HC Deb 06 February 1844 vol 72 cc277-86
Sir James Graham

It is now my duty, in pursuance of the notice which I have given, to ask leave of the House to introduce a bill for regulating the Employment of Children in Factories. It will not be necessary for me on this occasion to trouble the House at any considerable length, inasmuch as the principal provisions of the bill which I propose to introduce are nearly identical with those which were contained in the bill which I presented to the House last Session, and which were founded on the report which has been laid before the House. I will briefly state to the House what are the principal enactments I propose so far as they alter the law as it now exists. And first, with respect to the age of children now employed in factories, as to whose labour there is a limitation in point of time. As the law now stands, the word "child" applies to children who are admitted between the ages of eight and thirteen. I propose in the present bill that the age shall be altered, and the term "child" be applied to persons between the ages of nine and thirteen, instead of eight and thirteen, and that such children shall not be employed for a longer time than six hours and a half in each day; and also shall not be employed in the forenoon and the afternoon of the same day. By the existing law "young persons" are defined to be those who are between the ages of thirteen and eighteen. I do not propose to make any alteration in that part of the act, but I propose that such "young persons" shall not be employed in any silk, cotton, wool, or flax manufactory, for any portion of the twenty-four hours longer than from half-past 5 o'clock in the morning till 7 o'clock in the evening in summer, and from half-past 6 o'clock in the morning till 8 o'clock in the evening in winter; thus making 13½ hours each day, of which one hour and a half is to be set apart for meals and rest, so that their actual labour will be limited to twelve hours. By the law as it now stands all persons above the age of eighteen, without distinction of sex, are considered to be adults, and to their hours of labour there is no limitation whatever. Under this state of the law, many persons are employed as adults who are wholly unfit for the tasks to which they are subjected. It appears to me that females should not, under any circumstances, be required to work for more than twelve hours out of the twenty-four, and I propose a limitation of their labour, in the four great branches of manufacture to which the act refers, to that extent. On this subject I will read to the House a short extract from the report of Mr. Homer, one of the Factory Inspectors, dated October 11th 1843. In that Report Mr. Horner says, I am convinced that many females are employed as adults who do not fairly come under that class, but who are nevertheless obliged to work for hours beyond what ought to be required of them. Many of them work for thirteen, some for fourteen, and some for seventeen hours a day. Some are at constant work from six in the morning till twelve at night, less only by two hours for meals and rest. There are others who, after a day of hard toil, have only six hours in which to go home, take what rest they can get in the interval, and be back again at the factory; and let it be considered that on their return from their walks in inclement weather, they have to remain for many hours in a close room, in which the atmosphere is raised to a very high temperature. What constitution can hold out long against incessant toil of this description? Its fatal tendency is daily shown in the manufacturing districts by the ravages it makes on human life. Another Inspector stated his entire concurrence in this statement, and in the de- structive effects which were visible in the factories from an excess of labour; and he also deemed it necessary to limit the hours of labour for female adults. Such a limitation I consider to be both reasonable and necessary; and after the best consideration that I can give to the reports and to the evidence which it has been my duty carefully to consult, I have determined to propose a limitation to the continuous labour of females, satisfied that this incessant call on their exertions is alike injurious to their health and morals. The House I believe will regard with me that the limitation I propose is both reasonable and just. Another point on which I shall propose an alteration is that part of the law by which back or lost time is brought up and which has been made a frequent excuse for exceeding the law, in factories, where the double powers of water and steam are employed. I propose that no facility shall be given for making up lost time excepting where the power is water exclusively, and that lost time shall be made up within three months; that young persons shall not labour more than thirteen hours on any one day, and that there shall be a cessation of all labour between the hours of twelve at night and half-past five in the morning, There are several other provisions in the bill to which I do not feel it necessary to call the attention of the House, as they are nearly identical with those in the bill of last year. By one clause which I shall propose, power will be given to inspectors to notify to millowners whenever they observe that any portion of the machinery is dangerous, that in their opinion it requires to be cased or covered up, and if after such notification any accident shall occur injurious to any of the workmen employed, then the inspector shall be empowered to institute a suit for recovering compensation for such injury, and the damages awarded shall be given to the party injured. Another change I propose to make, relates to silk mills. It is well known to the House that those mills are not placed under the same regulations as to the employment of children as other mills. I propose to bring silk-mills under the same regulations in that respect as woollen, cotton, and flax mills, and that the same hours of labour, according to age, which apply to one, shall be made equally applicable to all those branches of our manufactures. I have now gone through the leading provisions of the bill which I propose to bring in, with the exception only of those portions of it which correspond to the bill of last Session in relation to Education, and to which the attention of the House was then more particularly directed. With those parts of the Factory Act which prescribe rules for the education of children, I do not intend to interfere. I am satisfied with providing that children between the ages of eight and thirteen shall not be employed continuously for more than six hours and a half; and that one-half of each day shall be left unoccupied by labour, so that these children may be educated and instructed. The Government last year proposed some clauses with respect to the quality of the education, but the feeling in and out of that House with respect to them was such as to leave no hope that they could be proposed now with any better result. In allowing full time for education, and in not permitting any child to be employed who does not produce a certificate of attendance at some school, Government does all that it can under the present circumstances. I much fear that the enactments already existing as to factory education are almost illusory. The persons usually employed as teachers are but badly qualified to discharge the very limited duties they have undertaken. Even the stoker of the furnace is occasionally to be found acting the part of a factory schoolmaster. Besides this, there is, unquestionably a want of every proper facility and apparatus, such as books, paper, and other requisites for infant tuition. In fact, the system, as far as it has yet gone, has been one not of education, but of confinement in a school-room, without imparting to the children any knowledge or instruction whatever. I am, however, bound to say, from what has come within my own knowledge, that some of the most flagrant abuses are fast giving way under the force of public opinion, and that we may hope to see considerable improvements. I hope, and believe, that, generally speaking, the millowners themselves are desirous of bettering the condition of their youthful labourers by giving them the means of instruction. The experience of last Session, I repeat, has taught the Government not again to interfere with the quality of the instruction to be given to the factory children. It was the anxious desire of the Government to endeavour to frame a scheme of instruction founded on scriptural teaching, apart from doctrinal controversy, subject to the inspection of an officer appointed by the educational committee of the Privy Council; but the hope of effecting that, I confess, has vanished from my mind. Reliance must now be placed—and, happily, it is not altogether a vague reliance, for after what we have seen, we may look with confident hope upon the honest rivalry which has arisen between the members of the Church and Dissenters. I trust, from what has occurred, that a great effort will be made to diffuse amongst the dense masses of the population of this country useful instruction and sound knowledge in connection with scriptural truths. I am quite satisfied that if good schools were founded in the manufacturing districts, the parents of the children would have discrimination enough to prefer the good to the bad schools. If the Legislature provide for education in those districts, I am confident that the children will be instructed in a superior manner. At all events, I am not prepared on the present occasion, directly or indirectly, to interfere with the quality of the instruction to be afforded; all that I ask of the House is, to allow leisure to the children on each day—to prevent them being overstrained with toil, and to give them an opportunity of attending school for at least three hours every day, with the exception of Saturday, which is to be considered a half holiday. In conclusion, I must express my earnest hope that the diffusion of knowledge based on sound principles of religion, may tend to remove that which I consider, one of the greatest national evils—a dense population greatly deficient in knowledge, left without instruction, and destitute of religion.

Mr. Hume

could not understand why the same regulations should not apply to other labourers as well as to those which the bill of the right hon. Baronet sought to benefit. Why not include every class of manufacturers in the country where children were employed? How much better would it be if the Government would take into consideration the causes of the present state of society, viz., the want of employment. The reports of the Factory commissioners proved that the Government could not legislate successfully on this subject, and he was anxious that they should look at the causes, and not attempt thus to plaster up the effects of bad legislation. He thought, moreover, that it was most unjust, that there should be a law to prevent the employment of children in one manufactory and allow it in another. As to the production of certificates of the education of the children to be provided for by this bill, the law ought to require that every child in the country should be educated, and then the production of a certificate would be a very easy matter; but now to say that no child should be employed unless he produced a certificate of his having been instructed at school, and they did not provide the means of educating them, was complicating and adding to the mischief that existed. First let them remove the primary evils, and they would have no necessity for these supplementary measures—this patch-work legislation. The bill provided, that where by negligence of the proprietor an individual was injured, an action might be brought at the public expense, in order that he might obtain compensation. If that were to pass, why should it not be extended to all other manufactories? They heard of twenty men lost in a coal-pit, one day, and thirty or forty the next, leaving their families in a state of destitution; and why not let the provision apply equally to them, if there had been negligence and want of proper caution, and let there be one law throughout the whole country. This bill he considered unjust legislation, because it was partial. He did not object to the measure, but he should rather say that it ought to be well considered. He was sorry to hear the right hon. Baronet state, that it was not the intention of the Government to interfere in any way in the education of the people. If one measure more than another were demanded, it was a general, universal measure of education, which would apply to all classes of the community. Every being who was to become a good citizen, ought to have a chance of being instructed in the elements of education; and he was sorry to find that religion was to be the sole prop on which the Government intended to rest. The Government ought, apart from such considerations, to give the people the education they required, and leave the clergy of all denominations to instil the religious opinions peculiar to their various sects into the minds of those who wished to receive them. A great responsibility rested upon the Government with reference to this matter for the evils which would arise from the continued ignorance of the people. He really had hoped that they would have adopted a system this year directly opposite to that of last year on this important subject.

Mr. Stuart Wortley

thanked the right hon. Baronet for the great measure which he had proposed, one of the most important provisions of which was the limitation of the laws of labour for females. He hoped, however, that his right hon. Friend would take a further step in the right direction, by applying a similar rule to young men, which had also been recommended by the inspector of factories, in his report dated the 15th of January in the present year. Although he gave the measure his hearty approval, he hoped it would yet be materially improved.

Mr. Hindley

was desirous of expressing his thanks to the right hon. Baronet for having brought in this bill at an early period of the Session. He, like the hon. Gentleman who spoke last, would have been extremely delighted if the right hon. Baronet had made some further alterations in the hours of labour, and he did hope that in a future stage of the measure that part of the subject would meet with the serious consideration of the Government. It was not without some regret, that he heard the Member for Montrose express his disapprobation of this bill; that regret was increased, when he remembered how often he had voted with that hon. Gentleman in favour of free-trade, and he could not refrain from earnestly impressing upon him, and upon those who agreed with him in politico-economical doctrines, the expediency of reconsidering the vote which they were about to give on this bill. As to the right of the Government to interfere in such a matter, he must be allowed to say, that it was a right which no one could think of questioning. In the practical operation of the manufacturing system there were great moral and physical evils, and if the Legislature gave its aid to the establishment of manufactures, it was entitled to take care that the evils which they produced should not be allowed to exist at the expense of the great body of the people. Manufactures were a great good, but we should not purchase them at too high a price. He had not forgotten how frequently the friends of the working classes had been told, that to protect the labourer would be to foster foreign competition. This he believed to be a fallacy; for as every one must remember, a bill was introduced by Lord Althorp in the year 1833, to diminish, in some degree, the evils to which the working classes were exposed; and at that time it was predicted, that we should be ruined by foreign competition. What had ensued? The annual exportation of cotton from Great Britain at that time, was 66,000,000lbs. The annual exportation at present was 158,000,000lbs., being a difference of 130 per cent. in favour of the mild and lenient system. In the year 1833, the annual consumption of cotton in this country, was 169,000,000lbs; at present it was 270,000,000lbs.; being a difference of 66 per cent. On these grounds, be ventured to say, that we had nothing to fear from foreign competition. All that we had to do was to move forward step by step—the last step taken was the best, and gave the best encouragement to future progress. He could, for one, bear testimony to the good effects of the means introduced within the last ten years for the benefit of the working classes; they had worked well both for master and man—for parent and child. It was said, that bills on this subject had been evaded; in reply to that, he should say, that acts of Parliament on many subjects had been evaded. A bill against murder would be evaded, for one criminal who was punished, three might escape; but that formed no reason why there should not be a law against homicide. During the last autumn he travelled in France, and had some opportunity of making himself acquainted with the state of manufactures there, and he rejoiced not a little to be able to say, that this country presented a most favourable picture in this respect, as compared to France. Here, happily, there was nothing like the white slavery of the Continent. In France, the working people went on at the rate of fifteen hours a day, with only half an hour interval. Not only were matters in this respect on a better footing in England than in France, but from the general tendency of public opinion he should say, that the feeling of the country was in favour of shortening the hours of labour, and he called upon the hon. Gentleman the Secretary of the Board of Control, who lately presided at a public meeting of the drapers' assistants, which had that object in view, to bear him out in the assertion which he had just made. It was universally felt, that human labour was quite overdone, and that the state of the law affecting it required immediate and material revision. It was said most truly, that the drapers' assistants required to be relieved from late attendances; but how could they be relieved if the working classes were not allowed to make their purchases at a reasonable hour? New mills were on the point of being built in Lancashire. It was right to tell the parties engaged in these speculations, what they had to expect, just as the President of the Board of Trade was about to tell the railway proprietors what they had to expect. It was only right to let the manufacturers know, that though we required an extensive trade, yet that we would not take it at such an expenditure of human labour. It had been said, that the right hon. Baronet might as well think of restraining the steam-engine, as of limiting the hours of adult labourers; but he would remind the House, that in navigation the working of the steam-engine had been restrained. Even though the Government only went the length of relieving from the pressure of excessive labour the female portion of the population, a great object would be attained. The inspector told them, that women ought not to work for more than ten hours. The surgeons told them, that to work for twelve hours was highly injurious; he hoped then, that this and all other measures of relief would be carried forward in a right, strong, and bold spirit. He was in most cases the political opponent of the Queen's Government; it was, therefore, not for him to tell them, how they should carry the people of England along with them; but he could assure Ministers, that by measures such as these, they could show to the people of the north of England that the executive Government felt for, and were disposed to redress their wrongs. In doing this, they would do themselves immortal honour, and open up a long train of prosperity. Let them look to what The Times newspaper had done to support the interests of the labouring classes. What was the great secret of the success of that journal? its advocacy of popular rights. It had done itself immortal honour by its advocacy of the general interests of the great body of the people, and if the Government would only show a determination to do the same, they might rely with confidence upon the gratitude and support of the people.

Lord Ashley

would not on this occasion do more than express the warm thanks which he felt were due to Government for the advance they had now made towards a right settlement of this most important question, and he was sure that the whole country would share in that feeling of gratitude.

Mr. Blewitt

wished to know from the right hon. Gentleman in the Chair whether this was not one of those bills which came within the Standing Order of the House which prohibited the entertaining any bill relating to trade, religion, &c., until such bill had been considered in a committee of the whole House?

The Speaker

replied that this bill did not come within the Standing Order referred to.

Leave given to bring in the bill.