§ Lord Ashley
spoke as follows:* It is, Sir, with feelings somewhat akin to despair, that I now rise to bring before the House, the motion of which I have given notice. When I consider the period of the Session, the long discussions that have already taken place to-day, the scanty attendance of Members, and the power which any Member possesses of stopping me midway in my career, I cannot but entertain misgivings, that I shall not be able to bring, under the attention of the House, this subject, which has now occupied so large a portion of my public life, and in which are now concentrated, in one hour, the labours of years. Sir, I must assure the House, that this motion has not been conceived, nor will it be introduced, in any hostile spirit towards her Majesty's Ministers; quite the reverse. I do indeed trust, nay more, I have reason to believe, that I shall obtain their hearty and effectual support. Sir, I know well that I owe an apology and an explanation to the House for trespassing on their patience at so late a period—my explanation is this: I have long been taunted with narrow and exclu-* From a corrected report.1261 sive attention to the children in the factories alone; I have been told, in language and writing, that there other cases fully as grievous, and not less numerous; that I was unjust and inconsiderate in my denouncement of the one, and my omission of the other. I have, however, long contemplated this effort which I am now making; I had long resolved that, so soon as I could see the factory children, as it were, safe in harbour, I would undertake a new task. The committee of this Session on mills and factories, having fully substantiated the necessity, and rendered certain the amendment of the law, I am now endeavouring to obtain an inquiry into the actual circumstances and condition of another large part of our juvenile population. Sir, I hardly know whether any argument is necessary to prove that the future hopes of a country must, under God, be laid in the character and condition of its children; however right it may be to attempt, it is almost fruitless to expect, the reformation of its adults; as the sapling has been bent, so will it grow. To ensure a vigorous and moral manhood, we must train them aright from their earliest years, and so reserve the full development of their moral and physical energies for the service hereafter of our common country. Now, Sir, whatever may be done or proposed in time to come, we have, I think, a right to know the state of our juvenile population; the House has a right, the country has a right. How is it possible to address ourselves to the remedies of evils which we all feel, unless we have previously ascertained both the nature and the cause of them? The first step towards a cure is a knowledge of the disorder. We have asserted these truths in our factory legislation; and I have on ray side, the authority of all civilized nations of modern times; the practice of this House; the common sense of the thing; and the justice of the principle. Sir, I may say with Tacitus, "opus adgredior, opimum casibus… ipsâ etiam pace sœvum:" to give but an outline of all the undertaking, would occupy too much of your time and patience; few persons, perhaps, have an idea of the number and variety of the employments which demand and exhaust the physical energies of young children, or of the extent of suffering to which they are exposed. It is right, Sir, that the country should know at what cost its pre-eminence is purchased, 1262Petty rogues submit to fate,That great ones may enjoy their state.The number I cannot give with any degree of accuracy, though I may venture to place them as many-fold the numbers of those engaged in the factories—the suffering I can exhibit, to a certain degree, in the documents before me. Sir, I will just read a list of some of these occupations, as many as I have been able to collect; but I will abstain from entering into detail upon every one of them: I will select a few instances, and leave the House to judge of the mass, by the form and taste of the sample. Now, this is a list of some of the occupations in which I find them engaged (I have not, by any means, a full statement); and in which the employment is both irksome and unhealthy:—Earthenware, porcelain, hosiery, pin-making, needle-making, manufacture of arms, nail-making, card-setting, draw-boy-weaving, iron-works, forges, &c., iron foundries, glass trade, collieries, calico-printing, tobacco manufacture, button factories, bleaching, and. paper-mills.Now, Sir, will the House allow me to set before them, in a few cases, the evidence I have been able to obtain illustrative of the nature and effects of these several departments of industry? The first I shall take is the manufacture of tobacco, a business of which, perhaps, but little is generally known; in this I find that—Children are employed twelve hours a-day. They go as early as seven years of age. The smell in the room is very strong and offensive. They are employed in spinning the twist tobacco; in the country, the children work more hours in the day, being frequently until nine and ten o'clock at night. Their opportunities for education are almost none, and their appearance altogether sickly.The next department I shall take is that of bleaching. In bleaching—Children are employed at eleven, and oftentimes younger. They go to work at any time of the day or night, when they have a deal of work. The same children labour all night for two or three nights in a week. Their opportunities for education very few, except in a Sunday school.Now, here let the House observe the extent of toil and of watchfulness oftentimes imposed on children of very tender years. During two or three nights in a week, they are deprived altogether of their natural rest; a demand so severe on the bodily powers, that, when exacted of the police 1263 and soldiery of this metropolis, it has been found most pernicious to their physical constitution. From the Potteries, Mr. Spencer (a factory commissioner) reported, in 1833:—The plate-makers of most works employ boys, often their own, to be their assistants; their occupation is to remove the plates to the drying houses, which are heated to 120 degrees; and in this occupation, in which the boy is kept on the run, he is laboriously employed from six o'clock in the morning till seven in the evening, excepting the intervals of breakfast and dinner. (Again), In other works some of the children called cutters, in attendance upon the printer, appear to me to suffer from a prolonged attendance at the factory. They are compelled to attend in the morning an hour before the printer, to light fires and prepare his apartment, and often wait in the evening for some time after the rest have departed, to prepare for the ensuing day. (Again), When there is a fair demand, the plate-makers and their assistants, work three or four nights per week till ten, and sometimes as late as eleven.Sir, I will proceed. On the subject of Draw-boy-weaving, Mr. Horner and Mr. Woolriche reported from Kidderminster in 1833:—Every weaver of Brussels carpeting must have an assistant, called a drawer, who is usually a boy or girl; few are taken under ten years of age; the working hours are extremely irregular; this irregularity tells very severely on the drawers, who must attend the weaver at whatever time he is at work; they are often called up at three and four o'clock in the morning, and kept on for sixteen or eighteen hours.With respect to the iron foundries I have not obtained any evidence; though much, I am sure, would be derived from an investigation of this department. As to iron mines, it will be unnecessary to do much more than simply refer the House to a report from the mining districts of South Wales, by Mr. Seymour Tremenheere, the Government-inspector, dated February, 1840, and published in the extracts from the proceedings of the Board of Privy Council on the matter of education. I will, however, take the liberty to read one or two extracts:—Parents, (says the Inspector), if they send their children at all to school, seldom do so for many months at a time. They are liable to be away whenever the father has not earned as much as usual, or has spent more. They think instruction of any kind very little necessary for the girls. The boys are taken into the coal or iron mine at eight or nine years old.1264 Elsewhere he says:—Hence the custom of taking their children of seven years old, to sit for eight and ten hours a day in the mine; it is certain from the time he (the child) enters the mine, he learns nothing more there than to be a miner.Now let the House hear the consequences of this defect of education—the result of this overwork in the first years of life:—They leave their homes at an early age, and they spend the surplus of their wages in smoking, drinking, and quarrelling. Boys of thirteen will not unfrequently boast that they have taken to smoking before they were twelve. Early marriages are very frequent They take their wives from the coke hearths, the mine, and coal-yard, having had no opportunities of acquiring any better principles or improved habits of domestic economy, and being in all other respects less instructed than their husbands.As to the frame-work-knitters, a department of the lace trade, nothing can be worse or more distressing. Mr. Power, a factory commissioner, wrote from Nottingham, 1833:—A great proportion of the population of the county of Leicester is employed in the frame-work-knitting; of this number more than one-half, probably two-thirds, are young persons between the ages of six and eighteen; that they work an inordinate number of hours daily; that the hours of work of the young persons are, for the most part, commensurate with those of the older class; that the occupation is pursued in very low and confined shops and rooms, and that the hours of labour are sixteen in the day. With regard to the state of health of men, women, and children employed, their habits of work and subsistence are more destructive of health, comfort, cleanliness, and general well being, than any state of employment into which I have had at present an opportunity of inquiring. Mr. Macaulay, a surgeon of great talent and experience at Leicester, observed to me, that scarcely any of them of long-standing in the trade were quite sound in constitution.Sir, there is another department of industry called card-setting, in which children are employed to make part of the machinery of the cotton-mills. In answer to some questions I put to a gentleman resident in the neighbourhood of some card-setting establishments, he says:—Children are employed from five years old and upwards; their length of labour extends from five or six o'clock in the morning to eight at night.I will now, Sir, exhibit the state of the 1265 collieries, and I cannot well imagine any thing worse than these painful disclosures. In reference to this, I will read an abstract of evidence collected from three witnesses by Mr. Tuffnell, in 1833:—Labour very hard, nine hours a-day regularly, sometimes twelve, sometimes above thirteen hours; stop two or three minutes to eat; some days nothing at all to eat, sometimes work and eat together; have worked a whole day together without stopping to eat; a good many children in the mines, some under six years of age; sometimes can't eat, owing to the dust, and damp, and badness of the air; sometimes it is as hot as an oven, sometimes so hot as to melt a candle. A vast many girls in the pits go down just the same as the boys, by ladders or baskets; the girls wear breeches; beaten the same as the boys; many bastards produced in the pits; a good deal of fighting amongst them; much crookedness caused by the labour; work by candlelight; exposed to terrible accidents; work in very contracted spaces; children are plagued with sore feet and gatherings." "I cannot but think, (says one witness), that many nights they do not sleep with a whole skin, for their backs get cut and bruised with knocking against the mine, it is so low. It is wet under foot; the water oftentimes runs down from the roof; many lives lost in various ways; and many severely injured by burning; workers knocked up after fifty." "I cannot much err, (says Mr. Commissioner Tuffnell), in coming to the conclusion, both from what I saw, and the evidence of witnesses given on oath above, that it must appear to every impartial judge of the two occupations, that the hardest labour, in the worst room, in the worst conducted factory, is less hard, less cruel, and less demoralizing, than the labour of the best of coal mines.Now, Sir, the next is a trade to which I must request the particular attention of the House. The scenes it discloses are really horrible; and all who hear me will join in one loud and common condemnation. I speak of the business of pinmaking. Several witnesses in 1833 stated that:—It is very unwholesome work; we do it near the wire-works, and the smell of the aquafortis, through which the wire passes is a very great nuisance. Children go at a very early age, at five years old, and work from six in the morning till eight at night. There are as many girls as boys.One witness, a pin-header, aged twelve, said:—I have seen the children much beaten ten times a-day, so that with some the blood comes, many a time; none of the children where I work can read or write.Another witness said;— 1266It is a sedentary employment, requiring great stress upon the eyes, and a constant motion of the foot, finger, and eyes.This is fully confirmed in a letter I have just received; there it is stated:—Eye-sight is much affected, the overseers of the poor have sent many cases of this nature to the eye institution of Manchester." "Each child (reports Mr. Commissioner Tufnell), is in a position continually bent in the form of the letter C, its head being about eight inches from the table. My inquiries (he adds), fully corroborated the account of its being the practice of parents to borrow sums of money on the credit of their children's labour, and then let them out to pin heading till it is paid. One woman had let out both her children for ten months, and another had sold her's for a year.Now I must entreat the attention of hon. Members to this system of legalized slavery; and I cannot better invite it, than by reading an extract from a letter which I have lately received:—You also know (says my informant), the practice of the masters in securing the services of these little slaves. One man in this town employs from four to five hundred of them. A very ordinary practice is, for the master to send for the parents or guardians, offer them an advance of money, an irresistible temptation, and then extract a bond, which the magistrates enforce, that the repayment of the loan shall be effected through the labour of the child. A child of tender age can rarely earn more than from 9d. to 1s. a-week. Thus the master becomes bodily possessor of the children as his bonâ fide slaves, and works them according to his pleasure.And now mark this;—If he continues, with the employment to pay wages, and keep the loan hanging over the head of the parents, who do not refuse to take the wages, yet cannot repay the loan, the master may keep possession of the child as his slave, for an indefinite time. This is done to a great extent; the relieving-officer has tried in vain to break through the iniquitous practice; but it seems that the magistrates have not power to do it.Now, Sir, may I ask, is this not a system of legalized slavery? Is not this a state of things which demands the interposition of Parliament, or at least an investigation, that we may know to what an extent these horrid practices have been carried? Surely the House will not now be astonished at the concluding remark of Mr. Tuffnells report:—Knowing (says he), the cruelties that are sometime practised, in order to keep those infants at work, I was not surprised at being 1267 told by a manufacturer, that he had left the trade, owing to the disgust he felt at this part of the business.Let me conclude this branch of the subject by an extract from a letter descriptive of these works:—These children are collected in rooms varying in size, height, and ventilation; the filthy state and foul atmosphere of some of these places is very injurious to the health of the children—they are filled to a most unwholesome extent. No education during the week, and very few go to a Sunday-school. I can only tell you, that from my own observation of the effect of the trade as now carried on, I do not hesitate to say, that it is the cause of utter ruin, temporal and spiritual, to eight out of every ten children that are employed in it.This, Sir, is the language of a gentleman of great experience, and very conversant too with the temporal and spiritual condition of the poorer classes of whom he is speaking. Sir, the next and last trade which I shall now describe, is the calico printing; a business which demands the labour of several thousand children. Mr. Horner, in an admirable pamphlet, which be has recently published, on the subject of infant labour, both at home and abroad, says:—It is by no means uncommon for children to work as teer-boys as early as six and seven years of age, and sometimes as young as five. Children of six, seven, and eight years old, may be seen going to work at"—What hour will the House think? at what hour of a winter's night? or at what hour of the night at all? Why, he proceeds:—At twelve o'clock of a winter's night, in large numbers, sometimes having to walk a mile or two to the works. When they are twelving, the first set goes at twelve o'clock in the day, and works till twelve at night. Sometimes they do not send away those who have worked from twelve in the day to twelve at night, but let them sleep a few hours in the works, and then set them on again. There is no interval for meals in the night set, except breakfast, the children taking something with them j and even their breakfast is taken at the works. The custom of taking their meals in the works is very injurious, for they do not wash their hands, and they consequently sometimes swallow deleterious colouring matter.A person, whose name is not given, states, that:—Being frequently detained in his counting-house late at night, till twelve or one o'clock, he has often, in going home in the depth of 1268 winter, met mothers taking their children to the neighbouring printworks, the children crying.All this I can confirm and exceed, by the statements of a letter I hold in my hand, from a medical gentleman, living in the very centre of print works. I wish there were time to read the whole of it, but I fear I have already fatigued the House by the number of my extracts:—Many children (he writes), are only six years of age; one-half of them, he believes, are under nine; the labour of children is not only harder, but of longer duration. During night-work the men are obliged to shake their teerers to keep them awake, and they are not seldom aroused by blows. This work is very fatiguing to the eyes; their sight consequently fails at a very early age. They have to clean the blocks; this is done at the margin of the brook, on which the works stand. I often see these little creatures standing up to the calves of their legs in the water, and this, even in the severest weather, after being kept all day in rooms heated to a most oppressive degree. The injurious effect of this close and heated atmosphere is much aggravated by the effluvia of the colours; these are in most cases metallic salts, and ‥‥ very noxious. The atmosphere of the room is consequently continually loaded with poisonous gases of different kinds.Sir, these are a few facts, and only a few, of the many that I could adduce for your consideration, were I not afraid, of being wearisome to the House. But I think I have sufficiently proved, that there prevails a system of slavery under the sanction of law; that parents sell the services of their children, even of the tenderest years, for periods of long and most afflicting duration; that, in many instances, children of not more than five or six years old are employed in these trades from twelve to sixteen hours a-day, of course deprived of all means of education, while their health is undermined, or utterly destroyed. If the inquiry I move for be granted, it will develope, I am sure, cases far more numerous, and quite as painful, as those I have been able to produce. Now, Sir, I may be called upon to suggest a remedy; Sir, I am not yet prepared to do so, but I will state my objects, and the motives of my proposition. My first and great object is to place, if possible, the children of this land in such a position, and under such circumstances, as to lay them open to what Dr. Chalmers would call "an, aggressive movement" for education; to reserve and cherish their physical energies, 1269 to cultivate and improve their moral part, both of which, be they taken separately or conjointly, are essential to the peace, security, and progress of the empire. Sir, we have had the honour of setting the example in these things, and other nations of the world have begun to follow that example; we must not now fall back into the rear, and become the last where once we were first. Sir, I have here a most valuable document, for which I am indebted to the kindness of that distinguished Frenchman, the Baron Charles Dupin; it is the Report of a Commission of the Chamber of Peers, dated February, 1840, on the propriety, nay, the necessity, of extending the protection of the laws to the young and helpless workers in all departments of industry.What is the state of morality, (says the document, among the young children employed in the workshops?)—None at all; everywhere there is want. It is a curious fact, (the reporter adds), that the immorality seems to be greatest in those very places where the children are admitted into the workshops at the earliest ages.Now let the House pay attention to what follows.We were desirous of ascertaining the amount of difference in force and physical power between parties which had respectively attained the age of manhood in the parts of France most devoted to agriculture, and those where manufacturing industry is more generally diffused. The councils of revision in the recruiting department exhibited the following facts:—For 10,000 young men capable of military service, there were rejected as infirm or otherwise unfit in body, 4,029 in the departments most agricultural; for 10,000 in the departments most manufacturing there were rejected, 9,930.The reporter then proceeds to speak in detail.There were found, (he says) for 10,000 capable of military service, in Marne 10,309 incapable; in the Lower Seine 11,990 incapable; in L'Eure 14,451 incapable.After such a statement as this, will not the House be prepared to concur in his closing observation:—These deformities cannot allow the Legislature to remain indifferent; they attest the deep and painful mischiefs, they reveal the intolerable nature of individual suffering, they enfeeble the country in respect of its capacity for military operations, and impoverish it in regard to the works of peace. We should blush for agriculture, if in her operations she brought, at the age adapted to labour, so 1270 small a proportion of horses or oxen in a fit state for toil, compared with so large a number of infirm or misshapen.Doubtless, Sir, if we could conduct the same investigation (which, I fear, we have not the means of doing), we should obtain, in respect of the greater extent, and longer prevalence of these trades among us, far more distressing results;—this report, I must say, is most honourable to the Chamber of Peers, most honourable to the Baron Dupin, and it will be honourable to the French nation, if they adopt the advice, and enact the provisions suggested by these wise and excellent statesmen. Sir, I next desire to remove these spectacles of suffering and oppression from the eyes of the poorer clases, or at least to ascertain if we can do so: these things perplex the peaceable, and exasperate the discontented; they have a tendency to render capital odious, for wealth is known to them only by its oppressions; they judge of it by what they see immediately around them; they know but little beyond their own narrow sphere; they do not extend their view over the whole surface of the land, and so perceive and understand the compensating advantages that wealth and-poverty bestow on the community at large. Sir, with so much ignorance on one side, and so much oppression on the other, I have never wondered that perilous errors and bitter hatreds have prevailed; but I have wondered much, and been very thankful that they have prevailed so little. Again, Sir, this inquiry is due also to the other branches of trade and manufacture, which are already restricted in their employment of children by the acts of the Legislature—it is requisite we should know how far the exception operates unfavourably on the restricted trades, and how far it impedes the full development of the protective principles of existing laws. Manufacturers, I know, loudly complain, and I think with some reason. A respectable mill-owner in the West Riding of Yorkshire writes to me.When the cotton trade is brisk, we find the demand for young persons to set cards so great, that hands are with difficulty obtained for woollen-mills in this neighbourhood.The House will with difficulty believe, for how minute an addition to the daily wages, parents will doom their children to excessive labour.The proprietor of a large cotton-mill told 1271 me, (says Mr. Homer,) that they suffer severely from the neighbouring printworks carrying off the children under thirteen years of age, where they employ them at any age and any number of hours; that they would gladly employ two sets of children, each working half a day, both for the sake of their work, and for the sake of the children themselves, that they might be more at school, and have more play, but that they cannot get them, as the printworks carry them off.No doubt, Sir, provisions still more beneficial to the children, and more convenient to the mill-owners, might be introduced, under a more wide-spread system of restriction—the supply of hands for moderate toil would be increased, and more work would be done, at far less expense of health and happiness. Sir, I next propose by this inquiry, and the remedy which may follow, to enlarge the sphere of safe and useful employments. How many are there now, to which no one of principle or common humanity would consign the children! by this excessive toil, moreover, one unhappy infant does the work of two; redress this grievance, and you will have opened a comparatively safe and healthy career to twice as many children as can now be employed. I have heard, on the Authority of the Poor-law Commissioners, that they have now under their guardianship more than 30,000 children, for whom they must provide a calling; they hesitate, and most laudable is their hesitation, to consign these helpless infants to such a destiny; why, will the House listen to a statement I received only a few mornings ago? it is well worthy of your attention, as showing how this system has proceeded to so frightful an extent, that even persons, whose interest it is to get rid of the children, shrink from the responsibility of exposing them to its horrors.I have now, (says my informant), made more minute inquiry into this business of wholesale demoralization. I have examined the relieving-officer of the board of guardians. He assures me, that he has rarely known an instance of children in a family turning out respectable members of society, who have been brought up in pin-shops; that the board of guardians have been obliged to give up the sending children from the poor-house to the pin-works, on account of the invariable consequences of it—the entire corruption of the children; and that children, once contaminated in these works, very rarely are found worth having in factories or elsewhere.Now, Sir, if this be the case; if the 1272 children be thus contaminated by the employment of their earliest years; if they really become not worth having in factories or elsewhere, what kind of citizens will they make in after life? what has this country to hope for in their peaceful obedience or beneficial activity? Next, Sir, I hope to trace some of the secret and efficient causes of crime and pauperism; and by learning the causes, to ascertain the remedy. It is very curious and very instructive to observe how we compel, as it were, vice and misery with one hand, and endeavour to repress them with the other; but the whole course of our manufacturing system tends to these results: you engage children from their earliest and tenderest years in these long, painful, and destructive occupations; when they have approached to manhood, they have outgrown their employments, and they are turned upon the world without moral, without professional education; the business they have learned, avails them nothing; to what can they turn their hands for a maintenance? the children, for instance, who have been taught to make pins, having reached fourteen or fifteen years of age, are unfit to make pins any longer; to procure an honest livelihood then becomes to them almost impossible; the governors of prisons will tell you, the relieving-officers will tell you, that the vicious resort to plunder and prostitution; the rest sink down into a hopeless pauperism. Again, Sir, intemperance, the besetting sin of England, and the cause of many of its woes, is itself the result, in many cases, of our system of labour; just hear the effects of it in one department. The letter I shall quote, refers, it is true, to calico-printing only; it furnishes, nevertheless, a very good example of the effects of that unhealthy and prolonged toil I have endeavoured to describe.The most prominent evil, (says the writer,) is the excitement to habits of intoxication. The heated atmosphere in which they work, and the profuse perspiration, occasion a burning thirst; and the mouth and throat are often so parched, as to cause a very distressing sensation; they drink excessively: on leaving their highly-heated workshops, they feel disagreeably chilled, and relieve it by taking spirits. A tendency to drunkenness is thus produced; the drunkenness, gambling, and vicious habits of the men, are imitated by too many of the children.Imitated by the children, to be sure they are—but such is our system; we not 1273 only withdraw them, when young and pliable, from the opportunities, at least, of doing good, but we thrust them, un-watched and uncared for, into dens of vice, and misery, and crime.—I should indeed be glad to read the whole of this admirable letter, but I have already trespassed too long on the indulgence of the House. These things, Mr. Speaker at all times worthy of deep and anxious consideration, are now ten-fold so, when we remember the vast and rapid tendency there is in the present day to multiply infant labour, to the exclusion of that of adults; the House is, perhaps, but little aware of the mighty progress that has been made during the last fifteen years, towards the substitution of the sinews of the merest children for the sinews of their parents. Lastly, Sir, my object is to appeal to, and excite the public opinion; where we cannot legislate, we can exhort, and laws may fail, where example will succeed. I must appeal to the bishops and ministers of the Church of England, nay, more, to the ministers of every denomination, to urge on the hearts of their hearers, the mischief and the danger of these covetous and cruel practices; I trust they will not fall short of the zeal and eloquence of a distinguished prelate in a neighbouring country, who, in these beautiful and emphatic words, exhorted his hearers to justice and mercy:Open your eyes, (says the Prince Archbishop,) and behold; parents and masters demand of these young plants to produce fruit in the season of blossoms. By excessive and prolonged labour they exhaust the rising sap, caring but little that they leave them to vegetate and perish on a withered and tottering stem. Poor little children! may the laws hasten to extend their protection over your existence, and may posterity read with astonishment, on the front of this age, so satisfied with itself, that in these days of progress and discovery, there was needed an iron law to forbid the murder of children by excessive labour.This is language worthy of the compatriot of Massillon and Fenelon. It is the language of the primate of Normanby, uttered in the cathedral of Rouen, "that country of France," says M. Dupin, "in which the early labour of children has produced the greatest evils." Sir, I must say, from the bottom of my heart, that it is not a little agreeable, amid all our differences of opinion and religious strifes, to find one common point, on which we can 1274 feel a mutual sympathy, and join together in harmonious action. And now, Sir, to conclude this long, and, I fear, wearisome address—my first grand object, as I have already said, is to bring these children within the reach of education; it will then be time enough to fight about the mode. Only let us exhibit these evils—there in wit enough, experience enough, activity enough, and principle enough in the country, to devise some remedy. I am sure that the exhibition of the peril will terrify even the most sluggish, and the most reluctant, into some attempt at amendment; but I hope for far better motives. For my own part I will say, though possibly I may be charged with cant and hypocrisy, that I have been bold enough to undertake this task, because I must regard the objects of it as beings created, as ourselves, by the same Maker, redeemed by the same Saviour, and destined to the same immortality; and it is, therefore, in this spirit, and with these sentiments, which, I am sure, are participated by all who hear me; that I now venture to entreat the countenance of this House, and the co-operation of her Majesty's Ministers; first to investigate, and ultimately to remove, these sad evils, which press so deeply and so extensively on such a large and such an interesting portion of the human race. I will, therefore, Sir, with very sincere thanks to the House, for the patience with which they have heard me now move,,—That an humble Address be presented to her Majesty, praying that her Majesty will be graciously pleased to direct an inquiry to be made into the employment of the children of the poorer classes in mines and collieries, and in the various branches of trade and manufacture in which numbers of children work together, not being included in the provisions of the acts for regulating the employment of children and young persons in mills and factories, and to collect information as to the ages at which they are employed, the number of hours they are engaged in work, the time allowed each day for meals, and as to the actual state, condition, and treatment of such children, and as to the effects of such employment, both with regard to their morals and their bodily health.
§ Mr. Brotherton
seconded the motion. He felt grateful to the noble Lord for the exertions he had made to ameliorate the condition of our juvenile population employed in manufactories. He did not think there was any necessity for overworking 1275 them, or any other class of the operatives in this country. It was highly creditable to this country that they had directed their attention to legislation for those employed in the mills and manufactories; and other nations, he was glad to say, had followed their example. He had recently received a communication from the United States intimating that the American President had issued an order that all persons employed in the public works should be restricted in their labour to ten hours a-day; and resoluions had been passed by the operatives in different parts of the country conveying a vote of thanks to the President for his humane, politic, and wise interference. The inquiry proposed by the noble Lord would show the necessity there was for legislation in order to promote the general welfare of the working classes. In that respect he anticipated great good would result from the labours of the commission; he, therefore, most cordially seconded the motion.
§ Mr. Fox Maule
could not proceed to state his opinion with respect to this motion without expressing, as an individual, his grateful thanks to the noble Lord for the manner in which he had introduced this subject, and for the appeal which he had made on behalf of those children, in language which he knew not whether to admire most for its simplicity or the kindliness of feeling which it evinced. So far from opposing this motion, her Majesty's Government would give every assistance to the noble Lord in carrying out the object which he had in view. It was possible that in that House some Members might object that the Government were eager to seize the opportunity of issuing another commission; but he could assure the House that not only should the whole investigation of the subject be most fully and fairly Conducted, but every means should be taken to use the present force at the disposal of the Government so as to make the inquiry as economical as possible. He agreed with the noble Lord that if they looked to the permanent interests of this country, they must pay especial regard to the physical and moral condition of the young amongst the lower classes. Since the last census, he believed that the population of this country had increased by about one-third; and those increasing numbers ought to warn them more especially that, within the narrow limits of this island, the only means of 1276 preserving order and good conduct was to look to the training, both mental and physical, of the young and rising generation. For that purpose, nothing was so essential as an intimate knowledge of the manner in which their early years were spent: and it was a melancholy fact that their present distressing situation was to be traced no more to the cupidity of the masters than to the conduct of the parents themselves. It was, however, their duty to protect those children against the tyranny of their parents, and against the temptations to which they were subject; and, therefore, in this inquiry, though they would be interfering between parent and child, it was, to be remembered that, from the report of the factory commissioners, that had been proved to be necessary. It would be premature now to advert to the result of the inquiry; but that ultimately some legislative measure on the subject must be adopted, he was thoroughly convinced. In the same manner, as his noble Friend had taken that opportunity of appealing to all authorities to assist him, he would express a hope that, as in the conduct of such inquiries much depended upon the readiness with which information was furnished, every person who read the statement of the noble Lord would give his mind to the state of things there described, and feel it his duty to assist those commissioners, whoever they might be; and on the part of the Government he gave this pledge to his noble Friend and to the House, that they would make the inquiry as full, complete, and early as possible. This inquiry would bring to light the state of the working classes, and he was certain that the utmost benefit would result from it.
thought the motion might be useful, and it was creditable to the noble Lord to have proposed it. Its chief utility, however, would be not merely to bring to light facts connected with the bad condition of the working classes, but that it would lead to active and general inquiry as to the causes of that condition, and of the evils to which the noble Lord had pointed; and as the circumstances influencing the character and condition of the great body of the working classes were connected with the security, happiness, and prosperity of the country, no inquiry could be more important. So far he valued the motion of the noble Lord; and it would not be to qualify what had 1277 been said of his motives in bringing it forward, if he observed that the noble Lord had not taken so wide a view of the matter as the subject suggested. The noble Lord appeared satisfied with referring to the hardships, the habits, and the vices of certain classes of the poor, and he seemed to expect that these could be checked by legislating for them directly. Now, certainly, he thought this stopped far short of what was required. He feared that too many of these evils were necessarily connected with the circumstances under which the laws themselves placed the poor and industrious classes in this country, and mere legislation for symptoms, without attacking the cause of disease, would be of little avail. He believed that much of that criminality and cruelty which the noble Lord would prevent, sprang from causes over which the poor had little control, lie meant from poverty and necessity, arising from a dearth of employment, and the difficulty they had in consequence to procure what was essential to life, without sacrificing their health and all comfort and leisure. They were now living crowded together in bad habitations, in populous places where slackness of trade and increasing numbers create a fearful competition among them for employment; and their wages being reduced, bread and provisions of all kinds were cruelly enhanced to them in price. Surely, then, it was more natural to refer to such causes the practices mentioned by the noble Lord, than any natural disregard for the moral or physical condition of their children, indeed, if parents did bring their children into market as it were, for sale, with no thought but what their premature labours would fetch, was not that another proof of the miserable condition of such parents? It was, indeed, one of the most unfortunate consequences to the poor, of being compelled to pay the present inordinate price for provisions, that they were actually compelled to withdraw their children from school when they might be receiving that moral culture which the noble Lord so justly thinks essential to their future well-being. Numerous instances of this kind had been communicated to him, of parents withdrawing their children from school, because they could not afford, either at the present price of provisions to pay for their schooling, or were not able to spare the time of those children, which was required to procure for the family the means of 1278 support. He ventured to say, that if commissioners for this inquiry were appointed, they would hear amongst the first things, that it was one of the effects of the laws that thus artificially enhanced the price of food, and which lately had so seriously impaired the trade, that all the evils to which the noble Lord had directed their attention had greatly increased, and that habits of prudence among the poor, and of providing education for their children, had been greatly shaken by the absorbing effects of their sad physical condition. If this, then, were the case, it surely was a more important subject to consider in what way the Legislature could extend the trade, increase the demand for labour, and give the people more ready access to all the necessaries and comforts of life, for until they had more leisure and more time for instruction and mental improvement, they would neither be raised in character, nor be in any way morally changed. However, as he said before, as the noble Lord's motion might tend to elicit information and secure for the condition of the working class a larger share of the public attention than it had hitherto obtained, and as it might ultimately lead to the change of those laws which have reduced them in condition, he should cordially give it his support.
§ Mr. Hume
concurred in the remarks of his hon. Friend who had just sat down. No man could hear the statements of the noble Lord without regretting that, in a Christian country, such a picture could be drawn. But he wished the noble Lord to go to the causes of the evils he had described. One was the want of proper remuneration for the labour of the parents. If parents could earn enough, the common feelings of humanity would prevent their employing their children as they now did. But did the noble Lord recollect that he was himself one of those who kept restrictions on the food of man, who limited the supply of bread to the working classes? The noble Lord complained of their poverty, but seemed to think that the exclusion of cheap corn did them no harm. He hoped that the result of this inquiry would be to induce the Government to come forward early in the next Session with a bill for the repeal of those starvation laws.
§ Dr. Nicholl
said, he came from a part of the country where the people had ade- 1279 quate wages about the iron works. Constant wages of 30s. 35s. and even 40s. and 50s. a-week. Carpenters had from 6s. to 7s. a day, and masons from 5s. to 6s., and yet the children in that district were employed at laborious work, and for an immense number of hours. He could state further, from his knowledge of the neighbourhood, that before the manufacture of iron was introduced, there had been a large number of children attending the National School, but since the rise of wages caused by those works, a great number of the children had been withdrawn from school in order to be employed.
§ Motion agreed to.