HC Deb 20 March 1844 vol 73 cc1305-8

On the question that the Masters and Servants' Bill be re-committed,

Mr. Hawes

called the attention of the Government to the fact, that the Clauses were of a very large and comprehensive character, and gave to the Magistracy some extremely harsh powers.

Sir J. Graham

said, that when the hon. Member had consulted him on the subject of this Bill, he had expressed an opinion that it would be well to bring into a focus all the Acts of Parliament relating to Master and Servant. He had understood that in doing so, the hon. Gentleman intended to extend to Magistrates a power as concerned work done under contract. To that he had no objection, and further, than that he had understood that the Bill would not alter the law. He had not had time, however, to read all the Clauses of the measure, and the hon. Mover could best state whether there was anything new in the Bill, or whether it was simply a re-enactment?

Mr. Miles

said, that this Bill repealed all the existing Acts, and re-enacted their provisions, extending the power of Magistrates just so far as the right hon. Baronet had explained. He could assure the House, that he did not propose by this Bill to give any new power to magistrates.

Mr. T. Duncombe

referred to clause 4, and observed, that a case occurred not long ago in which a female servant, employed by a farmer, had to go through the bed-room of a man-servant to her own room. She objected to do so—left her employer, and was taken before a magistrate, who said it was his duty to execute the law—and committed her to prison. He did not think any magistrate, who did not consider it compulsory on him to carry into effect the law, would have imprisoned a woman who absented herself from her employment for such a reason; and he thought some provision ought to be introduced into this Bill to meet such cases.

Mr. Miles

wished to make the law as stringent with regard to the master as the servant.

Bill to be re-committed.

House in Committee.

On clause 1,

Mr. D. Barclay

said, he had given notice of an Amendment on the Clause relating to domestic servants. It was not his object to give masters and mistresses more power over their servants than they already possessed, but to afford greater facilities to servants for the recovery of their wages. At present domestic servants had no means of recovering their wages by summary process; and he wished to give power to Magistrates in petty sessions to adjudicate on such cases. He proposed to give this power only to Magistrates in petty sessions, in order that no abuse might take place. He made this proposal, in consequence of strong representations he had received from the mayor and magistrates of Sunderland, pointing out the hardship which, in this respect, resulted from the existing law. They stated, that the sudden discharge of female domestic servants placed them frequently in circumstances of great misery and destitution, and, in many cases drove them to prostitution. He would therefore propose after clause 9, to introduce these words— Be it further enacted, that the provisions of this Act shall authorise magistrates in petty sessions assembled, and they are hereby authorised, to act, in cases of disputes between masters and mistresses and domestic servants, with respect to claims for wages and other compensation for services rendered by such domestic servants.

Sir J. Graham

suggested to the hon. Member that he should now allow the Bill to go through Committee, and gave notice of his intention to propose such a Clause, on bringing up the Report. The Clause might then be printed, and he (Sir J. Graham) would give it his best consideration. He thought, however, that the limitation of the jurisdiction of magistrates, as proposed by the hon. Member, to cases of disputes as to wages, being so far in favour of the servants, might form some ground of objection to the Clause.

Clause agreed to.

House resumed.—Committee to sit again.

House adjourned at half-past Seven o'clock.