HC Deb 04 August 1842 vol 65 cc1051-4
Lord Ashley

begged to remind the House that a commission had been appointed in August, 1840, to inquire into the employment of children in mines and collieries. The Members of that commission entered into an investigation of the moral and physical effects of labour upon the children: but omitted to include, because not directed by the form of their appointment, any inquiry into the terms upon which that labour was obtained. Much uncertainty and doubt, therefore, prevailed upon this point, which it was necessary to remove. He understood, that to make the binding of a parish apprentice legal, it was necessary that the consent of two justices should be obtained, and that a stamp duty of 1. on the indentures should be paid wherever the premium amounted to 30l. The courts had decided that no indentures were valid without compliance with these conditions. He had been informed that the provisions of the law in these respects had not been observed, and that of 20,009 apprentices the agreements relating to the great majority were merely verbal, or upon ordinary pieces of unstamped paper. It was an important question, therefore, how far the law had or had not been observed; how far the servitude had been imposed with the observance of the required forms, and for this purpose he submitted the following motion, of which he had given notice:— That an address be presented to her Majesty, praying that her Majesty will be graciously pleased to direct that the commissioners, appointed in answer to an address of this House on the 4th day of August, 1840, for inquiring into the employment of children in mines and various other branches of industry, be desired to make further inquiry as to the number and ages of children and young persons employed as apprentices to miners of coal and of iron, (whether owners, lessees, undertakers, or workmen, however designated); also, as to the manner of their apprenticeship, whether by regular indentures, or by what other forms of agreement; as to the terms of such indentures or agreements, and as to the manner in which such indentures or agreements are observed or enforced.

Sir James Graham

said, that the inquiry of the commissioners had been closed, and that the sum devoted to the investigation had been expended. He was not disposed to regret that it was exhausted, because he could not but suppose that the required information had all been obtained, though it might not all have been laid before the House. He apprehended that the terms of apprenticeship must have been included, and in this expectation he was ready to agree to the motion of the noble Cord, with the alteration of a single expression. Instead of desiring the commissioners to make further inquiry, they ought to be directed to report on the omitted topic.

Viscount Palmerston

was of opinion that the better course would be, to direct the commissioners either to report or to make further inquiries if necessary. They might, as the right hon. Baronet supposed, be in possession of the information, but if not they might obtain it. The difficulty, as to money, did not seem insurmountable, inasmuch as the House had recently voted 130,000l. for civil contingencies: that sum was meant to meet unforeseen services, and the expense of the renewed investigation might be defrayed out of it.

Sir J. Graham

replied, that the civil contingency vote was in ended, as the noble Lord stated, for unforeseen services; this commission would be a foreseen service, and, therefore, could not he included. The commission consisted of twenty persons, four of whom received 5001. each, with a paid secretary.

Viscount Palmerston

proposed to add to the motion, the words, " That this House will make good the expense of such an inquiry."

The Speaker

observed that the intervention of a committee of the whole House would, in that ease, be necessary.

Mr. Hume

thought, that the necessary information must be in the possession of the commissioners. If not, the investigation ought to he completed, and it might be left to the Government to decide in what way.

Sir J. Graham

was as desirous as the noble Lord (Lord Ashley), that the required information should be stated in a report. If the inquiry had been properly conducted, he apprehended that the commissioners were in possession of the knowledge which would satisfy the wishes of the noble Lord. If it turned out that they had not obtained it, it would be his (Sir J. Graham's) duty to procure it. All he was anxious for was, that this should not be made a standing commission.

Lord Ashley

was quite ready to leave the matter in the hands of the right hon. Baronet. All he wanted was the information, and he did not think that it would be found that it had been procured by the commissioners, and not reported by them. When he made the motion, in 1840, it had not occurred to him that that part of the inquiry would be necessary.

Sir Graham

said, that, with the insertion of the words, " Do report to the House, and make further inquiry, if necessary,' he should not object to the motion.

Motion. as amended, agreed to,