§ Mr. Gumming Bruce
said it had been his anxious wish to have called the attention of the House to the subject of the petitions for the collieries in Scotland before the recess. He had given notice of this intention so far back as February last, and had renewed that notice at least a dozen times before Easter without success. At one time adjourned debates came in the way—at another the neglect by the Lords of her Majesty's Treasury in the discharge of their peculiar function of "making a House," was fatal to him—at another, the mysterious attraction by which, between the witching hours of seven and eight, ton. Members were apt to be drawn away from the House, so as not to leave a sufficeint number to keep Mr. Speaker in the Chair,—all these various causes, and no want of exertion on his part, as the noble Lord the Member for Dorsetshire would bear him witness, had forced him to submit to the delay. He rejoiced, that at length—thanks to the activity and superior skill of his hon. Friend the Member for Lanarkshire—he had obtained the opportunity of submitting the grievances of these poor petitioners to the House; He was 430 glad that he could, at last, in his place in Parliament, expose the total want of foundation for the statements, amounting to misrepresentations, arising doubtless from great misapprehension, which had been put forth out of doors as to his intentions, and the motives by which he was actuated in bringing forward this motion. One influential journal, The Times, had threatened him the very day after his first notice, with the " storm of public indignation." Even to one accustomed like himself, to the more formidable pelting of the storms of his native hills, such a threat, coming from a quarter which asserted its possession of the principal patent for the manufacture of that sort of storm would have been formidable, but for the consciousness that he carried about with him no intention which could attract its thunders to himself. Another of less influence, but not of less pretension, The Chronicle, in the shape of a letter signed a Coal-owner—lucus a non lucendo, he should say—for the entire ignorance of his subject displayed by that disinterested and imaginary proprietor, held up colliers and coal-owners, and all their generations past and to come, and all connected with them—himself and his motion among the rest— to the reprobation of an enlightened public. The Herald also, the friend par excellence of humanity, sounded an alarm in all the camps of the philanthropists. This atrocious motion coming from such a quarter proved that the enemies of the human race were only scotched not killed— that they were again about to resume the offensive, and spring Heaven knows how many mines on them. Some even of his own friends wrote, expressing their grief and astonishment, that he should be the person to propose restoring all the evils of female infant labour in the mines: and more important than all the rest, the Presbytery of Edinburgh, at their meeting on the 29th of April, sitting " en comite de salut publique,'' after refusing to recommend that the veto act should be rescinded by the assembly, took up the matter, and Dr. Candlish gave notice—That at next meeting he would bring under the attention of the Presbytery the proposal in Parliament to interfere with the provisions of Lord Ashley's bill, in so far as respected the employment of females under ground; if such were persevered in in Parliament, he would bring the matter under the notice of the Presbytery.This occurred soon after the discussion in this House on the claims of the Kirk, 431 in which he had felt it his duty to express a strong opinion against the concession of the claims put forward by that Church. He could not suppose that this circumstance had in any way influenced the notice thus given by the rev. gentleman. All who knew him were aware of the peculiar meekness, and mildness, and christian gentleness of his disposition; that he was incapable of entertaining any feeling of irritation against those who differed with him —" tantœnc animis cœlestibus irœ " might be said of any one rather than him, and although there were no collieries within the bounds of the Presbytery of Edinburgh, he doubtless considered this as a spiritual matter, and as such falling properly within the exclusive jurisdiction of the venerable court. It was, however, but fair, that he should make hon. Members aware that such a notice had been given, and that in voting for his motion they might expose themselves to ecclesiastical censure. All this, notwithstanding, he felt it his duty to persevere in his determination of calling the attention of the House to the petitions which he had presented for the collieries in Scotland. They were ten in number, besides petitions from other bodies and individuals unconnected with the collieries, such as that he had this day presented from the magistrates and town council of Falkirk, —and besides the signatures of many hundred men, the signatures of upwards of 1,000 females were, he believed, attached to them. They all complained of the same grievance;—they all sought the same remedy. An hon. Member had remarked to him, that on some of these petitions, many of the signatures appeared to be written by the same hand. He had inquired as to this, and was assured by Mr. Bruce of Kennet, formerly a Member of the House, and by a schoolmaster who had transmitted one of the petitions, that all the parties were present and consenting when, at their own request, a comrade signed for them. In bringing this matter before them, he was anxious not to trespass at greater length on the indulgence of the House than might be necessary to lay the reasonableness and urgency of the prayer of the petitioners fairly before it. Nothing but a sense of the duty which he owed to a most useful and meritorious class of his countrymen, who had entrusted their petitions to his care, and confided their cause to his advocacy, combined with a strong conviction that they complained of a real and substantial grievance inflicted on them by the re- 432 cent, and he must add, precipitate legislation of Parliament—a grievance which justice, and humanity rightly understood, alike called on them to remedy, could have induced him to call the particular attention of the House to these petitions, or to conclude with the motion of which he had given notice, of asking leave to bring in a bill in accordance with the prayer of the petitions. In doing so, he felt that it was very necessary for him to claim the particular indulgence of the House, for he was not insensible to the prejudice which at first sight might be created in the minds of hon. Members against what might appear, and might be represented as an attempt to go back from that advance in the career of merciful and generous legislation in favor of the working classes which the House had so recently sanctioned, and he exposed himself with reluctance to the imputation of wishing to recede from it. But if ever there was an occasion on which the details, the realities, so to speak, of humanity, had been sacrificed in the endeavour to carry its principles on a large and sweeping scale into practical effect, the case of the bill against one of the provisions of which these petitioners appealed, furnished that occasion;—and such being his conviction, he could not allow his fear of that imputation, nor even his approval of the principle and general details of the bill itself, to blind him as to the individual hardship and suffering which has inevitably been caused by it, nor to dispense him from the obligation of endeavouring to persuade the House to obviate that suffering and that hardship. He did so the more willingly, because the infliction of them was not necessary—was not required to give effect to the principle of that bill—of its principle, generally, he approved. He gave the noble Lord the author of it, the fullest credit for the motives by which he was actuated in bringing it forward. He was persuaded, that his motives were those of the purest benevolence, of the most anxious desire to benefit the labouring classes of his countrymen. But, unhappily, the purity and benevolence of his motives did not exempt him from liability to failure in the choice of the means by which he might endeavour to give them practical effect, and the very intensity of that zeal in the cause of humanity by which he was so eminently distinguished, which did him so much honor, and which had secured for him in so high a degree the gratitude and admiration of his country,—sentiments in which he en- 433 tirely participated,—had a tendency to make him overlook the practical difficulties in his way, and the amount of suffering and distress which might arise from his attempts to attain too rapidly, and without sufficient caution, the objects he had so meritoriously in view. That a great amount of suffering and distress must be occasioned, and has been caused by that part of the enactment of which these petitioners complained, unless Parliament interposed to prevent it, he could not for a moment doubt, and he did trust that their case had but to be plainly and simply stated to the House to induce it—nay, to induce the noble Lord himself, to grant them the relief for which they prayed. Now, their case was simply this. But before stating it, he would tell the House the extent of relief for which they prayed. He had no wish to interfere with the principle of the bill of last Session, the principle being, that eventually all female labour in the mines should cease. He only wished that it should be carried out without causing unnecessary distress. He did not desire, the petitioners did not desire, that the law should be relaxed, so far as married women, or young persons under eighteen years of age were affected by it. All the colliers with whom he had conversed, admitted, that it was desirable that married women should be excluded from the mines, and left at liberty to attend to the care of their families, and the comfort of their homes; in fact, in many of the collieries they had long been practically excluded. They were not so unanimous as to the exclusion of young women under eighteen years of age; but, agreeing as he was disposed to do in deference to the general opinion, that it was desirable that female labour below ground in the collieries should cease, and convinced that this result would be brought about by the exclusion of females under eighteen, since none who had not commenced and been accustomed to this employment before that age, would ever take to it afterwards. He did not propose, that the employment of females under eighteen years of age should any longer be permitted. What he desired to persuade the House to sanction was this—that those females above the age of eighteen, unmarried or widows, till very lately, working in the collieries, should be permitted, if so it pleased them, to continue at such employment. This was the whole length to which he would ask the House to go; it seemed a small concession, but it was one which would 434 prevent a vast amount of suffering and distress. Now, the case of these poor people was simply this: they had been brought up to this employment, and were scarcely capable of any other; but even if capable of it, other employment was not open to them. Hon. Members conversant with the coal districts of Scotland were aware that a prejudice, a very unfounded one, he admitted, existed against employing persons brought up in the collieries. He said, unfounded, because as far as his observation enabled him to judge, the colliers, in regard to their orderly and moral conduct, were superior to some, and equal to most classes of the population, and the petitions which he had presented were accompanied by certificates from the ministers and elders of the parishes within which those collieries were situated which amply bore him out in that assertion; but notwithstanding, the prejudice, from whatever cause arising, existed,—they were looked on as a distinct race,—they seldom intermarried with the other labouring classes, the nature of their employment prevented much intercourse, and so it was that they would have the greatest difficulty in finding employment as household servants or agricultural labourers even if a demand for such labour existed; but none such exists. So great is the depression in agriculture, that the greatest difficulty was experienced in keeping on the old hands at fair wages. But if no such demand existed among the farmers, still less did it exist among the manufacturers. Some of these collieries, for instance, were in the immediate neighbourhood of Dunfermline, a large manufacturing town. But for many months past, the greatest distress, arising from want of employment existed amongst its population. So far back as last November upwards of 1600 persons, weavers and those depending on them in that town were totally destitute of employment. He was assured, that since that period the number had increased rather than diminished. A gentleman well acquainted with the facts, Mr. Grier, had so assured him in a letter written in February last, and added,That though many were still living on their own resources, those resources must soon be exhausted, and the number of claimants on the funds raised by voluntary charity, be greatly increased.He agreed with his correspondent in trusting that Parliament would not think it right to increase this number by adding to it many hundreds of women now earn- 435 ing an assured and comfortable subsistence at an occupation to which they had been brought up, with which they were familiar, which they liked, which they preferred to any other,—their petitions so assured Government,—and driving them by the obligation of law into forced idleness and inevitable destitution. The law was dictated by a desire to improve their condition, to elevate their morals, to raise their characters;—surely idleness and destitution were bad teachers of morals,—indifferent instruments for the elevation of character,—sorry means for bettering their condition. He entreated the House not to subject them to teachers so severe. But he would go farther and say, that even if the manufacturing prosperity of Dunfermline should revive,—and God grant it might soon revive, for it had long exhibited a picture of suffering deeply painful to contemplate, though it had been borne with a submission and fortitude which it would be impossible too highly to commend; but even if it should revive, and a demand for labour in its now silent workshops and factories should arise,—he denied that they would better either the condition or morals of these Women by transferring them from the mines to the factories. He had no wish to speak disparagingly of any class,— but he did not believe that the women employed in the collieries of Scotland had any thing to learn in the way of improved morality from those brought up in the factories; and assuredly the statements made recently in the House by the noble Lord himself as to the deplorable and disgraceful state of things existing in the manufacturing districts of England in regard to morals, rendered it unnecessary for him to adduce any proof in support of that assertion. But then as regarded the comparative healthiness of the two occupations, the thing was a hundred to one in favour of the mines. The evidence reported by the sub-commissioner Mr. Franks from the Elgin colliery, gave a case which placed this beyond all doubt, and, therefore, with the permission of the House he would read it. He quoted from the appendix to the first report of the commissioners p. 497.Helen Weir—began to work when nine years old; wrought three years at a factory, and four years in the Elgin colliery. I left the factory work as the stour (dust in a state of motion) mademehoarse, and my legs swelled with the long standing—sister who works with me below tried the factory after me, and left it for the same reason. We have taken to the pit as the hours are not so long nor confining 436 —we; work eight or nine hours daily, and get 1s. 4d. a day—at the coals have ten and eleven days work in the fortnight, but the factory masters made us work twelve days and paid 11d.—reads and writes well, is very intelligent, and can knit and tambour.Here then they had the case of two young girls who had been brought up in the mines, tried the factories, lost their health from the severity of the labour and the unhealthy atmosphere — the stour, meaning probably what has been aptly termed the " devil's dust," returned of their own free choice to the colliery,—recovered their health there, and were as the sub-commissioner reports, remarkably intelligent and well educated. All the medical certificates, of which he held many in his hand from the gentlemen who attended these collieries, affirmed the same conclusion. He should not detain the House by reading them, but there was one from a gentleman whose name justly carried with it such high authority in all matters connected with the humbler classes, to advance whose comfort and happiness seemed the main object of his exertions,—he alluded to Professor Alison—that he was sure the House would allow him to read it. Writing to Dr. Hamilton of Falkirk, a gentleman who had also taken a most benevolent interest in these poor people, Professor Alison says,I always thought the prohibition of female labour in mines a hasty measure, and that regulations would be more efficient for the benefit of the poor themselves. Your paper confirms this belief; still it is of great importance to find the Legislature acknowledging the principle of acting for the protection of the lives and health of the community, as well as for the protection of property and wealth.In a subsequent letter of the 6th May he says,I have no objection to your making any use you please of the opinion I gave you on the employment of females in mines, provided only you give the whole sentence, in which I say something of the importance of the Legislature recognising the health and comfort of the people as a fit object of its care. It is not easy to get persons who do not know the practical condition of the poor to understand, that the greatest of their evils is poverty, and want of employment the worst form of poverty.So far Dr. Alison—Dr. Walker, a highly respectable magistrate residing in Stirlingshire, and no coal owner, bears testimony to the same facts. Writing to him on the subject of a meeting held in the parish of Polmont, on the 24th of March, 437 to consider the distress occasioned by the act, 200 females having been thrown by it in that single parish out of work. He says,The meeting examined several of the work-people, both men and women, and were satisfied that none of the abuses had prevailed which had given occasion to the passing of the act. Two of the females who appeared before it had been employed as domestic servants before they went to work in the pits, but said they much preferred the latter as not such hard work, and all of them considered it easier than field labour, and more healthy as being less exposed to the vicissitudes and inclemencies of the weather. This statement as to the healthiness of the employment was confirmed by others not immediately connected with the works, among others by the parish minister, who also gave the strongest testimony in favor of the state of morals among them.The sub-commissioner, Mr. Tancred too, in his report, of which he should only say that it stood in most favorable contrast for fairness with that of Mr. Franks, at page 345 of his report, speaks most favorably of the physical condition of the colliers, and at page 324 he states, that Putting (the work chiefly done by women) is not severe. He says,Thus the drawing, though occasionally hard work, admits of frequent periods of rest and refreshment. I heard of no complaints from the children of over-fatigue, or of being oppressed by the workmen for whom they draw, who are usually the father, elder brother, or nearest relation, nor do medical men attribute any physical injury to drawing.He (Mr. C. Bruee) trusted he had said enough to prove the healthiness of the employment. He should now recal to the House the fact that at present, even if it were otherwise, there was no question of transferring the labour of these people to the factories. He had already shown that the population employed in them was pressed down by the excess of supply over the demand for labour, and he would entreat the House not to suffer the Legislation of the country to add to that excess, and thus augment an amount of suffering already sufficiently grievous. The House must recollect that there are in Scotland no laws entitling the able-bodied unemployed poor to relief—and he was one of those who entertained a very strong opinion that as far as the labouring classes were themselves concerned, they Were much better without them,—indeed, in such a case as the present distress at Dunfermline, as in that recently existing in Paisley, suffici- 438 ent relief was obviously beyond the reach of any Poor-law; at Paisley, for example, the Whole property of the parish would not have maintained the unemployed for three months —but such a law, if it existed, might have held out a present, though a miserable, shelter to these poor people. No such refuge, however, was open to them. The law against which they implored the House to protect them, would condemn not only themselves, but as in their own touching language they tell you "their aged parents and young brothers and sisters to want and destitution." To him it seemed impossible that the House, that the noble Lord himself should seek to maintain it to this extent. [Lord Ashley here made some observation.] The noble Lord said, put your hands in your pockets. He was astonished to hear the noble Lord treat the distress of these poor people so lightly. Did he know the circumstances of the lessees of the mines? Did he know that the depression in every branch of trade had not reached them—was this an answer to these people, reduced by his legislation to destitution — did he pretend to guarantee to them this relief. He was astonished at the course the noble Lord seemed resolved to follow—he regretted it for the noble Lord's own sake. The noble Lord was raising up obstacles against his own future progress in his attempts to legislate for the poor. He might depend upon it that people would apply to such legislation the principles of common humanity and common sense, and when they saw him producing distress of this fearful kind, and treating it so lightly when produced, while they did not question his motives, they would be induced to doubt his judgment, and consider him any thing rather than a safe guide in such matters. But, however the noble Lord might view it, he trusted the House would not seek to maintain the law to this extent. It was passed precipitately, without sufficient deliberation, on evidence very loosely taken, on statements of facts greatly exaggerated. For himself, he confessed that he was disposed to view with suspicion the evidence taken by sub-commissioners in most instances, and he thought he could show the House that he was justified in such suspicion. They were not unfrequently nominated in consequence of their known opinions of a particular cast. They sat about their enquiries, with perfect honesty he doubted not, but with their minds previously made up that all evidence should be received with suspicion 439 which did not tend to confirm conclusions of the soundness and justice of which they were already convinced. The conduct of the gentleman who reported on the collieries from which the petitions he had presented proceeded, proved in how cursory a way he had conducted his enquiries. He did not go below ground. He did not see the women at their work. He contented himself with examining such of them as he found accidentally in their houses, or at the pit-mouth, and then retired to take, like Falstaff, "his ease at his inn," and arrange the information he had thus received, and make drawings, not of what he had seen, but embodying the impressions which an imagination fertile in horrors had suggested. Now he (Mr. C. Bruce) did not wish the House to take this on his authority—he would prove it. Mr. Grier, the manager of the Elgin Colliery wrote as follows:—The sub-commissioner, Mr. Franks, reports pretty accurately the evidence he received from the young persons with whom he came in contact; they were seven in number, of whom only one was a person of any experience. He did not go down our pits, nor see any of the females actually at their employments. He only remained a short time at the pit-head, and saw a few females ascending and descending the shaft; and I have been informed by the managers of Wellwood, Town-hill, Halbeath, Fordell, and Donnibristle collieries, that he did not descend any of their pits, nor see the women at their employment; and to the want of personal inspection I am led to conclude that several inaccuracies have occurred in the general report with regard to the height of the roads, &c. that the females are employed in, and their positions when at work. The height of the road is frequently stated at the height of the seam, but though it may be very thin, the roads for conveying the coal are always made high for the convenience of the Putters.This gives the evidence of six collieries. Mr. Dawson, manager of Carron works, writes,Mr. Franks, who visited our collieries, appears to have had little to find fault with, though there are many inaccuracies in his report. He did not go down our pits, nor see the people at their work; but got all his information by making enquiries above ground.He could multiply quotations from other collieries, asserting the same thing; and, really he could attach little value to evidence so collected. But this was not his principal complaint against the report on which these mines were condemned, and the evidence on which the law was passed. 440 For the first time, in any report of evidence presented to the House on a great public question of this sort, the royal road was taken of communicating information through the eye. Engravings were presented for the edification of hon. Members who had no time for reading, or of that still more numerous class who might be frightened by the bulk of two ponderous volumes, exhibiting the women in every possible condition of degradation and suffering. But, surely those who looked at the report, and trusted to it for enabling them to form an accurate judgment, had a right to suppose that those drawings, thus presented in a grave public document, were made from actual observation, and exhibited the result of what the reporter had actually seen; sketches, in short, from nature, taken on the spot. No such thing. He would take the case of Margaret Heaps, the worst and most revolting of these representations. Mr. Franks thus describes her at p. 383, sec. 8, of his report:—The workings in the narrow seams are sometimes 100 to 200 yards from the main roads, so that the females have to crawl backwards and forwards with their small carts, in seams, in many cases, not exceeding twenty-two to twenty-eight inches in height. This will be found illustrated in the case of Margaret Heaps, coal-putter, numbered 231 in the evidence.And then the engraving is inserted—The danger and the difficulty of dragging on roads, dipping from one in three to one in six feet, may be more easily conceived than explained; and the state in which the females are after pulling like horses through these holes—their perspiration, their exhaustion, and very frequently their tears, it is painful in the extreme to witness.Now he (Mr. C. Bruce) begged the House to mark this expression. Mr. Franks said, it was painful in the extreme to witness the state of this poor Margaret Heaps. Now, what if he should prove that Mr. Franks had never witnessed it at all; never personally inspected the mine in which she worked—never saw her at her work, and that the whole story was one of pure imagination. Could the House trust to such a report, to such a reporter—and if he showed that this was a case of the grossest exaggeration and inaccuracy, should he not throw grave doubts on every other similar statement of this reporter. Mr. Franks went on to give the evidence of this woman as follows:—My employment is, after reaching the 441 wall-face, to fill a bogie or slype with two and a-half to three hundred weight of coal. I then hook it on to my chain and drag it through the seam, which is twenty-two to twenty-eight inches high, till I get to the main road, a good distance, probably from 200 to 400 yards; the pavement I drag over is wet, and I am obliged at all times to crawl on my hands and feet. I throw the contents of the bogies into the carts till they are filled, and then run them on the iron rails to the shaft, a distance of 400 or 500 yards.In a note to this, the floor is described as " soft and slushy." He should now show the House what the real state of this case was, and on the evidence of the overseer of the mine in which she worked, on that of a highly respectable gentleman who had no interest in the mines, but such as his humanity prompted him to take; on the evidence of the woman herself, voluntarily emitted in a deposition made before and certified by the provost of Falkirk, and signed by her own hand, he would prove that Mr. Franks had never seen her at her work, and had grossly exaggerated its nature, extent, and circumstances.
Mr. Dawson thus wrote.—In the evidence regarding Standrigg colliery, Mr. Franks has given a very erroneous account of the nature of the work of females, and has made a gross caricature of a female drawing coals in it.—(Report, p. 95; App. P. 1, p. 383). Alexander Borrowman, who was overseer of that colliery when Mr. Franks visited it, is now overseer at Kinnaird, and on my showing him Mr. Franks account of the evidence of Margaret Heaps, at once pronounced it very incorrect, and has written a letter to you giving the real state of the pit, and of the work performed by Margaret Heaps, which I now inclose. If you can understand Borrowman's letter, and compare it with the evidence, you will find that Mr. Franks is altogether incorrect in the principal points. He describes her as drawing a bogie or slype from 200 to 400 yards through the seam, where the height of the coal was from twenty-six to twenty-eight inches. Borrowman says, she seldom drew any coals in the height of the seam, which was from twenty-eight to thirty inches, the bogie she used had four wheels, which ran on a good hard pavement, and that at most she could not have drawn it more than ten yards, instead of from 200 to 400, ten yards being the greatest distance that any of the colliers could possibly have to draw in the height of the seam on each side of the road leading to the pit bottom. Mr. Franks made another great mistake in stating the distance the coals were drawn on the tubs or carts from the wall-face to the pit bottom at 500 yards. Borrowman says, it was only about 110 yards. I have every reason to believe, that Borrow- 442 man's account is substantially correct, and that the account given in the printed evidence, as well probably as many other similar statements, is extremely incorrect, or highly exaggerated, and twisted to suit a particular purpose.He would not detain the House by reading Borrowman's letter which he held in his hand, and which exactly confirmed Mr. Dawson's account of it; but he must beg leave to read the letter of Mr. Henry Aitken. This gentleman, as his hon. Friend beside him, the Member for Stirlingshire informed him, had been a great advocate for excluding females from the mines. His letter showed the circumstances which had induced him to change his opinion as regarded those recently employed. He might here say, that the petition presented to the meeting to which Mr. Aitken referred, was written by a working collier. He had it before him, and it did the writer great credit. But Mr. Aitken's letter showed also some of the bad effects which, as regarded the education of the colliers, the bill was producing, and therefore he would read it:—I sometime ago attended a meeting at Larhert along with Sir Michael Brace, the rev. Mr. Bonar, Mr. Stirling of Glenbervie, and the manager for Carron company, in order to receive a deputation from the women formerly employed in the coal-works at Kinnaird and Carron-hall, who gave an account of the great wretchedness and want occasioned amongst them by being against their own inclinations prevented from working, and being satisfied of the unjustness of the act which has so materially injured the condition of these women, I have since taken a deep interest in the matter.I could put little confidence in Mr. Franks's report, and notes of evidence as he seems to me to have acted only on one side of the question.There is an important fact, and which in my opinion, goes far to vitiate Mr. Franks's report, that he did not in this quarter go down a single pit, without doing which any thing like an idea of the state of the work-people while under ground could not be got.I learned that the witness, Margaret Heaps, denied that her evidence had been accurately reported. I sent for her, and she came down to-day along with her father, and I inclose a declaration made by her, which speaks for itself and shows the inaccuracy of Mr. Franks's notes of evidence. You will observe, that she has signed her declaration with her own hand.Margaret Heaps' father being able to work, she is not in want; but there are few cases where the women are removed which has not been attended with very detrimental 443 consequences, and the present is not an exception, as her father informed me that he had a son aged about twelve, when the bill passed. He was at this time at school, and evinced very considerable talent; so much so, that he was determined to give him the very best education which his circumstances would permit; but when he was by the act deprived of the services of his daughter, he found he was not able to keep the boy at school, support his family, and keep a drawer; and he was reluctantly forced to take him from school and put him in his sister's place in the pit. The father has all the appearance of what, in Scotland, we call a decent man, and has good ' common sense;' and he considered it hard, that people who must either starve or work, should not be allowed to carry their labour to the only market open for it.He (Mr. C. Bruce) had also before him the deposition of Margaret Heaps herself. He would only trouble the House with extracts from it. It entirely confirmed the account given by Borrowman, denying that Mr. Franks had accurately reported her evidence. She affirmed,—That the side roads, instead of 400 did not exceed nine yards; that the work in them was done by her brothers, the family consisting of ten children; that she never worked in those low roads except occasionally, and of her own accord, to forward the work. That it was not true that the road on which she worked was wet; it was hard and dry, and from four to six feet high. That it was not true that time was not allowed for meals, as an hour was allowed for breakfast, and one for dinner. That she preferred the work to field labour. That their food was nutritious and sufficient; and not such as was described in the report. That of her own accord she sometimes worked an extra shift, that she might get money to purchase better clothes to enable her to attend church, which she did regularly, not being absent above twice in the year. That she attended the communion; and knew that the other colliers attended church as regularly as any class, and perhaps more so.And her deposition is certified by the Provost of Falkirk, in whose presence she read a chapter of the Bible, and signed her own name. He trusted he had now disposed of the case of Margaret Heaps. He had dwelt on it more particularly, because if he showed exaggeration and inaccuracy in her case, it proved that the report was not deserving of confidence. Now the consequence of this sort of proceeding—he alluded to the engravings by which the report was illustrated — was, that a general impression was most unfairly conveyed, that such descriptions applied to all mines in general, and that such revolt- 444 ing labour was a necessary condition of working in the mines; and thus, what might have been an approach to truth in some one or two mines, which, if true called loudly for correction, and might have been easily corrected, was applied in the minds of persons uninformed on the subject, to all collieries without exception. This was unfair and improper in the extreme. Nothing of the sort represented in these works of imagination existed in the mines from which these petitions proceeded. They were perfectly dry; the height of the roads rendered no irksome posture necessary; the people descend to their work by stairs, or in a way perfectly safe and commodious; iron rails are laid below ground; and the women worked together, or under the eye of their parents and relatives, as was indeed fairly stated in the much fairer report of Mr. Tancred. Was it then fitting that the House, under such circumstances should persevere in an enactment against which those affected by it unanimously protest? Now when he said they unanimously protested, he knew it would be said that these petitions had been got up and signed at the bidding of the proprietors and managers of the mines. True, their statements as to the moral condition and health of the collier population were confirmed by the certificates of the ministers and elders, and medical men who attended them; —but they too were under the influence of the coal-owners, and dared not refuse their request. He could only say, that whoever made such an assertion did it in entire ignorance of the character of the ministers and medical practitioners in Scotland, and he contented himself with assuring the House that such assertion was totally groundless. He asserted that these petitions did not originate in any such influence, they proceeded, motu proprio, from the workpeople themselves. This was no coal-owners question. In the mines with which he was acquainted, the exclusion or retention of the women employed up to the 1st of March, was as a matter of profit, one of very slight importance. He could truly assert that he had never received a single communication on the subject from a single coal owner in Scotland. He had taken it up solely at the earnest request of the colliers themselves. The only coal-owner whose opinion he had consulted was one who had a very small interest in coal property, and that interest could not be affected by the cost at which the coal was raised, for he was paid by a fixed rent, 445 or royalty, which did not vary with the price paid for raising the coal—that coal-owner was himself. He need scarcely disclaim any personal motives, having so frequently stated to the House that he was influenced to interfere solely by the representations of the workpeople themselves; and he would say the same of the only two managers who had communicated with him. When in Scotland, last summer, at the time of the passing of the Colliery Bill, being detained there by the delicate health of a member of his family, he had been waited on by a deputation of colliers, whose families had long been settled in the neighbourhood, imploring him to use his influence to prevent the passing of the clause against which they now petitioned. They were common working-men, but they spoke with an energy and eloquence which nothing but truth, and a strong conviction of the evils which threatened them, could have inspired. There was no influence of the manager used to prompt their earnest pleadings in behalf of their own female relatives, and of their old and infirm fellow-labourers in the mines, till now supported in comfortable independence by the pious labours of their children. And why should the House desire to interfere with this charity, which if any, was surely doubly blest, that offered by a dutiful child to an affectionate parent? One of them, a man advanced in years, and who had brought up a large family in respectability, besought him (Mr. C. Bruce) to allow him to bring his two daughters that he might hear them speak for themselves. " There were not," he said " twa bonnier lasses, or better conducted in the parish." Another, in February last, walked nearly thirty miles that he might put his petition into his (Mr. C. Bruce's) own hand. Having missed him in the morning, he walked for hours before the door where he expected to find him, being resolved, he said, not to return home till he had delivered it. He entered at great length into the subject of it, and showed many letters which he had received from various hon. Members with whom he had corresponded. Letters which he (Mr. C. Bruce must say justified his remark on most of the writers,—" that they seemed no to ken muckle about the matter." All, however, promised their attention to the case, some, as the hon. Member for Greenock, wrote with much kindness and feeling. Let him then implore the House not to turn a deaf ear to the petitions of such people. There is distress enough in 446 the country without your seeking to aggravate it by such legislation; and when the House considered the orderly and peaceable conduct by which, in general, the colliers had been distinguished in the most excited times, he did trust that they would be considered as entitled to have some voice in deciding on the enactment of a law by which they were so materially, he had almost said, exclusively, affected. But, perhaps, in alluding to the orderly conduct of the collier population — to the absence of crime by which they are characterized—he was injuring rather than advancing the cause which he had undertaken to advocate. True, the report of sub-commissioners who had reported on the collieries for which the petitions he had presented proceeded, confirmed all he could say in this respect. He quoted the prison returns of the district in proof of that exemption, and they bore him out to the fullest extent. But what were the conclusions he drew from the facts thus established—not that we were to read in them a proof that the habits of the colliers were such as to entitle them to our commendation—and their occupation such as, morally speaking, to produce results which called for our approval—but that this very orderly conduct, this exemption from outrage and crime, furnished an additional evidence, if not that their habits were degraded, at least that their occupation was destructive of the energies and qualities of free-born men. He had said before, that these commissioners were liable to act under the influence of preconceived impressions, and disposed to receive with suspicion all evidence, if not to distort all facts, which did not tend to confirm their preconceived impressions; and really the remarks of this sub-commissioner Franks on this branch of his inquiry furnished an instance so palpable and so flagrant of this species of perversion, that he would read to the House that part of the report to which he referred. He would at the same time satisfy the House, that he was not overstating the claims of the colliers, on the ground of their orderly conduct, and their exemption from crime. At page 404, sec. 104, of his report, Mr. Franks says:—In the enumeration of the leading characteristics of the collier community, it would be wrong to pass over the state of crime as it exists among them, such being generally considered as a tolerably good test of the condition and character of a people; and in the pursuit of my inquiry it has often struck me as 447 singular, that this branch of the subject had [not attracted the particular attention of the numerous class to whom I have had occasion to address myself; but in truth, as far as I have been able to judge of the character of the class under consideration, they are more distinguished by an absence of energy, than by that activity of mind which excites to crime; and the prison returns for the year ending 1839, which I have inserted below, sustain my preconceived opinion.The House would mark this conclusion: was he not right in saying, that with preconceived opinions, these gentlemen set about their inquiries?—but Mr. Franks proceeded to give the prisons' returns— they were as follows:—Alloa, Clackmannanshire: Only 1 prisoner—1 above the average.—Clackmannanshire; No murder or highway robbery during the year, and no heinous offence of any kind; —a good deal of petty crime.—Stirlingshire: Many offences of a petty kind; none serious. —Bothkonnar is particularly noticed as free from crime.—Haddingtonshire: Greatest number of prisoners 22; lowest 5; population 36,000.—Linlithgowshire: 44 prisoners during the year, out of a population of about 27,000. —Dunfermline: Greatest number of prisoners at one time; lowest 2; no serious crime.Section 105.—For Stirling the borough gaol of Falkirk returns 57 as the number of prisoners, out of which 2 are colliers.—For Stirling county, no colliers.—In Haddingtonshire 34, out of which 4 are colliers.—In Dunfermline, 25; of whom 9 are colliers.Section 106.—Now, when it is considered that this return extends over at least 5,000 heads of families, who are engaged as hewers, out of a collier population of nearly 30,000, the state of crime must be looked upon as very favourable (non meus hie sermo), and this view of the subject is in perfect accordance with the general opinion of those gentlemen, who being thoroughly acquainted with the character and bent of the colliers, both individually, and as a class, have favoured me with the result of their observations.Again he states:—That the average amount of illegitimate children born in the course of a year is about one in forty, which when the want of education in the people, and the unrestricted intercourse of the sexes, in consequence of their labouring together in the same pits, are taken into the account, is, by no means, high.He should presently show, that the reporter was in error in both these circumstances which he proposes to take into the account. Again, in section 110, he says—The district, and objects over which this inquiry extended, presented the aspect of a laborious, uneducated, and uncomplaining population—a population of few vices.448 And he quotes a Mr. Ross, who says of the colliers:—They are always respectful, and sometimes warmly attached to their employers, and exhibit none of the pert and discourteous behaviour of the manufacturer; they listen with cheerfulness and much seriousness to the ministers of the gospel who come amongst them; they show, and probably feel less jealousy of their superiors in rank and fortune than is generally shown by other artizans, and they intermeddle not with politics.And in section 111, Mr. Franks thus summed up his observations:—A population including 7,000 or 8,000 heads of families, leading a mere animal existence, without religious character, without political bias, without political representation, in short, without political status whatever— such and so simple is the character of the people amongst whom my labours have been pursued.''Now, he would ask the House, was it possible to draw conclusions more unwarranted, more unfair, more unjust, more monstrously absurd, than were thus drawn by this learned gentleman from the data on which he founded them. The absence of crime Mr. Franks cannot deny. In the parish of Bothkennar, noted in the prison returns as altogether free from crime, the far greater number of the population round its church are colliers in the employment of the Carron company, whose petition was before the House. Yet instead of ascribing it to them as a merit, he insinuates it as a fault. He reads in it a proof of want of energy, of want of intelligence, of deficiency in the qualities by which free men ought to be distinguished; it confirms his preconceived impressions, and to get rid of so lamentable a state of things, to inspire the colliers with a distaste for the restraints of morality and law, to imbue them with a commendable alacrity in their violation, he calls on you so to legislate as to wipe out this stain of apathy from their characters. He tells you that they are industrious, peaceable, contented—distinguished by few crimes, or rather by an exemption from crime; and he uses the terms reproachfully—scarcely a single cold expression, interlarded for decency sake, of satisfaction that such is the character of these people, escapes from him. Is it not monstrous, that he should not have had the common sense, or the common candour to attribute these results to their true source—that source established as the true one by the certificates of the ministers and elders of the parishes in which these collieries are situated, the only source from 449 which such qualities among such a population can flow—their knowledge of their duty to God, and as flowing from that knowledge, their practice, in resignation and contentedness, of the duties of their station towards their fellow men. To him, (Mr. C. Bruce) it seemed that these qualities, thus damned by faintest praise, were just those which we ought most to prize, most to cultivate in the working population, just those, which in a moral point of view, raised them to an equality with ourselves, and therefore on their possession those qualities he urged on the House their claim to its consideration, He confessed he found it difficult to account for the extraordinary conclusions on which he had been remarking, unless on a supposition suggested by certain words in the report—speaking of the characteristics of the colliers, Mr. Franks says, they areWithout political bias, without political representation, in short (the master-evil) without political status whatever.Now, it might be, that Mr. Franks was an ultra-Liberal in politics, and like many gentlemen holding extreme opinions of that sort, conscientiously and firmly held the opinion that all other qualities were worthless and of no account where the blight of indifference to political franchise had fallen on and withered them. Now, was Mr. Franks an ultra-Liberal? The noble Lord gave no answer; probably he did not know, or it might be a little ruse, a pious fraud, to excite the sympathies and secure the votes of hon. Gentlemen opposite, whose abstract principles of political economy, he apprehended, might disincline them to sanction a bill which so materially interfered with those principles. But then surely the proper remedy was to admit them to the franchise—not to exclude the women from the mines. But it might be said, that in thus urging the general good conduct and good qualities of the collier population, and in remarking, as he had felt it his duty to do, on the inaccuracies of the reports, as far as they related to the collieries from which he had presented petitions, on the faith of which the bill of last Session was passed, he was going beyond the limited objects his motion had in view, that he was laying the ground of protest against the whole bill, to the general principle of which he had professed his adherence, and that such a course of observation justified the suspicion that such was in reality the object he had in view. He protested most earnestly 450 against any such inference. The condition and character of these petitioners, had been represented as such, and so degraded that nothing short of the measure of last Session could be effectually applied to elevate and improve them. He wished to show, that the disease and its symptoms had been exaggerated,—it, was incumbent on him to prove this, in order to satisfy the House that remedies gentler and more gradual in their operation would suffice for its cure. But the opinion of the public had been pronounced on its existence, it had been pronounced against the permanently continued employment of females in the mines; and he bowed to that opinion. It had been pronounced in the name of humanity; he desired that the interests of humanity should not be outraged in the name of humanity. The procession to her temple would not be rendered more sacred—not more acceptable to the divinity whom they desired to honour, by the number of victims crushed beneath the wheels of her chariot, or trampled on by the throng of worshippers which bore it onwards in triumph irresistible to her shrine. He had shown that such sacrifice of human comfort, and human life, for such it would be if destitution and misery tended to shorten life—was not necessary towards carrying out the principle of the bill. Public opinion had been pronounced, it had been pronounced against the continued employment of females in the mines, and he acquiesced in the verdict. It had been pronounced on the grounds of humanity, to such grounds only, he had addressed himself. The political economist might tell them, and tell them not without reason, that they were not justified in interfering, as the bill of last Session did interfere, with the only property of a large class of the people—their labour; that they were not justified in dictating to persons of mature age, of an age sufficiently mature to judge for themselves, in what channel they should turn that labour to account. But he was no political economist, and he desired not to use any such argument. Something of ignorance, something of misrepresentation; much, he believed, of exaggeration had contributed to create in the public mind the feeling to which he referred; but it was based on good, on praiseworthy, on generous motives; and such motives, regulated by prudence and common sense, and by a due regard to the actual circumstances of society, could scarce lead to results of which he was disposed to be apprehensive. He agreed then in the 451 verdict; he was willing that it should regulate the eventual future course of employment in the collieries; but he desired, that such considerations of prudence and common sense, that such regard for the actual circumstances of society should preside over its application. He had not wished to detain the House by entering into many details of individuals cases showing the distress and privation occasioned by the operation of the law which he wished the House to alter. Hundreds of such cases had been sent to him, and in justice to the sufferers he would refer to a few of them. At the meeting to which he had referred, presided over by Dr. Walker in the parish of Polmont, it appeared that from one mine alone that of the Redding, ninety-three females were discharged. It would be a low estimate to say, that an equal number depended on them for the means of subsistence. Among the other persons examined was a young woman, by name Forbes. She was one of six unmarried daughters of a widowed mother; five of them had worked on the Redding colliery, earning each 7s. 6d. of weekly wages—the sixth remained at home to take care of the house and the widowed mother, who was thus supported in comfort and comparative affluence—it was their pride and boast that no stranger contributed to her support. On the 1st of March, they were dismissed from their employment, and were now going about the country in a state of destitution, in search of employment which was not to he found, and their mother, as an aged and infirm person entitled to legal relief, was thrown for relief on the parish. He could state many such cases; but he would say, Ex uno disce omnes. The work people examined at that meeting complained of the inaccuracies and exaggerations of the report of Mr. Franks, and that he had shown an evident unwillingness to listen to any evidence which bore favourably on the state and character of the colliers. At the Elgin colliery, 108 females were dismissed, their weekly earnings amounting to 4s., nearly 1,600l. annually. There were seventy-nine individuals entirely depending on the earnings of thirty-eight of these females, and now quite destitute. The remaining seventy belonged to families which had still a father or brothers employed in the works, and which though not reduced to absolute want, had their incomes reduced from 3l. to 20s. a-week, according to the number of the family thus dismissed 452 from employment. Besides the loss of wages, obtained by working only five days in the week, they would in many instances lose the advantage which all those colliers enjoyed of a free house and fuel at a nominal price, of itself no small consideration, for in such a climate as Scotland a good fire was called equal to meat, drink, and clothing. He need not suggest to the House the distress which such diminution in the earnings of a poor family must occasion. They felt it to he nearly intolerable, and besides the distress, this improvident law was causing a universal feeling of irritation and discontent among a hitherto happy and contented population. He called on his right hon. Friend the Secretary for the Home Department to look to this; his right hon. Friend was responsible for the peace and tranquillity of the country, and neither peace nor loyalty could be expected to exist if such distress were allowed to prevail. He (Mr. C. Bruce) would show the House the way in which the partial reduction of wages operated, even where a whole family was not thrown out of employment. There was a case in a return which he held in his hand from the Townhill colliery, whose petition had been printed. William Spouart had earned 15s. per week as a coal-hewer; two of his daughters, working with him below ground, earned 13s., thus making the earnings of the family 1l., 8s. per week. The dismissal of the daughters reduced them by 13s., and the father being obliged to put his own coal, or to pay a stranger for doing it, could only earn 7s. 6.d. His means were thus reduced more than 11. per week. This man had three other children under nine years of age, one of them blind—and this was called humanity. At the Elgin colliery, widow Peter Weir had six daughters and one son employed, earning 21. 8s. per week; the wages of her family were reduced to 6s. per week. Another widow of the same name, had three daughters and one son at work, earning 1 6s. per week, their weekly earnings were likewise reduced to 6s. weekly, and she had to support three other infant children. He would not weary the House by more instances. By a paper he held in his hand it appeared that of eight families at the Elgin colliery, of whom fifty-seven persons had been employed, the weekly wages were reduced from 11s. 14s. to 3l. 4s. He could not but deeply lament the change which this must occasion at that colliery which he had visited. No where in Scot- 453 land did the cottages of the labourers exhibit a greater air of neatness and comfort, filled with furniture, the cleanness and order of which rivalled any thing he had seen even in Holland, and not yielding to England in the nice cultivation of the gardens attached to them. The noble Lord (Ashley) attached, and justly, much importance to the moral and religious instruction of the people. He would tell the noble Lord the effect his law would have on the excellent schools established in this colliery, and supported by a system of weekly payments, introduced with the best effects by the present judicious manager. The school was thus described by Mr. Franks in the evidence to his report.There is in connexion with the works a school, with two well appointed teachers, who have free dwelling houses and coals found them. By a regulation in the management of this work, every person who receives full men's wages is compelled to contribute 1d. per week to the school fund, and l½d. for every child's instruction between five and ten years of age. Any young person who may choose to attend the evening school is free to do so on the payment of 1d. per week, and from these funds, without any additional charge, the teachers are paid. Education has wrought in this colliery the most beneficial effects. Twenty-five years since the conduct of the people here was of that nature that few people thought themselves safe near the spot after dark. Now a more sober set of work people are not to be found in Scotland; many of the young colliers are musical, and subscribe 1l. 1s. per week for instruction, which is paid to a regular trainer. The Elgin School Register of Attendance shows that 230 children on the average attend the day school, and fifty the night school. Girls as well as boys are instructed; few females attend the night school, as they employ themselves in tambouring, and parents have an objection to the over-instruction of girls. At the last public examination of the Elgin school, many of the lads took prizes for demonstrations in mathematics. It is the best conducted colliery school in the East of Scotland, and the teachers the best trained. The first teacher, in addition to free residence, gardens, coals, &c, is paid 104l. per annum.Now he would tell the House the effect anticipated by the instituter of that school from the measure of last Session. Mr. Grier wrote,These reductions on the incomes of the collier families will farther have a most injurious effect upon the morals of the rising generation. The small pittance exacted for school fees, which were the only guarantee for the children attending the school, cannot now be spared, all and more being required for their sustenance. The children will be allowed to 454 fall back into that state of ignorance from which they have so lately been emancipated.With regard to the other collieries from which he had presented petitions, he would merely state the general results. At Well-wood colliery there had been eighty females employed, earning from 10d. to 1s. 2d. per day, nineteen of them were the only support of fifty-nine individuals, the remaining sixty-one belonged to families, of which some members were still employed, but the incomes of which were reduced as he had shown. At Fordel fifty females were discharged, thirty-four of whom, earning 10l. a week, were the sole support of sixty-three individuals. At the Townhill thirty-four were dismissed, on whose earnings, amounting to something more than 500l. a-year, sixty-eight persons depended. At Alloa colliery 147 females were discharged, at Clackmannan 105; in both cases they were marked as the sole support of widowed mothers, and younger brothers and sisters. So at the Devon colliery, where ninety-six, and at the Carron collieries, 168 had been discharged, and he could mention several others. In all, from the ten collieries alone whose petitions he had presented, nearly 1000 females, with an equal or greater number depending on them, had been turned out to idleness and destitution. He would not trespass longer on the indulgence of the House. He held in his hand a number of certificates from ministers, elders, medical practitioners, and others, which bore out all he had stated, but he trusted he had made out his case, and that it was not necessary to detain the House by reading them. Before sitting down, he would beg to add a few words. The proposal for leave to bring in a bill in terms of his motion, he understood, was to be opposed by the noble Lord (Lord Ashley); the noble Lord had had the stern courtesy to inform him of his intention to give it every opposition; and he (Mr. C. Bruce) was glad, that if opposed at all, it should be opposed in this stage, because it was better the House should at once decide on it one way or the other. But he was at a loss to anticipate on what ground the noble Lord would oppose it. He could not, indeed, imagine to what hitherto undiscovered land of happiness and morality,—to what unknown island of the blest, the noble Lord wished to direct his course; was it to a land where religion was held in veneration, where morality was respected; where great crime;, were unheard of; where industry and con- 455 tentedness prevailed; where the heartburnings of political strife had no existence? Was that the land at which the noble Lord wished to arrive? Then he would tell the noble Lord that that land was already discovered; its position was already noted, the voyage had been already made, the course already ascertained. The noble Lord had but to steer the same course; and he too, with favouring breezes and propitious heavens, across that ocean of humanity, on which he was so distinguished a navigator, would reach the shore in safety, without throwing overboard and consigning to the deep all those unfortunate females whom he might find on board his vessel, and who supplicated him for permission to be allowed to accompany his course. He (Mr. C Bruce) said, that course was already known. With regard to veneration for religion, what said Mr. Tancred, your own commissioner. He quotes the evidence of the clerk to Mr. Guthrie, manager of the Kilmarnock mines, who says,—Our colliers go to church on the Sabbath just as regularly as to their work on week days. Mr. Guthrie has got it so imbibed in them; he sets them the example.The certificates of all the clergymen attached to the petitions confirmed the same thing; then, as regarded their morality, exemption from crime, industry, contented-ness, absence of political animosities,—he had already called to the bar Mr. Franks, a reluctant witness, but whose evidence was on that account more valuable. But these results had been attained in many collieries without the exclusion of female labour,— why not, at least as regarded these petitioners, apply the regulations which had produced such good results, to those mines which might present the example of evils deeply to be deplored; utterly condemned, if they do any where exist; but which cannot, when you look at the collieries, which he had described, be considered as evils inherent in the nature of employment in the mines, or necessarily connected with the fact, that female labour had existed in them. Now, it would be no answer to him; no justification of refusing to agree to his motion, to state that great abuse had existed in the collieries of Scotland; to read statements from the report, or other statements in proof of such abuse. He believed all such statements were greatly exaggerated; but he would grant them, for argument sake, to the fullest extent; they furnished no excuse for condemning these poor people, nearly 8,000 of whom had 456 appeared as petitioners at the Bar, whose only crime was, according to the noble Lord, that they had been exposed to great abuses, to the additional and worse evils of idleness and destitution. The abuses might be corrected without taking this short road to their correction of condemning the sufferers to starvation. Many regulations might stand in the place of one harsh enactment. It was said, that in some of the mines women were still employed in carrying great burthens of coal. Such a practice was now extremely rare. He quite agreed with those who condemned it; his bill would contain a clause to prevent that, and all other objectionable labour of the sort. The exclusion of married women and females under eighteen years of age, would go far of itself to correct them. It would be easy to suggest other means, by which they might be further obviated. Mines might be required to have licences from the sheriffs of the counties in which they were situated, to allow of the continued employment of females presently employed in them; and the sheriff might be empowered to withhold, or withdraw such licence, where any circumstance in the state of the mine, or the kind of labour in it, might appear to him to justify his refusing it. To prevent any new females being introduced, those now employed might also be required to obtain the sheriff's licence, and managers might be subjected to penalties, who allowed women without them to be employed. Other remedies might suggest themselves to other Members, which he would willingly consider, and of which he would gladly avail himself. His only object was to save these poor people from great suffering; that all should not be punished because some had in times past cause to complain. And the very principle of the bill, from which he wished to retrench one provision, justified him in the course he proposed. That course was already sanctioned by it; it was already one of the principles of the bill. For did not the bill enact, that the cessation of female labour should be gradual? was not time allowed, and notice given, to enable these women to look for and turn to other employment? and what had been the state of the country since? where were they to find that employment? was it not notorious to every one, that employment in every branch of industry was now more difficult to be obtained, than it was when the House passed this law. He entreated the House to carry out that considerate 457 and humane principle in its spirit, and not to be persuaded by the noble Lord to jump at the attainment of a desirable object by purchasing its instant possession at an expense of suffering, which he confessed he shrank from contemplating. He moved for leave to bring in a bill to amend the Mines and Collieries Act.
§ Lord Ashley
said, so general and vigorous an attack had been made upon the act which he had originated, that the House would see the necessity of his occupying some little of their time in defending it, and he trusted for their indulgence while he enumerated the many beneficial effects which had resulted from it already, and pointed out what other results might be expected from it if it was allowed fairly to run its course. He did not think any case had been made out for the interference of the House with the act. Why was Scotland to enjoy an exemption which was not to be extended to England or to Wales? He had received complaints from many parts of the country, saying that Scotland was to enjoy an advantage which was denied to them. Surely the law which was good for regulating the mines in England was equally good for Scotland. They had heard a great deal of the hardships which the females had suffered by being thrown out of employment; but was nothing to be said in favour of the males who had been excluded from labour by the employment of the females. Let the people of Scotland observe the enactments of the law as well as was done in England, and then as good results would follow in the one country as in the other. In order to show what had been done in England he would read an extract of a letter from Dewsbury:—The young girls have all been drawn out of the pits, and their places supplied by men and boys. [learn that in the neighbourhood of Barnsley and Silkstone, where you saw so many miserable scenes, it has done a great deal to bring about a more beneficial state of things. In some instances the poor weavers, who had nothing else to do, have gone to work instead of the girls.Was not that a consummation devoutly to be wished? From Silkstone he had received a letter, of which this was an extract:—I have just witnessed the emancipation of about thirty young girls and boys from the pits, and they seemed highly delighted, especially the girls, who expressed themselves, This is one of the best acts that ever were 458 passed, for they had long been tired of working in these holes of darkness and misery.From Huddersfield and Leeds he had the same gratifying accounts. They said,The parents are taking the children out quite willingly, and say they have been long grieved to see their daughters made the slaves of a few over-grown unfeeling men. Boys at ten years of age are to take the place of the girls." " I find that the working of the Colliery Act is producing all the good you contemplated. I fell in with four girls, who have been taken into families as domestic servants, and the mistresses say they find them quite willing to learn, and regret that such clever females should have been so debased by so disgraceful an employment. I find also that the places in the pits occupied by the girls are filled up by men who are out of work.He had another account from a correspondent, who dated from near Barnsley, April, 1843—I find it impossible to detail a tithe of the good resulting from the Colliery Act. One female, the wife of a collier, and mother of two girls who worked in pits, told me that she knew not how to give expression to her joy. The husband formerly spent the earnings of the two girls in intoxicating drink, about 9s. a-week, and while in a state of drunkenness he frequently beat her most unmercifully; but being thrown on his own earnings he was led to reflection, and the consequence is that he has become sober in his habits, and also a churchgoer,—a place he never before frequented. A lady has taken one of the girls and sent her to school, where she is to remain for two years. The home, which was formerly like a hell, is now a paradise. This is not a solitary instance; there are many. The girls are going into service, and becoming useful members of society.He had many details of such cases, and were they not most gratifying to every one who had assisted to pass the bill into a law? Would not the same results take place in Scotland if the same means were taken to produce them? He would read one or two more, if the House would oblige him by their patience; one from collieries near Prescot, in Lancashire:—It gives me great pleasure to congratulate you on the improved condition of the poor children already emancipated from the trammels of slavery, ignorance, and disease, many of whom are now placed at the charity schools, receiving an education suitable to their humble circumstances, which in after-life will fit them for situations more congenial to their feelings, and more useful to society. Although females taken from the mines may find some difficulty in obtaining suitable employment, in consequence of their ignorance of household affairs, 459 yet many of them are capable of performing the labour that has been executed by the Irish on the farms in the neighbourhood, and indeed, from their adaptation to work of various kinds, such as potato-planting, hay-making, weeding, reaping, &c, they will have the preference, whilst their places in the mines will be occupied by the other sex, who are now prowling about, and for want of employment are become a public nuisance. I cannot account for the hostility to your humane exertions on any other principle but that of selfishness and short-sightedness, as we ought to consider it is the duty of every man the least interested in his country's welfare to endeavour to improve the condition of the suffering poor, and, if possible, to leave the world better than he found it." " Prowling about, and for want of employment, have become a nuisance;"—Would the hon. and gallant Member deny that such a state of things existed in Scotland as well as in England? The noble Lord the Member for South Lancashire (Lord F. Egerton), was well known to be the proprietor of a number of collieries, which he (Lord Ashley) had been allowed to visit, and although he was averse to say anything fulsome in the presence of the noble Lord, he must say that anything more kind or more correct than the whole management of that property he had never seen—'nay, more, he had not read. He wrote to the noble Lord upon the subject of the working of the bill, and he was favoured with a reply, of which the following was an extract:—Worsley, February, 1843.—Of any practical operation in the particular objects of the measure, it is, of course, too early too speak. When a barbarising and demoralising system has been pursued almost from infancy, we cannot expect perceptible effects in an instant, from the mere abrogation of that system. In some respects your measure has had and will have to contend with greater difficulties in this district than in others. Female labour in our pits was a moral evil of the first magnitude. Its physical evils were not in my opinion felt here as they must have been felt in Scotland and elsewhere. Of course at this period of general depression and distress, parents are disposed to count the cost of any measure which cuts off for the moment an addition to their scanty means. In spite of these circumstances, I have met with no parents who did not at once admit that the occupation was unfit for wenches, as they call them here, and I do believe that most of them are glad to have the temptation romoved of subjecting their female offspring to degradation, however lucrative. With regard to the young females themselves, I could wish you no better reward for your labours than to see something of their deportment in the school which Lady F. has 460 opened for their partial instruction. I am sure you would find evidence that your labours were not likely to be vain or fruitless. There is an appetite for instruction, an evident sense of its value, and a decency of behaviour which, considering antecedent circumstances, I confess have surprised me by their prevalence.The measure would be rendered, indeed, vain and fruitless in Scotland were the measure now proposed to pass; and as it had been attempted to depreciate the authority of those by whom the horrors of the old system had been exposed, he would ask the hon. Member to listen to one or two statements supported by such men as the rev. Mr. Parlane, of Tranent, the rev. Mr. Bannerman, of Ormiston, the rev. Bruce Cunningham, of Prestonpans, and the rev. J. Veitch, of Newbottle:With some rare exceptions, few of the children that work in the collieries are taught sewing or other domestic work here. Those who go to mines acquire habits of tippling; it is not uncommon to see children of twelve drunk. Lying, swearing, cruelty, and all sorts of moral evil abound in the future lives of uneducated miners.Again, Mr. Thomas Goodhall, agent at the Capaldrae colliery, in the county of Fife, writes—
The colliers are in many places a most barbarous and degraded class; and the employment of females in mines has done more to destroy the colliers, physically, morally, and intellectually, than any other thing that I know of.Again, from clergy in private letters—
In the parish of the women and children used to be wrought in a shameful manner, as I have witnessed. I was an assistant in that parish.'Another—I can bear personal testimony to the horrible effects of the system.It should be observed, that petitions, statements, &c, in favour of repeal never mentioned cases of women who bore coal (a horrible toil), only the " trammers and putters." The hon. Member had been very careful to keep out of view all but these comparatively easy descriptions of work; but what said such witnesses as the rev. Mr. Alexander Moxton:—That the women worked up to their knees in water; always did the hardest work, and were treated hardly as human.And what had been the simple, but expressive language, of the Scotchwoman who had been examined as to her own 461 experience of the coal-bearing work? That the labour often produced premature delivery, that it shortened life, or rendered existence miserable.Tell Queen Victoria," said she, " That the poor coal-women will feel grateful to her if she will take them from the coal-pits, and give them a better sort of work.And, said the noble Lord, the Queen has done this; and I hope the good effects of the measure will not now be frustrated and destroyed. There had been something exceedingly suspicious in the petitions represented as proceeding positively from those who had suffered under the old system, and who it was pretended were anxious for its restoration. Upon this point he had some statements to read which he thought would throw some singular light upon the manner in which the petitions had been got up. A gentleman of great experience, in the management of Scotch coal-mines, called it—Selfish and most mercenary plans of certain coal-masters and iron-masters to overthrow that most benevolent act." (Again)—" A disgraceful movement." (Again),—" These lamentations for the destitute females are crocodile's tears." " Slavery, oppression, love of gold.From an agent of great experience;The opposition to Lord Ashley's measure might not appear to much advantage if clothed in the garb of pounds, shillings, and pence; and accordingly we find its opponents lamenting the injustice that will be done to poor females, their want and destitution, and so on. Of course, we are all aware that no great change like that contemplated by Lord Ashley's act can take place without causing some inconvenience.He would now call the attention of the House to a letter from Scotland, dated March 8, 1843:—From the knowledge I have of the coal-masters," said a correspondent, " I cannot but say, that such attempts proceed, not from any desire to promote the welfare and comfort of the female miners, but with the view of advancing their own interests and pecuniary gains.Also he would read extracts of letters from gentlemen of great experience:—You will at once see by the despicable and unmanly correspondence, that the movement was not by the poor females; they were dragooned by their masters, and this I know for a fact—I heard the females of an extensive colliery heartily bless you in very affectionate 462 terms." "I assure you I have not found one exception to their full concurrence in the measure." " As to petitions in favour of females remaining in pits emanating from themselves, I am much of the opinion, that were these documents scrutinised to their origin they would be found to arise from the influence of those interested in their degradation." " I know of many instances where, if young females had attempted to leave their employment, all their relations would have been instantly dismissed from their work. It is idle to talk of these poor creatures being at liberty to leave their employment. It is absurd to tell the Legislature, that the petitions are the productions of these poor women. We know the reverse. Want, misery, starvation, &c, are held up before them, and in fact in many instances they are commanded to sign.The hon. Mover had laid great stress upon the petitions from some of the clergy. But had no influence of a stringent nature been applied even to them? He requested the attention of the House to the following statement:—They (the getters up of petitions) waited on the clergy of several parishes where mines abounded, and terrified them by the threat of sending over all and sundry persons discharged under your Lordship's act to their several parishes, a burthen on the scanty means they possess to distribute to the needy. Many of our clergy, who at first rejoiced in the emancipation of the females, have now been dragooned to espouse the cause of the unfeeling mine-masters.He would now call the especial notice of the House to some extracts from correspondence of masters engaged in getting up petitions. This correspondence was a perfect jewel; an admirable standard for the getters-up of petitions on the voluntary principle:It is a bill," says one, " infringing on the freedom of the subject. My present feeling is, that those who employ females underground should cause those females to petition Parliament in separate bodies." " My own opinion," says another, " is that each work which employs females under ground should get those females to petition both Houses of Parliament.He entreated the House to mark the care and dexterity of these petitioners. All must appear disinterested and above suspicion."I fear," says one coal-owner, " that the heritors in parishes petitioning Parliament would rather be injurious, as their petitioning would evidently be for the purpose of saving themselves, as many of the females 463 would have to apply to the parish for aid. I am now resolved that my female workers shall petition as a body, and should advise all coal-workers to get their females to do so likewise.In another letter:—I have received a letter from the coal-manager of my land; and from his letter, and all that I can learn, the colliers in Clackmannan and Fife are in a state of mutiny, and I understand they all belong to the colliers' union. If such is the case, you may rest satisfied they will not allow the females working in pits to sign any petition by (by what did the House suppose—persuasion?) No; by intimidation.Such had bean the tactics of the getters-up of these pretended petitions. He had been informed, he could assure the House, that in one case a poor widow, who had withdrawn a young girl from the pits, had a small allowance taken away till she sent the child back to the dreadful work. But now there was a petition from 200 or 300 " ladies" of Scotland, who, it seemed, were really desirous of sending back their fellow-countrywomen to the coal-pits. He could not help expressing his regret, that—Those whom lace and velvet bless With all the soft solicitudes of dress.Should thus come forward for the purpose of consigning poor females to the horrors of coal-pit labour. He was happy to know that no such petitions had proceeded from Englishwomen. And, further, he was delighted to be able to contrast the conduct of the women in our coal districts with that of these Scotch petitioners against some of the most unfortunate of their sex. Had there been any petitions from the women of England, rich or poor, for the return of these females to their disgusting employment? He had heard that in Yorkshire, Lancashire, &c, the females of the middle classes had exerted themselves strenuously in co-operation with the measure, and had opened their doors when necessary to afford a refuge for the poor women who had been rescued from the pits. In one district, where seventy-four had left the mines, all but ten had been forthwith received into the houses of the neighbouring shopkeepers and small innholders, &c, provided with necessaries, and kindly taken care of. This was conduct far more grateful to contemplate than the petitioning of those Scotch ladies, who had done their best to increase the erroneous impression that prevailed among 464 the working classes, that generosity and virtue were not found beneath silks and satins, but under a russet gown and woollen hose. Let him observe that the plan of the hon. Gentleman was very much in mitigation of that which was originally proposed, and in favour of which was the greater part of the petitions that had been presented to the House on this subject. They were for the total repeal of the act, but the nature of the hon. Member's proposition was this—that married women were to be excluded, and none but unmarried women should be retained in the pits. But if they were to keep unmarried women in the pits, were they not taking them from the means of attaining those qualities which belonged to married women? Was it not, in fact, a direct bounty on concubinage? Was it not, introducing, under the pretence of morality, an enormous parliamentary license of concubinage? No doubt there must be in every transition very considerable difficulty. There always had been, and there always would be. But in a letter which he had received from a gentleman of great authority in Scotland, the writer, after speaking of the difficulties attending the introduction of the new law, said he was confident that no reflective man who had had experience of the old system and its demoralising effects would wish for a return to it. He should like the House to observe, that if the masters had obeyed the provisions of the law, and had turned out the women gradually as the law provided, these difficulties would not have occurred. Their duty was to have turned out all females under eighteen within three months, and all others by the 1st of March in the following year. But the fact was that in a vast number of pits they turned out none whatever, and now they said it would create great confusion if they did so. He knew it was the impression of many parts of Scotland that the women were not turned out gradually, as directed by the act, for the sake of creating that confusion. All the communications he had had on the subject stated that to be the impression, and he believed that it was correct. And yet those persons now came forward and asked for an act which should secure to them the profits of their own disobedience. He would now quote from a letter written by a gentleman who had, only six weeks or two months ago, made a tour through the greater part of the colliery districts of 465 Scotland. That gentleman stated that much as he had studied the evil in the reports, he found the spectacle of it much worse than the description:—Female labour in these horribly dangerous places is attended with greater evils than I had formed any conception of; hardships which, above-ground, would not be imposed by the hardest masters, but under-ground females are submitted to labour which would be considered barbarous by any nation under the sun.The act came into operation in October as to children of tender years; but in many parts of Scotland there were many such children still in the pits, and yet gentlemen came forward to ask for an alteration of that act. Then again, with respect to " hurrying"—with which term he had no doubt hon. Members were familiar—the writer said,The hurrying is done by females on all-fours, harnessed like animals; their limbs bear tokens of their barbarous employment, from the cuts of the ragged rocks and tramways through which they thrust their heavy burthens.But now let him come to that testimony which had been quoted with so much approbation by the hon. Gentleman, in respect to the Carron Company. Now, upon that point the writer of this letter said,The colliers of the Carron Company's pits complained to me of the threats which had been resorted to as an inducement to make the colliers sign a petition.There was the voluntary system again; and where did the petition lie when the colliers were compelled to sign it?It lay at the office of the butty; the employment of females being offensive to them, as husbands and fathers, and moreover a cause of loss, as their wages are thereby diminished.Then this gentleman went on to Joppa Colliery, near Edinburgh; and what did he see there? That which the hon. Member took care not to state—the abominable system of coal-bearing.There," said the writer, " the abominable custom of coal-bearing by females is still continued.He then went on to say,Descending a pit a few weeks since, in the neighbourhood of Tranent, I never was more shocked at the degradation of a human being, while the toil and suffering which this labour inflicts are unequalled. Dragging like 466 horses on their hands and knees through seams in the sharp rocks, which barely admit them, the limbs of these poor creatures"—
And this was going on at that moment, in direct violation of the act—Are subject to the severest bruises and cuts while harnessed to their heavy pads, which they pull to exhaustion over the tramways, sometimes many inches deep in water.Only that morning he had received a letter containing this sentence:—A woman told me the other day that often when in harness her shoulders were so lacerated that the blood oozed through her garments at the sides of the leathern belt.And that was the condition of things to which they were to believe that the women petitioned to be restored contrary to all reason—contrary to all nature—and if the hon. Gentleman had not said it, he would say, it was contrary to all decency to make the assertion. The first letter then wound up thus:—I am happy in being able to assure you there is but one opinion among the disinterested of Scotland—that the enactment of last Session for prohibiting the employment of women and children in the coal-pits is the greatest possible boon to this portion of the community.He hoped, then, that House would not entertain the proposition of the hon. Gentleman—that they would not interpose between the operation of an act that came into full force only in March, and which they were now called upon to rescind in every material portion of it in the middle of May. No doubt there were many cases of hardship; but, in all the cases quoted by the hon. Gentleman, they could and ought to have been met by the proprietors themselves. They had had, God knew, enough out of the sinews and muscles of these unhappy creatures, and they were bound by all means in their power to make them compensation. At any rate they had no right to come forward in that House to propose an act, the upshot of which was neither more nor less than to save their own purses from those just and necessary contributions. He would state that, to the honour of Scotland, very many proprietors had shown the greatest feeling and kindness, not only in carrying out the act, but even in anticipating it; but for those who persisted in making these propositions, let him suggest the example of his right hon. Friend at the head of the Government. His right hon. 467 Friend had a colliery, the lease of which had expired. The tenant, on applying for a further lease, said, that in consequence of this act he could not pay so much rent. His right hon. Friend accordingly abated the rent in proportion. That pit was therefore cleared of females, but no doubt to the loss of the proprietor. He would further say, that there were few cases of hardship in consequence of this act which could not be met by private contributions. He hoped, then, that the House would put its veto upon this and all similar motions. No good could result from allowing the bill to be introduced, and he hoped that the House never would allow the bill to be passed; that they never would allow such a system to be repeated in any part of the kingdom. Better would it be at once to put a veto on the motion, and to declare that the House had passed a measure, and that they would give to that measure a full, and just trial. Let hon. Gentlemen take the opportunity, and affirm by their votes that night the principle which was at all times valuable, but in those days was essentially necessary—that property and station had their duties as well as their rights. With those observations, he begged leave to say " No," emphatically " No," to the motion of the hon. Member.
§ Mr. Hume
agreed with the noble Lord as to the principle that property and station had their duties as well as their rights; but the hon. Member for Elginshire had laid before the House as harrowing details as the noble Lord. It would give him satisfaction to see females removed in every part of the country from that degrading system to which they had been subject previous to the act of the noble Lord, and he wished to see industry so rewarded that a man might by his labour alone be able to support his wife and family. But he blamed the noble Lord for using such language as he had done towards those who were advocates of humanity as well as himself. The noble Lord seemed to speak as if no other man than himself had a desire to see the sufferings of these unfortunate creatures relieved. He blamed the noble Lord also for not taking the trouble to ascertain the state of things in the parts alluded to by the hon. mover. He seemed to have industry enough to ascertain particulars in some localities, but what had the proceedings at Dewsbury to do with what 468 had taken place at Bannockburn? Did it not appear that at the latter place 900 women and children had been turned out? [Mr. C. Bruce: And from a few collieries.] From a few collieries, and were now starving in consequence of this measure. In a letter also which he had received, with a petition from the chairman of a public meeting, it was said, that at Bannockburn and another place in Scotland a large number of aged men and widows had been reduced to great distress in consequence of this act, from the females by whose labour they had been supported being no longer allowed to work in the mines. The hon. Member for Elginshire had read a statement of Mr. Franks as to the condition of those who were employed in the Elgin colliery; that in no part of the county were the population more moral and comfortable, and that they had all at once been thrown into a state of misery and destitution by this act. Now, the noble Lord had said, with reference to some of the statements of Mr. Franks, that he would not believe any charge against them. That was when those statements were in favour of the noble Lord's views; but was that gentleman to be disbelieved, when he signed a certificate as to the morality that existed at the Elgin colliery? He had known Mr. Franks for many years, and he believed that he would not utter a sentence which he did not believe to be correct; but in those statements upon which the noble Lord relied, that gentleman might have been misled. The petitions presented by him (Mr. Hume) set forth the injustice of throwing so many females out of employment in a county where no Poor-law existed. The noble Lord had not attempted to answer those petitions, but had adduced cases of hardship that had occurred in Yorkshire before the act passed. Much as he was disposed to remedy all existing grievances, he deprecated adding to those evils by hasty legislation. He, therefore, supported the motion of the hon. Gentleman, and thought they ought to allow him to introduce a measure which was calculated gradually to alleviate the evils which had been created by the measure of the last Session.
§ Sir J. Graham
said, that he was by no means disposed to question either the ability or the motives of his hon. Friend who had brought forward the motion; but he must say he thought his hon. Friend 469 wrong in saying that their legislation upon that subject had been precipitate; for, in the first place, the act of last year was founded upon voluminous evidence, laboriously collected by a commission appointed to inquire into the subject. It was subject to a great deal of discussion in both Houses of Parliament, and had undergone, at his suggestion, on the part of the Government, very considerable modification. A change so great as this must, however, he admitted, necessarily involve some cases of individual hardship; and, unquestionably, the case of Scotland was different from that of England in reference to the maintenance of the poor; but in England, the success of the measure had been complete. The experience in favour of the system was not confined however to England, for some of the largest proprietors in Scotland many years ago voluntarily introduced that specific change. Amongst them were Mr. Dundas and the Duke of Buccleuch; and the experience of all those gentlemen was uniform that the profits of working the mines were not on the whole diminished by that system, and that the social character of the neighbouring population was greatly improved. His hon. Friend had mentioned Arrochar; and he would appeal to the experience of Mr. Ball, a large proprietor of coal mines there, and a man in whom he (Sir J. Graham) had great confidence. Mr. Ball had been favourable to the measure when it passed; and at the present moment he recommended a strict and rigid adherence to its provisions. The hon. Member for Montrose admitted the principle of the act, and thus the question was narrowed to one of time. Now, taking into account the period over which the inquiries extended, and the discussion on the bill lasted, considerable warning had been given; and he believed that the crisis of the experiment was now passed. His hon. Friend had said that his first impression was highly favourable to the bill of last year; and upon such a subject first impressions were generally the best. He begged to press it upon the recollection of the House, as a great social principle, that they could not degrade the female portion of the population without brutalising the males; and what was the proposal of the hon. Member? That all females above the age of eighteen, unmarried, should be allowed to work in the mines. Why, that was the very class 470 which, of all others, most needed the interference of the Legislature to protect them from this degrading occupation; and as his noble Friend had said, this proposal was, in fact, a penalty upon marriage and a premium on promiscuous intercourse. For the reasons, then, which he had stated, he thought the proposition of his hon. Friend was not one to be entertained; and considering the deliberation which the subject underwent last Session, and before it—'considering the entire success of the measure in England, the great probability of its success in Scotland, and the limited extent of the evil of which the hon. Member had complained, he must concur with his noble Friend in resisting the motion.
§ Mr. Curteis
said, that he should certainly vote with the noble Lord on that occasion, so strong was his feeling against? the continuance of this degrading underground employment of women.
§ Lord F. Egerton
said, that he could well understand how persons viewing only the present transition state of society, occasioned by this measure, should see some difficulty in its being carried out to its fullest extent. He could understand the feelings which had led to the present motion, but he could not support it. Though the evil was only alleged to exist in Scotland the bill of the hon. Mover, he perceived, was to extend to Lancashire, and upon that ground he should object to its comprehensiveness. The hon. Member did not pretend to interfere with the principle of the Bill of last year; but his argument went to the extent of showing that there were few better employments for females than this occupation in collieries. His name had been mentioned in relation to this subject with very undeserved praise. If honour were due to any individuals for advancing this improved system, it was due to those who, like the Duke of Buccleuch, in Scotland, and others whom he should mention, in Lancashire, who had years ago voluntarily introduced the system upon their own property. In Lancashire, Mr. William Hulton had perfected, many years ago, that system of exclusion of females, the foundation of which he had only laid a very short time ago, when his noble Friend came forward to assist them by legislation on the subject. The same system had also been pursued in other parts of Lancashire many years [since. The hon. Mover had said, that 471 there was nothing indelicate in the treatment of the women thus employed in Scotland—if so, he was glad to hear it; but that was not the case in the part of the country with which he was connected, nor in England generally; where he believed the system was altogether so vicious, that nothing short of its destruction could remedy the evil. If they wished to advance the progress of civilization, and to touch those points of society most akin to barbarous nations and other times, their efforts must be in vain, unless they raised the social character of the females. In those countries where the females were kept by law in a state of degradation, he asked whether it were possible to raise the character of the males. It was a well known fact in Lancashire and other coal districts, that the colliery girls had a good deal more license and liberty than those otherwise employed, as domestic servants, for instance; the girls at the pits had more of her own way, so that in many respects the employment was more attractive; and he had no doubt that many domestic servants, having been formerly in the pits, would gladly return to their previous employment; but he as a legislator anxious for their welfare, would not allow them to return. It was well known that in Lancashire the difficulty of getting a good female servant for a farmer's house was almost insuperable. All individual hardship, was, of course, as far as possible to be prevented; but this was a case in which he thought that legislative interference could not be avoided; in his opinion that interference had been wisely conducted by the ability of his noble Friend, and he therefore felt bound to oppose the motion.
§ Mr. Roebuck
felt, that this was a question of the greatest difficulty; it was a question whether the labourer, being sui generis, the Legislature was better able to dispose of his labour than the labourer himself, and when he said himself, he included of course herself. When they came to children, he went along with the right hon. Baronet, because, during the years of childhood, the party was subject to the control of parents or guardians, and was besides deficient in experience; but these years past, the age must come when every person must be the best judge of the manner of disposing of his own labour. Was there anything in the female sex which rendered them incapable of judging as to 472 the best disposition of their own labour? That question was now brought before them; the case was a trying one he admitted; their sympathies must be with the noble Lord; and if by persuasion he could induce them to leave those degrading habits of occupation, no man would more rejoice at such a result; but still came round the question—was Parliament in the position to say, " we can better judge of the mode of disposing of your labour than you can yourself. It had been said for the occasion that they couldn't raise the social character of the men, whilst the women were in a degraded condition; he admitted it, but he wanted to know whether the condition of the women was not the reflection and consequence of the condition of the men—whether it was not equally true, that they could not raise the condition of the women without having first raised the condition of the men? It might be said, that it would be very advantageous to legislate in this way for men also —men, who were perfectly sui juris; the market for labour was greatly overstocked —it might be considered beneficial to provide that all persons under the age of thirty should be prevented from labouring: women were perfectly competent to judge of their own condition, so were men under thirty; where was the distinction? He could see none, except in their own habits of feeling, with regard to women. He turned to France and Scotland; and there he saw women labouring in the field; he never saw that in England. [An hon. Member: At harvest time!] Oh, yes ! but there was no comparison between the sort of work which the English women and the French women did in the field. However, let them go to America; there they never saw a woman working out of doors at all; she would consider herself mad to think of doing so, and any one who asked her to do so worse than mad; but that was an entirely different state of society; and he admitted, that in France the people were in a much lower condition, as England was in its social condition superior to Scotland, and as those parts of England, where women followed these pernicious occupations, were in a more degraded and desperate condition than any other parts of the country. Still he asked, could they remedy that by Act of Parliament? He feared, that no great social improvement could be effected by any legislative measure which had art im- 473 mediate effect upon the mode of employing labour. The hon. Member for Montrose had referred to the petitions of these women, who prayed for permission to continue in these occupations; had they a right to with-hold that permission? He, however, was at issue with his hon. Friend the Member for Montrose; for, as his hon. Friend over and over again admitted the principle of the bill of last Session, he must over and over again dispute that principle. He was with them in their consequences, but he quarrelled with their principle. He really wanted to know from the right hon. Baronet, the Home Secretary, or from somebody for him, at what point they might interfere with labour. He could lay down the rule distinctly; when the individual, by his position, was not capable of judging as to the disposal of that which was committed to his use. Why should they peculiarly interfere with women? Because, they were under coercion? [Mr. Curteis: Yes, under their parents.] Suppose they had no parents. But he would not argue the point with the hon. Gentleman. Whether true or not, such was not the general opinion. Unmarried women of the lower classes were generally considered, and generally were under no control. The noble Lord (Lord F. Egerton) had said, that his wish to interfere by legislation with the position of women arose from his observation in the East, but there woman's position formed part of a long continuous system, and proved the truth of the principle for which he had been contending, that woman's position was a reflection of man's. He fully sympathised with the feelings of the noble Lord, the Member for Dorsetshire, and the right hon. Baronet, but he could not go along with them in their judgment.
§ Viscount Dungannon
thought there was much plausibility in the motion brought forward by the hon. Gentleman (Mr. C. Bruce), particularly after the very able and ingenious speech of the hon. and learned Member for Bath. Every class of the community was most deeply indebted to the noble Lord (Lord Ashley) for his exertions on this subject, and the measure he had introduced ought to be carried out, but with as little concomitant inconvenience as possible, particularly where many might be thrown out of employment. The danger to which married women were exposed in mines operated most strongly upon his mind in coming to the conclusion that 474 Parliament should interfere as proposed by the noble Lord. By the present measure, a great moral evil would be put a stop to, and society at large would derive great benefit. If he was in error, he erred on the safe side, he thought, in voting with the noble Lord, who had introduced one of the most humane and excellent measures ever propounded in Parliament, and whose exertions on this subject had been in every sense most indefatigable.
§ Mr. P. M. Stewart
said, the misery and distress which existed in many parts of Scotland had been considerably augmented by this measure, and in the county of Stirling alone nearly 500 families had been added to the number of unemployed. He was during his residence in Scotland, waited upon by a deputation of the husbands and relatives of the women who had been deprived of employment in consequence of the act passed last Session, who were desirous that they should again have the opportunity of obtaining employment. He made personal inquiries on the subject and found that the statements of these parties were not exaggerated; the females were in a state of great destitution, they were deprived of an employment with which they were perfectly satisfied, and were reduced to a state of idleness and misery. They spoke, invariably, of the noble Lord the Member for Dorsetshire (Lord Ashley) with great respect and gratitude; but they said,Pray induce the noble Lord, who has endeavoured to legislate for our welfare, to postpone the period at which we are to be deprived of employment, and not to plunge us into destitution when the country is suffering such severe distress,He would, therefore, support the motion of the hon. Member for Elgin. The House probably might not be aware, that many of the owners of collieries in Scotland made praiseworthy efforts to benefit those who were in their employment. He knew, for instance, a colliery in Stirlingshire, where there was a library of 500 volumes for the use of the colliers, and where schools were established for the education of the children. He hoped the noble Lord, the Member for Dorsetshire, would take into his consideration the effects which has been produced by the suddenness with which his measure of last Session came into operation. He (Mr. Stewart) merely argued-for an extension of the time during which these persons might be 475 employed. To one of the effects of the operation of the recent measure he might be allowed to draw the attention of the House: a poor man employed in one of these collieries was allowed to live in a cottage, in which he might continue to reside so long as any member of his family was engaged in the pit. This was a most beneficial regulation, for if a man met with a serious accident which disabled him, and his wife or daughter continued to work in the colliery, he retained the occupation of his cottage. By the operation of the recent act, however, the claim of many persons in this situation to such continued residence ceased on the 1st of March, for, after that period, their female relatives were precluded from remaining at work in the collieries. The measure had, therefore, tended most materially to increase the destitution which prevailed in Scotland. The noble Lord, the Member for Dorsetshire, called upon the wealthy inhabitants of Scotland to contribute to the relief of this destitution. He begged to inform the noble Lord that they had already done so; but they were unable to keep pace with the progress of the evil. The measure of the noble Lord was brought forward, he was convinced, with the most humane and benevolent motives, and all he asked was, that in the distressed condition of the country at the present moment the additional misery which was produced by throwing out of work a large number of females employed in these collieries might be averted; and fully admitting the soundness of the principle on which the noble Lord had proceeded, he trusted they would permit these women to continue in their employment for a certain period. He conceived that the best mode of accomplishing this object would be by agreeing to the motion of his hon. Friend and the time of extension might be hereafter determined by the House.
§ Mr. Forbes
said, he had supported the measure with reference to this subject introduced last Session by the noble Lord the Member for Dorsetshire, but he must say, from what he had since learned, that he had acted somewhat rashly in doing so. His attention was called to the subject during his residence in Scotland, after the close of the last Session; and such representations had been pressed upon him by the magistrates and clergy that he felt it his duty to entreat the House to agree to the motion of his hon. Friend. He 476 thought it was most advisable that the females who had been compelled to desist from their work by the late act should be allowed to continue their employment for three, four, or five years. He had made inquiries as to the effect of the recent measure during his visit to Scotland, and he had endeavoured to ascertain whether the women who had been deprived of work by that measure had been able to obtain other employment. He found that in the great majority of cases they had been unable to do so. In one instance only four women out of seventy-eight succeeded in obtaining employment; and in another case, only six out of ninety; and the effect was, that a great number of these females were reduced to a state of deplorable distress. He hoped, that Government, and the noble Lord, the Member for Dorsetshire, would give this subject their serious consideration, and that they wold permit his hon. Friend to bring in the measure he proposed to introduce.
§ Mr. Brotherton
said, it appeared to him, that the object of the motion of the hon. Member for Elginshire (Mr. C. Bruce) was to effect the repeal of the act adopted last Session. He found, from the evidence which had been given on this subject that persons of all classes, agents of collieries, surveyors, and masters, who had devoted their attention to the question, bore testimony to the nature of the employment pursued in these collieries. It had been shown, that the physical effects of the work were most injurious—that it was especially unsuited to females—that it was of a most demoralising tendency, and that it had no countervailing advantages. He considered it, for many reasons, highly desirable that females should be prevented from working in mines and collieries. The hon. Member for Bath had laid down this principle, that it was the duty of the House to legislate with respect to children who were unable to judge for themselves, but that they ought not to legislate for women, who should be regarded as free agents, and who might, if they chose, abstain from the labour. Now he would ask hon. Gentlemen why it was necessary to pass laws at all? If all persons were actuated by proper motives and principles no legislation would be needed; but they had to legislate against self-interest, against dispositions opposed to the general welfare of the community. The noble Lord the Member for South 477 Lancashire (Lord F. Egerton) had, for a long period, observed the evils which resulted from the employment of females in mines and collieries, and other hon. Members for the same county were desirous that an end should be put to the system. This was, however, a matter of great difficulty; for when an attempt was made to employ boys instead of females, it. was resisted by the men, who refused to work themselves unless the women were employed. He was assurred, that it was impossible, without the assistance of the law, for masters to put a stop to this system. It was acknowledged, that the effects of the employment of females were most lamentable, both in a moral and physical point of view; and be thought there was no impropriety in the legislature interfering with regard to these women as they would do in the case of children of tender age. He hoped the Legislature would not countenance any measure which would tend to countenance the benefits of the present law, which had, he believed, produced most salutary effects.
said, that in the county which he represented (Lanarkshire) there was a general impression, that if the noble Lord, the Member for Dorsetshire (Lord Ashley) had been aware of the manner in which his measure of last Session would have operated, he would have adopted some such course as that now proposed by the hon. Member for Elginshire. In order to show the feeling which prevailed in the county of Lanark he might state, that a meeting held on the 1st of May attention was called to the late act, excluding females from working in collieries, and it was resolved, that in the opinion of the meeting, it was most inexpedient that females above the age of twenty, who had hitherto been employed in mines, should be excluded therefrom, and thereby thrown out of employment; and the meeting agreed to request the representatives of the county to support in Parliament some modifications of the law. The Presbytery of the same county, also, had on the 5th of April adopted a resolution to the same effect. He had himself made careful inquiries on this subject, and he was surprised at the respectable appearance of many of the persons who were employed in collieries. He found many of them intelligent and well-educated, and they all declared themselves anxious to remain in their employment. 478 One woman told him that she had never known what good health was until she engaged in this species of labour. He had, therefore, great pleasure in supporting the motion of his hon. Friend, the Member for Elginshire; and he was convinced, that if hon. Gentlemen had seen what he had witnessed in Scotland they would follow his example.
§ Mr. Hindley
said, he had heard with great astonishment one statement of the hon. Member who had just sat down— that he was told by a female, that she never enjoyed good health until she went to work in a coal-pit. He thought, that statement would enable hon. Gentlemen to estimate the character of this motion, which he hoped they would reject. Although it was right that men should prosecute to the utmost extent any state of manufacture, yet if in so doing they produced a moral or physical nuisance, it was the duty of that House to interfere for its prevention. He must say, that he thought a moral and physical nuisance was produced by the employment of women in coal-pits, and that the House ought to interpose to put down such a nuisance. That had been done already, by the measure introduced by the noble Lord, the Member for Dorsetshire (Lord Ashley) last Session, and he hoped the House would not adopt any retrograde movement. He conceived, that the effect of the motion of the hon. Member for Elginshire would be to restore the abuses and evils which formerly existed; and he was glad that the noble Lord, the Member for South Lancashire, and other hon. Members had supported the hon. Member for Dorsetshire in his opposition to this motion. He hoped the motion would be withdrawn; for he thought the hon. Member for Elginshire must perceive, that however advantageous his proposal might prove to certain proprietors, it could not fail to operate very prejudicially for the working classes. It had been said, that great distress had been produced in consequence of a number of the females who formerly laboured in the collieries having been thrown out of employment; but if the services of these females had been dispensed with, other persons must, be supposed, be employed in their place. He contended, therefore, that while by the measure of last Session they had conferred great advantages on the females, they had also benefited other individuals who obtained the employment 479 of which they had been deprived, without suffering the same physical evils. He opposed the motion.
§ Mr. Alderman Thompson
said, that in South Wales, with which district he was connected, the practice of employing females in mines and collieries was wholly unknown, and he believed that the people in that part of the country would submit to ten times the amount of difficulty and distress under which they now laboured, rather than permit their wives and daughters to engage in such labour. Any hon. Members of that House who were practically acquainted with the system of working in coal mines must be fully aware that the employment of females in such labour was most injurious to them, physically and morally. He implored the House, then, not to hesitate in rejecting the proposition of the hon. Member for Elginshire.
§ Mr. C. Bruce,
in reply, expressed his regret, that at the time he brought forward this motion, so few hon. Members were present in the House. He must say that he thought the statements he had made to the House had not been shaken; and he begged the House to remember, that while he had adduced facts on the authority of persons whom he named, for many of the statements on the other side no authority had been mentioned. He believed that from 6,000 to 7,000 persons would be affected in various parts of Scotland by the provisions of the bill to which his motion referred. His object was to save them from suffering. With respect to the principle which had been stated by the hon. and learned Member for Bath (Mr. Roebuck), it was not, he would frankly state, on that principle that he had asked the support of the House. On the contrary, he had said, that though political economists might differ from the principle of his motion, he was no political economist, and that the Legislature in his opinion had a right to interfere in favour of females in this case. In many of the remarks of the noble Lord, the Member for South Lancashire (Lord F. Egerton), he entirely concurred; but he wished the House to follow the practice of the noble Lord in his own collieries. He had made preparation some years ago for carrying into effect his benevolent designs in favour of females on his own property, and what he asked the House to do was, to make the same kind of preparation. The noble 480 Lord (Viscount Dungannon) had said that the labour in mines was degrading and immoral; but when the noble Lord said so the noble Lord could not have read the report of the sub-commissioner, Mr. Franks, part of which he had read to the House, and which proved that there was less crime in the coal districts than in most other parts of Scotland. He had also testimonials from clergymen of various denominations in all the colliery districts in favour of the morality of the population. From the report of the sub-commissioner it also appeared that the number of illegitimate children born in the coal districts was less than among any other class of the working population. The hon. Member for Salford (Mr. Brotherton) had accused him of wishing to repeal the late act regulating mines and collieries. Now he utterly protested against that charge. He had no wish to do that. What he wanted to know was, how they were to feed the women whom they drove out of the mines, and what he wanted to do was to prevent them from being starved. It was robbing Peter to pay Paul. He felt that justice and common sense were on his side, and he should therefore divide the House.
§ The House divided, Ayes 23; Noes 137: Majority 114.
|List of the AYES.|
|Arbuthnott, hon. H.||Mackenzie, W. F.|
|Arundel and Surrey, Earl of.||Mitchell, T. A.|
|Bailey, J.||Norreys, Sir D. J.|
|Charteris, hon. F.||Pechell, Capt.|
|Duncan, G.||Stansfield, W. R. C.|
|Forbes, W.||Stewart, P. M.|
|Forster, M.||Traill, G.|
|Gisborne, T.||Trelawny, J. S.|
|Howard, P. H.||Wemyss, Capt.|
|James, W.||Bruce, C. L. C.|
|Mackenzie, T.||Lockhart, W.|
|List of the NOES.|
|Adare, Visct.||Brocklehurst, J.|
|Adderley, C. B.||Brotherton, J.|
|Allix, J. P.||Bruce, Lord E.|
|Antrobus, E;||Busfeild, W.|
|Baring, hon. W. B.||Byng, G.|
|Baring, rt. hn. F. T.||Cayley, E. S.|
|Barnard, E. G.||Clayton, R. R.|
|Berkeley, hon. Capt.||Clerk, Sir G.|
|Blackburne, J. I.||Clive, hon. R. H.|
|Boldero, H. G.||Colquhoun, J. C.|
|Borthwick, P.||Coote, Sir C. H.|
|Bowring, Dr.||Corry, right hon. H.|
|Courtenay, Lord||Lambton, H.|
|Cripps, W.||Langston, J. H.|
|Curteis, H. B.||Lascelles, hon. W. S.|
|Dalrymple, Capt.||Legh, G. C.|
|Damer, hon. Col.||Liddell, hon. H. T.|
|Dickinson, F. H.||Lincoln, Earl of|
|Dodd, G.||Lindsay, H. H.|
|Drax, J. S. W. S. E.||Mc.Geachy, F, A.|
|Dundas, D.||Mangles, R. D.|
|Dungannon, Visct.||Martin, C. W.|
|Egerton, Sir P.||Master, T. W. G.|
|Eliot, Lord||Masterman, J.|
|Esmonde, Sir T.||Mildmay, H. St. J.|
|Estcourt, T. G. B.||Miles, P. W. S.|
|Evans, W.||Miles, W.|
|Fielden, J.||Mitcalfe, H.|
|Fellowes, E,||Mordaunl, Sir J.|
|Fitzroy, Lord C.||Morris, D.|
|Flower, Sir J.||Napier, Sir C.|
|Fox, C. R.||O'Brien, J.|
|Fremantle, Sir T.||O'Brien, W. S.|
|Fuller, A. E.||Pakington, J. S.|
|Gaskell, J. Milnes||Peel, rt. hon. Sir R.|
|Gill, T.||Phillpotts, J.|
|Gladstone, Capt.||Plumptre, J. P.|
|Glynne, Sir S. R.||Plumridge, Capt.|
|Gordon, hon. Capt.||Pollington, Visct.|
|Goring, C.||Pringle, A.|
|Goulburn, rt. hon. H.||Protheroe, E.|
|Graham, rt. hon. Sir J.||Rice, E. R.|
|Greene, T.||Rolleston, Col.|
|Grey, rt. hon. Sir G.||Rushbrooke, Col.|
|Grosvenor, Lord R.||Russell, Lord J.|
|Guest, Sir J.||Seale, Sir J. H.|
|Hamilton, J. H.||Seymour, Lord|
|Hamilton, W. J.||Shaw, rt. hon. F.|
|Hanmer, Sir J.||Sheil, rt. hon. R. L.|
|Hardinge, rt. hon. Sir H.||Smith, rt. hn. T. B. C.|
|Hardy, J.||Somerset, Lord G.|
|Hatton, Capt. V.||Stanley, hon. W. O.|
|Hawes, B.||Stanton, W. H.|
|Henley, J. W.||Sutton, hon. H. M.|
|Herbert, hon. S.||Thompson, Mr. Ald.|
|Hill, Lord M.||Tollemache, J.|
|Hindley, C.||Trench, Sir F. W.|
|Hodgson, F.||Trevor, hon. G. R.|
|Hodgson, R.||Vane, Lord H.|
|Hogg, J. W.||Vesey, hon. T.|
|Hope, A.||Watson, W. H.|
|Hope, G. W.||Wawn, J. T.|
|Hoskins, K.||Welby, G. E.|
|Howard, hon. H.||Wilbraham, hon. R. B.|
|Hussey, A.||Williams, W.|
|Hussey, T.||Wortley, hon. J. S,|
|James, Sir W. C.||Young, J.|
|Johnson, Gen.||Ashley, Lord|
|Knatchbull, rt. hn Sir E.||Egerton, Lord F.|