HC Deb 09 February 1818 vol 37 cc216-7
Mr. Bennet

rose, pursuant to notice, to move for leave to bring in a bill for the better regulation of Chimney Sweepers and their Apprentices. It was the object of this bill to put an end to the evil so long, so universally, and so justly complained of, as to the use, or rather abuse, of young children in sweeping chimnies. He felt it unnecessary to enter into any detail upon this subject, as the sufferings endured, and the cruelties inflicted, through the practice alluded to, were so fully described in the evidence taken before the committee of the last session, from which committee this bill emanated. The bill was indeed a transcript of that which he had brought forward last year, with the exception only of that provision which related to the total and prompt abolition of the use of climbing boys, and which provision, perhaps, prevented the bill from being carried. He was happy to say that since last year the desire to abolish this odious practice had been expressed at public meetings in all the great towns throughout the country; those meetings unanimously adopting resolutions that the employment of climbing boys ought not to be any longer tolerated, especially as a mechanical instrument was found efficient for the purpose. But who could dissent from these resolutions that had any knowledge of the effects of this barbarous system? Within even the last year, no less than five fatal instances had occurred to show its character. One of these instances in England, and another in Scotland had been attended with circumstances of peculiarly aggravated cruelty. But the masters, or properly speaking, the owners of the unfortunate children employed in this business were rarely susceptible of the common feelings of humanity; but, even if they were, it would be impossible to have the business done without a sacrifice of those feelings. For, from the manner in which chimneys were constructed, especially in London, where with a view to save fuel, the flues were often no more than seven or eight inches in diameter, and consequently in order to clean such chimneys, it became necessary to employ children of the tenderest age. For that purpose, indeed, children of less than seven years of age were often employed, nay, female children were actually so engaged in some instances [Hear, hear !]. The House and every man of feeling in the country, must naturally be shocked at such a fact; but he hoped that the repetition of it would be effectually provided against. The object of his bill, the hon. member described to be, without disturbing the present apprenticeships, that no master sweep should hereafter-be allowed to take any apprentice under fourteen years of age. This was the first step which he proposed to take in a proceeding, which, he trusted, would lead to the total abolition of a practice so revolting to humanity. The hon. gentleman then moved, "That leave be given to bring in a bill for the better regulation of Chimney Sweepers and their Apprentices, and for the preventing the employment of boys in climbing chimnies."

Leave was given to bring in the bill; which was afterwards presented and read a first time.