§ Mr. John Maxwell
brought forward his Motion respecting Hand-loom Weavers, observing, that his object was, to make the House acquainted with the result of the inquiries upon this subject by Committees in two successive years. He had no wish to offer any obstruction to the business of the House, but he should be deserting his duty if he did not bring forward a subject which involved the interests and almost the existence of a million of people. He should argue this question as a practical question, and would at once proceed to the consideration of the effect produced on the condition of the Hand-loom Weavers by the present system. He would take as an example the case of a very intelligent Hand-loom Weaver, who was examined before the late Committee of the House, and who was well qualified to give information on the subject. In showing how the system operated on the wages of labour, he stated that in 1797 his wages amounted to 26s. and 27s. per week, with which he could command 281 pounds pf flour, be- 1153 sides all the other necessaries of life; whereas in 1834 his wages were reduced to 5s. 6d. a-week, notwithstanding he gave two hours additional labour a day, with which he could only command 81 pounds of flour, whilst all the other necessaries of life were burdened with an accumulation of taxes. This was the result of the two periods; and yet the price of corn was lower now than in 1797. A number of petitions had been presented from the Hand-loom Weavers on this question, in which they complained of bad masters, and of the effects of machinery. They stated that the present system was the result of a union between the middle and the wealthier classes at the expense of the working classes. Care was taken to protect the wealthy distiller against the importation of foreign spirits, but no protection was afforded to the weaver against the importation of foreign silk goods. The petitioners complained of the overgrown capitalists who go into the manufacturing districts, and advance money to the em-barrassed manufacturer, who, by disposing of his goods at a reduced profit, if compelled to give the working man not the fair marketable rate of wages, but the rate which the capitalists choose to fix. This wretched policy forced the poor manufacturer to carry on his trade by a system of peculation and theft; and reduced the working man to so destitute a condition, that for want of decent apparel he was not able to attend Divine Worship on the Sabbath-day, nor to send his children to school. Nay, such was the chilling and demoralizing effect of poverty on the morals of the labouring man, that with the loss of the ability to do this he almost lost the inclination. In calling, however, upon the Legislature to amend the system which heaped such accumulated evils upon them, the Hand-loom Weavers did not ask Parliament to sacrifice any of the other great interests in the State. They did not desire that the House should take away the protecting duties from the landowner, the farmer, or the master manufacturers; all they asked was, that the House would enable them to support existence, by giving to them the same degree of protection given to all other classes. It had been said, that the Hand-loom Weavers ought not to expect the Legislature to put a restraint on the application of machinery for the sake of securing to a small class a higher rate of wages from a 1154 less perfect system of manufacture; and they had been told that they ought to abandon their trade, and seek other sources for the application of their industry. But where were they to seek them? The agricultural classes were already too numerous, so that you were actually sending them out of the country. Look at what was taking place at this moment in Buckinghamshire. Then with regard to the other trades, was it not well known that unions were formed, having for one of their objects the preventing of the increase of their numbers, inasmuch as they already suffered greatly from the competition to which they were exposed. They say to the Hand-loom Weavers, "You shall not come to us; for though we pity you, we cannot give you employment; if, therefore, we were to allow you to join with us, the inevitable effect would be to bring us down to the same wretched condition in which you yourselves are." There was, then, no place to which they could carry their labour. Their situation, therefore, was a most melancholy one. Overburdened with taxation from which other nations were free, they were, nevertheless, for want of that legislative protection which other trades enjoyed, placed in competition with the foreign manufacturer, and also in competition with the power-loom machinery, which was capable of a four-fold production beyond the labour of the Hand-loom Weaver. When the Legislature saw all the evils produced by this peculiarly anomalous system—that of legislative protection extending itself to all classes except to that class among whom it was most required—the labouring poor—he thought it would appear to the Legislature as being only in consonance with justice and common sense, that the oppressed Hand-loom Weavers should be allowed to try the benefit of that system, the adoption of which they now sought. He was aware that his lion. Friend, opposite (Dr. Bowring) was opposed to this sort, of reasoning. But the views of his hon. Friend on this subject were in some degree derived from that extensive and benevolent feeling which embraced as its object the well-being of all mankind under the principle of an entire freedom of exchange. But until his hon. Friend could succeed in the removal of all those other obstructions to the full operation of that principle—such as the Corn-laws, and other protecting duties, to which he believed his hon. 1155 Friend was strongly opposed, he (Mr. Maxwell) thought that his hon. Friend was bound to give to this humble class of men the same protection which those duties afforded to the powerful and wealthy portions of the community; and whose wealth and power were chiefly created by that uncertainty of prices which was occasioned by the competition of capital that always pressed down the working man to a starvation point. The hon. Gentleman then quoted from a statement made by a person who had been a weaver for forty years. He stated that he formerly could earn 26s. and 27s. a-week, but that now he was not able, with the most strenuous exertions, to earn more than 5s. 6½d. and he looked forward to a period when he should fall under the operation of the New Poor-law system. This he felt he did not merit. He was a loyal man, and had always been strongly attached to his King and country; and he then exclaimed "England, with all thy faults, I love thee still!" Although these were the feelings of this person, was it not expecting too much that all should feel this respect for laws which so much oppressed them? The hon. Gentleman proceeded to quote several passages from the evidence given before the Committee, to shew that the Hand-loom Weavers were in a state of great distress; that this distress was caused by excessive taxation, and that, they were not all disposed quietly to submit to their privations. Adverting to the effect which poverty wrought on the minds and morals of the labouring classes, he observed, that it was not merely by providing new churches that they could reform the morals, or correct the habits of men, but it was by rendering them less dissatisfied with their condition, and inducing them to respect the laws, from a persuasion that they were protected and not oppressed by them. But the imposition of taxes on all the necessaries of life weaned the minds of the labouring classes from the Government and the laws. When a rise took place in wages in consequence of the increased price of provisions, the inevitable effect was, to put the Hand-loom Weaver out of employment by the introduction of machinery, in order that the manufacturer might avoid the payment of that increased rate of wages. According to a statement in the Edinburgh Review, no less than one-third of the revenue of the productive classes was swal- 1156 lowed up by taxation. What, therefore, with the terror and apprehension which the monied interest inspired, and from the inability to cope with the machinery, the small capitalists engaged in hand-loom weaving were gradually taking their capital out of the country. It was with the greatest difficulty at the present moment that those capitalists who still carried on that manufacture could realize the smallest rate of profit. If this were the fact, as he was assured it was, all the doctrines of the hon. Member for Middlesex about the accumulation of capital fell to the ground. You might accumulate capital to any extent, but if you could not give it profitable employment it was no advantage to the country in which that capital existed. Another evil arising from the destitution of so large a class of the people was the great increase of crime. Last year the House was called upon to increase the salary of the Scotch Judges, and one of the arguments used in support of that proposition was, that the Judges had a great deal more work to perform now than formerly. The Committee had recommended certain means of relief to be given to the Hand-loom Weavers, which, however, he should hereafter be able to prove was not at all adequate to remedy the distress that existed. He was aware that some persons looked with a degree of apprehension to a measure which had for its object the regulation of wages between the master manufacturer and the working man. They thought it was too great a change to introduce. They preferred leaving the matter to be adjusted by the parties who were more immediately interested, and said that a desire to stand well with their neighbours would induce the master manufacturers to act more liberally towards their workmen if they were left to themselves, than they would do if interfered with by the Legislature. But in opposition to those views of the subject he preferred relying on the Report of the Committee, upon which the Bill he wished to introduce was founded, and to the principle of which only four of the Members of that Committee objected. If the House would allow him to bring in this Bill, and ultimately pass it, they would be doing the greatest service to the poor man, and would be contributing to the safety, honour, and welfare of his Majesty and of his dominions, by creating and firmly cementing a union between the middle, up- 1157 per, and lower classes of this country. The hon. Gentleman concluded by moving for leave to bring in the Bill.
§ Lord Dudley Stuart
had risen with the hon. Baronet, the Member for Renfrewshire, for the purpose of seconding the Motion of the hon. Member for Lanark—a Motion which he was induced to hope would not meet with the opposition of his Majesty's Government. He had been anticipated in that satisfaction. He thought that when the Government and the House considered that the subject to which the Bill proposed by his hon. Friend had been referred by the House itself to a Select Committee, they would agree in thinking, that it would be very hard to refuse to sanction the introduction of a Bill founded upon the Report of that Committee. When it was also remembered that no less than 800,000 of his Majesty's subjects earned their scanty and miserable subsistence by the trade of weaving, and were in the distressed condition which had been proved, could the rejection of their petitions, praying that which the Select Committee by their Report had recommended, be justified. This suffering portion of the community deserved well of the Legislature, inasmuch as up to a certain period they had borne their deep privation with patience, and for a great many years conducted themselves under their sufferings with great propriety. Their morality had only suffered injury by the want of those means which could afford them physical strength, and which want in the weaving districts had produced the most squalid wretchedness. It was not enough, nor could it be consolatory to tell these suffering classes, that they themselves must continue to bear their present distresses, but that by reduction of taxation their grandchildren, or their great-grand-children, three generations hence, would be relieved, and that therefore the Legislature would be justified in leaving the miseries of those now living unmitigated and un-redressed. It was only by relieving their distresses that their respect could be secured to the laws and institutions of their country, for if they found that by those laws and institutions they were not protected, was it to be wondered at that they should be guilty of some transgressions? Was it, in short, surprising that when by honest industry, by work night and day, not excepting in some cases Sundays, they were unable to maintain themselves and 1158 families even in health, that they should resort to pilfering? For this state of things the Government had called for a remedy to be devised; the remedy had been devised, by the labours of a Select Committee appointed by the House itself, and he trusted that House would not, without consideration, prevent that measure being introduced. On the contrary, let the House consent to its introduction, and when it came before it, endeavour, if possible, to improve its principles or details. He would not undertake to say, that he should approve of all the details of the Bill, but he supported its introduction in the hope that it might prove a measure of amelioration to the wretched but deserving classes whose relief it contemplated. In ibis country the capital of the rich man was protected, and he was at a loss to know why the poor man's capital—his labour—should not also be equally protected. However correct might be the principles of theoretical advisers, the House was bound practically to afford such a measure of relief as that, now proposed. It was right that he should observe, that of all the numerous witnesses examined as against the principle of such a Bill, only two had expressed their dissent. In conclusion, he hoped the House would consent to the introduction of a measure, and to the Motion of his hon. Friend he gave his full and entire support.
§ Mr. Poulett Thomson
called upon the House to reject the Bill of the hon. Member in its very first stage, principally for the sake of those whose interests were so loudly advocated on the other side. It was not because Government were disposed to underrate, the state of suffering in which, according to the Report of the Committee, these men were placed—it was not because Ministers were unwilling to do all they could to alleviate the distress of the weavers, that they would at once reject the Bill of the hon. Gentleman, but because they were satisfied that the sooner the delusion it was calculated to create was put an end to the better; and next, because, upon the hon. Gentleman's own showing, so far from his proposition being advantageous to the parties whose cause he advocated, they would be the very persons who would suffer most from it. If their distresses were heavy now, they would be aggravated in a tenfold degree, after the passing of the Bill, To the very 1159 principle of the Bill—the establishment of a minimum of wages—he had ever been opposed; and the principle was one which had been disavowed even by many Members of the Committee. The Committee—to the appointment of which he had been opposed—had examined a variety of witnesses, whose evidence filled three large volumes. Who had read them, or what effect had they produced? If the questions had been shorter, indeed, and the answers longer, they might have had some effect; but as it was, he could not help thinking that they had not proved very beneficial. In the Report, the Committee assigned five causes for the existing distress among the hand-loom weavers. 1. The increase of machinery. 2. The oppressive taxation occasioned by the war. 3. The increased pressure of taxation occasioned by the alteration of the currency in 1816, 1826, and 1829. 4. The exportation of British yarn, and the competition created thereby; and 5. The competition arising out of low profits. As a remedy for these various causes of distress, the Committee recommended fixing a minimum of wages. Why, how could the fixation of a minimum of wages by possibility act as a remedy for any one of them. Was it possible for the Government of the country to fix a rate of wages? Was it possible that the labour of man should not be free—that the capitalist, who wished to employ a labourer, should not be at liberty to make a bargain with him for money, which he could pay and the other receive? Was the labourer to resort to the Board of Trade, or to a tariff of prices for his remuneration? Giving every credit to the benevolent feelings of the Gentlemen who originated and supported the Motion, he thought it was a species of legislation, which—putting entirely aside the other results that must inevitably flow from it—would neither reflect credit upon its authors, nor confer benefit upon those for whose improvement it was introduced. The establishment of such a system would be an act of tyranny, inducing those who were rendered subservient to it, to break the law, and leading to results the extent of which no man could foresee. Did the hon. Member know on what dangerous ground he was proposing to legislate? Was he aware of the extent to which it might be carried; or had he forgotten that the principle of fixation of wages, if applied to one branch of trade, must ulti- 1160 mately extend to all? If they regulated the wages of labour, they must also regulate the price of every article sold.—[Mr Maxwell: "No!"]—Were they then to regulate the wages of labour, and not the price at which the article is to be sold? He would tell the hon. Gentleman his principle would be ten times more oppressive on the man who had labour to sell, than on him who had money to buy. Talk of philanthropy, and protecting the rights of the poor! Why, so far from the measure being a protection to the poor, it would rob them of the just and right fruits of their industry. These were his views of the measure proposed, and he had yet to hear any argument founded on the benefits which were likely to result from it. He had embraced with pleasure and eagerness, every opportunity of conversing with many of the Hand-loom Weavers themselves respecting this plan, and he had never found that where the matter was fairly argued, and where representations of the real state of the case were made to them, they had either refused to listen, or to own that their previous impression on the subject was erroneous. In calling on the House to oppose the proposition now offered to it, he was content to rest upon the grounds he had already stated. He was satisfied that, by acceding to it, they would continue a delusion which could not be too soon dispelled; and that they should certainly lose no time in determining the question whether Parliament would legislatively fix a rate of wages or not. Without troubling the House any further, he placed the matter in their hands. Without any disrespect towards his hon. Friend, the Member for Lanarkshire, and yielding to him, and those who thought with him, his tribute of praise to the benevolence and purity of their motives, he called upon the House to resist this first proposition, which had been made for a series of years, to interfere with the rate of wages, and by at once expressing a decided opinion against it, to put an end to all such attempts in future.
§ Mr. Gillon
observed, that the Committee to which the right hon. Gentleman objected, had been appointed by the Reformed House of Commons, who, by arriving at that conclusion had evinced some feelings of sympathy and compassion for a large and distressed portion of the community. The right hon. Gentleman was unwilling that the question should 1161 be investigated. He talked of tyranny and an interference with the wages of labour. Why, did the right hon. Gentleman know that the course adopted by many employers at present, threw the labourers as much out of the free market of labour, as if they were the serfs of some feudal chieftain? And yet this was the state of things to which the right hon. Gentleman told them he was not disposed to apply a remedy.—[Mr. P. Thomson had not expressed an unwillingness to apply any remedy.]—Then what remedy would the right hon. Gentleman consent to? Would he come forward and suggest any other remedy? Would he support a grant of money to those individuals? They had voted away, two sessions ago, a sum of one million to the clergy of Ireland. Did the right hon. Gentleman mean to tell him that this industrious and distressed class of men were not as worthy objects of a grant of money as the clergy of a sinecure Church? Parliament had voted a sum of twenty millions to the West-India proprietors to remove the obloquy of slavery. He called upon the right hon. Gentleman to propose a grant of twenty millions to the Hand-loom Weavers. He would be most happy to second the proposition. The right hon. Gentleman laboured under some misapprehension, in supposing that the present proposition was intended as an ultimate remedy for the distress complained of. He was not aware that such was the intention of his hon. Friend the Member for Lanarkshire. It was only intended as a palliative of the evil. They must look to a commutation of the tuxes which pressed so unjustly and so unequally upon the labouring classes of the community, and prevented the manmachinery—to use the cant phraseology of the day—from coming into fair competition with the artificial machinery. They must do this—they must revise the whole system of taxation—they must reduce the debt before they could hope to relieve any extensive distress effectually. The object of his hon. Friend's Bill was to take the power of fixing the rate of wages out of the hands of those who were disposed to grind down the labourer to the last extreme, and to place it in the hands of respectable and opulent manufacturers. The plan now proposed, had been petitioned for by numerous members of the body who were now the objects of commiseration; it had been supported by a great many respect- 1162 able manufacturers themselves, who had stated that it was not only their inclination, but their interest to support it, as they had suffered material losses on their stock in trade by unprincipled individuals entering the market, who screwed down the labourers to the lowest minimum of wages, and produced their articles at the cheapest possible rate in consequence. He should like to ask the right hon. Gentleman, when he talked of tyranny, whether it were possible that these unfortunate men could be exposed to any system of tyranny so heart-breaking and degrading as that to which they were now subjected? He had said, that by resisting that proposition he meant to protect a starving population. Really it appeared to him (Mr. Gillon) that all the protection the hon. Gentleman was disposed to afford them, was leave to starve as best they might. They might come to the parish, said the right hon. Gentleman. And supposing they did, would they be reduced to a worse condition than that in which they were at that moment placed? Numerous respectable witnesses had stated before the Committee, that in many instances these men worked fourteen or sixteen hours a day without earning half wages enough to keep them. He thought it much better that their labour should be equalized, and that, even if they obtained no greater amount of labour on the average of the year, they should work a smaller number of hours out of the four-and-twenty. The effect of the present system was, that the artisan by working a great number of hours at one time, and producing a good deal at one period, occasioned a glut in the market, and thus entailed upon himself the consequences of the acts of his cruel and mercenary employer. The property of the Hand-loom Weaver in his labour, was as worthy the protection of Parliament, as any other description of property. Of what value were the millions of the fund-holder, or the extensive machinery of the cotton spinner without this productive labour? The hon. Gentleman, with the view of showing the state of feeling among the Hand-loom Weavers themselves, proceeded to read a letter from one of them. The writer stated in effect, that when they found all their complaints and representations to the Legislature were unavailing, their spirits would sink, and their only consolation would be looking forward to the day of reckoning. He had a wife, and 1163 five children under eight years of age, with no hand to provide for them but his own; and many more among them were in the same situation. Now, he would ask the House, what claim the country possessed to the allegiance of these men, if the Government resolutely and obstinately refused to take their case into consideration? What gratitude could the Government expect, when it afforded them no protection? What reverence, when they were only reminded of its existence by penal statutes? What respect could they be supposed to have for fiscal regulations, the effect of which avowedly was, to increase the enormous wealth of the rich, and to extract the greatest possible amount from the poor? What allegiance could they be expected to bear to a country, which, instead of holding out to them the fostering hand of protection, like a kindly parent, arrogated to itself, like a cruel stepmother, the right of binding them down to misery and starvation? Was this a state of things which it was possible to perpetuate? If they were not to apply some remedy to such evils as had been complained of, let him ask the right hon. Gentleman, and let him ask the Members of that House, for what purpose were they assembled there? Was it that those walls should be made the arena, of a protracted party struggle, instead of being a spot where the means of promoting the comfort, the happiness, and the welfare of the people should be always studied. Were they sent there by their constituents for the purpose of party ascendancy?—or, were they not rather returned to Parliament for the noble and benevolent purpose of protecting, fostering, and promoting the best interest of the industrious classes of the people? Rather than that such a state of things should continue, it would be better that the House should discontinue to meet—that the Speaker should leave the Chair—than that they should continue to practise such a miserable delusion upon the people, as that of meeting there under pretence of providing for the general interest and good of the country, and allow such a crying grievance as that suffered by the Hand-loom Weavers to go unredressed.
§ Mr. Clay
opposed the measure, because it was absurd that the House should be called upon to protect men against themselves, which was the whole meaning of the hon. Member's Bill. It was impossible to compel men to work, and the 1164 Hand-loom Weavers could combine to any extent to raise their wages. The fact was, that the circumstances under which the Hand-loom Weavers were placed, put it beyond the power of the House to afford them a remedy. One of the witnesses examined before the Committee, stated that for the trade of hand-loom weavers, neither strength nor skill was required; the consequence of which was, that numberless swarms of workmen flocked to it. But in truth, the Hand-loom Weaver was not much worse off than other labourers. By means of their own labour, and that of their families, it appeared that they could earn about 25s. per week, which was more than could be earned by the agricultural labourer. He did not think that the remedy proposed by the hon. Member would have the desired effect. In his opinion the Bill, if passed, would seal the ruin of the persons for whose benefit it was intended. Upon these grounds he felt bound to oppose the introduction of the Bill.
§ Dr. Bowring
*—Sir, as a Member of the Committee, and disagreeing, in toto, with the Report, and the recommendations which have been introduced to the House by the hon. Member for Lanark, I venture to submit a few observations to your attention. I should be sorry if it could be supposed that in views so erroneous as those which have been adopted by a majority of the Members who were present when that Report was framed, any large number of Members of Parliament could concur. Sir, the Report represents the opinions of fifteen Members of the Committee, the majority out of twenty-five who were present when that Report was adopted, ten having voted against it, of whom I was one. A very large majority of those whose names appear as on the Committee, never attended at all—and the result, after all, is, that of sixty-seven Members of which the Committee is composed, fifteen only have concurred in the Resolutions submitted to the House. The Resolutions have in their progress been considerably modified. There were on that Committee hon. Gentlemen whose consistency I very much honour, whatever opinion I may form of their policy, who would have willingly grappled with all the difficulties of the Question. They would have taxed ma-*From a corrected report.1165 chineiy—they would have debased the currency; and they were right: for if the Resolution is to do nothing more than Mr. Fielden's Bill proposes, all that it will effect will be to withdraw capital from hand-loom weaving, to give a new premium to the power-loom, and thus infallibly to degrade and distress the hand-loom weavers, more and more. The hon. Member for Falkirk would have removed the fatal competition of machinery by visiting it with such heavy imposts as should make manual labour as cheap, or cheaper, than that of the machine; he would have relieved all debtors of a certain extent of responsibility, and all creditors of a certain amount of wealth; he would thus have compelled some sacrifices from the rich to the poor—and he was willing to push his views to their full consequence. I may agree with him that much is to be done—that much ought to be done—for the labouring community—though exceedingly unwilling to concur in his proposition for their relief, or to recognize as remedies what would be only aggravations of the evil. I should have been glad if the Report had made any, even the slightest, reference to many of the really valuable suggestions and facts which were elicited in the course of the inquiry. The relief which had been given by the transfer of many hand-loom weavers to power-loom weaving—the recommendations that the weavers should be instructed in those arts connected with their trades—the establishment of economical tribunals for the settlement of disputes between masters and men—the oppressive character of our taxes on industry and on consumption—were worthy of more special notice. And I cannot but observe, in passing, that the public money has been employed in committing to print in that Report some of the most intolerable nonsense that has ever been uttered. What will the House think of schemes gravely propounded for negotiating with foreign countries, in order to induce them to put a heavy export duty on the raw materials which our manufacturers consume, and of opinions which have calculated that our foreign trade has been carried on at a loss of millions to the nation? It is to be regretted that the public purse should be drawn on for the printing, publishing and circulation, of trash like this, Sir, I feel it most peculiarly my duty to give my opinions on the subject of this Bill, and 1166 he grounds of those opinions to the House, I have a large body of hand-loom weavers among my constituents, who have petitioned in favour of the regulation of wages by Boards of Trade, and the Town Council of Kilmarnock has expressed views favourable to their introduction. I differ from those whom I highly respect, and to whom I am deeply indebted, and though I do not mean to vote on the Question at all (in deference to the wishes of my constituents), yet as I took rather an active part in the discussions in the Committee, and as I am known to hold opinions wholly opposed to those of my hon. Friend, the Member for Lanarkshire, I feel it incumbent on me to justify my conduct to the House and to the community. And I am the more strongly compelled to this from the language that was held during the recent sittings of the Committee, in which those who opposed Mr. Fielden's Bill were menaced with exposure, and even told that they should be published and denounced by name to the world, as hard-hearted and unfeeling men, who had no pity for the poor, who did not sympathize with their misery, nor were willing to relieve their distress. Sir, I never uttered a word in that Committee which I am not ready and desirous of repeating here, or before the world. I do not consider those as the best friends of the people who encourage the delusions of the people. I should despise myself, and deserve to be despised by others, if I allowed myself to be swayed against my better judgment—against my experience—against all facts and all reasonings—to do legislative mischief, or to encumber our Statute-book with useless and dangerous laws, merely because they are asked for by those whom they will not relieve, while they recognize the most dangerous of principles—that a man is not the master of his own labour—that his labour is not his own property—but that he must hold it to be disposed of on terms which others shall fix for him. There are many hon. Members who say, "We know the hand-loom weavers are wrong—we know these Boards of Trade will do them no good; but let them be indulged—let the experiment be made—they will soon see their error." Sir, I cannot so act. I will not, for the sake of dissipating a delusion, introduce a bad principle; I will not create false hopes, or legislate for error instead of truth. Where are such laws to 1167 stop? Give them to the hand-loom weaver, you can deny them to no part of the community. Acts of Parliament must establish all wages of all professions. If a master wants to hire a servant, he must submit to a tariff established by law. You must go from manufactures to agriculture; you must decide what shall be paid for every ploughman, every hedger and ditcher in the land. Are hon. Gentlemen prepared to carry out their principle?—or do they at once shrink from its absurdities? It was to be hoped, Sir, that the inquiries and Resolutions of former Committees would have put the proposal of establishing fixed minimum tariffs of wages at rest for ever. I do not know that I can do better than read to the House, verbatim, the Report of the Committee of 1808:—"Your Committee are unanimously of opinion, that the proposition stated in the said petitions, for fixing a minimum price of labour in the cotton manufacture, is wholly inadmissible in principle, incapable of being reduced to practice by any means which can possibly be devised, and, if practicable, would be productive of the most fatal consequences. Your Committee has also resolved unanimously, after mature deliberation, that any legislative interference, for establishing an uniformity of prices, would tend to aggravate the distress which it is the earnest wish of your Committee, and must be of the House, to alleviate or remedy." The Committee which sat for three years afterwards, in 1811, are not less decided in the Report which they presented to this House. They say, "That to arrest the progress of improvement and of facilities for abridging labour, would be to put forward grounds, which, in former periods were equally strong against the loom itself; and that the proposed measure would infringe on personal liberty in that most essential point, the free exercise of industry, of skill, and of talent. They are of opinion, that no interference of the Legislature with the freedom of trade, or with the perfect liberty of every individual to dispose of his time and labour, in the way and on the terms which he may judge most conducive to his own interest, can take place without violating several principles of the first importance to the prosperity and happiness of the community—without establishing a very pernicious precedent, or even without aggravating, after a very short time, the pressure of the 1168 general distress and opposing obstacles against that distress being ever removed; or, if the interference were extended to all trades and occupations, as it manifestly must be when the system has been acted on in any, without producing great public mischief, and bringing destruction of the happiness and comfort of individuals." In these views, so strongly and emphatically put, I wholly concur. I do not deny—it is impossible to deny—the existence and the frequent occurrence of severe distress among the hand-loom weavers. Their condition is most deplorable. And while I feel that it is the duty of Parliament seriously and thoughtfully to take this subject, or any other subject of public suffering, into their consideration—while I claim for others, and for myself, as strong a title to be considered as friendly to the labouring many, as is demanded by the advocates of this Bill—while I assert, that their sympathies for the industrious poor are not stronger than mine, nor their desire to relieve them more intense—I venture to pronounce that, by-and-by, when reflection and instruction shall have made their way, a very different judgment will be formed by the weavers themselves, from that under which they are now acting. I will recall to the House some few facts elicited before former Committees, showing that this distress of the weavers has been but of too frequent occurrence—and I think I can show that it is an inevitable condition of a species of labour easily learned—and constantly intruded on and superseded by cheaper means of production. A very short cessation of demand, where the competition for work is so great, and the workmen so multitudinous, produces a crisis. The hand-loom weavers are on the verge of that state beyond which human existence can hardly be sustained, and a very trifling check hurls them into the regions of starvation. The Committee of 1818, asserted that the silk-ribbon-weavers were suffering great privations and distress. Witnesses then stated, that a warper could only get 3s. 6d. per week, and a weaver 4s.—that ordinary weavers were only paid 5s. 6d. a-week. Now, if the price of food at that period be considered, their distress must have been extreme; and the same or similar details have been brought out at every investigation. In 1826, the silk-weavers were stated to have earned on an average only 5s. 6d. per week; and the Hand-loom 1169 Weavers' Committee have had it given in evidence, that in certain districts not 3s. 6d. per week was paid to the weaver. To deny their right to commiseration would be as thoughtless as cruel. I do not deny it. I only implore a fit attention to the remedies proposed. No one can shut his eyes to the great changes which the improvements of machinery have introduced into the whole field of manufacturing industry, improvements which, by superseding manual labour more and more, infallibly bring with them in the transition much of temporary suffering. The condition of the man who has to compete with a cheaper, better, or more rapid mode of production, must be deteriorated. The national good cannot be purchased but at the expense of some individual evil. No advance was ever made in manufactures but at some cost to those who are in the rear; and of all discoveries, the power-loom is that which most directly bears on the condition of the hand-loom weaver. He is already beaten out of the field in many articles; he will infallibly be compelled to surrender many more. I hold, Sir, in my hand, the correspondence which has taken place between the Governor-General of India and the East-India Company, on the subject of the Dacca hand-loom weavers. It is a melancholy story of misery as far as they are concerned, and as striking an evidence of the wonderful progress of manufacturing industry in this country. Some years ago the East-India Company annually received of the produce of the looms of India to the amount of from 6,000,000 to 8,000,000 of pieces of cotton goods. The demand gradually fell to somewhat more than 1,000,000, and has now nearly ceased altogether. In 1800, the United States took from India nearly 800,000 pieces of cottons; in 1830, not 4,000. In 1800, 1,000,000 pieces were shipped to Portugal; in 1830, only 20,000. Terrible are the accounts of the wretchedness of the poor Indian weavers, reduced to absolute starvation. And what was the sole cause? The presence of the cheaper English manufacture, the production by the power-loom of the article which these unhappy Hindoos had been used for ages to make by their unimproved and hand-directed shuttles. Sir, it was impossible that they could go on weaving what no one would wear or buy. Numbers of them died of hunger; the remainder were for the most part, 1170 transferred to other occupations, principally agricultural. Not to have changed their trade was inevitable starvation. And at this moment, Sir, that Dacca district is supplied with yarn and cotton cloth from the power-looms of England. I will ask the advocates of Mr. Fielden's measure, whether his Bill, or a thousand such Bills, would have kept up wages in Dacca, or have prevented one iota of the calamities which there had but one possible remedy, a change of occupation? The language of the Governor-General is, "European skill and machinery have superseded the produce of India. The Court declare, that they are at last obliged to abandon the only remaining portion of the trade in cotton manufactures, both in Bengal and Madras, because, through the intervention of power-looms, the British goods have a decided advantage in quality and price. Cotton piece goods, for so many ages the staple manufacture of India, seem thus for ever lost. The Dacca muslins, celebrated over the whole world for their beauty and fineness, are also annihilated from the same cause. And the present suffering, to numerous classes in India, is scarcely to be paralleled in the history of commerce." Ordinary hand-loom weaving is, perhaps, the lowest grade of manufacturing industry. In many districts, it is scarcely more highly paid than common field labour. So little experience is required, that in our manufacturing towns the new settlers, and especially the Irish, speedily learn it. An ordinary loom costs little; and as soon as a man can throw a shuttle, he has some resource against starvation. As women and children easily learn to weave, they increase the competition. The demand being always great, so is the supply. The number of labourers is immense; and when "bad times" arrive, the consequences spread over an immense number of operatives. There is a peculiar cause of permanent distress constantly in action—I mean the Corn-laws. Hon. Members may fancy that, as we do not import corn, the Corn-laws are wholly inoperative; but I think I can show that the consequences of the Corn-laws, their mischiefs, their injuries, are far more wide than would at first appear. I can demonstrate, as I imagine, that they are the cause of the low wages of our artisans in general, and of the Hand-loom Weavers in particular. Their removal, which I believe would do no injury to the agricultural, would vastly 1171 benefit the manufacturing and commercial interest. Their removal would bring with it a general rise of wages. We export fifty millions sterling of manufactures. Does anybody imagine these are not affected in foreign markets by the price of foreign corn? Does any one suppose that they have not to suffer in value from the fact of their having to meet as rivals with goods produced in countries where the price of corn is lower, and the average of wages less, than any in England? Does anybody believe, that if prices and profits fall abroad, that the rate of wages at home will not fall, and the power be diminished of consuming British corn? We have forced many countries to manufacture, because we have refused to take their corn in exchange for our manufactures. We have thus done two foolish things. We have kept down the prices of their corn by refusing to consume their surplus produce, and in keeping down their prices, have given them great advantage over us in their rates of wages, and consequently in their manufactured productions. We made them manufacturers, and then enabled them to manufacture on the most advantageous terms. We have to meet them as rival manufacturers everywhere, created originally by our own illiberality, and furnished with constant advantages over us by the continuance of a narrow policy. If we took the surplus produce of corn-producing countries, which is only a few days' consumption for Great Britain, I believe it would be consumed in consequence of the increase of prosperity, in addition to our own average growth, prices would be generally levelled, wages would rise in the manufacturing countries on the Continent, and we should possess all the advantages of superior capital, superior machinery, superior activity, and the benefits of a longer experience. The Corn-laws press with peculiar hardness on the hand-loom weaver; very large portions of the articles he produces are exported to foreign lands, and have to undergo the severest competition there. For as foreign manufacturing countries have succeeded best in producing those articles in which wages form a considerable part of the cost of production, and machinery a small portion, they are enabled to manufacture such, as cheap or cheaper than the English prices. Hence a constant decline; hence, again, a lowering of wages in England. For the price of corn abroad does, in fact, 1172 determine the rate of wages here, inasmuch as we have to meet the foreigner in most of the markets of the world. If the price of corn were levelled, as must be the case whenever there is a free-trade in corn, English Hand-loom Weavers would have nothing to fear from competition; as it is, they have nothing to hope. Whatever may be our opinions as to the cause of the evil, it is right that we should lend an attentive ear to the opinions of the petitioners who have appealed to the House, for relief from acknowledged distress. Now what is the principal grievance of which the Hand-loom Weavers complain? It is of that which cannot be changed by legislation, for legislation cannot destroy human interests and human passions; it is of competition. They say their distresses are caused by dishonest and heartless competition. But so long as man is man, so long as he wishes to obtain the supply of his wants on the cheapest terms, so long as he desires to drive the best bargain with his fellow, so long will competition exist; and the tone and temper of that competition will be determined by the various characters and positions of those engaged in it. The more suffering there is among the weavers, the keener will be their competition for work; the more demand that exists for labour among the manufacturers, the more eager will be their competition for hands. Competition is only another word for demand and supply. Without it, trade would be smitten with death. But does Mr. Fielden's Bill destroy his competition? Not at all. It introduces another and a new source of competition; we have now the competition of individual against individual; it would add to that, the competitions of district against district. It would be running a race at fixed rates of wages in every locality, but varying one with another, and all regulated by law. It would give to two or three manufacturers the power of combining at any time to reduce wages by the legal machinery of his Bill. They might, by an understood arrangement, and at a given time, lower wages, lower the price of goods, and, were the Bill operative at all, make it operative by increasing the distress of those it professes to relieve. But I know very well it would not be operative. There is an elasticity in the transactions of commerce, a powerful tendency in all matters of trade to regulate themselves, which sets legislation at de- 1173 fiance. If Mr. Fielden's Bill could be made efficient, it would be far more a handle in the hands of masters to oppress, than a security in the hands of labourers to resist oppression. But it cannot be made efficient; one single weaver without work, and all the machinery of the Bill is shaken. But what if a hundred, what if a thousand are out of employ? Does any body fancy the Bill will then keep up wages? Let the table of prices be fixed at 10s., and the starving weaver find employment at 9s. and no employment at 10s., which is the price fixed, will he take the 9s., or will he stand out and perish? Everybody knows what the result would be; the hon. Member himself knows full well. Again, let the price be 10s., and let there come an active demand for goods; let all the weavers be engaged at 10s., and who will say that the law will keep them at 10s. from the moment when a master finds it for his advantage to offer 11s., and can get fair profit on 11s.? The regulation of rates of wages, at given periods, is a chimera; they may, they must vary, from time to time, according to the state of the markets. Establish rates to-day—the fairest, the best arranged—they will be inefficient for to-morrow; one article rises in demand, another falls; your tariff will be soon found too high for some, too low for others. Besides, there are a thousand ways of evading them. The infinite varieties of length, breadth, and quality offer abundant means of escaping and defeating any regulations you may establish. Such regulations always have been leaped over or turned aside, and always will be. They will be respected by the honourable man, against whom you do not want them, and whom you ought not to embarrass by them; but the pettifogger, the interloper, the grasping and hard master, those, in fact, for whom you intend them, will laugh them to scorn. Experiments enough have been made to bring experience to confirm what reason would anticipate; and if there seem any instances which prove that Boards of Trade and high wages exist together, sure I am the high and sustained wages are not attributable to any table of prices, or to any similar cause. I believe combinations, well devised, among workmen, may raise wages by restricting the supply of labour. I do not object to such combinations; I think they are the right of the artisan; they are legal, they are useful. But what 1174 I contend for is, that no table of prices ever kept up wages, for any long period, when there was an excess of hands or a want of work. The highest wages exist where there are neither Boards of Trade nor tables of prices, but where the artisans are few and the labour plentiful. Let the facts, however, be looked into. They had, by the common consent of masters and men, fixed tables of prices in Coventry. Now, what is the evidence given before former Committees? Why, that they were no sooner established than abandoned; that they were found to check nobody. Mr. Gregory states, that the table of prices were not conformed to for a week, though agreed to by all the respectable manufacturers. The Spitalfields' weavers, I know, are very desirous of establishing the old and vicious state of things that existed formerly in that district. They now say they prospered under it. I am persuaded a calm investigation into the facts will show that the state of the weavers in Spitalfields has been, on the whole, far more satisfactory since the Spitalfields' Acts were repealed than before. At the present moment, I am assured there is general employment among them. Who can have forgotten the frightful distress into which that district was frequently plunged under the old system? Who can have forgotten the narrative of privations, of sufferings, of death from starvation, and the many tales of misery, which periodically pressed themselves on the public attention? Who does not remember the processions of squalid and ragged silk-weavers, whose pitiable case excited so general a sympathy, and who were relieved by public subscriptions and personal interferences? How could it be otherwise? What led to the repeal of the Spitalfields' Acts but the conviction that they were destructive to the trade itself? Before they were repealed, a large amount of the trade had quitted the neighbourhood. That was inevitable while the rate of wages which the tariff established was so much higher than the rate paid at Manchester and elsewhere. Had the Acts continued a short time longer, the trade would have abandoned Spitalfields altogether. Nobody will contend that this consummation would have been favourable to the weavers. How could it be otherwise? It was proved that the price for weaving bombazines in Spitalfields was 2s. 6d. per piece above the Kidderminster price; that for bandanas, from. 1175 4s. 8d. to 5s. 3d. was paid in Spitalfields, and at Manchester 3s. to 3s. 6d. When an attempt was made to introduce tables of price at Macclesfield, the trade went to Manchester. It is the natural, the necessary course of things; trade will escape from trammels. I may, however, particularly refer the House to the last and most remarkable attempt to regulate wages by law. As I had the opportunity of seeing, with my own eyes, the extent of suffering with which Lyons was visited during the late insurrection, I may be allowed to mention some of the circumstances. The misery, the bloodshed, the devastation of property, the sacrifice of life, of which Lyons was the scene, had their origin in an attempt to establish a minimum tariff of wages. When discontent was at its height, when the Government was hourly afraid of the outbreak of the labouring population, the Prefect of Lyons sanctioned a meeting of the representatives of the weavers and of the manufacturers, and a tariff was fixed on, after a thorough investigation of the then state of the trade; which tariff, being recognised by the authorities, became the law. What was the consequence? A week did not pass before it was violated. Masters refused to give the prices recognised for some articles, and offered higher prices for others. On all sides there was an interest in violating the tariff, and it was violated. Those who observed it very naturally complained to the magistrates of those who disregarded it. But how could the magistrates force masters to give work to the operatives? Many of them said they could not afford to give the tariff prices. They gave out no work; some of them offered work at terms below the tariff; many of the weavers consented to take work on lower terms. The magistrates were again called in, but their interference led to general confusion. Hands were dismissed, work could not be found, the distress widened, and the exasperation with it. The weavers insisted on their rights, rights now established by law; they assembled in large bodies, they armed themselves: the consequences are too well known. The weavers obtained possession of the town, commerce was paralyzed, the Prefect was dismissed by the Government for want of firmness, sanguinary combats took place, the tariff was overthrown by the interference of the Government, and, I may add, by the universal conviction that its consequences had been most bane- 1176 ful. The trade of Lyons has received a shock from which years will not recover it. Thousands of weavers were forced to exile themselves, and to seek other employments. Does any hon. Member desire to witness similar scenes of wretchedness in England? Yet here the experiment was made, and made on a grand scale; here were minimum wages established under the sanction of the law; here was the principle which has been contended for, pushed to all its consequences, and bearing all its natural fruits. Let it not, however, be supposed, because I object to the particular form of relief which is solicited by the petitioners, and recommended by the hon. Member for Lanark, that I am, therefore, unwilling to suggest and to support what I consider the practicable and the desirable changes in favour of so valuable a part of the population, as are the Hand-loom Weavers. The hon. Member has indulged in a passing glance at my opinions on the great and imposing topics of free-trade. Sir, it is true I hold that if nations, instead of pursuing a narrow, selfish, wretched policy of alienation and jealousy, would endeavour each to turn to friendly account the aptitudes of the rest, if they would act on the motives to love instead of the motives to hatred, if they would draw on the various sources of profit and pleasure that each offers to the other, if the duties and the demands of brotherhood were more habitually thought of and more constantly recognised, very much, indeed, of present evil would be got rid of—very much, indeed, of future evil would be prevented. But I did not intend to enlarge on this. There are some immediate and practical results to which I hope this discussion will lead. I trust it will induce the Hand-loom Weavers, when any fair and proper occasion presents itself of seeking and finding profitable employment, to embrace it. The power-loom is invading, successfully invading, their territory. They cannot stand against it in any department, where it comes immediately into competition with them. We heard in the Committee, that the position of many of the weavers had been greatly bettered by being attached to power-loom manufactures. Anything to encourage this sort of transfer is undoubtedly to be desired. There have been emigrations of agricultural labourers to districts where there was a want of power-loom operatives. The demand had far better be supplied, by the Hand-loom 1177 Weavers, who may be considered already as half-trained to the work. I do not think that better advice can be given to the Hand-loom Weavers, than to seek all fair occasions of abandoning a trade which must be more and more invaded, and in which the average rate, of wages will necessarily be lower than in almost any other handicraft labour. Something may be done for the improvement of the condition of the Hand-loom Weavers, especially in the silk-trade, by instruction in the arts of design. The study of drawing, the production of patterns, the combinations of form and colour, may give much added value to the labour of the loom. In France, a weaver of taste can always obtain higher wages than an ordinary workman. Such a class is much wanted in this country. They should be encouraged where they exist, and created, if possible, where they do not exist. I think, too, if a tribunal were established by law, something like the Council of Prud'hommes in France, that it would be a very valuable instrument for the settlement of disputes between master and workmen, for the recognition of the copyright of patterns, and for the cheap and prompt adjudication of the manufacturing questions which arise in different localities. They might be charged with the publication of tables of prices, not compulsory prices, but such as are generally paid. Such tables would have the effect of regulating usefully the price of labour; they would soon bring about average wages; they would, by instructing weavers where work was plentiful, and where work was slack, tend to prevent some of the many inconveniences and uncertainties which grow out of the present state of things; they would instruct every body; they would coerce nobody. With these views, I am sorry to be compelled to dissent from the proposition of the hon. Member for Lanarkshire, as leading to nothing like practical or substantial good.
§ Mr. Richards
thought, that his Majesty's Government took the line dictated by true wisdom and policy, in opposing the introduction of this Bill. The speech of the right hon. President of the Board of Trade had given him great satisfaction. The principles laid down by him were consistent with those of political economy, and would stand the test of experience. He hoped, that the hon. Member would not persist in his Motion.
§ Mr. Hesketh Fleetwood
was of opinion, 1178 that the Hand-loom Weavers knew what was best for themselves, and that their demands ought to be complied with. He felt bound to advocate the interests of that class of persons, and to endeavour to place them on the same footing with other classes. That House represented the property of the country, and it ought to advocate every measure calculated to benefit the working classes. The hours of labour of the Hand-loom Weavers ought to be lessened, in order to afford them time to cultivate their minds, which would be one great means of ameliorating their condition. He denied, that the wages which the Hand-loom Weavers received, were sufficient for the sustenance of themselves and their families; and he, therefore, thought it hard, as their distress was admitted on all hands, that a measure like the present, which was intended for their relief, should be met by a direct negative. He was disposed to consider, that the low rate of wages given in this branch of trade arose more from home than foreign competition, and this he thought was proved by the fact, that in all other trades in which unions existed among the workmen the rate of wages was kept up. The Hand-loom Weavers were without any protection whatever, and as he thought, that they were entitled to the favourable consideration of that House, he felt great pleasure in giving his best support to the present Bill.
Mr. William Williams
(Coventry) said, that as the House had been so long engaged in the discussion of this question, he would not have trespassed on its time if he did not feel a deep interest in the welfare of this meritorious class of artisans, from whom he had derived, in a variety of ways, so much benefit. He could not help expressing his surprise, as well as regret, at the right hon. the President of the Board of Trade, opposing the introduction of the Bill, without even knowing its contents. Committees of that House had, both last year and this year, devoted a great deal of time in investigating the deep distress which had been stated to exist by upwards of 112,000 petitioners. Both those Committees had reported to the House, that the deepest distress did exist, and had recommended some legislative enactment for its relief. The President of the Board of Trade had completely mistaken the object of the Bill in stating that that House was called upon 1179 to establish a minimum of wages, when, in point of fact, the Bill suggested by the Committee placed the power of regulating the wages in the hands of the manufacturers. Other hon. Members had fallen into the same error. Therefore, in order distinctly to understand what relief the Bill proposed, the only method would be to allow its introduction, when its merits would be fairly before the House and the country. He thought this was due to the Committees who had recommended it, as well as to that numerous and distressed class of artizans who looked to the House for relief with the greatest possible anxiety. If a legislative enactment, as had been contended by some, could not effect a remedy for the distress, which was on all hands admitted, let the House at least allow the Bill to be introduced; and as those distressed weavers were intelligent men, he was sure they would be the first to express their concurrence in such an opinion if it could be made manifest to them. The introduction of the Bill would at least show a desire to attend to their complaints and to relieve their distress. His long experience had satisfied him that the deepest distress had at numerous periods, been produced by an unnecessary and uncalled for depression of wages, and he could not doubt, that a Bill might be framed, so as at all events to mitigate their present acknowledged state of destitution.
§ Mr. Labouchere
regretted, that the statement made by his right hon. Friend (Mr. Poulett Thomson) had not been satisfactory to hon. Gentlemen opposite. It was the duty of the Members of that House to watch over the permanent interests of all classes of the community; and they were also bound to resist any proposition having apparently for its object the removal of distress, but which was likely to be injurious. This should be done even for the sake of those whom they were anxious to benefit. He lamented as much as any one the state of distress in which this meritorious class of persons was placed; but if they passed a Bill like that now proposed, instead of alleviating, they would aggravate their misery. The very introduction of the Bill would excite delusive hopes, and would on that account alone be highly injurious. However much the matter might be disguised, the truth was, that the whole end and object of the Bill was to endeavour to establish a minimum, 1180 of wages, which he need hardly say would fail in the end, and would be productive of the most pernicious consequences. He sympathized with this class of persons in their distress; but he could not bring himself to consent to the measure which was now proposed as a remedy.
§ Mr. Emerson Tennent
could not but regret the course which the right hon. President of the Board of Trade had adopted upon this occasion, in opposing altogether the introduction of this Bill. Although he (Mr. Tennent) could not agree in all the opinions expressed by the hon. Member for Lanark, he still felt it his bounden duty to give his support to the Motion. He could bear testimony to the fact, that the picture drawn by the hon. Member for Lanark, of the existing distress among the Hand-loom Weavers was even below the reality. He could well remember the once flourishing condition of this most extensive class in the town and district which he had the honour to represent (Belfast), where their number amounted to some thousands. He remembered when the quarter they inhabited was remarkable for its neatness and order; he remembered their whitewashed houses, and their little flower gardens, and the decent appearance they made with their families at markets, or at public worship. Those houses were now a mass of filth and misery, and their families clad in rags, were ashamed to appear in public. At the time of which he spoke, a weaver in Belfast could earn from 15s. to 25s. a week by eight or ten hours' labour, but they could now only earn from 3s. 10d. to 6s. though the whole family laboured from fourteen to sixteen hours a day,—they had seen ruin progressively gathering round them, but their conduct had been peaceable, submissive, and resigned; and in 1826, several hundreds of them, fathers of families, had actually submitted to break stones for the public roads at 10d. a day. The only question for the House was, this evil being proved to exist in all its frightful enormities, whether it were prepared to try this or any other remedy for their relief? He wished the question to have a fair discussion, as well with the hope of discovering a case for the existing distress as to show the weavers that their cry had not arisen in vain to the Legislature for inquiry and redress.
§ Mr. Hume
contended, that the only 1181 result of the Bill would be, to excite delusive hopes of relief, which never could be realized. He had opposed the appointment of the Committee on this subject on the same ground as he should now resist the introduction of the Bill. It appeared to him to be a monstrous absurdity, in the present day, to introduce a measure which had indirectly for its object the establishment of a minimum of wages. Some relief would be afforded by the reduction of taxes, and by the repeal of the Corn-laws; but he hoped, in the course of a short time, the great body of the persons now in such distress would turn themselves to other occupations. One hon. Gentleman, however, admitted, that although he did not expect much from this measure, he should vote for it; but he considered, that the great remedy of the distress would be altering the standard. He was sure, that the House would not countenance a measure which was likely to create delusive hopes, and had for its ultimate object the lowering the currency. These persons had a right to complain of some laws, and especially the Corn-laws; but instead of demanding that, they called for a remedy, which, if granted, would be highly injurious to them. If they took the course which the hon. Mover recommended, they would drive away the capital at present employed in trade and increase the existing distress. They might compel the manufacturers not to employ men at the low rate of 5s. 6d., and oblige them to pay not less than 6s. 6d.; but was it to be supposed, that they could force the public to pay the additional charge? And if not, what became of the manufactories, and of those now employed in them? It was impossible to fix a minimum price of wages in a country in which the commercial transactions were so numerous and extensive as in this. He would ask any commercial man to say whether a minimum price of wages would not be fraught with mischief? The men of Coventry had suffered much—indeed, he did not know any who had suffered more—by an attempt to fix a minimum price of wages. On the same mistaken principle, the men of Macclesfield had destroyed machinery on its introduction, and what was the consequence? Why, the trade had gone from them. He was ready to vote for a removal of the Excise duties on manufactured articles, for a commutation of taxes, or for a Property-tax, because he thought, that such mea- 1182 sures as these would afford substantial relief. He wanted to see every man remunerated for his labour; but he thought it cruel to encourage the delusion which he considered this Motion calculated to perpetuate.
§ Mr. Robinson
said, the distress of the Hand-loom Weavers was admitted; it was also unquestionable, that the principle on which the Motion was founded, was opposed to the sound principles of political economy; but the present application was made because there appeared to be no other remedy for the evil. He confessed, that it was most absurd to seek to fix a minimum price of wages. At the same time he would ask, had not the House already imposed a minimum price on corn—a minimum price on the food of the people? He was prepared to vote for this proposition to-night, unless his Majesty's Government would tell him that they knew of some other mode by which the evil would be redressed.
§ Mr. Baines
said, that the hon. Gentleman, who had just sat down, described the proposal to fix a minimum of wages as most absurd; yet he concluded his observations by saying that he would support that most absurd proposition. What would be their situation next year if they made the concession now asked? The agricultural labourers would next come forward to put in their claim. They were equally distressed—indeed he might say more so, because the families of the manufacturers contributed their work to the general fund, but the agricultural labourer had to work for his whole family. He thought there were means by which the Hand-loom Weavers might relieve themselves. The present practice was for the heads of the various families to educate their children in their own trade, and thus they themselves increased the amount of competition. What they should do was as much as possible to relieve their trade by bringing up their children to other employments.
§ Mr. Fielden
supported the Motion in a speech of considerable length, in which the hon. Member dwelt much on the depreciation of the wages of weavers; but his speech was quite inaudible.
Mr. Mark Phillips
was opposed to the principle of this Bill, because he did not consider that it was likely to meet the difficulty or remedy the evil complained of. As to any other measures which the 1183 case called for, he did not think his Majesty's Government could with any justice be blamed for neglect, when the most zealous advocates of the distressed artisans could propose no more reasonable measure than the present. He believed, if any Bill to establish a minimum of wages were passed, the result would be the entire stoppage of manufacture, where-ever the Bill was brought into application. It would, therefore, aggravate, instead of alleviating the distresses under which the Hand-loom Weavers already laboured.
§ The House divided on the Motion: Ayes 41; Noes 129—Majority
|List of the AYES.|
|Alsager, Captain||Lucas, T.|
|Arbuthnot, General||M'Cance, J.|
|Archdall, M.||M'Kinnon, W. A.|
|Attwood, Thos.||Plunkett, Hon. R.|
|Boldero, Captain||Robinson, G.|
|Bolling W.||Ruthven, E.|
|Brotherton, J.||Ruthven, E. S.|
|Brocklehurst, J.||Scholefield, J.|
|Campbell, Sir H. P.||Speirs, A.|
|Cayley, E. S.||Stewart, Sir M.|
|Cole, Viscount||Stuart, Lord D.|
|Dykes, F. L. B.||Tennent, E. J.|
|Euston, Lord||Wallace, R.|
|Fielden, John||Williams, W.|
|Finch, G.||Wood, Alderman|
|Fleetwood, H.||Young, G. F.|
|Hallyburton, Hon. D.||TELLERS.|
|Hardy, John||Maxwell, J.|
|Hayes, Sir Edward||Gillon, W. D.|
|Jackson, Sergeant||PAIRED OFF.|
|Lewis, D.||Wakley, Thomas (for)|
|Lowther, Colonel||Bowring, Dr. (against)|