HC Deb 22 March 1833 vol 16 cc970-3
Mr. John Stanley

presented a Petition from the Master Manufacturers of Stockport, praying that further evidence might be taken before the Factories' Bill was passed, in order that they might have an opportunity of clearing their character of the imputations cast upon them in the ex-parte evidence brought forward by Mr. Sadler, and admitted by him to be intended only to establish his views. He concurred in the prayer of the petition, but could not concur in some of its statements. The Bill brought in some years ago by Sir John Hobhouse had not had a fair trial, for it was confined in its operation to a very small portion of the factories of this country. It had not been tried at all in the woollen, the silk, or the hemp factories, so that how far it would protect the children employed was not known. He considered that the petitioners had made out such a case as entitled them to have an inquiry either by a Committee or a Commission. If he thought that the object of the petitioners was to stave off the introduction of a measure that was so necessary as the Bill for regulating factories, he would not lend himself to it; but in his opinion it would have quite the contrary effect.

Lord Molyneux

had been requested to support the petition, which he did with much pleasure. He had the honour of representing one of the largest manufacturing districts; and from his own knowledge he could state, that the electors had been much wronged in the statements that had gone forth to the world on a previous occasion.

Mr. Cutlar Fergusson

said, that his opinion upon this subject was not founded upon any notion of the tyranny of the manufacturers, but on the facts stated by the manufacturers themselves; one of which was, that the children were worked twelve and more hours a-day. He would take the evidence of the medical men, who were of opinion that not even adults could with safety to their health be worked for that period. Unless the manufacturers could alter that fact, he should feel justified in voting for the Bill.

Mr. Phillip Howard

said, that the manufacturers in that part of the country with which he was connected (Carlisle) wished for the most rigid inquiry into the subject, feeling that a stigma had been cast upon them which had been highly injurious. They had been held up to the reproach of the whole nation, and they naturally felt a desire to clear that reproach away. The cotton manufacturers alone had been hitherto protected by the Legislature; but the same protection should extend to the persons engaged in other branches of manufacture. He was by no means opposed to the principle of the Bill; for he thought, without pre-supposing cruelty on the part of the manufacturers, that twelve or fourteen hours a day for children's labour were by far too much.

Mr. Wilson Patten

put it to the House whether it would not have been far better that this discussion should have been postponed until the Motion came regularly before them. Many Members in the late Parliament had opposed even the appointment of a Committee, and no doubt the same reasons which then actuated them would induce them to oppose a Commission; but he thought that very few would be found to oppose the Bill.

Mr. Wilbraham

begged to state, that there was not in the House a more ardent friend to any Bill which went to throw the protecting arm of the law round those children than himself, but he entreated the House to look at the palpable injustice which would be done to the masters if the Bill were passed without inquiry, and without listening to the complaints of those who were to be affected by it. He would not go into the evidence given before the Committee, but he would just remind the House, that out of the number of witnesses examined, there were ten from Scotland, two only from the whole county of Chester, and from Leeds and its neighbourhood forty-nine.

Sir George Phillips

stated, that since this subject had been under discussion, he had obtained all the information upon it that he could. He must say, that he knew of factories which had existed under the present law for thirty or forty years; and from his own observation of those factories, he could state that there were no manufacturing or agricultural labourers in Lancashire, that were in a better situation than the people (male and female) who were employed in them.

Mr. Wilks

rose to order. No less than nine Gentlemen had addressed the House upon the presentation of this petition; and he felt quite certain, that if such a course were to be adopted, a stop would be put altogether to the presentation of petitions.

Sir George Phillips

had considered himself bound to say a few words, only one side of the question having been stated to the House. If the House did not wish that he should enter further into the subject, he would give way. An hon. Member had stated, that no evidence could be given that the manner in which children worked in factories was consistent with their health. Now, he would only refer that hon. Member to the factory of Mr. Feilden, where he would find evidence that the children engaged in that employment were in a high state of health and happiness.

Mr. Cobbett

regretted the absence of his hon. colleague. He had himself no experience in the matter, no knowledge of it, and no reasons to offer to the House; all that he acted upon was authority. His hon. colleague, he believed, worked up no less than a hundredth part of the cotton that was imported into England. He employed nearly 2,000 persons, was a firm supporter of the Bill of the noble Lord (Lord Ashley), and a most stern opponent of every species of oppression. He would add, that his hon. colleague was averse from issuing the Commission proposed by the hon. member for Lancashire.

Petition laid on the Table.