HC Deb 20 March 1833 vol 16 cc878-80
Mr. Strickland

said, that he had a Petition to present of great interest and importance at the present moment, in favour of the Bill before the House, for limiting the duration of the labour of children in factories. It was from the large town of Leeds, which, if not the largest, was, perhaps, the most affluent manufacturing town of this country. This petition had been stated to him to be 240 feet long, and to have been signed by 16,000 persons. It was the time at which this petition was brought forward, and the distinct manner in which it expressed the sentiments of the petitioners, which made him think it of importance; but there was only one sentence in it to which he wished to call the particular attention of hon. Members. In that sentence the petitioners begged to bear their testimony to the accuracy, of the evidence given before the Select Committee appointed by that honourable House to inquire into the subject, and particularly they bore testimony to that portion of the evidence which had reference to the protracted hours of labour imposed upon children in factories, and the consequent destruction of their health and morals. He (Mr. Strickland) was one of those who had devoted great attention to the evidence taken before the Committee at the time, and then feared to prejudge the case; but now that the Bill was before the House, and that imputations had been thrown out against that evidence, on the ground of its being ex-parte, and capable of receiving an answer, he begged to state what his own impression of that evidence was. He thought the reading of it would not give the public a full and correct idea of the real state of the case, or that anything else could, except a sight of the emaciated cripples who were brought before the Committee to be examined. He regretted that the Bill introduced some years back, by Sir John Hobhouse, had met with the opposition it experienced, for he was confident that it was the limitation of that Bill to the cotton manufacture which had excited a great part of the present discontent. He was decidedly of opinion that nothing short of the Ten-hour Bill could satisfy the feelings of the public, or be productive of any advantage. This Bill must be tried for a season, and, if it were found to be impracticable, they must again legislate upon the subject.

Mr. Fryer

said, that no one was more anxious than he was to relieve the misery of these children, and of the working-classes generally; but he was satisfied that the Factories Bill would prove no- thing but a delusion. This was not the way in which the distress of the country could be remedied. The only relief that could be afforded to a manufacturing population was the reduction of the duty on their raw materials, and the abolition of the tax on bread. Foreign countries were rapidly over taking us in the cheapness of our manufactures; and, in some particulars, absolutely rivalled us. How was it possible to expect, that with a duty of twelve per cent on the raw material, and of twenty per cent upon corn, relief could be given to the labourers, cither infant or adult? They might talk of relieving them, but all attempts to relieve them must be delusive, whilst Parliament persisted in creating an artificial scarcity, for the purpose of making them pay a high price for their bread. The only way of giving the starving population of the country real relief, was to afford them a fair chance, by reducing the price of food, and the tax upon their raw materials, and thus enable them to compete with foreign nations.

Mr. Robinson

agreed with the hon. Member who had just sat down; but said it was difficult all at once to make such an alteration in the taxes, as would afford the manufacturing classes relief; and the question was, whether, in the meantime, they would permit the present system to go on, and allow the children to labour more than ten hours.

Mr. Potter

, in justification of the cotton manufacturers, begged to say, that the abuses complained of did not rest exclusively with them. When hon. Members spoke of supporting the Bill, they surely did not mean to support all its provisions. Did they mean to support a measure giving the power to Magistrates to commit the masters to prison for twelve months? Did they mean to support a measure which gave Magistrates a power to levy a fine of 200l. on the masters? If they did mean to support a measure with such clauses, he would tell them they would strike a blow at the cotton trade, from which, in his opinion, it would never recover. He was decidedly favourable to an alteration in the hours of labour, but not to be effected by a Bill like this.

Petition laid on the Table.