HC Deb 01 May 1828 vol 19 cc260-2
Mr. Alderman Waithman

presented a petition from the Silk Weavers of Norwich, complaining of the grievances resulting from the reduced state of Wages in that city, and suggesting, as a remedy, the appointment of a committee, composed of masters and workmen, for the purpose of fixing an established rate of Wages. As far as the grievances went, he concurred in the statement of the petitioners; but with respect to the remedy which they proposed, it was his decided opinion that nothing could be more mischievous. The master manufacturers were willing to give good wages when they were able to do so; but their ability depended on the state of the trade. At present, the balance of trade between England and the continent was decidedly against us. Our imports of French silks amounted to a million and a quarter, while our exports did not exceed a million. Large portions of individuals were suffering deeply from this state of things. He trusted that the House would appoint a committee to inquire into the mode by which substantial relief might be most advantageously afforded.

Mr. Wodehouse

trusted the House would pay the attention which was due to so important a subject.

Mr. Bernal

said, that the subject deserved the serious attention of parliament. All that the petitioners required was, that the masters and men should be empowered to meet for the purpose of arranging the rate of wages.

Mr. Fyler

deprecated the application of abstract principles of policy in cases in which the general interests of whole classes were concerned, and was favourable to the appointment of a committee.

Mr. W. Smith

, while he was quite sensible of the grievances under which the petitioners laboured, was quite as adverse to the proposed remedy as the worthy alderman. He was convinced, that any legislative interference between the masters and the workmen would be productive of the most, injurious consequences.

Mr. C. Grant

could not bring himself to believe, when it was confessed by the petitioners, that they were receiving- from 15s. to 20s. a week for their labour at the loom, that they were in a state to challenge the commiseration of the House. The proposition contained virtually in the petition, was to establish by law a minimum of wages; a proposition which had been decided by committees of the House to be inadmissible in principle, impracticable in point of fact, and, if practicable, pregnant with fatal consequences to the manufacturing interests. If such a principle of legislation had been adopted for the last thirty years, would the cotton-manufactures, as well as various others have attained their present state of perfection? Under this impression, he could never consent to be a party to a project for fixing the rate of wages.

Mr. Monck

thought it was the duty of parliament to interfere in all such cases of distress and oppression as that pointed out in the petition. The House had often legislated upon the principles on which the petitioners proceeded. It had passed a bill to prevent masters from paying their workmen in provisions or in kind; and a very humane bill to regulate the number of hours in the day during which children should be employed in manufactories. Parliament ought to be studious to keep the people at the highest standard of existence; and that could be effected only by high wages. Where wages were high, the revenue would be great, and the people more moral and happy. Ireland and Scotland were proofs of the truth of his position. Ireland, with a population of between six and seven millions, paid but little more of revenue than Scotland, the population of which was only two millions. This was, because, in Ireland, wages were reduced to their minimum. If the manufactures of England were to compete with those of the continent, it would be impossible for the labourers to get much higher wages than were paid in other countries. But it was desirable that the price of labour should be raised as high as possible without bringing the manufactures of this country into a disadvantageous competition with those of other nations. It should be recollected, that 12s. in England was not equal to the same sum in France. If it was impossible to raise the price of labour, the House might do what was tantamount to it; namely, cheapen the price of provisions by a moderate Corn-bill. The immense weight of taxation ought to fall more equally upon the shoulders of the different classes of the community. The taxes at present fell more heavily upon labour than upon land, or the profits of trade. This was the more severely felt, as the wages of labour were exposed to a species of competition from Ireland and Scotland. Whilst a protection was given to the agriculturists by the Corn-bill, the labourers were left unprotected, from the competition he alluded to. In this country undue favour was shown to the landed interest. The revenue of England was about fifty-two millions, and the sum raised by the land-tax was only two millions; in France the revenue was about thirty-six millions, and the sum raised by the land-tax was twelve millions. Whilst the landed interests in England were so unequally taxed, they ought not to have the protection of such a Corn-bill as that which ministers were carrying through the House.

Mr. J. Wood

said, that the poor man's labour was his all, and that whatever concerned the price of wages was deserving of the attention of the House. He thought that a committee ought to be appointed, as its report might be useful in clearing up the delusions under which the manufacturing poor laboured, with respect to a minimum of wages. He wished that the report of the former committee might be reprinted and dispersed among the manufacturing poor, in order to dispel the erroneous views under which they laboured. He could trace much of the distress among the manufacturers to the tax upon bread, produced by the Corn-laws. If the House could not make wages high they might make bread cheap, which would amount to the same thing.

Ordered to lie on the table.