HC Deb 07 June 1832 vol 13 cc500-5
Mr. Sadler

, in presenting Petitions on the subject of the Factory Bill, begged to say, without reference to certain assertions made to the contrary, that having made the most extensive inquiry into the matter, since the bill first came before the House, he found that the statement of cruelties which he had on former occasions attempted to describe, was more than borne out by the facts. No case of hardship, no scenes of degradation, could be found to equal those which were endured in the mills and factories of this country. It was in vain for him to attempt to show what were the effects of the long-protracted and demoralizing labour which was heaped upon those helpless beings who had no defence by legislative enactments, but to whom the law of the land ought to be extended. He had witnessed a scene that day which had awakened his best feelings; he had had the gratification of being in a temple of worship, with many thousands of poor children, who were virtuously and religiously brought up, and had their minds enlightened by education. Theirs was a case which ought to be extended to those who were now helpless— who were employed in factories, many of them without parents to watch over them, or any legislative protection from every species of cruelty. He could not but be deeply affected when he saw these tens of thousands of children thus clothed and educated in this great metropolis (and these formed only a part of the numberless infants thus happily provided for); and contrasted their condition with that of the many who were doomed to continued oppression, and to an endless degrading labour, such as the entire mass of poor children employed in mills and factories, who had no chance of imbibing any principle of moral conduct. All he had said respecting the excessive labour which was heaped upon these poor children was not more than true. When he said, that they worked for fourteen and sixteen hours a-day, the noble Lord, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, consulting, no doubt, his own charitable feelings, chose to deny his assertion, and said, that it must be founded on grossly exaggerated statements. He would now declare, after a most minute examination into the case, and upon the best evidence, that all he had formerly said was true, and, in many instances, understated. He rejoiced to find that, for once, this was not to be made a party question, for it had no relation to political matters. That man had not a heart in his bosom, who could consign wretched infants to that excessive degree of labour which he would not impose upon the brute creation. To the life of the beast of burthen was attached a value; the lives of slaves or of felons were all protected, because the Legislature was permitted to interfere to save them from cruelty. In all these cases, the law remembered mercy; but, in the case of the rising generation, no such protection was rendered; their moral or physical welfare was unheeded. They were regarded as mere machines, and when policy said, labour! labour! labour! this system was continued; and, after working fourteen and sixteen hours a-day, they were allowed only a few minutes for refreshment. He meant to assert, that the degree of labour which was performed by these infants was not to be endured. They were regarded as machines of no value. The employer made his calculation as to how many hours his machines were to work to yield a certain profit; but, as to what the human machine would bear, he made no calcula- tion; he did not calculate how long that would continue to exist, and these infants were condemned to general hard labour, through which they became crippled in their limbs, and incapable of future exertion, from their being exposed to all this at a period when nature would not bear it; and then, at a certain age, like the chimney-sweeps, they were turned out of employ, to be supported by the public, or to be exposed to all the evils consequent upon a state of moral depravity. By the prevalence of this iniquitous system, too, a part of the adult population was deprived of employment. But was this state of things to continue to exist in a Christian country? In this case the feelings of the community would work a cure. Parental affection would apply itself to this great question, and would not consent that children should any longer be enslaved and ill-used. At present, the infant population was scourged to this excessive labour. After ten hours' fatigue, they had their vigilance excited by the whip; they were bound to pillars; they were chased round the factories, lacerated in their bodies, and crippled in their limbs. He had seen a letter from the first medical man in the metropolis, stating, that the accidents which happened to these children almost all took place in the latter part of the day, when the human frame was no longer able to bear up against the fatigue. Now, compare the condition of these children with that of the negroes. In the Crown colonies, the labour of slaves, under fourteen, and above sixty, years of age, was limited to six hours a-day; and yet the blacks had the enjoyment of good air, and the sea-breeze, while these children were subjected to the infected atmosphere of the factories. Even the adult slaves were required to work but nine hours a-day; and he, therefore, conscientiously said, that it would be much better for the humble classes of society in England, if they were the property of others; for then they would be valued, and their lives and limbs be of some consideration. Those who, as felons, were punished by labour, had to work in the open air, and even the men were limited to ten hours. But the children in the factories did not get off so easily; their labour was so excessive, that it took away all opportunity of moral and mental improvement. The result of this must be, that they were brought up in utter ignorance of the institutions of the country; and yet, if they offended any of those institutions, they were punished with the severest vengeance. When he had stated some of these facts at an earlier period of the Session, the noble Lord looked upon them as gross exaggerations; but now he might have an opportunity of examining the evidence, and finding that he (Mr. Sadler) was correct. He had been sent to a Select Committee on this subject; but how soon there might be any hope of the labours of that Committee terminating he knew not; but this he knew, that it was his intention, at all events, to take a constitutional mode of ascertaining the opinions of this House, and of pledging the feelings of the Legislature against this cruel and disgusting system of labour.

Mr. Briscoe

said, that the Committee had now been sitting for three months, and he regretted that there was no prospect of a report or of any legislative measure being recommended by it. Should not such a proceeding be speedily forthcoming, he hoped that the hon. Gentleman would pursue his intention, and not suffer this Session to terminate, without proposing certain Resolutions on the subject, and taking the sense of the House as to their adoption. After the opinion which had been expressed on West-India Slavery, it would be highly reprehensible in the House of Commons to sanction a slavery at home, which was as bad as, or worse, than the slavery in the colonies.

Mr. Dixon

said, that the Chairman had done every thing in his power to bring the labours of the Committee to a termination; and it was plain, from the evidence adduced, that such a system of atrocious slavery never before existed in the world.

Petitions read.

Mr. Sadler

, in moving that they be laid upon the Table, begged to state, that the delay in the Committee had arisen from the circumstance of this bill having reference to every species of manufacture; the consequence of which was, that it had been thought necessary to substantiate the cruel practices employed in each different branch. He thought the case so plain, that he was in hopes that the House would agree to his bill without a Committee of Inquiry. He had, however, been sent before a Committee, and now the noble Lord had an opportunity of seeing that his gross exaggerations were simple truths; and that this system of cruelty was the general custom of all our manufacturers. That system was fatal. We were not a nation of murderers; but the negligence of the law suffered humanity to be outraged, and life to be held of no account. It had become necessary to make an alteration in that system, and, therefore, he would try every possible means of effecting it.

Lord Althorp

could not admit the justice of the assertion, that our manufacturers conducted their factories in a manner which made the loss of health and life inevitable. Particular instances of such things might be adduced; but such was not the general custom.

Petition laid on the Table.

Mr. Sadler

, in moving that the petitions be printed, repeated his assertion, that that system was destructive, in many instances, of life and limbs, and was always prejudicial to education. Could it for a moment be supposed, that thirteen hours of confinement were not prejudicial to the health of children nine years of age? He was glad to see the hon. member for Middlesex in his place, for he was mainly answerable for the delay, by sending the bill before a Committee. The hon. Member was responsible for that, and responsible for the fact, that not a man had been examined before that Committee, who was not, in consequence exposed to the vengeance of the manufacturers. The inquiry was unnecessary: it was a great national and individual expense, and the operatives had already spent far more on it than would ever be repaid. The witnesses, even those who had spoken most favourably of the manufacturers, had been discharged by them, and were reduced to a state of pauperism because they obeyed the summons of the House. It was an insult to common sense to have an inquiry going on for months, for the purpose of ascertaining whether children ought to be allowed to labour ten or twelve hours a day.

Mr. Hume

was not a little surprised at the attack which the hon. Gentleman had been pleased to make on him. The hon. Gentleman had forgotten, that he (Mr. Hume) had stated that, if the Bill only referred to children of nine or ten years of age, he would agree to it at once; but as it proposed to limit the labour of persons of sixteen or eighteen years of age, that was a matter which ought to be examined upstairs. The Committee had been appointed, he believed, for a month, before it proceeded in its inquiries. He was, however, quite ready to take his share of any responsibility that might attach to the proposing of this inquiry because it behoved the House not to be led away by passion.

Petitions to be printed.