HC Deb 11 June 1823 vol 9 cc831-3
Mr. Huskisson

having moved the third reading of this Bill, the Lord Mayor moved as an amendment, "That the Bill be read a third time that day six months."

Mr. W. Smith

said, he was satisfied that at no very distant period the fears of those who were now so much alarmed at the measure would turn out to be unfounded, and that, instead of injury, benefit would accrue to them from the alteration.

Mr. Hudson Gurney

said, that he hoped this bill would not be hurried through the House, it being merely a repeal of local regulations, where the parties themselves, if mistaken in their supposition, would be the only, sufferers by the law remaining as it stood. The fact, as far ns he could learn, being, that under the present Spital-fields acts there was a committee of workmen who met a committee of the masters, and who settled the rate of wages between themselves—the magistrate merely signing it for form, and being the authorized mediator in case of differences. Something of the sort took place in all trades. Make what combination laws you may, the necessity of an understanding between parties will always abrogate them in practice; and where there was a committee of journeymen in communication with a committee of employers, power of mediation on contested points existing somewhere seemed no unreasonable provision, and one which, in the present instance, appeared to have given satisfaction to a large body of people, who felt that in repealing it, the House was taking from them a necessary protection.

Mr. Ricarda

contended, that the effect of the existing law was, to diminish the quantity of labour, and that, though the rate of wages was high, the workmen had so little to do, that their wages were, in point of fact, lower than they would be under the proposed alteration of the law. He could not hear to hear it said that they were legislating to the injury of the working classes. He would not stand op in support of the measure, if be thought for one moment that it had any such tendency. The existing law was more injurious to the workmen than to their employers; because, at periods when the trade was brisk, it empowered the magistrates to interfere, and prevent their wages from rising as much as they would if the law imposed no shackles on the regulations of the trade. He was in possession of a number of cases, in which the decision of the magistrates had been resisted, either by the workmen or their masters, where counsel had been employed, and the masters had at length given up the dispute rather, than incur the trouble and expense of continuing it. He was perfectly satisfied that, if the present bill should pass, there would he a much greater quantity of work for the weavers in London than there was at present. With respect towages, he was persuaded, that, in all the common branches of the manufacture, they would not full; for at the present moment they were as high in the country, with reference to those branches, as they were in London.

Mr. Peter Moore

was persuaded that if this bill passed, it would compel thousands of journeymen to seek parochial relief.

Mr. Bright

said, that the working classes believed this measure to be injurious to their interests, and it was the bounden duty of the House, therefore, to inquire into all the circumstances connected with it. The committee on the silk trade in the House of Lords, so far from advising the repeal of the existing laws, recommended an extension of them. He deprecated most strongly the precipitation with which a measure so deeply affecting the interests of a large body of the working classes, and which must necessarily have the effect of diminishing their wages, was hurried through the House without inquiry.

Mr. Hume

was satisfied that this measure would in its results be highly beneficial to the working classes.

Mr. Ellice

trusted, that if the right hon. gentleman was determined to press, the third reading of the bill, he would accede to a committee in the next session, to consider the propriety of a repeal of the combination acts, and other oppressive laws by which their interests were affected.

Mr. Huslisson

had no difficulty in stating in reply to the hon. member for Coventry, that when his hon. colleague should bring in his bill relative to the Combination laws, he (Mr. H.) should be perfectly ready to agree to the appointment of a committee to investigate the whole subject. He was an enemy to the principle of those laws; and with respect principle of those laws; and with respect to the bill prohibiting the emigration of artificers, he had already stated to the hon. member for Aberdeen (Mr. Hume), that he should be ready to accede to a committee on that subject in the next session. The reason why he had objected to a committee on the present occasion was, that it was a local bill, and not a measure of a general nature.

Mr. James

thought, that not only the Combination laws, but the law prohibiting the emigration of artificers, ought to be repealed. Nor ought the House to stop there. The same principle of removing restrictions ought to be applied to the Corn laws.

Mr. Byng

did not see any practical evil in the present acts, and therefore could not concur either in the propriety or necessity of repealing them. The parishioners of Bethnal-green and Spitalfields had instructed him to oppose the present bill, and had informed him that they wished him to do so, because they reaped great advantage, and suffered no inconvenience, from the present system. He trusted that if that House would not inquire, the upper House would consent to the proposed inquiry.

The House divided: For the third reading, 53; Against it, 40: Majority, 13. The bill was accordingly read a third time, and passed.