presented a Petition from the master cotton-spinners of the town and neighbourhood of Lancaster, praying the House to grant a Commission to take evidence relative to labour in cotton factories, before the House proceeded with the Bill, of which a noble Lord (Lord Ashley) had given notice.
§ Sir Charles Burrell
said, the only effect of granting the Commission would be to procrastinate the Bill. He wished to propose that the Bill should be suffered to pass, say for two years, or even for one year, and in the meantime a Commission could be granted to make inquiries, in order to ascertain whether the Bill should be continued for any longer period.
Mr. Mark Philips
said, if the Bill were to pass for two years, or even for one year, at the end of that time the trade would be wholly gone from this country, and would be in the hands of foreigners.
§ Lord Ashley
assured the House, that great agitation prevailed in the manufacturing districts upon this subject. It was impossible the present system could be allowed to go on. He had received various letters, asking him if he intended to delay his Bill, and accede to the Motion for a Commission? His answer to all these letters had been, that whenever that Motion was brought forward he would resist it to the utmost.
§ Sir. Wilson Patten
had been reluctantly obliged to defer his Motion for the Commission on this subject; but he certainly was determined to bring it on whenever he had an opportunity.
§ Mr. Potter
must repeat what he had said on a previous night, that if such a Bill were to pass into a law, a blow would be inflicted on the cotton trade, from which it never could recover. He had that morning received a letter stating that it would occasion the immediate withdrawal of a large capital from that trade; and no gentleman would ever think of investing his money in property of that kind, when a Bill like the present might subject him to severe penalties for what he deemed the most profitable way of employing his capital.
§ Mr. Philip Howard
was anxious that inquiry on both sides should precede legislation. Restrictions of a very partial nature had hitherto been exclusively imposed on the cotton trade. This Bill was another instance of it. The hon. Member 1002 read an extract from a letter which he had received from the Messrs. Dixon, who carried on business on a large scale at Carlisle and Manchester, in which it was stated, that if the present Bill passed, it would drive manufacturers from the situations which they at present occupied in this country. The proposed measure would, by destroying the manufacture in various places, also add greatly to the burthen of the Poor's-rates. The trade would be unable to cope with foreign competition, and nothing but ruin would be the consequence of passing it.
§ Mr. John Feilden
agreed in the necessity for the Bill, the best proof of which was the anxiety of the adult labourers for its success. He could not, for his part, believe that the present sacrifice of children was necessary to the success of the cotton manufactory.
§ Mr. James Oswald
observed, that many of his constituents, the proprietors of large cotton manufactories in Glasgow, had deputed him to state, that if the House passed the Bill as it at present existed, without inquiry, justice could not be done to them. The evidence which had been given on the subject threw an unmerited odium upon them, which they should not be able to remove without the appointment of a Commission or a Committee.
§ Mr. Brotherton
said, that it was the cry, when the investigation took place before, that legislation would destroy the trade. Before legislation had taken place on the subject, children were employed sixteen or seventeen hours a-day, but since the interference of the Legislature, their labours had been greatly diminished, and the trade had increased instead of diminished.
§ Lord Molyneux
protested against the child-murder accusation which had by some been brought against the owners of factories. He trusted that the House would institute further inquiries into the subject previous to proceeding with the Bill.
§ Mr. Matthias Attwood
said, that a Commission of Inquiry would have the effect of materially procrastinating the Bill. If there was no oppression on the part of the cotton, manufacturers, why should they be so sensitive as to the provisions of the Bill, and call so loudly for inquiry that was to end in delay? The object of the Bill introduced by the noble Lord was to put an end to oppression; 1003 and if no oppression existed, what had the cotton manufacturers to fear? In his opinion, it was better that the manufacturers should lay under an unjust stigma than that oppression should continue when it had been proved that it existed.
§ Petition laid upon the Table.