HC Deb 06 June 1815 vol 31 cc624-7
Sir Robert Peel

called the attention of the House to the expediency of some legislative regulation, for the purpose of restricting the employment of young children in manufacturing labour. It was well known that a bad practice had prevailed of condemning children whose years and strength did not admit of it, to the drudgery of occupations often severe and sometimes unhealthy. What he was disposed to recommend was, a regulation that no children should be so employed Under the age of 10 years, either as apprentices or otherwise, and the duration of their labour should be limited to 12 hours and a half per diem, including the time for education and meals, which would leave 10 hours for laborious employment. The accounts he had recently seen, showed that it was not so much the hardship as the duration of the labour which had produced mischievous effects on the health of the rising generation. It was to be lamented, however, that the inspectors appointed under a late act had been very remiss in the performance of their duty. He should, in consequence of this misfortune, propose, that proper persons be appointed at quarter-sessions, and that they should be paid in due proportion for their trouble. It was gratifying, however, to learn, that the loss of life had been of late exceedingly small, not exceeding one per cent. per annum; a loss falling short of the average loss sustained in every other class of manufacturing industry. As he was desirous that the measure he was now suggesting should be put into the most perfect state that was attainable, he should submit that the Bill for which he intended to move might be read a first time, and then printed. During the recess it might be circulated through the country, and receive the proper amendments. It could, if it should be found necessary to guard against the arts of designing men, be afterwards made a part of the Bill,—that no engagement contracted after this period, in violation of the provisions of the Bill, should be lawful. Under these considerations, he moved for leave to bring in a Bill, "to amend and extend an Act made in the 42nd year of his present Majesty, for the preservation of the health and morals of Apprentices and others employed in Cotton and other mills, and Cotton and other factories."

Mr. W. Smith

expressed his cordial approbation of the Bill. He considered the hon. baronet the fittest person to bring the subject forward, and was glad it had fallen into such good hands. He was only sorry it had not been introduced earlier in the session, and hoped even now, it might be passed into a law before the recess. The bringing of it in alone, he was of opinion would do some good; and the notice that children employed under eight or ten years of age, would not be considered as permanently engaged, would of itself in some degree correct the evil.

Mr. Horner

observed, that the former measures, and even the present Bill as far as he could understand its object, fell far short of what Parliament should do on the subject. The practice which was so prevalent of apprenticing parish children in distant manufactories, was as repugnant to humanity as any practice which had ever been suffered to exist by the negligence of the Legislature. These children were sent often one, two, or three hundred miles from their place of birth, separated for life from all their relations, and deprived of the aid and instruction which even in their humble and almost destitute situation they might derive from their friends. The practice was altogether objectionable on this ground, but even more so from the enormous abuses which had existed in it. It had been known, that with a bankrupt's effects, a gang, if he might use the word, of these children, had been put up to sale, and were advertised publicly as part of the property. A most atrocious instance had been brought before the Court of King's-bench two years ago, in which a number of these boys, apprenticed by a parish in London to one manufacturer, had been transferred to another, and had been found by some benevolent persons in a state of absolute famine. Another case more horrible had come to his knowledge while on a committee up stairs;—that not many years ago, an agreement had been made between a London parish and a Lancashire manufacturer, by which it was stipulated, that with every 20 sound children one idiot should be taken! A practice in which there was a possibility that abuses of this kind might arise, should not be suffered to exist; and now, or in the next session when the Bill should be discussed, should meet with the most serious consideration.

Mr. Philips

said, that the system of supplying the manufactories with parish, apprentices had been resorted to at a period when there was not a population in their vicinity to furnish the number of hands required; but a population having been, formed by this plan, the practice had latterly been greatly diminished. Some years ago he had paid great attention to this subject, and had had the satisfaction, of finding the situation of the children was much improved. The number of young hands employed was not so great as might be supposed. In one of the principal cotton manufactories in the island, he had found the total number of hands employed was 957, of which number he found there were 33 under ten years of age, 72 between ten and twelve, 140 between twelve and fourteen, and 712 above the age last mentioned. In other respects their situation was different from what had been understood. Upon the whole, he was glad the hon. baronet did not wish his Bill to pass in the present session, as he, for one, had not made up his mind on the subject, and wished for time and opportunity for making further inquiry.

Mr. Holme Sumner

approved of the Bill, but thought a short bill might be passed this session, calling for information as to the state of the manufactories, that the House might be better able to legislate satisfactorily on the subject.

Leave was given, and the Bill was afterwards brought in, and read a first time.