HC Deb 06 August 1842 vol 65 cc1094-101

The Order of the Day having been moved for taking into consideration the amendments of the Lords to this bill,

Lord Ashley

said, that the amendments made by the Lords had invalidated the principle of the bill, and made it, inoperative. There existed no longer any security either against the employment of females, or against the employment of children of an extremely tender age, for if they were admitted into the pits, it would be impossible to guard against their being made to work. The system of apprenticeship would be retained. His assertion that the coal-owners of the north were not opposed to the bill, had been described as "chicanery," but he would read letters to the House that would prove the truth of that assertion. The noble Lord proceeded to read the following documents in support of his former statement:—

Extract of a Letter from Dalkeith, 14th June, from a Person in charge of Pits.

"The degrading and brutal employment of women, and very young children, in the pits, is in nowise necessary for the continued working of coal in this quarter. Never was there a legislative enactment more required or more calculated to do good."

From another, dated 20th, from ditto.

"I express my most earnest wish that your Lordship's bill may speedily become law."

From Barnsley, June 25.

" The alterations (that is, before it went to the Lords), in your bill have done a great deal to satisfy those few masters who were against it."

From Ditto, June 30.

" I have been informed that the petitions against the bill have been signed in the counting-houses and at pay-tables."

From a place near Burton-on.Trent.—An Address of Colliers.

" We most heartily thank you, and express our humble hope that you may have good success, as we approve of the plan you have submitted to the British House of Commons."

" Also a petition, signed on behalf of 2,500 colliers, near Coal-bridge, Lancashire:

" A draught of the bill (says a correspondent) was read at the meeting, where there were not less than 2,500 miners, and they would not agree, and it was put to them, to alter our petition in any of the clauses."

From another, June 29.

" I have received a letter from Mr. Edward Grundy, a coal-owner, of my neighbourhood, the contents of which are favourable to your bill. He likewise says that he is not favourable to over-legislation, but he considers this measure necessary to remedy existing abuses."

Extract from Mr. Ashworth, a large Coal Owner.

"I have read with the deepest interest the discussions that have taken place, and permit me to say that I highly approve the bill in general, and particularly the amended clause which will admit boys from ten to thirteen years of age to work three days in each week."

Extract of a Letter from Staffordshire.

"My parish is in Derbyshire, although my post town is in Staffordshire. The statements made respecting Derbyshire were fully substantiated by the working men. The poor children work fourteen, sixteen, and some seventeen hours. The accidents in the pits here have been frequent and frightful."

From Mr. Bald, July 13.

" I have read your speech, which has yielded me gratification, and the more so, as I have so long (above forty years) been acquainted with the facts and circumstances brought forward; not one particle of the sad picture is overcharged with colouring. Your statements are simple truths. These strong prejudices and an immoderate love of gold will strongly attack, but they cannot overthrow them."

Extract, from a Letter to Lord Ashley, from Mr. Lambton, M. P. for the County of Durham, July 13, 1842—

" I wish to lose no time in expressing my surprise that Mr. Buddle should have written to Lord Londonderry the letter which I have read for the first time this morning in the newspapers. I feel myself called upon from a sense of justice, to say that it appears to me Mr. Buddle has not acted fairly and properly towards you; for observe what took place: Mr. Buddle was instructed formally by the united coal trade committee of the north to confer with you and the Members connected with the northern counties. At that meeting you made considerable concessions—Much discussion took place, and the parties present ultimately agreed to accept conditions conceded by Lord Ashley;' why here Mr. Buddle himself shows, by his own words, that all the parties present were bound in fairness and honour to support your bill, so altered by the concessions they accepted." " I do say you had a fair and just right to expect the support, not only of the members present at the meeting, but also of the coal trade in the north, which was formally represented there by Mr. Buddle; and I had a fair and just right to state in the House of Commons, that, the coal trade of the north were prepared to support the bill. It must be self-evident that you could only consent to make these concessions on condition of receiving our support. I remember you said more than once, My opinions are not changed, but I make these concessions to secure your support,' or words to the same purpose."

" From the same to Lord Ashley:

"It appears to me that, if Lord Wharncliffe thought himself free to act, he should have stated so at the conference he had with you in the House of Commons, when we all agreed to support your bill, altered, as it would be, by the concessions made on both sides. I recollect you distinctly said, at the close of our dis- cussions, 'Well, if I make all these concessions, will you all support the bill?' Lord Wharncliffe should have protested then. He should have then stated, that he did not approve of the general agreement we had come to, and that he conceived himself quite free to act. Now this he did not do, to the best of my recollection; for my own part, I bad no doubt in my own mind, after this conference, that all present were bound to support the bill, so altered."

Much, however, as he regretted the modifications which the bill had undergone, he should invite the House to accede to the bill, which, at all events, went to establish a great and valuable principle, though it left this country far behind Ireland, where no women were employed in mines; and far behind Prussia, where no boy was admitted to labour in a mine, unless he could produce a certificate of confirmation, as a proof that he had gone through a course of religious education.

Viscount Palmerston

had seen, with great pain, the amendments made by the House of Lords in this bill, because those amendments went to deteriorate the spirit of improvement evinced in this bill, to which there could be no objection whatever on political grounds. But, under the circumstances stated, the noble Lord had exercised a sound discretion in not calling on the House to negative those amendments. It was quite right, as the noble Lord had said, that those amendments, if carried out, would nullify the most important provisions of the bill, but it was to be hoped, that the good feeling of those engaged in mines and collieries would counteract the evil effect of those amendments. He regretted that the cordial support promised by the Government had not been given to the bill. He would not accuse them of backing out of their intentions, but their reluctance to object to these amendments, proved that there was a power greater than their own which exercised a sort of coercion over them. When the Members of the present Government were in opposition they were in the habit of taunting the late Government with allowing themselves to be coerced by a portion of their supporters, but it appeared that the present Government was subjected to the same kind of coercion. The late Government, however, when they yielded to such a pressure, did so only to go forward in the progress of improvement; the present Government allowed them- selves to be coerced to abandon improvement.

Sir J. Graham

said, the observations of the noble Lord rendered it necessary to offer a few remarks in return. On the introduction of the measure nothing could be more sincere and cordial than the support which he (Sir. J. Graham) gave the measure, reserving his judgment as to a few details. The noble Lord had insinuated that his Colleagues in the other House of Parliament had not been disposed to support the bill. What were the present enactments of the bill? Why, the employment of boys under the age of ten years was prohibited, there was a limitation of the period of apprenticeship, and the employment of females in mines was also prohibited. All the great principles for which the noble Lord had contended stood as they were originally meant. He (Sir J. Graham) certainly did not think the alterations were inconsistent with the principles of the enactment. He thought they were fair, reasonable, and just modifications. With regard to what the noble Lord had stated of the coercion exercised over the Government, he believed that his Colleagues in the other House possessed in an equal degree the confidence of that House, in which they possessed that of the House of Commons. In the course of this Session the Government had carried through both Houses many extensive and important measures. They had commenced the Session, now so near its end, possessing the confidence of Parliament, and he believed they had not forfeited it at it is close.

Lord Ashley

, in explanation, stated, that when the course was taken in the House which rendered the changes inevitable, he (Lord Ashley) was asked if he would consent to them. His reply was, that he could riot help himself; and that he was disposed to sacrifice the children in order to save the women.

Mr. V. Smith

did not think the declaration of cordial support of the bill made by the Government, had been filled.

Mr. S. Wortley

said, that the workmen had it in their power to prevent it, if they did not wish their wives and children to go into the mines. At the same time he regretted sonic of the amendments which had been made by the other House.

Mr. C. Buller

was afraid that the House of Lords was inclined to consider every measure in relation to landed property, rather than to humanity; but it had been hoped that the influence of the Government would have induced the Lords to pass this bill without amendment. There was but one way to prevent women and children from being employed in mines and collieries, and that was, not to allow them to enter them. The fate of this bill would deprive the Government of one great source of strength, namely, the belief hitherto entertained that the Ministry possessed the confidence of the House of Lords. What trust could they have after hearing the support given by the right hon. Gentleman opposite to this bill, when they heard one Member of the Government in that House say, that the Government was passive, and another most illustrious Member of that Government sneer at the evidence upon which it was founded. True, the House of Lords had passed the Income-tax and the tariff, although he believed they would have made the latter infinitely worse if they had not been prevented from doing so by the rules of the House of Commons, which precluded any alteration in the bill. He was afraid also that they would damage the Bribery Bill, notwithstanding the assurance given by the right lion. Baronet that he would support it.

Sir R. Peel

said, it would be curious to contrast the fears of hon. Gentlemen at the beginning of the Session, with the fears expressed by them at the present moment. The House of Lords had, during the present Session, given their ready assent to the Corn-bill and the tariff, two measures making greater changes than any which had been introduced of late years. Yet all that was no avail, but because the House of Lords had made some alteration in a bill, which had not been brought in by a Member of the Government, this circumstance was immediately assumed to be a sign of disunion: He believed that the Bribery bill would pass the House of Lords without amendment, but he would not pledge himself that the House of Lords would adopt all the details of any bill. The House of Lords was a deliberative body, and had a perfect right to make any modifications in the bill which it might think desirable. With regard to some of the amendments, he would admit that he was sorry they had been adopted, and should experience show the necessity of further alterations, he would be quite ready to lend them his support. But with regard to others he thought they were improvements. For instance, suppose a man working in a mine should break his leg, or should he at the point of death, as the bill had left the Commons, it would have been extremely hard to have prevented his wife or daughter from coming into the mine to see him. It would be rather hard to prohibit a child from taking its father's dinner to him while working in the mine. The object of the law should be to distinguish between young persons going into mines for the purpose of being employed there, and young persons entering a mine for other purposes. He agreed with all that had been said as to the credit due to his noble Friend (Lord Ashley) for his exertions in this cause; but the satisfaction he must feel in his own mind would be greater than any he could derive front his (Sir It. Peel's) praises. He protested against the doctrine that the House of Lords had not a right to make any amendments which it deemed advisable in the bill. By whom had this fatal blow, as it was called, been struck at the bill? It was a proposition of a noble Lord who had been much in the confidence of the late Government, and who had been only a few weeks before the resignation of that Ministry made Lord Chancellor of Ireland. [An hon. Member : It was Lord Hatherton.] Lord Hatherton made the suggestion, but the words, "for the purpose of being employed therein," were proposed by Lord Campbell. And as that fatal blow was struck by that noble Lord, he thought his noble Friend ought to have called upon him some morning, and, telling him that the bill was of the utmost importance, have used his influence to prevent his noble Friend from originating such a proposition.

Mr. Brotherton

regretted that the discussion assumed so much of a party character. The noble Lord, he thought, exercised a wise discretion in acceding to the amendments, though he (Mr. Brother-ton) regretted that females would be allowed to go down into the pits.

Mr. Hawes

thought, that an unfair imputation had been thrown out against his side of the House by the right hon. Baronet. What he complained of was, that a Minister of the Crown in that House gave his support, in the name of the Government, to the bill, while in another House another Minister of the Crown said, he was perfeetly free with regard to it.

Mr. B. Wood

was not a mine-owner himself, but he knew that throughout the whole of the county of Cornwall women were not allowed to go under ground; would be considered a disgrace for any woman to do so. With respect to a woman taking her husband's dinner to him, was it likely that a woman would take his dinner 200 or 300 fathoms below the surface of the earth? It was never done. The man took his dinner with him in e basket or in some other way, if he took it with him at all. He (Mr. Wood) never in his life knew a woman go under ground on account of her husband being wounded. If an accident happened to a man, the first thing done was to get him to the surface, and in general the first intimation given of an accident was the raising the man out of the mine. He thought the noble Lord was entitled to the support of the House and the Government.

Mr. Villiers

said, with respect to what had been said of the indifference of the workmen to the feelings of those dependent on them, he believed that these people felt as much for their children as persons in a higher rank of life. It was only by distress that they were driven to do that which was imputed to them.

The Attorney-General

thought that the amendments were salutary, as many of the original clauses were extremely stun-gent in their operation.

Mr. M. Philips

also thought that the provisions had been too stringent. In mines, for instance, on an inclined plane into which you could walk with ease, it was very hard to say, that under no consideration should women be allowed to enter them.

Amendments agreed to.