HC Deb 08 February 1833 vol 15 cc390-3
Lord Morpeth,

after presenting a Petition from Den-by, in Yorkshire, against Negro Slavery, stated, he wished to take the first opportunity of offering an explanation of two Notices which appeared upon the Order Book. He admitted that, after the noble Lord, the member for Dorsetshire, had given notice that he should revive Mr. Sadler's Bill, he (Lord Morpeth) had given notice, for a previous day, of a different measure it was true, although upon the same subject-matter. He believed there was nothing in this contrary to strict parliamentary usage, but he should be very sorry to fail in parliamentary courtesy to any Member of the House. He wished the House, however, to be made quite aware of the circumstances of the case. He had stated publicly and repeatedly to a constituency, among all classes of which this question was one of vital interest, and he had announced the same intention to several other gentlemen in districts similarly interested, that if Mr. Sadler, in whose hands the subject was unquestionably placed, should not have a seat in this Parliament, he would charge himself with the responsibility of bringing it forward. He had been in his place with the view of giving the requisite notice at the earliest moment at which he had ever known notices given—four o'clock, on the day of the King's Speech; but owing to the unprecedented time at which they had been given on Tuesday, he found his noble friend had obtained this casual priority. Now, as he knew no one who would feel on the subject more warmly, or work it better than his noble friend, it became a question not of persons but of measures. As he (Lord Morpeth) believed in his conscience, that the Bill of Mr. Sadler was not satisfactorily adapted to accomplish its own most righteous ends—as he knew, further, that if it was again introduced, a demand would be made to send it again to a Committee up-stairs, (and he did not see how that demand could be resisted, inasmuch as, by an arrangement to which Mr. Sadler and the whole of the last Committee were parties, it was agreed that Mr. Sadler should first call his evidence and go through his case, and then that the opponents of the Bill should call and go through theirs, and when last Session ended, Mr. Sadler's case was just concluded, and his opponents' not commenced)—for these reasons, he thought it most desirable that the experiment should be made, whether, previously to the re-introduction of the former Bill, and the re-appointment of the former Committee, a measure could not be suggested which, while it should secure all the essential objects of protection to the helpless children, should so far obviate objections as to reconcile all the leading parties, and bring to an immediate issue this afflicting subject. He would not allude to the noble member for Dorsetshire's want of connexion with any manufacturing district—that might or might not be a recommendation; but as it had been imputed to him (Lord Morpeth), that he was only the instrument of the masters in this business, he thought it right to state, that although he felt it his duty to be accessible to information and advice from all quarters, he did not believe the manufacturers had a notion of what it was his intention to propose, and that he had found them as little disposed to employ dictation towards him as he was to demean himself by submitting to it.

Lord Ashley

was happy to hear the declaration of his noble friend, and felt satisfied that nothing discourteous had been contemplated on his part. Looking to the evidence which had been adduced before the Committee of last year upon the subject of infant labour, he (Lord Ashley) had felt it his duty to call the attention of the Legislature to the subject; intending to carry forward a measure of a similar nature to that proposed by Mr. Sadler last year, with a view to afford protection to those helpless individuals who could not protect themselves.

Mr. Horatio Ross

had served on the Select Committee which had been appointed last year, and he hoped the noble Lord would at least introduce a more cautious Bill than that proposed by Mr. Sadler last Session.

Mr. Strickland

supported the prayer of the petition, and confining his support to its object; he trusted, notwithstanding the difficulties of the question of Negro Slavery in the West Indies, that the subject would be brought to a speedy and satisfactory termination.

An Hon. Member

observed, that whatever might be the measure for the relief of infants passed by the House, the thanks of the country were due to Mr. Sadler for having been the first to bring forward the great and important question.

Mr. O'Connell

could not remain silent on this important question, notwithstanding the maxim of non-interference between master and servant. There was, however, a maxim in law that minors should be protected, and the law was bound to protect them. It was truly horrible to read the evidence adduced of the nature and extent of infant labour in factories, if that evidence was true, and it was not contradicted. He joined in the entreaties put forth to hon. Gentlemen to read that evidence, and a measure such as proposed would most certainly have their support.

Sir John Hobhouse

said, that since the year 1825, he had repeatedly brought forward the subject, in fact, no less than three times. He rejoiced that the subject had again been taken up, and particularly as regarded the number of hours of infant employment. He hoped that the House was in possession of full information, and would not go prejudiced in any way to the consideration of the question. After reading the evidence already before the House, two opinions could not be entertained, but he trusted that, after all due attention, the question would be once for all set at rest in a manner that neither masters nor servants could complain of.

Mr. Andrew Johnston

said, the prejudices of the country had been most strongly, and not very justly, directed against the manufacturers. The consequence of the outcry was, that they had been prevented from making such arrangements as would probably have satisfied all parties. The manufacturers ought, in common justice, to be allowed an opportunity of laying their case before the country.

Lord Ashley

was willing to believe that all the mill-proprietors were anxious to relax as much as possible the labour of the children. He conceived, nevertheless, that the children required the protection of that House. They ought not to be employed more than ten hours a-day.

Lord Morpeth

claimed to say this for himself, that his connexion with the manufacturing districts had neither warped his mind nor deadened his feelings with reference to this subject. He would give the best possible assistance to ameliorate the situation of the children, and, at the same time, to secure every protection for trade.

An Hon. Member

was convinced, that many of the statements made on this subject were greatly exaggerated; and he conceived that the manufacturers should have an opportunity of entering on their defence, which had not yet been granted to them.

Petition laid on the Table.