HC Deb 06 April 1818 vol 37 cc1188-90

Petitions against the Cotton Factories bill were presented from Manchester, Blackburn, Rossendale, and Glasgow. Petitions in favour of the bill were also presented from Hebden bridge, Halifax, and Royton.

Mr. Peel

said, he felt extreme satisfaction at having it in his power to lay before the House the petition he then held in his hand. It referred to the question of excessive labour in cotton factories, to which such frequent allusion had been made, in and out of the House. It was a petition from Manchester; the signatures affixed to it, amounting to 1,731, were of the very first respectability; and from the condition of the subscribing parties, it was impossible they could be stimulated to make this application to parliament through any thing like interested motives. He felt happy in introducing to the attention of the House a document containing that species of evidence, of which it had been asserted upon a former evening that the House was not yet in possession. Herein was contained the evidence of the constant eye-witnesses of the injurious consequences of excessive labour, and long-continued confinement in the cotton factories in that neighbourhood. It had been also a source of objection on a late occasion, that although there had been obtained the opinions of some distinguished physicians corroborating the general opinion, that such excessive application was extremely unfavourable to health, still these were nothing more than the speculative opinions of London practitioners, unacquainted, in point of fact, with the actual situation or condition of this description of mechanics. It had also been said, that the signatures affixed to former petitions had in some instances, been those of persons actuated by discontent, and even a spirit of Luddism. If any thing could remove these objections, he trusted it would be the present petition. It was in the first place signed by 1,731 of the most respectable inhabitants, who most feelingly deplored the distressing situation of those manufacturers, whose labour was not alone protracted so as even to trench on the hours absolutely necessary for repose, but exerted in a temperature of such excessive warmth that it must be considered highly prejudicial to the constitutions of even the most robust. They in the strongest terms remonstrated, from their knowledge of its prejudicial effects, against the practice of rousing children of extremely tender years from their beds at unseasonable hours, in the most rigorous season, to their unhealthy and unremitting labour. Amongst the signatures to this petition would be found those of the magistrates of the town and neighbourhood, amounting to seven in number;—of the physicians, nine—of the resident surgeons 21—of the clergyman of the district 20, of whom 17 were of the established church. One of the physicians had been 27 years in attendance on the Manchester Infirmary, and three of the surgeons had been 30 years. There was thus the authority of thirty medical men, resident in Manchester, who were of opinion that the hours of labour were excessive, and that the effect of that excess was most injurious to the individuals exposed to it. It was impossible that these gentlemen could be influenced by any motives, except those of humanity. If, indeed, they had any interest, it was in hostility to the bill, which was adverse to the opinions of so large a body of the inhabitants of Manchester. No one could, after this, assert that there was not satisfactory evidence before the House of the excess of labour, and of its injurious consequences.

Mr. Philips

did not wish to anticipate the discussion on this subject, but he could not help observing that, under the circumstances of the case, the number of signatures to the petition was very small. As to the medical men of Manchester, he knew that great differences of opinion existed among them on this question. He had in his possession certificates from physicians, who formed their judgment on facts, and not on general impressions (as was probably the case with the medical gentlemen whose signatures were attached to the petition), and these certificates perfectly corresponded with what he had felt it his duty to state to the House, namely that in Manchester, the health of those in the factories was better than the health of those who were otherwise employed.

Sir F. Burdett

warmly reprobated the practice of compelling children of a tender age, at all seasons, and in all weathers, to go to labour at four or five o'clock in the morning, and of keeping them employed until nine or ten in the evening. It gave rise to every description of evil, moral as well as physical; and he trusted that the House would not long delay taking some steps to put an end to so great a grievance. He hoped the hon. baronet, to whom the country was indebted for the bill in progress, would not allow any consideration to induce him to defer for one moment proceeding with it.

Lord Stanley

, to show the mode in which statements were prepared, begged to refer to one which was published in the Manchester Exchange Herald of 31st March, and which had been sent to many members of parliament: — that in the Sunday-school Sick Society of Jersey-street, Manchester, out of forty persons relieved, thirty-three worked in factories; thus conveying an impression, that the unhealthiness of this employment, compared with that of others, was as thirty-three to seven, whilst the fact was, that the society consisted of 270 children, of whom 213 were employed in factories, 23 in other occupations, and 34 had not begun to work. The numbers relieved, were of factory children 33 in 213, or one in six 4-tenths; and of those in other occupations seven in twenty-three, or one in three 2-tenths: and as to the time during which those of each class remained chargeable upon the sick fund, it appeared that the factory children averaged at the rate of three and a half days each for the thirteen months to which the statement referred, and those employed in other occupations at the rate of five 3-fourths days each. The 34 children who had not begun to work, did not appear to have received assistance from the society's fund.

Mr. Peel

said, that if the petition had not been more numerously signed, it was because the parties wished it should only contain the names of individuals who had no personal interest whatever in the question.

Ordered to lie on the table.