HC Deb 14 March 1833 vol 16 cc640-3
Lord Ashley

presented a Petition from the Cotton Spinners of Glasgow, in favour of the Ten Hours' Labour Bill. Another, to the same effect, from the Operatives of Chorley; a third, from the Churchwardens and other Inhabitants of the Ward of Bishopsgate; and, a fourth, from Little Bolton and neighbouring places in Lancashire. The latter prayed, that the House would not grant the Commission of Inquiry upon the Factories' Bill, as such a proceeding would only tend to delay the measure. He cordially supported the prayer of all these petitions.

Mr. Strickland

wished to declare, that he also gave them his support, and that he did it with the most perfect satisfaction. He hoped the Bill would not be delayed, and it was on account of the fear of delay that he should oppose the appointment of a Commission. Such would certainly be the effect of that Commission, if it was not actually its object. He could not conceive that any person required proof of the fact, that children of a tender age were not fit to stand for fifteen hours in the day upon machinery worked by steam.

Mr. Wilson Patten

assured the House, that he did not propose the appointment of a Commission with the view of delaying the Bill introduced by the noble Lord, but in order that the subject, on which the House were about to legislate, might be better understood, and, also, for the purpose of clearing the characters of the masters from those imputations which seemed to be cast upon them by the friends of this measure, but which further evidence would prove to be utterly unjustifiable.

Mr. Robinson

did not suppose the hon. Member wished to delay, unnecessarily, any measure of this sort, or that he would move for a Commission merely for the purpose of effecting that object, but there could be no doubt that, in fact, such would be the result of the appointment of a Commission. He did not know how any man, aware of the circumstances already disclosed upon the evidence, could think for a moment, that the legislation proposed ought not to be adopted. There was no charge of cruelty against the masters—the charge was against the cruelty of the system, and it was the system that the noble Lord's Bill went to remedy. He thought, that the House were bound to protect these poor children from the effects of the system, against which they could not protect themselves.

Lord Ashley

was of opinion, that the House ought not to be stopped from legislating on the subject, merely because ten or twelve gentlemen fancied themselves aggrieved by the tendency of the matter already known to the public. He knew that they had had an opportunity of considering the provisions of the Bill he had himself introduced, for he had sent 100 copies of it into the country to those most interested in the matter. The only effect of a Commission would be to delay the Bill, so that it would be lost this Session as it had been lost in the last.

Mr. Wilbraham

thought, that a Commission ought to be granted, and that it might be so managed as not to prevent the Bill passing this Session.

Mr. Cutlar Fergusson

said, that the measure was one of importance, and deserved the best and earliest consideration of the House. He trusted the noble Lord would press the Bill through the House. While they were talking of Commissions the children were perishing.

Mr. O'Connell

observed, that it was a question of humanity and religion that ought not to be neglected. The objection to the present system was, that it not only destroyed the health of the children, but prevented them from having any religious education: that the only way in which they obtained that education, was by having slips of Catechism put into their sleeves when they went to work in the morning, and he regretted to add, that he had been informed that they were often punished for carrying these slips with them to their work,

Mr. Warburton

thought it but fair to all parties that a Commission should be granted. Means might be taken to prevent its delaying the Bill; and of this he was sure, that the more evidence was taken, the more would the necessity for the Bill be shown.

Mr. Wynn

was in favour of the appointment of another Commission. Evidence had been heard only on one side, and it was only fair that the other should have an opportunity of rebutting the charges against them. But, as the Bill should not be delayed beyond the present Session, he thought an instruction should be given to the Commission to make all due haste.

Mr. Brotherton

did not consider the manufacturers to blame. The objection was solely against the system, but neither master nor workman could do anything without the aid of the law. In accounting for the present system of overworking children, various causes had been assigned by hon. Members, By some, it was ascribed to the taxes, by others, to the inhumanity of the parents of the children; but a great proportion of the supporters of the Ten Hours' Bill attributed it to the avarice and oppression of the masters. That it was not wholly ascribable to the taxes was evident; for when the taxes were not one-fourth of their present amount, children were employed a greater length of time in cotton-mills than at present. They ought not to throw the blame entirely on the parents, for thousands, and tens of thousands, of them had petitioned Parliament to restrict the hours of labour in cotton-mills. That the masters were not all of them cruel and oppressive, he could take upon himself to assert; for when the Bill, brought into this House by the right hon. Baronet, the member for Westminster, in 1831, was under consideration, he obtained signatures of about forty of the largest proprietors of mills in Manchester and the neighbourhood, to a petition in favour of a reduction of the hours of labour. There must, then, be something in the system which neither masters nor parents nor children could resist, unless they were aided by the law. He did not blame the masters, generally—it was the system he complained of; and he could not see that any useful purpose could be answered by the Commission proposed by the hon. member for Lancashire. The masters were fully heard before a Committee of the House of Commons in 1816; and again in 1818 and 1819 evidence was taken on oath before a Committee of the House of Lords, when it was proved, that children of eight and nine years of age were employed ninety-three hours a-week. He had been connected with cotton spinning forty years, and, during the last twenty years, he had assisted in obtaining every Act which had been passed for the regulation of cotton factories—being convinced that legislative interference was necessary, and consonant with justice, humanity, and sound policy He, therefore, hoped that the noble Lord would persevere with his Bill; which, he was sure, with some alterations, would be beneficial to the manufacturing population.

Lord Althorp

said, as the sense of the House appeared to be against a Commission, he hoped the hon. Member would postpone moving for it.

Petitions laid on the Table.

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