HC Deb 18 February 1818 vol 37 cc506-8

On presenting a Petition from York in favour of this bill,

Lord Milton

said, it was not his intention to offer any remarks on the nature of the bill which had been brought in by his hon. friend. He thought it was one which did his hon. friend much credit, and he wished it success; but he could not avoid expressing his opinion, that his hon. friend was proceeding too hastily. There were, it was known, many chimneys which could only be swept by climbing boys, and which would be rendered useless if the present bill was passed. Under these considerations, he thought it would be better for the House to adopt a middle course, and without making such a general enactment at once to give particular encouragement to those persons who swept chimneys by means of machinery. If this were done, and a heavy tax laid upon the employment of climbing boys, he thought it would in the course of time have the effect of abolishing the practice altogether.

Mr. Bennet

said, that the number of petitions which had been presented to the House was a proof that the present practice was very generally admitted to be an evil, which ought to be got rid of as soon as possible. It was with that view he had brought in his bill, and now an objection was started, that there were a number of chimneys too small to be swept in any other manner than by the use of climbing boys. It was true there were a great many chimneys of that description, but they belonged to those who could well afford to alter them if they pleased. But it was in that very description of chimneys that the greatest danger to the lives of the climbing boys existed. Not fever than five children had lost their lives by such means, in the course of the last year. Nor was this to be wondered at, when it was known, that in some houses recently built, the chimneys were only seven inches square, and that the children employed to sweep them could not be more than four or five years old. Yet with such facts admitted, was it to be said, that the House was proceeding in a hurry? In a hurry to do what? To save the lives of those poor little creatures who were constantly exposed to death, and that too of the most terrible nature. But it could not fairly be said that he wished to proceed in a hurry, if he proposed to make the bill operative in 1819, in order that time might be given to all the parties affected by it, to make those alterations which the new mode of sweeping chimneys would require. He could not agree in what had fallen from his noble friend; it would have the effect of sacrificing the children of the poor in order to preserve the chimneys of the rich—a thing so monstrous in itself, that he was certain no man would let it dwell in his thoughts for a moment.

Lord Milton

hoped his hon. friend would recollect, that his objections were not made to the proposed measure per se. They only went to effect a more mature consideration of the probable consequences of it. It should be considered, that the measure might probably be viewed differently in another place, where measures upon which the House had been unanimous, were altogether rejected. This made it necessary to examine the matter minutely before a final decision was given.

Mr. Lyltelton

trusted, that the House would not neglect any thing which it was their duty to do, from a consideration of what might be done in another place. He had, however, no doubt that the humane and energetic arguments which his hon. friend had used in support of the measure, would also have their effect in the other place alluded to. With respect to a tax on the use of climbing boys, he thought that such a plan would not have the intended effect. It might operate certainly in raising the prices for the sweeping of chimneys, but it would still lay the same road open to abuses as before; for the rich would have the means of paying for the use of boys in sweeping, and would thereby be the means of encouraging the sacrifice of human life, which it was now sought to avoid.

The petition was ordered to lie on the table.

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