Tadhg O Murchadha.
- Séamus O Murchadha.
- Seán O Súilleabháin.
- Caoimhghín O hUigín.
- William A. Redmond.
- Liam Thrift.
- Pádraig Baxter.
- Seán de Faoite.
- John Hennigan.
- Seosamh Mac a' Bhrighde.
- Donnchadh Mac Con Uladh.
- Liam Mac Cosgair.
- Séamus Mac Cosgair.
- Michael K. Noonan.
- Peadar O hAodha.
- Seán O Bruadair.
- Risteárd O Conaill.
- Conchubhar O Conghaile.
- Máirtín O Conalláin.
- Séamus O Dóláin.
- Mícheál O Dubhghaill.
- Peadar O Dubhghaill.
- Pádraig O Dubhthaigh.
- Seán O Duinnín.
- Fionán O Loingsigh.
- Máirtín O Rodaigh.
- Mícheál O Tighearnaigh.
Tellers:—Tá: Deputies Thrift and T.J. O'Connell. Níl: Deputies McBride and Baxter.
Amendment declared carried.
Amendment 16 not moved.
I formally move Amendment 17:—
To delete sub-section (4).
Amendment put and declared lost.
Amendment 18a not moved.
I move Amendment 19:—
In sub-section (4), line 40, to delete the word `ten" and substitute "twelve."
Amendment put and agreed to.
Amendment 20 and 20 (a) not moved.
I move Amendment 21:—
To delete sub-section (5) and substitute the following sub-section:—
"A school shall be deemed to be accessible to a child for the purposes of this section if it shall appear to a Justice of the District Court that it is possible for the child to attend the school daily without undue fatigue if the child shall walk, and if it be impossible for the child to walk that there is a suitable means of conveyance to the school from a point within a reasonable distance from the child's residence at a cost which shall not be excessive having regard to the means of the parent."
I do so for the purpose of getting the Minister's views on it. Throughout the section our main endeavour has been to find a suitable formula, and I suggest to the Minister that the formula laid down in this new section is, to some extent, an improvement on the formula laid down in the Bill. I hope that I shall have the support of Deputy Tierney, because the amendment tends to make a more elastic formula and to avoid construction and a strait-jacket. The Minister's proposal lays down different ages and distances. The question whether a school is accessible or not will be regarded in reference to these ages and distances. I do not believe you can lay down a hard and fast line in the matter Some children of under ten years are stronger and more fitted to walk long distances than other children over ten. I have two boys aged 11 and 9. I would back the boy of 9 to walk the other off his feet. The District Justice, under my amendment, will be allowed to take points like these into consideration. Again, some roads are longer than other, even though the distance is the same. That may be a "bull," but it is a statement of fact. A hilly, muddy road, or a footpath across wet, heavy fields would certainly be more fatiguing to a child than a hard metalled road. That is a point that could be taken into consideration under my amendment. The District Justice would be in a position to say whether a child suffered undue fatigue or not. My amendment would allow the District Justice to take into consideration all relevant facts, such as the physical health of the child, as distinct from illness, the state of the roads, etc.
There is an appendix to the amendment as regards the point where there is a suitable means of conveyance. The Bill lays down that if a suitable means of conveyance exists it must be used, whatever the cost. It may frequently happen that a man may have two children attending a school, and that one of the 'buses on the new motor 'bus services we have growing up in the country passes the door of the school. If the distance from the home of the children to the school is more than two miles it is quite conceivable that the fare for each child on the single journey may be threepence. I do not think children are taken on these 'buses at half price. That would mean that for the two children of this man their 'bus fare to and from the school would be a shilling a day, or five shillings a week. Assuming that he is an agricultural labourer earning twenty-six shillings a week, the 'bus fare for his children to school would prove to be a very severe tax on him. These are points that I put before the Minister for his consideration. I am not passionately enamoured of the form of words I have used in the amendment, but I do think that something a little more elastic than the two miles or three miles for under ten or over ten is needed.
We have been repeatedly told that hard cases make bad law. I hold that quotation is a misquotation so far as the law is concerned. It refers to the law courts, and not to the legislature. If a judge was to let himself be guided, not by the law and not by decided cases that reflect and assign the limits of statute law, but by his sympathies and his feelings, then, indeed, you do get bad law. I think the point for the legislature—the body that makes laws but does not administer them—is to consider all the hard cases beforehand. Make your law such that if possible hard cases will not arise. I urge on the Minister to accept, if not this amendment, at least the principle embodied in it, and not to insist on sub-section (5) in the Bill.
What I feel about the amendment is that it tends to a loosening of the Bill. I feel it might be used as a method for getting out of the provisions of the Act. I approach it with the same objection that I had for some amendments moved earlier to this particular section. One point does strike me in connection with what Deputy Cooper has said and that is the question of fares. I do think even where there is a suitable means of conveyance, that that might be read by the District Justice without reference to the fares in paragraph (b) of sub-section (5). It is an interpretation to which these particular words are open. On the whole, I am not inclined to accept the amendment as it stands for the reason that I have stated. I do not like, where excuses of this kind are mentioned, to have too great looseness. I will undertake to look into the point, if the Deputy is satisfied, to see whether something could not be done to meet the special point about reasonable cost.
I accept the Minister's undertaking. In looking into the matter I would ask him to consider one more fact, namely, the definite stipulation as to so many miles. This, I think, will almost certainly lead to interminable disputes. Who is to decide how many miles a child's home is from the school? You are not likely, I think, to find milestones adjacent to every school house. Is it the members of the Civic Guard who are to measure the distance? I can imagine the child's parent coming along and saying: "Not at all; I am three miles and more from that particular place. The distance was always regarded as more than three Irish miles." That is a point that I think ought to be given consideration. I admit that the Minister has not had much time to think over this or any other measure, but I would ask him to give his mind to this in the interval and consider how it will work out. As far as I can see, the onus in this case, though in no other case, will rest on the Civic Guards or the prosecuting authorities. How the miles are to be determined, whether off the ordnance map or in what other way, will, it seems to me, give rise to a serious administrative problem.
I recognise the spirit in which this amendment is drafted, and think it is one that should get some attention. I am rather in favour, however, of the practical working out of what is in the Bill than of what is suggested in the Deputy's amendment. The Deputy stated that this question of distance would lead to interminable disputes. I do not think so. That, in my opinion, would be a much easier question to settle than, say, the question whether the child had suffered undue fatigue in walking to school. I think we need not worry very much over this matter of distance, because, with the exception of a few areas, the great majority of children would not have to walk considerable distances. The point, I think, is covered already, because it is open to the District Justice to decide whether or not the child has a reasonable excuse, and, of course, he will take all these things into account. If the parent is able to prove that the attendance of the child at the school does, in fact, put too much of a strain on him, and if he is able to produce a medical certificate in support of his statement, of course he would not be convicted. I think it would be better to leave in the definite two or three miles so that the parent would have an idea, generally speaking, of what he is expected to do. Otherwise, in the case of children who would not in reality suffer undue fatigue, it might be urged by parents anxious to keep them at home for other reasons, that it would entail undue fatigue on them. For that reason I prefer what is in the Bill. I agree with Deputy Cooper on the point he made as to the question of fares. I think that is one that might be looked into. I think what was in the minds of the framers of the Bill as regards suitable conveyances was that this referred only to those places in which conveyances were got up specially for bringing the children to school. This point that Deputy Cooper has mentioned about 'buses and fares is one that might be looked into.
I am as anxious as Deputy O'Connell that there should be no loop-holes left in the Bill. I had thought, in the case of a child absent from school and that the father urged the child suffered from physical fatigue, it would have been sufficient for the prosecution to prove that the child had been planting potatoes with him all day. The father can now get up and say that he has it on the authority of an eminent Deputy in the Dáil that planting potatoes is less fatiguing than walking to school. I ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Amendment 22 not moved.
I beg to move amendment 23, which stands in the name of Deputy Heffernan:—
In sub-section (5) (a), line 47, after the word "path" to insert the words "which path is a public right of way."
I think there is a good reason for this amendment. We know that it is customary for school children to go across fields and also over paths, which may not be public paths, to school. If you establish, say, that the distance from a child's house to the school is two miles by a certain route, the route being over a path which is not a public path, and that a disagreement, as we know often happens, arises between the neighbours as to the use of this path, it may mean that the children will have to change their course and thereby add a half a mile to the distance that they are obliged to travel. In a case such as that, the question would arise as to what was the real distance from the house to the school. I think if this amendment is inserted it will get over the possibility of the uncertainty likely to arise if the section is left as it is.
I am afraid it would be inadvisable to accept this amendment. I see Deputy Baxter's point, but there is another thing to be considered. The section speaks of the distance being measured to the nearest public road or public path.
Does it mean public path? It does not say public.
I think that it was intended to mean that Deputy Baxter is right. Otherwise there would be no point in the amendment.
There would. Even then the wording of the amendment would be wrong. I assumed that it meant public path. There might be public paths over which there are not rights of way. I will give an instance. I went to school by a path across fields, but there was no public right of way. That was definitely established. If I had to go by the public road the distance would be multiplied by three miles. Take an individual case where a parent might say: "I will not send my child to school." That person might be within a half mile of the school by sending the child along a path over which there was no right of way. He might argue that the school was inaccessible if the child had to travel three miles over the public roads. Although his neighbour's children travelled that way, and while there was no objection to them doing so, still, if Deputy Baxter's wording was put in, and if there was no public right of way over the path, a parent might argue that he was not within accessible distance of the school. I think if the words "public path" were put in, without mentioning the right of way, it would meet Deputy Baxter's point. For instance, if a parent is summoned for not sending a child to school, and if he can show that his child is not at liberty to travel by the path, and if he goes by another route he has to travel over the specified distance, I do not see how he could be convicted. I do not think there is any necessity for altering the language. To put in the words "over which there is a right of way" would immediately give rise to all sorts of disputes, possibly as to rights of way, where such a question has never been raised. There are numerous instances where children travel to school across fields over which there is no right of way. If these words are put in, if a parent wants to keep a child at home, they will be inclined to take advantage of it.
I am not quite sure if there is a distinction in law between public path and a path over which the public has a right of way.
Is there? Really the situation is that if you put in this amendment it may be pleaded that the path is not a public right-of-way, and the onus would be on the Gárdaí to prove that it was a public right-of-way. That might be a very difficult thing, and in nineteen out of twenty cases might not really affect the merits of the case. I think the question might be left to the good sense of the Gárdaí on the one hand and the District Justice on the other. If the child did not use a particular path I do not see how a District Justice could entertain the case or convict where the school was not within two miles distance. This is a question that must be left to the discretion and good sense of the enforcing authorities on the one hand and the District Justice on the other.
I want to point out that if you leave the section as it is, to measure what is the shortest road or path, you would give a definite direction to the justice. While the section is so worded, it is what the justice must act on in law. Difficulties exist in the country, and the children of neighbours who might be on good terms to-day might not go the same way to school to-morrow. That must be recognised.
That is a point that did not strike me before. It is not a question as to the road the child may choose, but as to how the distance may be measured. If the word "available" was put in——
Yes, that would cover it.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Question—"That Section 4, as amended, stand part of the Bill"— put and agreed to.
Section 5 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
(1) For the purpose of this Act a child to whom this Act applies shall be deemed to belong to the school attendance area in which he is ordinarily resident.
(2) If and whenever the ordinary residence of a child to whom this Act applies is changed from one school attendance area to another school attendance area, the parent of the child shall within one week after the change give notice in writing of the change to the enforcing authority of the school attendance area from which such residence has been changed and also to the enforcing authority of the school attendance area to which such residence has been changed.
(3) If any person shall fail to give such notice as is mentioned in the foregoing sub-section to any enforcing authority to whom he is required by the said sub-section to give the same he shall be guilty of an offence under this section, and shall be liable on summary conviction thereof to a fine not exceeding ten shillings.
The following amendment stood in the name of Deputy Heffernan:—
In sub-section (1) after the word "resident," line 18, to add the words "provided that nothing in this Act shall be construed so as to prevent a parent causing his child to attend at any national or suitable school, which he may think fit."
The point in the amendment is that while a parent may have a well-founded objection to sending a child to a particular school he might send him to another school. There might be such reasons, some of which were mentioned yesterday.
I think there is a slight misconception on the part of the Deputy who put down the amendment. This section does not deal with the school that the child is to attend. It deals with the school attendance area in which the child lives and with the officer who has to look after the child. A child may live in one school attendance area and go to school in another.
I am glad the Minister made that plain as there was a misconception about the section. It was thought that there was some intention to define the school rather than the school area. Of course there is no such intention in the Bill as to take from the parent the undoubted right he has to send the child to any school he chooses. I think the misconception has arisen by putting what is contained in Section 6 before Section 9. Section 9 deals with the school attendance area. I think it is well to make it plain that there is nothing in the Bill which would take away from the parent the right to send a child to any school he chooses.
Would the Minister consider the desirability of putting in some words referring to Section 9?
I will consider whether that is necessary.
Amendment not moved.
The following amendment (24a) stood in the name of Deputy Heffernan:—
In sub-section (2) line 22, after the word "writing," to insert the words "or otherwise."
In some cases it might be easier for a parent to give notice personally to the teacher or the school attendance officer other than in writing. That is the reason for the amendment.
I understand the difficulty about the clause as it stands. The parent might not be able to write. That will turn up again in connection with another amendment from Deputy O'Connell. He is proposing that the teacher shall be notified. Here it is somewhat different. I think it would fulfil the condition if the parent went into the Gárdaí barracks. Remember there are forms there which the Gárdaí will fill in. It is an ordinary legal requirement that the matter should be in writing. `Or otherwise" might be too vague.
If you said: "Give notice to the enforcing authority."
I will consider whether some words as "in writing or in person "might meet the situation. It would not do for some one to go into the Gárdaí barracks and say: "We have changed. We are now in another attendance area." I will consider some phraseology which will make an attempt to cover it.
If the Deputy departs from writing there will be trouble in the future. Only by writing can you have a proper record. I grant that there may be occasions where writing may be a difficulty. At present that difficulty exists and assistance might be given in such cases at the barracks.
Perhaps if the "in writing" were left out it might meet the situation. I can quite conceive a case where a man, instead of writing, might drop into the Gárdaí station and say: "We have left this area."
That would give rise to questions afterwards.
There will be forms in existence.
Amendment 24a not moved.
To add a new sub-section after sub-section (3) as follows—
(4) Except in case of change of residence or with the special consent of the Minister a parent desiring to transfer a child to whom this Act applies from one national school to another national school may do so only at the beginning of the quarter commencing the 1st day of January, the 1st day of April, the 1st day of July, or the 1st day of October.
This amendment was put down to meet a difficulty peculiar to the city areas. It provides where changes are made from one school to another, they should only be made within a specific time— that is, at the beginning of each quarter. Of course, where there is a change of residence there is special provision made. It would not apply in such a case. I have even protected the interests of the parent to a further extent where there might be special reasons why a parent should move his child from one school to another. I have said: "except in cases of change of residence or with the special consent of the Minister, a parent desiring to transfer a child from one national school to another may do so only at the beginning of the quarter commencing the first day of January, the first day of April, the first day of July, or the first day of October."
I have received many complaints, from teachers in Dublin especially, and to some extent from teachers in Cork, and from school attendance officers too. of the habit of some children shifting about, two or three times within a quarter, from one school to another. Often this is a dodge to evade compulsory attendance, because it takes the school attendance officer some time to trace the school to which the child has gone. The school the child has left has no notification where the child has gone to and because of that fact many school days are lost. It is a matter of convenience which will not inflict injustice on anyone, and it will make for a smoother working of the Attendance Act.
I have no objection to accepting this amendment. I think there is much to be said for it. I will consider the drafting, however.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Question:—"That Section 6 stand part of the Bill"—put and agreed to.
(1) In addition and without prejudice to any other lawful prohibition of or restriction on the employment of children, the Minister may by order make regulations for prohibiting the employment of children to whom this Act applies at such times or places or in such manner as to prevent or interfere with their attendance at school in accordance with this Act or their obtaining proper benefit from such attendance, and in particular may, in furtherance of that object, by such regulations prohibit or restrict the employment of such children in particular occupations or during particular hours.
(2) Any person who employs a child in contravention of a regulation made under this section shall be guilty of an offence under this section, and shall be liable on summary conviction thereof, in the case of a first offence to a fine not exceeding forty shillings, and, in the case of a second or subsequent offence, to a fine not exceeding five pounds.
(3) This section shall not apply to any child who immediately before the commencement of this Act is in lawful employment so long as he continues in that particular employment, nor shall this section apply to or prevent the exercise of manual labour by a child lawfully detained in a certified industrial or reformatory school or the receipt by any child of instruction in manual labour in any school.
In the absence of Deputy Heffernan I move "to delete section 7." The section deals with the restriction on the employment of children. It seems to me to be a very wide power to confer on a Minister that he could prohibit the employment of children, and, in particular, that he may, in furtherance of that object by regulations, prohibit or restrict the employment of such children in particular occupations. I should like to get from the Minister some justification for the inclusion of this section in the Bill. I should also like to know whether or not it is not possible for some future Minister for Education, such as Deputy O'Connell in the Labour Government, to prohibit the employment of children even during the ten days' grace we have in Section 4 during agricultural operations. The Minister could exercise wide and unlimited powers under the principle we have adopted in Section 4, and I should like the Minister to give some justification for its inclusion in this section at this stage.
If the child does not attend during the school hours, in the years which he is, by this Act, expected to attend in, he commits a breach of the law. The parent is guilty. The employer is an accomplice and is guilty also. The accomplice is getting some value out of it, and I do not see why the accomplice should not be punished as well as the parent. It refers only to the time at which the child was bound to attend school, not to any other period. Because this is a Compulsory School Attendance Bill, that is sufficient ground to justify a provision of this kind. There are two guilty; one is the parent and the other is the employer. Both are equally guilty. Why let off the employer who commits a breach of the law and punish the other party? If the Deputy considers it for a moment he will see there is plenty of justification for the insertion, in this Bill, of this section. It is put in not as a regulation of employment, but as a corollary of our school attendance regulations and nothing else. It is as an effort to remove the temptation to avoid attendance at school that this section is inserted.
Sub-section (2) says "any person who employs a child in contravention of a resolution made under this section shall be guilty of an offence under this section." Does not that mean that you more or less insist that the employer shall ascertain the age of the child?
Is not that a rather far-fetched proposal?
There are lots of things that you must find the age of.
I find it very hard to agree with the principle of this section. The child may look older than its years. A child may be thirteen and may be easily taken to be sixteen years of age. Are the employers to go to a registry office to get a birth certificate or are they to insist upon the production of a certificate from the child? If the appearance of the child is such as to warrant a person regarding the child as older and above the school age I do not see why such a person should be subject to the infliction of a penalty.
There is no substance in the argument of Deputy Connor Hogan. I think it is proper that in this Bill the same facilities should be available for obtaining information by the employer as in the case of employers in regard to the National Health Insurance and Unemployment Insurance. I think that if people exploit child labour for any purpose they should be penalised.
I hope the Minister will not accept this amendment, because there are many employments which are profitable to parents and into which they could send their children under the age which might escape observation if not carefully gone into. I think the Minister should have the power to look into matters like the employment of children in pantomime and cinema shows and places of that description. Many children are employed in pantomimes at a particular period of the year and in cinemas at any time. These are two classes of employment into which parents might send their children for the purpose of making a certain amount of money, greatly to the detriment of the children if the matter was not seen into. I see the Minister has power under this section to inquire into this sort of thing and do away with any irregularity if such exists, and I hope he will hold by Section 7 as it stands.
Amendment put and negatived.
Amendment 26 and 27 not moved.
I beg to move Amendment 28:—
In sub-section (2), line 47, after the word "pounds" to add the words "in respect of each day or part of a day on which the child is so employed."
I look upon the offence with which this amendment deals as a serious one, and I think we ought to treat it as something serious, and we ought to look upon it as a thing that is not merely accidental. If the child is employed, and if there is a continuous employment, every day of such employment should be treated as a separate offence.
I am not quite sure whether the fines laid down here are in accordance with those for breaches of the Factory Act, which are of a kindred character. But it would seem unwise to have a breach for an offence under one Act dealt with more heavily than a breach under another Act. Before the Minister determines what penalty should be laid down I suggest that some inquiry should be made.
I feel that the punishments under the Bill are quite drastic enough. I think it would be unreasonable, for instance, in the case of an employer, employing a child for five days, to fine him £25. It would seem to be altogether out of proportion to the offence. I am quite willing that the employer should be fined and punished for such an offence, but there should be a certain proportion between the offence committed and the punishment inflicted.
My whole point is that employment on successive days should not be treated as one offence, but that employment on each day, or part of each day, should be treated as a separate offence.
I think that would be met by the case coming before the magistrate. If he continues the offence he could be prosecuted a second time, but I think he should be prosecuted each time for each offence. The same point arises in connection with Deputy Johnson's amendment in regard to the attendance at school—not quite the same point, perhaps—but he has an amendment down to delete the fourteen days' grace.
That is a different matter.
Amendment put and negatived.
I beg to move Amendment 29:—
In sub-section (3) to delete all words from "any child," line 48, to the words "apply to," line 51, inclusive.
The section would then read: "This section shall not apply to or prevent the exercise of manual labour by a child lawfully detained in a certified industrial or reformatory school," etc. The amendment seeks to delete the exemption of children now employed, although under the age of twelve years. We are all agreed, I think, that even children that are at present employed at that age should be required to attend school, and while there might be a good defence that would satisfy the magistrate that no penalty, or severe penalty, should be inflicted, nevertheless, it should be treated as an offence, and the proper kind of discipline enforced on the parents as well as upon employers of children of tender age.
I strongly support the amendment, because, owing to the laxity of the laws up to the present many children left school at a very early age and went into employment. Section 2 of the Act of 1892 lays it down that a person shall not take into his employment in any place to which the section applies any child, except for the setting and planting of potatoes, hay-making, and harvesting, under 11 years of age, who has not got the necessary certificate. That plainly only prevents employers taking into employment children under 11 years of age, but even if it can be urged that the child is employed for hire or gain for the purpose of setting or planting potatoes or harvesting, there is no limitation to the age so far as I can see. In that Act there is no limitation of age. A child could be taken into employment at any age so far as it could be said he is taken into employment for the purpose of planting and setting potatoes or for harvesting. The Dáil has decided that up to the age of 12 years there will be no exemption from school, but if this sub-section is passed in the form in which it is, all those children who may have left school at any age up to 12—and, as we know, numerous children did and were taken into employment—will possibly, seeing this Act coming along, try to get employment, and will be deprived of the advantages the Bill will confer if they are allowed to remain in employment instead of being sent back to school. The amendment is very important, and I hope the Minister will accept it. We should not neglect these unfortunate children who have been taken away from school at such early ages and sent to employment. There will be many children over the ages of 14 years or 16 years who can be employed to fill their places, and no hardship will be done in sending the children back to school.
I am not sure the Deputy is reading this particular section correctly. As I understand the section, it only refers to children to whom a special order is made. Sub-section (1) of Section 7 states that "The Minister may by order make regulations for prohibiting the employment of children to whom this Act applies, at such times or places, or in such manner as to prevent or interfere with their attendance at school." It is to that particular section I take it that this exemption refers. Supposing the Minister makes a general order in connection with the children in any area, and that some children in that area have been already employed for a couple of years, would it not be very undesirable that they should have to leave that employment? I do not know exactly what the nature of the order made under this would be. It might be an order affecting children up to 16 years of age. There is no age mentioned in Section 7, and I might as well argue that the order under Section 7 would apply up to 16 years of age. Assuming an order was made that no children should be employed under 16 years of age, would it not be exceedingly undesirable that a child at that age who had been in employment for four years, or, say, apprenticed——
It could not apply in that case.
It might, because at the moment the Bill is very lax, and this might be an order made after the bringing into force of this Bill, and in that way we might do a very serious injury in connection with this proposal. There is certainly no limitation to 12 years of age. The age has to be fixed under Section 7.
There is an aspect of this I overlooked in speaking. The Minister is empowered to make regulations which may at some future time reach the age of 16 years. Those regulations may have to deal with the attendance at continuation or technical schools, and they may allow for the employment of children in such circumstances, provided they attend some course of tuition. But if those children are in employment at present no regulations that the Minister may make in the future can be held to apply to them. In a year's time, say, if the Minister desired to make certain regulations regarding the attendance of children in certain districts up to the age of 15 years he could not make any such regulation applicable to any boy or girl who is in employment now. I think that is the effect of sub-section (3), because the regulations he is empowered to make cannot apply to any child who, before the commencement of the Act, has been in lawful employment as long as he continues in that employment.
Until we see the new Section 4 I think it is impossible to reply to Deputy Johnson, but the intention with regard to Section 4 was that where it could be done children of the age of 14 years who were in employment were to continue in employment until they reached the age of 16 years, but they were also to continue such courses as the Minister would decide on. Section 7 only deals with special regulations which it may be desirable to make by reason of some occupation, or of something in the district. The Minister may think it desirable to make a special order, but that would not affect the ordinary force of the new Section 4 in my opinion.
There is one aspect of this that I am rather surprised that neither Deputy Good nor Deputy Johnson referred to owing to their general position on these matters and also owing to certain things that occurred within the last couple of days. This is really retrospective legislation. I understood it was a very serious thing to have anything of the kind except for the gravest possible reason. Here is an existing contract, and if you make this retrospective——
Would the Minister say whether it is the amendment or the Bill he is referring to?
The amendment. The amendment would have the effect of making the Bill, if retrospective, affect existing contracts. Undoubtedly it breaks existing contracts. It makes them illegal. I did not think that Deputy Good would be in favour of that.
I am not supporting that.
That aspect was not referred to by either Deputy Good or Deputy Johnson.
I was quite satisfied that it was not retrospective.
I was surprised that this aspect of the matter had not dawned on Deputy Good with all his respect for the sanctity of contracts. I think it is a bad thing to break contracts already in existence. These contracts are in existence if the child is in employment. If the child goes out of that employment and goes into the employment of another, then the clause will refer to that child. There cannot be a new contract, but the existing sub-section only guards the existing contract. If the Deputy considers the matter he will find that it will not affect very many cases, and year by year these cases will grow less —less from the growth of the children on the one hand and less from the ceasing of the particular employment in which the child is engaged. I do not think there is sufficient reason to so amend this Bill that it will have the effect of retrospective legislation so far as existing contracts are concerned.
I must say that I am not able to appreciate the point about retrospective legislation. If the child is employed to-day, we are not saying that he is not employed. We are simply saying that for the future he must attend school.
Are you not breaking a contract?
I do not think there is any contract at all in the case of children under fourteen years of age, beyond a week. It is only from week to week. I do not think that this is quite so important as perhaps Deputy O'Connell thinks. I do not think that it is going to affect any great number of children for any great length of time, but I do press the point that I made, notwithstanding Deputy Good's doubts. Sub-section (1) said that the Minister may make regulations affecting the employment of children to whom this Bill applies. Now the Bill may apply to children in certain circumstances up to the age of sixteen, and I would hope that before very long you would have embodied in the law or regulations some provision which would say that a child would be at school or in some occupation, and, if in some occupation, that at least in some part of his weekly career he will be receiving some instruction. Now, assuming that as a future development, which is to be brought about by Regulation or Order——
Brought about by the new Section 4.
Under the coming new section, whatever it may be. I imagine it is going to be quite loose. The Minister is being empowered in this section to make Orders and Regulations respecting the employment of children. If he conceives of making an Order which shall affect children who are at present in employment, he will be prohibited under this sub-section (3) from making any Order affecting those children. I ask the Minister to think over that point before the next stage, but I will not press the amendment.
This section refers to the Minister and Regulations, but I do not think it refers to a child at all. I would ask the Minister to consider also whether such a Regulation should not apply to children.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Question proposed: "That Section 7 stand part of the Bill."
This section gives power to the Minister to make Orders which will practically create offences, and it might be well to consider whether the Bill could not contain a provision by which such Order would be laid before the House for the statutory period.
Deputy Mulcahy has anticipated what I was going to say. I believe that an Order under this section should be laid on the Table of the House and that an amendment is necessary to that effect. I believe also that in sub-section (2) the phrase "any person who employs a child in contravention of a regulation made under this section," would be improved by inserting the word "knowingly." The section would then read: "Any person who knowingly employs a child in contravention of a regulation made under this section." Notwithstanding the superior wisdom of Deputy Murphy, I am still of opinion that this thing can lead to abuse and that an employer quite unconsciously, as he believes he is acting in a right spirit, can be penalised because he has not gone to extreme steps to verify the age of a child. I feel, too, that when we are giving very wide and very extensive powers to some future Minister of Education, who need not necessarily be a member of the Executive Council, regulations which he makes under this section may be in conflict with the policy of the Executive Council as directed by its Minister for Industry and Commerce and that there is a cogent reason that every regulation made by the Minister should be laid on the Table of each House of the Oireachtas for its approval. I would ask the Minister to consider that.
I do not know whether it is desirable to tie the hands of the Minister too tightly on these matters. Of course we can err in that direction also, because it may happen that an Order may be necessary and the House may not be sitting. If that Order were not put into force until the House sat and approved of it, other difficulties might arise.
I did not mean to suggest that. The Order can come into effect at once but the matter can be raised in connection with that Order inside the usual period.
I will consider Deputy Mulcahy's point. In regard to the point raised by Deputy Connor Hogan, he should know that if a person goes into a public house during illegal hours—when I was learning law I learned that, and I suppose he knows it now—it is no defence for the publican to say that he did not know the people were in the house.
Question put and agreed to.
The Dáil went out of Committee.
Progress reported. Committee to sit again on Friday, 12th February.
The Dáil adjourned at 8.30 till 12 o'clock on Friday, 12th February.