HC Deb 07 March 1843 vol 67 cc422-4
Sir James Graham

said, after what had taken place the other evening, he thought it would be best that, he should introduce the bill of which he had given notice, for regulating the employment of children and young persons in factories, and for the better education of children in factory districts. The measure he proposed rested mainly on the report of the committee which sat in 1840 for the investigation of this subject. The report stated the defects and omissions of the existing law; and his object was to supply the defects and omissions in the law which the report detailed. The age of children employed in factories was, at present, limited from nine to thirteen; and the hours of labour were limited to eight per day. He proposed to reduce the number of hours from eight to six and a-half; and he also proposed that the six and a-half hours' labour must take place either in the forenoon or in the afternoon, and not partly in the one and partly in the other. He was disposed to believe that the lowest age at which children might begin to work could be safely reduced from nine to eight, so that a child from eight to thirteen might work from six hours and a-half to eight hours, either in the forenoon or in the afternoon wholly, and not in both. The committee had recommended that the maximum age for females should be altered from eighteen to twenty-one. Young persons were not now permitted to work more than twelve hours a-day. He proposed to alter the age at which females should be permitted to labour: in the case of males coming under the denomination of "young persons," he did not propose to make any alteration. There were several minute provisions with respect to meal times. The regulations respecting dinner contemplated at the least a space of one hour. With respect to Saturday, he proposed that the hours of work should be limited to nine, so that young persons would he worked twelve hours on other days, and nine hours on Saturdays. From the report of the committee, it appeared that objections were made to the modes in which lost time was made up. He proposed to limit those modes of making up lost time to those factories where water labour is used. He proposed to give the inspectors power to select qualified surgeons to attend the several mills in each district, and to report upon their condition at stated times. Then as to accidents arising from machinery — he intended to provide against them, by making it compulsory on the owners to guard every dangerous portion of the machinery in their possession from the possibility of doing injury to any of the persons in their employment; and he also intended to prohibit the cleaning of machinery while it was in motion. For these various purposes clauses would be contained in the bill, making it compulsory upon mill-owners to act in conformity with its regulations. Such a bill must, of course, contain several penalties; besides, it was intended to introduce as many as possible of the alterations recommended by the committee. He would not then enter at large into the education clauses, for it would be unnecessary for him to restate what he had said upon a former occasion; but he hoped that on the whole the measure would give general satisfaction. Thus much, however, he would say with respect to the education clauses, that he trusted the effect of the measure would be greatly to increase the number of children receiving the benefits of education. The bill would include within the scope of its operation all children employed in silk factories; and he hoped still further by a separate bill, brought in with the sanction of her Majesty's Government, to include the lace factories, and the children engaged in printing; thus comprehending all the children employed in all the great branches of our textile manufactures. There was one omission in his statement, which he begged to supply—it was, that in all the manufacturing districts, the children of any parents, whether those children were employed in factories or not, should have the benefits of education at an expense not exceeding 3d. per week. The education being to some extent compulsory, it would go far to establish a national scheme of instruction upon a large scale. It was not necessary for him to detain the House with any further observations. He hoped they would allow him to bring in the bill, and he assured hon. Members that he should not prematurely press for the second reading.

Lord Ashley

concurred in the proposed arrangements regarding education. He regretted that further limitations had not been introduced with regard to the hours of labour, and, as that, did not seem to enter into the plan of his right hon. Friend, he (Lord Ashley) should himself propose it in committee.

Mr. Hindley

wished that the hours of labour should be left an open question.

Leave given.

Bill brought in and read a first time.