HC Deb 05 April 1805 vol 4 cc213-5

A petition of several master printers in the cities of London and Westminster, was presented of the house, and read; setting forth, "that he petitioners have for many years carried on the printing business, to the general diffusion of literature, the promotion of commerce, the facilitating of every kind of business, and to the great benefit and accommodation of the public at large; and that, from the extraordinary increase of the printing business for several years past, a great variety of modes of printing has been introduced, and various expedients have been adopted to facilitate its execution, in consequence whereof disputes have frequently arisen with the workmen; but as the masters' profits have always been in proportion to the wages paid to the journeymen, the petitioners, standing as they do between the employer and the employed, have constantly been induced to allow the utmost advanced prices they thought themselves justified paying, but have not always been enabled to satisfy the demands of their journeymen, who in the metropolis consist of two branches, denominated compositors and pressmen; and that the compositors are paid by a standard generally reckoning upon the number of letters contained in a page, and the pressmen by the number of sheets printed; that scales for both descriptions of workmen have been formed and advanced upon in different periods from the year 1786 to Dec. 1800, when the last advance was made in consequence of the then unusually high price of bread and every necessary article of life; and that the workmen have lately become dissatisfied, and have made exorbitant demands, although the pressure of the times is by no means so great, as at the period above stated, and the masters do not therefore think themselves justified in making any further advance upon the fixed prices, as they conceive that, if such demands were to be complied with, the price of elementary books for the instruction of youth, and many other useful, tracts of literature, would be so enhanced as to place them out of the reach of many, and the encouragement of the export trade, so beneficial to the revenue as well as to the petitioners, and to the numerous individuals interested in the sale of books, would be nearly precluded; and that within the last month nearly all the pressmen usually employed by the petitioners have voluntarily left their work, thereby putting all public and private business nearly to a stand, and utterly preventing the possibility of completing in due time many important papers actually wanted by government, as well as the various periodical publications for the ensuing month, to the great detriment of the revenue as well as to the proprietors of such works, and the petitioners have thereby sustained much loss, and been subjected to great inconvenience in carrying on their business; and that the petitioners apprehend that the length of time required for servitude by apprenticeship is one great cause of their not being able to provide hands sufficient to execute the printing business; and that, when they have been inclined to take apprentices, the petitioners have had impediments thrown in their way by the journeymen; and that in order, as far as possible, to provide a temporary remedy for the late desertion of their workmen, the petitioners have been under the necessity of employing various descriptions of persons not entitled by law to follow the printing business, and, if they were empowered to continue the services of such persons, and to take apprentices at Certain ages, and for less periods of time than seven years, they conceive that so great an evil as hath now arisen might be prevented in future, and that the extent of the evil before stated was not foreseen till after the time limited by the house for receiving private petitions had elapsed; and therefore praying, that they may have leave to present a petition for the purposes aforesaid."—Ordered, that the said petition be referred, to the consideration of a committee; and that they do examine the matter thereof, and report the same, as it shall appear to them, to the house. And a committee was appointed accordingly; and they have power to send for persons, papers, and records.