in presenting a Petition from the Manufacturers, Tradesmen, and others of Heaton Norris, against the Truck-system, stated, that this system gave great advantages to a few rich men, who acquired immense profits at the expense of the labourers. On a former occasion, he had supported a Bill brought in by a friend of his, to put a stop to this system; but the operation of that Bill was limited to two years. At present, the masters had joined the workmen, in complaining of this system; which was as injurious to the manufacturers who did not adopt it, as to the workmen who were its more immediate victims. He heartily concurred in the prayer of the Petition, and he would give the measure of his hon. friend, the member for Staffordshire, all the support in his power.
§ Mr. Bright
said, that the benefits of the proposed measure were so obvious, that the lower classes, ranged under their natural protectors, the clergy of the country, were coming forward to entreat the legislature to support it. In his opinion, it would be impossible for the country to go on for any considerable period with the labourer deprived of his wages, and exposed to be continually fleeced by those who were bound to be his protectors. Who would believe, were it not explicitly stated, that when labourers who were in want of subsistence applied to their masters for wages, 326 they were paid in umbrellas, watches, and toys, which they could neither use themselves, nor convert into the means of subsistence. They were exposed, by such conduct, to the most severe distress, and it was high time that a law should be passed and enforced to put an end to these practices. By them, too, the retail trader was grievously injured: for the labourer, having no money, was obliged to have recourse to his master's warehouse for every thing—and if he went elsewhere to buy what he wanted, he was turned out of employment. To keep up this system, the masters combined in all the manufacturing districts, and reduced the men to slavery; at least, he could not call the man free who could not change his service, however ill he might be used, and who got for his labour no other reward than the master pleased. A remedy for this state of things, like the Bill of the hon. member for Staffordshire, was in his opinion much wanted. It was the opinion of Adam Smith, that the legislature was always too much influenced by the masters in making regulations respecting wages; and he might therefore say, that there was the best authority for the necessity of interference in favour of the men. There were numerous petitions also on the subject; and all the petitioners represented the system as a pressing evil. They did not complain from any far-fetched doctrines, or any metaphysical reasonings—they felt what they complained of, and they felt it most severely. One petition, which said that the petitioners had long looked upon this system with silent grief, stated, that the masters supplied their men with every thing, from a penny lace to a suit of clothes. This petition, which he lately presented, was from the mechanics of Nottingham; who were remarkable for their love of science, and for the improvements they had made in the arts. They were not persons of high rank, but they were sensible clever men. It was unnecessary, however, for him to go further into the case, particularly after the statements made by the hon. member for Staffordshire, to whom the country was deeply indebted. He had only been induced to trouble the House so far, on account of the vital importance of the question, he not having found on any previous occasion, a convenient opportunity of delivering his sentiments on the subject.
§ Sir John Newport
thought, that the House would never get through its business, if the Members all chose to make long speeches, and get up debates on presenting 327 petitions. The very subject on which the hon. Member had just addressed the House, was to come before it that evening, in a regular manner, and though he did not like to interrupt him, he hoped that no other hon. Member would pursue the same course, as the hon. member for Bristol.
§ Mr. Littleton
stated, that though the Bill stood for discussion that evening—it was not likely that he should be able to bring it before the House. As the means of carrying its provisions into effect were of great importance, it had been printed and circulated through the country, and so many suggestions had been received that it must be revised. He thought it would be most advisable to refer it to a committee up stairs; and he hoped the hon. member for Aberdeen would not oppose the motion he should make for that. There was no measure then under the consideration of the House of such importance as the bill for putting an end to the Truck-system.
§ Mr. Hume
would not oppose that motion, not because he had abandoned his opposition to the Bill—but because it was his wish that the machinery of the Bill might he made as perfect as possible, before he stated his views on it. He was much surprised by the observations of the hon. member for Bristol, who seemed ready to legislate on any principle, or even on no principle at all. He would, however, wait till next week before he would state his reasons at length for opposing the Bill.
Mr. R. King
concurred in the views of the hon. member for Staffordshire, and he was sorry to be obliged to inform the House on the authority of his private letters, that the baneful Truck-system was extending to Ireland. A magistrate of the county of Cork, who lived in Bandon, and attended the petty sessions there, had informed him, that the operatives made numerous and distressing complaints, on account of this unjust practice. "A manufacturer," he says, "generally keeps a shop of dry goods, the poor workman is paid in full at one counter, but he is obliged to go to the other, (by a private understanding, that if he does not he will not be employed) where he receives a shawl, or a gown-piece, or a coat, or something that is useless to him, and at one-third more than he could buy it for, with his money at another shop; what he receives, he takes to the Pawn-office immediately, and pledges for half the amount he was obliged to give for it, and most probably he never afterwards redeems it—he being ground down in his weekly 328 pittance of subsistence money for his family, by the present low price of labour, on account of the great depression of trade. If he complains to a magistrate, he gets no more employment from the person complained against, nor will others trust him; thus, he must patiently suffer the robbery, or starve." This was a crying evil, and no injustice would be done to any one, if the legislature were to make the masters give the labourers their hire, of which it had been said of old, the labourer was worthy. The hon. Member's Bill was not to extend to Ireland, but he trusted the time was not far distant when that would be the case, and when the laws of the two countries, would, in every respect, be assimilated and administered alike, and then, and not till then, would the advantages of the Union be realized, and the two countries would be one.
§ Mr. O'Connell
hoped the hon. Member did not wish for an assimilation of taxation, as that would only aggravate the evils of Ireland.
§ Petition to be printed.