HC Deb 25 February 1839 vol 45 cc879-93

Mr. Fox Maule moved the second reading of the Factories Bill. He thought it was right that the legislature should endeavour so to amend the present Act that the principle of the law might be clearly defined, and put in such a state that the officers, whose duty it was to administer it, might carry it into effect—such was the object of the present bill. He would proceed to detail as shortly as possible the alterations which he proposed in the present bill to effect. He did not propose any alteration in the principle of the Factory Act. By that principle he meant the age at which children were to work, and the number of hours during which they were to work. There was one important alteration, however, he meant to propose connected with the latter point—viz., that no child should work in more than one factory in the same day. He proposed this because it had been found, by the inspectors of factories, that children were sometimes sent to work for four or five hours in one factory, and then sent to work out the remainder of the time at another, and in nine cases out of ten where this was done, the provisions of the Act were violated. It was therefore proposed that no child should work in more than one factory on the same day. There were other defects in the present law connected with the granting of certificates. By the present act children require a medical certificate of age. But from the vagueness of the law as to the person by whom the certificate should be granted, it was almost impossible that the rule could have any useful effect. Mr. Richards and Mr. Horner proposed that a surgeon should be selected to whom the power of giving those certificates should be intrusted; but even this was not enough to exclude frauds. It was, besides, not lawful to make such a selection; so that with all their caution, these gentlemen could not exclude persons from certifying who called themselves surgeons, though they were often little better than cow-doctors. Part of the present difficulties arose from the obscurity of the Act as to whether the certificate was to be given upon actual age, or upon the appearance of age and strength. This obscurity would be cleared up by the present bill. There were also constant frauds practised, whatever surgeon might be selected, by bringing to him one child and receiving a certificate which was then palmed off with a younger child. It was supposed that the signature of a magistrate would prevent these evils; but, under the present Act, the magistrate gave his signature without seeing the child. Of course this check was practically no check at all. To remedy these evils it was proposed that surgeons should be specially appointed by the inspectors, who should grant certificates. Any regular surgeon would still be allowed to grant a certificate, but a certificate granted by any other than the regular certifying surgeon would be of no avail until countersigned by a magistrate, not being a millowner, who should farther ascertain the truth of the certificate, and the identity of the child brought before him. The present bill proposed also that the certificate should be given at the factory where the child or young person was employed; and it further proposed, what might seem startling to some persons, that the inspector or sub-inspector should have the power to annul any certificate where they had reason to believe that the real age of the child was less than the age specified. These were the remedies and alterations which he proposed for the present defects of the law as to granting certificates. The next question was as to the regulation for the recovery of lost time. He might enumerate from the report of the inspector a very great number of instances in which the grossest fraud which had been practised under pretence of recovering lost time. It often occurred, that one part of the machinery of a factory was moving while another had stopped, and the partial stoppage was made a ground for recovering lost time, thus opening a door to numerous frauds. Sometimes also it occurred when there was some object in having an excess of work at one time, and a deficiency at another, that a pin was taken out of the machinery, which, by that simple process was stopped, and the time so lost, was recovered as lost time. Every consideration had been given to obviate these impositions. By the present bill, it was proposed, that, except where the machinery was moved by water-power, there should be no capability of recovering lost time, nor even then, except when the loss should arise from the total stoppage of the water-wheel from want of water, or from too much water. The next point was one on which many persons were interested—the operation of the schooling clauses. The present schooling clauses were not only inconvenient, but almost entirely useless. In many instances children received no education whatever. Although power was given to inspectors of establishing schools, and of enforcing attendance on them, the execution of these powers was found quite impossible. The present bill proposed, that the hours of attendance at school should continue to be twelve; and these should be spread over the whole six days, so that there should be no working day without at least two hours of schooling. This would prevent the possibility of such practical evasions of the act as confining all the hours of schooling to one day, or counting part of the twelve hours, the hours of attendance at a Sunday school. This bill would further secure eight half holidays in the year. It was also proposed, that no certificate to teach should be valid, if given to any person who should be declared incompetent by the inspector, or whose room should be declared by the inspector an unfit place to hold a school in. It was proposed, that a certificate of attendance at school should be required weekly from the schoolmaster, and no millowner should be allowed to employ a child without such certificate. The bill was also to give power to millowners to unite for the formation of schools, and the agreement between them, with certain formalities, would have a binding power. With respect to meals, it was proposed, that six hours should not pass without at least thirty minutes being allowed for a meal. It had evidently been the intention of the Legislature that Christmas-day and Good Friday should be observed by the children in the same manner as Sunday. But the words of the Act were, that the children should be entitled to a holiday on those days. True, it was left by the wording of the Act to the choice of the children, which was, in fact, leaving it to the necessities of the parents. In the present bill, he had endeavoured to correct this error, by introducing an enactment rendering the observation of Christmas-day and Good Friday as holidays incumbent on the mill-owners. The next question to which he would draw the attention of the House was the increased power which he pro- posed to give to the sub-inspectors. He understood that this proposition had occasioned considerable alarm to many of the mill-owners; but he considered that this alarm was altogether groundless, because the powers which he proposed to give them by law had already been conceded to them by many of the owners of the factories. The only alteration which he would propose with regard to the inspectors would be, that their powers to act as justices of the peace should cease and determine; but he proposed to give them the power of summoning witnesses and examining the overseers. He proposed to give to sub-inspectors the same power to enter factories that inspectors possessed at present, and which power he proposed to continue also to the inspectors. These were the principal powers with which he proposed to invest the inspectors and sub-inspectors, and they would be found in the 27th, 33rd, and 43rd sections of the bill. The next question to which he would direct the attention of the House was, as to the penalties to be inflicted on mill-owners for breaches of the law; and he could not but express his wonder, that the state of the law on this subject at present had not attracted the attention of the practical lawyers who were Members of that House. At present, a person who worked the children beyond the proper hours, and another who had omitted to hang up in his mill some paltry regulations, were subject to the same penalty. Now, he proposed, that for the punishment of all offences which were punished by fine, a minimum penalty should be fixed as well as a maximum, and that this penalty should be increased for a second and a third offence in an adequate ratio. He would also propose, that mill-owners employing children and young persons contrary to the provisions of this Act, should not be punished as at present, by affixing a penalty to each offence, which might include ten or twelve persons in one class, but that they should be liable to a penalty for each individual so employed. He next proposed a penalty for altering the time books; and he also proposed that the penalty for not white-washing the mills should be at least equal in amount to what it would have cost to have whitewashed them. He would further propose that in all cases the penalties should be inflicted in the first instance on the occupiers of the factories, reserving however, to them the power of recovering those penalties from their servants, should they be in a condition to prove that the offence was occasioned by their negligence. Under the present law one-half of the penalty recovered from the offender went to the prosecutor; now, as in most instances, the prosecutor was either the inspector or the sub-inspector; he did not consider it fair or proper that they should have part of the penalties, for the recovery of which they had instituted the prosecution. The remainder of the penalties had been applied at the instance of the Justices for the maintenance of schools for factory children. When the Act first came into operation these portions of the penalties had been given by the magistrates to different schools in the neighbourhood at which factory children were educated. These small amounts could not be considered as of any very essential service to the schools, in fact, they might be said to have frittered these portions of the fines away. Mr. Horlock was the first who had suggested the funding these fines for the purpose of accumulation, by which much good might be accomplished for the schools. He proposed, therefore, that these penalties should be funded and the proceeds applied by the inspectors to the promotion of schools for the education of the factory children. The next alteration which he would propose would be as to the extension of the time for laying informations for offences against the Act. Under the present law all informations must be laid within fourteen days of the time of the commission of the offence. It was scarcely possible in many instances that the inspector could lay these informations within fourteen days. Many offences might take place of which he himself would not have notice in time to lay the informations, and many offenders might, in consequence, escape unpunished. He proposed to extend the time for laying informations to three months. Since their Bill had been in the hands of hon. Members he had been told by many persons that three months was too long, that it was unjust, injurious, and oppressive to the mill-owners. He should be most happy to hear arguments on this subject in the Committee, and if he found that the ends of justice could be accomplished by fixing on a less period, he should be happy to make the alteration. He proposed that all persons occupying new factories should give notice thereof to the inspectors. He would also propose that the inspectors should have the power of permitting the occupiers of factories to compound for their offences, instead of being brought before a magistrate. He did not think that there was any danger in allowing this, because the inspector already had the power of convicting on view; but he proposed to give him the power of representing the case to the occupier of the factory, who might admit the existence of it, but might not have known of it, or it might arise from some accident, and not wishing to injure his character by going before a magistrate, he might consent to pay such penalty as the inspector might appoint. He thought that this was fair to the factory owner. These were the alterations he proposed by the present Bill. He did not imagine there could be many reasons on the part of hon. Members for opposing it, and as there had been no notice of motion in opposition to it, he trusted that there existed no intention of moving an amendment to his motion. He trusted that this Bill would not be considered altogether unsatisfactory to those who had taken up the question of the employment of children in the factories. It was a subject he was aware, upon which much misapprehension had existed, and trivial as it might appear, it had been made a theme of agitation. It had already been made an instrument for stimulating the people against the laws, and he did hope, therefore, that it would be discussed by hon. Members with a view to ameliorate the fate of the children, and put the laws upon a better and more intelligent footing. He trusted that by passing this bill, they would put an end to the uncertainties which at present existed, not only as to the law, but also as to the intentions of the Legislature. He would move that the bill be read a second time.

Lord Ashley

was glad to perceive that the statements just made by the hon. Gentleman opposite completely justified him in having so repeatedly urged the case of the factory children on the House. The Bill introduced by the hon. Gentleman was a very great improvement on the existing Act, and even on the bill of last year. He completely agreed with the principles, and though he differed as to some of the details, he would not then detain the House by any argu- ment upon them. The only point to which he had a strong objection was, however, a matter of detail, involving a very strong and important principle. It was contained in the 36th clause, which conferred powers upon the inspectors, that if not considerably limited would enable them altogether to set aside the operations of the Act in parts that were of the greatest consequence, for the protection of the children. He also objected to the new plan introduced, as making Sunday as one day under the Act, on which schooling might be attended to.

Mr. Maule

begged to explain, that under the present Act, twelve hours a-week schooling were necessary, but under this bill, two hours a week at a Sunday-school, in addition to ten hours during the other days would be sufficient, and the attendance at the Sunday-school would not be compulsory.

Lord Ashley

resumed.—He was most anxious that the existing Act should be improved and carried out according to its intentions. If that were impossible let it be repealed. If the existing measure were, however, really carried out, it would be a great benefit to children employed in the factories. He had other suggestions to offer, which he would reserve for another stage of the bill.

Mr. Hindley

said, that at all events the hon. Gentleman had been very fair and candid in his address to the House. He had said a good deal about agitation that had been got up about this measure, but then he said nothing about putting it down. He said that this measure would settle the question for some time. He should go into committee with that intention; but if the hon. Gentleman thought he could stop the agitation by a measure which was characteristically a Police Bill, he entertained himself with the most fantastic idea that ever entered in the mind of a man, much less of a statesman. He would not now go into the principles or details of the measure, but would merely confine himself to one or two points. The hon. Gentleman said, that as regarded penalties the existing Act was insufficient, yet in the measure he now introduced, he gave the mill-owners an opportunity of getting off with a fine of 5l., for not having the books of registers ready for the magistrates, whereas under the present Act, if a mill-owner violated the law, he might be fined 100l. He also said, that an inspector would have the power of compounding the penalty if the law were violated. Now this was holding out a very dangerous encouragement to the mill-owners, as under it a transgressor might say to the inspector—Sir, instead of bringing me before the magistrates or entering my name in those returns (which the hon. Member for Salford was so anxious to have laid before the House every year), please to take them in money, and do not put me in your report. His hon. Friend had said, that under the present Act it was possible to work children eleven hours consecutively without apprehension, on the part of mill-owners, of being interfered with. This permission, indeed, spoke little of the care of the House for the factory children. But the present bill would permit them to be worked six hours without intermission. Now, he would ask hon. Members who were accustomed to the bar and other engrossing occupations, who knew well what long abstinence was, was it possible or right that children should be made to work six hours without nourishment. Indeed six hours was by far too long a time, and he trusted that when the bill came into committee his hon. Friend would agree to diminish that period. He thought there was a material alteration respecting surgeons certificates. Now, at present a surgeon certified to the age of a child, and was frequently under the real number of years in his judgment, but the present bill provided that if it were proved that the surgeon was incorrect, it would not be allowed to set the child to work for some time.

Mr. Slaney

said, that having for a long time felt a deep interest in this question, he had much pleasure in now offering his thanks to his hon. Friend, for the great improvements proposed in his measure. He agreed with the noble Lord that there was something wrong in the details, but he was certain that if the spirit of the measure were generally carried out, it would effect many beneficial alterations, and do much on behalf of the poor factory children. He should not advert to the details of the reports of the inspectors, but it was quite clear that the bill which the House before agreed to was not adequate to prevent children of improper age from being set to work, or all those who might work from being kept too many hours employed, as could be proved in a number of instances, with which he would not now detain the House. Hitherto the form of certificates issued by the surgeon was not sufficiently stringent; so that in many cases, children under the ages of nine and thirteen had been cruelly overworked. Under the new form to be substituted by his hon. Friend, it would be almost impracticable for a surgeon to set down the age of the child at less than it really was. There was only one other point which he would refer to—the clause respecting the education of children. He would venture to suggest to his hon. Friend that the clauses which had been introduced were not sufficient for the purposes he had in view. They required, indeed, that the attendance of the child should be certified—that the master should have a certificate without which the child should not be allowed to work. Unless something more was done, contests would be continually taking place between the master on the one hand, and the mill-owner on the other, that the child should not attend any school, and it was likely the whole thing would be a farce. By the evidence taken before the Committee which sat last year, of which he had the honour to be Chairman, it was demonstrated that the attendance of children at the factory schools was little better than a farce; and he considered the moral and religious education of these children, with the evil example they had before them, of the first consequence to the country. He ventured to impress upon her Majesty's Government the necessity of appointing inspectors to visit those schools, and make due returns of the attendance of the children. The expense would be very trifling, not perhaps more than one or two thousand pounds per annum, and he believed that a sufficient number of inspectors would ensure the due education of the children; and he believed looking at the question as one of economy, the money would be soon repaid to the country. He would not do more at present than mention the point, hoping that it would meet the views of her Majesty's Government. It was proved before the Committee to which he had alluded, that in the three great factory towns of that kingdom, there was no education worthy o the name. In Leeds, there was only one person in forty-one, educated; in Birmingham only one in thirty-eight; and in Manchester, one in thirty-five; whereas it was found requisite on examination, after making every due allowance, that education should be afforded to one in eight. If that small number only were receiving education in Birmingham, Manchester, and Leeds, he would ask how much fewer were the number in other manufacturing towns. The working classes were as sixty-six to one in Manchester, while they were as eighty to one in Ashton, and upwards of ninety in Staleybridge and Dukinfield.

Mr. Baines

said, the principle of the bill had been very clearly explained by his hon. Friend. It was, that children under thirteen years of age should work forty-eight hours per week, or eight hours per day. If, instead of eight hours a-day, the time had been limited to six hours, he should deem it an improvement, because it would divide the day into more definitive parts. A great deal of confusion had arisen from eight hours being proposed instead of six, because the latter would divide the day into two equal parts. With respect to the agitation of which they had heard so much, the country, he contended was never more free from it. In fact, there was none. Not a single petition had been laid before the House. There were no petitions from either the master or the workmen. In reality they were now legislating under very different circumstances from those under which the bill was first enacted. Then the whole country was in a flame, but now the agitation had subsided. Nothing should interfere with the free course of legislation, and if they did their duty as they ought, they should not suffer any interference from either of the parties interested, either the employers or the employed. At the same time he must say that bill was an anomaly, because he found that only one class of people in the country was placed under these restrictions. The factory masters were placed under restrictions, but there were others who should be restrained in a similar degree. Were not the colliers obnoxious to these restrictions—nay in that city where so much of humanity, so laudably prevailed, where last year the wives and daughters of Members of Parliament were solicited to interfere on behalf of the factory children, if they went into the shops where the milliners and dress-makers of London were employed, they would find a great many more heart-rending abuses than in these factories. It might be said, that was not an abuse because the number of persons concerned was not great. He believed, there were more persons overworked in the milliners and dress-makers' establishments than in all the factories in England. He was told—of course not on his own knowledge—he had been told, that it was not at all an unusual thing for young females of tender age to be employed in those places for twelve, fourteen, sixteen, and eighteen hours in the day. He did not know how the noble Lord could reconcile his indifference to such facts with his professed humanity. The number of persons so employed was larger than of children in the factories, and they had never attracted the attention of his noble Friend. He gave the noble Lord credit for the purest feelings, but he thought his humanity should have extended to those persons who were entitled to his best consideration. There was another point connected with this subject by which the number of hours might be diminished, and that was by making food more cheap; by repealing the taxes on food. Then, instead of having the children employed twelve hours a day, ten would be sufficient; that would apply not only to children but to adults, and he hoped the noble Lord would turn his attention to the subject in the course of his legislation on factories. On the Continent the children were not restrained from working any number of hours in the day they and their masters thought proper to appoint. It was a grievous hardship upon the manufacturers, that they were compelled to reduce the number of working hours. [Cries of "Question."] He hoped he was not speaking from the question, but he contended, that the restraints imposed upon the manufacturers of that country tended to banish them to the Continent. If the manufactures were destroyed, what would become of the landed interest? Food was 60 or 70 per cent. higher in that country than on the Continent, and yet the hours of labour were restrained, so that persons on the Continent worked 20 per cent. per day beyond the time the English manufacturing operative worked. These were considerations which the House should not lose sight of. If they proceeded in their present course of legislation, they would drive the manufacturers from that country, and they would place both the manufacturers and the landed interests in a most deplorable situation. If they were to have factory legis- lation, they could not proceed more wisely than in the course suggested by his hon. Friend, and the restrictions introduced by him seemed well calculated to attain the end he proposed. He had no intention to divide the House; he would support the bill, reserving to himself, when it was in Committee, to offer any suggestions that might present themselves to his own mind, or might emanate from his constituents, who were deeply interested in this measure.

Mr. Brotherton

could not agree with his hon. Friend, that no legislation was required upon this subject. All his experience proved, that legislation was not only necessary, but highly beneficial. The distinction was very clear between the case of factory children, and milliners, and dressmakers. In factories, both old and young, both weak and strong, Were obliged to work together, and at the same time—if one part of the machinery was stopped the whole was stopped; and of course every person belonging to the factory was for the time out of employment. With respect to trades not dependant on machinery, if one workman was taken ill his place might be supplied by another, or his loom, or whatever he might work at, might stand idle—but with spinning factories the case was very different. It was perfectly clear from the number of frauds which had been practised under the late bill, that new legislation was necessary. It was perfectly clear, that there was something radically wrong. He was always in favour of a simple law upon this subject. It was not his object to oppose the second reading of the bill, but in Committee he would hold himself at liberty to propose certain amendments, which, in his opinion, would simplify the bill, and render it more easy of being carried into effect. As his hon. Friend, the Under Secretary for the Home Department, had consented to make alterations in the bill as to the time, he trusted, that he would also make alterations in other respects. He had always been in favour of a Ten Hours' Bill, and he thought that if they were to assimilate the working of cotton manufactories to that of silk mills, it would greatly improve the bill. He should like, that the age should be raised to twenty-one years, according to the regulations proposed by Sir John Hobhouse's Bill, the best which had ever been passed by the House. When the bill came before the Committee he would propose his amendments, and he hoped they would be agreed to.

Mr. Langdale

wished to speak to that clause of the bill which related to education—that clause was contained in the former bill, but had never been carried into effect. The bill now before the House gave great power to the inspectors, as the children attending factories were obliged to attend the schools approved of by them. Religion must be introduced into their education, and he trusted that some precaution would be taken, that the children would be educated in their own religious persuasion. It was expected that the children would attend the schools erected by the factory masters. In the manufacturing districts, there was a great difference of religion, and he trusted that his hon. Friend would make some provision by which the children would be educated in the principles of religion professed by their parents.

Bill read a second time.