presented a Petition from Bolton, in favour of the Bill introduced by the hon. member for Aldborough, to protect children employed in factories. The petition was numerously and respectably signed. It averred that children suffered great misery from the open and flagrant violation of the law, with regard to the limitation of their hours for labour, 21 which, by a Bill passed some time since, were restricted to twelve. That time was much too long, and it was oppressive and cruel in the extreme to increase it. The petitioners very strongly urged the House upon every principle of morality and humanity, to prevent by clear and express enactments, the continuation of this atrocious system. It might be said, that interfering between masters and their labourers violated the principles of political economy; but, he trusted, the dogmas of that science would not be resorted to, to uphold such an inhuman arrangement as destroyed the health and morals of children, and which had inspired the well-intentioned part of the community with disgust and abhorrence. It was surely better to sacrifice some speculative points of political economy, rather than spread disease and suffering through the land. One of the functions of the Crown was the protection of minors. One of the first duties of a Lord Chancellor was to administer that function, and it was certainly one of the first duties of the Legislature to see that function duly executed; and where further regulations were required to protect those who were unable to protect themselves, particularly when their natural guardians had an interest in over-working them. He begged leave to assure the hon. member for Aldborough, that his humane Bill should have his hearty support.
§ Colonel Torrens
was also most ready to support the petition. It was impossible to argue that the principles of political economy were opposed to those of humanity.
hoped that the hon. member for Aldborough would move the second reading of his Bill as soon as possible.
§ Mr. Sadler
said, that it now rested with the Government to afford him an opportunity for that purpose. He should, if no obstacle presented itself, endeavour to bring it forward on the 17th of the present month. He could assure those hon. Gentlemen who had done him the kindness to declare they would support his Bill, that he was most anxious to bring it under the consideration of the House.
§ Petition to be printed.
§ Mr. Sadler
presented a similar petition 22 from Bradford. It was signed by all the medical men of the place, by the clergy, some of the most extensive master spinners, and by nine or ten thousand persons. The petitioners stated, that the present system injured the children in every point of view, it destroyed their morals; prevented them from obtaining any education; produced bad habits at an early age, which could not afterwards be eradicated; and materially affected their health by the constant labour of from twelve to sixteen hours a day, which was sometimes even extended to the Sabbath. On this occasion he did not mean to go largely into the question, but he must say, that it was the especial duty of the Legislature to endeavour to secure the happiness and ameliorate the moral condition of these poor and unprotected children. Ten hours a day to work, the petitioners considered was as much as the constitution of children would bear, indeed it was too much, for men worked no more hours than that. If there was any one subject that deserved the serious attention of the House, this was it, when neither the parents nor the sufferers themselves were free agents, but were the victims of an unjust and odious system.
§ Mr. Strickland
said, that policy required that there should be some legislative enactment on this subject. The present system was the result of machinery and competition, and he did not see any chance of improvement in it, except the Legislature took the matter in hand.
§ Mr. Hunt
said, the House might judge of the condition of these unhappy children when he assured them that they were frequently employed sixteen hours out of the twenty-four, in a heat of ninety degrees, and consequently were obliged to work almost in a state of nudity. Few of them attained the age of forty years. He was far from wishing to throw any obstacle in the way of petitioning, but, in reference to one that had been presented on a former night, contradicting what he had said of an individual having roasted the bible, he was ready to make a motion if the hon. Member who presented it would second him, to bring a person to the bar, of the House who would bear him out in his statement. He must further complain that the hon. member for Yorkshire had not apprized him of the contents of the petition which he yesterday presented, relative to Mr. Smithson.
§ Mr. Strickland
said, he certainly could 23 not be justly charged with want of courtesy to the hon. Member, as he had informed him that he had received such a petition, and intended to present it. The hon. Gentleman could have seen the contents if he had expressed any desire to do so.
§ Lord Morpeth
observed, with respect to the petition now before the House, that, of all the towns in Yorkshire, Bradford had most distinguished itself by its opposition to the system of over-working children in factories. He had the pleasure of knowing several of the principal manufacturers, and he knew they took as great an interest in the question, in favour of the children, as the operatives themselves.
§ Petition to be printed.