HC Deb 27 May 1823 vol 9 cc546-50
Mr. Littleton

presented a petition from the Coal and Iron masters of Dudley, against a bill brought in by the hon. member for Coventry to repeal the different acts relating to the Combination of Workmen, and for settling disputes between Masters and Journeymen. He gave credit to the hon. gentleman for his motives; but it was a measure full of minute and vexatious regulations, which no man connected with the manufacturing districts could possibly approve of. The hon. member for Coventry talked of the advantages which would accrue from referring his bill to a committee above stairs. It was unquestionably desirable that the whole subject, and not such a bill as the hon. member had concocted, should be referred to the consideration of a select committee, to decide what portion of them it might appear necessary to repeal, and what part of them the interest of the manufacturers required to be preserved. Before that committee, all parties should be heard. The hon. member might perhaps say, that, the bill would go through a committee in the regular, course: but it was a different thing to submit the bill to a committee composed of gentlemen whose experience, whose habits, and whose abilities, rendered them peculiarly fit to decide on it, and to lay it before a committee in the ordinary course off business, merely to consider its details. He now gave the hon. member notice, that whenever he moved the second reading of the bill, he should move, as an amendment, "that it be read that day six months." He wished to know whether the hon. member had any objection to postponing the measure for a few days?

Mr. P. Moore

was glad the hon. gentleman had stated his objections to the bill, because, from the moment he had brought it in, he had endeavoured to provoke the most extended inquiry. Although the bill had been printed five weeks, he had not asked the opinion of any hon. member with respect to it; neither did he intend to do so for some time to come. As to a further postponement of the measure, he had no objection to that course, if it were necessary for the purpose of procuring information. He begged leave to ask, from whom the petitions against the bill came? They came from the master-manufacturers, who were opposed to those classes for whose security he wished to provide; namely, the operative workmen. When the hon. member came forward with his hundreds who petitioned against the bill, he must be allowed to point to his millions who were in favour of it. The master manufacturers had infinitely more trouble, under the existing law, than they could possibly have under that which he proposed. He believed that nineteen-twentieths of the poor-rates were occasioned by the pinchings which the rich manufacturers inflicted on the wages of their workmen. If the operative manufacturers were properly paid, the products of agriculture and of the loom would prosper, and there would be little or no poor-rates at all. If one farthing a day were added to the wages of the 5,000,000 of the manufacturers who were employed in this country, it would amount to a total of 2,040,000l. annually. For his own part, he was certain this bill would do much good. He cared not whether gentlemen in office or out of office carried it into effect, so that it was adopted. The chief objects of his bill were, first, to repeat several obsolete laws. The judges themselves had condemned many of these laws; and, if he even stopped at that point, the bill would be beneficial. It next provided for the hiring arid paying of workmen; and it provided also for the regulation of wages. The power of the regulation was, by the bill, taken out of the magistrates' hands, and left with the parties themselves; who, under particular circumstances, were to have recourse to reference. The bill had cost him much time, trouble, and expense; and he trusted his exertions would not be thrown away. If, when it went to the committee up stairs, be could not convince the hon. member for Staffordshire, that its principle was a good one, he would give it up. But he would never give up the fact that he (Mr. Peter Moore) was the person who had brought forward such a measure.

Mr. S. Wortley

thought the hon. member for Coventry deserved the thanks of the country for having brought the subject under the notice of parliament. Certainly some alteration was necessary in these laws; and he believed the Combination act, whenever it had been appealed to, had constantly recoiled on the masters; therefore the sooner it was got rid of the better. He should have felt much more inclination to vote for the present bill, if it had only gone to the repeal of existing laws; but it went a great deal further, as it contained many new provisions which ought to be seriously considered before the bill was passed.

Lord Stanley

intreated the hon. member for Coventry not to press on this bill. In. his opinion, it ought to go to a committee above stairs, there to be thoroughly examined, and then stand over until next session; which would give the manufacturing districts an opportunity of understanding all the provisions which it Was intended to propose. It would be a hazardous thing to do away at one sweep with forty-four statutes, without much previous consideration and inquiry. He had read the bill, but he had not read the pamphlet which the hon. member for Coventry had disseminated with it.

Mr. Huskisson

was bound in Justice to say, that the hon. member for Coventry had acted in a manner quite consistent with the course which he had stated, at the commencement of the session, it was his intention to pursue. The hon. member had then said, that he would introduce the bill, and afterwards leave it to committee up stairs. He concurred with others in thinking, that the House was under an obligation to the hon. member for agitating this subject, and bringing it under the notice of the House. He had, it appeared, drawn up a kind of history of the minute, absurd, ridiculous and mischievous regulations, which had, from time to time, been introduced into the Statute book on the subject of interference between the master and the workman. But he must say, that to attempt to remove all the regulations which were contained in forty-four acts of parliament—to correct, at one sweep, a system full of complication and annoyance—was next to impossible. In fact, the hon. member had himself added to the complication of the system. In endeavouring to rectify it, he had fallen into the very error which he deprecated; for his bill contained regulations so minute, so inapplicable to existing circumstances, and, in many instances, so impossible to be carried into effect, that instead of having forty-four acts of parliament to deal with, some of which had fallen into disuse, it would be found that this one bill was enough to control, embarrass, and perplex the regulations of any trade or manufacture. He wished every circulation to be given to the bill, and to the still more valuable information, which, he understood, accompanied it; but he thought it would be necessary to pause before they agreed to so extensive a measure. The hon. member for Staffordshire bad, he perceived, the pamphlet in his hand; but where it was to be procured he (Mr. H.) did not know. He hoped the hon. member would not press the bill this session; but would let the mass of information he had collected go forth to the country, that the minds of those who were interested in the measure might be directed to the subject. The country was much obliged to him for the information he had collected; since he had, it seemed, in comparatively few pages given the history of so many acts of parliament. If the hon. member acceded to this proposition, he might, in the early part of next session, move for a committee, by whom the whole subject might be investigated.

Mr. Dugdale

said, the hon. member for Coventry had asserted that his measure was generally approved of. Now, he also had received communications on the subject, and from them it appeared that those, who would be affected by the measure were much alarmed at it.

Mr. P. Moore

said, he knew the value of the communications which the hon. member had received better than the hon. gentleman himself did. His correspondents told the hon. gentleman, the truth, but not the whole truth. He was ready to stake his life, his name and his character, that if the bill were adopted it would afford the greatest possible relief to the country. As to postponing the second reading, he hoped the hon. member for Staffordshire would allow him until to-morrow to consider of the expediency of doing so.

Mr. Littleton

said, he had no objection to the immortality which the hon. member for Coventry promised himself, in consequence of his bill and pamphlet. For the benefit of those gentlemen who did not know where to find the latter, he begged to state that it was on sale at No. 24, Bridge-street, Westminster.

Mr. Philips

said, his objection to, fend bill was, that it contained a number of restrictions between workmen and employers which would be injurious to both parties. The regulations were not applicable to existing circumstances, and would produce an effect exactly the reverse of that which the hon. member for Coventry intended.

Ordered to lie on the table.