HC Deb 09 February 1832 vol 10 cc104-7
Mr. Sadler

presented a Petition from Huddersfield, signed by 10,000 persons, and among them by several clergymen, in favour of the Bill for the protection of Children in Factories. The petitioners, he could assure the House, made a most temperate, and yet affecting statement of the miseries these unfortunate children underwent. Their labour was prolonged even beyond the term to which adults were limitted; they were frequently at work throughout the night in a heated and pernicious atmosphere. The prayer of the petition was, that the House would consider those who were unable to help themselves, and whose parents, from the prevalent distress, were also unable to protect them. He would also take that opportunity to state, that many of the most considerable of the manufacturers themselves were anxious to have some legislative arrangement; for, however desirous they might be to limit the hours of labour, they were compelled to continue the existing practice, from the competition of others, who had no such feelings of compassion.

Mr. Robert Ferguson

had reason to believe that some of the statements in the petitions on these subjects were much exaggerated, and recommended the appointment of a Select Committee, whose inquiries would enable them to legislate on facts. He wished to take that occasion to say, that he found he was mistaken when he had asserted, on a former occasion, that these children were apprenticed out by parishes, for the purpose of releasing them of the Poor-rates.

Mr. Sanford

said, that the charge of overworking children did not apply to the manufacturers of the West of England. These manufacturers were quite willing to consent to the passing of a Bill for the protection of children, but they objected to the severity of some of the details.

Mr. Schonswar

was convinced there was no exaggeration in the statement of the petition; and he trusted there was no man of common feeling, or common sense, who would deny, that the case of these unhappy children deserved the serious attention of the House; nor could he conceive a more desirable occupation for the Legislature than for it to interfere between these infants and their masters, and shield them from the oppression to which they were now subjected.

Mr. Hume

said, it was, no doubt, the duty of the House to protect those who were unable to help themselves: but he hoped they would proceed with due caution, for it was a question that affected many persons. It was not simply the case of young and helpless children, but it was bound up with the interests of the manufacturers; and it was essential to the welfare of the country at large, that as little legislative interference as possible should take place between masters and servants. He therefore begged to add his recommendation to the proposal for a Select Committee, before which all the various interests concerned could be regularly taken into consideration; and the result might be some legislative enactment, which would have the effect of preventing in future any undue influence on the part of the master.

Mr. John Wood

fully concurred with the statements of the hon. member for Middlesex. He had been a Member of a former Committee appointed to inquire into the state of the children employed in the cotton trade, the labour of which was brought to a close by the dissolution of Parliament, but he could declare from his experience on that Committee, that it was quite necessary that the Bill should be submitted to the same ordeal. The various trades differed in their mode of employment, in their hours of labour, and in their relative healthiness. All these matters could be inquired into before a Committee. He feared that an erroneous opinion prevailed among the operatives themselves, as to the object of the measure; they expected to receive the same wages for ten hours work as they did at present for a longer term. He mentioned these circumstances to show, that justice could not be done, unless the subject was thoroughly investigated.

Mr. Weyland

said, the question was, whether the masters paid proper attention to the moral and temporal welfare of the children. From the statements made, he believed, they did not, and it was, therefore, the duty of the Legislature to make provision to insure the attainment of that object. He did not consider this was an improper interference with the master, or that it would render him less able to compete with the foreign manufacturer. The only competition that existed was in the home market, and it was the bad master who, by over-working the children intrusted to him, was thereby enabled to undersell the more humane employer. He thought a sufficient case had been made out, and that the hon. Gentleman would perform a public service by pressing the measure.

Mr. Cressett Pelham

was satisfied, that the continuance of such a system would go far to demoralize all those subjected to it. He, therefore, thought the House was bound to interfere even on the ground of humanity alone. In the excellent establishment at New Lanark, great care was taken to prevent the children from being over-worked, and, at the same time, great attention was paid to their proper instruction. He thought much might be done in other places by the same measures being pursued. He, therefore, trusted the hon. Member would persist in bringing forward his Bill, and he should have his cordial support.

Mr. Sadler,

in moving that the petition be printed, observed, that the House had frequently inquired on the subject, by Committees, during the last thirty years, but without the public deriving any advan- tage from these inquiries, and when it was known that the law limited the labour of an adult felon to ten hours a day, he thought they could not be wrong in applying the same rule to children of nine years of age. Some hon. Gentleman had hoped the House would not be led by excited feelings to legislate without inquiry; but every man of humanity must have intense feelings of compassion when the sufferings and miseries of helpless children were detailed. When the proper time arrived, he should be prepared to show, that crime and mortality had increased, particularly among the youth in the large manufacturing districts, by the excessive sufferings and slavery the children had undergone. He did not propose to refer the question to a Select Committee, but hoped the House would openly and boldly take the matter into its own hands. He trusted too that he should have the assistance of Government in maturing a system of justice and humanity respecting the employment of children in manufactures, to which a large portion of the public were anxiously looking.

Petition to be printed.